By Don Banks
December 05, 2013
The No. 3 seed in the AFC could be at stake when Andrew Luck (top) and the Colts play the Bengals.
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Last week: 11-5; Season 124-67
Thursday, Dec. 5
8:25 p.m. ET (NFL Network) Houston Texans (2-10) at Jacksonville Jaguars (3-9)
Hail, hail to the once-hapless Jaguars, who happen to be the hottest team in the AFC South over the past four weeks, going a division-best 3-1 in that span. Jacksonville can get to 3-1 in division play with a season-sweep of the Texans, which is a decent trick when you're shooting for only your fourth victory of the season. The Jaguars are 5-23 since the start of 2012, but four of the wins are against AFC South rivals, and they own at least one W against each of their three division foes over that span. What was so special about Jacksonville's win at Cleveland last week? It was the franchise's first victory outside its division since beating Tampa Bay in Week 14 of 2011, ending an 0-19 streak in non-division games. What would be so special about another win over the Texans Thursday night? It would give Jaguars fans their first victory at home to celebrate in more than a year.
Sunday, Dec. 8
1 p.m. ET (FOX) Detroit Lions (7-5) at Philadelphia Eagles (7-5)
The Lions can probably just win their two remaining home games -- against Baltimore and the Giants -- and still claim the NFC North crown. But a road upset of the Eagles would make the path so much easier for Jim Schwartz's club, which in the past has proven it can't stand prosperity. The Eagles are wrapping up what they hope will be an undefeated three-game homestand (imagine that thought just a month ago) and starting a three-game run against the NFC North. They've already won at Green Bay, and now they've got the Lions, at Vikings, and Bears on the way before that monster Week 17 showdown at Dallas.
1 p.m. ET (FOX) Atlanta Falcons (3-9) at Green Bay Packers (5-6-1)
The Packers and Falcons combined to go 24-8 last season, win their divisions and pick up another victory in the playoffs. And then, thud, the misery of 2013. Atlanta's lost close games early in the season and suffered a slew of injuries. Green Bay just lost Aaron Rodgers in Week 9, and the season has swirled down the drain ever since. The Packers have to win one eventually, and if they can scratch their way back to 6-6-1, and get a Detroit loss at Philly, they're somehow still alive in the NFC North.
1 p.m. ET (CBS) Indianapolis Colts (8-4) at Cincinnati Bengals (8-4)
Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis could make some meaningful team history against the Bengals, needing one more sack to pass ex-teammate Dwight Freeney as both the career sack leader for Indianapolis and single-season record holder. Mathis has an NFL-best 15.5 sacks, and 107 in his 11-year career, while Freeney recorded 16 sacks in 2004 and had 107.5 in his 11 seasons in Indy ('02-12). Last week in the win against Tennessee, Mathis had a strip-sack of Titans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, his career signature move. It was his 41st strip sack overall, an NFL record. Mathis may not get the top vote in the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year balloting with stiff competition from Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly and Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, but earning the inaugural Deacon Jones Award for leading the league in sacks would be quite the consolation prize. Not bad for a 32-year-old who was taken in the fifth round in 2003, besting the sack exploits of Freeney, the Colts' first-round pick in '02.
1 p.m. ET (CBS) Cleveland Browns (4-8) at New England Patriots (9-3)
Alex Tanney or Caleb Hanie at quarterback for the Browns? Seriously? If the recently concussed Jason Campbell or Brandon Weeden can't go, that's what Cleveland is facing in Foxboro. And just when you thought nothing could make Browns fans appreciate Weeden's mistake-prone game.
1 p.m. ET (CBS) Oakland Raiders (4-8) at New York Jets (5-7)
It's a crying shame the NFL couldn't have seen fit to schedule this game for Week 11, when it would have fallen on the 45th anniversary of the infamous "Heidi Game" between the Jets and Raiders. The final minute-plus of that game, of course, was unwisely cut off in East Coast TV markets by NBC, which switched to its airing of the kids movie Heidi at 7 p.m., depriving Jets fans of the chance to watch the Raiders score a pair of touchdowns nine seconds apart to steal a 43-32 comeback win. This season, Jets fans should be so lucky. Now they get Geno Smith in high definition.
1 p.m. ET (FOX) Minnesota Vikings (3-8-1) at Baltimore Ravens (6-6)
The defending Super Bowl champs are another team that's about to run the table during a three-game homestand, building on the slight cushion it has in the race for the AFC's second-wild card and hopefully keeping the first-place Bengals in sight in the AFC North. The Vikings are at least giving themselves their best chance by sticking with Matt Cassel at quarterback -- he has finished the game in all three of Minnesota's wins -- but it won't be enough in this battle of purple-clad players.
1 p.m. ET (CBS) Kansas City Chiefs (9-3) at Washington Redskins (3-9)
I realize I may be in the minority on this one, but I thought the fiasco that referee Jeff Triplett and crew were responsible for at the end of the Redskins' loss to the Giants Sunday night was a much bigger integrity-of-the-game issue than Mike Tomlin's wildly overanalyzed sideline slide step in Thursday night's Steelers-Ravens showdown. But nobody's losing $100K or a draft pick over that debacle, I'm guessing. Baseball has "Who's on First?" and now the NFL has "What Down Is It, No Really?"
