NFL Week 12 Predictions and Playoff Implications: 7 Magnificent Match-Ups Shine
In Thursday's Thanksgiving games, we were dazzled as Tom Brady's Patriots stomped the Detroit Lions, Santonio Holmes helped catch the New York Jets up with the Patriots, and Drew Brees threw one of the greatest clutch passes ever to lead his New Orleans Saints to victory in a nail biter over the Dallas Cowboys.
But these performances were a mere warm-up for the fantastic slate of games this Sunday.
Out of the 12 games that will be played, seven of them have a high level of importance for both teams involved.
The next seven slides will get you prepared—with previews, predictions, and picks—for the kid-in-a-candy-store feeling that Sunday's action is sure to give any avid NFL football fan.
The Green Bay Packers (7-3) at the Atlanta Falcons (8-2)
Aaron Rodgers leads the Packers into Atlanta, where Falcons starting QB Matt Ryan hasn't lost since November 16, 2008.
The Packers are tied with the Bears for first in the NFC North, while the Falcons are just a half game up on the Saints in the lead for the NFC South race, with the Buccaneers only a game back.
Rodgers has led the Packers to 7-3 despite having at least 10 starters missing games this season.
The Pack needs to win this one to keep pace with the Bears, and the Falcons are vulnerable against teams with a strong passing attack.
Seeing as that's all the Packers have going for them offensively, that's good news.
It's their defense that has the Pack overachieving this year, and they'll have their hands full with this one.
Matt Ryan has been one of the best third down QBs in the league. Getting the Falcons' offense off the field is a very difficult task, and Roddy White is the league's No. 1 WR in 2010.
The Packers have a good core of linebackers that will get some pressure out of blitz packages, forcing Ryan to get rid or the ball before White can get free on deep routes on some plays.
This should be the key to a Packers victory, as I expect both QBs to have big games.
It's going to be the team that gets the most pressure that takes away a victory in this one, and I like the Packers to finally hand Ryan a home loss.
Packers 24, Falcons 20
The Jacksonville Jaguars (6-4) at the New York Giants (6-4)
If I told you after the Jaguars were embarrassed in Week 5 on Monday night by the Tennessee Titans, that this would be an important game for the Jacksonville, you would have laughed. Especially after the Giants got rolling like the were until Week 10.
Currently, the Jaguars are tied with the Indianapolis Colts for first place in the AFC South, while the Giants are one game behind the Philadelphia Eagles for first in the NFC East.
Both teams have epitomized the word inconsistent. Eli Manning has been inconsistent at best, and Giants RB Ahmad Bradshaw has fumbled so many times that he has lost his starting spot to Brandon Jacobs starting this week.
The Jags' starting QB David Garrard has also been an up and down all season long.
Garrard and Manning combine for 38 TDs but also have 26 interceptions between them.
This game will come down to which team turns the ball over the least. The Jags gave the ball up six times in a win against the Cleveland Browns in their last game, and the Giants turned the ball over five times in their Week 11 loss to the Eagles.
It's too early to call this a must-win for the Giants, but a loss definitely won't help their chances of getting into the playoffs, since they've already lost to the NFC East leading Eagles once this year.
As for the Jags, this is a must-win. There are simply too many strong teams in the AFC fighting for a wild card spot. If the Jags fall behind the Colts at all, I don't see them catching Peyton Manning.
The Giants should be getting some key players back from the injured list this week, and they're just an overall better team at nearly every position.
Giants 31, Jaguars 20
The Tennessee Titans (5-5) at the Houston Texans (4-6)
This game pits the third and fourth place teams in the AFC South against one another.
The Titans recently acquired WR Randy Moss in hopes of rejuvenating their mediocre passing game, but things are unraveling fast as the relationship between Titans head coach Jeff Fisher and QB Vince Young appears to be at an impasse.
The Titans were 5-2 three weeks ago, but have since lost three straight.
The Texans were supposed to finally break out this season and challenge the Colts for the division crown, but it appears that they'll have to wait until next year.
They did split the season series with the Colts though, so they're still alive until they lose another game, since they play the Jags and the Titans each twice in the remaining weeks of the 2010 season.
The Titans still have a game left against the Colts so if they get back on track now, this division is still wide open for them to sneak up and take, since everyone is within two games of the lead. They have a very good team and coach.
