The four key NFL games you must watch this season

Starting with this week's Kansas City Chiefs at the Denver Broncos, these are the NFL games you cannot afford to miss...

With the business end of the season fast approaching, Richard Moore decided to take a look at four must see fixtures involving teams with playoff aspirations.

Week 11 - Kansas City Chiefs @ Denver Broncos

Kansas go into this showdown off the back of an unbeaten start to 2013, but have only played one team with a winning record, and Denver boasts the highest ranked scoring offense in the league, putting up on average 41.2 points per game, and 458.7-yards-per-game.

Though the Chiefs have posted thirty six sacks 36 (However, they’ve recorded just one sack in their past two games), recording one on 9.4% of opponent drop-backs, both best in the NFL. So something has to give…

Fun facts and figures

  • Manning has been pressured (sacked, hit while throwing or under duress) on almost a quarter of his drop-backs in the past three games, or more than twice as many drop-backs per game (10.3) than in his first six (4.8).

  • Despite his return from suspension in week 7, Von Miller’s impact on Denver’s sack output has been decidedly moderate – averaging three sacks per game with Miller and 2.8 without. That being said, this should not detract from the fact that Miller’s impact is bigger than sack totals. In the last three games, the Denver defense has pressured quarterbacks on 34% of drop-backs, the third best in the league and a significant improvement on 25% in the first six weeks.

  • Demaryius Thomas has been particularly productive in the screen game. Thomas has caught 11 screen passes, producing league-high totals in yards (212) and touchdowns (three). 214 of Thomas’ 212 yards (his average screen is caught behind the line of scrimmage) have come after the catch.

  • Jamaal Charles ranks as the fifth most productive running back in the league, posting 725-yards from 170 carries (averaging 4.3 yards-per- carry), and six touchdowns.

  • Kansas lead the series 56-49, their most wins against any team in the history of the sport.

  • Payton Manning is well on course to break the single season record for pass yards, currently held by Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints, having already posted 3,249-yards through 2013 so far. The record currently stands at 5, 476-yards.

  • The Chiefs and Broncos are a combined 17-0 against teams that are currently .500 or worse.

Week 12 - Denver Broncos @ New England Patriots

It’s been said that the quarterback matchup doesn’t quite carry the lustre of yesteryear, mainly due in no small part to the fact that thus far Manning has looked utterly imperious, whereas Brady has looked distinctly average by his usually impeccable standards, and with that in mind this may potentially represent the last opportunity to see two legends of the game go at it whilst they still have some shelf life at the very highest level.

Fun facts and figures

  • Probably the most enthralling chapter of the Manning - Brady rivalry was written on The 15th of November 2009 when Manning, then with an undefeated Indianapolis Colts took on Brady’s 6-2 New England Patriots in what was Tom Brady's first start at Lucas Oil Stadium. With 4:12 left in the fourth quarter, the Patriots had pulled away 34-21. However, thanks to a leap in field position due to a pass interference call, Colts RB Joseph Addai scored a touchdown on a four-yard run with 2:23 left to make the score 34-28. Backed up to their 28 and needing to reach the 30 for a first down, Bill Belichick elected to go for it on 4th and 2 instead of punting.

Brady completed a pass to halfback Kevin Faulk, but the pass was deemed incomplete, and was immediately driven backwards. Officials determined that Faulk had not secured possession of the ball until he was short of the first down marker, resulting in a turnover on downs, subsequently giving Manning and the Colts the ball on the Patriots' own 29-yard line with two minutes remaining.

After three plays, Manning completed a one-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Wayne, making the score even at 34-34 with 13 seconds left. Kicker Matt Stover, filling in for Adam Vinatieri, made the extra point to make the score 35-34 and secured a thrilling and highly improbable victory for the Colts.

  • Brady and Manning have faced each other 13 times in the regular season and the playoffs.

  • Brady was the dominant force early in the rivalry, winning the first six meetings, but Manning owns a 4-3 advantage since 2005 including a thrilling win in the 2006 AFC title game.

  • Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have been consistently prolific in the regular season during their careers. Brady's 2007 campaign and Manning's 2004 campaign are widely considered to be two of the best quarterback seasons in NFL History. Manning broke Dan Marino's long standing touchdown record of 48 by one touchdown that season.

  • Three years later, Brady became the first (and only) quarterback to throw 50 touchdown passes in a season and that record still stands despite the drastic increase in passing numbers across the board in today's NFL.

  • Brady is 3 of 5 in Super Bowls, winning three (against the Rams, Panthers and Eagles) and losing two (both to the New York Giants).

  • In 186 career games, Tom Brady has seven wins after trailing by a differential of 12 or more points.

  • Manning is 1 of 1, having won one (Against Chicago) and lost one (to the Saints) of his two appearances in the big game.

  • Tom Brady boasts a career total of 47, 062-yards to date.

  • Manning has notched 62,736 total yards.

Week 13 - New Orleans Saints @ Seattle Seahawks

Potentially one the most enticing prospects of the 2013 season - Richard Sherman and the ‘Legion of Boom’ going head to head with man referred to as ‘Breesus’ in the ‘Big Easy’.

