The playoff race is really starting to heat up as the 2013 NFL campaign progresses into Week 13. Plenty of contests have postseason ramifications, but a couple clashes between the league's elite highlight the upcoming schedule.
For the second time in three weeks, the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs will do battle for AFC West supremacy, this time in Arrowhead Stadium. In the NFC, the No. 1 seed is up for grabs with the Seattle Seahawks hosting the New Orleans Saints.
But before diving into those two tantalizing matchups and picks for the rest of the games on tap, let's take a look at a contest between two of the NFC's more surprising, prominent playoff contenders.
Arizona Cardinals (7-4) vs. Philadelphia Eagles (6-5)
Both of these teams are facing the pressure of following up recent sustained success and forging forward for a playoff push.
For Arizona, head coach Bruce Arians has helped Carson Palmer revive his career at the quarterback position, and Arians dismantled his ex-team, the Indianapolis Colts, 40-11 in Week 12.
Before extending their winning streak to four, the Cardinals had beaten teams in their three prior contests that now all have records of 2-9. Nevertheless, Palmer has thrown eight touchdowns and just two interceptions amid Arizona's recent run, which has it in seventh in the NFC.
Former Colts head coach Tony Dungy had to weigh in and admit his underestimation of the Cardinals:
I have underrated the Cardinals all year. Carson Palmer is giving them effective passing game to go along with their D. Big road game next.— Tony Dungy (@TonyDungy) November 25, 2013
Nick Foles is Palmer's counterpart in Week 13, and while Palmer has 15 interceptions to go with his 16 touchdowns on the season, Foles has the same number of scoring passes—with zero picks.
Philadelphia is at home and is coming off a bye, and Chip Kelly's uptempo, No. 2 rushing offense will do battle with the league's No. 2 defense against the run.
It will be exciting to see how each team fares, but look for the Eagles to maintain pace with the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East race while also getting a key head-to-head victory over the Cardinals.
Expect a fair amount of points in this one, but Philly's red-zone defense (sixth in the league in yielding touchdowns 47.22 percent of the time, per TeamRankings.com) will be the difference in forcing Palmer into mistakes.
Prediction: Eagles 34, Cardinals 24
Denver Broncos (9-2) vs. Kansas City Chiefs (9-2)
In what may become known as the "Wind Game," Peyton Manning was forced to throw into a stiff, 20 MPH breeze in overtime at Gillette Stadium after blowing a 24-0 halftime lead to the New England Patriots.
Manning and Co. didn't get it done, and his prolific fellow QB, Tom Brady, stole the show in the Pats' landmark victory.
Tom Brady: won 10 of 14 head-to-head meetings vs Peyton Manning— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 25, 2013
Which non-playoff team from last season is a more viable Super Bowl contender?
But that doesn't mean the league's top scoring offense is going to shrink amid inclement weather moving forward. The Chiefs are depleted on defense entering Week 13 with both Tamba Hali and Justin Houston having left the 41-38 loss to the San Diego Chargers with injuries.
The tandem has combined for 20 of Kansas City's 37 sacks, a total that is tied for the league lead with several other teams.
Without that pass rush—which didn't even sack Manning in the first matchup—it doesn't look good for the Chiefs.
As solid as Alex Smith is as a decision-maker, he isn't going to succeed in a shootout with The Sheriff. Manning and the Broncos should win this one big, even in one of the most hostile environments.
Prediction: Broncos 38, Chiefs 21
New Orleans Saints (9-2) vs. Seattle Seahawks (10-1)
This is Monday Night Football at its finest: The top two teams in the NFC doing battle at CenturyLink Field for a pivotal edge for the conference's top seed.
Home-field advantage would be huge for either of these clubs, but if the Seahawks put two games between themselves and the Saints for first place, don't expect them to relinquish it.
On the other hand, New Orleans would have the head-to-head tiebreaker by beating Seattle at home and handing second-year signal-caller Russell Wilson his first loss at the raucous stadium.
The big concern for the Saints is the presence of Percy Harvin, who had just one catch for 17 yards in his Seahawks debut but will now have had a bye week to readjust and become a more integral part of the game plan.
Although Drew Brees is a nightmarish quarterback for most opposing defenses to face, Seattle has arguably the most talented secondary in the game.
The Seahawks' ability to play effective press man coverage on the outside combined with free safety Earl Thomas playing center field will allow Seattle to bring the heat and pressure Brees while also focusing a lot of attention on Jimmy Graham.
That all works in Seattle's favor, along with a running game driven by physical RB Marshawn Lynch and the dual-threat Wilson.
As shaky as New Orleans looked in beating the Atlanta Falcons 17-13 in Week 12, it would take a monumental improvement and another extraordinary effort from Brees to pull this out on the road.
It will be close, but it won't happen.
Prediction: Seahawks 20, Saints 17
|Away Team||Home Team||Winner|
|Green Bay Packers||Detroit Lions||Lions|
|Oakland Raiders||Dallas Cowboys||Raiders|
|Pittsburgh Steelers||Baltimore Ravens||Steelers|
|Jacksonville Jaguars||Cleveland Browns||Browns|
|Tennessee Titans||Indianapolis Colts||Titans|
|Chicago Bears||Minnesota Vikings||Vikings|
|Miami Dolphins||New York Jets||Jets|
|Arizona Cardinals||Philadelphia Eagles||Eagles|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Carolina Panthers||Panthers|
|New England Patriots||Houston Texans||Patriots|
|Atlanta Falcons||Buffalo Bills||Bills|
|St. Louis Rams||San Francisco 49ers||49ers|
|Denver Broncos||Kansas City Chiefs||Broncos|
|Cincinnati Bengals||San Diego Chargers||Chargers|
|New York Giants||Washington Redskins||Giants|
|New Orleans Saints||Seattle Seahawks||Seahawks|
Picks are strictly opinion