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NFL Week 13 - Five Games To Watch

Jeremy Bergman, Aaron Fischman, Ryan Nunez, Danny Lee |
December 4, 2011 | 3:03 a.m. PST

Sports Staff

The Steelers look to go 2-0 against Cincinnati this season. (CincyScott/Creative Commons)
The Steelers look to go 2-0 against Cincinnati this season. (CincyScott/Creative Commons)
With just five weeks left in the NFL season, every game is crucial for teams jockeying for playoff spots or playoff positioning.

This week features an AFC North battle between Cincinnati and Pittsburgh, two NFC teams (Atlanta and Detroit) fighting for their playoff lives, and the Green Bay Packers looking to keep their undefeated season going.

All picks are straight up.

Cincinnati Bengals (7-4) at Pittsburgh Steelers (8-3)

Bergman: Steelers - Just two games ago, these two teams met in Cincy with AFC North supremacy on the line and Pittsburgh put the Bengals in their place. Since that 24-17 Steeler victory, Cincinnati has lost to Baltimore and just narrowly beat the Browns at home. I'm not going to call them pretenders yet, but this matchup in the Steel City will speak volumes about the Bengals' resiliency and place in the AFC playoff race. Even if Troy Polamalu cannot play because of a head injury, don't expect the Bengal offense to score enough points to win. Cincy will keep it close, but fall to the Steel Curtain in the end.

Fischman: Steelers - Although these teams were tied at 17 near the close of the third quarter of their last matchup three weeks ago, I don't envision the Bengals stealing a road win in this one. Andy Dalton is an impressive-looking rookie, but he’s not ready to go into Heinz Field and lead a game-winning drive, something he would likely have to do in order to get the W.

NunezSteelers - Andy Dalton and, especially A.J. Green, have proven to be legitimate pros who will carry the Bengals for the next 10+ years. But these new Bengals are going to have to prove they can beat the Steelers with regularity before anyone will start picking them. The bottom line is that Ben Roethlisberger and Pittsburgh's defense are too good to pick against a rookie QB. Look for this one to come down to the fourth quarter and for Big Ben to finish off the Bengals in dramatic fashion.

Lee: Bengals 28, Steelers 24 - Cincinnati gets another crack at Pittsburgh on Sunday after succumbing by a touchdown three weeks ago, and this game is tough to predict because of the questionable status of Steelers safety Troy Polamalu due to concussion-like symptoms. If the Bengals can avoid a sluggish start and receive strong production from WR A.J. Green, then this young Cincy team could have that confidence-building win needed heading into the stretch run.

Kansas City Chiefs (4-7) at Chicago Bears (7-4)

Matt Forte (John Martinez Pavliga/Creative Commons)
Matt Forte (John Martinez Pavliga/Creative Commons)
Bergman: Bears -  It’s gonna get real ugly in Chicago this week. The starting quarterbacks of this game have a total of two career touchdowns and nine career interceptions between them. Of course, neither club asked for this cruel matchup -- both teams have been stricken with the injury bug at QB. The Chiefs will start Tyler Palko versus the Monsters of the Midway in a wintry Chitown. With that matchup, Caleb Hanie will surely take advantage of the Chiefs D that held Pittsburgh to 13 points last week, right? Uhh... first team to score a touchdown wins? Enter Matt Forte (seen left).

Fischman: Bears - With each team starting its backup quarterback, this game might not be very pretty offensively. Bears quarterback Caleb Hanie threw three interceptions in last week's loss to Oakland, whereas Kansas City's Tyler Palko has done just that (thrown three picks) in each of his last two games. I think the home team will prevail, because the Chiefs will make more mistakes than the Bears.

NunezBears - You can tell that our editors have a sense of humor by the selection of this game. This game stinks worse than UCLA (okay, maybe not that bad, but pretty bad). It is an intriguing matchup, however, because of the return of Kyle Orton to Chicago and the fact that the Bears are right in the thick of the playoff hunt. But the Bears roll in this one on the strength of their "we feel slighted this year" defense and when the beating is finally over, the Chiefs could be back on the market, shopping for quarterbacks. 

LeeBears 17, Chiefs 13 - Do not expect too much offensive excitement in this battle between two teams starting quarterbacks who aren't exactly Plan A on their respective depth charts. If this develops into the slow, plodding defensive affair that I expect it to be, look for Chicago to escape with a crucial win to remain in the hunt for an NFC Wild Card spot.

Atlanta Falcons (7-4) at Houston Texans (8-3)

Houston Texans WR Andre Johnson (AJ Guel/Creative Commons)
Houston Texans WR Andre Johnson (AJ Guel/Creative Commons)
Bergman: Texans - Call Brett Favre! Text Vinny Testaverde! For God's sake, if you must, send a carrier pigeon to Jeff George! The Texans are in trouble! After losing Matt Schaub for the season and then seeing an effective Matt Leinart go down for the count last week, Houston has been left horribly limited at QB.

But unlike past seasons, the passing game isn’t the sole strength of Gary Kubiak's club. Even without a bona fide aerial attack this season, the Texans have pulled out wins through a strong defense and a potent rushing attack. So don't expect Houston to panic this week at home against a very defendable Falcons team. I think they'll be alright, these Texans.... at least until the playoffs.

