It's nail-biting time for NFL fans, coaches and players alike as Week 12 approaches.
Every game at this point in the season carries exceptional weight as the fuzzy playoff picture slowly comes into focus. Though six weeks remain, some teams are already in playoff mode, as a single loss could doom their playoff chances.
Looking at Sunday's schedule, there are a few key games that stand out as potential must-win scenarios for teams on the playoff bubble. Here's a look at the entire slate of games, followed by a closer examination of the most critical of those games.
|Week 12 NFL Picks|
|Date||Road Team||Home Team||Pick|
|NFL Week 12|
Pittsburgh at Cleveland
The AFC North is quickly becoming the Cincinnati Bengals' division to lose.
Pittsburgh and Cleveland are tied with Baltimore two games behind the Bengals in the loss column at 4-6, and another loss by any of the three teams could prove devastating to their playoff hopes.
This will be the first of two meetings between these two teams.
The Steelers are trending up, having won four of their last six games, while Cleveland is reeling, having lost four of its last five.
Except for the 55-31 devastating loss suffered at the hands of the New England Patriots, Pittsburgh's defense has been playing decent football of late, considering the team's lack of playmakers on that side of the ball.
Ben Roethlisberger and his offense have started clicking, averaging over 30 points in the past three games.
Meanwhile, Cleveland has allowed 30 points a game for the past five games while scoring just 17 points per game.
Look for these trends to continue on Sunday, as the Steelers will win their third game in a row.
Projected Score: Steelers win 31-17.
New York Jets at Baltimore
Baltimore has suffered some gut-wrenching losses this year. Four of the team's six losses have been decided by three points or less, while a fifth game was decided by just six points.
John Harbaugh's team plays with heart week in and week out, making every opponent earn every single inch on the field.
The same can't be said for the New York Jets.
Coming into the game with a record of 5-5, the Jets have been blown out three times this year—the last coming on Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, who won 37-14 at home.
Geno Smith turned the ball over four times in that contest, and the Bills were able to return one of his turnovers for a touchdown. Smith seems to be regressing as opposing defenses figure out his limitations and capabilities.
This is the perfect storm for a huge win by the Baltimore Ravens at home.
Look for Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil to have a huge impact on Smith, forcing him into critical mistakes that will help Baltimore win easily on Sunday.
Projected Score: Ravens win 35-14.
Dallas at New York Giants
It's been a while since these two NFC East teams battled one another.
You have to go all the way back to Week 1, when the Dallas Cowboys narrowly defeated the New York Giants in Dallas 36-31, thanks to a huge game by Dallas' defense, which scored two touchdowns off turnovers.
A lot has happened since that game.
Dallas' defense has emerged as the absolute worst in the NFL. The Cowboys enter the game with a record of 5-5 (miraculously) and are one game behind the Philadelphia Eagles for first place in the NFC East.
New York lost five more games after losing to Dallas, but a four-game winning streak has put the Giants just two games behind Philly in the loss column for the NFC East lead. It's been New York's defense that has led the way (11.75 points allowed per game the past four games), which is reminiscent of the team's two recent Super Bowl runs.
Along with the return of running back Andre Brown, this Giants team appears to be getting hot at just the right time to potentially take the division by storm in the final weeks.
Projected Score: Giants win 38-24.
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