The Playbook: Previewing Seahawks-Saints, Chiefs-Broncos, more Week 13 games
Tampa Bay (3-8) at Carolina (8-3) — 1 p.m. ET, FOX: Their mirror-image records notwithstanding, the Panthers know that the Bucs are a tough out right now. Greg Schiano’s team has won three straight after an 0-8 start, Mike Glennon is the league’s best rookie quarterback, and Tampa Bay’s defense has enough to give Cam Newton a Grade-A headache. The Panthers are winning the kinds of games they used to lose, but this is the kind of trap game that gives coaches headaches of their own. – DF
Miami (5-6) at NY Jets (5-6) — 1 p.m. ET, CBS: The battle for second place in the AFC East also holds substantial importance in the conference’s wild-card chase. And this is just the first of two meetings between these rivals in 2013 — the second comes in Week 17. Lamar Miller and the Dolphins’ run game has struggled in two of the past three weeks. A matchup with the Jets’ top-ranked run defense doesn’t figure to help matters, meaning Ryan Tannehill may have to get the job done himself. – CB
Chicago (6-5) at Minnesota (2-8-1) – 1 p.m. ET, FOX: Speaking of upset alerts, how about Adrian Peterson against a Bears defense that ranks dead last in the NFL with 145.2 yards allowed per game? New head coach Marc Trestman seems to have the offense on lock whether it’s Jay Cutler or Josh McCown at quarterback, but last Sunday’s 42-21 loss to the Rams proves that Chicago can be vulnerable against power-based offenses with unimpressive quarterbacks. – DF
St. Louis (5-6) at San Francisco (7-4) — 4:05 p.m. ET, FOX: As intriguing an under-the-radar option as the Week 13 slate offers. The 49ers are clinging to the NFC’s second wild card, while St. Louis has found some traction in recent weeks. San Francisco dominated an earlier matchup, 35-11 in St. Louis, but this is a better, more confident Rams team than the 49ers saw then. The Rams’ upset bid will take a serious hit if rookie RB Zac Stacy is not cleared after suffering a concussion last week. – CB
Cincinnati (7-4) at San Diego (5-6) — 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS: This game’s early pick-’em line confirms that distinguishing between these two inconsistent teams right now is darn near impossible. San Diego does have four (of its five) wins over teams currently tied for or in first place. And Cincinnati is just 2-4 away from home so far, with two OT losses on a recent road trip. Philip Rivers, with his 70.8-percent completion rate, will test Cincinnati’s banged-up secondary. – CB
Only For The Faithful
Jacksonville (2-9) at Cleveland (4-7) — 1 p.m. ET, CBS: Brandon Weeden will replace the concussed Jason Campbell as the Browns’ starting quarterback, which is good news for a suddenly sparky Jags defense. Jacksonville has won two of its last three games, and Weeden has looked overwhelmed in nearly every one of his performances this season. — DF
New England (8-3) at Houston (2-9) — 1 p.m. ET, CBS: The Texans have deemed this their “Homecoming” game for 2013. Might not be too much celebrating going on. Houston’s only hope of stopping a nine-game losing streak might be catching the Patriots on an emotional downswing after their dramatic win over Denver. – CB
Atlanta (2-9) at Buffalo (4-7) – 4:05 p.m. ET, FOX: Subjecting Canada to the Falcons offense and in-game strategy calls won’t do much for relations between the two countries, but the Bills could benefit, as their defense has been on the upswing and quarterback EJ Manuel is starting to round into form after an injury-plagued early part of his rookie season. – DF
NY Giants (4-7) at Washington (3-8) — 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC: Last season, these teams battled right down to Week 17 for the NFC East. This year? Both are all but done by Week 13. A Giants D that’s played well for the past five games could be a tough draw for the ever-struggling Robert Griffin III. – CB
• Wondering why Chip Kelly named Nick Foles his starting quarterback for the rest of the season? Wonder no more. In November, Foles completed 51-of-72 passes for 932 yards, 10 touchdowns no interceptions. His subsequent 152.8 November passer rating is the NFL’s all-time mark for any quarterback in a month — ever. Foles has 16 touchdown passes this season, and he still hasn’t thrown a pick.
