With some teams taking their foot off the gas toward the end of the season, it’s not always easy to find must-see match-ups toward the end of the NFL season. However, I fared pretty well last week, with two of the three selections turning out to be pretty good games. The Chicago Bears outlasted the New York Jets in an offensive shootout. New Orleans was able to come up with big plays late to even the season series with Atlanta. Unfortunately, the New York Giants weren’t so competitive in a blowout loss to Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers.
This week, there are still playoff implications on the line in Seattle and New Orleans. We’ll also say farewell (we think!) to a legend. Take a look at this week’s Top 3 NFL Match-Ups.
St. Louis Rams vs. Seattle Seahawks
This game may not sound too appealing on paper, but it could be considered the first true playoff game of the season. The scenario for both teams is simple – win and you’re in. The Rams of course have the option of tying due to their win against the Seahawks earlier this year, but how likely is that? Not only does the winner advance to the postseason, but they win the NFC West and will HOST a playoff game with a .500 record at best.
No matter how poorly Seattle is playing, making the trip to Qwest Field is always tough. Rams rookie quarterback Sam Bradford, who has played stellar football this year, will have to deal with perhaps the most hostile crowd he’s seen in his young career. He’ll need Steven Jackson to come up with some big runs and alleviate some of the pressure. St. Louis’ defense has also come up big all season, and will be a huge factor in this game.
On the Seattle side of things, you have a team who has struggled to get the run going. Additionally, some uncertainty at the quarterback position heading into the final week. Veteran Matt Hasselbeck is questionable at this point, and Charlie Whitehurst has played awful football in limited appearances. Seattle’s chances may come down to whether or not Hasselbeck can suit up. This playoff-like game is scheduled for Sunday night, so both teams will get center stage to prove they belong in the postseason.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. New Orleans Saints
Another Week 17 game where both teams have something to play for. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have the most to gain in this game. If they win, they can still get a playoff spot with a lot of help. It’s only a slim chance, but a chance nonetheless. One the line for New Orleans, who clinched a playoff berth with their win over the Falcons on Monday, is a chance at a division title, home field advantage and a First Round Bye. In order to obtain all of that, the Saints need to pair a win over the Buccaneers with an unlikely Atlanta loss to the Carolina Panthers.
The Bucs have struggled to beat elite teams all season long. When they clashed with the Saints in a Week 6 games, they were humiliated 31-6 in their own stadium. However, quarterback Josh Freeman and rookie running back LeGarrette Blount are playing their best football of the season and could spearhead a surprising effort against the defending champions. Worth paying attention to is the fact that this game will be played roughly at the same time as the Falcons/Panthers game, so New Orleans may have some kind of indication of how good their chances are to make a move by halftime.
Minnesota Vikings vs. Detroit Lions
Love him or hate him, Brett Lorenzo Favre is one of the best football players to ever don pads on NFL Sunday. While he’s certainly changed his mind about leaving the game in the past, I tend to believe him this year, simply because his body cannot physically withstand another 16 games of pro football. As a matter of fact, Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh may put him out of commission early this Sunday when the Minnesota Vikings squares off with Detroit.
Favre hasn’t finished career on the note he hoped, but if there’s a player capable of one more brilliant game at age 97, it’s Brett. That’s why this match-up against a career-long division rival is a must-see. He hasn’t even passed his neurological exam yet, but does anybody believe he’s finishing his career in street clothes?
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Topping Week 15’s Top 3 Match-Ups was the showdown between the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants, which may been the best game we’ve seen all season. In addition to the Eagles erasing a 28-point deficit, the Ravens, Colts and Jets all won games that came down to the final tick. With 4 ‘on the money’ picks, Week 15 might have been our most successful of the season. With that said, let’s see if we can raise the bar this week. Setting the tone will be a NFC South game between two of the best teams in the NFL.
New Orleans Saints vs. Atlanta Falcons
For weeks, we’ve been waiting for the Atlanta Falcons to slow down and the Saints to take control of the division. Newsflash: Atlanta is for real, and has a chance to unseat the defending South Champions on Monday. What stands out about the Falcons heading into this game are two things; the Falcons are undefeated at home and within the division. Are these trends that are due to come to an end, or will the Falcons continue to prove their dominance and wrap up a first round Playoff bye?
The X-Factor in this game may be Falcons running back Michael Turner, who has returned to the 1,000 yard rushing club and recorded 10+ touchdowns for the third straight season. While both teams have electric passing games, Turner has been a consistent threat all season long, while the Saints continue to try and fit Pierre Thomas and Reggie Bush back into the mix with an ailing Chris Ivory. With the Saints’ run defense being ranked in the bottom half of the league, Turner may be in store for a big day. Remember, he ran for 114 yards and a touchdown when these teams played in Week 3.
