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Week 14 Game Rankings: Texans-Pats one of few bright spots


After a dismal Week 13 showing, Drew Brees travels to face the Giants. (US Presswire)  
After a dismal Week 13 showing, Drew Brees travels to face the Giants. (US Presswire)  

As we have documented in this space before, there isn't all that much playoff drama going down right now. The teams that clinched last week came as no surprise and they had things pretty much locked down already. And this week there isn't too much more to sort through.

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And there are a dearth of games this week that feature two teams with an awful lot at stake, to that end. I found myself putting a bunch of these games right in the middle of the pack, but struggling to identify too many real standouts.

The Texans and Pats highlight the week, and we have to wait until Monday for that one. The Texans are going to clinch the South, and could do so this weekend if they win and the Colts, Ravens and Broncos all lose.

If the Ravens win and the Steelers or Bengals lose, they are in. The Falcons could clinch the first seed with some help and the 49ers could clinch a playoff spot with a lot of help, but otherwise not much will be finalized this weekend, though we know in reality save for one wild-card spot in each conference, things are more or less settled.


Houston Texans  at  New England Patriots

Houston at New England
Monday, Dec. 10, 8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Why To Watch: A battle for the potential top seed in the AFC and another big test for the Texans as they try to show that they truly are Super Bowl ready, and a stern test for New England's leaky defense. It looks, on paper, like the marquee game of the week, with these teams combining for 20 wins already and both reaching the playoffs last season and home field likely imperative for both of these teams come the postseason.

What To Watch For: Andre Johnson is playing out of his mind right now and could feast on any corner the Pats throw his way ... Waiting for the turnover ratio to balance out some for the Pats. They have an NFL-best plus-24 rating ... The Patriots' offensive line very beat up and J.J. Watt will be hard to stop ... Texans have yet to lose on the road this season ... Arian Foster has been a workhorse again, for sure, but he's averaging less than four yards per carry and lacking as many explosive runs as in the past ... Owen Daniels is having his best year in terms of getting in the end zone, with everyone talking about seemingly every other tight end in the game ... Matt Schaub is 15-1 in his last 16 starts, with 26 touchdowns and 10 interceptions.

Baltimore Ravens  at  Washington Redskins

Baltimore at Washington
Sunday, Dec. 9, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why To Watch: Two local rivals (both play in Maryland with stadiums about 40 minutes apart) meet with both harboring strong playoff hopes. Both defenses should be tested here, and the Ravens need quarterback Joe Flacco and their offensive line to bounce back from a poor showing against the Steelers to rally here. Another loss and Baltimore's grip on the postseason will be in jeopardy as it faces perhaps the NFL's toughest December schedule. The Redskins seem to be playing with house money since coach Mike Shanahan essentially declared them to be playing for 2013 once they slipped to 3-6. Now they're back to .500 and Robert Griffin III is proving to be a natural born winner.

What To Watch For: Ravens pass rush was already an issue and now Terrell Suggs is hurt again. Could be a major problem from here on out and a lot of pressure on Paul Kruger to win one-on-one battles ... Alfred Morris' one-cut style has proven to be problematic for the Ravens with other backs this season ... Ravens made an emphasis to get the ball in Ray Rice's hands in road games since their bye. Would expect that to continue here, especially in the screen game against not the fleetest linebacker group ... Redskins, also poor in the secondary, continue to suffer injuries and suspensions there ... Santana Moss may be able to find some free space coming out of the slot.


Chicago Bears  at  Minnesota Vikings

Chicago at Minnesota
Sunday, Dec. 9, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why To Watch: Two weeks ago the Bears rolled all over the Vikings and took a major step towards solidifying a playoff spot. Should they complete the sweep, it will further propel them, and also essentially knock the Vikings out of any contention. Adrian Peterson looks single-handedly possible of derailing that, however, and that Bears attempt at an offensive line will have trouble in this dome on the road. Pretty good divisional match-up all the way around, possibly a last stand for Minnesota and also a chance the Vikings are catching the wounded Bears at the right time after their tough overtime loss at home to Seattle last week.

