Week 13 of the NFL season begins the playoff race and momentum for this next month can be traced back to this point.
Will Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys make a postseason run at the New York Giants? That all depends, because the desperate Philadelphia Eagles visit Big D on Sunday night and are looking to spoil any hope for January.
Now, the Cowboys still have a second opportunity to get back at the Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins. So, winning now bodes well for later as the NFC East remains an open division.
That said, let's take a look at the Eagles-Cowboys game and winners for the entire slate of matchups this weekend.
Just like the first meeting, the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons will come down to the wire.
In short, the team that impacts on the ground to keep the other offense off the field possesses an extreme competitive edge.
Neither present the ability to consistently stop the run, because Atlanta allows 4.8 yards per rush and New Orleans gives up 5.1 per carry. The difference, however, the Saints are averaging 4.2 per rushing attempt to the Falcons' 3.6.
New Orleans simply has a more dynamic ground game as it outrushed Atlanta 148-46 a few weeks ago.
Saints 28, Falcons 24
This is an interesting matchup, because the Jacksonville Jaguars have proven to present a bit more explosiveness offensively as of recent.
Then again, that's also courtesy of Chad Henne being under center.
At the same token, the Buffalo Bills are similar as Ryan Fitzpatrick averages 10.77 per completion. And Jacksonville is suspect defensively, even with the addition of Jason Babin, per ESPN.com:
Running the football, though, is to Buffalo's advantage as it gets 5.2 per carry and the Jags allow 136 per game. Provided the Bills keep Jacksonville's improved offense off the field, Buffalo punches out a fifth win.
Bills 23, Jaguars 17
The Seattle Seahawks and Chicago Bears is an immense contest with postseason implications.
Also, according to Gregg Rosenthal of NFL.com:
The Seattle Seahawks might boast the best cornerback duo in the league in Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner. They are certainly the most physical. And until their reported suspension appeal is heard, they remain available.
So, the Bears' passing game will find tougher success downfield. In turn, resorting to the ground game is the better option. Another concern for Chicago, though, is running back Matt Forte. Per Jeff Dickerson of ESPN Chicago:
Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte had limited participation in practice on Wednesday, an encouraging development after the Pro Bowl tailback had to leave last week's game against the Minnesota Vikings with an ankle injury.
"He looked fine. He's going to be okay," Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice said. "I'm sure. I hope."
Even worse, Chicago's defense allows an average of 4.3 per carry and Marshawn Lynch is getting 4.6. Until the Bears prove to stop the run as well as become more explosive offensively against good defenses, 2012 will disappoint vs. tough teams.
Seahawks 20, Bears 16
How about another overtime game that results in another tie?
Don't count on it.
Compared to the first meeting, the San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams are still worlds apart.
The 'Niners haven't lost since the New York Giants came to town and the Rams dropped the ball to the New York Jets immediately after tying the 49ers.
San Francisco is on a roll with consecutive wins over the Bears and Saints, and Colin Kaepernick has proven to be the real deal. Obviously, the 49ers still field the better defense in allowing just 278 total yards per game to St. Louie's 341.
Kaepernick has gotten San Francisco more explosive as well, whereas Sam Bradford continues to struggle with some inconsistency.
49ers 30, Rams 21
While the Miami Dolphins reside in the midst of a roller-coaster type season, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots remain impressively consistent.
The Pats have won five straight and all three losses are by a combined four points.
Miami, on the other hand, just upset the Seahawks at home after dropping three consecutive. Here, the Dolphins' best odds are to run the rock and reduce Brady's possessions to a minimum.
Ryan Tannehill must set up the play-action pass, because New England is well-versed against the run but extensively suspect in coverage, as it ranks No. 29 in pass defense. As for the Pats, having Brady air it out all day is the obvious solution.
Miami may present a solid pass rush; however, the 'Fins are also vulnerable against the pass. With the Pats' balanced approach and defense capable of forcing turnovers, the Dolphins are simply outmatched.
Patriots 37, Dolphins 20
Is this the week the Arizona Cardinals finally get off the schnide?
Losers of seven straight, Larry Fitzgerald and Co. face the NFL's drama club in the New York Jets.
