Sunday Playbook: Division leaders can solidify postseason possibilities - The Buffalo News

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Sunday Playbook: Division leaders can solidify postseason possibilities

Four weeks to go in the NFL regular season and it’s down to the real nitty-gritty.

Five games on the Week 13 schedule find first-place teams playing important games.

The schedule is headed by the first-place battle in the NFC South between the Carolina Panthers and Saints in New Orleans. Almost as huge, the Seattle Seahawks put the league’s best record (11-1) on the line against the 49ers in San Francisco. Seattle already has clinched a spot in the playoffs and now is looking to wrap up the NFC West and home field throughout the playoffs.

Two games — Cincinnati at Indianapolis and Detroit at Philadelphia — involve first-place teams. None of the four can really afford a loss or risk losing a division lead.

Then there are games matching bubble teams in the AFC – Miami at Pittsburgh and New York Giants at San Diego.

According to the NFL, four other teams can clinch playoff spots today (not including scenarios involving tie games):

Kansas City with a win and either a Miami or Baltimore loss; New England with a win and a Miami loss, New Orleans with a win plus a loss by Philadelphia and Dallas and either Arizona or San Francisco; Carolina with a win and losses by Arizona, San Francisco, Philadelphia and Dallas.

Game of the day

Panthers (9-3) at Saints (9-3)

TV: Ch. 2, 8:30 p.m.

The line: Saints (-3)

The scoop: Winner takes the lead in NFC South but teams will meet again in Charlotte in two weeks. … Panthers have longest winning streak going in NFL — eight games, a club record. Haven’t lost since 22-6 setback at Arizona on Oct. 6. … Saints were embarrassed at Seattle on Monday night and Drew Brees had a less-than-ordinary performance (77.4 rating) with a long completion of only 20 yards. … Carolina has allowed only 12 TDs all season. Next is Seattle with 19 allowed.

Outlook: Brees will put Carolina defense to the test. Panthers, 24-23.

Top attractions

Seahawks (11-1) at 49ers (8-4)

Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.

The line: 49ers (-2½)

The scoop: Think the Niners haven’t been looking forward to this since 29-3 pasting they took in Seattle on Sept. 15 and with Seahawks the new Super Bowl favorite after rout of Saints? … SF appears to be back on its hard-nosed game after close losses to Panthers and Saints. … Niners are only team in league not to allow return touchdown. … Seattle leads league in defense, but Niners are fifth and stronger against the run.

Outlook: Should be entertaining duel of defenses and read-option QBs Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick. Seahawks, 30-21.

Colts (8-4) at Bengals (8-4)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Bengals (-6½)

The scoop: Colts have struggled (2-2) on road since routs at San Francisco and Jacksonville. … Trade acquisition Trent Richardson averaging only 3.0 per carry and was benched in favor of Donald Brown this week. … Andrew Luck having modestly successful season (15 TDs, 8 INTs) after 23-18 rookie year. … Cincy beat New England and routed Jets (49-9) and Browns (41-20) in last three home games.

Outlook: Luck keeps Colts in it. Bengals, 30-27.

Lions (7-5) at Eagles (7-5)

TV: Ch. 29, 1 p.m.

The line: Eagles (-2½)

The scoop: Two of NFL’s hottest QBs meet. Matthew Stafford of Lions has passed for 726 yards and six TDs last two games. Nick Foles of Eagles has completed 67.9 percent with 13 TDs and no INTs and 144.2 rating for last four. Birds have won last four to gain share of NFC East with Dallas. … Five of Bad News Lions games decided by four points or less (2-3 record). Lions beat Eagles, 26-23, in OT last season at the Linc in Philly.

Outlook: Two first-place teams with a lot to play for and a lot of offensive weapons on each side. Detroit, 37-34.

Cowboys (7-5) at Bears (6-6)

TV: ESPN, Monday, 8:30 p.m.

The line: Pick’em

The scoop: Two storied NFL franchises meet in very important game. Cowboys aiming to stay in first in NFC East and Bears trying to erase their two-game deficit (counting tie-breaker) in NFC North. … Dallas leads league with plus-12 turnover ratio, a rarity in the Tony Romo era there. Bears looking for return of QB Jay Cutler (left shoulder). … Two of NFL’s best receivers on display. Dez Bryant of Cowboys has 68 catches, nine for TDs. Brandon Marshall of Bears has 78 catches and also has nine TDs.

Outlook: Chicago may need to run table to make playoffs. Cowboys have been living on the edge all season and surviving. Dallas, 35-30.

Dolphins (6-6) at Steelers (5-7)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Steelers (-3½)

The scoop: Two teams on AFC playoff bubble go Tomlin-ing in Pittsburgh, where Fish have not won since 1990 (0-3). … Ryan Tannehill of Dolphins going for third straight 300-yard passing game. Ben Roethlisberger of Steelers needs just one TD pass to eclipse Terry Bradshaw’s club career record (212). … Antonio Brown of Pitt leads league with 85 receptions and can join ex-Steeler Hines Ward in 90-catch club.

Outlook: Sad to see Heath Miller surpass Elbie Nickle for most receiving yards by tight end in Steelers history. Our first set of NFL bubble gum cards back in the ’40s featured Nickle. Steelers win one for Elbie and keep Tomlin out of no-fly zone, 20-13.

Best of the rest

Bills (4-8) at Buccaneers (3-9)

TV: Kickoff: Ch. 4, 1 p.m.

