After a relaxing Thanksgiving break that was filled with food and football, the NFL enters one of the most important weeks in regards to the postseason. Aside from the Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers, who have both been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, several teams are fighting to make it to the playoff or for more favorable seeds. There is a lack of games between division foes this week, which has occurred only twice before during the 2004 season. With that in mind, there are still a number of high-stake matchups with hefty playoff implications. Here are the games of the week for Week 13.
Miami Dolphins (7-4) at Baltimore Ravens (6-5), 12:00p.m., Sunday, CBS
After defeating the San Francisco 49ers 31-24 last week, the Dolphins got back into the playoff hunt as the No. 6 seed in the AFC. In order to improve their playoff chances in this preview of a potential wild-card round matchup, Miami needs to find success against Baltimore’s shutdown defense. Miami is on an impressive six-game winning streak, despite having half of its offensive line out over the past two weeks. The problem this week for the Dolphins is Baltimore’s defense is ranked No. 2 in the league and No. 1 against the run. This means quarterback Ryan Tannehill will have to pull a majority of the load since running back Jay Ajayi will be smothered by Baltimore’s front seven. The Ravens defense allows a league-low 1.47 points per drive and forces a three-and-out 28 percent of the time. This tenacious defensive unit will prove to be one of the biggest challenges Tannehill faces this season. Baltimore’s defense is giving up a third-best 192.8 passing yards at M&T Bank Stadium this season. Leading the charge for Baltimore is bearded free safety Eric Weddle. Weddle has allowed 70 yards over 416 snaps in coverage and has two interceptions. The Ravens are currently the AFC’s No. 3 seed. I’m predicting this game to follow the trend of most Baltimore games: Justin Tucker will score a majority of its points and the Ravens will be carried to the promised land by their defense.
Baltimore 16, Miami 13
New York Giants (8-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5), 3:25p.m., Sunday, FOX
If the Giants are able to win this game, they will most likely secure the AFC North’s playoff berth because they would rise to 4-0 against division foes. The Giants cannot catch Dallas for NFC superiority, but a win against Pittsburgh this week helps their playoff position. New York has played the three worst offenses in the NFL (Cleveland, Los Angeles and Minnesota) and gave up over 340 yards in each of those games. If the Giants are unable to stop bad teams, it is going to be ugly watching them try to stop the Steelers’ offense. This game features a matchup between Giants defensive tackle Damon Harrison and Steelers running back Le’Veon Bell. Harrison has the most stops at or behind the line of scrimmage at his position this season with 38, while Bell is averaging 2.8 yards per carry after contact. This game will come down to who wins the battle in the trenches. If Pittsburgh can stuff Harrison and expose New York’s defense like so many have done before, they will have no problem cashing in their playoff ticket for their third straight year.
Houston Texans (6-5) at Green Bay (5-6), 12:00p.m., Sunday, CBS
Despite losing three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt to injury in September, the Texans defense has put up some impressive numbers. The Texans rank fifth in passing yards allowed and third in first downs allowed per game. A Houston victory solidifies its No.4 seed in the AFC, which allows the Texans to host a wild card game. A loss makes their playoff chances a coin flip. Before the Texans can celebrate, they will have to face a Green Bay team with a quarterback that is finally starting to find his groove. Aaron Rodgers is coming off an impressive outing against the Eagles. He threw for 313 yards, two touchdowns, no turnovers and completed a season-high 76.9 percent of his passes. For the Packers to have a chance at the playoffs, they must win out, which means Rodgers must keep performing at this level. If he regresses, Green Bay could miss the playoffs for the first time since 2008. Fortunately for Green Bay, Houston has been awful on the road at 1-4 this season. Although they lead the AFC South, it is evident the Texans are not as good as their 6-5 record may indicate. After losing back-to-back home games against the Chargers and Raiders, a road trip is the last thing Houston needs to get back on track. These two teams are approaching opposite sides of the offensive spectrum and I expect that trend to continue Sunday.
Green Bay 38, Houston 17