What To Watch For: Bears are hardly the fastest defense in the league -- they love that high grass in Chicago and not the fast Minnesota turf. And it seemed only a matter of time before injuries took hold with that defense, also long in the tooth, with Brian Urlacher now on the shelf. How do they respond without their leader? ... Christian Ponder is de-volving by the week, turning into a turnover machine, but getting back home should help settle him down ... Matt Forte is not looking nearly as explosive as in years past and the Bears offense remains horribly one-dimensional going through receiver Brandon Marshall ... Peterson is averaging 158 yards per game in his last six games, with six touchdowns in that span, including a bunch of long, highlight reel scoring runs.

Dallas Cowboys  at  Cincinnati Bengals

Dallas at Cincinnati
Sunday, Dec. 9, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why To Watch: Two teams that seemed playoff afterthoughts at various points this season meet with both very much in the thick of the wild-card race. The Bengals have been the best scoring defense in the NFL since the start of November and are aiming for their fifth straight win as they try to chase down the Steelers and Colts for a playoff spot (with an outside shot at catching the Ravens in the AFC North). Can Jason Garrett take advantage of the faltering Giants and keep Dallas afloat, staving off a coaching change? Dallas hasn't been great in December and January over the years, Tony Romo included.

What To Watch For: The Bengals know Dallas defensive coordinator Rob Ryan well from his time in Cleveland and Marvin Lewis worked with Rex Ryan in Baltimore, so I'm not sure Cincy is going to be fooled by a whole lot of pre-snap stuff today ... Both running games are peaking -- BenJarvus Green-Ellis been very productive the past three weeks or so and DeMarco Murray gave Dallas an immediate boost with his return from injury last week ... Hard to believe Jason Witten, Tony Romo's favorite target, has just one touchdown this season. Maybe that changes down the stretch ... Dez Bryant is clearly the most dynamic cog in the Dallas offense this season and his matchup with Leon Hall should be a good one ... I would imagine Lewis and Mike Zimmer scheme it up to attack struggling tackle Doug Free.

Detroit Lions  at  Green Bay Packers

Detroit at Green Bay
Sunday, Dec. 9, 8:20 p.m. ET (NBC)

Why To Watch: The Lions have fallen short of expectations and out of the playoff scene, but damn, win, lose, kick in the groin or illegal challenge flag thrown, they are never boring. Their games generally go down to the wire, feature a wild comeback and a series of blown leads and all kinds of heroics. Who doesn't love that? They have a chance to play spoiler here against a divisional rival, and Green Bay needs to keep pace with Chicago, Seattle, Minnesota and others in the playoff hunt, knowing that at least two of those other clubs are likely to win this weekend. Packers have won 21 of the last 24 games in this series, and no one in the league has had as many heartbreaking defeats as the Lions, with last week and Thanksgiving just two more examples.

What To Watch For: A close game: Packers have won each of the last two games in this series by four points and the Lions generally lose inside the final two minutes of games ... Can the Packers get a few more guys back and healthy this week? They need to get close to their true team back on the field in the next few weeks ... Lions need to get the red zone offense figured out at some point... Mason Crosby has to be giving the Packers pause in the kicking game with the playoffs looming ... I would expect Mikel Leshoure to get a heavy load here. He's scored six touchdowns in his last five games ... Is Greg Jennings getting better each week after missing so much time this season? ... Aaron Rodgers has owned the Lions in his career.


Miami Dolphins  at  San Francisco 49ers

Miami at San Francisco
Sunday, Dec. 9, 4:05 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why To Watch: 49ers first-time starter Colin Kaepernick faced his first adversity in an overtime loss to the Rams and this will be his second start at home, where some are still wondering why Alex Smith lost his job in the first place. So there will be a bit of pressure on him and we'll see how he responds. A slip up or two and things could get very interesting in the NFC West and the Dolphins have stabilized some after hitting a midseason swoon. With Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland back under scrutiny, he may need a quality finish to the season to stave off changes in Miami.

What To Watch For: Looks like a very tough gig for Dolphins rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill, on the road against this defense. Tannehill has just seven touchdown passes and 12 picks ... With a lack of deep threats, the 49ers will squat on routes and probably beat up these receivers at the line of scrimmage ... Reggie Bush seemed healthier and refreshed in recent weeks, but faces a tall task against this front seven.

