Week 13 kicked off Thursday night at the Georgia Dome with the Falcons beating the Saints 23-13. The entire Falcons defence deserved the game ball after they intercepted Drew Brees five times, a career-high for Brees, and didn’t allow him to throw a single touchdown. That was the first time since October 4, 2009, a string of 54 games, that Brees did not throw at least one touchdown pass.
Now sitting with an 11-1 record, the Falcons will clinch the NFC South if the Bucs lose in Denver on Sunday. That’s all very impressive, but until Matt Ryan and the Falcons win a playoff game there will always be those who doubt how good this team really is.
Time now to take a look at the rest of the games for Week 13:
Even with all of their injuries the Steelers and the Ravens is still the most hateful rivalry in the NFL.
Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin received a bit of good news this week regarding his multitude of injured players. Pro Bowl safety Troy Polamalu was back practicing this week and should be ready to play Sunday, while guard David DeCastro was activated off of injured reserve.
The big news Tomlin and the Steelers are waiting on is the status of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. While third-stringer Charlie Batch works with the first team offence and is expected to start Sunday, Big Ben has continued to throw to see if there’s any chance he could play. The reality is that it’s highly unlikely that Big Ben will be ready to play Sunday.
Tomlin was so upset over last week’s loss to the Browns that he demoted running back Rashard Mendenhall, naming Jonathan Dwyer as his starter for Sunday. On top of that, receiver Mike Wallace is reported to be deep in his coach’s doghouse.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh has his own problems to worry about. Ray Lewis is still hurt and if they hadn’t pulled off a miracle first down conversion on a 4th and 29 late in the game in San Diego, they would have lost to the Chargers. Even with their 9-2 record there is still some doubt surrounding the Ravens chances of going all the way. Part of that doubt is the injuries, but a bigger part is Joe Flacco and whether or not he is good enough to lead this time back to the Promised Land.
The one player on the Ravens offence nobody doubts is running back Ray Rice. For the second time in three weeks Flacco will attempt to put up some points against the Steelers top ranked defence and Rice will be the key to their success. The Ravens could only muster 13 points in Week 11 but were still able to come away with the win. The Ravens have won 23 of their last 24 at home, with the one loss taking place on December 5, 2010 when they were beat by, whom else, the Steelers.
A week after losing a heartbreaker to the Falcons, the Bucs now have to find a way to stop Peyton Manning in the thin air of Mile High Stadium. Riding a six game winning streak, the Broncos can clinch the AFC West with a win and still have a shot at getting a first-round bye in the playoffs.
With all due respect to the Broncos complimentary talent (Von Miller, Demaryius Thomas, etc.), the major reason for their success has been the play of Manning. The future Hall of Famer is having an MVP-type season, recording 26 touchdowns and a quarterback rating of 104.8 in 2012.
Josh Freeman and the Buccaneers are having a good season and, despite their loss to the Falcons, still have an outside shot at a Wild Card spot. Offence isn’t a problem for Tampa Bay as they score an average of 28.2 points per game, the highest in the NFC. The problem for the Bucs is they have the lowest rated pass defence in the NFC and, to make matters worse, cornerback Eric Wright has been suspended four games for violating the league’s drug policy.
The Packers are thrilled to be back on the Frozen Tundra after getting their butts whipped last week in the Meadowlands. Coach Mike McCarthy is less concerned about the where the game is being played and more concerned with the health of linebacker Clay Matthews, who is highly doubtful to play Sunday.
Whoever suits up for the Packers defence Sunday, they have to find a way to stop running back Adrian Peterson. It’s likely the Vikings won’t have receiver Percy Harvin in the lineup as he is still hampered by an ankle injury, so stopping Peterson is the key to stopping the Vikings.
Aaron Rodgers has the highest quarterback rating in the NFL at 105.6, but he’s also been sacked 37 times, more than any other quarterback. Part of that is due to an anemic running game that has produced a league low two touchdowns on the ground. At least when Rodgers drops back to pass this week he will have his number one target, Greg Jennings, back in the lineup.
Already struggling to win on the road, the Seahawks were stunned to find out that starting cornerbacks Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman were each suspended four games for violating the NFL’s drug policy. Fortunately for Pete Carroll and the Seahawks, both players will be in the lineup as they go through the appeals process.
The Seahawks are a difficult team to figure out this year: unbeatable at home, inconsistent on the road. Now they’re being asked to win a road game against the most opportunistic defence in the NFL.
After leaving last week’s game due to injury, running back Matt Forte is expected to play this week but receiver Devin Hester is out of action. As always, the biggest worry for the Bears, and especially Jay Cutler, is their offensive line. That’s why it is so important for the Bears offence to establish a running game with Forte. If the Bears can run the ball then Cutler can use that rocket arm of his to burn the Seahawks on play-action.
Going into Week 13 no team has scored more points than the Patriots. With 190 points in their past four games, and 407 on the season, the Patriots have the kind of firepower that can strike fear into any opposing team.
Motivation won’t be a problem for the Pats as they know that with a win over Miami they will clinch the AFC East. Because the Patriots are scoring at such a prolific rate, the pressure will be immense on rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphins’ offence to score enough points to keep the game close.
Good luck with that.
Tom Brady has thrown twice as many touchdowns in the last five games as Tannehill has thrown all year.
In a lot of ways it’s kind of cruel the way Alex Smith is being treated in San Francisco. But there is very little room for feelings in the NFL and if the last two weeks have taught us anything, it’s that Jim Harbaugh has made a shrewd decision naming Colin Kaepernick his starting quarterback. The bottom line is that Harbaugh believes that Kaepernick gives the 49ers a better chance to win.