Of course, Foles may have a tougher time against Arizona’s defense this Sunday, and defensive lineman Calais Campbell is a primary reason. Campbell has been blowing up offensive lines all season in Todd Bowles’ scheme at both end and tackle — among players classified as 3-4 ends, only J.J. Watt and Cameron Jordan have more total pressures than Campbell’s 46.
• One trend we’ve seen more and more in recent years is the use of top receivers in the slot to create matchup nightmares against third cornerbacks, box safeties and linebackers. Among the leaders through Week 12 of this season: 202 of Larry Fitzgerald’s 416 pass routes have come from the slot (48.6 percent), Brandon Marshall has lined up there on 196 of his 426 routes (45.9 percent) and even Calvin Johnson is spending a lot more time inside with 112 of his 421 routes (26.6 percent). Marshall is the most effective of the “X-iso” guys from the slot with five touchdowns, but Johnson has four scores on just 26 targets and 14 catches from the slot.
• And the best matchups for those big slot guys? The best third cornerbacks include Buffalo’s appropriately-named Nickell Robey (51.8 quarterback rating allowed), Philly’s Brandon Boykin (four interceptions from the slot) and Arizona’s Tyrann Mathieu (a 59.5 QB rating allowed and two picks). Atlanta’s Robert McClain has had the toughest time in that spot, giving up 24 catches, 360 yards, three touchdowns and a 152.9 quarterback rating on 29 slot targets.
• After a nice start to the season from a pass-blocking perspective, it would appear that the Bears are regressing a bit. They lead the league with 174 total pressures allowed, though they’ve allowed just 10 sacks, and rookie right tackle Jordan Mills leads all linemen with 64 total pressures. Add their iffy run defense to the equation, and it would seem that the Bears are falling apart from the inside out. – DF
• Matchup to Watch: Chicago’s linebackers vs. Adrian Peterson.
What in the world has happened to the Bears’ run defense? Chicago has allowed six straight teams to run for more than 100 yards, capped by St. Louis’ 258-yard outburst last Sunday. At 145.2 yards allowed per game, Chicago currently sits dead last in the league in that category.
And now … Adrian Peterson (and Toby Gerhart) await Sunday, off 237 yards at Green Bay last week. Christian Ponder threw for 227 yards in an earlier matchup this season, a 31-30 Bears win back in Week 2, but the Vikings figure to hammer the football between the tackles early and often this time around. If Chicago’s front seven cannot put up at least a little resistance, it might be in line for a repeat of that letdown vs. the Rams.
• This Week’s Sleeper: Marquise Goodwin, WR, Bills.
Buffalo’s hoping to have both Robert Woods and Stevie Johnson back this Sunday against Atlanta, but it still will be difficult to keep the ball out of Goodwin’s hands. The rookie stepped up in Week 12 with six grabs for 81 yards and a touchdown, and QB EJ Manuel stated this week that the Bills want to feed Goodwin a bit.
Some potential winter weather might be more of a hindrance for Manuel’s passing attack than the struggling Atlanta D. If the rookie QB can navigate the wind and snow, Goodwin could benefit.
• Pressure’s On …: Peyton Manning, QB, Broncos.
Feels odd to throw down the gauntlet for Manning, but off another cold-weather letdown last week, he and his team could use an emphatic response this Sunday in Kansas City. That the Chiefs and Broncos are knotted atop the AFC West only heightens the stakes awaiting Manning in Week 13. Denver coughed away its divisional cushion with that epic collapse in Foxborough, leaving little room for error.
• Rookie Spotlight: Keenan Allen, WR, Chargers.
Allen has been everything and more that San Diego could have hoped as a rookie. He’s without question the first WR option Philip Rivers looks for in the passing game, as evidenced by the 124 yards and nine grabs he posted last week in an upset win at Kansas City. This week, he gets another stingy secondary: Cincinnati’s. The Chargers need him to stay hot, though, if they’re going to stick in the playoff chase. – CB
• Indianapolis. Owner Jim Irsay called out his team for a recent lack of effort, so the Colts should be itching to respond Sunday. If they don’t do so against the Titans, their AFC South lead will be down to just one game. – CB
• New York Jets — Rex Ryan’s team has lost three of its last four games, Geno Smith has fallen off the rookie wall, the Patriots are running away with the AFC East, and if the Jets lose to the Dolphins on Sunday, that will likely be the end of their hopes as a wild-card contender. – DF