New Orleans Saints  at  New York Giants

New Orleans at N.Y. Giants
Sunday, Dec. 9, 4:25 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why To Watch: This is the time of year when the Giants usually surge, but they are now under fire after allowing the Redskins and Cowboys to hang around in the NFC East race. They meet a defensive coordinator here in Steve Spagnuolo whose unit has been brutal, but who knows the Giants and quarterback Eli Manning well from his time running New York's defense and he may have a trick or two up his sleeve. It's still Drew Brees vs. Eli Manning, which is always worth watching, even if Brees comes in off his roughest stretch of the season and with the Saints extinguishing what playoff hopes they had left.

What To Watch For: Looks like a massive challenge for New Orleans to muster the pass rush and coverage necessary to slow down the Giants, but then I would have said the same thing about the Redskins team that held New York to 16 points Monday night ... Saints posted 49 in a blowout of the Giants last season before New York found its Super Bowl form, which could serve as a little extra motivation here ... Saints still undermined by turnovers, while New York boasts a plus-14 ratio ... Cam Jordan is finally getting going in his second season. He actually has more sacks than Jason Pierre-Paul this season (or any Giant for that matter) … Manning continues to show trust in TE Martellus Bennett ... Ahmad Bradshaw will find holes to run through on this afternoon ... After their horrid start, torrid run, and cool stretch now, can the Saints turn it on again in this "bounty" and suspension marred season, or do they go meekly?

San Diego Chargers  at  Pittsburgh Steelers

San Diego at Pittsburgh
Sunday, Dec. 9, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why To Watch: Big Ben watch is in full effect, and after surprising many by not playing against Baltimore, he's expected to be active today after missing most of November. It should be the start of another patented Pittsburgh playoff push, with Jonathan Dwyer keying the run game now and Antonio Brown back to spark the passing attack. The Chargers are just finding ways to lose week after week, though they are 18-4 in December under Norv Turner. With their season lost now, however, the Chargers are just playing out the string and waiting to see if anyone survives the offseason purge.

What To Watch For: Philip Rivers is an absolute disaster in the fourth quarter and overtime this season. If it's close, late, bank on a few turnovers from him, especially with this defense back to playing like the NFL's best ... Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham has been nothing but clutch this season and has managed to thrive in the tough conditions there in Pittsburgh, while leg strength has held Chargers kicker Nick Novak back at times, but he's managed to win the job ... I'm still waiting to see what all the Ryan Mathews hype is about and why the Chargers gave up so much to move up and draft him ... Steelers coordinator Todd Haley keeps finding ways to get the ball in TE Heath Miller's hands in all parts of the field ... Jason Worilds could be a year away from replacing James Harrison. He leads the Steelers with five sacks.

New York Jets  at  Jacksonville Jaguars

N.Y. Jets at Jacksonville
Sunday, Dec. 9, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why To Watch: On paper, this looks like one of the ugliest games of the week, a slider for sure. But it is dripping with more Jets drama, and who can resist that? Mark Sanchez vs. Greg McElroy for the starting quarterback job, with most coaches wanting McElroy but GM Mike Tannenbaum in deep with Sanchez. Coming off a week in which they mustered seven points at home, courtesy of McElroy, we could be in line for some QB roulette of the highest order, while Blaine Gabbert seems to have lost his job for good to Chad Henne for this season, in the league's other most under-whelming quarterback controversy.

What To Watch For: More Mark Sanchez, staring deeply into his clipboard, taking diligent notes, at some point on this Florida afternoon? ... Maurice Jones-Drew hasn't played since October and still he is the Jags leading rusher ... Can Jason Babin make an impact for the Jags after being claimed off waivers last week? … Jeremy Kerley is on track to lead the Jets in receptions this season. Kind of tells you all you need to know about that offense, doesn't it? ... Tim Tebow on the sidelines, likely inactive, back in his hometown playing against the only other team in the league that wanted him this offseason. Expect to see about a million camera shots of that.

