STEELERS (5-8) AT JETS (5-8)

Only six teams in the National Football League have failed to win back-to-back games this season. The Steelers are one, an alarming fact for a team that has won at least two games in a row every season since 1970. Bill Cowher likes to use the expression "consistently inconsistent" to describe the manner in which his team has performed this season. Other expressions have been advanced by the general public, though proper decorum prevents us from revealing them. The Jets looked like they might be trying to repeat their season of a year ago, when they started 1-3, won the AFC East with a 9-7 record and hammered Indianapolis in the first round of the playoffs. But, after winning three of four, including a Monday night game against Tennessee, they were stopped last week by Buffalo. Ugh.

Prediction: Steelers, 24-17

49ERS (6-7) AT BENGALS (7-6)

Despite last week's loss to Baltimore, which ended its four-game winning streak, Cincinnati is still in good position for a playoff spot. The Bengals might not be able to overtake the Ravens, who don't face a team with more than five victories in their final three games. Two of the Bengals' last three are at home, beginning with San Francisco, and their schedule is more favorable than either the Dolphins or Broncos, the two teams ahead of them for wild-card spots. The 49ers are coming off a lopsided victory against Arizona in which they scored 50 points, but style points are not awarded nor are computer rankings enhanced with any kind of victory against the Cardinals.

Prediction: Bengals, 30-24


New England has emerged as perhaps the best team in the NFL, and not because of style or dominance. What the Patriots do better than any other team in the league is find ways to win, an intangible that has allowed them to post an NFL-best nine-game winning streak. Their latest entry was last week's 12-0 shutout of Miami, a game in which they didn't even need an ex-con to drive a snowplow to clear the field. Along the way, the Patriots have defeated Philadelphia, Tennessee, Denver, Dallas and Indianapolis, not to mention the Dolphins twice. Jacksonville, though, has allowed just 33 points in the past four games and its defense is as good as any in the league, even downright dominating. That smell isn't home cooking (the Patriots are 6-0 at Gillette Stadium); it's the Upset Special.

Prediction: Jaguars, 13-10

LIONS (4-9) AT CHIEFS (11-2)

Ch. 13, 11 a.m.

Kansas City barbecues are usually located in, well, Kansas City, not Denver, though the Chiefs were invited to one last week . . . and rudely treated. They allowed the Broncos to score 45 points, 21 more than they had allowed any other team this season, but approximately the same amount of points they were surrendering last season when their defense yielded more scores than the first day of buck season. Did the Broncos exploit the real Chiefs defense? Or was it merely a one-day anomaly, a defensive lapse by a team that has played at peak efficiency all season? Detroit will likely be able to provide a better answer, especially because the Lions have not won on the road this season.

Prediction: Chiefs, 44-10

VIKINGS (8-5) AT BEARS (5-8)

This could have been really interesting. This could have carried much more significance if both teams — Minnesota and Chicago — didn't decide to revert to their early-season forms. Too bad the Vikings, who had lost five of their previous six, looked like the team that started 6-0 with an easy victory against Seattle. Too bad the Bears, who had won four of their previous six after a 1-5 start, couldn't hold on to beat Green Bay. Otherwise, the Vikings and Bears would be meeting in a game with first-place implications. And who would have thought that in mid-October? The Bears still might make it interesting, but not for them. Maybe the Packers.

Prediction: Bears, 24-23

FALCONS (3-10) AT COLTS (10-3)

All of a sudden, Atlanta is a different team with Michael Vick (like nobody knew that). They're also a different team without Dan Reeves, who was fired last week and replaced with Wade Phillips, Bum's boy. After struggling to win two games all season, the Falcons beat Carolina in overtime, thanks to Vick's feet (141 yards rushing) and arm (179 yards passing). Beating Indianapolis might be a different matter, though the Colts might be suffering from just a bit of an emotional letdown after last week's victory against the Titans. The Colts are 11-1 lifetime against the Falcons and have never lost to them at home. Then again, this will be the first time they will face Vick, which, first time around, is tough on everybody.

Prediction: Colts, 30-28

SEAHAWKS (8-5) AT RAMS (10-3)

Ch. 13, 11 a.m.

Take the Seahawks out of Seattle and they're just another football team. Not only have all five losses come on the road; their only road victory was Week 2 in Arizona. If they want to still have a chance to catch St. Louis in the NFC West, the Seahawks had better find a way to reverse that trend Sunday. That, though, is unlikely. For one, the Rams have won 12 consecutive home games and need one more to tie their franchise record. Also, the Rams have won five in a row overall and are getting help from their defense to bail out the offense. The Seahawks won the first meeting this season, 24-23, but that game was in the Great Northwest. And it was before the Rams started on their way to the NFC's best record (tied with the Eagles).

Prediction: Rams, 34-21


Houston isn't getting the best defense in the NFL Sunday. The Texans got that last week, when they were shut out by the Jaguars, 17-0. That's some break the Texans received from the league, getting the fourth-strongest schedule through 14 weeks (.544 opponents winning percentage). And now they have to play the defending Super Bowl champs, though Tampa Bay is having a hard time merely being the champions of Florida. The Buccaneers kept their slim playoff hopes alive with a 14-7 victory against New Orleans, a team that had beaten them three consecutive times. They might be breathing for another week, but their problems will eventually catch up to them again.

