As the regular season winds down, games between divisional opponents will take on a higher level of importance. Not only in terms of winning the division to guarantee a playoff home game, but for tiebreaker purposes in terms of simply earning a berth, as well.
There are several key division games on the schedule for Week 13. They start right away on Thursday night as the New Orleans Saints look to get back on track against the Atlanta Falcons. That's just start of what's a crucial week for several playoff hopeful teams.
Let's examine the top divisional matchups and make a prediction for each.
New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons
Drew Brees must be practically perfect for the Saints to win games. So when he has two interceptions returned for touchdowns, as he did against the San Francisco 49ers, things aren't going to end well. Now the Saints must regroup once again.
They did knock off the Falcons less than a month ago, but that was at home. Atlanta remains unbeaten at home. In order to score a repeat performance, the Saints must once again force the Falcons to become one-dimensional on offense.
By shutting down the running game, Matt Ryan was forced to throw 52 times. Even though he threw three touchdowns, the Saints were able to keep pace. If the Falcons find balance, that won't be the case. Either way, it should be a rare terrific Thursday night game.
Prediction: Saints 28, Falcons 27
Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens
If there were questions about how valuable Ben Roethlisberger is to the Steelers, they have been eliminated after watching the offense for the past few weeks. His playing status for Sunday's clash remains up in the air.
The good news for Pittsburgh is that its defense continues to play at an high level. Lawrence Timmons and Co. should be able to keep the rivalry matchup close regardless of Big Ben's status, but they need their star QB to win.
On the flip side, the Ravens can clinch a playoff spot with a victory. Their ability to find a way to win on a weekly basis is nothing short of amazing. That's because they still have several flaws, most notably run defense. Expect another narrow escape this weekend.
Prediction: Ravens 17, Steelers 10
New York Giants at Washington Redskins
The Giants defense has already gotten a chance to see Robert Griffin III in action. The dynamic rookie quarterback threw two touchdowns, including one to put the Redskins ahead with less than two minutes left, and ran for 89 yards.
Unfortunately for Redskins fans, Eli Manning showed off his ability to make plays late by answering with a TD pass of his own to give New York the victory. It was the first tremendous back-and-forth meeting between the two QBs, but it won't be the last.
In fact, fans should expect another one on Monday night. Washington has quietly worked its way back into playoff contention and a win would put them squarely in the NFC East mix. But ultimately, it's tough to pick against the Giants with their recent track record in big games.
Prediction: Giants 28, Redskins 24