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Week 12 Game Rankings: Playoff pushes make for excellent holiday fixin's


Can Philip Rivers regain his mojo vs. the Ravens? (US Presswire)  
Can Philip Rivers regain his mojo vs. the Ravens? (US Presswire)  

I'm hungry. Hungry for a Turkey Day Feast, and the coveted leftovers, which fit so perfectly inside a roll for the greatest of seasonal hoagies.

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2012 NFL Week 12

Week 11 will begin to sate that appetite. The holiday season is upon us, which means the playoffs are not too far away. We've reached the portion of the schedule where at least a few teams that were once put on a pedestal (Bears, anyone?) begin flirting with falling out of postseason contention, and a team or two comes out of nowhere to unseat them. (Saints? Bucs?)

This week will tell us much about that. The few divisional games we have should be pretty telling; the playoff rematches we get could be defining; and all three Thanksgiving Day games are plenty compelling. I'm pumped up. The weather is changing, and soon snow will be falling.

Throw a log in the fireplace, plop on the couch, unwrap the sub of your choice and chow down.


Green Bay Packers  at  New York Giants

Green Bay at N.Y. Giants
Sunday, Nov. 25, 8:20 p.m. ET (NBC)

Why To Watch: A rematch from the postseason (not the only one this week) and what a time for this meeting to take place. The Packers, despite all of their injuries, are as hot as anyone, while the Giants are in another November funk. Aaron Rodgers is playing better than anyone else, while Eli Manning hasn't thrown a touchdown in forever. Can the Giants rally coming out of the bye, and what changes did they make? Do the Packers get any of their hurt stars back for this Sunday night game? Will either team be able to run the ball? Both need the win to maintain their standing in their division. This has the feel of a championship game and might be the precursor to one.

What To Watch For: Jordy Nelson should be more active each week at this point with his injuries behind him ... Do the Giants have a defensive back who can handle Randall Cobb's skillset? ... Packers K Mason Crosby needs to rediscover his form, quickly, because loyalty can be fleeting in this league ... Giants had a long time to scheme up for this one, and Perry Fewell will have a rotation going to test Green Bay's injured offensive line ... Michael Boley vs. Jermichael Finley should be fun ... Is Hakeem Nicks looking like his old stuff now? And if so, look out for Victor Cruz in the slot ... Manning's velocity under the microscope, with some speculating his arm was fatigued a few weeks back. Look for him to come out slinging here, especially with Ahmad Bradshaw so beat up ... Any more trust in Giants rookie RB David Wilson in pass protection?

San Francisco 49ers  at  New Orleans Saints

San Francisco at New Orleans
Sunday, Nov. 25, 4:25 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why To Watch: We all remember that clandestine taping of the Saints pre-game meeting prior to their playoff game at San Francisco a year ago, right? And all of the fuss over it (the rhetoric was never meant to be taken seriously)? I guess I figure the 49ers do, too, even though they won that game. But now we have the Saints as the upstarts, actually back in the playoff hunt despite their awful start, and the 49ers just might have a quarterback controversy on their hands with youngster Colin Kaepernick making them appear to have a big-boy offense with game-manager Alex Smith trying to come back from a concussion. Drew Brees is playing much better than he did at the start of the season and the 49ers defense restored its ferocity Monday night against Chicago. Certainly one of the more interesting games of the week, with no NFC team scoring more points than the Saints and no NFC team allowing fewer than the 49ers.

What To Watch For: Aldon Smith and Justin Smith coming off a destructive outing a week ago, and while Brees gets rid of the ball quickly, expect another aggressive game plan on the road here ... 49ers tight end Vernon Davis showed more life with Kaepernick under center and his athleticism would present particular challenges for a Saints defense that, while making some strides, is still historically bad ... Chris Ivory will be vital in establishing a physical tone against what might be the NFL's most physical defense ... Saints expect to have Darren Sproles back for this one, and their special teams will be much more feared with his presence alone.