Harbaugh’s biggest worry this week is finding healthy bodies after he was forced to place running back Kendall Hunter and wide receiver Kyle Williams on injured reserve.
The Rams battled the 49ers to a rare tie in Week 10, but this time they will get a full dose of Kaepernick. Steven Jackson ran for over 100 yards in that game and the Rams will need another performance like that to keep the 49ers outstanding defence honest. That’s especially true concerning Niners linebacker Aldon Smith, who now leads the NFL with 16.5 sacks.
The Jaguars (2-9) and the Bills (4-7) in Buffalo
The only thing the Bills really have to play for the rest of the season is pride and future employment. At the very least, a strong finish will be a nice present for those loyal Bills fans who are suffering though another disappointing season.
Sunday’s game against the Jags is the first of three straight “home” games for the Bills, including their game against the Seahawks on December 16 at Rogers Centre in Toronto.
After getting shredded early in the season, the Bills defence has turned the corner somewhat and in their past two games, allowing a very respectable 34 points. A big reason for that is the resurgence of defensive end Mario Williams, who has four sacks in the last two games. The problem for the Bills is that they’ve only scored one offensive touchdown the last two weeks. Ryan Fitzpatrick needs to find a way to score some points because since Chad Henne has taken over as the starting quarterback the Jags offence has come to life.
The mighty Texans come into this game having won their last two games in overtime. They’re also missing linebacker Brooks Reed, who has a groin injury. Arian Foster and the Texans can clinch the AFC South title win a win on Sunday.
Whatever promise was left in the Titans season has long since been evaporated with last week’s loss to the Jaguars. Following the loss, the Titans fired offensive coordinator Chris Palmer. Defensively the Titans will have a nightmare trying to stop receiver Andre Johnson, who has 23 catches for 461 yards his last two games.
With the memory of last week’s 4th and 29 train wreck hanging over their head, the Chargers now have to deal with a Bengals team who are rolling. The Bengals arrive in San Diego riding a three-game winning streak, largely thanks to a more balanced attack.
Bengals running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis has back-to-back 100 yard games and is preventing opposing defences from solely keying on Andy Dalton. The real secret weapon on the Bengals, however, is their outstanding defensive tackle Geno Atkins. He likely won’t win any post-season awards, but Atkins has earned the respect of every offensive lineman who is given the task of trying to block him.
Much to the chagrin of legions of Chargers fans, Norv Turner is still their head coach.
In a perfect world this game would have major playoff implications for both teams. Unfortunately, the Lions have emerged as one of the bigger disappointments in 2012 and have been reduced to the role of spoiler for the rest of the season. But nobody can blame Calvin Johnson for the Lions three game losing streak. Megatron has 25 catches for 490 yards and three touchdowns his past three games.
At least Ndamukong Suh will be in the lineup, albeit a little lighter in the wallet, after getting fined $30,000 for “accidentally” kicking Matt Schaub in the pills.
While everyone assumed Andrew Luck would be an elite rookie, I doubt many people would have predicted the kind of impact receiver T.Y. Hilton has made with the Colts this season. Hilton leads the Colts with six touchdowns and his explosive speed makes him as dangerous as a punt returner as he is as a receiver.
It is doubtful the Cowboys secondary could play any worse than they did in Week 12 when RG3 torched them for four touchdowns. Facing rookie quarterback Nick Foles and the Eagles right about now could be exactly what the Cowboys defence needs to rebuild their confidence.
Eagles’ receiver DeSean Jackson has been placed on season-ending injured reserve with fractured ribs denying Philadelphia another potential playmaker. At the same time, the struggling Eagles defence released underachieving defensive end Jason Babin this week. Considering the sorry state of the Eagles right now there is zero excuse for the Cowboys to lose this game. They have better talent, they are at home and there’s a chance that running back DeMarco Murray could be back in the lineup.
Not even the New York Jets could screw this game up.
Or could they?
The Jets might be a mess but Mark Sanchez is a big upgrade over Cardinals rookie quarterback Ryan Lindley. Assuming the Jets don’t allow the Cardinals to score three touchdowns in 52 seconds, they should be just fine.
Or will they?
The Cardinals have a respectable defence so Sanchez has to make smart decisions when he throws the ball and need to get the ground game going. If Lindley and the Cardinals can somehow find way to win there will be a lot more people than just Fireman Ed who tap out on the Jets season.
The only thing the Chiefs have left to play for is that coveted No. 1 pick in next year’s draft. Cynical Chiefs fans are afraid their team will win some meaningless games down the stretch and screw themselves out of the top spot.
A lot of people in Kansas City will be interested to see if Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe will be waiting outside the stadium to ask Cam Newton for a photo and an autograph like they did last week with Peyton Manning.
Cam Newton is coming off his best game of the year and has looked more like 2011 Cam the last two weeks.
This is not the game the NFL is going to use to market the league to a global market. The Chiefs are bad, but the way the Raiders are playing lately Oakland is even worse. When they aren’t getting pounded by opposing teams, the Raiders are starting fights and getting kicked out of games.
Oakland has allowed a staggering 169 points in their past four games. The 49ers have allowed 155 points all season! The Browns are not the most exciting team in the league, but they play hard and their defence has some talent. With the Raiders issues stopping the run, expect Browns running back Trent Richardson to get plenty of work in the Black Hole.