NFL Week 13 storylines: How Eagles, Vikings can punch ticket to playoffs

Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) runs up field during the first half of an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings, Monday, Sept. 19, 2022, in Philadelphia. (Matt Slocum/AP)

December is upon us, and ‘tis the season for clinching scenarios. For the first time this year, we’ve got two clubs that can officially punch their tickets to the playoffs. Both the Vikings and Eagles wrapped up their status as contenders weeks ago, but can make it official in Week 13 if all the pieces fall into place.

The are no clinching scenarios in the AFC this week.

Here’s a storyline for each game over the next few days, plus clinching scenarios.

Packers (4-8) @ Bears (3-9) | Sunday 1 p.m. ET

As long as the Packers have a sliver of post-season hope, Aaron Rodgers wants to be the one leading the team onto the field. But with just four wins on the season, that hope is slim – which means we could soon see more of Jordan Love, with Rodgers’ blessing.

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“I’d love to finish the season out, but I understand this is a business and there’s a lot of us kind of older guys who play a decent amount and they might want to see some younger guys play,” Rodgers, who’s currently dealing with a broken thumb and left Sunday’s loss to Philadelphia with a rib injury, told reporters on Wednesday. “Hopefully we don’t have to have that conversation. But if that conversation comes up, I’ll approach that with an open mind and without any bitterness or resentment.”

Steelers (4-7) @ Falcons (5-7) | Sunday 1 p.m. ET

Eleven games into the season, the Steelers have yet to string together two wins in a row. After defeating the Colts Monday night, they need five more wins in their final six games just to avoid finishing the year with a losing record for the first time under head coach Mike Tomlin.

Jets (7-4) @ Vikings (9-2) | Sunday 1 p.m. ET

Minnesota has a chance to be the first franchise to secure a division crown and claim a playoff spot this season. A win over Mike White’s Jets, plus a Jaguars victory over the Lions in Detroit (or a Lions-Jaguar tie), would see the Vikings claim their first NFC North title since 2017. (The Vikings can also claim the crown if they tie the Jets and the Lions lose.)

Jaguars (4-7) @ Lions (4-7) | Sunday 1 p.m. ET

Trevor Lawrence is coming off the best performance of his career, a gutsy comeback win over the Ravens that looked like it could be the game that changed everything for the budding star. The last few weeks have felt like a pivotal point for the Lions, too, whose 1-6 skid to start the season was countered in November with three straight wins and a one-score loss to Buffalo.

Titans (7-4) @ Eagles (10-1) | Sunday 1 p.m. ET

While the strength of the NFC East means they can’t yet claim the division title, the Eagles can officially punch their ticket to the playoffs – though, they cannot do it alone.

The Eagles will make the playoffs with a win over the Titans AND a Commanders loss, 49ers loss or tie, and Seahawks loss or tie. Philadelphia can also clinch with a win, a Commanders tie, and a loss for both the 49ers and Seahawks.

Wide receiver A.J. Brown, traded from the Titans to the Eagles on draft night, will be an x-factor (ex-factor?) here, but while Philadelphia’s air game has been fun to watch, the real damage is done on the ground – the Eagles have a punched it in a league-leading 21 times on the ground. The Titans, meanwhile, have allowed just three rushing TDs all year (best in the league) and their defence as a whole has now gone eight straight games without allowing more than 20 points.

Browns (4-7) @ Texans (1-9-1) | Sunday 1 p.m. ET

Deshaun Watson sat out 11 games while suspended for dozens of sexual harassment and assault lawsuits filed against him, and what did he learn? Nothing, apparently. That Watson chose not to address a single non-football question in his first post-reinstatement media availability this week ahead of his Browns debut against his old team makes that abundantly clear. There should be very little talk of football in Houston this Sunday.

