We have arrived: the last month of the 2012 NFL season. It's incredible how quickly the time has passed, but Week 14 is here with some must-see TV.
Several vital games that will help shape the highly competitive playoff picture will take place during Sunday's action, and you won't want to miss out.
Two of the matchups are between marquee divisions that are both in the midst of somewhat of a down year. The other showdown involves two NFC North rivals that are scrapping to keep their seasons alive after losses this past weekend.
Here is the viewing information you need to know for these barn burners, as well as a breakdown of each with final score predictions.
Baltimore Ravens at Washington Redskins
Where: FedEx Field, Washington, D.C.
When: Sunday, Dec. 9, at 1 p.m. ET
TV: CBS and DirecTV 713 (NFL Sunday Ticket)
Have the Ravens finally been exposed as a not-so-great 9-3 team?
Before you argue with that question, consider Baltimore's schedule and victories to date. Two over the lowly Cleveland Browns, one over the Big Ben-less Steelers, a 9-6 scrum at Kansas City, a blowout of the Oakland Raiders and the 4th-and-29 for the ages in San Diego.
Come on now. That isn't very good competition, although it's unclear whether the Redskins are either. Week 13's version of Monday Night Football will go a long way in determining that.
It remains to be seen if the Redskins' improved secondary on Thanksgiving Day was an aberration or a trend. Allowing 441 passing yards to the Cowboys may not be viewed as an improvement, but Washington forced two critical interceptions from Dallas QB Tony Romo, who threw a whopping 62 times.
One thing is for sure, though: Robert Griffin III is a stud. He is quickly emerging as one of the most exciting player to watch in the NFL.
The Ravens defense is definitely not what it once was, and the high-powered Washington offense—with its No. 1 rushing attack—should expose that.
While it wouldn't be wise to discount the ability of legendary Baltimore safety Ed Reed to force a young QB into mistakes in the passing game, RGIII and Alfred Morris should devastate the Ravens enough on the ground to counteract anything like that.
Besides, Griffin has thrown just four picks all year and finally has his No. 1 wide receiver Pierre Garcon back after a nagging foot injury that caused him to miss most of the year. Expect the home team to make a ton of plays, put pressure on RGIII's counterpart Joe Flacco and make a serious playoff push with an upset victory in front of a raucous crowd in FedEx Field.
Final score: Redskins 34, Ravens 23
Dallas Cowboys at Cincinnati Bengals
Where: Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati
When: Sunday, Dec. 9, at 1 p.m. ET
TV: FOX and DirecTV 706 (NFL Sunday Ticket)
Another NFC East-AFC North clash has major playoff ramifications. The Bengals endured a four-game losing streak not long ago and got back on track with a convincing win over the New York Giants.
Dallas' season was on life support until a Sunday night matchup with an even more defunct Philadelphia Eagles team that resulted in a 38-33 win—and a spot in the postseason discussion once again.
It's ridiculous that such a talented team as the Cowboys have barely teetered on the fringe of playoff contention in recent years.
Rob Ryan's defense has been far too inconsistent, as has Romo's decision-making, which is stagnating an extremely talented offense. That is, until Sunday night. It was amazing what the Cowboys QB could do with an actual running game behind him.
Entering the evening, Dallas was dead last in the league running the ball, the third-most penalized in the league and had the second-worst turnover ratio in the NFC.
Fittingly, a fumble by Eagles RB Bryce Brown was scooped up by Morris Claiborne and iced the victory. But the Cowboys nearly gave it right back by allowing a 97-yard punt return for a TD.
Until superstar TE Jason Witten recovered the onside kick, that is. Whew.
In a very rare showing of resilience, Jason Garrett's team finally got off the mat. That momentum will hopefully be carried into Paul Brown Stadium to face the young, upstart Bengals, who have showed that they can push through adversity even in the face of powerhouse staples such as the Steelers and Ravens in their own division.
QB Andy Dalton looked to be in a sophomore slump but has snapped out of it. Free-agent RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis helped overcome a subpar game from his recently hot-handed quarterback against San Diego and finally looks worth the offseason investment.
Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer initially struggled to break in this year's group—a rare occurrence for the highly acclaimed coach.
But the Bengals have hit their stride lately and are stiffening their opponents each week. That spells trouble for the mistake-prone Cowboys, as this critical road test should put them out of the playoff picture in convincing fashion.
Final score: Bengals 28, Cowboys 20
Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings
Where: Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, Minneapolis
When: Sunday, Dec. 9, at 1 p.m. ET
TV: FOX and DirecTV 707 (NFL Sunday Ticket)
Here is a classic divisional battle, which holds importance for both the NFC North race and the conference wild-card hunt.
A resurgent Green Bay Packers team has overtaken the lead in the division, and the Detroit Lions simply couldn't put it together in 2012. That leaves these two squads, who met just mere weeks ago in Soldier Field. The Bears emerged victorious with ease, 28-10, and Minnesota will be out for revenge.
After a crushing overtime loss at home to the Seahawks, Chicago finds itself in a struggle just to remain in the NFC's top six thanks to the tiebreaking victory Seattle now possesses.
QB Jay Cutler was much better protected against a fierce Seahawks pass rush, but it might be a different story against the likes of Vikings DE Jared Allen. Then again, maybe not, considering what FoxSportsWisconsin.com's Andrew Gruman confirmed about the star's health on Sunday:
#Vikings DE Jared Allen did confirm that he has been playing with a torn labrum this season.— Andrew Gruman (@AndrewGruman) December 2, 2012
That has to hurt quite a lot to fight through. Then again, the Ravens' Reed is doing the exact same thing. I need to see more from that Chicago O-line before giving it a passing grade, especially since RB Matt Forte couldn't give the Bears any balance on offense against Seattle.
Due to an injury-depleted Bears receiving corps, it will be difficult for Cutler to continue locking onto favorite target Brandon Marshall and enjoying consistent success.
Not to forget is Adrian Peterson, who has been an absolute beast despite a major knee injury near the end of the 2011 season. All Day ran for 210 yards against the Packers in Week 13, and seemingly can't be stopped.
If the Vikings can control the ball with Peterson and get stud WR Percy Harvin back, they can perhaps keep their playoff hopes alive while hurting those of their rivals significantly.
Final score: Vikings 20, Bears 13
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