With pro football entering the home stretch, there’s no shortage of “must win” games.
In this week’s Showstopper, we’ll break down Ravens vs. Steelers and Patriots vs. Bills, as two AFC divisional leaders try to maintain their narrow leads.
Also, we’ll turn to the NBA for a West Coast showdown between the Clippers and Lakers.
Uncover all the key angles before you place your weekend wagers.
Los Angeles Clippers vs. Los Angeles Lakers
Sunday, December 5 | TV: CBS
King James is back in the building. After a brief stay in the NBA’s health and safety protocols, LeBron has been cleared to return for the Lakers’ matchup with the Clippers. Although James did not get to practice with his club on Thursday, he should be raring to play again and take out his frustrations on the court. The Lakers will also welcome the return of Avery Bradley who missed last game against the Kings. Anthony Davis, however, is questionable to play with a left thumb sprain. Thankfully, it’s on his non-shooting hand, so he should be able to suit up.
Both L.A. squads have struggled with consistency on different ends of the court; the Clippers on offense and the Lakers on defense. But Lakers coach Frank Vogel is replacing DeAndre Jordan in the starting lineup with Dwight Howard, which is a wise move since Jordan has looked slow-footed on defensive switches this season. The Clippers are riding a three-game losing streak, including a pair of rough losses to the Pelicans and Kings. One bright spot has been the play of Reggie Jackson, who is averaging 16.2 points over his last 10 games. Paul George will also be back in the lineup after being held out of Wednesday’s game for rest.
Baltimore Ravens vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
Sunday, December 5 | TV: CBS
The Ravens are rolling in the AFC North while the Steelers appear to be fading away. Though Baltimore sure didn’t make it look easy in narrow wins over the Bears and Browns. Lamar Jackson threw four interceptions last week and has been sacked a total of 30 times this season, so the Steelers will likely utilize a heavy pass rush to try to rattle him into mistakes. The Ravens are trying to keep the Bengals at bay for the divisional lead and this is a crucial game heading into a tough remaining schedule. They’ve only scored 42 total points over their last three games. Jackson may find it easier moving the chains on the ground, as the Steelers have allowed 180.5 rushing yards per game over the last month.
After two losses and a tie with the Lions, the pressure will be on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to exploit Baltimore’s vulnerable pass defense and get the Steelers back on track. The Ravens rank at the bottom of the league with 275.7 passing yards allowed per game. Diontae Johnson should continue to see a ton of action, especially against this leaky secondary. The shifty wideout has totaled 40 targets from Big Ben over the last three games.
New England Patriots vs. Buffalo Bills
Monday, December 6 | TV: ESPN
Defying all doubters, Bill Belichick has the Patriots leading the AFC East as a huge road battle looms with division rival Buffalo. Stunningly, the Patriots are on a 6-game winning streak and 5-0 away from home, though the schedule overall has been pretty kind. Still, even when they’ve faced top opponents like the Bucs and Cowboys, the Pats have found a way to keep games much closer than expected. Both the Patriots and the Bills have sported elite defensive units this season, ranking among the top 3 in least passing yards and total points allowed.
The Patriots’ path to victory could be on the ground, where New England has relied on the 1-2 punch of Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson to great success over their last several matchups. Look for the Pats to try to slow down the pace of this game, as the Bills offense ranks second in the league in scoring with an average of 29.6 points per game. There is one positive for Bills QB Josh Allen’s hopes of stretching the field. Patriots safety Kyle Dugger was placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list due to a positive test and might miss Monday’s game, which would be a big blow to the Pats’ secondary.