We have reached the point in the NFL schedule where games between division rivals are going to start looking more like playoff games than regular season games, played with an intensity and urgency that we may not have seen in their previous meetings.
While the divisional action kicked off on Thursday night when the Atlanta Falcons knocked off the New Orleans Saints by a score of 23-13, that was only the first of a number of divisional games with far-reaching implications.
Let's take a look at the biggest division games yet to be played this week and make some picks, shall we?
Minnesota Vikings (6-5) at Green Bay Packers (7-4): Sunday, December 2 at 1 p.m. ET
Both NFC North foes are coming off of disappointing losses in Week 12, both are dealing with injuries to key players and dealing with inconsistent play at key positions.
Minnesota isn't likely to have dynamic wide receiver and special teams stud Percy Harvin back from an ankle injury, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.
Without Harvin to throw to, the Vikings will once again rely heavily on Adrian Peterson, who has picked up at least 100 yards rushing in each of his past five games, in order to take pressure off of QB Christian Ponder, who has not shown the ability to raise his game to the next level.
Green Bay will be hard pressed to stop Peterson without linebacker Clay Matthews and safety Charles Woodson, who according to Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel have not been able to practice:
At #Packers practice, Ryan Pickett is back. Clay Matthews, Donald Driver, Charles Woodson, Sam Shields all out.— Tyler Dunne (@TyDunne) November 29, 2012
Another major concern for the Packers is protecting QB Aaron Rodgers, who has been getting hit far too often behind an offensive line that is an absolute mess. If the Packers can't contain the Vikings front seven, especially Jared Allen, it's going to be a long day for the Packers at home.
Prediction: Green Bay 33, Minnesota 24
Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5) at Baltimore Ravens (9-2): Sunday, December 2, 4:25 p.m. ET
Baltimore can clinch a playoff berth—and with some help from the San Diego Chargers, their second consecutive AFC North title—if they beat the Pittsburgh Steelers for the second time this season on Sunday afternoon in Baltimore.
Does not look good for #steelers Roethlisberger Sunday.— Ed Bouchette (@EdBouchette) November 29, 2012
Without Big Ben under center, it's hard to see how the Steelers can pull out a win. While Baltimore narrowly escaped with a 13-10 victory over the Steelers in Pittsburgh back in Week 11, Ravens QB Joe Flacco is a far better player at home than he is on the road:
Flacco Away: 121-of-219 (55.3 completion percentage), 1,238 yards, 4 TD, 4 INT, 18 sacks
Flacco Home: 115-of-173 (66.5 completion percentage), 1,612 yards, 10 TD, 3 INT, 8 sacks
Whatever the reason, Flacco is far more comfortable in the cozy confines of M&T Bank Stadium, and his play will ultimately lead the Ravens over the Steelers.
Prediction: Baltimore 23, Pittsburgh 17
New York Giants (7-4) at Washington Redskins (5-6): Monday, December 3, 8:30 p.m. ET
Back in Week 7, Redskins QB Robert Griffin III had seemingly beaten the Giants with a 30-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter, giving Washington a 23-20 lead with 1:32 left in the game.
But thanks to a sleeping Redskins secondary, Giants QB Eli Manning hit a wide-open Victor Cruz for a 77-yard touchdown to take a 27-23 lead with 1:12 left, a touchdown that deflated the Redskins and secured the win for the Giants.
RGIII tells ESPN that the Redskins are a different team this time around:
The things they faced facing us the last time with the running game are still there but we've added elements in the passing game that make us more dangerous. So they'll prepare for that and we'll see what happens.
Washington has won three games in a row while the Giants ended their two-game slide with a lopsided victory over the Green Bay Packers last week when they played with an urgency that we hadn't seen from them in nearly a month.
Expect to see that sense of urgency front and center again on Monday night in what will be a close, hard-fought battle.
Prediction: New York 24, Washington 21