By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) Heading into Week 12, 23 teams are either in or within one game of a playoff bid. A marquee matchup between two old foes is rekindled on Sunday night.
Here’s my take on how this weekend’s action plays out.
Game of the Week: Broncos 34, PATRIOTS 31 – 7:30 PM
It’s Brady vs. Manning, part 14, in what could be an AFC Championship Game preview. Similar to years past, Manning has a decidedly better supporting cast, yet Brady holds the series edge 9-4. The Patriots are still seething from their call/non-call against the Panthers, that deprived them from one last chance to win the game. As such, they sit at 7-3 and need this game to keep their slim No. 1 seed and home-field advantage hopes alive. The Patriots issues on defense will be exposed by Manning.
LIONS 27, Bucs 20 – Noon
Calvin Johnson vs. Darrelle Revis is must-see television, but as for the rest of this matchup? Not so much. Last week against the Steelers, the Lions racked up 379 first-half yards and 27 points only to be blanked in the second-half in a 37-27 loss. Break up the Bucs! Winners of two straight, the Bucs are doing it with their ground game and a resurgent defense. However, the Buc stops in Detroit.
TEXANS 24, Jaguars 20 – Noon
Prior to the season, this game had the appearance of a late-season bye week for the Texans, but that’s why they play the games. The Texans are in a tailspin, losing a franchise-record eight straight games. By the numbers, this matchup features the league’s stingiest defense in terms of yardage and the most challenged offense. Safely assuming you can guess which one’s which. Since death isn’t an option, I’ll take the Texans.
PACKERS 27, Vikings 23 – Noon
Not that my advice to Lambeau faithful is either novel or needed, nor am I advocating irresponsible drinking, but when you consider the Scott Tolzien vs. Christian Ponder quarterback matchup, it’s elbow-bending time. The Packers haven’t lost three-straight at home since 2006. Even with a hobbled Packers secondary, Adrian Peterson isn’t completely healthy and Ponder won’t get it done. I like the Pack to make it eight of their last nine against the Vikings.
CHIEFS 23, Chargers 20 – Noon
The Chiefs bubble was burst last week by the Broncos. For the first time this season, they allowed more than 17 points and for the second straight week, they failed to register a sack. This week, they get the reeling Chargers at home. Losers of three-straight, the Chargers are on the road for the fourth time in their past five games. During their skid, they’ve given up 400 rushing yards, so expect a heavy dose of Jamaal Charles for the win.
Panthers 27, DOLPHINS 17 – Noon
Winners of six straight, the Panthers are the hottest team in the league. Last week’s win over the Patriots ended with a controversial call, but that shouldn’t overshadow their impressive game-winning touchdown drive and flat-out dominant defense. In addition to their defense, Cam Newton has turned his season around, making better decisions with the ball and plays with his feet. The Dolphins run defense has gone south, which won’t bode well this weekend.
Steelers 27, BROWNS 21 – Noon
Fresh off his best performance of the season, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger looks to continue his dominance over the Browns. Since taking over as the Steelers starter in 2004, Roethlisberger is 15-1 against the Browns. Surprisingly, both of these teams are still alive in the AFC Wild Card race. Browns quarterback Jason Campbell starts his fourth straight game. Campbell’s 1-2 as a starter, with his only win coming at home. Without the benefit of a running game, Campbell won’t make enough plays on his own.
Bears 23, RAMS 20 – Noon
Fresh of the bye week, the Rams have had a chance to rejuvenate their bodies. Prior to the bye week, played their most complete game of the year, dismantling the Colts 38-8. But people need to pump their brakes on the Rams love. They’ve only beaten one team in the NFC and three of their four wins are against the AFC South. They have plenty of young talented athletes, but they’ve yet to arrive. The Bears will counter the Rams’ fierce pass rush with short drops and quick reads to take advantage of a suspect Rams secondary. Zac Stacy will get loose, but Kellen Clemens scares nobody.
RAVENS 20, Jets 16 – Noon
If the Jets alternating win-loss pattern continues, this game will be a win. But I’m not so sure about that. Rookie quarterback Geno Smith has hit a lull, throwing eight interceptions against one touchdown over his last five games. The Ravens aren’t in much better shape. They haven’t scored more than 20 points in their last five games and Joe Flacco isn’t playing to the level of his pay grade. The Ravens got their running game on track last week, but the Jets defense is the league’s best against the run. Low scoring, ugly affair, but I like the Ravens.
Titans 21, RAIDERS 20 – 3:05 PM
In a weekend chock full of dreadful quarterback matchups, I’m trying to decide where Matt McGloin and Ryan Fitzpatrick rank on the medal stand. I’m thinking silver, trailing only Tolzien-Ponder and narrowly edging out Keenum-Henne. To be fair to McGloin – who was a walk-on at Penn State – he played turnover-free ball, earning a win in his first career start. The Titans run defense is struggling, but their pass defense is strong. They will load the box and dare McGloin to beat them, which I don’t see happening.
Colts 27, CARDINALS 24- 3:05 PM
Intriguing matchup between two hard-to-read teams. The Cardinals are on a three-game winning streak, but the wins have come against the dregs of the league. The Colts beat the Broncos five weeks ago, yet got shellacked by the Rams two weeks ago, and had to rally against the Titans last week. This much is known, the Cardinals defense is legit. They will neutralize what little run game the Colts have and put the game in Andrew Luck’s hands. I anticipate a lot of flying pigskins, with the Colts making a few more plays.
Cowboys 31, GIANTS 27 – 4:25 PM
The first time these two teams met, the Cowboys forced six turnovers, yet only won the game by five points. The Giants turnover prone ways have continued, as they lead the league with 29. The Cowboys on the other hand, have protected the ball well, and will need to run the ball to control the clock and protect their sieve-like defense. It’s astounding what the Cowboys defense has devolved into, they give up a league-high 456 yards per game. All that said, the Cowboys are the better team – which isn’t saying much – in this matchup.
49ers 24, REDSKINS 21 – Monday Night 7:40 PM
It’s been a season of unmet expectations for both of these teams, particularly with their quarterbacks. The issue with the 49ers is Colin Kaepernick doesn’t have enough weapons to work with. In fact, all of his touchdowns have gone to Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin. For the Redskins, all the speculation about rust and RGIII was real. Griffin is completing less than 60% of his passes and has a below-average passer efficiency rating. Grind-it-out game, with the 49ers defense being the difference.
Follow Dan on Twitter: @djdurkin
Season record: 105-58