Seven for Sunday: Wild-card races heat up with one month left

The Ravens' title defense isn't going well; a win Sunday gives their playoff hopes a boost. (USATSI)
The Ravens' title defense isn't going well; a win Sunday gives their playoff hopes a boost. (USATSI)

Week 12 ends the third quarter of the season and that means it's time for teams to position themselves for the playoff run. There are some surprising stats right now as well as three rematch games and two teams undefeated at home. If we have another finish like we did last week in the Patriots-Panthers game the fans may lose their faith in the league to get it right or at least explain the call before running off the field.

The wild-card race

In five of the eight divisions the leader has at least a two-game lead. At this point it looks like they have a comfortable advantage in the race to the playoffs. Intriguing to me this weekend are the games that could have a big impact on the wild-card race. If two clubs are tied for the wild-card spot, the first tiebreaker is head-to-head games and then conference record. There are nine other tiebreaker rules, but the first two usually take care of business.

Four games could have a devastating effect on the loser. The Jets sit in the No. 6 spot and play the Ravens, who are in the 11th spot. If the Jets do fall, the Ravens and Jets will be 5-6, but Baltimore will have the head-to-head and a 5-4 conference record while the Jets' conference record would drop to 2-6. The winner of the Steelers-Browns game would also go to 5-6 and maintain a 4-4 conference record.

Think the Titans and Raiders are out of the mix? The winner of that game goes to 5-6 with a 4-4 conference record. The Jets have already lost to the Titans and Steelers and could slide way down the list if things go the wrong way on the road in Baltimore. In the NFC, the Cowboys already have a win over the Giants, who they play this week, and a 5-2 conference record. A Dallas win combined with a previous win over the Eagles gives the Cowboys a great shot at the division title and a 6-2 conference mark. The Giants are in a must-win situation already with a loss to the Panthers, and their conference record would fall to 3-5.

Did you know?

Buffalo leads the NFL with 37 sacks and is tied for the lead in interceptions with 16. The Giants are last in sacks with 14 and Green Bay, Houston and Jacksonville are tied for last in interceptions with four each, which means the Bills of all teams have more than the three teams put together. The Broncos lead the NFL in passes defended with 85, which is 12 more than the next-best team and 25 more than the Jets and Raiders combined. Last week there were six games that had a combined point total over 50 points each and not one of those games went off with a 50 over/under. Pay attention to bigger point totals than some would think this time of year.

Long history in this one

Peyton Manning vs. Bill Belichick has been a battle for well over a decade and it always feels like there is a lot at stake when these two meet. They have squared off 20 times, including the postseason, and Belichick holds a 13-7 lead. At home Belichick and his Patriots defense are 9-2 against No. 18.

Manning has put up solid numbers in the past (41 touchdown passes) but Belichick wins because he really doesn't do a lot on defense vs. Manning. It is a lot of cover 2 zone and a rope-a-dope philosophy. The Patriots only sack Manning once every 26 pass plays and are much more interested in coverage. Manning has thrown 11 touchdowns in the past three meetings with the Patriots and averaged 353 yards passing. The Patriots offense may not be able to keep up with that kind of production, but if Wes Welker and Julius Thomas can't go then Manning will not be able to deliver the big day. New England is more after interceptions and forced fumbles against Manning than anything else. In games where Manning has thrown 2 or more interceptions the Patriots are 7-1. In games where Manning fumbles the Pats are 7-1.

Bad streaks on the line

The Texans are on an eight-game losing streak, the Buccaneers and Vikings are winless on the road and the Packers are on a three-game losing skid.

Seven backup quarterbacks start

Josh McCown is looking like the Tom Brady of the backup quarterbacks as he has gone 2-0 as the starter this season and leads the Bears once again this weekend. Two games have backup vs. backup as Ryan Fitzpatrick of the Titans faces off with Matt McGloin of the Raiders. McCown goes head-to-head with Kellen Clemens of the Rams. Also on the field this weekend will be Jason Campbell for the Browns, Scott Tolzien for the Packers and Case Keenum for the Texans. At least we are guaranteed two backups get a win, but for the season these guys are 4-13, which doesn't say much for the understudy quarterbacks in the NFL today.

Young quarterback duel this weekend

Colin Kaepernick and Robert Griffin III clash this weekend and both quarterbacks look like they took a step back in 2013. Give the defenses some credit but also understand the guy who loses this game will have a lot of pressure dumped on his shoulders. Kaepernick is ranked 31st in completion percentage and has thrown for 165 yards or less in three straight games. RG3 has blamed his teammates and coaches for the problems he has faced, but now he has to play the 10th-ranked pass defense in the NFL with no one to point his finger at except himself if he fails.

How about those undrafted guys?

Say whatever you want, the draft is an inexact science at best and probably more of a guessing game. Got to love the undrafted young players making more than noise in the NFL right now. Matt McGloin could hardly get a tryout after the draft last year but he's starting for the Raiders because he looked so good last week. Bobby Rainey was the third-string running back in Tampa Bay and was never going to see the field until the other two running backs got hurt. He had 167 yards and three touchdowns last week. The fast-rising Panthers have two undrafted rookies roaming their secondary -- Chris White on the corner and Robert Lester, who had the pick to end the game against the Patriots last week. Joe Vellano lines up as the starting DT for the Patriots and there are at least five other undrafted rookies starting this weekend.

 
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