New York Jets vs. Chicago Bears
Congratulations! You just went on the road and beat the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field in a nailbiter. Your reward? A trip to Soldier Field to play the NFC North leading Chicago Bears. The Jets can clinch a postseason berth in a variety of ways on Sunday, but the easiest (so to speak) would be to win their game in Chicago. On the line for Chicago is a potential Bye week in the playoffs. Home field throughout is still a possibility as well, but Atlanta controls that and Philadelphia is in the mix.
Both teams have done a good job rebounding from punishing games against the New England Patriots and are looking to finish the season strong. The Jets have some injury concerns, especially surrounding the status of starting quarterback Mark Sanchez. Sanchez suffered a cartilage tear in his throwing arm, leaving him questionable for Sunday’s game. If he’s out, backup Mark Brunell (yes, that Mark Brunell) will take the reigns. If the Jets fail to score a victory Sunday, they’d need either the Jaguars or Colts to suffer a loss, and both teams are playing in winnable games.
New York Giants vs. Green Bay Packers
The ultimate Playoff positioning game. After suffering a heartbreaking loss to the Philadelphia Eagles last week, New York can put some good vibes back in the locker room with a win. Claiming victory over the Green Bay Packers would clinch a spot in the postseason for the Giants. However, if the Packers manage to win, they’ll control their own destiny heading into the final week.
Outside of last week’s collapse, the biggest headline heading into this game is the return of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Matt Flynn did a nice job filling in for Rodgers against the Patriots on Sunday, but you want your leader taking snaps in must-win situations, particularly when you’re facing the league’s #2 ranked pass defense. The Pack aren’t too shabby on D either, currently sitting in the NFC’s top spot. They’ll make life hard on Eli Manning, a lot harder than he expected it to be when the Giants were up four scores with 8 minutes to play last week.
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I’ll be the first to admit that last week’s picks bombed. The Patriots, Chargers and Saints all won in blowout fashion, leaving football fans wondering where all the good and competitive games were. Apparently, they were all being reserved for this week, which is loaded with big time match-ups. The schedule was so stacked that I had to add an additional game to the list and make it the Top 4 NFL Match-Ups of the Week.
Philadelphia Eagles vs. New York Giants
Both teams sitting at 9-4, the Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants are battling it out for the NFC East. The winner of this game will control their destiny for a division crown. Last month, the Eagles used defense and big plays late in the game to hold the Giants off at home. Now they travel to New York, where a Giants team who has won their last 3 games is waiting for revenge.
If the Eagles win Sunday, they’ll just need to win one of their remaining two games (at home against Minnesota and Dallas) to wrap up the NFC East. A Giants win would put them in the drivers seat and even up division record and head-to-head advantages that the Eagles currently hold. Unfortunately for New York, they’re coming off a shortened week due to the Metrodoom roof incident. The Eagles have also won 12 of their last 13 December games. Will the missing day of rest and recovery hurt the Giants chances to win the East?
Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Indianapolis Colts
How about this for a storyline? Peyton Manning will be playing to save his season on Sunday. If the Jacksonville Jaguars win, they’ll be AFC South Champions for the first time in franchise history. Since the South was established in 2002, Indianapolis has taken home division honors 6 out 8 seasons. Not only would Jacksonville wrap up the division with a win, the Colts would have little to no chance at making the playoffs.
The Colts have struggled to find consistency this season, mainly due to several key guys missing time with injury. However, Peyton Manning hasn’t really helped his cause, playing poorly in both November in December. He’s struggled in big games this season, and has thrown more combined interceptions than touchdown passes in his last 4 outings. Meanwhile, Jags QB David Garrard has been playing some of the best football of his career, teaming up with Maurice Jones-Drew for big wins during the same stretch. Now in a position to get over the proverbial hump, the Jaguars will need to maintain the poise they’ve displayed all season long to claim victory in a rowdy Lucas Oil Stadium.
New Orleans Saints vs. Baltimore Ravens
Here’s one of those famous “Super Bowl Previews” we see happen a few times each season. The defending champion New Orleans Saints will travel to Baltimore to take on the Ravens in what may a look at the match-up that will headline the NFL season in February. However, it’s still December and there’s a lot on the line for both teams.
The Saints and Ravens can clinch playoff spots with a win on Sunday and some additional help. The Saints are started to find the offensive balance they missed earlier in the season, and the Ravens are always tough at home. Electric offense vs. hard-hitting defense – take your pick.
