Consider December a prequel to the NFL postseason, because the magnitude of each game from here on out significantly increases.
Take Robert Griffin III vs. Eli Manning in Week 13.
The Washington Redskins enter next month on a two-game winning streak and host the New York Giants on Monday night. Big Blue is atop the NFC East and Washington has more control over the Wild-Card picture than it appears at first glance.
After a close call between these two in Week 7, expect another nail-biter to open the regular season's final month.
Let's check out the Giants and Redskins, along with some other colossal playoff-implicating contests from pro football's 13th week.
Both the Seattle Seahawks and Chicago Bears are positioned well for a run at the postseason.
A victory in Week 13, though, will significantly enhance the winner's playoff odds. For one, the Bears remain only one game ahead of the Packers in the NFC North.
Seattle has already lost to the 49ers, so winning here and against San Francisco themselves in Week 16 would be enormous.
For this contest, each offense has to play to its strength and run the rock. With Marshawn Lynch averaging 4.6 yards per rush and Chicago's defense allowing 4.3, Seattle will need to control the tempo and shorten the game.
We saw how potent the Bears offense can be with Jay Cutler on the field in Week 12, and Chicago's attacking balance creates issues for any defense. With Brandon Marshall out wide, play action only becomes more dangerous with Cutler's strong arm.
By comparison, the Seahawks defense doesn't consistently force as many turnovers. Therefore, expect the Bears to attack Russell Wilson from the start and get Cutler more possessions throughout.
Bears 24, Seahawks 14
The first of two meetings between the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers is vital for both teams. Only one game separates the two in the NFC North, and both are behind the first-place Bears.
In short, the victor here holds second place in the division and is immensely closer to a playoff berth.
Interestingly enough, the Vikings and Packers both got smacked in Week 12: Minnesota lost at Chicago 28-10 and Green Bay fell to the New York Giants 38-10.
Here, the main key to the game revolves around the impact of Adrian Peterson.
Minnesota needs him to slam the Packers' front seven, while Green Bay must minimize the damage. The more Peterson controls this contest, the fewer opportunities provided for Aaron Rodgers.
Green Bay's forte is to push the pace and force the Vikings to be one-dimensional. Minnesota needs to shorten the game and keep the Packers' offense off the field. Since the Packers allow 4.1 yards per carry and Peterson gets 5.8 per rush, the Vikings do have an edge.
The difference, however, will be the availability of Clay Matthews, who has missed the past two games. And according to ESPN.com, he is currently listed as questionable.
Vikings 23, Packers 21
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are coming off a tough home loss to the Atlanta Falcons in Week 12.
And as their reward, the Bucs get to face Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos on the road in Week 13. Denver rides a six-game winning streak and controls its own destiny atop the AFC West.
As for postseason implications, the Broncos remain fourth in the conference and Tampa is fighting for an NFC Wild Card. A Broncos win keeps pace for a potential playoff bye, whereas a Bucs win allows Tampa to keep pace with other NFC contenders such as Seattle, Minnesota, Green Bay and Washington.
There's one obvious disparity between Denver and Tampa Bay, though.
With Manning under center, the Broncos rank No. 6 in passing offense, and Tampa remains dead last in passing defense. Even though the Bucs are adept at forcing turnovers, Manning is another kind of monster.
The legendary gunslinger holds a 67.7 completion percentage, while Denver's defense is among the best around.
Now, Tampa Bay does field a balanced attack, but Josh Freeman hasn't faced a pass rush like Von Miller and Co. in 2012.
Broncos 30, Buccaneers 21
Whenever the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens square off, the AFC playoff picture gets affected.
The concern entering this Week 13 matchup is obvious: Ben Roethlisberger.
And according to Ed Werder of ESPN:
I'm told that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is 50-50 to start Sunday against the Ravens.— Ed Werder (@Edwerderespn) November 27, 2012
To that end, regardless of who is under center in Pittsburgh, expect a tough game.
Baltimore's defense has certainly been improving as the season progresses; however, the Ravens still give up four yards per carry and a 60.2 completion percentage to opposing quarterbacks—they have only 11 picks on the year.
Pittsburgh's offense just can't turn the ball over like it did vs. the Cleveland Browns. If the Steelers can get the ground game working, the balance will hold and they'll control the tempo.
Fortunately for Baltimore, the Ravens also present a balanced offense capable of winning the possession battle. Also, Ray Rice is a greater threat on the ground, and Joe Flacco rarely makes mistakes.
Ravens 17, Steelers 10
The Washington Redskins have arguably the best position of any NFC team vying for a Wild Card spot.
With wins over perennial playoff teams New Orleans, Tampa Bay and Minnesota, Washington's head-to-head tiebreakers are a huge advantage down the stretch. Nonetheless, the Redskins still have to win.
And in Week 13, Eli Manning and the New York Giants visit our nation's capital.
Big Blue is coming off an impressive trouncing of the Packers and appear to be back in rhythm. Washington has just run off two straight and are more confident now than before the first meeting between the teams.
This simply comes down to which quarterback out-performs the other. Robert Griffin III's dual threat is capable of thwarting New York, and Manning will dice the Redskins' No. 31-ranked pass defense.
The end result will thus be influenced by the better pass rush.
Through 11 games, the Giants have 10 more sacks than Washington, and Manning has been sacked only 13 times.
Compare that to the 26 sacks of RG3.
Giants 26, Redskins 21
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