As the NFL season shifts into the crucial month of December, there are several intriguing Week 13 storylines to watch out for.
Can the Falcons improve on their league-best 10-1 record? Can the Steelers stop their slide? Will Robert Griffin III continue his hot quarterback play?
Fans can find out the answers to these questions—and questions surrounding every game—with this NFL Week 13 analysis.
While the New Orleans Saints have certainly had their share of success against the Atlanta Falcons over the years, don’t expect that trend to continue on Thursday night.
The maligned Saints passing defense will struggle to slow down the Falcons' attack of Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Roddy White. Plus, Atlanta will be highly motivated to avenge its only loss of the season, which came a few weeks prior in New Orleans. That motivation will help Ryan and company get one step closer to clinching the NFC South.
Falcons win, 31-27
It’s a showdown between the present and the future when Matthew Stafford’s Lions battle Andrew Luck’s Colts.
Even though the rookie duo of Luck and speedy receiver T.Y. Hilton has made big plays, don’t expect them to upstage the combination of Stafford to Calvin Johnson.
The season is basically on the line for Detroit. Stafford and Johnson will play well, and the rest of Jim Schwartz’s team will follow suit.
The Lions will keep their very slim playoff hopes alive with a close win over the Colts.
Lions win, 30-24
With 10 days to rest their bodies and minds, expect the Houston Texans to return to the field with renewed vigor and focus.
If the Titans struggled to stop Chad Henne and the lowly Jaguars, how are they going to fare against the surging Andre Johnson and Houston’s explosive offense? They didn’t fare too well in Week 4, when they were trampled 38-14 by the Texans.
Similar results could be on tap this week in Tennessee.
Texans win, 38-17
Quarterbacks facing Bill Belichick for the first time usually struggle.
Just ask Andrew Luck, whose Colts were trampled 59-24 by the Patriots back in Week 11.
And guess what?
Dolphins rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill will be facing Belichick for the first time in Week 13 when Miami plays the Patriots. New England is forcing lots of turnovers (an NFL-best 32 so far) and scoring at will (108 points the past two games) at this point in the season.
Look for Belichick to rudely welcome Tannehill to the Pats-Dolphins rivalry.
Patriots win, 38-23
On paper, the game between the Panthers and Chiefs certainly looks like the dud of Week 13.
While Chiefs quarterback Brady Quinn certainly won’t scare the Panthers' defense, Carolina’s Cam Newton should be concerned with the Chiefs’ defense. Even through a miserable season, Kansas City’s defense continues to be stout. They recently knocked Ben Roethlisberger out of action and gave Peyton Manning fits in a close Week 12 loss to Denver.
A rugged defensive effort and heavy dose of Jamaal Charles will propel the Chiefs to their first win at Arrowhead this season.
Chiefs win, 12-7
Fans looking for great quarterback play certainly won’t be tuning into the Week 13 matchup between the Cardinals and Jets.
The hot seat is starting to get toasty for Rex Ryan. Defense is his calling and his unit needs to take advantage of their home matchup against a rookie quarterback.
But then again, this is the Jets we’re talking about. They’re so embattled that even Fireman Ed is giving up on them.
Take the Jets here—with a big grain of salt.
Jets win, 20-16
The last time the 49ers and Rams met, their Week 10 game ended in a 24-24 tie.
Colin Kaepernick will make sure that won’t happen again. The second-year 49ers quarterback has taken the job from veteran Alex Smith. It doesn’t look like he’s giving it up anytime soon.
The Rams already went against Kaepernick once this season, but that was when he came off the bench ice cold to replace Smith. Right now, Kaepernick is in a groove and his running ability gives the 49ers a new wrinkle offensively.
That wrinkle will be tough for the Rams to overcome.
49ers win, 31-17
Both the Packers and Vikings are licking their wounds after falling hard in Week 12 defeats.
Minnesota lost 28-10 in Chicago, while Green Bay was steamrolled by the Giants, 38-10.
This NFC North clash is going to come down to how well the Packers can protect star quarterback Aaron Rodgers. They failed miserably against New York and now have to go up against Jared Allen.
Defensively, the Packers miss the leadership and big play abilities of linebacker Clay Matthews. If he can’t return against Minnesota, Adrian Peterson will have a big day in a Vikings road win.