Unfortunately for Arizona, the pass protection remains a serious issue and anyone can apply pressure on the Cardinals' quarterbacks. Additionally, Arizona lacks a rushing attack to present balance, and the defense is also susceptible in the trenches.
New York, though, isn't impressive either.
The Jets lack a pass rush, are incredibly suspect against the run and don't present a strong offensive ground game. In short, this game will be ugly.
Arizona has an advantage, though: its pass rush. Doing so will create turnovers and provide Fitzgerald and the offense with extra playmaking opportunities.
Cardinals 17, Jets 13
If the Detroit Lions have proven anything it's that they can't stop a strong passing game.
Thus far, Detroit gives up a 65.7 completion percentage to opposing quarterbacks and has recorded only seven picks through 11 games.
Courtesy of Andrew Luck; however, the Indianapolis Colts rank No. 7 in passing offense and sport a 7-4 record. Although Luck's numbers aren't overly dominant, his presence under center and the decent balance offered from the rushing attack allows Indy to move the ball.
The Lions offense is strictly predicated around the passing game.
Even in averaging 4.2 yards per rushing attempt, Detroit doesn't run the ball enough to draw a defense to stack the box. In this game, though, neither defense possesses the ability to force turnovers and stop the run.
Indianapolis is just more efficiently balanced and defends slightly better against the pass.
Colts 24, Lions 21
Key injuries as of right now will be the difference between the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers.
According to Mike Spofford of the Packers' official website:
Packers LB Clay Matthews (hamstring) sat out practice once again on Wednesday, but Head Coach Mike McCarthy said he watched Matthews go through his rehab workout and the medical staff is planning to re-evaluate the star pass rusher on Friday.
Tight end Kyle Rudolph, who missed Wednesday's practice because of a shoulder strain, returned to practice today and was going through all individual and team drills during the portion of practice open to reporters.
Percy Harvin, who was limited in practice on Wednesday, was in pads but did not have his helmet with him, nor did he participate in any drills during the open portion of practice.
Injuries aside, which team establishes the better ground attack holds a strong advantage. Green Bay only averages 3.8 yards per attempt, while Adrian Peterson slams for an average of 5.8.
Include Aaron Rodgers' underachieving pass protection and the Vikings' pass rush, Minnesota upsets on the road.
Vikings 21, Packers 20
During 2012's middle portion, the Tennessee Titans appeared to be a deep sleeper in the AFC.
Unfortunately, the tides quickly took a turn for the worse after Jacksonville's Week 12 win.
At the same time, the Houston Texans are fighting for the conference's top seed as well as the league's best record. Earlier in the year Houston slammed Tennessee 38-14 and both interceptions went back for touchdowns.
The Week 13 contest won't be much different. Arian Foster remains the Texans' offensive focal point and Chris Johnson is Tennessee's lone chance to move the ball.
J.J. Watt and Houston's defense still dominates vs. the run and can make plays in coverage. On the contrary, Tennessee is anything but dominant when it comes to defense.
Texans 35, Titans 17
If there's one thing the Kansas City Chiefs can do, it's running the ball with Jamaal Charles who averages 4.8 yards per rush.
K.C. has not been able to enjoy success in any other facet of the game, however.
Despite ranking No. 10 against the pass and having to defend the least number of pass attempts so far in 2012, the Chiefs have allowed 22 passing touchdowns—tied for second-most in the NFL.
Therefore, expect Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers to challenge K.C. downfield quite often.
The faster Carolina can push the pace is to its advantage also, because the Chiefs lack any sort of explosiveness to keep up.
Panthers 31, Chiefs 16
Doug Martin and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers face their toughest opponent yet this season.
Von Miller and the Denver Broncos defense ranks No. 5 against the pass, No. 9 vs. the run and allow only 308.3 total yards per contest.
Even worse for Tampa is Denver holding opponents to a 3.6 yard per carry average.
Now, Martin goes average 4.8 per attempt and the Buccaneers balanced attack is capable of moving the ball. Nevertheless, Denver's front seven can stuff the run, and Champ Bailey and the secondary will lock down in coverage.
Put it this way: The Broncos restricted Drew Brees to 213 yards passing and the Saints to 14 points.
