Posted November 29, 2013

The Playbook: Previewing Seahawks-Saints, Chiefs-Broncos, more Week 13 games

AFC East, AFC North, AFC South, AFC West, NFC East, NFC North, NFC South, NFC West, The Playbook
Marshawn Lynch went 'Beast Mode' on the Saints in their last meeting, running for 131 yards in a 41-36 Seahawks' win.

Marshawn Lynch went ‘Beast Mode’ on the Saints in their last meeting, running for 131 yards. (Tom Hauck/Getty Images)

Chris Burke and Doug Farrar get you ready for the weekend with The Playbook, a detailed weekly preview that gives you everything you need to know about the upcoming slate of games.

Main Events

New Orleans (9-2) at Seattle (10-1) — Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN: This had the makings of a circle-your-calendar game before the NFL season started. Now that the NFC picture has cleared a bit, it’s even more of one.

Realistically, all that stands between the Seahawks and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs is this game. Win and they would have to lose three of their last four to choke away that colossal postseason edge. That will be easier said than done.

The 9-2 Saints are but a game back in the race for the NFC’s No. 1 seed … but a mere game up on Carolina in the NFC South (somehow with two games still left against the Panthers). A road win Monday would jump the Saints to the head of the class, where they’d control their own destiny regarding home field.

How opposing defenses attack Drew Brees’ passing game usually is the element to watch in any Saints game, but it’s doubly so this week. Despite being ranked No. 2 against the pass, the Seahawks enter this one shorthanded in the secondary courtesy of suspensions for Walter Thurmond and Brandon Browner.

FARRAR: Drug suspensions are hurting Seahawks’ image

Bet on Brees taking to the air early and often, then, be it to Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham or any number of players out of the backfield. Until the reworked Seattle secondary shows it can at least limit New Orleans, Brees ought to have the ball in his hands, with plenty of options in front of him. He’s been in a bit of a groove lately, too, with seven touchdown passes to just one interception over the past three games, all wins.

Of course, both teams feature top-five offenses and defenses, so the result will not hinge on Brees alone. Russell Wilson has kept on keeping on this season, as he nears 3,000 total yards. Running back Marshawn Lynch also needs only 75 yards to hit 1,000 on the ground this season.

The Saints have held eight of their nine opponents under 20 points — and they’ve won all of those games. What does defensive coordinator (and growing New Orleans legend) Rob Ryan have in store for the versatile Seahawks on a national stage? – Chris Burke

Denver (9-2) at Kansas City (9-2) – 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS: If you want a perfect indicator of just how quickly fortunes can change for NFL teams, look no further than the Chiefs and Broncos. When they met on Nov. 17, and the Broncos won 27-17, Denver was the AFC’s unstoppable force, and the Chiefs were a great defense and running game without a quarterback who could make big plays. The following week saw the Patriots handle the Broncos in overtime, adding new concern to Peyton Manning’s throwing velocity in cold weather, while the Chiefs lost to the Chargers despite one of Alex Smith’s best-ever games.

Now, both teams are 9-2, and both are looking in the rear-view at New England when it comes to who will have home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs. The Chiefs, who once lapped the league in quarterback sacks, are now tied with four other teams in that category because they’ve amassed just one quarterback takedown in their last three games. Losing outside linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston to injury in the Chargers game didn’t help, but both men played against Peyton Manning two weeks ago, and neither got a hand on him all day. Andy Reid hopes to have Hali back for this game; Houston reportedly could miss the next 2-3 weeks.

MORE COVERAGE: Week 13 Picks | Week 12 Power Rankings | Fantasy projections

The Broncos are dealing with their own injury issue — running back Knowshon Moreno, who bashed New England’s defensive line for 224 yards on 37 carries, is recovering from a significant bone bruise in his lower right leg. Having a power running game at Arrowhead would be of great benefit to the Broncos, but Manning might be eager to air it out — the Chiefs had some uncharacteristic coverage breakdowns against San Diego, and it’s possible that the needed balance between quarterback pressure and pass coverage is going askew in Kansas City.

“It’s tough losing your Pro Bowl pass rushers with the way those guys dominate and get pressure,” cornerback Brandon Flowers said after the game. “We had to change up a little here and there, but at the end of the day no matter who is out there, we have to stop the other team … we have to go back to the drawing board and tighten up what we do.”

If Peyton Manning sees an empty drawing board, he has no trouble creating his own particular masterpiece.

The Chiefs hoping that Alex Smith can make shot plays to make up for a leaky defense? Manning looking to the running game after an iffy start? Yes, the NFL can change more quickly than you think. – Doug Farrar

Arizona (7-4) at Philadelphia (6-5) — 1 p.m. ET, FOX: Eagles quarterback Nick Foles has yet to throw an interception this season. He’s about to face his toughest test.