Vikings win, 28-24
Jaguars fans must be wondering why Mike Mularkey waited this long to start veteran quarterback Chad Henne permanently.
The Jacksonville offense has look rejuvenated under Henne the past two weeks. It took Henne’s ability for the rest of the NFL to realize that the Jaguars actually have some pretty dangerous weapons in rookie receiver Justin Blackmon and the surprising Cecil Shorts.
Henne is very familiar with Buffalo’s defense from his Miami days. It's a unit that has struggled all season to defend quarterbacks from Tom Brady to Alex Smith to Andrew Luck. Chan Gailey is going to regret that his Bills will be facing Henne instead of the injured Blaine Gabbert.
Jaguars win, 28-17
The Chicago Bears are glad to have Jay Cutler back.
Simply put, the Bears are Super Bowl contenders with a healthy Cutler under center. Their offense flows at a smooth pace, allowing their defense to play loose and force plenty of big turnovers.
Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson will face Chicago’s aggressive defense for the first time in Week 13.
Chances are, Bears like Brian Urlacher and Charles Tillman are looking forward to challenging Wilson.
Bears win, 30-13
Both the Buccaneers and Broncos are coming off closely contested Week 12 contests. Tampa lost a 24-23 heartbreaker to Atlanta, while Denver beat division rival Kansas City, 17-9.
With the win over Kansas City, the Broncos have won six straight. They’ll make it seven straight after Peyton Manning is done shredding the Bucs’ awful pass defense.
For those keeping track, Tampa statistically has the league’s worst pass defense, surrendering 315 yards a game.
Broncos win, 35-21
Stick a fork in Norv Turner and the Chargers; they’re done.
San Diego has now lost six of seven after losing in overtime (hello 4th-and-29!) to Baltimore in Week 12.
Meanwhile, Andy Dalton and the Bengals have won three straight to climb back in the AFC playoff hunt. Everyone knows what A.J. Green is capable of as a receiver. Now running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis is starting to emerge for Cincinnati.
The Bengals’ offensive firepower will turn up the heat on Turner’s hot seat to unbearable levels, if they’re not already there.
Bengals win, 24-22
Rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden may or may not start for Cleveland against the Raiders after suffering a concussion in Week 12.
But it won’t matter whether it’s Weeden, Colt McCoy or Bernie Kosar under center for the Browns.
After Doug Martin ran for 250 yards in Oakland not too long ago, fellow rookie running back Trent Richardson must be licking his chops in anticipation of going against Dennis Allen’s Swiss cheese Raiders defense.
Browns win, 30-22
The outcome of this heated AFC North rematch comes down to the health of Ben Roethlisberger.
There have been rumblings that the injured Steelers quarterback could return against the Ravens in Baltimore. Even though they may be risking Big Ben's long-term health by bringing him back early, Mike Tomlin may not have a choice.
Pittsburgh's offense has only scored two offensive touchdowns in the two games without Roethlisberger. If Big Ben misses this game, the Steelers have little chance of knocking off a Ravens team that is virtually unbeatable at home.
Ravens win, 14-10
This matchup certainly has lost much of its lure, considering how disappointing both the Eagles and Cowboys have been this season.
Dallas likely has to win if it has any chance of making the playoffs. Lucky for them, they’re going up against an Eagles team that is dead in the water at 3-8.
It has been tough going for Philly without both Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy.
Rookie quarterback Nick Foles has looked overmatched at times in his very young career. And although rookie running back Bryce Brown showed promise against Carolina, he has a case of the fumbles (two lost against the Panthers).
If McCoy can't return, it will be more of the same frustrations for Andy Reid's team in Texas.
Cowboys win, 35-24
So much for the New York Giants’ midseason swoon.
Tom Coughlin’s team came off their bye week and absolutely pasted Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night. Now the Giants face a different type of quarterback in the dual threat sensation that is Robert Griffin III. The first time the Giants and Redskins faced off this season, RGIII gave Giants defenders fits.
The rookie is red hot at the moment, having thrown eight touchdowns in his last two games, both Washington wins. He and fellow Redskins rookie Alfred Morris will help the ‘Skins get their third-straight win over an NFC East opponent in as many weeks.
Redskins win, 28-27