NFL best bets
Aaron Rodgers is expected to return for the Packers this Sunday. Getty Images
Green Bay Packers at Carolina Panthers (-2.5) 
Aaron Rodgers is expected to suit up for the first time since Week 6, and though he’s far and away the most important cog in Green Bay’s machine, it’s unclear how effective he’ll be against a tenacious Carolina defense fresh off a significant collarbone injury.
The Panthers’ pass rush is tied for third in the NFL with 40 sacks and faces a O-line that’s given up the third-most sacks in football (43). And the Packers’ mediocre rushing attack (17th) is unlikely to establish a presence against the league’s third-ranked run stoppers. 
Carolina’s ground game, led by Johnathan Stewart, had a field day against the vaunted Vikings in Week 14 (216 yards) and looks poised for a similar performance against Green Bay’s 17th-best run defenders. And Cam Newton should face little resistance through the air against a Packers defense that made Cleveland’s Deshone Kizer look good last week (99.4 passer rating despite his 66.1 rating for the season). The Panthers are the best bet of the week. 
The pick: Panthers -2.5 
Cincinnati Bengals at Minnesota Vikings (-10.5) 
The Bengals were blown out by the lowly Bears last week and could be doomed to a similar fate against the Vikings this Sunday. 
Minnesota had every right to lose to the Panthers in their third straight road game last week but battled right to the finish and lost by just one possession. Their run game, led by Latavius Murray and Jerick McKinnon, is their bread-and-butter and they should be able to move the ball at will against Cincinnati’s league-worst run stoppers.  
Meanwhile, the Bengals’ offense is a horror show; they’re 28th in scoring, last in YPG, and last in time of possession. By contrast, Minnesota’s defense is sixth in points allowed and third in YPG allowed.
This is a big number, but the Vikings are far and away the better of these two teams. 
The pick: Vikings -10.5 
Atlanta Falcons (-6) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Falcons should fly by the languishing Buccaneers on Monday Night Football. 
Matt Ryan and company are 4-1 ATS in their last five overall and 10-5 ATS in their last 15 road games. Ryan actually has a higher passer rating away from home this year (101.4) than he does in the confines of his own building (84.5) and enters this game off extra rest after beating the Saints last Thursday. Julio Jones should be open early and often against a Bucs defense that’s allowed more yards through the air than any team in the NFL this season.
Atlanta’s defense has clamped down in the last two weeks, allowing an average of just over 300 yards of offense to the Vikings and Saints in back-to-back contests. Jameis Winston and company, who’ve failed to top 21 points in six of their last seven tilts, would appear to have their work cut out for them. 
The pick: Falcons -6 
Best of the rest (picks in bold)
Chicago Bears at Detroit Lions (-5.5) 
Los Angeles Chargers (-1) at Kansas City Chiefs 
New York Jets at New Orleans Saints (-16) 
Arizona Cardinals at Washington Redskins (-4.5) 
Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars (-11) 
Philadelphia Eagles (-7.5) at New York Giants 
Baltimore Ravens (-7) at Cleveland Browns 
Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks (-2) 
Tennessee Titans at San Francisco 49ers (-2) 
New England Patriots (-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers 
Dallas Cowboys (-3) at Oakland Raiders 
Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills [OFF] 
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