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NFL 2011 Season – Week 13 Preview

Aaron Rodgers
Gregory Shamus, Getty Images

As the NFL heads into the final five weeks of the 2011 season, several teams are looking to get wins to keep their postseason hopes alive, while two NFC squads look to clinch a playoff spot. Here’s a preview of all the scheduled action for Week 13:

Sun. Dec. 4

Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 1:00 PM

Rookie quarterback Cam Newton, who has passed for 3,093 yards and ran for 464 more, keys the offense for Carolina (3-8). Newton has more interceptions (14) than touchdown passes (12), but he also has 10 rushing touchdowns, third-most in the NFL. Newton’s favorite target is Steve Smith, whose 1,060 receiving yards are second in the league. Newton and Smith will challenge a Buccaneers’ defense that gives up an average of 26.5 points per game, ranking them 29th in the league. Tampa Bay (4-7) is among the NFL’s 10 worst-scoring offenses, averaging just 18.1 points per game. The Carolina defense gives up 27.7 points per game, second-worst in the league. Buccaneers running back LeGarrette Blount has had consecutive 100-yard rushing games. The Panthers may key on Blount and force quarterback Josh Freeman to beat them through the air.

Cincinnati Bengals at Pittsburgh Steelers – 1:00 PM

This game is a rematch of a week 10 contest that saw Pittsburgh (8-3) intercept Bengals’ rookie quarterback Andy Dalton twice in the fourth quarter to preserve a win. The Steelers rely on a pass-first attack built around quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who is playing with a broken right thumb. The offense struggled last week, and Pittsburgh was nearly upset by Kansas City. The Steelers will need to be better against the Bengals, who give up the fifth-fewest average yards per game in the league. Cincinnati (7-4) needs a win over either the Steelers or the Ravens to have a chance at the AFC North title. Dalton and fellow rookie A.J. Green face a Steelers defense that gives up the second-fewest yards per game and the fourth-fewest points per contest. Steelers safety Troy Polamalu will play after leaving Sunday’s game after taking a blow to the head. The Bengals must not fall behind 14-0, like they did to Pittsburgh in their first meeting.

Atlanta Falcons at Houston Texans – 1:00 PM

Houston (8-3) starts rookie quarterback T.J. Yates in place of injured Matt Leinart, who started in place of injured Matt Schaub. Veterans Jake Delhomme and Kellen Clemens will back Yates up, but look for the Texans to continue their run-first approach behind Arian Foster and Ben Tate. Houston averages 151.7 rushing yards per game, third-best in the league. Atlanta (7-4) counters with the NFL’s second-best run defense, allowing just 83.5 yards per game. The Falcons offense faces a Houston defense that allows the fewest yards and just 16.3 points per game, good for second-best in the league. Atlanta will need to protect quarterback Matt Ryan too, as the Texans have 35 sacks, also second-best in the league. Receiver Roddy White and running back Michael Turner will be counted on to make plays for the Falcons.

N.Y. Jets at Washington Redskins – 1:00 PM

New York (6-5) is back in the postseason chase after last week’s 28-24 win over Buffalo. Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez has thrown an interception in five straight games, but he rallied the team to victory over the Bills. He’ll face a Redskins defense ranked 10th in the league in passing yards allowed and tied for third in sacks with 33. Washington (4-7) snapped a six-game losing streak by making big plays on offense against the Seahawks last Sunday. The ‘Skins may need them again to beat New York. Redskins quarterback Rex Grossman, who has 16 turnovers in eight games, will face a Jets defense that has 13 interceptions and 11 forced fumbles this season. Washington rookie running back Roy Helu broke through with 108 rushing yards in last week’s win. He’s averaged 4.8 yards per carry for the season and deserves to carry the ball more.

