It’s getting to be about that time of the year.
The Atlanta Falcons' 23-13 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Thursday evening at the Georgia Dome was the first of eight divisional matchups this week.
Last night’s NFC South encounter was also the first of six rematches this weekend, which concludes with an NFC East prime time round-robin of sorts as the Dallas Cowboys look to complete a sweep of the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday night, and the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants look to make it two wins this season over Robert Griffin III.
But by the time we get to that pair of tilts, we could know an awful lot about who has already reached the playoffs in 2012.
It could be an intriguing week indeed. And who says 13 is an unlucky number?
Apparently, reports of Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.
Following a midseason swoon which saw the former Pro Bowler’s role somewhat de-emphasized, there were those who wondered whether Johnson was still one of the league’s best wideouts.
Wonder no more.
Target at least nine times in each of his last six games, Johnson has totaled at least eight catches in five of those outings. But it’s the last two contests, both resulting in overtime wins by Houston, that have seen the prolific performer put up mind-boggling numbers.
In the victories over the Jaguars and Lions, Johnson has totaled 23 receptions for 461 yards and a score. That would be good for second on the Tennessee Titans in terms of receiving yards.
Therefore, we offer these words of advice for Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner…
The New York Jets special teams may have to be renamed.
It has not only been a rough season for the New York offense but coordinator Mike Westhoff’s units as well. New York has allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown, had a fumbled kickoff returned for a score last week vs. the New England Patriots, and also had a pair of punts blocked—one of those returned for a touchdown in a home loss to the Dolphins.
While Arizona Cardinals cornerback and punt returner Patrick Peterson has yet to take a punt the distance in 2012, we all remember what he did during his rookie campaign a year ago, tying an NFL record with four punt returns for touchdowns.
Ken Whisenhunt’s team is having its own problems but they do have some playmakers on both sides of the ball. And in this season of disarray for the Jets, don’t be surprised if Peterson finds pay first on a punt return on Sunday.
We’ll take some time here to focus on the bright side of life in the NFL.
The Carolina Panthers and Kansas City Chiefs have combined for four wins this season, three of those by the former. Expectations for both of these clubs were high but for numerous reasons, it wasn’t meant to be.
Panthers’ rookie middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, the club’s first-round pick in April, was a tackling machine at Boston College and has picked up where he let off, leading Carolina with 105 stops.
Chiefs’ running back Jamaal Charles' 2011 season lasted two games but he has bounced back smartly after his knee injury, rushing for 928 yards and three touchdowns.
And when these two face off on Sunday, will we see more carries by Charles or more tackles by Kuechly?
Can someone please refresh our memories?
Exactly how long ago was it that New England Patriots receiver Wes Welker’s role in the offense was being diminished?
Since being acquired from the Miami Dolphins in 2007, no player in the league has caught more passes than Welker (634). This season, he ranks fourth in the NFL with 80 receptions, on course to total at least 100 catches for what would be the fifth time in seven years with the Pats.
The Miami defense has had some ups and downs this season but has really been challenged when it comes to stopping the pass. Cornerback Sean Smith hopes to keep the prolific wideout under wraps.
And Dolphins defenders need no reminder about the last time the team hosted New England, a 38-24 Monday night loss 14 months ago in which Welker turned a Tom Brady toss into a 99-yard touchdown reception.
It’s far from surprising that the encounter between the Indianapolis Colts and Detroit Lions feature one team with 7-4 record and the other with a 4-7 mark.
Just don’t tell us you figured it was the Colts in playoff contention and the Lions three games under .500.
The focus here is on the quarterbacks, as three years after the Lions made Matthew Stafford the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 NFL draft, the Colts did the same with Andrew Luck.
The former put up astounding numbers last season, throwing for 5,038 yards and 41 scores (16 interceptions). But while Stafford entered Week 13 with a league-high 3,429 yards through the air, he has thrown just 14 touchdown passes and been picked off 10 times in 11 games.
Luck has pretty much impressed from day one, looking like a seasoned veteran in and out of the pocket. But it may surprise some people to know that despite the Colts’ stunning success he has completed just 56.8 percent of his passes and has 18 turnovers compared to 13 touchdown passes. Still, let’s not discount his five touchdown runs.