Offensively, Peyton Manning may see the veteran Ronde Barber across from him. Still, Tampa ranks dead last in pass defense and allows a 66.4 completion percentage to opposing quarterbacks.
Broncos 34, Buccaneers 17
This is quite the winnable game for the Cleveland Browns.
For starters, the Oakland Raiders allow an average of 379 total yards and a league-high 32.4 points per game.
Contrary to Oakland, Cleveland's defense is capable of generating turnovers and impressive quarterback pressure. Most definitely is Carson Palmer able to thwart a coverage, but it's the ground game that will be needed to win for Oakland.
Mike Goodson also back at practice with Darren McFadden; Richard Seymour still out— Vic Tafur (@VicTafur) November 28, 2012
The Browns, however, have the front seven personnel to stop the run and force the Raiders into a one-dimensional attack. Provided Cleveland's offense remains balanced, this game will slowly get out of hand in the second half.
Browns 28, Raiders 14
While the Cincinnati Bengals are fighting for a shot at the postseason, the San Diego Chargers are fighting just to avoid a catastrophic breakdown.
The Bolts have four wins, although two have come courtesy of Kansas City.
At least the Bengals have logged wins over the New York Giants and Washington Redskins.
Fielding receiver A.J. Green, Cincy's potential offensive explosion continues through another weak defense. After all, the Chargers allow a 62.9 completion percentage and have recorded only nine picks. Oh yes, and there's giving up a 4th-and-29 to the Baltimore Ravens, which is absurd vs. anyone.
Flip to San Diego's offense and the Bolts continue to frustrate. With the Bengals pass rush gaining confidence and Philip Rivers' unreliable pass protection, this contest ends before halftime.
Bengals 27, Chargers 7
Everything here comes down to the health of Ben Roethlisberger.
Does not look good for #steelers Roethlisberger Sunday.— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) November 29, 2012
That said, this game won't be the nail-biter as the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens typically are—regardless of whether Big Ben is under center.
To win, Pittsburgh must maintain a rushing attack, because Baltimore's defense allows four yards per carry and the pass rush still needs to improve.
The question, however: Is can Pittsburgh maintain ball control and win the possession battle?
No, because the Ravens remain capable of generating turnovers while the Joe Flacco and the offense effectively moves the rock. Ray Rice will slam the trenches to keep the balance and the Steelers' vulnerabilities against the run get exposed once again.
Ravens 23, Steelers 10
The Dallas Cowboys aren't out of the postseason picture just yet.
Yes, Tony Romo and the 'Boys are sporting a 5-6 record right along with the Washington Redskins.
Nonetheless, with another chance at RG3 the Cowboys have to get a win at home against the Philadelphia Eagles.
According to Eagles trainer Rick Burkholder, RB LeSean McCoy is still in stage one of his concussion recovery - 11 days after he got hurt.— Reuben Frank (@RoobCSN) November 29, 2012
And also from Frank, receiver DeSean Jackson:
Andy Reid: DeSean two broken ribs. Out for the year.— Reuben Frank (@RoobCSN) November 27, 2012
So, the end result appears to be a foregone conclusion.
Without any pass protection Philly won't move the ball and the running game will get stifled. Dallas's explosiveness will rack of yards and points, as the Eagles defenses continues to fail miserable as well.
Cowboys 33, Eagles 0
The main matchup in this game will be Eli Manning vs. the Washington Redskins' pass defense.
That turned out to be the difference in the first meeting, as Manning tossed for 337 yards and one touchdown despite two picks.
The Redskins aren't too opportunistic defensively either, and Big Blue appears to be wrecking now after dominating the Packers last week.
Washington, offensively, simply can't turn the ball over and Robert Griffin III must receive excellent pocket protection. In the October contest, RG3 was sacked three times, threw an interception and fumbled twice (losing one).
And in Week 12 the Giants sacked Aaron Rodgers five times, recorded an interception and recovered the one forced fumble. So, RG3's mobility will be needed to extend plays because of New York's new-found level of confidence.
Still, can Washington's suspect defense slow down Big Blue's potential offensive onslaught?
Giants 31, Redskins 20
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