Indianapolis Colts at New England Patriots – 1:00 PM

These two perennial AFC powers meet for the ninth straight year in the regular season, but with quarterback Peyton Manning still out for winless Indianapolis, the game has reduced importance. New England (8-3) is heavily favored, as Tom Brady, with his second-best passer rating in the league , takes on a Colts defense that gives up 29.7 points per game, the most in the NFL. The Colts are worse against the run than the pass, so BenJarvus Green-Ellis may see more carries than normal for the Patriots. Quarterback Dan Orlovsky makes his first start for Indianapolis (0-11) in place of Curtis Painter. Painter was ineffective after stepping in for Kerry Collins, who was injured after he replaced Manning. The inconsistency at quarterback is only part of the issue: the Colts average just 99 yards rushing per game and have no running back with more than 400 yards rushing. The Patriots do allow the most yards per game on defense in the NFL (409.8), but they have only given up an average of 13 points per game in their last three contests.

Oakland Raiders at Miami Dolphins – 1:00 PM

Miami (3-8) has played much better over the past four weeks than it did while losing its first seven games. The Dolphins have the league’s seventh-best run defense, allowing just 97.5 yards per game. Miami may be tested by the Raiders, which has the league’s fourth-best running attack. Oakland (7-4) may still be without running back Darren McFadden, who has missed nearly all of six weeks with a sprained foot. Meanwhile, replacement Michael Bush has reached career highs in rushing attempts (163) and yards (668). Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore has seven touchdown passes and just one interception in his last four games. He’ll work opposite an Oakland defense that gives up 374.4 yards of offense per game, 27th in the league. Moore may be pressed for time because the Raiders have 32 sacks, the fifth-most in the NFL.

Denver Broncos at Minnesota Vikings – 1:00 PM

Denver (6-5) is 5-1 since inserting quarterback Tim Tebow into the starting lineup. Thanks to Tebow and Willis McGahee, the Broncos average 159.7 rushing yards per game, best in the NFL. The Vikings match Denver’s strength, as their run defense, ranked ninth, is far better than their pass defense, ranked 29th. Minnesota (2-9) will face the Broncos’ defense, which has given up just 12 points per game over the past three weeks. However, the Vikings will potentially be without star running back Adrian Peterson, who is still nursing an injured ankle. The Vikings may not have to contend with Denver rookie linebacker Von Miller, who had surgery Tuesday on his thumb. If Miller plays Sunday, he’ll likely be part of the many blitzes that Minnesota rookie quarterback Christian Ponder will see from the Broncos.

Tennessee Titans at Buffalo Bills – 1:00 PM

Both teams enter the game with the need to get a win to remain in the playoff discussion. Tennessee (6-5) wants more consistency from running back Chris Johnson, who ran for 190 yards last week. When Johnson produces, the defense must address him instead of keying on quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. The Bills defense yields 25.5 points per game, so Tennessee should be able to score. The Titans must avoid turnovers: the Bills have nabbed 16 interceptions on the season, tied for second-best in the league. Buffalo (5-6) may struggle to run the ball with Fred Jackson gone for the season with a leg injury. C.J. Spiller replaces Jackson and must help Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick solve the Titans defense, which gives up just 19.3 points per game, seventh-fewest in the NFL.

Kansas City Chiefs at Chicago Bears – 1:00 PM

Despite throwing six interceptions in two games, Tyler Palko starts his third straight game at quarterback for Kansas City (4-7). Former Bears’ quarterback Kyle Orton, signed by the Chiefs off waivers from Denver last week, will back up Palko, but he’s not ready to start. The Kansas City offense scores just 13.9 points per game, 29th in the league. Chiefs running back Jackie Battle needs to make a dent against a Bears’ defense ranked eighth in the league against the run. Chicago (7-4) is worried that quarterback Jay Cutler’s broken thumb may keep him out the remainder of the season. The Bears’ offense was sluggish under backup Caleb Hanie, who threw three interceptions against Oakland in his first start. Hanie gets the start again this week. Running back Matt Forte will be the key to beating a Chiefs defense that is ranked 26th against the run.

Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns – 4:05 PM

Having last played on Thanksgiving night, Baltimore (8-3) comes off a long rest ready for its vaunted defense to face a Browns team that struggles on offense. The Ravens give up the third-fewest points (16.5) and yards (292.3) per game in the league and have recorded the most sacks (38). The Browns, who only average 15 points per game, must get running back Peyton Hillis to help them move and control the ball to stay competitive in this game. Cleveland (4-7) has the NFL’s best defense against the pass, so Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco may have trouble getting the Ravens to their 24.7 points per game average. Fortunately for Flacco, Cleveland has just six interceptions this season.