The line: Buccaneers (-2½)

The scoop: Bills always enjoy Tampa weather until kickoff. Buffalo is 2-6 there with memorable losses (Roosevelt Leaks fumble in ’82, end-zone pass ricocheting off Robb Riddick’s cast in ’86 in Bullough’s swan song and dreadful 10-5 game in ’88 which cost home-field advantage throughout AFC playoffs). … Bucs have rallied after early dissension and QB change.

Outlook: Inconsistent offense (5 three-and-outs) almost as costly as Stevie and Chandler fumbles in loss to Atlanta last week. Like Mike Glennon over E.J. Manuel in clash of rookie QBs. Buccaneers, 31-24.

Chiefs (9-3) at Redskins (3-9)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Chiefs (-3)

The scoop: Chiefs get a needed break after diet of Broncos-Chargers-Broncos and three straight losses. Redskins are playing worst ball in league. Only win in last six is OT over Chargers. … Opponents completing league best 67 percent against Redskins. … Chiefs still living on turnovers. They are tied with Dallas for NFL lead with 12 fumble recoveries. They also have league-best eight return TDs.

Outlook: Chiefs trying to keep pressure on first-place Denver. K.C., 27-19.

Falcons (3-9) at Packers (5-6-1)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Green Bay (-3½)

The scoop: Atlanta ended five-game losing streak with OT win over Bills last week. … Packers will go with Matt Flynn again at QB as Aaron Rodgers (collarbone) is not ready yet. When he does return, it may be too late with road games at Cowboys and Bears and home game against Steelers left on schedule. … Last six Packers opponents have scored 26 or more points, topped by 40 by Lions last week.

Outlook: Falcons don’t like frozen tundra and Lambeau isn’t Toronto. Green Bay, 31-23.

Titans (5-7) at Broncos (10-2)

Kickoff: 4:05 p.m.

The line: Broncos (-12)

The scoop: Denver sitting pretty with what amounts to two-game lead in AFC West while Titans struggling to stay on wild-card bubble. It’s third straight road game for Tennessee, which won at Oakland and lost at Indy in last two. … Broncos will either be relaxed after four straight tough games (at Chargers, K.C., at Patriots and at KC) or coasting.

Outlook: Titans will make the Donkeys earn it but Ryan Fitzpatrick is just good enough to get you beat on the road against a good team. Denver, 31-28.

Rams (5-7) at Cardinals (7-5)

Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.

The line: Cardinals (-6½)

The scoop: Arizona should be deflated after tough loss to Eagles (24-21) last week which just about took the Red Birds out of NFC wild-card picture (one games behind SF with three tough opponents ahead). … Rams played Niners tough on road last week but couldn’t overcome slow start with Kellen Clemens at QB.

Outlook: Rams looking for fourth straight win over NFC West rivals and former Gateway City inhabitants. St. Louis, 27-20.

Giants (5-7) at Chargers (5-7)

TV: Ch. 29, 4:25 p.m.

The line: Chargers (-3½)

The scoop: Big Blue recovered from tough loss to Dallas to win at Washington last week. Giants still have playoff dreams but they are slim. Same with Chargers in AFC. … The ball should change hands a lot in this one. Eli Manning of Giants has thrown 18 INTs and New York is minus-11 in turnovers. Philip Rivers of Bolts has 23 TDs, 9 INTs and team is minus-5 in turnovers.

Outlook: This is only fifth time Giants have played in San Diego and first since a 45-23 loss in 2005. You think of windy, frigid Jersey Meadowlands and not warm-weather games when you think of Giants, but … New York, 28-27.

Vikings (3-8-1) at Ravens (6-6)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Ravens (-6)

The scoop: Matt Cassel gets call for Vikings at QB after coming on in relief of injured Christian Ponder last week. … Ravens still on AFC wild-card bubble and conceivably are still in AFC North race with victory over Cincinnati on the books and one game left to play against Bengals. Other two games, though, are at Detroit and home with New England. … Adrian Peterson of Vikes coming off 211-yard game in OT win over Bears.

Outlook: Ravens will go all out to keep Peterson under 100. Ravens, 27-17.

Raiders (4-8) at Jets (5-7)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: Jets (-3)

The scoop: Oakland’s Matt McGloin has 452 passing yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT, 90.3 rating in two road starts so far. Raiders making second visit to MetLife this season. They lost to Giants there, 24-20, on Nov. 10. … Rex Ryan stubbornly will start Geno Smith again despite Gang Green boo birds and league worst 8-19 TD-INT ratio and 60.4 rating. New York hasn’t scored a touchdown since fourth quarter of 37-14 loss to Bills three games ago.

Outlook: Raiders’ last three losses by 4, 4 and 7. Oakland, 20-17.

Dog of the day

Browns (4-8) at Patriots (9-3)

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

The line: New England (-10)

The scoop: Lloyd’s of London wouldn’t insure a Browns QB against injury. Jason Campbell was questionable but will get the start this week. Alex Tanney, who played at Division III Monmouth (Ill.) College and was taken from Cowboys’ practice squad will likely be backup. Tanney is known for his trick shots with football act. … Patriots coming off shaky performance at Houston but this one is in Foxborough and Pats are 16-1 in last 17 December games. … Browns have only two rushing TDs all season.

Outlook: Trick shots won’t beat Patriots. New England, 28-9.

Last week: 9-4 outright, 8-4-1 versus spread. Season’s record 101-75-1 outright, 88-82-7 versus spread.


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