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The Redzone: Critical week for NFC playoff chasers

The Panthers and 49ers will hope to make up ground on divisional leaders.

Andrew Luck will hope his offensive line can keep him upright this weekend.
Andrew Luck will hope his offensive line can keep him upright this weekend.

Indianapolis Colts @ Cincinnati Bengals (-7)

THE ONLY DANGER facing the Cincinnati Bengals this weekend is getting caught looking ahead at next week’s divisional clash with the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Bengals are perfect in Paul Brown Stadium and, facing a Colts team that have taken over the Jets’ mantle of alternating wins and losses, and both trends should continue this weekend.

Behind a depleted offensive line, Andrew Luck has just two touchdowns to five interceptions over his last four games and has endured an average of almost five sacks a game all season. Those stats are worrying enough for the former number one overall pick but they become even more terrifying when you consider the Cincinnati defence has recorded 18 sacks in their last five games.

The Bengals offence remains its Achilles heel and are one of just six teams in the NFL yet to boast a 100 yard rusher as they continue to split carries between BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Gio Bernard. Luckily they have AJ Green at wide receiver and the former Georgia Bulldogs star will hope to add to his 1100 yards and seven touchdowns this season.

Verdict: If the Colts aren’t careful they’ll end up a one and done playoff team. Bengals by 6+

Seattle Seahawks @ San Francisco 49ers (-2.5)

The NFC West remains the best division in football and the top two will clash in the pick of Sunday’s late afternoon games with far more than bragging rights on the line. While most expect the 49ers to grab one of the NFC’s Wild Card spots, they’ve actually only won one game against a team above .500 (Cardinals) this year.

As if playoff contention wasn’t motivation enough for the 49ers, they will also be seeking revenge after the Seahawks humiliated them 29-3 way back in week two. San Francisco couldn’t call on Colin Kaepernick’s favourite receiver that day but Michael Crabree is back from injury and will need to show he’s 100% against a dominant Seattle secondary.

I predicted earlier this week that the Seahawks were my pick for Super Bowl glory this year and I’m even more certain that’s the case after their dismantling of New Orleans on Monday night. Most roads to the Vince Lombardi this year lead through Seattle so if the 49ers want to be real contenders they have to show they can at least win their home games.

Verdict: Seattle are the best team in the NFL right now and will want to show just how dominant they are with a divisional road win. Seahawks by 5.

Carolina Panthers @ New Orleans Saints (-3)

The Carolina Panthers have the air of a team who don’t believe they can be beaten right now and are catching a Saints team on a short week that hasn’t lost back-to-back games under Sean Payton since 2009 in a clash of styles that will see their second-ranked defence try to contain Drew Brees high-powered offence.

Also in Carolina’s favour is the fact they are the last team to beat New Orleans in the Super Dome, coming out on top in a 44-38 shootout last December. To put that into perspective, the Saints have outscored opponents 199-95 in their six home games this year with Drew Brees finding the endzone 19 times and only throwing three interceptions.

If you’re a long time reader of The Redzone, you’ll know I don’t believe in momentum but the Carolina players and coaches probably do. To win Sunday night though, Cam Newton will have to take better care of the football than he did last week against the Buccaneers.

Verdict: Are the Saints ripe for the picking or will they bounce  back like a wounded animal? I think the latter, New Orleans by 3.

And the rest*

Houston Texans (-3.5) @ Jacksonville Jaguars
Atlanta Falcons @ Green Bay Packers (-7)
Cleveland Browns @ New England Patriots (-13)
Oakland Raiders @ New York Jets (-1.5)
Detroit Lions @ Philadelphia Eagles (-2.5)
Miami Dolphins @ Pittsburgh Steelers (-3)
Buffalo Bills @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-1.5)
Kansas City Chiefs (-3) @ Washington
Minnesota Vikings @ Baltimore Ravens (-7.5)
Tennessee Titans @ Denver Broncos (-13)
St Louis Rams @ Arizona Cardinals (-7)
New York Giants @ San Diego Chargers (-3)
Dallas Cowboys (Ev) @ Chicago Bears (Ev)

*Teams in bold are marked to beat the spread, not necessarily win the game.

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About the author:

Steve O'Rourke

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