Dallas Cowboys at Arizona Cardinals – 4:15 PM

Dallas (7-4) finds itself in control of its playoff destiny, and atop the NFC East, with five games to play. The Cowboys will use rookie running back DeMarco Murray to help control the clock and set up the passing game. Receiver Laurent Robinson has caught touchdowns in five straight games for Dallas. He’ll look to add to that total against the Cardinals’ suspect pass defense. Arizona (3-8) should have Kevin Kolb back at quarterback. After missing four games with foot ailments, Kolb will be a welcome change from John Skelton, who threw five interceptions and no touchdowns the past two weeks. Cardinals running back Beanie Wells ran for a franchise-record 228 yards last week and is on-pace to finish the season with more than 1,200 rushing yards. He’ll face a Dallas run defense that gives up the 10th-fewest yards per game in the league.

Green Bay Packers at N.Y. Giants – 4:15 PM

Green Bay (11-0) brings its unbeaten record east to face the franchise that prevented New England’s undefeated season by upsetting them in the Super Bowl in 2008. Much as when the Giants defeated Tom Brady and the Patriots, the key to beating the Packers is getting pressure on quarterback Aaron Rodgers, the NFL’s highest rated passer. Given that defensive end Osi Umenyiora will miss the next two weeks with a sprained ankle and fellow defensive lineman Justin Tuck is ailing, the Giants may not have the personnel to apply the needed pressure. The Packers can clinch a playoff spot with a win and losses by Chicago and Detroit or Atlanta. New York (6-5) has a potent passing attack of its own led by Eli Manning. Manning and budding star wide receiver Victor Cruz, who is fourth in the league in receiving yards, will work against a Packers defense that is ranked 31st against the pass, giving up 287.8 yards per game. The Giants will want to control the ball with long scoring drives to keep Rodgers off the field.

St. Louis Rams at San Francisco 49ers – 4:15 PM

San Francisco (9-2) looks to rebound from its Thanksgiving night loss to Baltimore and clinch a playoff berth by beating the Rams. Expect the 49ers to use Frank Gore, sixth in the league in rushing yards, against the league’s worst rushing defense, which gives up 159.0 yards per game. St. Louis (2-9) must hope that it can get running back Steven Jackson, the NFL’s 10th-leading rusher, to help take the offensive burden off quarterback Sam Bradford, who has been sacked a league-high 33 times in just nine games. San Francisco allows just 14.6 points per game, the league’s lowest total, so the Rams may struggle to score against the 49ers.

Detroit Lions at New Orleans Saints – 8:20 PM

Detroit (7-4) faces Drew Brees, the NFL’s passing yardage leader, and the Saints without defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh, who was suspended for stomping on a Green Bay player during their Thanksgiving Day matchup. Suh appealed the suspension and will receive a league hearing prior to the game. Detroit’s pass defense is sixth-best in the NFL, but the Lions need help against a Saints offense that has gained the most yards in the league this season. New Orleans (8-3)  relies on its offense — the Saints defense has just six interceptions and is ranked 25th in yards allowed. Detroit will attack the New Orleans defense with quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson, who leads the league with 12 touchdown receptions and is third in both yards and catches.

Mon. Dec. 5

San Diego Chargers at Jacksonville Jaguars – 8:30 PM

San Diego (4-7) tries to break a six-game losing streak on the road with an offensive line that is patched together. That means Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers will feel pressure  against a Jaguars defense that is ranked fourth in total yards allowed and fourth against the pass. Running back Ryan Mathews had a career-best 137 rushing yards last week for San Diego, so he can help  the offense. Defensive coordinator Mel Tucker takes over as the interim head for Jacksonville (3-8), which fired Jack Del Rio on Tuesday. Tucker must find a way for his offense to be more than running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who is the AFC’s leading rusher, despite the fact teams focus on him because of the Jaguars awful passing attack. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert will look to improve his 62.2 passer rating, the league’s worst, against a Chargers defense that gives up an average of 25 points per game.

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