Atlanta Falcons  at  Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Atlanta at Tampa Bay
Sunday, Nov. 25, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why To Watch: The only divisional game all week in which two teams with legit playoff hopes meet up, and the Bucs seem to be catching the Falcons at the right time. Atlanta has been plenty lucky this season but its difficulties against the run and generating pass rush are showing up more now, and the Bucs can run it down your throat and have a physical offensive line. A win would go a long way to thrusting Tampa deeper into the wild-card hunt, while a loss would continue to raise questions about the Falcons' viability as a real Super Bowl threat.

What To Watch For: Don't look now, but Josh Freeman might be developing some MVP credentials to rival, if not surpass, those of Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan ... Atlanta's Julio Jones still trying to get back to 100 percent -- is he effective all four quarters against this weak secondary? ... Doug Martin will see a ton of the ball, and screens will be huge in this game ... No one can stop Vincent Jackson right now, even when you know the ball is going there ... If the Falcons become one dimensional early on, and can't establish Michael Turner, will Ryan continue his rut of picks?

Houston Texans  at  Detroit Lions

Houston at Detroit
Thursday, Nov. 22, 12:30 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why To Watch: You are just sitting down to the first feast of the day on Thursday and the only thing you crave more than turkey is a match-up of two of the most explosive offenses in the NFL. Matt Schaub comes in off a 527-yard day and Matt Stafford threw for 5,000 yards a year ago and even though the Lions aren't scoring as much this season, they are certainly moving the ball. Two of the true freak-of-nature receivers are on display -- Calvin Johnson and Andre Johnson -- and who can forget what Ndamukong Suh pulled on Thanksgiving Day a year ago? That alone will keep you from falling prey to any tryptophan OD in the second half.

What To Watch For: Any more fireworks on the Lions sidelines after members of the offensive staff were getting animated in Sunday's loss to Green Bay? ... Detroit can't win in the NFC North, but is 4-2 in its other games and with Texans top corner Jonathan Joseph banged up, Calvin Johnson could go off ... With the Lions already sending Titus Young home for the week, more antics and undisciplined play could result in swift discipline from coach Jim Schwartz, perhaps even in-game ... Surprisingly, the Texans go three-and-out 25 percent of the time, in the bottom third of the league, and if the Lions can win first down, that could be trouble for Houston. Texans also one of the worst third-and-long teams in the league when they have to expand the offense ... Stafford has been getting knocked around, the offensive line is wounded and J.J. Watt is always hungry. Any matchup on him could be a bad one for Detroit.

New England Patriots  at  New York Jets

New England at N.Y. Jets
Thursday, Nov. 22, 8:20 p.m. ET (NBC)

Why To Watch: The Jets will tell you they still have a playoff shot, but a loss here even further weakens their margin of error. They gave the Pats a helluva game in Foxboro not that long ago, however are coming in off a rare win and have generally played some of their best football against Tom Brady and the gang. For the Pats it's a chance to more or less cement the AFC East, and you know Bill Belichick would love sending Rex Ryan back to dealing with the tabloid press and back pages. There will be bluster and there could be post-game media jihads, and I expect a fair amount of jawing for four quarters as well.

What To Watch For: Wes Welker and Danny Woodhead -- the Pats' Little Big Men -- generally seem extra pumped for the Jets and can give that defense fits ... New England's pass defense capable of making Mark Sanchez look like Tom Brady ... Could be a big day for Pats TE Visanthe Shiancoe, who is now a key part having just comeback from the IR list. Rob Gronkowski is out for quite some time and Aaron Hernandez is expected to dress but be limited ... Do you get to "Two Mississippi" during the post-game handshake? ... If this is a blowout, any chance the Pats pull more starters than usual following Gronk's injury? ... Look for Pats coordinator Josh McDaniels to try to target Jets linebacker Bart Scott ... Jets special teams have been brutal, and the more they feature Tim Tebow the worse the outcome.


Baltimore Ravens  at  San Diego Chargers

Baltimore at San Diego
Sunday, Nov. 25, 4:05 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why To Watch: A year ago, the Chargers tore through the Ravens defense at will in San Diego, at a time when Baltimore still boasted an elite unit on that side of the ball. But now San Diego's offense looks pretty mundane itself; Philip Rivers is turning it over all over the place, Norv Turner is finally at the end of his tenure there and all hope seems lost. Baltimore aiming for a first-round bye and needs to pick up some AFC road wins to do so, and can't afford a letdown here with this game tucked between contests against archrival Pittsburgh.