The Texans just need to get their defense to actually play defense. Their secondary is getting torched by everyone this season. They're dead last in pass defense, and there is no sign of them being able to stop any team with a formidable air attack from lighting them up.
Still, Texans QB Matt Schaub is not having one of his better years, and the Titans own QB troubles will leave this game decided by the run game and turnover battle.
Titans' RB Chris Johnson and Texans' RB Arian Foster are two of the league's best backs, and the two teams are in a dead tie for eighth in the NFL in rushing attack with 1,270 yards.
Houston is at home, and that may just be the difference on Sunday.
Texans 27, Titans 24
The Kansas City Chiefs (6-4) at the Seattle Seahawks (5-5)
Both the Chiefs and Seahawks are in first place in their respective divisions with a one game lead, but they each have a dangerous second place team nipping at their heals.
The San Diego Chargers are making their obligatory run at the AFC West, while the upstart St. Louis Rams are staying close behind the Seahawks in the NFC West.
The Chiefs have to get a win this week if they hope to stave off the Chargers push for the playoffs.
According to Chiefs offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, they match up strength v. strength with the Seahawks.
The Chiefs lead the league in running the football, while the Seahawks have had success against the run this year.
The Seahawks and Chiefs have both gotten their passing game to start clicking lately, and neither team is very good at stopping their opponents from passing all over the field.
The Chiefs have the edge here though, as they have the hottest WR in the league right now in Dwayne Bowe. He's caught 10 TDs in his last six games, and leads the league in this category for the season.
The Seahawks may have to go without their No. 1 receiver, Mike Williams, due to injury. If that's the case, it will even up the score in the Chiefs' secondary that appears to be missing their No. 1 CB Brandon Flowers for this game.
The Chiefs still have standout rookie safety Eric Berry who reeks havoc all over the field. He may be the difference maker on defense, and Chiefs dynamic rookie play-maker Dexter McCluster should be returning this week.
These two factors should be enough to put a Chiefs team that is just better than the Seahawks over the top in this one.
Chiefs 24, Seahawks 13
The Philadelphia Eagles (7-3) at the Chicago Bears (7-3)
The Bears and Eagles were not supposed to be leading their divisions this late in the year, but they are.
The Eagles hold a one-game lead over the Giants in the NFC East, while the Bears are tied for first with the Packers in the NFC North.
Everyone has been waiting for the Bears to fall apart, but it just hasn't happened.
Jay Cutler is a pick-throwing turnover machine with a bow on it, prime to be opened up by any team with a decent pass rush.
The Bears have no No. 1 receiver to speak of, and RB Matt Forte is not doing anything spectacular, yet their defense is killing teams.
The Eagles took a gamble on Michael Vick, and it's really paid off.
Vick and Chargers' QB Philip Rivers are the only two clear cut MVP candidates this season.
The Eagles' young WRs DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin are playing out of their minds, as well as RB LeSean McCoy.
The Bears' defense will have their hands full in this one. If they can't contain Vick, it's lights out.
The Eagles' defense is going to reek havoc in the Bears backfield all day, which should produce more than a couple of turnovers.
Eagles 27, Bears 10
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-3) at the Baltimore Ravens (7-3)
The Ravens are tied with the Steelers for first place in the AFC North, with a head to head victory over them and one more game against them still to play.
The Buccaneers are one game back of the Falcons and a half game back of the New Orleans Saints in the NFC South.
This game has monster playoff implications for both teams.
It's too early to start thinking about who's going to get what wild card spots, especially given how close all of the teams in the playoff race are, so all the contenders are going to need to sure up their divisions to get a spot in the NFL's "second season."
No one thought that the Ravens' defense would be the unit holding them back, but that is definitely the case this season. The Ravens would be alone on top of the North if the defense could have stopped the Falcons from driving over 80 yards with less than one minute to play last week in Atlanta.
QB Joe Flacco has developed great chemistry with his new favorite target Anquan Boldin, and Derick Mason is still doing what he's always done: Catching everything that's thrown his way.
Ravens' RB Ray Rice hasn't had the same success that he had last season, and the Ravens will need to work him into the offense this week to beat a young and surprisingly good Buccaneers team.