The Cardinals have 15 picks on the year (tied for third-best in the NFL) and have rolled to four straight wins on the strength of their opportunistic defense. During that run, no opposing offense has made it to 300 total yards. Philadelphia, averaging 453 yards during its own three-game win streak, ought to challenge the Cardinals in ways no team has since Arizona lost to San Francisco and Seattle on consecutive weekends.

But what of when Arizona has the ball? Lost in the Cardinals’ unexpected playoff contention has been the steady improvement of Carson Palmer as the season has progressed. Palmer started the season with eight TD passes and 13 interceptions in Arizona’s first seven games; he has eight touchdowns and just two interceptions in the four games since. Both Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald are threatening 1,000 yards receiving, with Fitzgerald leading the team at eight scores.

The Eagles have not surrendered more than 20 points in six games, but they still rank dead last in passing defense (300.1 ypg). And if Palmer lights things up, with some help from the Rashard Mendenhall-Andre Ellington run game, can Foles answer?

Finding a little space for LeSean McCoy against Arizona’s stout run defense may be the key. McCoy stands as the NFL’s lone 1,000-yard rusher for the moment — he surpassed the mark two weeks ago with a 77-yard, two-TD showing vs. Washington. When Philadelphia has rushed for 100 yards or fewer, though, it’s 0-3 this year.

BUKOWSKI: NFL Awards Watch through Week 12

Which team needs this one more? Hard to say. The Eagles can  join Dallas atop the NFC East with a win; Arizona, at 7-4, sits just outside the wild-card race on account of a tiebreaker with San Francisco. There is the possibility that this is an opening-round playoff preview, since Philadelphia would be the 3- or 4-seed if it were to win the division crown and Arizona almost certainly will not wrestle the NFC West from Seattle.

Oh, and one more topic to chew on: Does the winning team here give its coach the inside track for Coach of the Year? – CB

Tennessee  (5-6) at Indianapolis (7-4) – 1 p.m. ET, CBS: The Colts may have the inside track on the AFC South, but they have  a host of issues to reconcile before the postseason. They’ve been outscored 93-9 in the first halves of their last four games and lost two of their last three contests by a combined score of 78-19. Inbetween those defeats at the hands of the St. Louis Rams and Arizona Cardinals was a 30-27 win over the Titans, the one team with half a shot at giving the Colts grief at the top of the division standings.

“There is blood in the water right now,” Colts head coach Chuck Pagano said after the loss to Arizona, in which the Cardinals defense outfoxed Andrew Luck, and Cards quarterback  Palmer put up an AFC-Offensive-Player-of-the-Week performance against his defense. “Until you get it fixed they are going to keep coming at us. It is the same thing week in and week out on both sides of the ball and on special teams. … They are going to keep coming at you until we put out the fire.”

GALLERY: Fantasy Football Turkeys of the Year

In that first Titans game, Indy started quite the blaze with a 14-0 deficit to start, before Pep Hamilton’s offense turned things around by holding the ball on long drives and scoring points in relatively unspectacular fashion. A Colts team that has been underwhelming on the ground for the most part scored three rushing touchdowns — two by Donald Brown and one by Luck, who didn’t throw a passing touchdown in the game. Indy also shut Chris Johnson down in the second half, and it will need a repeat performance in that regard.

Through a series of mathematical miracles, Tennessee actually holds the sixth seed in the AFC playoff race. Ryan Fitzpatrick, subbing for the injured Jake Locker for the rest of the season, has thrown five touchdown passes and no interceptions in his last three games, proving that at his height, he’s a game manager in the positive sense. To make things happen down the stretch, a Titans team that has lost four of its last five games will have to repeat the formula that worked against the Raiders last Sunday — keep Fitzpatrick on point with manageable throws, find consistency in the running game and take advantage when their opponents make mistakes. Against the Colts, there’s an additional caveat: remember that football games are 60 minutes long. – DF

29 comments
thetotalbs
thetotalbs

Some potential upset picks on the board today - hot rams big dog at SF, Browns have lost five of six, but still a TD fave? KC revenge dog home to Broncos, suddenly hot Bucs could stay within 7.5 spread at Carolina.  Looking forward to big NFL Sunday - follow @thetotalbs for in-game analysis today!

anon76
anon76

"The following week saw the Patriots handle the Broncos in overtime"

Handle the Broncos?  The Broncos moved the ball 32 and 50 yards for 4 first downs on their two overtime possessions, crossing into New England territory both times.  The Broncos D, on the other hand, held the NE offense (going with the wind) to 42 yard total and 2 first downs on their overtime possession.  Had the ball not taken a fortuitous New England bounce off a punt, then the narrative from the game would have been the resilience of the Broncos coming back to tie it after New England had taken a 7 point lead in the 4th.

