Week 12 kicked off on Thursday evening with the New Orleans Saints notching a 17-13 road victory over the Atlanta Falcons in a pivotal NFC South showdown.
The Saints improved to 9-2 and added to their division lead, while the Falcons dropped to 2-9, showing just how difficult it is to remain among the NFL's elite for an extended period of time.
Several teams in the playoff hunt will do battle on Sunday. At this later juncture in the season, the outcome of these contests will go a long way in shaping their respective destinies, serving as proper gauges for how they stack up to tough competition.
Below are predictions for the biggest games remaining on the Week 12 slate, along with a complete list of picks thereafter.
Dallas Cowboys (5-5) vs. New York Giants (4-6)
After a 0-6 start that seemed insurmountable, here come the Giants, who are on a four-game winning streak thanks to a huge improvement on defense and fewer mistakes from quarterback Eli Manning.
Also helping the cause has been Andre Brown. The running back's return has reignited the team's rushing attack, providing Manning with balance to distribute the ball to his plethora of weapons on the outside.
New York has not allowed a touchdown through the air and has forced seven interceptions in the midst of this run, per ESPN Stats & Info:
The Giants defense has not allowed a TD pass, and has 7 Int over last 4 games (against Freeman/Vick/Barkley/Pryor/Tolzien)— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 19, 2013
Granted, the caliber of quarterbacks are nowhere near Cowboy signal-caller Tony Romo, but Dallas' offense is discouraging enough to suggest Romo will experience similar struggles.
Cowboys' offensive coordinator Bill Callahan has been relying far too much on the pass, as the team has had only 25 rushing attempts over the past two contests combined.
The Giants will avenge Week 1's road loss and pull within one game of the Philadelphia Eagles for first place in the NFC East.
Prediction: Giants 34, Cowboys 24
Indianapolis Colts (7-3) vs. Arizona Cardinals (6-4)
How cool is this? The Cardinals have emerged as a rather surprising playoff contender under first-year head coach Bruce Arians. His interim job at the helm in Indianapolis last season helped key one of the biggest one-season turnarounds in recent memory.
Now the Colts are clearly a surefire AFC contender and are atop the AFC South by three games. They are also 4-1 on the road, while Arizona boasts the same stellar record at home.
Which road team has the best chance to win?
Something has to give here, but the key will be Indianapolis' inability to establish the run.
Trent Richardson has been a disappointment since being acquired in a huge trade earlier in the season in averaging 2.8 yards per carry with his new team. Although Donald Brown has played well, Sunday is a stiff test for the Colts' running backs against the league's No. 2 rush defense.
That will allow the Cardinals to focus on the Andrew Luck-led passing game, which is without Reggie Wayne and won't be able to challenge cornerback Patrick Peterson's side of the field often at all.
Arizona has taken care of business against poor competition in the midst of a three-game winning streak, but this will be a landmark victory for the home team.
Prediction: Cardinals 27, Colts 20
Denver Broncos (9-1) vs. New England Patriots (7-3)
Peyton Manning versus Tom Brady on Sunday night in prime time: It doesn't get much better than this in terms of quarterback duels.
Since the Patriots are coming off of a loss, it isn't wise to bet against Brady and Bill Belichick in such a situation.
That's especially so considering how well Brady performed against the Carolina Panthers this past Monday evening, where he threw for just under 300 yards and a touchdown in facing what is arguably the best all-round defense in the NFL.
However, Manning was just as impressive in beating the Kansas City Chiefs 27-17 by throwing for 323 yards and one score.
The X-factor here will be the Patriots' history of befuddling Manning, whose 19 interceptions in 13 previous games highlight some of his struggles.
Prediction: Patriots 38, Broncos 31
|Away Team||Home Team||Winner|
|Pittsburgh Steelers||Cleveland Browns||Browns|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Detroit Lions||Lions|
|Minnesota Vikings||Green Bay Packers||Vikings|
|San Diego Chargers||Kansas City Chiefs||Chiefs|
|Chicago Bears||St. Louis Rams||Bears|
|Carolina Panthers||Miami Dolphins||Panthers|
|New York Jets||Baltimore Ravens||Ravens|
|Jacksonville Jaguars||Houston Texans||Texans|
|Tennessee Titans||Oakland Raiders||Titans|
|Indianapolis Colts||Arizona Cardinals||Cardinals|
|Dallas Cowboys||New York Giants||Giants|
|Denver Broncos||New England Patriots||Patriots|
|San Francisco 49ers||Washington Redskins||49ers|
Picks are strictly opinion and don't include Saints' win over Falcons.