The traditional Thanksgiving slate of games on Thursday may have pared down the Week 12 schedule a bit, but there is no shortage of scintillating action as we head into the bulk of action on Sunday.
Unfortunately for folks out there who only pay attention to the AFC, none of that action will be heading your way. Each of Sunday's top-notch contests involves a battle of NFC teams, meaning the playoff picture in that conference should be a whole lot clearer after Week 12.
What are those games and who will win? Here is a complete breakdown of Sunday's best contests and predictions for each game's outcome.
Atlanta Falcons (9-1) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-4)
While both teams are certainly solid, Sunday's contest will be a "prove it" game for the Falcons and Buccaneers.
After being the last undefeated team in the NFL, Atlanta has been on a slow regression out of the "elite" conversation. Last week saw the Falcons somehow get a 23-19 victory over Arizona despite Matt Ryan throwing no touchdowns and five interceptions.
Just for reference, that instance was the first time a team had won with a similar performance since Bart Starr's Green Bay Packers in 1967, per Grantland's Bill Barnwell.
Tampa Bay, on the other hand, has looked fantastic and has won has won five of its last six games. However, none of those victories have come against teams that would be in the playoffs if the season ended today.
Still, the Buccaneers offense seems like a runaway train at this point. Quarterback Josh Freeman has six straight multi-touchdown games and running back Doug Martin seems well on his way to stardom.
What's more, seven of the Falcons' 10 games thus far have been decided by one score or less, and Mike Smith's crew has a 6-1 record in those contests.
History tells us a reversion to the mean will come at some point. Look for it to begin on Sunday, as the Buccaneers hand the Falcons their second one-score loss of the season.
Score Prediction: Buccaneers 27, Falcons 24
San Francisco 49ers (7-2-1) at New Orleans Saints (5-5)
Who would have thought a few weeks ago that it would be the 49ers that would come into this game with controversy?
According to ESPN, San Francisco is planning to start Colin Kaepernick over Alex Smith on Sunday. Though Smith is still recovering from a concussion, head coach Jim Harbaugh expects him to be medically cleared for the contest, according to an AP report (per Yahoo! Sports).
If Kaepernick starts, that could be signaling a more permanent change at quarterback. As for what that means for Sunday? It means I'm picking the Saints to get their fourth consecutive victory.
Listen, Kaepernick is a young, exciting quarterback. He was sensational against the Chicago Bears last week, completing 16-of-23 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns, and there's little reason to think he will flounder against New Orleans' defense.
However, this Saints team is one of the hottest teams in the NFL. Drew Brees is back to picking apart opposing defenses with ease and the team simply seems better coached under Joe Vitt.
In what should be a close matchup, trusting a second-year quarterback to win just isn't in the cards for me.
Score Prediction: Saints 28, 49ers 23
Green Bay Packers (7-3) at New York Giants (6-4)
Last week's bye could not have come at a better time for the Giants. The team had lost two straight games and looked on its way to a patented November swoon.
Ostensibly, the week off would give New York a chance to reflect, right the ship (particularly on offense) and get back to clinching the NFC East.
Well, just don't tell that to the Packers. Green Bay comes into Week 12 having won six of its seven contests since the infamous "Fail Mary" loss to the Seattle Seahawks, including five straight.
Aaron Rodgers is back to playing at his MVP heights, accumulating a whopping 24 touchdown passes in his team's hot streak. The Packers signal-caller has made stars out of Randall Cobb and James Jones while his top targets were out and now Green Bay may have the deepest receiving corps in football.
The popular trope is that every year we count the Giants out, they come right back to prove us wrong. However, until we actually see that happen on Sunday, I'm pulling a Jim Harbaugh and sticking with the hot hand.
Score Prediction: Packers 34, Giants 24
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