It makes for an intriguing clash in the Motor City between two of the league’s talented young guns.
Last season, after starting running back Fred Jackson went down, former first-round pick C.J. Spiller finally looked the part for the Buffalo Bills.
This season, he has picked up where he left off in 2011, and more.
Injuries have once again been a factor in the Buffalo backfield as both Jackson and Spiller have missed time. But it’s the latter that has emerged as the team’s leading rusher this season, totaling 830 yards on the ground and doing it on just 123 carries, which makes for an imposing 6.7 yards per attempt.
The Jacksonville Jaguars' defense has been a major disappointment considering this unit’s solid performance in 2011. And only three teams in the league this season have given up more rushing yards per game.
Jaguars middle linebacker and one-time Buffalo Bills defender Paul Posluszny ranks second on the team with 92 tackles, just one stop behind teammate Russell Allen (93). Those numbers alone should tell you something about the team’s defense.
Now let’s see if Posluszny and company can limit Spiller’s damage on Sunday at Orchard Park.
Rodgers was really less concerned about his former teammate and more worried about eluding the relentless Jared Allen.
Yes, the Packers have defeated the Vikings four-straight times. And in Rodgers' eight meetings with the Purple Gang, the reigning league MVP has put up remarkable numbers, throwing for 2,172 yards and 19 scores while being picked off just three times.
But Rodgers has also been sacked 28 times in those eight contests, with 12.5 of those at the hands of the Vikings' perennial Pro Bowl defender. And twice that relentless pressure has resulted in safeties.
Minnesota is still chasing both Chicago and Green Bay in the NFC North. And let’s see how often Allen gets to the most sacked quarterback in the league this season?
What’s in a name?
If you’re Seattle Seahawks cornerback Brandon Browner, you’re a member of one of the best secondaries in the league and one of the better ball hawks in the game. Last season, Browner wound up in the Pro Bowl after leading the Seahawks with six interceptions. And in 2012, the hard-hitting corner has picked off three more passes.
If you’re Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall, you are the main receiving threat for quarterback Jay Cutler and the team in general. Bears’ players have totaled 200 receptions this season and the well-traveled wideout has 81 of them, making him the third-leading pass-catcher in the NFL in 2012 to date.
Marshall has also accounted for eight of Chicago’s 14 scores through the air this season. And this will be interesting considering the Seahawks have allowed just 10 touchdown passes in 11 games.
Sit back and enjoy this battle royal of sorts.
San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh has had a few things on his mind as of late.
But now that he has decided on his starting quarterback, he can turn his attention to matching wits with another former player with ties to the Chicago Bears.
The Niners own an 8-2-1 record, good enough for first place in the NFC West. San Francisco’s closest pursuer is the Seattle Seahawks with a 6-5 mark.
But under the radar are the improved St. Louis Rams, led by veteran head coach Jeff Fisher.
In this season’s first clash between these clubs, five quarters couldn’t break a 24-24 tie. But it’s worth noting that the Rams rolled up 159 yards rushing and 458 total yards, season-highs vs. the San Francisco 49ers in 2012.
Let’s also not overlook the fact that St. Louis, 2-14 a season ago, including 0-6 vs. the NFC West rivals, is 3-0-1 vs. its divisional brethren under Fisher.
This could once again be another close call as these two superb sideline leaders renew acquaintances for the second time in four weeks.
Don’t look now, but the Cincinnati Bengals are back on a roll…again.
For the second time this season, Marvin Lewis’ team is on a three-game winning streak and at 6-5 in very much in the thick of the AFC playoff chase.
While many will point to the Bengals’ offense and quarterback Andy Dalton, it’s Cincinnati’s defense that has risen to the occasion as of late.
Lodged between the team’s aforementioned winning streaks was a four-game skid, the final loss of that stretch a 31-23 setback to the Denver Broncos.
Since that defeat, the Bengals have allowed a total of 29 points in wins over the Giants (31-13), Chiefs (28-6) and Raiders (34-10).