New York Jets vs. Pittsburgh Steelers
They’re going to need to double up on the stretchers at Heinz Field on Sunday. I’m not trying to send bad vibes to Pittsburgh, but this game is a lock for hard hits, trash talking and a couple fines from Commissioner Goodell later in the week. On top of that, huge playoff implications on the line in this game between the New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers. Pittsburgh not only clinches a playoff spot with a win, but will take a big step toward locking up the number 2 seed in the AFC. New York, on the other hand, is riding a 2 game losing streak and needs this win to get their season back on the right track. Suffering a loss would make their remaining games a lot more interesting than they had hoped.
Ben Roethlisberger is injured and the Jets love to get at the quarterback. That alone may tell you the key to this game. In Sunday’s game and the Bengals, the Steelers did an awful job of protecting Roethlisberger, and he paid the price despite guiding the team to a win. New York’s defense is on a whole other level, and if they can find Ben often, it may spell trouble for the remainder of Pittsburgh’s season. Remember, Rex Ryan is very familiar with Pittsburgh due to his time in Baltimore. Nobody knows how to make quarterbacks squirm like LeBeau, and he’ll have Pittsburgh’s defense ready to put pressure on a young and struggling Mark Sanchez. We haven’t even touched on the fact that Jets receiver Santonio Holmes will be out to make a statement in the city he briefly became a Super Bowl hero.
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Let’s be honest here. We all thought that Jets vs. Patriots games would be a knock-down-drag-out affair. Instead, it was New England who did all of the knocking down and dragging out, pummeling the Jets by a score of 45-3. However, the other two games selected last week lived up to expectations. In a typical Steelers/Ravens brawl, Pittsburgh rallied late to beat Baltimore 13-10. In Tampa Bay, it was once again the “Matty Ice” Show, as Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan led his sixth 4th quarter comeback of the season to give Atlanta a 28-24 victory over the Buccaneers. With each passing week, the NFL games become more important. Here are the three games you need to keep an eye on for Week 14.
New England Patriots vs. Chicago Bears
If a team is looking to find out whether or not they’re “for real” or not, the best measuring stick in the league right now may be the New England Patriots. In recent weeks, the Patriots own wins over the ‘who’s who’ of the AFC. Now they’ll turn their attention to the NFC, where the North-leading Chicago Bears are waiting. Chicago’s defense has looked revamped in recent weeks, and quarterback Jay Cutler has been turnover free for the last two outings. The team’s most impressive win of the season came two weeks ago when they were able to slow down Michael Vick and the red-hot Eagles.
The Patriots come into this game playing their best football of the season. Quarterback and MVP front-runner Tom Brady has thrown 8 touchdown passes with no interceptions in his last two outings. The New England defense, which is supposed to be the team’s “weak link,” held the New York Jets to just 3 points on Monday night. New England is undefeated when Brady throws =at least 4 touchdown passes. Jay Cutler teams are 19-0 when he posts 100 or better passer rating. Will we see one of these trends hold up on Sunday?
Kansas City Chiefs vs. San Diego Chargers
The importance of this game is easy to state. If the Chiefs beat the Chargers, the Chargers are essentially eliminated from playoff contention. A loss would put San Diego three games behind the Chiefs with three left to play, and because of the head-to-head tiebreaker, would make it impossible for them to win the AFC West. While a win would make a division title likely for Kansas City, they would not clinch it just yet. The Oakland Raiders at 6-6 are just two games back and have a 4-0 division record.
Unfortunately for the Chiefs, they may take the field without starting quarterback Matt Cassel, who underwent an appendectomy yesterday. The procedure was described as successful, and while he’s expected to return to workouts this week, it’s uncertain whether or not he’ll be able to play. In that case, backup quarterback Brodie Croyle would lead the attempt to eliminate the division rival Chargers. The Chiefs won’t get any sympathy from San Diego, who has been battling with some injuries of their own. However, Coach Norv Turner is optimistic that Darren Sproles and Antonio Gates will be able to give it a go. As well as Phillip Rivers has played this season, he’ll need some of his weapons on the field to keep San Diego’s season alive.
St. Louis Rams vs. New Orleans Saints
One of these two teams is in position to host a playoff game. Hint: It’s not the New Orleans Saints. That’s right – the St. Louis Rams are out front in the NFC West with a 6-6 record. This weekend, however, may be ‘make or break’ for the Rams as they travel to New Orleans to battle the defending champion Saints. In a match-up between the old “Greatest Show on Turf” and the newer version, rookie quarterback Sam Bradford will attempt to upstage the elder Super Bowl MVP Drew Brees. Though the Rams have played surprisingly shocking football, this game may prove to be a little overwhelming for the young group.
Let’s not sell the Rams short though. They’re playing well and have managed to get it together much sooner than anybody anticipated. Bradford looks like the real deal and Steven Jackson is in the midst of another productive season. The defense is doing its job as well, ranking in the top half of the league after ranking 31st last season. The Saints have struggled to put away inferior teams this year, most recently needing comeback wins against the Cowboys and Bengals. They are getting healthier though, and doing so at the most important point of the season.
