By Peter King
December 20, 2012
King: Tough road to NFC Playoffs
Source:SI's Peter King looks at the five 8-6 NFC teams all vying for the playoffs and says which contenders will ultimately make it.
Last Week: 12-4 (.750); This Season: 144-79-1 (.645)
Saturday, Dec. 22
8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) Atlanta Falcons (12-2) at Detroit Lions (4-10)
In the last two games of Jerry Rice's record-setting 1995 season (1,848 receiving yards), he had 26 catches for 442 yards. That makes Calvin Johnson's task, chasing Rice, seem pretty simple. Johnson needs 182 yards to break Rice's record, and with zero to play for, the Lions will get Johnson the record in two weatherless games: home tilts with the Falcons and Bears.
Sunday, Dec. 23
1 p.m. ET (CBSX) Oakland Raiders (4-10) at Carolina Panthers (5-9)
Not saying the Raiders' pass rush has been deficient under rookie coach Dennis Allen (whose resume says he has coached defense before), but Oakland's sack leader, Matt Shaughnessy, has 3.5. Cam Newton (last five games: 10 touchdown passes, nine sacks, zero interceptions) is probably pretty excited about playing this game.
1 p.m. ET (FOX) New Orleans Saints (6-8) at Dallas Cowboys (8-6)
The Cowboys never make it easy. Sunday will be no different. Tony Romo's having the best stretch drive of his career, which will need to continue for Dallas to win the East. Romo threw four interceptions Oct. 28 against the Giants. Since then, he's thrown three.
1 p.m. ET (CBS) Tennessee Titans (5-9) at Green Bay Packers (10-4)
The Packers are doing everything well (except running the ball) at the most important time of the season, and they shouldn't have any problems here, particularly with Jake Locker (seven picks in his last four) making his Lambeau debut.
1 p.m. ET (FOX) Minnesota Vikings (8-6) at Houston Texans (12-2)
There's just something about Adrian Peterson right now, obviously, with his 164-rushing-yards-per-game average over the past eight weeks. But it's more than that -- a Minnesota defense allowing an average of 19.7 points over the last three, for one thing, and that the Vikings have scored 93 points in their last three dome games. The Reliant roof hasn't been open once all year, so expect another dome game for the Vikes.
1 p.m. ET (CBS) New England Patriots (10-4) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-12)
1 p.m. ET (CBS) Indianapolis Colts (9-5) at Kansas City Chiefs (2-12)
The Colts clinch a playoff spot with a win in Kansas City or a Pittsburgh loss to the Bengals. Amazing, really, if a two-win team one season clinches a playoff berth with a week to go the next season. But that's what the hope of Andrew Luck has brought this franchise.
1 p.m. ET (CBS) Buffalo Bills (5-9) at Miami Dolphins (6-8)
The fact that Joe Philbin has the Dolphins, playing a rookie quarterback, with a prayer of going .500 in his first season (though they're at New England in Week 17) should put him in contention for coach of the year. He'll need to bottle up C.J. Spiller, who has 297 rushing-receiving yards against Miami in the last two Bills-Dolphs games.
1 p.m. ET (CBS) San Diego Chargers (5-9) at New York Jets (6-8)
Among the New York Post's Wednesday headlines concerning Gang Green: "No ifs, and or butts: Jets should bench Mark forever" ... "For God's sakes, Tim jobbed again" ... "Rise and fall of The Sanchise" ... "For buttfumble's sake, let this Mark the end." If you're Mark Sanchez, and you have a chance to exit New York after the season, wouldn't you beg?
1 p.m. ET (FOX) Washington Redskins (8-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (4-10)
Regardless of QB, I like Washington. Robert Griffin III was 14 of 15 the last time these teams met, and Kirk Cousins shredded the Browns on the road last week. Sort of a sad day in Philadelphia, with Andy Reid coaching his last game in the city. I know Eagles fans are desperate to send Reid packing, but whatever happens in the game, they should cheer Reid when he leaves the field. I know. Fat chance.
1 p.m. ET (FOX) St. Louis Rams (6-7-1) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-8)
Greg Schiano can look at the team he almost coached (he was the Rams' bridesmaid to Jeff Fisher) and the one he's coaching. Not sure he'll like what he sees this week, because the Bucs are slumping badly, but good programs can't be built in one year.
1 p.m. ET (CBS) Cincinnati Bengals (8-6) at Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7)
Game of the day. Tremendous battle. Fight for a playoff spot, most likely. I like the Bengals, because Pittsburgh can't run right now (last four games: 49, 96, 69 and 69 yards rushing), and the Bengals will be able to tee off on Ben Roethlisberger. It's time for Andy Dalton to win a franchise-changing road game, and I think he can do it. Cincinnati's 10-5 on the road since Dalton was drafted.
4:05 p.m. ET (CBS) Cleveland Browns (5-9) at Denver Broncos (11-3)
If Kirk Cousins can riddle the Browns for 329 yards in the Dawg Pound, what can Peyton Manning do to them in altitude?
4:25 p.m. ET (FOX) Chicago Bears (8-6) at Arizona Cardinals (5-9)
Closer than you think, because it's going to be another day of Jay Cutler running for his life against a physical front seven. And whatever you think of the moribund Cards, they can play D. Plus, Cutler can be careless -- no, he is careless, weekly -- so I could see Arizona making it very hot for the Bears and their endangered species of a head coach.
4:25 p.m. ET (FOX) New York Giants (8-6) at Baltimore Ravens (9-5)
Eli Manning has to try to save the Giants' season in the stadium where he had the worst nightmare of his life. In his fourth NFL start, in his rookie year, the Ray Lewis- and Ed Reed-led Ravens defense embarrassed him into a 4-of-18, 27-yard afternoon. They taunted Manning, and it shook him up. Manning, last winter, told me the game was "a nightmare. A disaster. They saw me sweating it, and they took advantage of me, to say the least." For the Giants to be a January force again, Manning has to get his redemption Sunday.
8:20 p.m. ET (NBC) San Francisco 49ers">49ers (10-3-1) at Seattle Seahawks (9-5)
Still marveling at the Seahawks' ridiculous offense over the past nine quarters (114 points), and my confidence is shaken in the Niners D after it allowed the Pats 28 points in 19 minutes last Sunday. But the more I see Colin Kaepernick, the more I think no defense scares him, and no noise affects him. I like San Francisco's offense a little more than I like Seattle's right now, which is no reflection on Russell Wilson, who is my 14-game offensive rookie of the year. The Niners' offensive pieces, I think, win this game in a battle of quarterbacks we'll love watching over the next decade.


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