What To Watch For: If Ed Reed's suspension is upheld, Rivers will feel a lot more free and easy about chucking things into center field and airing it out. Could change the entire game plan ... Chargers safety Eric Weddle is a Reed disciple and will try to goad Joe Flacco into putting the ball into certain spots ... Both offensive lines are somewhat beat up and could end up swapping out some personnel again ... Chargers end Jarrett Johnson was a career Raven and knows this unit inside out, while the Ravens defense will have unique insight into Chargers tackle Jared Gaither's vulnerabilities should he return. Gaither shut down Terrell Suggs a year ago and Suggs will remember ... Is Flacco capable of a big game on the road, and can his receivers manage to gain any separation when pressed on the road? ... Paul Kruger benefitting greatly from the return of Suggs and finally giving Baltimore a pass rush threat off the left side ... Ravens top pick LB Courtney Upshaw proving versatile in the run game, dropping to the defensive line and also shining in coverage ... Can Ryan Mathews last four quarters against a team that hits like this, especially with big-hitting S Bernard Pollard so involved in the run defense?

Washington Redskins  at  Dallas Cowboys

Washington at Dallas
Thursday, Nov. 22, 4:15 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why To Watch: This used to be one of the game's best rivalries but it seems it has been decades since both teams have been playoff-caliber in the same season, much less true Super Bowl threats. But this should be compelling, with the Skins in a spoiler role, the Cowboys flirting with disaster each week and Robert Griffin III, fresh off another spectacular performance, making his first ever appearance against the Cowboys. (Oh, and remember -- he is a Texas kid who played at Baylor, so this game will be even more special for him.) Tony Romo under the national spotlight is never boring.

What To Watch For: Washington's secondary is a joke and it's hard to think that guys like Jason Witten and Miles Austin won't get the better of this group. Also seems like the kind of game where Redskins' combustible corner DeAngelo Hall does something to undermine his team with his mouth or wayward behavior ... If the Cowboys get DeMarco Murray back, that would be huge. They need a physical presence in the run game of some sort ... London Fletcher's consecutive game streak is on the line, yet again, and even if he does play, look for Dallas to challenge in the interior of Washington's defense ... Any chance Dez Bryant does a cartwheel on to the sidelines this week, or tries to catch a pass behind his back? Few do bizarre better than he does.

Buffalo Bills  at  Indianapolis Colts

Buffalo at Indianapolis
Sunday, Nov. 25, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why To Watch: Buffalo won't make the playoffs, but they won't be an easy out with their offense rolling, and I suspect they finish strong without any real playoff pressure off now. Have a feeling all of a sudden Mario Williams starts making plays too, now. The Colts need another top home performance to offset their road woes and it will be telling to see their psyche after getting drubbed by the Pats. No time to feel sorry for themselves here, and they will probably find themselves in another boat race here. With Cincy making a push, the Colts cannot afford a slump, or even a mini-slump, in their playoff search.

What To Watch For: With Fred Jackson still iffy and coming off a concussion, would Chan Gailey actually feed C.J. Spiller 20-plus carries two weeks in a row? The fact the Bills had a long break coming off a Thursday night game should make him more willing to do so ... Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams could be a difference maker here against a so-so offensive line ... All three of Reggie Wayne's receiving touchdowns have come at home ... I like Bills TE Scott Chandler to give the Colts some problems in the red zone ... Mathis and Freeney with the frenzied crowd and the fast track and considering the Bills' injuries on the offensive line, should be primed to go.

Pittsburgh Steelers  at  Cleveland Browns

Pittsburgh at Cleveland
Sunday, Nov. 25, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why To Watch: Two weeks ago the Steelers were becoming a sexy Super Bowl pick again, and rightfully so, but now with Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich down, this game will be a challenge. Of course, don't be shocked if Big Ben comes back from the dead and maybe ends up active and available (just break glass in case of emergency defeat), but with Charlie Batch in line to start the Browns have to like their chances. And, Joe Haden could be back against a depleted Steelers receiving group, further swaying the balance in this rivalry.

