Thanksgiving Day offered fans a feast of three great divisional games, but the Week 13 schedule has plenty of quality leftovers.
Aaron Rodgers faces Tom Brady on Sunday as the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers meet at Lambeau Field. The AFC West lead is on the line when Peyton Manning and the Broncos visit Kansas City. The Baltimore-San Diego and Cleveland-Buffalo games will have huge impacts on the playoff race.
Here are the top trends of the week.
1. Possible Super Bowl preview in Lambeau: With wins over division leaders Indianapolis, Denver and Cincinnati, the 9-2 Patriots have the inside track on the AFC's No. 1 seed. And after a slow start, the Packers are red hot at 8-3, averaging 32.2 points a game and making quick work of their past four foes at home. The two powers clash Sunday afternoon in Lambeau with MVP candidates Brady and Rodgers starting against each other for the first time.
Both quarterbacks enter the highly anticipated matchup in the midst of a torrid stretch of play. Rodgers is completing 66.7 percent of his passes for 8.65 yards an attempt with 30 touchdown passes against three interceptions, while Brady is completing 65 percent of his passes for 7.19 yards an attempt with 26 touchdown passes and six picks. And with these being the NFL's two highest-scoring offenses, oddsmakers have put the over/under at a staggering 58½.
2. Opposite luck at quarterback: The long-awaited face-off between Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III, the top two picks of the 2012 draft, was supposed to be the focus of Sunday's game between the Colts and Redskins. Instead, it will serve as the exclamation point in a debate that was decided a long time ago.
Redskins coach Jay Gruden benched Griffin in favor of Colt McCoy, potentially ending RG III's days in the nation's capital. Not only has RG III gone 4-14 since a rookie season in which he beat out Luck for offensive rookie of the year honors, but he's been benched during the stretch run of the past two seasons.
Sunday's Colts-Redskins matchup is a reflection of how one franchise (Indianapolis) had the good luck of going 2-14 in the season before Luck was available in the draft and the other (Washington) possibly set itself back for years by trading for RG III. Instead of speculating on the Redskins' potential, the conversation turns to what the Redskins lost in giving up three first-round picks and one second-rounder to move up to No. 2 overall in the 2012 draft.
The Redskins have only six players they drafted currently starting: right tackle Tom Compton, tight end Jordan Reed, running back Alfred Morris, linebackers Keenan Robinson and Trent Murphy and cornerbacks Bashaud Breeland and David Amerson. Breeland and Murphy are playing in place of injured starters. Furthering the problems of building the roster was the $36 million salary-cap penalty that affected their 2012 and 2013 spending.
In the meantime, Luck is carrying the Colts to what is likely their third consecutive season of at least 11 wins. His 69.4 QBR puts him among the elite quarterbacks in the league. Griffin's QBR has dropped from 73.2 as a rookie to 40.1 last year to 26.7 now. Luck should get a $20 million-a-year contract next year. RG III might be on another team.
3. Defining game for Chiefs: Just like he did in the AFC South, Manning has established himself as the king of the AFC West. Since arriving in Denver, the Broncos have enjoyed two 13-3 seasons and a trip to the Super Bowl. The Chiefs jumped out to a 9-1 start last season, but a 27-17 loss in Denver began their late-season collapse.
The Chiefs have home-field advantage in Week 13, but is that enough to end their futility versus Denver? The Broncos are 5-0 against Kansas City with Manning at the helm and claimed the first meeting of the year back in September. Since that game, though, Andy Reid has revamped Kansas City's offense, scrapping three-receiver sets in favor of more power running. He had little choice because the Chiefs are the least-talented team in the league at wide receiver, which puts them at a severe disadvantage against the potent Broncos.
Chiefs Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry, who earlier this week was diagnosed with a possible cancerous mass in his chest, will be on the minds of the players in this contest.
4. Any hope for the NFC South? The Atlanta Falcons and New Orleans Saints sit atop the horrible NFC South with matching 4-7 records. The NFL put out a release this week showing that three teams -- the 1995 San Diego Chargers, 1996 Jacksonville Jaguars and 2008 Chargers -- made the playoffs after 4-7 starts. The big question is whether Week 13 will end with the NFC South topped by eight-loss teams.
The Saints travel to Pittsburgh, the Falcons host the 9-2 Arizona Cardinals, Carolina (3-7-1) travels to Minnesota and Tampa Bay (2-9) hosts Cincinnati. All four NFC South teams are underdogs, which is understandable because the NFC South is 6-23-1 in nondivision games. If the Falcons and Saints lose, it would guarantee that the division champion won't finish with a winning record. Another Panthers loss would guarantee a losing season for them.
5. Critical week for AFC playoff hopefuls: With 11 AFC teams sporting winning records, playoff contenders can't afford losses in the final five weeks of the season. This is an important two-week period for the Baltimore Ravens. They have their two unshared nondivision games coming up -- Sunday at home against San Diego and next week at Miami. If they can come up with two wins, they could be on a solid path to a playoff spot. The Ravens finish with games against Jacksonville, Houston and Cleveland.
Speaking of Cleveland, the Browns eked out a win last week in a shaky performance against the Falcons, overcoming two fourth-quarter picks by Brian Hoyer and being aided by poor Atlanta clock management. Cleveland needs a win against a tough Buffalo team to keep pace in the crowded AFC North.
The Miami Dolphins sit at 6-5, currently outside the playoff picture, but their postseason hopes could get a boost Monday night from the Jets' mess at QB. Rex Ryan is going back to Geno Smith after a less-than-impressive Week 12 performance by Michael Vick.