The NFL postseason is rapidly approaching. After Week 12, we will be in December and teams will be leaving all they have out on the field to make it into the second season and earn a chance to compete for the Vince Lombardi Trophy.
But it is important that we don't look past this week's slate of action. Because of Thanksgiving, six teams are playing on a short week and three of them have to travel giving them even less time to prepare.
Funny things tend to happen when teams get thrown off schedule, so even if a game looks lopsided on paper, don't undersell the importance of rest and preparation.
Here are the games with serious playoff implications that have upset written all over them this weekend.
Houston Texans at Detroit Lions
The Texans are starting to show some cracks in the armor. It started in Week 6 against the Packers, when they were burned for 42 points on national television. Last week was even worse, as they allowed 37 points to the Jaguars, who came into the game averaging 14 points.
On the other side, the Lions have found no consistency on defense. The explosiveness is still there on offense, but eventually you have to make a big stop if you want to win a game.
What I like about the Lions in this game is the big-play ability of Calvin Johnson, obviously, and the stabilizing presence Mikel Leshoure has provided the running game. If they can find balance on offense instead of trying to chuck it up 40 times, they should keep this game close.
The Texans need to prove they can tackle again, because last week's showing against Jacksonville was dreadful. Some can chalk it up to one poor day, but tackling is the most basic fundamental skill on defense. One bad day tends to bleed over into many games.
The Texans have Baltimore, Denver and New England in their rear-view mirror for the top spot in the AFC. A loss here suddenly makes things a little messier. It will be an exciting December.
Lions 27, Texans 23
Pittsburgh Steelers at Cleveland Browns
Two weeks ago the Steelers were sitting pretty after a victory against the New York Giants with a 5-3 record.
An overtime victory over Kansas City on Monday Night Football that cost them Ben Roethlisberger to a shoulder and rib injury in Week 10 and a close, hard-fought loss against Baltimore has changed things considerably.
As bad as the Browns have been this season, this is their best chance to score a victory over a marquee team. It isn't going to be easy, as the Steelers haven't allowed an offensive touchdown in seven quarters.
For all their problems, the Browns have found ways to keep games close. They haven't lost by more than 10 points since Week 5, which is huge for a young, rebuilding franchise. This is their moment.
Trent Richardson is starting to peak as the season enters its final phase with 322 yards in his last three games. Josh Gordon is averaging nearly 20 yards per reception.
Browns 17, Steelers 13
Baltimore Ravens at San Diego Chargers
If you are the kind of person who looks for style points when judging how good or bad a team is, the Ravens have to be the most puzzling team in the NFL. They are 8-2 and lead the AFC North, which is great.
Yet for all the good on the surface, you get the feeling that eventually the bottom is going to drop with the Ravens. They are 21st in total offense, 25th in total defense, yet somehow manage to rank seventh in points per game and ninth in points allowed per game.
Quarterback Joe Flacco remains the greatest individual enigma in the AFC. He has completed at least 62 percent of his passes in three straight games. He has also thrown at least one interception in six of 10 games this season.
The Chargers continue to be a disappointment. Their four wins have come against Oakland, Tennessee and Kansas City. So what is there to like about them?
The Chargers are just behind the Ravens in takeaways in the AFC. They gave Denver, a better team than the Ravens, a good game last week. Philip Rivers has thrown for 918 yards in four home games and is completing over 67 percent of his passes.
Rivers does have to limit the turnovers to give the Chargers a shot to stay in the game, but if ever there was a game for him to stop the bleeding, this would be it. I think.
Chargers 24, Ravens 20
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