Prediction: Buccaneers, 17-10

BILLS (6-7) AT TITANS (9-4)

It's a reunion game for Buffalo coach Gregg Williams, who spent 11 seasons with Tennessee as an assistant coach and defensive coordinator. But the Titans won't be in any mood for warm welcomes, not after their 10-game home winning streak was ended by Indianapolis. The Titans are not despondent after the loss — they can clinch a playoff spot with a win against the Bills — but it will be difficult for them to pass the Colts and win the AFC South. The Colts won both meetings this season, so a tie will give the division title to Indy. Quarterback Steve McNair was injured against the Colts and he might not play against the Bills, who have won two in a row and are clinging to slim playoff hopes as though it's their last chicken wing. Pass the wet naps.

Prediction: Titans, 24-13


Ch. 2, 2 p.m.

Apparently, the team that came to Heinz Field Oct. 5 and hammered the Steelers is not the same team that has become thoroughly discombobulated the past three games. Cleveland's final hurrah, it seems, was scoring 44 points against Arizona Nov. 16, a moment, given the sad state of the Cardinals, not to be emblazoned in Browns' history. Since then, the Browns have lost three in a row, changed quarterbacks again and, like the Steelers, are left to ponder how it all went so wrong so fast. One year ago, Butch Davis could have been coach of the year for the rapidity with which he turned around the Browns. One year later, he might end the season with a six-game losing streak. Denver is coming on.

Prediction: Broncos, 34-14

RAVENS (8-5) AT RAIDERS (3-10)

It is one thing to hear about how bad things were in Oakland. But to witness the drastic nature with which the Raiders have fallen apart is another. Safe to say, their horrid performance at Pittsburgh last weekend was the worst seen this season in the Steel City, and that's saying something. Actually, the only question to be answered here is how many yards Jamal Lewis will get against the Raiders: 200? 300?

Prediction: Ravens, 31-20


This game couldn't come fast enough for Carolina, which has lost three in a row and is threatening to back into the NFC South championship. Playing Arizona is like discovering your car insurance was pre-paid. To be sure, the Panthers are getting some help along the way from their division mates, none of whom seem interested in winning enough games to challenge Carolina. But the Panthers don't want to slip, slide away to a season similar to last season, when they finished 7-9. The schedule is set up for the Panthers to succeed. They finish with the Cardinals, Lions and Giants, the NFL equivalent of Moe, Larry and Curly.

Prediction: Panthers, 28-20


In this season of strange happenings, the Steelers and Chargers have something in common — each is trying to win back-to-back games for the first time this season. San Diego has been unable to do it, too, but for good reason — the Chargers are really bad. Nonetheless, they managed to post a 14-7 victory in Detroit last week, their second road win of the season. Green Bay is lurking behind Minnesota in the NFC North, waiting to finally catch the Vikings. The Packers have won three of their past four, including an important 34-21 victory in Chicago last week. Quarterback Brett Favre, who has never lost to the Chargers (3-0), can set a club record with a touchdown pass, giving him a touchdown pass in 23 consecutive games.

Prediction: Packers, 30-21


Ch. 13, 2:15 p.m.

Don't look now, but Dallas is beginning to leak a little of the state's greatest natural resource — oil. The Cowboys have lost three of their past four and watched the Eagles, who beat them last week, 36-10, pass them in the left lane. Nonetheless, the Cowboys are still in good position for a wild-card spot, but only if they manage to beat Washington. The Redskins ended a three-game losing streak last week with a victory in New York against the Giants, but they lost the first meeting with the Cowboys, 21-14, in Dallas. Redskins quarterback Patrick Ramsey was put on injured reserve last week and is out for the season.

Prediction: Cowboys, 17-16

GIANTS (4-9) AT SAINTS (6-7)

ESPN, 6:30 p.m.

Terry Bradshaw said on Fox's pregame show that New Orleans coach and Pennsylvania native Jim Haslett could be the next head coach at Penn State, replacing Joe Paterno. To do so, though, several changes are in order. First, Haslett will need to get a pair of coke-bottle glasses. Then he will have to stubbornly decide not to play any first-year players. Lastly, he needs to start wearing white socks and have all his pants hemmed a couple inches, just to get that flood-water thing going. Once that's accomplished, Haslett might make a perfect candidate. After all, if he loses to New York, they'll want to fire him in New Orleans.

Prediction: Saints, 26-16


Ch. 4, Monday, 7 p.m.

Just what Miami needs — back-to-back games against the two hottest teams in the league. If it weren't for New England, Philadelphia would have the league's longest winning streak (eight). The Eagles have lost just once since mid-September, and they atoned for that defeat by beating Dallas, 36-10, last week, all but assuring themselves of another NFC East championship. The Dolphins had their three-game winning streak ended in the snow in Foxboro, and they might have lost their quarterback, Jay Fiedler, with a recurrence of the same injury that sidelined him earlier this season. Their Monday night record — the Dolphins have a league-best 38 victories on MNF — might not matter against the Eagles, who are 5-1 on the road.

Prediction: Eagles, 17-14