My weekly look at key matchups and storylines to watch in one game at each time slot. (All times Eastern).
Sunday 1 p.m.Baltimore Ravens (8-6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7)
This rivalry game has great meaning as always. Only this year, it isn't for the AFC North crown, but rather for the right to stay alive in the crowded AFC wild card picture. The Ravens were dealt a fairly significant blow when rookie corner and return man Lardarius Webb went down against the Bears with a torn ACL. Not exactly the best of timing considering they have to go against the 500-yard man, Big Ben Roethlisberger.
The good news for Baltimore is that it appears to be back in a groove on both sides of the ball after a rocky middle of the season which saw it lose most of the winnable games in which it played. Offensively, Joe Flacco seems to have his confidence back, and getting the ball into the hands of Ray Rice, second-best in league in yards from scrimmage, is a big reason why. Defensively, the Ravens defense may not be as scary as it used to be, but no defense in the NFL has given up fewer points over the last 10 weeks. It will be up to them to find a way to get to confuse and harass Roethlisberger like the Browns did a couple of weeks back.
Sunday 4:15 p.m.New York Jets (7-7) at Indianapolis Colts (14-0)
The question of the day obviously in this game that I will be calling for Sports USA Radio is exactly who is and who isn't playing for the 14-0 Colts. And perhaps more importantly, for how long? The answers to those questions will go a long way in determining the outcome in this one, although even if the Colts are at full strength, it won't be easy for them to stay undefeated against a Jets squad that has the running game and defense necessary to give them a run for their money.
The problem for the Jets is that, unlike the Colts, they seemingly find new and unique ways to lose games. Last weekend against Atlanta was no different. But Sunday is a new day, and you have to think that Rex Ryan and the boys will be coming after Peyton Manning with a number of exotic blitzes and pressures designed to punish and throw off Manning's timing. If Manning begins to take a number of hits early in the game, Colts head coach Jim Caldwell will have to strongly consider taking out his signal caller.
Sunday 8:20 p.m.Dallas Cowboys (9-5) at Washington Redskins (4-10)
This should be interesting. The Cowboys really couldn't have played much better than they did in invading the Superdome last Saturday in knocking off the previously unbeaten Saints. The Redskins, on the other hand, couldn't have played much worse against the New York Giants, as they were thoroughly dominated in every phase of the game on Monday night. All of which probably means the Redskins will find a way to beat the Cowboys given the way this zany league works.
It will be interesting to see the intensity level that the Cowboys display on Sunday night. Do they let their foot off the gas a bit now that the can't-win-in-December monkey is off their backs? Or do they have a renewed confidence that allows them to continue to roll? The Skins really can't play much worse and they had better find a way to protect Jason Campbell better than they did on Monday night -- DeMarcus Ware and the gang showed they could get to DrewBrees consistently and that's a much more arduous task then taking down Campbell.
Monday 8:30 p.m.Minnesota Vikings (11-3) at Chicago Bears (5-9)
This is the perfect time slot for a game between two teams that come into the game with boatloads of drama. For the Vikings, it will be interesting to see whether their Brett Favre-Brad Childress tiff rallies the troops or if it's the beginning of the end. My guess is the Vikings come out and play one of their best games of the year in order to silence their critics. But their last two road outings in prime time don't exactly bode well for the men of Minny in this contest.
For the Bears, change is on the horizon in some way, shape or form. That much we know for sure. What that change ends up being is right now anybody's guess. One thing that absolutely needs to change is quarterback Jay Cutler's penchant for interceptions. Watching him play, it's amazing how many times it seems as if he doesn't know whether he's protected against a certain blitz as well as how often he and his wide receivers aren't on the same page. Whatever the issue is, it's not good, and it should be priority No. 1 for the organization to figure it out this offseason.
After a one-week hiatus due to a wicked stomach virus, here are some quick-hit responses to some of your questions, all sent via Twitter.
What more can my boy Peyton Manning do get MVP award No. 4?-- lstcjim
Not much. In fact, Colts starting guard Ryan Lilja told me recently on Sirius NFL Radio that this is without a doubt the best season he has ever seen Peyton have. Based on the fact that he has had to break in two new receivers in AustinCollie and Pierre Garcon with an almost nonexistent passing game, I tend to believe him.
If the Cowboys hold on and make it into the playoffs, how do you like our chances of, at the very least, winning a playoff game?-- DMV11982
Well, it won't be easy considering the NFC is absolutely stacked. In fact, I think any and every NFC team that makes the playoffs has the goods to go on a Super Bowl run. It won't be easy for the Cowboys to win in Arizona, Philly or, potentially, even Minnesota. But if they can win in New Orleans, they can absolutely get it done in any of those other venues.
Can you answer why Eli Manning gets no respect even from Giants fans despite Pro Bowl stats and a Super Bowl MVP?-- kcopen
I know plenty of Giants fans that adore Eli and defend him against all comers, so I don't agree with your basic premise that he gets no respect. That said, Eli still has plenty of detractors and my sense is that most of it comes from the expectations that come along with both being the No. 1 overall pick and his record-setting contract.
The Chiefs clearly have a ton of needs; where does the offseason focus need to be? Lines? Overall team speed? Everything?-- mikvogel
The answer is pretty much everything since Kansas City still has holes all across the board. But given that Browns running back Jerome Harrison had 286 yards rushing against them on Sunday, the Chiefs could do worse than upgrading the front seven on defense.