In an intriguing subplot, Marshawn Lynch returns to haunt the team he famously torched with that breath-taking 67-yard touchdown run two years ago, a run that sealed a memorable and highly improbable 41-36 win for a Seahawks outfit that became the first side to make the playoffs with a losing record (7-9).

But, most importantly of all - the road to home field advantage throughout the playoffs could go through CenturyLink Field…

Fun facts and figures

  • Seattle ranks 1st in rush yards, averaging 153.4-yards-per-game.

  • Safety Earl Thomas leads the team in both interceptions and tackles, recording four picks and 72 tackles respectively.

  • Despite sitting pretty atop the NFC West at 9-1, Seattle ranks 24th in both passing yards (208.6-yards-per-game) and offensive line play (allowing 28 sacks and 59 hits on quarterback Russell Wilson).

  • New Orleans by comparison rank 2nd in pass yards posting 324.9-yards-per-game, and 3rd in pass yards allowed, conceding on average 199.9-yards-per-game.

  • Seattle’s leading receiver Golden Tate is averaging 14.0-yards-per-catch.

  • Kicker Steven Hauschka is 22 of 23 field goals attempted, for a completion percentage of 95.7.

  • Drew Brees boasts a quarterback rating of 129.8 at home, although there is quite a drop off in rating when removed from the comforts of the Mercedes Benz Dome, as away from home Brees is less efficient, posting a quarterback rating of 84.6. Still, his overall production is pretty impressive to say the least, as to date Brees has thrown 22 touchdowns to only five interceptions.

  • Through nine games played New Orleans have outscored opponents 265-163.

Week 16 - Dallas Cowboys @ Washington Redskins

We’ve been here before haven’t we? Once again Dallas may find themselves travelling to the nation’s capital with both the division title and a playoff berth on the line.

And with no team in the ‘NFC Least’ boasting a record of more than one game above (below .500, where it concerns the Skins and the Giants at the time of writing) .500, the pressure could really tell on a certain Tony Romo, just as it did on that fateful night in late December last year when his spectacular implosion gifted the Redskins the NFC title and the last remaining playoff slot.

That being said, despite a recent upturn in form from both an offensive and defensive standpoint, I remain spectacle about Washington’s capacity to replicate that astonishing run (even more so when you factor in dates with the 49ers, Falcons, Chiefs, and three inter-divisional clashes with both the Giants, twice, and Cowboys) where they went from 3-6 to win seven straight and take the division, and with the Giants due to face the Lions, Seahawks, an improved Chargers outfit, plus three divisional matchups with the Redskins (twice) and the Cowboys over the course of their last seven games, even Big Blue’s capacity to rise from the dead may be called into serious question.

Factor in Chip Kelly’s Eagles only victory over a team with a record above .500 coming against a Green Bay Packers deprived of Aaron Rodgers through injury, so perhaps Romo’s arm may not be the decisive factor in deciding the battle for the East and potential road to New York after all…

Fun facts and figures

  • Dallas and Washington are a combined 8-11 through 2013 thus far.

  • Dallas Cowboys lead the series 63-44-2.

  • Since Dallas underwent the transition from a 3-4 under Rob Ryan to the 4-3 front under new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, Dallas rank 32nd, last in the league in pass defense (conceding on average 313.0-yards-per-game, and allowing a mammoth 625-yards of total offense in their 49-17 annihilation at New Orleans), 28th against the run (126.8-yards-per-game), and been pummelled to the tune of 244 points though ten games.

  • If Dallas - Washington becomes a winner takes all, the omens don’t look good; the Cowboys are now 2-12 in win-or-go-home games since 2000, the worst mark in the NFL. Romo’s records in these situations is equally inauspicious, going 1-6 in win or go home scenarios.

  • In 2012-13, RG3 broke rookie records - throwing for 3,200-yards, rushing for 815 (averaging an impressive 6.8-yards-per-carry), throwing twenty touchdown passes to only five interceptions, and amassing a passer rating of 102.4. This season however, due in no small to recovery from injury, has represented somewhat of a drop off, as through ten games played RG3 has thrown 12 touchdowns to nine interceptions.

  • Fellow rookie, running back Alfred Morris, amassed 1,613-yards from 335 attempts, and scoring 13 touchdowns during the 2012-13 campaign. So far through 2013, he’s carried on where he left off in 2012, by putting up 825-yards from 159 carries, and currently ranks as the third most prolific back in the league.

  • Despite being 3-6, Washington possesses the 5th most potent offense in the NFL, putting up on average 410.4-yards-per-game, and 25.6-points-per-game.

  • Tony Romo has completed 239 of 370 passes for a completion percentage of 64.6, and a passer rating of 98.3.

  • Romo has also thrown 21 touchdowns to only six interceptions.

  • Washington have the 3rd best rushing attack in the league, putting up on average 151.2-yards-per-game.

  • Prior to injury, linebacker Sean Lee had posted 93 combined tackles, 64 solo, and 29 assists, which ranks as the 3rd best in the league.

  • Lee also ranks 3rd in picks amassed through 2013, registering 4 to date.

  • The Cowboys rank 30th in the NFL in third-down conversion rate (32.8 percent, 38-of-116).

  • The Redskins and Cowboys have combined for exactly 500 points.

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