It's Week 14 of the 2012 NFL season, and the playoff picture is beginning to come into focus. Teams such as the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots have already punched their tickets for the postseason.
However, there's still plenty to be decided, from playoff spots to draft position, and as we look ahead to another week of NFL action that's sure to include its' share of surprises, here are a handful of bold predictions for Sunday's games.
At 11-1 the Atlanta Falcons have already sewn up the NFC South crown, and at 3-9 the Carolina Panthers are just playing for pride, but that doesn't mean there isn't some intrigue surrounding Sunday's matchup in Charlotte.
That intrigue was provided by Panthers defensive end Greg Hardy, who told Joseph Person of The Charlotte Observer that Carolina was a better team than the Falcons and that he and his teammates want the Falcons to "go home sick in the stomach, mad about life, a couple depression issues, all types of things.”
The Falcons have made it something of a habit to squeak by inferior teams this year, but for one Sunday at least that's not going to fly, as an inspired Panthers team will shock the Falcons and add a little suspense to the battle for home field in the NFC.
You know that things haven't exactly gone as planned for two NFL teams when the major subplot of their game is the return of an injured backup who probably won't see the field to the state of Florida.
Yet that's exactly what we have in Jacksonville this week, as more people are talking about the return of New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow to the Sunshine State than the game between the Jets and Jaguars.
There's good reason for that, as the Jets and Jaguars will play a hideous game in front of 13 people (that's attendance plus television audience) that features more turnovers than touchdowns...by a significant margin.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin has had a very successful rookie season, piling up over 1,100 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground.
However, Martin's production has slowed down of late, with the former Boise State star gaining fewer than 60 rushing yards in each of the last two games.
That cold streak will be snapped on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles' 18th-ranked run defense, with Martin rolling for over 125 yards on the ground in a big win for the Buccaneers.
At 5-7 the New Orleans Saints are all but out of the playoff race in the NFC, while the New York Giants are once again doing things the hard way, with their lead in the NFC East down to a single game after Monday night's loss to the Washington Redskins.
That makes Sunday's matchup between the Saints and Giants a big game for both clubs, and with two of the NFL's best quarterbacks facing soft secondaries there's a high likelihood of offensive fireworks in the Big Apple.
Week 14's marquee showdown features the 11-1 Houston Texans and the 9-3 New England Patriots in a game that could go a long way toward determining home field in the AFC playoffs this season.
The game is a battle of the "old guard" in the conference versus a team trying to establish itself as the new king of the hill, and while it may well be the Houston Texans representing the AFC in Super Bowl XLVII, the Patriots aren't going to hand over the mantle of best team in the AFC without a fight.
That will become evident on Monday night, when an opportunistic Patriots defense forces three turnovers, Tom Brady tops 300 yards through the air, and New England wins in fairly convincing fashion at home.