Kansas City Chiefs  at  Cleveland Browns

Kansas City at Cleveland
Sunday, Dec. 9, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why To Watch: What the Chiefs are doing emotionally, trying to rally in the aftermath of a murder/suicide and all of their conflicting feelings about former teammate Jovan Belcher, is striking. As coach Romeo Crennel pointed out, their grieving has only just begun and the prospect of funerals and time for reflection will lead to some dark times for players and staff alike, I'm sure. But playing the games seems like an escape of some sort. The Browns continue to fight hard for their coach as well. Pat Shurmur, like Crennel, could well be on his way out, and Cleveland actually brings a winning streak into this game.

What To Watch For: Brady Quinn's career has not gone nearly the way he would have wanted or expected, but he has been a study in class and grace during these tumultuous times and is fortifying his backup quarterback chops in the process. And he returns to Cleveland, where he was drafted to be a possible savior but ended up losing his job to Derek Anderson ... Can Brandon Weeden show enough in the final quarter of the season to preclude more quarterbacks being brought to Cleveland this offseason? ... Rookie Trent Richardson has probably been a more effective receiver than runner for much of the season, and leads the Browns in receptions ... Josh Gordon is getting better by the week for the Browns and showing an ability to get behind safeties ... Remember Payton Hillis? Well he returns to Cleveland where he went from Madden cover boy to locker room and on-field washout in record time.

St. Louis Rams  at  Buffalo Bills

St. Louis at Buffalo
Sunday, Dec. 9, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why To Watch: The Rams are better than you think and better than they've been given credit for and they still have a puncher's chance in the NFC given their undefeated divisional mark and their 5-3-1 conference record. They're feeling confident after a sweep or sorts against the 49ers (considering the tie and all), and if they can find a way to stuff the run here they'll be at .500 with three games to play, after winning 15 total games the previous five years. And the Bills may need to show a little something down the stretch to ensure their front office and coaching staff avoids another major shakeup.

What To Watch For: Janoris Jenkins may force his way into the rookie of the year conversation (yeah, it's going to be a quarterback, but he's making it interesting) and the corner already has three scores. Ryan Fitzpatrick is no stranger to tossing picks ... CJ Spiller needs 93 rushing yards to go over 1000 on the season, but has just 137 carries (averaging 6.6 yards per carry) ... Will Fred Jackson continue to get more looks around the goal line? ... Chris Long and Robert Quinn are forming one of the best young pass rushing tandems in the league ... Leodis McKelvin continuing to dazzle in the return game for the Bills ... Does anyone in the league have a quieter 9.5 sacks than Mario Williams?

Philadelphia Eagles  at  Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Philadelphia at Tampa Bay
Sunday, Dec. 9, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why To Watch: Tampa has gone into a swoon after looking ready to grab a playoff spot and now finds itself in must-win territory against an opponent that has lost eight straight games. Besides that, the other good news for the Bucs is that the Eagles can't stop anyone on defense and Tampa remains one of the most potent teams in the league. Eagles fans get a sneak peak at 2013 with rookie quarterback Nick Foles and playing youth is the mantra there, while Bucs fans find out if they'll continue to get to play surprisingly meaningful games into the holiday season.

What To Watch For: Would the Eagles dare to have the hubris to put Nnamdi Asomugha on Vincent Jackson? Because if they did I'm sure the Bucs wouldn't find a way to get the big wide receiver away from the match-up ... Eagles rookie RB Bryce Browns has 347 rushing yards and four touchdowns in the past two games and will get the call again with LeSean McCoy still not back from a concussion, but he continues to struggle with fumbling the football ... Bucs rookie RB Doug Martin is second in the NFL with 1,480 scrimmage yards ... Eagles rookie DT Fletcher Cox has shown flashes. He needs to stay healthy.


Tennessee Titans  at  Indianapolis Colts

Tennessee at Indianapolis
Sunday, Dec. 9, 1 p.m. ET (CBS)

Why To Watch: There is a theme this week of quality teams taking on utterly aimless divisional rivals, and this is yet one example (read below for more). In this case we get Andrew Luck, having a magical rookie campaign and transforming his franchise, juxtaposed with Jake Locker, who is looking like a poster boy for reaching for a quarterback in the first round (along with Blaine Gabbert). Luck had one of his signature moments in the overtime win over the Titans the first time around.

