Week 12 will play a pivotal role in determining who the contenders are for the run to the playoffs. There are many important matchups between playoff-caliber teams that could make or break their seasons with a victory or a loss.
Teams that are currently leading their respective divisions include Dallas, Minnesota, New Orleans, Arizona, New England, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and San Diego. Some of these teams do not have much to worry about, since they have big leads in their divisions. The Vikings and the Cardinals lead their divisions by three games, while the undefeated Colts have a four-game lead and the undefeated Saints have a five-game lead in their division.
Teams that cannot think about playoffs at the moment include the Bengals, Chargers, and Cowboys, who only have one-game leads in their respective divisions. The Patriots have a two-game lead over the Miami Dolphins, but New England has a tough game ahead of them this week when they travel to New Orleans to face the undefeated Saints on Monday night.
There are still many teams jockeying for position in the wild card race, as well. In the NFC, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Green Bay Packers occupy the two wild card spots with records of 6-4. The New York Giants are also sitting at 6-4, with teams like Atlanta, Carolina, San Francisco, and Chicago all on the outside looking in. The Bears and the 49ers are currently two games out of wild card spots but, with six weeks remaining, anything can happen.
In the AFC, the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Jacksonville Jaguars occupy the two wild card positions with records of 6-4. The Denver Broncos are also sitting at 6-4, but are on the outside looking in, along with the Dolphins, Ravens, and Texans, who all have records of 5-5. The New York Jets and Tennessee Titans are also still in the running for the wild card spots, but must continue winning in order to keep their hopes alive.
Aside from the undefeated Colts and Saints, the two hottest teams in the league at the moment are the Chargers and the Titans. San Diego just came off a huge win over the Broncos to regain the division lead in the AFC West after trailing Denver by three games a month ago. The Chargers now lead the Broncos by one game and currently have a five-game winning streak.
The Titans have also been impressive as of late, winning their last four games after losing their first six. Thanks to Chris Johnson and Vince Young, Tennessee is now back into the thick of things in the wild card race with their huge win over the Texans on Monday night.
Key Matchups for Week 12
New York Giants at Denver
This is an important game to both teams, as they are right in the middle of the playoff picture in the NFC and AFC. I am not sure who needs this win more, since both teams are tied for the wild card in their conferences and both sit just one game behind first place in their respective divisions.
The Giants proved that they are back to their winning ways with their victory in overtime last week over the Falcons. The Broncos, on the other hand, have lost four straight after starting the season off with six straight victories. Denver has problems on both sides of the ball, as their defense has not been playing like they were at the beginning of the season and their offense is also not up to par as it once was. The quarterback position is also a huge question for the Broncos, as Kyle Orton is not healthy and Chris Simms has not been the answer.
In my opinion, this game could be a blowout if the Broncos do not step up and start playing like a playoff-caliber team again.
Arizona at Tennessee
This is not so much a big game for the Cardinals as it is for the Titans, since Tennessee is in a must-win situation if they have any hopes of making the playoffs. Arizona is coming off a close game last week to the Rams and could be vulnerable if Kurt Warner is not at 100 percent after getting knocked out of last week’s game. This should be a great matchup between two high-powered offenses.
Carolina at New York Jets
This game will prove to play a huge role in making or breaking these two teams' seasons. The winner of this game will still have an opportunity to make a run at earning a wild card spot, with the loser being eliminated from playoff contention.
The Jets have been playing terrible as of late, winning just one out of their last seven games. Carolina, on the other hand, has been playing well, except for their loss last week to the Miami Dolphins, which really hurt them in the playoff picture. The Panthers have one of the best rushing attacks in the league with Williams and Stewart, and I look for them to stay true to their strengths and run the ball consistently against the Jets on the road.
New York must play tough defense and not turn the ball over in order to win this game. Mark Sanchez needs to settle down and make good decisions by not forcing passes. The Jets must also get back to basics on defense and stop Carolina’s running game if they have any chance of winning.
Indianapolis at Houston
After a disappointing loss to division rival Tennessee, Houston looks to make a run at the playoffs by upsetting the undefeated Colts. Houston almost pulled the upset a few weeks ago, but kicker Kris Brown missed a field goal that would have sent the game into overtime. Houston missed out on a great opportunity Monday night to position themselves ahead of many teams in the playoff race, as they now sit one game out behind Pittsburgh and Jacksonville for the wild cards.
Indianapolis has been very fortunate the last couple of weeks in beating opponents by slim margins in the late stages of games. The Colts escaped upsets by Houston, New England, and Baltimore, but the Texans look to end the Colts' winning ways and make a strong statement for themselves. This should be another close game and, if the Texans have any chance of winning, they must keep Peyton Manning off the field and try to pressure Manning into make mistakes. Not many teams have succeeded in forcing Manning to make mistakes and I do not believe he will make many on Sunday.
Jacksonville at San Francisco
This is another key matchup with playoff potential as the 49ers are in a must win situation with the Jaguars looking to keep pace in the AFC and hold on to the wild card. San Francisco must beat Jacksonville, or else their playoff hopes are over.
This could potentially be a trap game for the Jaguars that they cannot afford to lose if they want to hold on to their wild card spot. I believe that this will be a more defensive game and if San Francisco has any chance of pulling the upset, they must stop Maurice Jones-Drew. If the 49ers can accomplish this feat, then they will have a great chance of beating the Jaguars.
Pittsburgh at Baltimore
Here is a rivalry matchup between two teams that hate one another and this game will prove to be very important to both teams in the playoff picture. The Steelers currently hold one of the two wild card spots, with the Ravens sitting just one game behind. Both of these teams still have chances at winning their division, but Cincinnati holds any tiebreakers over them due to the fact that they swept both already this season.
Both teams are coming off tough losses, with the Ravens losing to the Colts in the final minutes and the Steelers losing to the Kansas City Chiefs in overtime. The Steelers are also facing some questions at the quarterback position, as Ben Roethlisberger was injured in overtime against the Chiefs and did not finish the game. Backup quarterback Charlie Batch was also injured in that game after relieving Roethlisberger and is out six weeks.
The Steelers just have not been playing like the Super Bowl Champions as of late and I believe it is due to the loss of Troy Polamalu. The defense is not the same without Polamalu; look for Joe Flacco to take advantage of that with some deep passes against the Pittsburgh secondary. The Ravens defense has been playing well as of late and they will need to continue playing tough if they are going to beat the Steelers Sunday night.
New England at New Orleans
This is the game of the week, in my opinion, as the undefeated Saints look to stay perfect against Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. This game is of importance to the Saints if they want to keep their perfect record intact and this is even more important for the Patriots, who lead Miami by two games in the AFC East.
If the Patriots were to lose and Miami were to win over Buffalo on Sunday, it would set up a huge confrontation the following week, when the Patriots head to Miami in a battle for the division lead. This should be a good game between two great quarterbacks in Brady and Brees. I expect a high-scoring game between two high-powered offenses with the last team with the ball most likely coming out victorious.