It’s December and teams are in the final stretch, fighting for the playoffs.
Week 13 brings a number of games with huge playoff implications. A big Sunday afternoon game will be Atlanta against Tampa Bay. Atlanta beat Green Bay last week and sits atop the division standings, but the Buccaneers, at home and only two games back, look to close the gap between them and the playoffs and prove to the nation that they are a legitimate contender.
The biggest matchups lay in the AFC, however, as four teams tied for division leads collide. On Sunday Night Football, the Steelers square off against the Ravens, and on Monday Night Football the Jets face-off against the Patriots.
The Ravens and Jets won the first matchup, but can they complete the season sweep?
At stake is only control of the division and possibly home-field advantage in the playoffs.
They are sure to be memorable games.
Who do you think will win?
Last Week: 10-6
On Twitter, I picked Philadelphia to win.
The Giants have four straight wins against the Redskins, which is as good a place to start as any.
The Giants have been hit hard with injuries in the receiving corps and the offensive line, but they still were able to go for 226 yards passing last week, and they have not allowed a sack in the past four games.
Washington’s defense is not nearly strong enough to affect the Giants, and neither is their offense.
New York wins.
Sure, the Chiefs got beat up by the Broncos three weeks ago, but they are also unbeaten at home this year. The Broncos couldn’t build any momentum off that game, but the Chiefs have rebounded nicely.
And has anyone in football been hotter than Dwayne Bowe? He has three consecutive games of 100-plus yards and multiple touchdowns and has seven straight games with a score, giving him 14 for the year.
The Chiefs will learn from their mistakes the first-time around, and the running game will be a much bigger impact against the Broncos 30th-ranked rushing defense.
Kansas City wins.
The Titans spanked Jacksonville when they met in Week 6, but they've only won one game since them.
The Jaguars lost last week, but there are some things that are just hinting towards Jacksonville being stronger.
Chris Johnson had his worst game of his career last week, with only five yards on seven carries. It’s tough to imagine him not bouncing back, but Maurice Jones-Drew has four straight games of 100-plus yards rushing.
The QB situation in Jacksonville is also more stable, whereas the Titans went with rookie Rusty Smith last week, but may put in a recovering Kerry Collins against the Jaguars.
The Packers had an uncharacteristically bad game when it came to penalties last week, and that hurt them on the road against a very good Falcons team.
The 49ers will be without Frank Gore, and although Brian Westbrook got loose for 136 yards last week, the Green Bay rush defense, as well as the pass defense, is much better than the cakewalk Cardinal defense San Francisco dealt with last week.
Expect the Packers to rebound.
Green Bay wins.
Maybe Carolina wasn’t good enough to capitalize on Jake Delhomme’s two interceptions last week, but Miami’s fourth-ranked pass defense should do the job. The Dolphins also have a run defense ranked in the top half of the league, so while they may not completely stop Peyton Hillis, they could contain him.
Chad Henne had a solid game returning as the starting quarterback with two touchdowns and over 300 yards passing. Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown also got going last week. They looked more dangerous as a tandem than they had all season.
Cleveland has been tough, but their defense ranks in the bottom half of the league in stopping both the pass and the rush.
The Bills are playing tight every game, they just can’t finish. The Vikings won last weekend, they’re first with Leslie Frazier at the helm.
The problem is there have been a number of times this season when they thought they turned it around, only to get blasted the following week.
They’ve been so up and down this season, which seems appropriate because that tends to be the way Brett Favre plays often; it’s tough to say they have it figured out.
The Bills may not win, but they’re fighters and are always in it. They’ve surprised many this season, now they just need to finish. Steve Johnson, despite his drops last week, has forged a good bond with Ryan Fitzpatrick and the two—along with Fred Jackson—have been dangerous.
The Lions will be without both Matthew Stafford and Shaun Hill at quarterback this weekend. That means Drew Stanton, who's played in a total of nine games in three years, will start against a Bears defense that has given up the second fewest passing touchdowns.
With such a big win over the Eagles last weekend, it's tough to imagine a struggling Lions team without its top two QBs will beat them.
Eight losses in a row have the Bengals in terrible shape. Last week against the Jets they were dominated, even in the passing yards category, the one “strength” they’ve had all season.