1 p.m. ET (CBS) Buffalo Bills (4-8) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-9)
Back in September, no one would have tabbed this game as a battle of rookie quarterbacks who starred in the ACC. I'll take the Glennon-men over the Manuel-men, in a game that will continue Tampa Bay's strong late-season push to put another fresh coat of white paint on what was once a very dark outlook this year in Buc-ville.
1 p.m. ET (CBS) Miami Dolphins (6-6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (5-7)
Houston's Gary Kubiak did it. And Denver's John Fox, just back on the job, may do likewise this week. Could you blame Pittsburgh's Mike Tomlin if he followed the lead of his AFC peers and coached from the box upstairs against the Dolphins? You can't get in trouble for stepping on the field if you don't step on the field. And while we're at it, the parade of newly discovered Tomlin videos in recent days got really comical. I kept waiting for someone to unearth footage that definitively proved he executed a sideline nose pick just before sliding to his right on the Jacoby Jones kickoff return.
4:25 p.m. ET (FOX) Seattle Seahawks (11-1) at San Francisco 49ers (8-4)
The Seahawks overwhelmed the Saints by 27 points Monday night, roughly the same way they ambushed the 49ers and were 26 points better than back in Week 2. But the 49ers are starting to get their offensive rhythm back with the return of Michael Crabtree, and I think they'll put forth their best overall effort of the season to slip past visiting Seattle, taking advantage of the Seahawks' short week. It will only delay the Seahawks clinching the NFC West by a week, but it'll give San Francisco hope of entering the playoffs on equal footing with anyone in the NFC.
4:25 p.m. ET (FOX) New York Giants (5-7) at San Diego Chargers (5-7)
As it turns out, Eli Manning is 0-2 in his career when facing the team he dissed on draft day 2004. OK, Archie dissed the Chargers. Eli just looked awkward and uncomfortable wearing the hat, while he waited for the phone to ring and provide an escape from the specter of Ryan Leaf-dom. But I'd say those two Super Bowls rings Manning wears more than make up for the regular-season losses to San Diego in 2005 and '09. Three-peat on the way.
4:25 p.m. ET (FOX) St. Louis Rams (5-7) at Arizona Cardinals (7-5)
What is it about opposing tight ends that give the Cardinals defense fits? Arizona allowed all three of Philly's touchdowns last week to be scored by tight ends (Zach Ertz 2, Brent Celek 1), and Todd Bowles' defense has given up an NFL-high 14 touchdowns to tight ends in the season's first 12 games. And now here comes the Rams' Jared Cook, who got the whole trend started in a Week 1 Rams win in St. Louis, scoring twice and catching seven passes for 141 yards. I would double Cook if I were Bowles. These things don't have to be tricky.
4:05 p.m. ET (CBS) Tennessee Titans (5-7) at Denver Broncos (10-2)
Pretty good sense of timing by Broncos head coach John Fox, who returned to work this week after missing the past month following heart surgery. The man knows when a party is about to commence. Denver can clinch a playoff berth by beating the 5-7 Titans, and that would give Fox his third consecutive trip to the postseason in his three-year tenure leading the Broncos. The only other Denver head coach to manage that was Red Miller, of the team's "Orange Crush" era in 1977-79. Including the playoffs, the Broncos have scored at least 26 points in their past 18 games, an NFL record. Make it 19 with Tennessee on tap. Only four times during the course of that streak have they managed fewer than 31 points.
8:30 p.m. ET (NBC) Carolina Panthers (9-3) at New Orleans Saints (9-3)
The Panthers aggressive defense will severely test Drew Brees and the Sean Payton-called Saints offense, but I can't pick against New Orleans in the Superdome, where it hasn't lost a game with Payton on the sideline since Week 17 of 2010. It didn't help Carolina any that the Saints were embarrassed by Seattle on Monday night. New Orleans usually responds in a big way after taking a punch. The Panthers will lose narrowly and then start working on the rematch with the Saints in Charlotte in two weeks.
Monday, Dec. 2
8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) Dallas Cowboys (7-5) at Chicago Bears (6-6)
So who returns to the lineup first in the NFC North, the Bears' Jay Cutler or the Packers' Aaron Rodgers? And will it matter for either Chicago or Green Bay by the time they're healthy enough to play again? Actually it will, that's how winnable the NFC North is this season. I wanted to pick Dallas in this game, given the Cowboys are getting middle linebacker Sean Lee back after he missed more than 2 1/2 games with a bad hamstring pull. But it's going to be frosty and windy at Solider Field, and those big Bears receivers are going to have a field day against that Dallas secondary.
FARRAR: Seahawks stay on top in Week 13 Power Rankings
COVER-TWO: Debating futures for struggling QBs
KING: Behind the scenes with Gene Steratore's crew
FARRAR: Kaepernick, Wilson forming NFL's most intense rivalry
BELLER: Player-by-player fantasy projections for Week 14

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