Seahawks-Saints, Cardinals-Eagles among Week 13 must attend games
Let's all give thanks for the end of the bye weeks (technically open dates), which have diluted the NFL schedule since Week 4. Every team has now played an equal number of games, and there will be a full slate each week for the remainder of the regular season.
Here are the must-attend games in Week 13.
New Orleans Saints (9-2) at Seattle Seahawks (10-1)
Nothing much riding on this game except, perhaps, the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs. The Seahawks and Saints own the two best records in the conference, and the winner of Monday night's contest will capture the all-important tiebreaker if the teams should finish the regular season with identical marks.
Both teams should be well-rested. New Orleans last played on Nov. 21, when it beat Atlanta, 17-14, and Seattle is coming off its bye ... er, open week.
The secondary suddenly has become a primary concern for the Seahawks. Cornerback Walter Thurmond, who was starting in place of the injured Brandon Browner (groin), faces a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy and may not be back until the playoffs. Seattle was still dealing with that news when it learned that Browner reportedly had been banned for an entire year for a similar violation, effectively ending his career with the Seahawks (this was the last year of his contract).
The Seahawks have become the poster team for drug-related suspensions, and these latest bans plus the questions they raised surely were distractions for the team as it prepared for New Orleans.
On the positive front, wide receiver Percy Harvin should be a significant part of Seattle's offensive game plan for the first time this season. Acquired in a trade from Minnesota last March, Harvin underwent hip surgery on Aug. 1 and didn't make his season debut until Seattle's last game, a Week 11 victory over Minnesota, when he returned a kickoff 58 yards and made a nice catch for a 17-yard gain to help keep alive a touchdown drive.
Then, of course, there is Marshawn Lynch. The Saints haven't forgotten Lynch's thundering, 67-yard scoring run against them, in which he broke half a dozen tackles, in Seattle's wild-card playoff win after the 2011 season. Lynch is the league's fourth-leading rusher with 208 carries for 925 yards and nine touchdowns.
This contest is much more critical for the Saints. A loss would not only drop them two games behind the Seahawks but also could leave them tied for first in the NFC South with red-hot Carolina (8-3). The Panthers have won seven consecutive games and are solid favorites to beat Tampa Bay at home on Sunday.
The Saints seem to shine on Monday night -- they have won nine Monday night appearances in a row -- and quarterback Drew Brees is averaging 320 passing yards and has 28 touchdown passes during that streak. With 49,566 passing yards, Brees is now fifth on the NFL's all-time list. Only Brett Favre (71,838), Peyton Manning (63,209 and counting), Dan Marino (61,361) and John Elway (51,475) have thrown for more yards.
Denver Broncos (9-2) at Kansas City Chiefs (9-2)
With both teams coming off losses, a bit of the luster has been knocked off of this AFC West rematch. Both teams have the best records in the AFC (New England looms only one game behind, however) and Denver currently owns the tiebreaker by virtue of its victory over Kansas City two weeks ago.
Back-to-back losses to the Broncos in Denver and to the Chargers at home have exposed Kansas City's 9-0 start. San Diego gouged the Chiefs vaunted defense for 491 total yards of offense and 31 points in the second half. Adding injury to insult, the Chiefs lost outside linebackers Tamba Hali (sprained ankle) and Justin Houston (dislocated elbow), their two leading pass rushers, during the San Diego game.
Green Bay Packers (5-5-1) at Detroit Lions (6-5)
The first game of Thursday's tripleheader renews a Thanksgiving tradition that is almost as old as turkey, cranberries and pumpkin pie. Just ask grandpa. The Lions started playing football on Thanksgiving Day back in 1934, and for 13 consecutive years (1951-63) the Packers were their opponent.
In an NFC North division that is still up for grabs (Chicago is 6-5), the Packers are trying to keep their heads above water until quarterback Aaron Rodgers can return from a broken collarbone. It won't be Thursday according to coach Mike McCarthy, who characterized the chances of Rodgers playing as slim to none. More likely, Matt Flynn will start at quarterback. He replaced Scott Tolzien and rallied the Packers from a 23-7 fourth-quarter deficit in a game that ended in a tie. Lions fans may remember when Flynn started in place of Rodgers against Detroit in the final regular-season game of 2011 and threw for 480 yards and six touchdowns (both Green Bay records subsequently equaled by Rodgers) in a 45-41 Packers victory.
The Lions wasted an opportunity to take control of the NFC North by losing back-to-back games against Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay, two teams with losing records. Quarterback Matthew Stafford was intercepted four times by the Bucs and Detroit also lost a fumble. By contrast, the Lions have forced only one turnover in the last five games.
Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson always makes a Lions game compelling. In the last five games, Megatron has 861 receiving yards -- the most by a player in NFL history over a five-game span in one season.
Pittsburgh Steelers (5-6) at Baltimore Ravens (5-6)
The records diminish only slightly the allure of this Thursday night showdown between AFC North rivals. Each of their last three regular-season meetings and eight of the last 10 between these two teams has been decided by three points.
Once given up for dead, the Steelers have won three games in a row and can reach the .500 mark for the first time this season with a victory in Baltimore. The defending Super Bowl champion Ravens have had a disappointing season but are coming off an impressive defensive performance against the Jets in which they allowed only three points and a season-low 210 yards.
The consequences of this game are simple: Win and you're still in playoff contention. Lose and you're probably out.
Arizona Cardinals (7-4) at Philadelphia Eagles (6-5)
Quarterback Carson Palmer's play has been a big factor in a four-game winning streak that has carried Arizona into playoff contention (it currently has a grasp on the No. 6 seed in the NFC). So has the defense. The Cardinals have held their last four opponents (Atlanta, Houston, Jacksonville and Indianapolis) to 292, 235, 274 and 239 yards, respectively; allowed an average of 15.5 points; and forced eight turnovers (seven interceptions and one fumble).
The Eagles are battling the Cowboys (also 6-5) for first place in NFC East. This week coach Chip Kelly finally acknowledged what everyone already knew: Nick Foles is his starting quarterback -- not just on a week-to-week basis but for the rest of the season. In eight games this season, including the last five as the starter, Foles has completed 103 of 162 passes (63.5 percent) for 1,554 yards, with 16 touchdowns and no interceptions.