The Saints defense ranks third in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game, and, as we all know, Drew Brees can really toss around the football.
Plus, Reggie Bush made his way back last week and is shaking the rust off.
New Orleans wins.
Both teams have had their difficulties this season, but they’re both still in the race for the AFC West championship. The only problem is that San Diego is streaking, winners of four straight including last week’s beat-down over Peyton Manning and the Colts, while Oakland is tanking, losing two straight by huge margins.
San Diego has hit its stride, just like it does every year around this time. Oakland might have hit their peak this season already, only getting worse from here on out.
San Diego wins.
Carolina couldn’t take advantage of Cleveland’s three turnovers, including Jake Delhomme’s two interceptions.
Seattle isn’t the strongest team out there, but Carolina can’t really do much to hurt them. While Matt Hasselbeck isn’t lighting it up, he is enjoying his best overall season since 2007 (it helps that he’s relatively healthy).
The Seahawks can do just enough to win this game, especially with their great home crowd behind them.
The last time these two teams played Atlanta won 27-21, but they had control for most of it. The score is also a little deceiving partially due to a Tampa Bay kickoff return for a touchdown with 30 seconds left.
Atlanta was in control thanks to two things they’ve done all season that have made them one of the top teams in the conference: turnovers and running the ball. The Falcons are tied for the second best give away-take away differential (+11) and in the last matchup they turned the ball over zero times compared to Tampa Bay’s two.
They also are eighth in rushing yards per game, and in that matchup the Falcons gained 130 yards on the ground compared to the Buccaneers' 96 yards.
Tampa Bay still ranks in the bottom portion of the league in rushing yards allowed per game, so it should be another big day for Michael Turner.
At home on Monday Night Football, the Cardinals were a complete no-show, losing 27-6. St. Louis almost blew their 20-point second half lead, but they had enough grit to hold on for the victory.
Sam Bradford had a brilliant game last week and he should be able to have at least a good game against a porous Cardinal secondary. The Cardinals also don’t stop the run very well, so Steven Jackson should have a good game too.
Arizona just doesn’t pose much of a threat.
St. Louis wins.
Two losses in a row must be tearing Peyton Manning apart right now. The Colts do two things well though: throw the ball and defend the pass. Dallas’ only strength is the passing game, so if the Colts can neutralize that they stand a good choice.
Dallas will also be without Marion Barber, hurting the depth in their already bad rushing game.
Dallas had a spark of life when Jason Garrett took over, but when they came up against a good Saints team, at home, they fell. Same should happen this week on the road.
The biggest news is Ben Roethlisberger spraining his right foot. He’s been in a boot all week. He had limited practice time Friday and reports say he was playing with a noticeable limp. He’s always been a gutsy QB, and he will start, but how effective will he be?
The Ravens defense is known for being fast and tough, and they can get to the quarterback. The unit is ranked eight against the pass and also 11th against the run—Pittsburgh’s strength.
On the other hand, Joe Flacco has been hot, and that really balances out the offense and the team as a whole. He’s got six straight weeks with multiple touchdown passes, and in that span he has 13 touchdowns compared to only two interceptions. Also, only once did he have a completion percentage lower than 64 percent.
At home, the Ravens look like the stronger team at this point in the season.
The Jets won the last time these two teams met, and even though the game is in New England this time, the Jets match up extremely well against the Pats.
When these two teams played in Week 2 the Jets rebounded from an awful opening game to control the Patriots pretty handily. They had fewer penalty yards, rushed for 82 more yards, won the time of possession battle and dominated the turnover battle.
The Patriots are ranked 32nd in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game, and Mark Sanchez tore apart the Patriots secondary last time, throwing for 220 yards, completing 70 percent of his passes, three touchdowns, zero interceptions, and a quarterback rating of 124.3. The Pats couldn’t stop him.
The Jets also have a number of receiving threats: Braylon Edwards, Jerricho Cotchery, Dustin Keller, and Santonio Holmes—who missed the first game because of a suspension. The Patriots' secondary depth is limited and they may not have enough to cover all weapons at all times.
And one of the biggest ways to keep Tom Brady from hurting you is to keep him off the field as much as possible. Bruising running backs Shonn Greene and LaDanian Tomlinson should pound the ball up the middle relatively well and control the clock.
New York wins.