What To Watch For: Can Batch move at all? I mean any mobility in the pocket whatsoever? If not, trouble awaits ... Steelers still hoping Rashard Mendenhall can put this Achilles injury behind him, but he was in and out last week, and they fear that could be the case again this week ... With Plaxico Burress' return to the Steelers, look for him particularly on third-and-short and in the red zone ... With Brandon Weeden struggling, Trent Richardson will be a workhorse, even though the Steelers stuff the run ... Expect Browns coach Pat Shurmur to be willing to risk it on fourth downs if the game is close. It's been his MO.

Minnesota Vikings  at  Chicago Bears

Minnesota at Chicago
Sunday, Nov. 25, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why To Watch: The Bears are reeling, they just got gouged by Colin Kaepernick, they aren't scoring 14 points a game on defense anymore and Jay Cutler is trying to work back from a concussion. And don't look now, but if they lose this one, they would be tied with the Vikings, and with a worse division record, while the Packers are soaring. As skeptical as I have been about the Bears for years, even I didn't think they would collapse far enough to miss the post-season entirely, but this is suddenly a must-win game with the Bucs and Seahawks making moves. And the Vikings come off the bye still feeling good about a massive win over Detroit and catch an opponent that just might be a little tight. And they meet again in Week 13.

What To Watch For: You want a piece of Adrian Peterson coming of a bye week as he continues to defy conventional medicine in his return from a shredded knee? Yeah, me neither. And if Percy Harvin can be active, even in a dummy role, it opens things up for everyone ... Will Bears really play a bunch of Cover-2 against an opponent with no vertical thrust, or do they creep up and squat on underneath stuff? ... Christian Ponder just needs to keep using his feet on third down, avoid sailing balls in between the hash marks and eliminate turnovers ... Jared Allen will switch sides and demand double teams all over the place. Chicago's offensive line slumping even by its woeful standards ... Expect a constant double team on Brandon Marshall, with no other Bear looking capable of doing anything when lined up wide.


Oakland Raiders  at  Cincinnati Bengals

Oakland at Cincinnati
Sunday, Nov. 25, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why To Watch: Oh, you don't think Bengals fans have forgotten all about Carson Palmer, and how he quit on the team and vowed to "retire" unless traded but somehow ended up with the Raiders and with a reworked contract. I mean, sure, Mike Brown fleeced his former assistant coach, Hue Jackson, in the trade, but you can't blame Cincy peeps for taking Palmer's stance personally, and they will be all over him Sunday. This is also a vital game for the Bengals to stay in the wild-card hunt, with some tougher foes looming, and Oakland has been in the holiday spirit all season with the way it gives up points.

What To Watch For: The Raiders are good for some epic secondary breakdowns and I cannot imagine A.J. Green doesn't find some fertile crevices between the corners and the safeties. Middle of the field breakdowns are an Oakland specialty ... Can the Raiders muster any pass rush? ... Likely another game without the Raiders' having the top running backs, and fullback Marcel Reece will get ample work again ... Andy Dalton has eight TDs on third down; only Tom Brady has more (9), and the Raiders' third-down defense in the bottom third of the league.

Denver Broncos  at  Kansas City Chiefs

Denver at Kansas City
Sunday, Nov. 25, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why To Watch: Peyton Manning is playing, and Peyton Manning is turning back the clock, and Peyton Manning is facing a horrible opponent and, well, Papa Bear just fired up the grill on this one. Soup's on! Cue up the blowout. Watch the legend build his MVP credentials, because otherwise there might not be much to see here.

What To Watch For: How soon do the Broncos try to deflate the football and squat on a lead and try to protect Manning? Tamba Hali is still a force and this team is one hit away from everything falling apart, as good as they have been ... hard to imagine the Chiefs have an answer for the Dumervil/Miller pass rushing combo, and this could be another game where injuries force another Kansas City quarterback change ... Should be plenty of empty seats, plenty of booing, plenty of brown paper bags over heads and plenty of creative signs at Arrowhead. May be more entertaining than the game.

