This is the time of year you have to guess who's tuning out the coaching staff and who's playing for a contract. If I don't come up with some victories the last two weeks, I could be playing for a contract, so I've put in maximum effort this week:
The Giants typically respond when they have their backs against the wall. They're a bit banged up on the O-line and we don't know if running back Ahmad Bradshaw can play yet, but they'll find a way. Also, decent teams tend to play well after an embarrassing blowout. The Giants lost 34-0 to the Falcons last week. Then again, the Ravens lost 34-17 to the Broncos. Their offense is reeling despite changing coordinators, so it's hard to call Baltimore, losers of three straight, a decent team right now.
Pittsburgh beat Cincy 24-17 in Week 7 when it was dealing with a rash of injuries. The Bengals have gone on a run since then, but they've beaten some bad teams. Last week's win over Philly was deceptive because the Eagles handed them the win. Cincinnati follows the same pattern almost every week -- get the lead early, make a series of mistakes and lose it and then either come back or lose. In this high-stakes contest, the Bengals won't be able to recover from their mistakes.
As well as Wilson and Kaepernick have played lately, this will be a different kind of game for both quarterbacks. San Francisco and Seattle rank No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, in defense, and this contest will be all about ball control. Both quarterbacks may have to try to win this game with their legs and not their arms.
Newton has gone five straight games without throwing an interception and is making everyone forget about his first-half struggles. The Raiders actually have the sixth-ranked pass defense -- in part because they're so easy to run on. But Oakland has only 10 picks on the year, and Newton will continue to be careful as he continues his productive run.
Lost in their disaster of a season is how well Arizona's defense can play. The Cardinals beat the Lions 38-10 last week with almost no help from the offense. Cutler and the Bears' offense are out of sync. Chicago also has a tough defense and should win, but it won't be because of Cutler.
Romo is hot, and the Cowboys have everything on the line against the Saints. New Orleans' defense typically doesn't put up much of a fight on the road and will have trouble handling Dallas' receivers.
St. Louis' top wideout appears to finally be healthy and will be the main target against Tampa Bay's 32nd-ranked pass defense. We saw last week against Minnesota that the Rams aren't afraid to go pass-happy when necessary.
With Rob Gronkowski out, Hernandez has been Tom Brady's main target. He has 26 catches for 243 yards and three touchdowns over the last three weeks. The Pats might get up early and not need to pass against Jacksonville, but Hernandez is such a big part of the passing game right now that he could get his production out of the way early.
Henne has struggled the last few games, but he hopes to show enough to earn a chance to compete for a starting job next season. He had some strong efforts against the Pats when he was in Miami and he'll have a good opportunity to toss the rock around in Week 16 against New England's 29th-ranked pass defense.
Cleveland quarterback Brandon Weeden threw two picks against the Redskins last week and he faces a much tougher defense in Denver. He needs to finish well to keep the Browns from going after another quarterback in the offseason. Cleveland will have a hard time blocking the Broncos' Von Miller, and Weeden will make mistakes under the pressure.