If I covered every key matchup in the NFL this Sunday, I would be writing for quite awhile.
In 16 days, we’ll know which playoff scenarios come true, and which will fade into oblivion. There are seven games in this jam-packed weekend that could give us some answers before those days are up. At the moment, the Patriots are the only team to have clinched a playoff spot. It’s almost safe to say they’ve all but clinched the AFC East as well. The other seven divisions are all up for grabs, making this the juiciest weekend of football I’ve seen in a long time.
Jacksonville (8-5) @ Indianapolis (7-6), 1:00 pm, CBS
Peyton Manning isn’t used to his back being up against the wall until at least the playoffs. He and the Indianapolis Colts will have to adapt accordingly if they want to see the playoffs at all. The Colts will see the Jacksonville Jaguars Sunday in their second meeting of the season. If the Colts lose to the Jags (like they did in Week 4), it will give David Garrard’s team their first division title since 1999, when current Giants coach Tom Coughlin was at the helm.
With the Ravens and the Jets unlikely to lose their Wild Card spots, the Colts have no consolation prize to rely on. The team has been plagued with injuries. 11 Colts have been placed on injured reserve including tackle Tony Ugoh, wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez, safety Bob Sanders, and tight end Dallas Clark, who arguably served as Manning’s favorite target in recent years. 13 players are currently on their injury report. The inability to stay healthy is reminiscent of the woes of the 2010 Boston Red Sox. It’s just a case of bad luck.
But that doesn’t mean the team is down and out. They have lost four of their games by three points or less, and at least they were able to put an end to a three-game losing streak by squeaking out a victory against the Tennessee Titans last week.
Let’s put it this way… this whole blurb has been about the Colts. If they don’t come through on Sunday, it will be all about the Jags as Peyton Manning will be forced to sit home in January for only the third time in his storied career. Think about that for a second… wow.
Philadelphia (9-4) @ New York Giants (9-4), 1:00 pm, FOX
I love these divisional games coming in at the end of the season, especially in the NFC East, where the games just feel like they mean more than they do in other divisions. They garner more attention, they bring in high ratings, and there’s always a storyline or twelve to chit-chat about at the water cooler. Sweet…
The Birds (9-4) will take on the New York Football Giants, a team with the same record and a lot to play for in a hotly contested division and conference. The Giants will look to stop the broken record, having lost their last five against Philadelphia. And despite a strong rushing tandem in Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs, the Eagles defense had their number five weeks ago, when they held them to a dismal 61 yards.
Giants QB Eli Manning leads the league in interceptions with 19, and is probably hoping that injury-ridden Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel misses his fourth game in a row. Samuel picked off Manning twice in their first meeting this season. With or without Samuel the Birds will have to play better on defense, especially in the red zone. The team ranks last in red zone defense, allowing a touchdown on 78.8 percent of opponents’ possessions inside the 20-yard line.
Michael Vick is ready to go, despite taking a few tough hits from defensive end Anthony Spencer in Week 14. His favorite target, DeSean Jackson, would love to repeat his four-catch, 210 yard performance last week. The Giants defense, however, have played the Eagles a lot better than most teams this season. They held Michael Vick to only one passing touchdown in Week 10, and monster defensive end Justin Tuck had all three sacks on Vick in that matchup.
The Giants blew an early fourth quarter lead in Week 10, allowing the Eagles to score the last 11 points in a 27-17 victory. Another loss would allow the Eagles to control their own destiny, and place them in a good position to work towards a first-round bye.
But what do you say we just worry about Sunday for now?
Other BIG matchups in Week 15:
- New Orleans (10-2) @ Baltimore (9-4), 1:00 pm, FOX: A battle of two potential playoff monsters that have done a helluva job staying under the radar. Each team is just one game back in their respective divisions. And uh, hey, did you forget that the Saints are the defending Super Bowl Champions? If so, you aren’t the only one.
- Kansas City (8-5) @ Saint Louis (6-7), 1:00 pm, CBS: The San Diego Chargers are making their typical December push with Philip Rivers at quarterback. He is 20-1 in games in December and January, and that doesn’t bode well for the Chiefs. At 8-5, they remain one-half game ahead of the Bolts for the division lead, but that could fade away for good if the Sam Bradford-led Rams have anything to say about it. At 6-7, the Rams are still playing for something. In fact, they’re playing for the NFC West crown… and while that’s a bit sad, it’s what happens when you have four awful teams playing in the same division. Regardless, there is plenty of motivation for both teams to win on Sunday, but even more urgency.
- Atlanta (11-2) @ Seattle (6-7), 4:05, FOX: The Rams division “foe” is the Seattle Seahawks, who share their regular season record. They, too, will playing a division leader in the seemingly unstoppable Atlanta Falcons. Maybe the only good news for Pete Carroll’s team is they aren’t playing in the Georgia Dome, where Matt Ryan is 19-1 as a starter. The Seahawks will need to play better defense, they give up more than 25 points a game. Ironically, that’s the same number that the Falcons score. It could get ugly fast.
- New York Jets (9-4) @ Pittsburgh (10-3). 4:15 pm, CBS: The Jets are a loss away from an official free fall in the AFC. Mark Sanchez cannot complete just 39 percent of his passes again. In fact, the Jets are 11-2 when Sanchez’s passer rating surpasses 80, so it usually doesn’t take much. The Steelers, on the other hand are primed for a playoff run. They’ve won five of their last six. A little storyline to watch… Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes returns to Heinz Field for the first time since being traded. It could be interesting.
- Green Bay (8-5) at New England (11-2), 8:20, NBC: Aaron Rodgers will likely sit out as a result of his concussion last week against the Lions. It probably wouldn’t matter anyway. Bill Belicheck is 10-0 in the snow, and guess what the forecast is calling for in Foxboro… yep.
Enjoy Week 15 folks! My “Take Three” column will be posted Sunday morning.