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The Redzone: Playoff picture to become clear this weekend

Week 14 will have a big say in the playoff races in both the AFC and NFC.

Image: Steven O’Rourke/TheScore.ie

IF THE SEASON WERE to end today, the Indianapolis Colts would move from being the worst team in the NFL last year, to postseason contenders this year.

Andrew Luck’s reward for steering his team to the playoffs would be a trip to Denver to face the man he replaced as quarterback in Indianapolis, Peyton Manning.

Elsewhere, the Ravens and Steelers would continue their AFC North rivalry while the Texans and Patriots would be waiting in the divisional round.

In the NFC, both Atlanta and San Francisco would secure bye weeks while the Seahawks and Bears would travel to the Packers and Giants respectively in the wild-card round.

However, as of today, just three teams cannot mathematically qualify for the playoffs – the Raiders, Chiefs and Jaguars – so there’s still quite a bit to play for in week 14.

Houston Texans @ New England Patriots
The battle for top spot in the AFC could come down to Monday night’s game in New England when the 9-3 Patriots host the 11-1 Texans.

The match up will see the leading contender for the NFL’s defensive MVP, JJ Watt, line up across the trenches from future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady.

Given that these two are hot favourites to face each other again in the AFC Championship game, this could turn into something of a phony war. However, the Patriots would much rather play for the Lamar Hunt Trophy on a cold January night in Foxboro than in the relatively snug confines of Reliant Stadium.

Verdict: The Houston defence has shown signs of weakness of late while the Patriots have found a balance to their run game few thought possible once they disposed of The Law Firm earlier this year. This could be the best game of the entire regular season. Patriots, because of home advantage, by 5.

Chicago Bears @ Minnesota Vikings
There are a lot of NFL watchers who now consider the NFC North the best division in football and, with three teams still with realistic playoff hopes going into week 14, it’s difficult to disagree.

The Bears loss to the Seahawks in Soldier Field last week drops them to second in the division, behind the Packers, and a repeat of that inept performance this weekend would drag the Minnesota Vikings right back into playoff consideration. The loss of Brian Urlacher, on top existing injuries to Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs, makes this a very tricky task, especially with Adrian Peterson in the form he is in.

According to NFL stat site Pro Football Focus, only nine running backs have more total yards this season than the 919 Peterson has after contact. He’s had to be that good, of course, because Christian Ponder has regressed as the season has gone on.

Verdict: This will be a tight game, it could even end up in overtime again. That said, the Bears are too close to the postseason to mess it up now. Chicago by 2+

Baltimore Ravens @ Washington Redskins
Those of you familiar with ‘The Wire’ TV show will know how geographically close Washington and Baltimore are. Indeed, the home fields of the Ravens and Redskins are just 60 or so kilometres apart. Given the vast distances between some teams in the NFL, this is very much a local rivalry.

Despite last week’s loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, led by the oldest, non-kicking, player in the NFL, the Ravens are still favourites to claim the AFC North title and a fifth consecutive playoff appearance. However, they are going to need to do a better job of play calling than last weekend when they failed to put the ball in the hands of Ray Rice once in the fourth quarter.

The Redskins won a close one at home to the Giants to move to 6-6 and into second place in the NFC East, just one game behind New York and they must be licking their lips at the thought of this encounter. Afterall, if a 38-year-old backup quarterback can exploit the glaring weaknesses in the Ravens defence, imagine what RGIII, who on Monday set the single season rushing record for a rookie QB, will do.

Verdict: These two teams have met just four times before with Baltimore winning three of those fixtures. However, RGIII has completed 73% of his passes for nine touchdowns and just one interception in the past three games. I can see no way this Ravens defence bucks that trend. Redskins by 3.

All fixtures and predictions:
Denver Broncos @ Oakland Raiders – Broncos by 10

St. Louis Rams @ Buffalo Bills – Bills by 3

Atlanta Falcons @ Carolina Panthers – Falcons by 3+

Dallas Cowboys @ Cincinnati Bengals – Bengals by 2+

Kansas City Chiefs @ Cleveland Browns – Browns by 5

Tennessee Titans @ Indianapolis Colts – Colts by 5+

New York Jets @ Jacksonville Jaguars – Jets by 3

San Diego Chargers @ Pittsburgh Steelers – Steelers by 7+

Philadelphia Eagles @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Buccaneers by 7

Miami Dolphins @ San Francisco 49ers – 49ers by 10

New Orleans Saints @ New York Giants – Giants by 5

Arizona Cardinals @ Seattle Seahawks – Seahawks by 10

Detroit Lions @ Green Bay Packers – Packers by 5+

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About the author:

Steve O'Rourke

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