Identifying the best, most important games of NFL Week 12

The Saints will put an eight-game win streak on the line against the Rams this week. Chuck Cook/USA TODAY Sports

What are the five must-watch NFL games this week? ESPN's matchup quality metric, which utilizes ESPN's Football Power Index to rank games on a 0-100 scale based on the quality of teams and projected closeness of the final score, tells us the top games of Week 12.

1. New Orleans Saints at Los Angeles Rams (Sunday 4:25 p.m., CBS)

Matchup quality: 84 out of 100
FPI win projection: Rams, 51 percent
FPI playoff leverage: Rams, 25 percent; Saints, 5 percent

Lost in the praise of the Saints' defensive resurgence is the fact that we are witnessing a vintage Saints offensive performance as well. New Orleans ranks second in the league in the offensive expected points added per game, also ranking 12th among all team seasons since 2006 in the category. That puts them right behind the 2009 Super Bowl-winning Saints team, which ranks 11th.

Among teams this season, New Orleans ranks second in both rushing and passing offensive EPA/game. Adding the rushing component to a Drew Brees-led offense has certainly helped, but the vast majority of the Saints' advantage has come via their aerial attack. The difference between their EPA/game on the ground and the 16th-best team in the category is 2.91 points per game, while that same difference in ranking through the air amounts to 7.55 points.

2. Minnesota Vikings at Detroit Lions (Thursday, 12:30 p.m., Fox)

Matchup quality: 74 out of 100
FPI win projection: Vikings, 53 percent
FPI playoff leverage: Lions, 36 percent; Vikings, 7 percent

In the midst of Case Keenum's breakout, the journeyman quarterback has done a very good job of avoiding sacks. Since Week 2 when he took over the starting job, no team has allowed fewer sacks per attempt than the Vikings. And Keenum deserves a good amount of credit for that, because it isn't like he hasn't been under duress. The Vikings have allowed pressure at the 12th-highest rate in that span. That's not a huge knock on the offensive line, because the Vikings have actually been blitzed the second most in that span. But it does make Keenum's ability to avoid sacks all the more noteworthy.

And lately, Keenum's been even better. Since Week 6, the Vikings have allowed sacks on just 0.6 percent of dropbacks -- again, best in the league. That's part of the reason Keenum ranks second in Total QBR this season.

3. Los Angeles Chargers at Dallas Cowboys (Thursday, 4:30 p.m. ET, CBS)

Matchup quality: 70 out of 100
FPI win projection: Cowboys, 56 percent
FPI playoff leverage: Chargers, 21 percent; Cowboys, 7 percent

Don't sleep on the Chargers as a potential playoff team. The bottom of the group of playoff-caliber AFC teams is relatively weak, so Los Angeles still has a 23 percent shot despite being 4-6.

Why is L.A. still in business? Because FPI thinks the Chargers are actually quite a good football team. The eighth-best football team going forward, in fact. The model believes Anthony Lynn's squad is more than two points better than average on both offense and defense.

And Los Angeles also has what would appear to be some easy games coming up against the Browns, Jets and Raiders. The Chargers' chance to reach the postseason would improve to 35 percent with a win on Thanksgiving.

4. Green Bay Packers at Pittsburgh Steelers (Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET, NBC)

Matchup quality: 53 out of 100
FPI win projection: Steelers, 82 percent
FPI playoff leverage: Steelers, 7 percent; Packers, less than 1 percent

The Steelers enter Sunday night's game riding a five-game winning streak in which they haven't allowed more than 17 points in a game. Green Bay, on the other hand, has lost four of its past five, scoring 17 points or fewer in four of those games. Coming off a shutout at the hands of Baltimore, which ranks second in raw QBR allowed this year, Brett Hundley is in for another tough test -- Pittsburgh is allowing the third-lowest raw opponent QBR. The Steelers' pass rush is a big reason why, racking up 34 sacks, second behind only Jacksonville. This could pose an issue for Green Bay, as Hundley has taken an average of 3.25 sacks per game since taking over for the injured Aaron Rodgers.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons (Sunday, 1 p.m. ET, Fox)

Matchup quality: 51 out of 100
FPI win projection: Falcons, 77 percent
FPI playoff leverage: Falcons, 29 percent; Buccaneers, 3 percent

With Jameis Winston again set to be on the sideline with a shoulder injury, Ryan Fitzpatrick will once again get the call at quarterback for the Buccaneers. So far the Buccaneers have won both of his starts, albeit against the Jets (who rank 29th in FPI) and Dolphins (26th). The Falcons (ninth) will be a much tougher test.

Atlanta is coming off what could be a season-saving win in Seattle. The defending NFC champions' chances to make the playoffs before Week 11 were 23 percent, but holding off the Seahawks' late rally boosted them to 45 percent. Taking care of business against Tampa Bay is the expectation, meaning a win only marginally would improve the Falcons' chances of returning to the playoffs to 52 percent. An unexpected loss, however, basically wipes out the gains made by the Seattle win and would return them to 23 percent.

High-leverage game of the week: Houston Texans at Baltimore Ravens (Monday 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

Matchup quality: 48 out of 100
FPI win projection: Ravens, 70 percent
FPI playoff leverage: Ravens, 34 percent; Texans, 21 percent

There are eight AFC teams with 5-5 or 4-6 records and fighting for a playoff berth -- two will be featured here. The Texans' chances could swing from a hopeful 25 percent with a win to a much more problematic 4 percent with a loss. Part of the reason the loss would be so damning is FPI incorporates the fact that Baltimore would own the tiebreaker over Houston.

The Ravens have a little more wiggle room, thanks in part to a remaining schedule that FPI ranks as the third easiest of any team. Including Sunday's matchup, Baltimore is a 70 percent or better favorite in four of its final six contests and is only an underdog on the road at Pittsburgh in Week 14. A win on Sunday would prop the Ravens up to an 83 percent chance to make the playoffs. A loss would leave them at just under 50 percent.

For more from ESPN Analytics, visit the ESPN Analytics Index.