With just a quarter of the NFL’s regular season left to play, the Sunday Night Football schedule features some monumental matchups that will shape the playoff race.
Whether it’s the 14th contest between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady or the clash between NFC East rivals when the Washington Redskins and New York Giants take the field, these games are some of the best the league has to offer.
Here’s what’s left of the Sunday night telecasts.
|12||Denver Broncos||New England Patriots|
|13||New York Giants||Washington Redskins|
|14||Atlanta Falcons||Green Bay Packers|
|15||Cincinnati Bengals||Pittsburgh Steelers|
|16||New England Patriots||Baltimore Ravens|
While each game will be crucial, two stand out as particularly meaningful during the NFL’s playoff push.
Denver Broncos (9-1) at New England Patriots (7-3)
Brady and the Patriots hold the upper hand against Manning historically, as they’ve gone 9-4 against the quarterback, but this matchup seems to favor the Broncos.
Each team desperately needs a win in this one. Denver needs to keep pace with the Kansas City Chiefs, who also sit at 9-1, while the Patriots are battling with the Colts for the AFC’s second seed.
Denver’s offense has been difficult to stop, particularly through the air, as the Broncos are averaging 350.4 yards per game, the top mark in the league.
By contrast, the Patriots’ passing defense has been rocky recently, allowing 597 yards in the last two games thanks to an injury to cornerback Aqib Talib.
Brady hasn’t been nearly as sharp as Manning, as he’s sporting the worst completion percentage of his career and second-worst yards-per-play average.
The one potential saving grace for the Patriots defense is the cold weather at Gillette Stadium.
Manning is 2-5 in games under 30 degrees for his career, and highs in Foxboro are only expected to be in the 20s. His neck procedure from a year ago may pose further problems for the aging passer, as Sports Illustrated’s Greg Bedard explains.
The cold, windy weather in Foxboro is a big advantage for Patriots. Peyton (nerve issues) has to prove he can function in cold— Greg A. Bedard (@GregABedard) November 24, 2013
The Broncos are certainly the better team on paper, but the Patriots will make this a tough one for them.
New York Giants (4-6) at Washington Redskins (3-7)
After starting out the season 0-6, the Giants seemed like the last team that would have a chance to make the playoffs.
However, they’ve won four straight games and will have a big Sunday night matchup with the Redskins to see if they can complete the comeback.
The NFC East is very much up for grabs, with the Philadelphia Eagles leading the division at just 6-5, and the Giants need to win this divisional matchup if they want to steal it away.
Eli Manning has been a turnover machine so far this season, throwing a league-leading 17 interceptions, but he’s been much more in control recently. He’s thrown just two interceptions in the last four games to go along with three touchdowns.
But New York’s defense has also started to round into form. The unit is in the top 15 for both run and pass defense, but it had some terrible games early in the season.
However, defensive coordinator Perry Fewell seems to have turned things around, as NFL.com’s Bucky Brooks explains.
Since Week 7, however, the Giants have rediscovered their defensive mojo, with the pass rush and coverage working together to keep opponents from generating big plays through the air. The Giants have registered eight sacks over the past four games, also producing 11 takeaways during the winning streak. Additionally, the defense has allowed just two offensive touchdowns in the past 18 quarters of action after allowing 19 in the first 22 quarters (5.5 games).
While some will point to the offensive ineptitude of their opponents (Minnesota, Philadelphia, Oakland and Green Bay) as the catalyst behind this defensive resurgence, I believe the unit has started to round into form under Fewell. The wily defensive coordinator has patiently worked Pierre-Paul back into the mix while also integrating former Pro Bowl linebacker Jon Beason into the lineup. Also, New York has received timely playmaking from Antrel Rolle and Prince Amukamara in the back end to solidify the weakness of the defense.
On the flip side of all this lie the maddeningly inconsistent Washington Redskins.
While the defense has been bad all year long, ranking 26th against the pass and 19th against the run, the offense has had its moments.
The Redskins are actually running for the most yards per game in the NFL with 155.2, while the passing game is producing 256.9 yards per contest.
The problem is that many of these yards have come in garbage time, with last week’s contest against the Eagles serving as the perfect example of this phenomenon.
Washington’s offense put up 16 points in the fourth quarter alone, but only after the defense allowed Philadelphia to go up by 24.
The Redskins could still undoubtedly put up a fight against the Giants; after all, they’ve managed to surprise good teams like the Chicago Bears and San Diego Chargers.
However, the Giants should be able to gut this one out to stay in the NFC East race.
But no matter how each of these games end, there will be major consequences for the playoff race.