Broncos-Patriots, Cowboys-Giants among Week 12 must attend games
Seattle's CenturyLink Field generally is considered the most difficult venue for a visiting team, and the Seahawks were the only team to go undefeated at home last year. Through 11 weeks of this season, the Seahawks again are unbeaten at home (6-0), but they have plenty of company. The Patriots (5-0), Bengals (5-0), Broncos (6-0), Chiefs (5-0) and Saints (6-0) also are singing the lyrics of "Home! Sweet Home!"
All six teams look like they're headed to the postseason, so claiming a No. 1 seed and gaining home-field advantage throughout the playoffs would be big. Meanwhile, there are six more weeks left in the regular season, and these are the must-see games in Week 12.
Denver Broncos (9-1) at New England Patriots (7-3)
This matchup of two division leaders is a possible AFC championship game preview. But there's a much more compelling reason to watch Sunday night: Manning-Brady XIV.
Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, two quarterbacks who already have their Hall of Fame induction passes stamped, will meet for the 14th time overall and the 11th time in the regular season. Over the years, these two players have put on some entertaining shows. Although Manning has more touchdowns, yards and completions in the previous 10 regular-season meetings, Brady and the Patriots have a better winning record (7-3). Here is a comparison of the quarterbacks' statistics in those 10 games:
Manning played for the Colts in nine of those 10 regular-season games and all three playoff games against New England (Brady holds a 2-1 edge in the postseason). This will be the second time he has faced off against Brady with horses instead of horseshoes on his helmet.
This will mark only the second time in league history that two starting quarterbacks with at least 140 regular-season wins (Manning has 163, Brady 143) have met in a game. The previous matchup featured Denver's John Elway (147) and Miami's Dan Marino (141) in December 1998.
The AFC East-leading Patriots are coming off a 24-20 loss to Carolina that ended bitterly for Brady and the Patriots when the officials did not call pass interference against the Panthers in the end zone on the final play of the game. Since Bill Belichick took over as head coach in 2000, New England has compiled a regular-season winning record against 30 of the other 31 NFL teams. The lone exception is Denver, which is 5-5 vs. New England during that span.
The Broncos, who moved into a tie for first place with Kansas City in the AFC West last week by beating the previously unbeaten Chiefs in Denver, are in the midst of a challenging, three-game stretch. Next week, they face a rematch against the Chiefs in Kansas City, where another victory would give them the all-important tiebreaker over the Chiefs.
Indianapolis Colts (7-3) at Arizona Cardinals (6-4)
Looks like Arizona's Bruce Arians is starting to figure out this head coaching gig. After filling in as interim head coach in Indianapolis last year while Chuck Pagano was being treated for leukemia -- the Colts went 11-5 and won the AFC South -- Arians was named the Associated Press Coach of the Year. He subsequently became coach of the Cardinals and now presides over a team that is on a three-game winning streak and has moved into a tie with San Francisco for second place in the NFC West.
Granted, Arizona's streak has been compiled against Atlanta, Houston and Jacksonville, teams with a combined 5-25 record. The Cardinals still have plenty of skeptics, but a victory over the AFC South-leading Colts certainly would make their credentials look much more authentic. The Cardinals need quarterback Carson Palmer to continue playing at a high level; over the last three games, he has completed 63 of 92 passes (68.5 percent) for 832 yards, with six touchdowns and two interceptions.
Under quarterback Andrew Luck, the first overall draft pick in 2012, Indianapolis is 18-8 in regular-season games. If Sunday's contest is close in the fourth quarter, the Colts should have an edge. Luck has led 10 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime, the most by a quarterback in his first two seasons since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970.
Dallas Cowboys (5-5) at New York Giants (4-6)
After digging themselves an 0-6 hole, the Giants trying to make a late run in a division that likely will still be up for grabs on the final weekend of the regular season. The G-Men have won their last four games and have moved to within a game of Dallas and a game and a half of first-place Philadelphia in the up-for-grabs NFC East. The Giants, who lost to Dallas 36-31 in Week 1 largely because they turned the ball over six times, must win this return match or else the Cowboys will own the tiebreaker over them.
The Giants are playing good defense right now. During their four-game winning streak, they have forced 11 turnovers, allowed only 47 points and held opponents to an average of 253 yards per game. But that wasn't exactly a murderer's row of quarterbacks they faced in those four games -- Minnesota's Josh Freeman, Philadelphia's Matt Barkley, Oakland's Terrelle Pryor (who was injured) and Green Bay's Scott Tolzien. We'll see how New York fares over its final six games when it must play against Dallas' Tony Romo, San Diego's Philip Rivers, Seattle's Russell Wilson, Detroit's Matthew Stafford and Washington's Robert Griffin III (twice).
Dallas should have defensive end DeMarcus Ware back on the field for this one. Ware aggravated a strained quadriceps (an injury that forced him to miss three previous games) in a Nov. 10 loss to Dallas. He wouldn't have been able to play last week, but the Cowboys had a bye. No. 2 wide receiver Miles Austin, who missed the last three games (five overall) with a hamstring injury, also could return for the Cowboys. He hasn't caught a pass since Week 3.
Carolina Panthers (7-3) at Miami Dolphins (5-5)
The Panthers removed all doubts about their legitimacy with last week's win at home over New England. Carolina has won six games in a row (matching Seattle for the longest current winning streak) and is just 1½ games behind New Orleans in the NFC South. Those two teams will meet twice in the final four weeks of the season.
Led by linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis, the Panthers defense has been outstanding. It has allowed the fewest points of any team and ranks third in the league in both overall defense and rushing defense.
The Dolphins are trying to keep their heads above water in the wake of Bully-gate. Miami fans looking for any ray of sunshine can cling to this historical note: In four previous meetings, the Dolphins have never lost to the Panthers.