After the Thanksgiving games marks the start of the best two months of NFL football. With 12 weeks now gone, the playoff race becomes more clear and some games become way more important than others. I want to take a look at the most meaningful/appealing week 13 matchups in the NFL.
Thursday Night Football: Cowboys (10-1) @ Vikings (6-5)
Aside from the fact that I’m going, I’m really excited for this game. For a change, it should be a really entertaining Thursday night game. The Vikings need a win to stay in the NFC North hunt (Lions lead the division at 7-4), and the Cowboys have a chance to clinch a playoff spot with a win AND a Redskins OR Buccaneers loss. Furthermore, both teams are coming off a full week of rest after playing on Thanksgiving; neither team has to play on a short week like they usually do for Thursday night games.
The Vikings have been struggling lately, especially on offense. This is a good game for them to get things going considering the Cowboys’ defense has been putrid as of late. I expect the Vikes defense to be fired up along with their crowd, and it should be a good test for a Cowboys’ offense that has yet to be contained since week 1.
Prediction: Cowboys 21, Vikings 17
(1 p.m.): Chiefs (8-3) @ Falcons (7-4)
The Chiefs shocked the nation on Sunday night football by storming back from down eight with only a couple minutes remaining in Denver to score, convert for two points, and win in overtime. That’s an impressive feat for a team that usually folds on primetime, especially against one of the best defenses in the league. But with Justin Houston finally back for KC, the Chiefs make a strong argument themselves for the best defense in the league. They lead all teams with 24 turnovers this season, and the sacks are going to keep coming now that Houston is back in full form.
They’ll have a big test Sunday against a Falcons team that scores the most points per game (32) in the league. The Falcons lead the NFC South by a full game over Tampa Bay, but that lead was a lot more comfortable a couple of weeks ago. They need to keep winning games to stay atop the division, and this will be one of their biggest tests of the season yet.
Prediction: Falcons 23, Chiefs 20
(1 p.m.): Dolphins (7-4) @ Ravens (6-5)
This game may seem boring on the surface, but it actually has potential to be a really good one. The Fins have now won six straight games with new head coach Adam Gase, and the Ravens are finally getting back to full strength on defense with key starters returning to full health.
The Ravens lead the AFC North, but the Steelers are tied with them at 6-5. The Dolphins currently hold an AFC Wild Card spot, but a lot can change in a competitive AFC. I think the Ravens have a good shot at containing the run and pressuring Ryan Tannehill, but he’s been really good as of late. If the Dolphins win this, there will be little question of their legitimacy moving forward: They may not make much noise in the postseason, but even making it would be a big-time success for a first-year head coach taking over a team that only won six games last year.
Prediction: Dolphins 13, Ravens 17
(4 p.m.): Bucs (6-5) @ Chargers (5-6)
As mentioned, the Bucs have officially snuck their way into the NFC Playoff hunt. They’re a game back in the South, and right there in the Wild Card hunt. They’ve now won three straight, including back-to-back impressive wins @ Kansas City and against the Seahawks at home. I still think they’re a year away, and I think this game may confirm that notion.
The Chargers haven’t had a game that was decided by more than one possession since week 2. They are entertaining on a weekly basis, and this should be one of the better games of the week. They lead the league in interceptions (14), and Jameis Winston will certainly give them an opportunity or two to extend that number.
Prediction: Chargers 30, Bucs 23
(4 p.m.): Giants (8-3) @ Steelers (6-5)
Neither of these teams have been ultra-impressive to me this season, especially the Steelers. Everyone including myself figured that if Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown stayed healthy, there’d be no question who the best offense in the league is; but they have only managed 24 points per game, which isn’t even top-12 in the entire league. But after failing to score more than 16 points in three straight games, they have improved to score over 24 points in their latest three. They’re getting better, and they have a solid test against a much-improved Giants’ defense.
The Gmen broke the bank for their defense in free agency and it seems to be paying off. They’re allowing less than 20 points per game, good for fifth-best in the league. Their offense, like the Steelers’, started off slow but has drastically improved as of late. This has potential to be a shootout, and I look forward to seeing which of these two teams picks up an impressive win to gain some more momentum in the biggest month of the season.
Prediction: Steelers 30, Giants 24