Sunday Night Football has been good to fans in 2013.
Week 14 was a good example of this. Despite the Chicago Bears going with backup quarterback Josh McCown against the Dallas Cowboys, the two sides treated fans to an entertaining affair en route to a 45-28 victory for the home team at Soldier Field.
The two remaining games on the prime-time slate will be even better. AFC North rivals Cincinnati and Pittsburgh dance in Week 15 as the former looks to fight for the AFC's No. 1 seed. Then Week 16 takes fans to Philadelphia, where Chip Kelly's explosive Eagles play host to the Chicago Bears and offensive innovator Marc Trestman in an NFC matchup rampant with playoff implications.
Suffice it to say, Sunday Night Football is going out with a bang.
|Dec. 15||CIN||PIT||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
|Dec. 22||CHI||PHI||8:30 p.m.||NBC|
Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers
The Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers are no strangers to dances under the national spotlight. The two met in Week 2 on Monday Night Football, when Cincinnati sent Pittsburgh home with a 20-10 loss.
Since then, the Steelers have proceeded to struggle in most areas and gain a 5-8 record, including losing two more in a row after their trip to Paul Brown Stadium.
Conversely, Cincinnati has run away with the AFC North at 9-4 and has won three straight while scoring 40 or more points in two of their last three.
Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger continues to resemble a crash dummy behind his offensive line and has been sacked 39 times on the year. This is bad news going into a matchup against a top-10 scoring defense.
On the other side of the coin, Cincinnati is led by rookie running back Giovani Bernard, who accounted for 65 total yards and two touchdowns in his first encounter with Pittsburgh's defense. It is a unit that ranks in the bottom 10 in rush defense, as it allows an average of 120 yards per game.
Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin understands that the key to stopping Cincinnati is Bernard, as he told the team's official site:
The fact that he’s multi-talented. He’s averaging 4.7 yards per carry for them and has over 600 yards rushing for the season, but he’s also their second-leading receiver. He’s got 47 catches. He’s an integral part of their passing game, whether you’re talking about screens or checkdowns. They’re also capable of getting into empty-set formations and splitting him out of the backfield because he’s a capable route-runner as well.
Time will tell if the Steelers have discovered the answers necessary to upend the Bengals with the world watching.
Chicago Bears at Philadelphia Eagles
The NFL decided to bump the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots out of the final slot of the year (thank the mediocre Ravens for that) in favor of an NFC duel between the Chicago Bears and Philadelphia Eagles.
Thanks goodness for the almighty "flex."
Best remaining SNF game?
It was a well-deserved move for both after exciting Week 14 victories that made the playoff chase in the NFC even more interesting.
As hinted, the Bears moved one step closer to winning the NFC North a week ago with its win over Dallas. Philadelphia took down the Detroit Lions 34-20 to remain in first place in the NFC East.
To be brief, Chicago desperately needs this game because it dropped both games this year to the division-leading Lions. Only a better record will win the NFC North. Philadelphia needs it to simply fend off Dallas, a team it plays to close the season and has already lost to once back in Week 7.
Got all that?
As NFL.com explains, the league wants to showcase two innovate offenses from first-year head coaches:
The NFL understands you want more Eagles and Bears action in your life http://t.co/xUMVcizGC8— NFL: AroundTheLeague (@NFL_ATL) December 10, 2013
Chip Kelly has done wonders in Philadelphia and gets most of the credit, but Chicago's Marc Trestman has done outstanding work, too.
Led by quarterback Nick Foles and running back LeSean McCoy, the Eagles offense that ranks best in the league on the ground and in the top 15 through the air will look to exploit a shaky Chicago defense that ranks dead last against the rush.
Chicago will respond in kind with one of the league's top passing attacks led by Jay Cutler, who will get a shot at one of the NFL's worst pass defenses.
In other words, expect offensive fireworks from Lincoln Financial Field with playoff posturing on the line.