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We were fairly successful with our Top 3 Match-Up selections for last week’s games. Matt Bryant capped off a late Falcons drive by kicking a 47-yard game winning field goal against the Green Bay Packers. Jay Cutler tossed four touchdown passes, outplaying Michael Vick en route to a win over the Philadelphia Eagles. Peyton Manning wasn’t exactly Peyton-like, throwing four interceptions as the Chargers cruised by the Colts 36-14. Highlighting this week’s top match-ups are huge division rivalry games that will help shape the playoff picture. Take a look at the Week 12 NFL Top 3 Match-Ups.
New York Jets vs. New England Patriots
It would be tough to think of a more intriguing Monday Night Football match-up in recent memory. These AFC East rivals both enter the game with 9-2 records. Of course, the Jets have the edge because they beat the Patriots back in Week 2. In that game, the Jets defense was able to neutralize Tom Brady and completely nullify the Pats’ run game. Since then, Brady has put together what is likely to be a MVP season, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis has given New England a little spark with the run.
A lot of attention has been paid to the fact that the Jets beat a Patriots team that had Randy Moss as a deep-ball threat. So, in addition to making some adjustments, the Patriots are going to have a slightly different strategy with their offensive attack. After a hot start, LaDainian Tomlinson and the Jets run has cooled off a bit in the second half. However, Mark Sanchez has been as poised as any passer in the league, and the Santonio Holmes acquisition is paying big dividends. To top it off, the Jets are undefeated on the road this season, a trend they’d certainly like to see continue this week.
New York coach Rex Ryan desperately wants to unseat Bill Belichick and the Patriots. These two teams simply do not like each other. Aside from the rivalry aspect of the game, both there are big division and playoff implications on the line. Both teams don’t exactly close out the season on the easiest notes. New York has teams like Pittsburgh, Chicago and Miami left on the schedule, while New England is due to play Green Bay, Miami and Chicago. Prepare for kickoff on Monday night.
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens
This game mirrors the Jets vs. Patriots match-up almost ‘to a T.’ Anytime the Steelers and Ravens get together, you know you’re going to see some hard hits, players leaving the game with injury and possibly a few scuffles. James Harrison has probably mailed a few extra blank checks to Commissioner Roger Goodell for this game alone. Both teams sit with an 8-3 record, vying for the top spot in the AFC North. The advantage currently lies with Baltimore, who beat Pittsburgh with a last minute touchdown back in Week 4.
One of the major headlines heading into this game is the health of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. After spraining his right foot in last Sunday’s game against Buffalo, he has been wearing a protective boot throughout the week and has only had minimal participation in the team’s practices, though he is expected to play. Ben’s status is important, as he has accumulated a 5-0 record against the Ravens as a starter. He was suspended for the game Pittsburgh dropped to Baltimore earlier this season.
While Pittsburgh is 5-1 on the road, Baltimore is undefeated at home. In fact, the Ravens are riding an eight-game home win streak. The vaunted Ravens defense will surely look to put pressure on Roethlisberger and test his mobility with that injured foot. In recent weeks, Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has been able to find Derrick Mason, TJ Houshmandzadeh and Todd Heap more than Anquan Boldin. Can Anquan rebound against Pittsburgh’s questionable corners? Find out when these two teams clash on Sunday night.
Atlanta Falcons vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Atlanta Falcons have found themselves listed in our Top 3 Match-Ups quite a bit this season, including their Week 9 meeting with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That game lived up to the billing, as the Falcons were able to outlast a late run by the Bucs to take control of the NFC South. Since then, the Falcons have yet to relinquish control of the division, but the Bucs and Saints still have the Birds in sight.
The good news for Tampa Bay? While Atlanta is lights out at home, they’re a little more vulnerable on the road. The bad news? Tampa Bay hasn’t been that great at home this year. In particular, they’ve struggled against the league’s elite teams. Their losses have come to Pittsburgh, New Orleans, Baltimore and the Falcons. A loss in this game would officially stamp Tampa as a team that isn’t as bad as the worst teams in the league, but not yet able to compete with the best.
With the Saints getting healthy and scheduled in a gimme game against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Falcons certainly don’t want to give the Buccaneers their first ‘elite’ win. Matt Ryan and the Falcons offense will look to go to work early and often against a Bucs defense that isn’t as feared as it once was. Ryan’s favorite target, Roddy White, has been playing as well as any receiver in football. On the other hand, Tampa’s Mike Williams will look to rebound after a forgettable performance against Baltimore. Find out which stud receiver will help lift his team to a win when these teams play on Sunday.
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