Five weeks remain in the NFL season, yet most squads can still entertain aspirations of vying for a trip to the Super Bowl this winter.
A mere six teams are more than two games shy of a playoff position, so the holiday season is a particularly hopeful one for most football fans. That means practically every matchup brings some meaning to the table.
Almost every game in the Week 13 slate has at least one squad shooting for a playoff berth. While the New York Giants, Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns are holding on to their slim chances, crazier things have happened.
Many teams will savor the Thanksgiving weekend with a much-needed victory while less-fortunate teams will watch their postseason odds dwindle. Let's take a look at three teams in particular that will maintain their footing in the NFL's crowded races.
|Green Bay Packers||Detroit Lions||Lions|
|Oakland Raiders||Dallas Cowboys||Cowboys|
|Pittsburgh Steelers||Baltimore Ravens||Ravens|
|Tennessee Titans||Indianapolis Colts||Colts|
|Denver Broncos||Kansas City Chiefs||Broncos|
|Jacksonville Jaguars||Cleveland Browns||Browns|
|Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Carolina Panthers||Panthers|
|Chicago Bears||Minnesota Vikings||Bears|
|Arizona Cardinals||Philadelphia Eagles||Cardinals|
|Miami Dolphins||New York Jets||Dolphins|
|Atlanta Falcons||Buffalo Bills||Bills|
|St. Louis Rams||San Francisco 49ers||49ers|
|New England Patriots||Houston Texans||Patriots|
|Cincinnati Bengals||San Diego Chargers||Bengals|
|New York Giants||Washington Redskins||Giants|
|New Orleans Saints||Seattle Seahawks||Seahawks|
Detroit Lions vs. Green Bay Packers
Aaron Rodgers is not going to play. That says about all we need to know regarding this one.
On Monday, Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com reported that head coach Mike McCarthy labeled his star quarterback's chances of playing on Thursday as "slim to none."
Any chance that Rodgers has made progress during the week? If anything, his status has diminished closer to doubtful.
Still slim to none? McCarthy says: "Closer to none."— Rob Demovsky (@RobDemovsky) November 26, 2013
Some would point to Detroit's nine-point output in the teams' previous meeting and say that Green Bay's defense can carry the burden in this pivotal NFC North showdown. Since the Lions have scored at least 21 points in every other game and rank fifth the NFL in total offense with 412.1 yards per game, that's not likely.
Matt Flynn generated enough offense to tie the Minnesota Vikings, but he mostly compiled short check-downs, averaging 6.1 yards per attempt. It will take a much more impressive offensive effort to match Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson against Detroit.
A rare Johnson drop that sputtered right into Johnthan Banks' hands prevented the Lions from winning last weekend. Don't bank on that happening again.
Prediction: Lions 30, Packers 17
Dallas Cowboy vs. Oakland Raiders
The Cowboys finally arrive at the fun part of facing the AFC West.
Dallas has lost all three bouts against the conference's three superior opponents by a combined 13 points. The Cowboys played evenly against the Chiefs in a one-point loss, and Tony Romo threw for 506 yards and five touchdowns before people on Twitter and TV foolishly decided that Romo's one interception chased all that awesomeness into oblivion.
Who will lead the NFC East after Week 13?
As a reward for dealing with some difficult opponents, the Cowboys get the 4-7 Raiders on Thursday. Dallas is 5-1 against teams that are currently below .500, with the one holdover being a tough San Diego squad that just upended the Chiefs.
Matt McGloin is not experienced enough to capitalize on Dallas' weak secondary, at least not enough to top what Romo will do against Oakland's defensive backs. Opposing quarterbacks have completed 66 percent of their passes against the Raiders, and Ryan Fitzpatrick just compiled 320 yards passing and two touchdowns against them last Sunday.
It won't hurt Dallas that the Philadelphia Eagles have a much tougher task at hand against the Arizona Cardinals. Week 13 should work out well for the Cowboys.
Prediction: Cowboys 34, Raiders 20
Miami Dolphins at New York Jets
The Dolphins are one of the NFL's least trustworthy teams. Fortunately for them, the Jets lag even lower on that list.
There's nothing special about the Dolphins, but they always manage to keep games close. Six of their last seven games have been decided by four points or less, but they've only emerged on the winning side twice.
The Jets can't say the same. They either win by an inch or lose by a mile. Two of their victories have been the benefit of penalties — one on an unnecessary roughing call after Geno Smith was pushed a second after he reached the sideline, and the other courtesy of a newly enforced penalty in the trenches on a field-goal attempt. Dallas' six losses, on the other hand, have been by a combined 120 points.
To put this nicely, the Jets passing offense has been painstakingly awful over the past few weeks. (I should have mentioned that I'm not very nice.) In his last six games, Smith has thrown one touchdown and 10 interceptions. He has completed just 25 passes over his last three outings.
Miami isn't great offensively either, and Chris Ivory could pound the ball all afternoon if the score remains close. But the Jets secondary also surrenders big plays deep, and Mike Wallace is the perfect weapon to exploit them in Miami's vertical attack.
Even if the Dolphins are not a legit playoff contender—and they're probably not, they can at least bury the charade that the Jets are worthy of the postseason.
Prediction: Dolphins 16, Jets 10