Commanders (7-5) @ Giants (7-4) | Sunday 1 p.m. ET

Since 2016, neither the Giants nor the Commanders have posted a winning record, spending most of the past five seasons battling it out in the division’s basement (2020 was a weird blip on the radar). The two clubs are once again battling it out at the bottom of the NFC East’s standings, the difference this year being that they’re both 7-win teams and in playoff position. A fourth straight win for Washington would see them leapfrog the Giants, who have cooled off since their red-hot start to the season.

Broncos (3-8) @ Ravens (7-4) | Sunday 1 p.m. ET

How do you solve a problem like Baltimore’s lead-blowing habit? You play the Broncos. While not as potent as it was earlier this season, Denver’s solid defence has allowed just nine passing TDs this year (lowest in the league) and six on the ground – in other words, good luck building up a big lead. And considering Russell Wilson’s offence has only twice scored more than 16 points in a game and maxed out at 23, the team hasn’t shown the kind of firepower that can propel a team to a come-from-behind win.

Dolphins (8-3) @ 49ers (7-4) | Sunday 4:05 p.m. ET

Kyle Shanahan and Mike McDaniel go way back. In 16 seasons since they first teamed up in 2006, the two worked together for 14 of them – including Shanahan’s time in San Francisco, right up until the Dolphins brought McDaniel to Miami to be their new head coach.

McDaniel’s offence has been potent all year, but if the student is to defeat the master he’ll have to bring one heck of a game plan. The 49ers have now gone four straight games without allowing a single second-half point, and including last weekend’s shutout of New Orleans have now gone six quarters without giving up a score.

Seahawks (6-5) @ Rams (3-8) | Sunday 4:05 p.m. ET

L.A.’s dismal injury situation went from bad to worse when Aaron Donald, week-to-week with a high-ankle sprain, was ruled out of Sunday’s divisional matchup – his first time sidelined since 2017. Fellow franchise faces Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp are still out, and wide receiver Allen Robinson is the club’s latest addition to the IR.

November wasn’t particularly kind to the Seahawks, either – two losses in three games saw them fall out of the playoff picture as NFC West rival San Francisco stole the division’s top spot.

Chargers (6-5) @ Raiders (4-7) | Sunday 4:25 p.m. ET

These AFC West foes are no strangers to dramatic divisional matchups. Though they’ve met since last year’s season’s wild Week 18 overtime affair – one in which a tie would’ve seen them both make the post-season – L.A.’s trip to Vegas will surely bring back memories of that sensational Sin City thriller.

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Raiders running back Josh Jacobs is coming off a dominant effort against the Seahawks that saw him run for 229 yards and two touchdowns, including an 86-yard OT winner, and could be in for another big outing considering the banged-up state of the Chargers’ porous run defence that has allowed at least 157 rushing yards in five consecutive games.

Chiefs (9-2) @ Bengals (7-4) | Sunday 4:25 p.m. ET

Joe Burrow is the only quarterback in the league with multiple victories (including playoffs) and zero losses against Patrick Mahomes. And to make matters even more compelling, he’s also the only QB to defeat Mahomes in a game where the Chiefs QB had a 14-point lead – and he did it twice.

Oh, and Ja’Marr Chase, sidelined since Week 7, could be there, too:

Colts (4-7-1) @ Cowboys (8-3) | Sunday 8:20 p.m. ET

In back-to-back big tests (Dalvin Cook, Saquon Barkley), Dallas’ defence has stepped up to the challenge. They’ll now need to shut down Jonathan Taylor, who’s just a few weeks removed from a 147-yard outing and has a nice little three-game TD streak going.

Saints (4-8) @ Buccaneers (5-6) | Monday 8:15 p.m. ET

All four NFC South clubs have a losing record, which is why a 4-8 team is very much still in the playoff race. Tom Brady’s Buccaneers finally solved the Saints in a regular-season contest when they met in Week 2, but can New Orleans keep their streak of wins at Raymond James Stadium intact? A fifth straight victory would make this messy playoff picture even messier.

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