One of the defense’s steadiest players has been defensive tackle Geno Atkins, who leads all interior linemen in the NFL with 9.0 sacks and has totaled at least one sack in 7-of-11 games this season.
If the San Diego Chargers are to have any success on offense and keep quarterback Philip Rivers out of harm’s way, left guard Tyronne Green will have to be at the top of his game.
There was a lot to forget if you were a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday.
Mike Tomlin’s club fell 20-14 to the Cleveland Browns, and an astounding eight turnovers were a big part of their demise.
Besides the fact that basically no member of Tomlin’s offense could hang on to the ball, the line in front of quarterback Charlie Batch was in shambles, as left guard Willie Colon was a later scratch and second-string right tackle Mike Adams was injured as well.
The plan in the Steel City this week is to move two-time Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey to Colon’s spot, meaning Doug Legursky will be snapping to Batch.
But Pouncey’s move means he figures to see even more of Baltimore Ravens defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.
And as football fans, no one loses in this clash of stars.
Well, one team will...
Winners of six straight, the 8-3 Denver Broncos have already equaled last season’s victory total in winning the AFC West.
At 6-5, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are already two-wins better than last year’s forgettable 4-12 showing.
Quarterback Peyton Manning has his team rolling, to say the least. And with 26 touchdown passes in 11 games, the prolific passer is certainly looking like his old productive self these days.
Meanwhile, the Bucs are certainly improved but their defense has been a sieve when it comes to the pass. Greg Schiano’s club is dead last in the NFL when it comes to stopping teams through the air. And this is a Tampa secondary that will be minus suspended cornerback Eric Wright.
While Demaryius Thomas leads Denver with 61 catches, Eric Decker has caught a team-high eight touchdown receptions. And it will be up to Buccaneers’ E.J. Biggers to make sure that number doesn’t increase.
That sigh of relief that you heard coming from the state of Ohio last Sunday came specifically from the city of Cleveland.
It has been another rough year for the 3-8 Cleveland Browns, who will not enjoy a winning campaign for the 12th time in 14 seasons since the football returned to the city in 1999.
But despite the disappointment, there’s been a bright spot in rookie running back Trent Richardson, who scored what proved to be the deciding touchdown in last week’s 20-14 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers.
This season, Richardson leads the team with 755 yards rushing and in receiving with 41 catches. And he has totaled seven of the Browns’ 19 offensive touchdowns.
Oakland Raiders outside linebacker Philip Wheeler has enjoyed a productive season for the team that has allowed league-high 356 points (169 in the last four games), leading the team with 84 tackles. Let’s see if he can help Dennis Allen’s team halt this ugly four-game losing streak.
Dallas Cowboys third-year wideout Dez Bryant comes off a huge game on Thanksgiving Day, catching eight passes for 145 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the team’s 38-31 loss to the Washington Redskins.
Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha and his team are coming off a seven-game losing streak…and perhaps counting.
It has been an incredibly disappointing season for the Birds, who have come apart in so many ways. Philadelphia has allowed 30 or more points in three-straight games and four of its last five contests. And while the Eagles’ defensive unit has allowed 25 touchdown, 20 have come via the pass.
Bryant caught just three passes in this year’s first encounter between these clubs at Philadelphia (Week 10), but that included one reception for 49 yards and another for a 30-yard score.
It’s safe to say that Asomugha and his secondary mates, who are not getting the pass rush they were a year ago, may have their hands full with Bryant and company again.
This figures to be a fascinating rematch between the defending Super Bowl champions and an improving team that seems to be finding its stride at the right time.
When the Washington Redskins and New York Giants last squared off six weeks ago at MetLife Stadium, Santana Moss caught three passes for 67 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including the go-ahead score with 1:32 to play.
Moments later and with his team now trailing 27-23, Moss’ last catch indeed did end the game. The veteran receiver fumbled after an 11-yard grab, enabling New York to hold on for the four-point win.
Now Giants cornerback Corey Webster, who has had his ups and downs this season but ranks second on the team with four interceptions, looks to keep Moss from rolling.
And that won’t be easy with red-hot quarterback Robert Griffin III, with eight touchdown passes and only one interception in his last two games, leading Washington’s recent charge.