MichaelO'Connor
MichaelO'Connor

" If the rookie QB can navigate the wind and snow, Goodwin could benefit."

They're playing in a dome Bozo

George
George

I read somewhere that the "sea-hens" would be exPOSED in this game.   Time will tell.

JensenNSchimino
JensenNSchimino

I don't know how anyone could root for the seahawks, the proven biggest cheaters in the league, as well as the most arrogant. I have zero respect for that team. They've built up nothing but bad karma, now it's all coming back on them. They deserve to crash and burn the rest of the way.

JPG
JPG

In a home game where Seattle has not lost in 13 games, where Russell Wilson has never lost, where the Seahawks have the best winning percentage of all time for Monday Night Games and currently is riding a 7 game MNF winning streak and where the game in all likelyhood will land the Seahawks at home the January 19 NFC Championship Game I look for Seattle to make a statement  to the rest of the NFC in this game.

Look for Seattle to win this game going away.  Not a blow out like SF earlier but a statement.

DeeEmm1
DeeEmm1

X-iso more like the Marques Colston role. He's been sliding into the slot since he came into the league, that's how he became the Saints' all-time leading receiver in just about every category.

EtienneThibault
EtienneThibault

@George You mean for the sake of all the "old best teams" in the league will somebody please beat Seattle?  Those days are over Georgie!  Seattle is the new best thing buddy and I want everybody to know it! 

EtienneThibault
EtienneThibault

@JensenNSchimino Show me one team that hasn't got a few creeps on it Jensen,  Just because the Seahawks make your team look like a bunch of girls, don't hate.

TjQuandt
TjQuandt

If you consider smoking weed cheating. I think the arrogance is mostly from the fans. But in their defence they have never had a sports team of any sort of quality. I think they are a bit overly excited.

therednorth1
therednorth1

@JensenNSchimino You're talking about a league in which players getting suspended for steroid use/substance abuse is the norm, not the outlier; and where four game suspensions happen followed by no one blinking when they get back.

If using steroids is bad (and it is), maybe the NFL should introduce harsher penalties instead of looking the other way.

JPG
JPG

@JensenNSchimino Dude, maybe it's time for you to get a puppy or something.  Or perhaps turning towards the NBA.

FranklinMint
FranklinMint

@JPG Yeah, no, I don't expect the team that nearly lost to TB at home to win this going away. 

NO takes it.

sethley
sethley

@TjQuandt Actually the SuperSonics of the mid 90s were a very dominate team... just happened to be right in the middle of the Jordan Bulls

EtienneThibault
EtienneThibault

@therednorth1 @JensenNSchimino Weed Jensen.  It's not a steroid.  Get a life!  Seattle has ten guys above Browner who are all leaders and good Christians.  Whatcha got to say about that?  SEAHAWKS!!!

JensenNSchimino
JensenNSchimino

Maybe it's time for you to stop giving people you don't know advice.

the3rdpower
the3rdpower

@FranklinMint @JPG If you watched the game you would see the critical blown call in the first quarter that Earl Thomas clearly intercepted the ball.  Interesting enough the NFL said that the penalty he had was actually wrong...  He should have gotten the interception, therefore, preventing a score that run. 

kevred
kevred

@FranklinMint You mean the New Orleans team that also barely beat TB, 16-14, at home earlier this season? And lost to the Jets? 

It's fine to root for NO, but hopefully with better criteria than this.

GOOGLE ......Mae Brussel
GOOGLE ......Mae Brussel

@George @EtienneThibault       hens ??  wow, thats just so sweet of you Georgee-boy !    Did you lose sleep lat night thinking up that ? Wow  -   That is very congenial  ! ! !


ps:  sweet pic too !

JesseLow
JesseLow

@JensenNSchimino Yeah it makes sense that two players have had multiple hits so then the entire team should crash and burn for the stupidity of 2 to 3 people. Guess what, when they get caught once, they are on the radar and get tested more frequently. I would bet a months pay that every other team in the NFL has the same issues, they just do not get caught. You would have to be pretty ignorant to think that the Seahawks are the only team doing it. Being number 1 in the NFL at the moment and having recent violators is what is putting them under the microscope. This is the National Football League not the National Peewee Football league.  Also, random drug test do not test for steroids so before you spout off with, yeah but all teams get tested. Not everyone gets tested for steroids unless they are suspected of using. It is an entirely different test.