Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson will be tested on the road this weekend in games that will define their seasons.
Luck and the Indianapolis Colts go into Houston to take on the mighty Texans one week after the New England Patriots dismantled them in Boston, RG3 and the Washington Redskins will travel to Cleveland to face the suddenly surging Browns—a team that has won three straight games—and Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks will go across the country to face the Buffalo Bills.
All three quarterbacks have their teams in the playoffs or in the playoff hunt, and a loss at this point in the season could be catastrophic.
With that in mind, we'll take a look at each player's matchup this week and discuss what a win or loss would mean for the rest of the season.
With a 9-4 record, it would seem that the Colts have a sure path to the playoffs, and a victory in Houston would assure it happened. But if the Colts lose all three of their remaining games and the 6-7 New York Jets win all of theirs, the Jets would own the tiebreaker for one of the wild-card spots.
The schedule isn't easy, either, as the Colts still have two games against the Texans and a road test in Kansas City.
And given the fact that the Pittsburgh Steelers or Cincinnati Bengals would own a record of 10-6 should either of them win out, the Colts would miss out on the playoffs altogether under the right (or wrong, depending on how you look at it) circumstances.
Needless to say, the Colts can't afford to lose this weekend, but the Texans present a particularly difficult challenge.
The biggest weakness of the Colts offense is undoubtedly its offensive line. The greatest strength of the Texans defense is its ferocious front seven, led by J.J. Watt.
And though the Texans secondary has been exploited lately, Luck will need time to throw in order to take advantage.
A victory isn't impossible, but given the fact that the Texans' only loss at home this year came at the hands of Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, it's highly improbable.
But an improbable victory would certainly spark this team, and with it, the Colts would unbelievably move to within a single game of the Texans with one more game to play against their divisional rivals in Week 17—a game that could move the Colts into first place in the AFC South.
Both teams are well aware of all these facts, and it's going to be interesting to see how Luck handles this kind of mounting pressure. More than likely, he'll continue looking like a seasoned veteran on the outside, but you have to know he's a bundle of nerves on the inside, just like any other person would be in his shoes.
Wilson and the 8-5 Seahawks currently hold a tenuous one-game lead over three teams and are a half-game up on the Chicago Bears.
With a Week 16 tilt against the San Francisco 49ers looming, the Seahawks can ill afford to lose a game to the Bills in Week 15. And though this team beat the Chicago Bears on the road in Week 13, it hasn't been a strong road team in 2012, losing five of seven games.
The Bills won't go down easy, either.
Buffalo has been a bit of a conundrum this year, showing up and playing like we all thought it would on some occasions while seemingly sleep-walking through the rest.
They've won two of their last four games, though, and the defense stepped up to start playing with some serious fire the past few weeks, holding opponents to just over 254 yards per game the past four games.
And don't look now, but Mario Williams has tallied six sacks during this stretch, too.
Road games are always a test, but this one will be the biggest one to date. The Seahawks are fighting to stay in the playoff hunt, and it's time to either sink or swim.
Robert Griffin III
The Redskins are in a position where they absolutely cannot lose a single game.
At 7-6 and one game behind the Seahawks, Bears and New York Giants, the Redskins are tied with the Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys for a chance to steal one of the final spots in the NFC.
RG3 and the 'Skins head to the Dawg Pound to face the Browns this weekend, and you can bet it's going to be a physical game. The Browns have won three games in a row, and though two of them were against the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs, Cleveland has been playing well since Week 7.
That makes things a bit more complicated for RG3 and the Redskins. If he plays, he's going to be significantly hampered by his sprained LCL. Much of what the Redskins do in the passing game is predicated on Griffin rolling out and on the read-option out of the pistol.
If he can't run, Griffin will be forced to do something he's never before done in his entire career: He'll need to become a pure pocket passer.
If he fails, all of his detractors who claim he's a gimmick quarterback who only thrives because of the system Mike Shanahan installed will be proven right.
But if he succeeds, how much more will the legend of RG3 grow?
This contest will define the Redskins' season, and it will also define how we view Griffin as a quarterback.
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