With no Thursday night football to indulge in this week, NFL fans will be eager to get their fix of the latest drama when it all unfolds on Sunday night.
With plenty of teams still in the hunt for a play-off spot, this weekend looks set to be one of the most dramatic of the season, and that’s saying something given the last couple of weekends.
The Cincinnati Bengals currently head the AFC North, just one game ahead of the Baltimore Ravens, who they host next week in the final game of the season. The Bengals will be hot favourites to beat the Vikings this week though, as they boast an impressive 6-0 home record. The Vikings’ season is over with regards to any post-season ambitions, and they will just be hoping to get their first win on the road this season, though it would take a brave man to bet against Cincinnati here.
What a match this will be, with two divisional rivals facing up with the opportunity to lead the NFC South going into the final weekend. The winner will all but confirm a place in the playoffs, and the Panthers will be fired up for this one. Carolina have only lost one in their last ten, and that was at the Saints two weeks ago in a 31-13 drubbing. The Saints are a different team on the road to the unstoppable force that play at home, but with Drew Brees, New Orleans always have a chance. However, I would favour Cam Newton and his Panthers offense to offer too much on home soil.
This looks set to be a fascinating matchup with two sides who have had much more enjoyable seasons slugging it out against each other. The Cowboys must win this game to have any chance of progressing into the post-season. Last weekends shocking loss to the Packers will still be in their minds but they need Tony Romo to prove his critics wrong by holding his nerve in this one. For the Redskins, the quarterback controversy surrounding the benching of RGIII is still a major talking point in Washington, and they will just be hoping for something to cheer about this Christmas with a win over their rivals, Dallas.
The Arizona Cardinals could be very unlucky, after a brilliant first season under new head coach Bruce Arians, they find themselves in a position where a place in the playoffs is very much in doubt, despite boasting a 9-5 record. They travel to divisional leaders Seattle hoping to be the first side to win there this season. The Cardinals currently sit third in the division behind Seattle and San Francisco, and will be keeping an eye on the 49ers and Panthers games too, hoping for them to slip up. The Seahawks have been simply brilliant all season and Russell Wilson has really progressed as a quarterback. They have already sealed a place in the playoffs but can win the division on home soil with a win on Sunday.
Another huge game here, between two of the AFC’s biggest rivals. They have provided us with some thrilling encounters over the past few seasons, mostly in the playoffs, and expect this to be no different. New England has the chance to lead the AFC by beating Miami last weekend but ultimately failed, leaving Denver as the top seed. Tom Brady will be desperate for a win over Baltimore though, and his side can confirm that they will be playing January football with a win. You just have to feel that this is a bigger game for the Ravens though, they have lost just one in their last five and go into the game knowing that they need a win. They are currently in a playoff position but a loss would surely leave them stranded. I fancy Flacco and co. to just edge this one.
Sunday 9:25pm: Steelers (6-8) @ Packers (7-6-1)
Both teams are still in the hunt, though it would take a miracle for Pittsburgh to make it into the playoffs from here. The Steelers must win their last two games to even stand a chance, but a Miami or Baltimore win this weekend would end their hopes immediately. Therefore they could be out of contention by the time things kick-off in Green Bay on Sunday night. For the Packers, they must win to be in with a chance of progressing, as their only chance of making the playoffs is by winning the competitive NFC North. They face off against the Bears next weekend and will hope that they have still have a chance going into that one. Their unbelievable comeback win at Dallas last week will surely give the team plenty of confidence going into this, and with the possibility that Aaron Rodgers will play after being cleared medically, you have to fancy the Packers.
Late Sunday/Monday 1:30am: Bears (8-6) @ Eagles (8-6)
The late game on Sunday is another mouth-watering prospect, that’s if you're still standing after all of the drama set to unfold in the earlier games. Both teams currently lead their respective NFC divisions by just one game and could be in second place by the time things get underway in Philadelphia. The Eagles have been inconsistent under Chip Kelly’s offense but have won four of their last five and go into the game knowing a win will put them in good shape for their final regular season clash at Dallas next week. For Chicago, its a must not lose situation, with Detroit and Green Bay breathing down their necks. All three teams are fighting for one place in the playoffs, as a wildcard spot will not be available due to their underwhelming records. All to play for in Philly.
image: © Mike Morbeck
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