The Bucs are doing nothing spectacular, but they're doing enough to get the job done.
They have young talent, especially on offense. Second year QB Josh Freeman has found a favorite target in rookie WR Mike Williams, and it shows. Williams leads all rookies in TD receptions, and rookie RB LeGarret Blount is also playing well as of late.
The Ravens are going to need to bring their "A" game this week if they want to beat the Buccaneers on the Bucs' home field.
I believe that the Ravens' experience in big games will be the difference in this one.
While the Bucs have played well this year, they're going up against a perennial playoff team this week.
I just don't see the Ravens losing a game of this magnitude to a team this inexperienced.
Ravens 27, Buccaneers 17
The San Diego Chargers (5-5) at the Indianapolis Colts (6-4)
This is quite possibly the game of the week.
The Colts are tied with the Jaguars in AFC South, and the Chargers are one game behind the Chiefs in the AFC West.
Philip Rivers is the favorite for league MVP, and Peyton Manning is still Peyton Manning.
This is going to be a shoot out.
Both the Chargers and Colts receiving corps has been littered with the carcasses of injured players, but both Manning and Rivers continue to make third string, fourth string, and practice squad receivers look like Pro-Bowlers.
Neither team has any type of legitimate running threat, but it doesn't seem to matter.
The Chargers do have RB Mike Tolbert playing well as of late, but he's really only had one outstanding game. The Chargers' special teams and turnovers have been holding them back. They have the leagues most potent offense, but they have still only won five games. They're making a late run at the West just like they always do, but they can't afford to drop any games if they want to make the playoffs.
The Colts are doing what the Colts do: Relying on Peyton Manning to lead them to the promised land. It looks as though he's going to do just that, but they can't afford to drop any more games either with the AFC South having every team separated by two games or less. There most likely won't be any wild card teams coming out of either division, so winning the division is the only shot at making the playoffs for both of these teams.
Watch the horizon for fireworks on Sunday night, because these two QBs are undoubtedly going to light up the sky with potent passing attacks.
This is probably going to be the highest scoring game of the day, but I like the Colts at home to beat the Chargers who appear to be undisciplined at times this season.
Colts 38, Chargers 34
The Best of the Rest
The rest of Sunday's action looks like this:
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-3) at Buffalo Bills (2-8)—Steelers 31, Bills 13
Carolina Panthers (1-9) at Cleveland Browns (3-7)—Browns 27, Panthers 10
Minnesota Vikings (3-7) at Washington Redskins (5-5)—Vikings 21, Redskins 13
Miami Dolphins (5-5) at Oakland Raiders (5-5)—Toss up: Raiders 21, Dolphins 18
St. Louis Rams (4-6) at Denver Broncos (3-7)—Rams 23, Broncos 20
San Francisco 49ers (3-7) at Arizona Cardinals (3-7)—Who Cares: Cardinals 17, 49ers 14
Pittsburgh is a far better team than the Bills, no matter how good the Bills have been playing this week. They should win easily.
The Raiders are getting the nod only because they're at home, but a loss wouldn't surprise me at all. Both of these teams have seen their best days in 2010 pass them by.
The Panthers are the worst team in the NFL hands down, and the Browns are a lot better than most people thought they'd be—I'm one of those people.
The Vikings can't possibly play any worse with the interim coach, and the Redskins aren't getting any better with their current coach. Put a fork in 'em. They're done.
The Rams rookie QB Sam Bradford is probably going to win the offensive ROY award this season and after losing a heart-breaker to the Falcons last week, I look for them to rebound against the Broncos this week.
Seriously, who cares? Apart from fans of these two teams, no one really does. I give it to the Cardinals only because of the home field.
That's the Whole Cake—Eat Your Heart Out
Well, that's the whole lineup, outlined for all of you readers.
This is one of the most important weekends in recent NFL history. Make sure you don't miss the action, because there's going to be plenty of it.
In fact, you're going to have to hide from it just to avoid it, and even then it might find you.
This is one of the most competitive seasons to date, and this week things are really starting to heat up.
This is the beginning of the end that leads to the beginning, if you follow me.
There are 20 teams at 5-5 or better, and they're all fighting for 12 playoff spots.
It's going to be a crazy photo finish, and I want to be the one holding the camera at the finish line come January second.
And they're off!!!