The draft buzz has begun…but wait a minute, there are still four weeks of the season to play!
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (8-4-0) @ CINCINNATI BENGALS (8-4-0)
The Colts managed to halt the slide in many respects with a divisional win over the Titans in week 13. However, the performance highlighted once again the missing element of star Reggie Wayne. Former Cleveland Browns running-back Trent Richardson continues to struggle, meaning Donald Brown has been the key player in the run game. Meanwhile, the Bengals continue to rack up untimely injuries, though they managed to see off the Chargers in their last game with a hastily reorganised offensive line. This game is one neither side will wish to lose given that the seedings are on the line. However, a defeat will not be the end of the campaign for the loser by any means. Given the Colts inability to hold the score to a low margin in the first half, the Bengals may look to charge into a big lead by using the tricky Giovani Bernard or utilise AJ Green as a deep-threat. Yet if the Colts can engineer a no-huddle offensive strategy themselves, this may be the best way to get the better of the strong Bengals defence.
PREDICTION: Colts 20-27 Bengals (overtime)
DETROIT LIONS (7-5-0) @ PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (7-5-0)
Of all the potential matchups in the SuperBowl, this is perhaps the fourth or fifth most likely scenario. The Lions defence will be at its mean best after a mauling of the Packers in week 13, while the Eagles laid down a marker of their own against Arizona. Eagles quarterback Nick Foles is currently on the hottest streak in the league without a single interception to his name. On the other sideline, Matthew Stafford has had an impressive season in his own right, mainly thanks to a combination of quick-thinking and an effective offensive-line. Calvin Johnson and DeSean Jackson are two of the top receivers in the league in terms of reputation, while the dynamic opponents of Reggie Bush and LeSean McCoy are also players to watch in a game which will go the distance.
PREDICTION: Lions 32-24 Eagles (overtime)
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (11-1-0)(q) @ SAN FRANCISCO 49ers (8-4-0)
With the division tied up to all intensive purposes, the Seahawks have the opportunity to do the double over their bitter rivals. For San Francisco, not only is the game an opportunity to gain some revenge, it is also important for their post-season chances in an NFC conference which is remarkably strong in 2013. The Seahawks do not have the advantage of an earthquake inducing home support for this game, and instead it will be Russell Wilson facing the ire of a hostile ‘12th man.’ The last matchup was an obvious blowout, but the 49ers now have a healthy Michael Crabtree to take some of the weight off Vernon Davis and Anquan Boldin in the passing game. Colin Kaepernick has also been restored somewhat to his best, while troubled defensive lineman Aldon Smith appears to be showing 2012 form once again. Nevertheless, the Seahawks appear to gain strength from any hits they sustain as they build towards a SuperBowl tilt. Marshawn Lynch and Wilson combined to shred the Saints in week 13, while the defence left future Hall-of-Famer Drew Brees and his offensive setup bruised, deafened and crestfallen. Neither side needs any more incentive to win. This is a battle to be the best in a generation
PREDICTION: Seahawks 24-30 49ers
ST.LOUIS RAMS (5-7-0) @ ARIZONA CARDINALS (7-5-0)
The slim hopes the Cardinals have of upsetting the order in the AFC West will be on the line here. The Rams are out of the running realistically, but they have shown glimpses of improvement since an established run-game was formulated. Rookie Tavon Austin continues to deliver mercurial performances sporadically and Kellen Clemons has been a respectable signal-caller in the absence of Sam Bradford. The Cardinals have performed well in many games, but have been hamstrung by the interceptions of Carson Palmer. This was the case once again in the game against the Eagles where the Jekyll and Hyde side conspired to snatch defeat from the jaws of success. This game is about pride and bragging rights, but the Cardinals must win to keep their hopes alive.
PREDICTION: Rams 17-16 Cardinals
CAROLINA PANTHERS (9-3-0) @ NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (9-3-0)
For the second consecutive week the Saints face a potential NFC title rival. The added spice is of course that this game is a divisional faceoff for the top spot. In essence, the victor gains the spoils of the NFC South berth for the playoffs, albeit unofficially, and the loser faces a chasm in their wake. Cam Newton is getting consistent at the right stage of the season, while Brees has appeared to falter at crucial moments. Both Sean Payton and Ron Rivera will be unrelenting in their style in this game more than ever, so expect a feisty and entertaining game.
PREDICTION: Panthers 27-16 Saints
- Texans (2-10-0) @ Jaguars (3-9-0) Texans win 24-10
- Vikings (3-8-1) @ Ravens (6-6-0) Vikings win 27-24
- Browns (4-8-0) @ Patriots (9-3-0) Patriots win 31-17
- Raiders (4-8-0) @ Jets (5-7-0) Raiders win 34-21
- Dolphins (6-6-0) @ Steelers (5-7-0) Steelers win 21-14
- Bills (4-8-0) @ Buccaneers (3-9-0) Buccaneers win 17-13
- Chiefs (9-3-0) @ Washington (3-9-0) Chiefs win 27-7
- Falcons (3-9-0) @ Packers (5-6-1) Packers win 31-17
- Titans (5-7-0) @ Broncos (10-2-0) Broncos win 27-16
- Giants (5-7-0) @ Chargers (5-7-0) Chargers win 17-13
- Cowboys (7-5-0) @ Bears (6-6-0) Bears win 24-21 (overtime)
*(q = qualified for playoffs)