What To Watch For: The Chris Johnson bashing got out of hand and, yes, he had a slow start, but especially with the coordinator change watch him finish with a bang. He's averaging just under five yards per carry, which is pretty heady stuff these days ... Hard to imagine the Colts can keep winning despite their minus-16 turnover ratio. Does that start to catch up to them? ... Reggie Wayne seems poised for another big game, and he and Luck have been particularly dangerous at home.

Arizona Cardinals  at  Seattle Seahawks

Arizona at Seattle
Sunday, Dec. 9, 4:25 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why To Watch: For as much as I love Russell Wilson, and I may enjoy watching him play even more than fellow rookie quarterbacks RG3 and Andrew Luck right now, but man, is Ryan Lindley tough to stomach. This cat couldn't complete a third of his passes last week, but still Ken Whisenhunt stuck with him. Makes you wonder what exactly John Skelton could have said or done to be kicked so deep into the doghouse. Lindley actually negates the good of watching Wilson and drops this game down among the dregs of the week, with the Cards threatening to go from 4-0 to 4-12. Seattle, meantime, is perfect at home and cannot afford a divisional loss here if it wants to secure a playoff spot.

What To Watch For: How many times does this Seattle defense turn the Cards over? Lindley against that pass rush and the 12th man going nuts in the stands sounds like lunch ... Assuming the Cards don't take big discipline against Darnell Dockett after his run in with Kerry Rhodes last week, watching Dockett crash and bang with Marshawn Lynch could be epic ... I like Bruce Irvin to have a big day here against the mirage that is Arizona's offensive line ... Golden Tate has five touchdowns in his past four games ... Sidney Rice has been brittle in the past and he was knocked around big time at Chicago last week. Can he finish strong and remain a deep threat for the Seahawks?

Atlanta Falcons  at  Carolina Panthers

Atlanta at Carolina
Sunday, Dec. 9, 1 p.m. ET (FOX)

Why To Watch: Could these be the final days for Cam Newton under Rob Chudzinski's offensive caretaking? Is there anything Newton can do to prevent sweeping changes across the board in Carolina? Can the Falcons go 15-1? Will this game be over by halftime? Atlanta has won five in a row and eight of 10 against the Panthers, so if you like your football predetermined, this might be your game.

What To Watch For: Can Michael Turner get it going late? ... Believe it or not, Matt Ryan has tossed three more interceptions than Newton (I realize Ryan has attempted a bunch more passes, but still) ... Newton is also the Panthers' leading rusher, despite all that money tied up at running back, and figures to try a few forays through this defense ... Not sure the Panthers have an answer for Tony Gonzalez ... Roddy White went for 169 yards receiving in the last meeting of these teams ... John Abraham has 14½ sacks in his past 15 games.

Denver Broncos  at  Oakland Raiders

Denver at Oakland
Thursday, Dec. 6, 8:20 p.m. ET (NFL Network)

Why To Watch: To count the number of Raider fans who came dressed as empty seats or opt not to watch this contest on a Thursday night. There will be a few more records that Peyton Manning sets, undoubtedly, against a defense that has been downright miserable the past six weeks or so. In reality, this could be the best team in football against the worst team in football, but it's a short week and the Broncos have to travel so who knows, maybe this manages to be somewhat compelling.

What To Watch For: Manning should find massive, gaping holes in coverage downfield right in the middle of the field. Few teams get their safeties split like the Raiders ... Can Darren McFadden muster anything in the final month here to salvage his season and show signs of life in this run scheme? ... Von Miller will continue assaulting the sack leaderboard, with Carson Palmer not much in terms of mobility these days ... Still waiting on the Raiders to do the right thing and give Terrelle Pryor some snaps at quarterback ... Tim Tebow went over 100 yards rushing last time Denver faced the Raiders. Oh, that's right, he doesn't play for the Broncos anymore. Where did he wind up, anyway?

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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