With the 2012 NFL season beginning to wind down, we are able to separate the contenders from the pretenders more with every passing week.
With some big matchups in Week 13, several contending teams find themselves in must-win situations if they are going to have a realistic shot at making the playoffs. If these teams find themselves on the losing end this week, those postseason hopes will take a significant hit.
New Orleans Saints
After a very disappointing start to the season, the Saints got hot. Unfortunately for them, meeting the NFL's best defense in Week 12 was enough to stop that streak, as they lost at home to the 49ers.
Now at 5-6 on the season, one more loss could push the Saints out of contention in an extremely tough NFC. Trying to avoid that situation will prove to be no easy task, as they will take on the Falcons on the road in Atlanta.
Having beaten Atlanta in their first matchup of the season, 31-27 in Week 11, the Saints could certainly get the job done again. Their offense can keep them in the game with the Falcons, and any team in the league for that matter, but it is the defense that has to step up.
If the Saints can get this win as underdogs on the road, it could spark another winning streak to end the season. In prime-time Thursday Night Football, we will see if this Saints team can rise to the occasion.
Prediction: Falcons 37 - Saints 31.
The Redskins still have a chance to catch the Giants in the NFC East race. However, if they can't beat the Giants on Monday night, then that chance could be completely gone.
These two teams' first matchup of the season provided us with one of the best finishes we've seen so far this year. In the end, the Giants came out on top thanks to a late TD pass from Eli Manning to Victor Cruz.
All season long, the Redskins have been inconsistent. However, with that inconsistency, they have still been dangerous. Going up against that offense led by rookie sensation Robert Griffin III is no easy task.
For the Redskins to win, they will need more of that RGIII magic. A prime-time game in front of a national crowd is the perfect place for him to do so.
Prediction: Redskins 27 - Giants 24.
It is not too often that a team enjoying a three game winning streak faces a must-win game. However, with the Bengals sitting at 6-5, playing in the division they are in, they are up against just that.
The Bengals are currently tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the second spot in the AFC North, as well as the second AFC Wild Card. With Pittsburgh playing in Baltimore this week, the Bengals have an opportunity to take sole possession of both spots if they can manage a win.
On Sunday afternoon, they will be on the road in San Diego taking on the Chargers. The Chargers have disappointed once again this year, so Cincinnati is in a good position. They cannot afford to drop this game.
With the Steelers likely getting QB Ben Roethlisberger back very soon, and the Colts facing a relatively favorable schedule to close out the season, the Bengals' main competition for playoff spots are in good shape. Every game from here on out will be huge, and it starts with this one.
Prediction: Bengals 34 - Chargers 21
Green Bay Packers
Coming off of a blowout loss at the hands of the Giants, the Packers need a win at home. Taking on the Minnesota Vikings, who are just one game back of the Packers in both the division and wild-card standings, furthers that notion even more.
A win against the Vikings could pad their lead on a potential wild-card spot and it would keep them within striking distance of the Bears in the NFC North.
Key injuries have played a huge factor this season for the Packers, and they will hope to get some of those players back for this game. Doing so would certainly give them an added boost on both sides of the ball, bettering their chances all-around.
With a tough schedule down the stretch, the Packers need this game.
Prediction: Packers 38 - Vikings 20
With the playoff races heating up, every game is huge for a contending team. Heading into Week 13, it is these four contending teams that find themselves in must-win situations.
This week, and in the weeks to follow, we will see more and more of these games. Some teams will thrive and some will falter, with the playoff picture becoming more clear as a result.