Fischman: Falcons - I have a feeling that Houston's five-game winning streak will be halted by Atlanta on Sunday. The Texans won't be able to win with a scoreless second half like they did against the hapless Jaguars last week. Down to their third option at quarterback, T.J. Yates, the Texans' offense should continue to sputter. It used to be balanced with Matt Schaub under center; now, defenses can stack against the run.

NunezTexans - With Schaub, the Falcons would be in line for a vicious beating in this one. With Yates slated to start for Houston, the tables seem reversed. However, the Falcons don't blow anybody out (sorry, the Colts don't count). They choose instead to play with opponents like a cat plays with its prey, a tactic that will be their downfall this week. Houston is 4-1 at home and they have one of the best crowds in football. The Falcons will let them hang around and in the fourth quarter, Yates will finally realize that Andre Johnson (seen above) is better than the guy guarding him. He'll close his eyes, throw it up for grabs, and Houston will pull out a shocker.  

LeeFalcons 31, Texans 19 - It should be interesting to see if the Texans can hang on to that AFC South lead for the remainder of the season with all the QB woes they have been plagued with in recent weeks. A red-hot Falcons team that has won five of its last six games should give us a sense of how much Houston has left in the tank going forward.

Green Bay Packers (11-0) at New York Giants (6-5)

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers (Guy Harbert/Creative Commons)
Packers QB Aaron Rodgers (Guy Harbert/Creative Commons)
Bergman: Packers - Aaron Rodgers (seen left) is good. I mean, really good. I mean, better than Drew Brees and Tom Brady good. That spells bad news for the G-Men. In New York's 24-20 upset win over the Pats, Brady threw for 342 yards and 2 TDs; last week, in a Monday Night laugher in Naw'leans, Brees threw for 363 yards and 4 TDs. Point: the Giants pass defense is porous against elite QBs.

The Packers' pass D is nothing to write home about either, but they are the most opportunistic in the league -- 22 interceptions through 11 games! Plus they get to face Eli Manning, who has thrown five picks in his last four games. Expect the scoreboard to light up at MetLife Stadium on Sunday and the Packers to launch another assault on the Giants' sinking ship of a season.

Fischman: Packers - I really want to pick New York to hand Green Bay its first loss, but I simply can’t do it. The Giants just got torched by the Saints Monday night through the air and on the ground, as they surrendered more than 350 passing yards and upwards of 200 rushing yards. Because the Giants are so inconsistent, I would not be surprised if they notched the upset, but more than likely the Packers will take it to the G-Men.

NunezPackers - Green Bay the best team in football and the Giants are officially in "Quit On Tom Coughlin" mode. This one should be a bloodbath and quite possibly the game that officially gets Coughlin fired at the end of the year. There is already a line forming on the 15 freeway, from LA to Vegas, with eager beavers who can't wait to bet Green Bay and the "over" in this one, just like on Opening Night.

LeeGiants 31, Packers 28 - One would think that the Week 9 win over New England on a last-second drive would give New York the momentum it needs to run away with the NFC East. Unfortunately for the G-Men, they've dropped their last three contests and surrendered the division lead to Dallas. The Packers are deservedly the favorites, but we all know what happened the last time Eli and friends faced a team chasing an undefeated season, so something could be brewing in the Meadowlands on Sunday.

Detroit Lions (7-4) at New Orleans Saints (8-3)

Saints QB Drew Brees (Asim Bharwani/Creative Commons)
Saints QB Drew Brees (Asim Bharwani/Creative Commons)
Bergman: Saints - Are the Lions pulling a Buffalo? Falling off the map after a strong surprising start? Quite possibly. Since the bye, they've lost two of three to division opponents and playoff contenders, getting manhandled on both sides of the ball. Now they head to the Bayou, without their best defensive player, to face another playoff lock. Detroit is the feel-good story in the NFL this year, but this young team is not playing consistent and complete ballgames. Drew Brees (seen right) will take advantage of a weakened Lions pass rush and continue his prolific passing season in a high-scoring matchup.

Fischman: Saints - After beginning the season with five consecutive wins, the Lions have lost four of their last six. Meanwhile, Brees is playing amazing football. Over Brees' last five games, he’s completed more than 72 percent of his passes for 14 touchdowns and just three interceptions.

NunezSaints - This game is by far the most intriguing on the Week 13 slate, due to fact that both of these teams love to shoot it out and usually end up on the winning end of said shootouts. The Lions will be without "King" Ndamukong Suh, whose viciousness has ventured out of the realm of fines and into the world of suspensions. Drew Brees will appreciate and maximize the extra second or so he'll have in the pocket and the Saints will show Detroit who is the NFL's current king of the shootouts. 

LeeSaints 27, Lions 14 - Suh picked the absolute worst time to stomp a Stone Cold Steve Austin-style mudhole into an opponent. Thanks to Suh's two-game suspension, the Lions will have one less defensive weapon to slow down a Saints offense that rung up seven touchdowns against the Giants on Monday night.


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