The night games may grab the biggest headlines, but start-to-finish this could be the best weekend of intriguing matchups, bitter rivalries and fortune-changing games the NFL has yet seen.
The Week 13 storylines only begin in Baltimore and New England, which we certainly will cover. But before Sunday night and Monday night come old-school rivalries, last stands and new stars on the big stage.
We'll start in Tampa, where the Bucs face a playoffs-or-bust moment, and the Falcons may well take off to the top of the NFC heap.
• The Bucs have been one of the league's best stories under Raheem Morris, remaining in NFC South contention into the playoff stretch. But if the playoffs began today, the Bucs would be on the outside looking in. In Atlanta, the Bucs pushed the Falcons to the limit, losing 27-21 only after being stopped on 4th-and-1 late at the Falcons' 2-yard line. Get this one at home and not only does the division tighten up, but the Bucs would face a very favorable schedule down the stretch (Redskins, Lions, Seahawks).
• Sometimes these things are not fully appreciated until after the fact, but make no mistake: Atlanta's Matt Ryan is putting together a Super Bowl-type season. He's been consistent, carrying the Falcons to a 9-2 record and five consecutive wins. He's been clutch -- hence, the way-cool nickname, Matty Ice, after leading comeback wins over the 49ers, Ravens and last week the Packers. He's put up the big numbers. And he's gotten better late in the season, throwing for 10 touchdowns vs. just one interception over the five-game win streak.
• Who says there's no dominant team in the league? While balance and unpredictability have been the catchphrases league-wide, should the Falcons win at Tampa, it's highly likely they'll finish the year with a 13-3 record at worst and home-field throughout the playoffs. The final four Atlanta games include a pair against the Panthers, a roadie at Seattle and a home game against the Saints.
• Josh Freeman has been in a slump of late. That's to be expected of a still-young quarterback. He has a couple of big weapons in receiver Mike Williams and running back LeGarrette Blount, however, who are game-breakers and unintimidated by their surroundings. If they all rise on the big stage, the Bucs could be on the verge of building quite the Big Three offensive attack.
Other Week 13 storylines abound across the league, including:
Johnson merely did to Finnegan what most of the league has wanted to do. The bigger story in Titans-Jaguars, of course, will be whether the Jags whoop a Titans team that looked like it flat-out quit in a horrendous 20-0 road loss to the Texans last week.