There's a lot on the line this week in the NFL to say the least. Five teams don't need any help but just win and they secure a playoff spot right now. Eight backup quarterbacks have to go as starters, a constant reminder of how fragile the position is right now. Here are the story lines that define the weekend for me.
1. Romo and Stafford
Both Tony Romo and Matthew Stafford have been under heavy scrutiny this week after tough losses last week. The playoffs are slipping away for the Cowboys and Lions and Romo and Stafford can't afford another awful finish this week. Take a look at Romo in the fourth quarter. In the past three years he has thrown 16 touchdowns and no interceptions in the first 10 minutes of the fourth quarters. The tide turns on Romo in the final five minutes of the quarter, especially if the game is within one touchdown either way -- two touchdowns and eight interceptions when the game is on the line. Stafford hasn't even been that good in the past five games this season. Detroit had the NFC North for the taking with Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler out. Stafford has a 29.5 QB rating since Nov. 10 with 32 percent completions and four interceptions. Stafford has lost seven games in a row in the month of December.
I keep hearing the Saints can't win on the road and the Panthers will win. Keep in mind Drew Brees is coming off a loss to the Rams and hasn't lost two games in a row all season. In fact, in the Saints' three games following a loss, Brees has thrown for 13 touchdowns and zero interceptions while leading his team to an average of 38 points per game after a loss.
3. Another shutout in the Cards?
No pun intended but the Cardinals visit the Seahawks this week fresh off Seattle's shutout of the New York Giants. The Seahawks beat Arizona 58-0 at home last season and have many reasons to play a great game this weekend. If Seattle wins they win the division and have home field through the playoffs. Seattle has won 14 straight at home dating back to September 2012. Arizona is still in the hunt for a playoff spot and as Pete Carroll told me this week, "Arizona is 6-1 since the last time we played them and we will have our hands full." Seattle has given up 12 points a game at home since 2012 and sacked Carson Palmer seven times in the first meeting this year.
4. Dolphins fans starting to think division title
Miami has every right to start getting excited. The Dolphins need to deal with the Bills and not worry about the Patriots in Baltimore. Keep in mind that the Bills beat the Dolphins earlier in the season. Don't get too excited about EJ Manuel being down with an injury. Thad Lewis was the QB the last time Miami played Buffalo and the Bills won 23-21. Buffalo is 4-4 against the Dolphins the past eight matchups. Buffalo's pass defense is No. 6 in the NFL and they have 28 sacks in seven home games. It's there for the taking if the Dolphins can go in to Buffalo and take this game. But a week later New England plays Buffalo at home and Tom Brady is 11-0 at home against the Bills.
5. My favorite spoilers this weekend
Last week the Rams (Saints), Vikings (Eagles) and Steelers (Bengals) spoiled a few teams' playoff hopes. This week we should see more of the same. The Vikings may be winless on the road but they are different with Matt Cassel under center as they head into Cincinnati. The Redskins play host to the Cowboys and Kirk Cousins and Washington's third-ranked rushing attack could be a problem for the playoff hopefuls.
6. Jay Cutler and his Bears
Cutler leads the NFC North-leading Bears into Philadelphia against a pass defense that is giving up 292 yards passing a game and just yielded 382 to Matt Cassel. Cutler may need a big day just to keep up with Nick Foles and the Eagles' offense. Last week Foles threw for 428 yards and three touchdowns. Watch out for the Philly running game because the Bears' run defense on the road is giving up 178 yards a game. Cutler could wind up dueling with LeSean McCoy with the playoffs on the line for both teams.