Seattle Seahawks  at  Miami Dolphins

Seattle at Miami
Sunday, Nov. 25, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why To Watch: Seattle cannot afford a slip up and must get better on the road as the Seahawks push for an NFC playoff spot. Traveling this far won't be easy, but they do come in off a bye and Miami is reeling. Don't look now, but the Fins schedule is no joke and a total free fall could negate that 4-3 start and lead to heads rolling. Seahawks rookie QB Russell Wilson needs to try to stay hot; he has been excellent the last six weeks going into his bye, while Fins rookie QB Ryan Tannehill needs to come out of the bye looking like he did in October and not November.

What To Watch For: Reggie Bush a shell of what he was in September, but maybe off a bye Joe Philbin is more willing to ride out one of his few playmakers down the stretch ... Can the Fins find gadget plays and gimmicks to offset their lack of personnel and playmakers on that side of the ball? ... If you thought it was scary counting the empty seats at Arrowhead, you ain't seen nothing yet, compared to this. Upper deck will be orange. Hang a "Vacant" sign outside the parking lots ... Can Braylon Edwards give the Seahawks any vertical threat in the final weeks? ... Look for the Seattle defensive backs to beat up the slow, possession receivers of the Dolphins.


St. Louis Rams  at  Arizona Cardinals

St. Louis at Arizona
Sunday, Nov. 25, 4:25 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why To Watch: Patrick Peterson is playing and the conditions will be perfect, and I am pretty sure he will do something profound on special teams. Otherwise, we're looking at a Cardinals team that has lost six straight games and a Rams team that has yet to win on the road and can't score much, either. I guess if you are in a pool as to which week Larry Fitzgerald is actually thrown three passes he could actually catch this might do something for you.

What To Watch For: How big of a lead would it take for Cards coach Ken Whisenhunt to yank his starter in this one? And would it make a difference given the lack of talent at that position available right now? ... Steven Jackson seems to be running for his next contract, getting better by the week ... All of the abuse Sam Bradford has absorbed seems to be adding up and taking hold. Rams have to find a way to get him more time and in position for a strong finish.

Tennessee Titans  at  Jacksonville Jaguars

Tennessee at Jacksonville
Sunday, Nov. 25, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why To Watch: Despite what we think of these teams -- and make no mistake they have both been brutal for much of the season on both sides of the ball -- it's worth noting they have combined for nearly 100 total points in their first last outing. If you are the rare Blaine Gabbert guy, or gal, then you're probably hoping Chad Henne doesn't have the kind of outing he did last week, although the Titans defense has been unable to stop anyone. This should be the first time since the preseason that Jake Locker is 100 percent healthy.

What To Watch For: Chris Johnson has a chance to end up with some pretty decent stats by the end of the season, and with the Titans facing a $10-million decision on his contract, I suspect he finishes strong ... Titans coordinators Jerry Gray and Chris Palmer could both be out at the end of the season, and with their future in the balance, do they gamble a little bit more now? ... Jags rookie WR Justin Blackmon finally has his confidence and production soaring after an agonizing first half of his rookie season and he will find some space against this secondary.

Carolina Panthers  at  Philadelphia Eagles

Carolina at Philadelphia
Monday, Nov. 26, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Why To Watch: Good thing it's Monday night and the baseball season is over and hockey is in a lockout and the NBA doesn't matter till the playoffs and the MLS Cup is still a few weeks away and ... Yeah, you can't pick 'em all in the summer and neither of these teams is ready for prime time this late in the season -- and haven't been really all season. But, if you are an Eagles fan, savor the last days of Andy Reid, because many of you won't realize what you have till it's gone, while Ron Rivera is likely coaching out his final games in Carolina as well.

What To Watch For: Cam Newton needs to finish strong to avoid an inquiry from fans and the media and most importantly, his owner, Jerry Richardson. He gets to face a poor defense here. Any chance at all Nnamdi Asomugha can hang with Steve Smith? Yeah, probably not. Prepare for double-move madness ... LeSean McCoy and Mike Vick could both be out with concussions, in which case I have a feeling Charles Johnson ends up all over Eagles rookie QB Nick Foles.

Before joining CBS Sports, Jason La Canfora was the Washington Redskins beat writer for The Washington Post for six years and served as NFL Network's insider. The Baltimore native can be seen every Sunday during the season on The NFL Today.

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