The playoff race is heating up in the NFL, and with six weeks left to play almost every team is still alive, but many face must-win situations this week in order to keep their hopes alive. Let’s take a closer look at every game on the week 12 schedule:
Pittsburgh at Cleveland – Both teams need this game, as the winner will be in the midst of the wild card chase while the loser will be a long shot to get there. The Steelers have come on strong as of late, winning four of their last six and looking real good the past two weeks. Meanwhile, the Browns shot themselves in the foot last week with turnovers, and that’s a problem they’ll have to get under control this week against a Pittsburgh defense that will be looking to force turnovers. If Jason Campbell can take better care of the ball Cleveland will have a chance to get back on track; if not, expect the Steelers to keep their momentum going.
Tampa Bay at Detroit – The Bucs look like a real NFL team after winning their last two games, and they have a real chance to make it three in a row this week. Look for Tampa to continue feeding the ball to running back Bobby Rainey, although the Lions are one of the best teams at stopping the run, and if they force Mike Glennon to beat them they should be in good shape. On the other side of the ball, the prolific Detroit passing attack that got shut out in the second half last week by Pittsburgh will be challenged again this week by Tampa’s talented secondary. Expect this game to be a lot closer than the team’s records on paper would indicate.
Minnesota at Green Bay – Aaron Rodgers still isn’t back, but with or without him this is a game the Packers need to win after losing three straight. Green Bay’s defense has allowed 27 points each of the last three weeks, and despite some key injuries on that side of the ball, they can’t afford to allow that many against Minnesota, a team that scored 31 points against them a month ago. Scott Tolzien has been decent, but he’s not going to be able to climb out of a hole if he faces a double-digit deficit, so this game will come down to the Packers keeping Adrian Peterson contained and keeping the Vikings out of the end zone.
San Diego at Kansas City – If the Chargers are going to make the playoffs, they’ll need to find a way to beat either Kansas City or Denver down the stretch, and while winning in Arrowhead is difficult, it’s certainly possible for Phillip Rivers and company, despite three straight losses. San Diego has had some success this season with a short, quick passing attack, which could help them take Kansas City’s pass rush out of the game. If the Chargers can control the clock and avoid turning the ball over, they should be able to keep the game close and give themselves a chance to win in the 4th quarter.
Chicago at St. Louis – The Bears enter this game tied atop the NFC North, but beginning a stretch of four road games in five weeks, although the Rams have struggled to win at home this year. Last time out, St. Louis hung 38 points on the Colts and if the Bears don’t play better on defense, there’s a chance something like that can happen again this week. In a battle of backup quarterbacks, Chicago should have the advantage with Josh McCown, but they can’t ask him to do too much on the road, which means their defense better come to play, or their playoff hopes could start to slip.
Carolina at Miami – By now, just about everybody should be convinced that the Panthers are for real, and now they’ll put their six game winning streak on the line down in Miami. Ryan Tannehill has played well the past few weeks, but he’ll have his work cut out for him against Carolina’s defense, and the Dolphins shouldn’t count on scoring too many points. If Cam Newton and the offense can get it going and find the end zone a few times, the Panthers should feel good about getting their seventh straight win.
New York Jets at Baltimore – Based on their pattern of alternating wins and losses this year, the Jets are slated to win this week, but that won’t be a given against the Ravens. Baltimore ran the ball better last week, and their defense has also played better of late, so it’ll be tough for Geno Smith to find a groove and get back on track this week. Of course, the Jets boast the top rushing defense in the NFL, and they’ll be looking to bounce back after last week’s embarrassment against the Bills. If you like stout defenses and futile offenses, this is the game for you, as the first team to reach 20 points should win, assuming either team is even able to score that much.
Jacksonville at Houston – There’s not much at stake here except for positioning in next year’s draft. If the Texans lose at home to Jacksonville, things will get real ugly for Gary Kubiak, although the Texans have been a lot more competitive this year than the Jaguars, as Houston has lost its last four games by less than a touchdown, so the Texans should be clear favorites despite having just two wins on the season.
Tennessee at Oakland – Both teams need to win this game if they expect to remain in contention in the AFC wildcard race. Ryan Fitzpatrick was solid last week against the Colts, but the Titans have yet to win a game that he’s started. On the other sideline, the Raiders will start Matt McGloin for the second straight week after he helped lead Oakland to a win last week. Both teams are desperate for a win and forced to go with a backup quarterback, so whichever defense does a better job of making things difficult for the opposing quarterback will have the advantage.
Indianapolis at Arizona – The Colts have survived a slow start in two of the last three weeks, but they’ll be playing with fire if they start out sluggish again this week, as the Cardinals are a team that can run them out of the building if they start slow, as Arizona comes in with a three-game winning streak. Arizona has a stout run defense that should be able to slow down Indy’s inconsistent running game and put all the pressure on Andrew Luck, who will at least need to get some help from his defense, with Carson Palmer is coming off a game in which he threw for over 400 yards. If the Colts allow him to do that again they could be in trouble. There’s a good chance that this game turns into a shootout between Luck and Palmer, and it could go either way.