The Week 13 NFL Preview is a work in progress, my one day on the DL this week throwing the weekly schedule into chaos.
Check out this week's Power Rankings for more of my takes on all 32 teams.
A look at the Week 13 matchups in the NFL:
NEW ORLEANS (+3.5) at ATLANTA
Consdering the highwire act the Falcons have been walking, the Saints may be a wise play with the points. Atlanta's defence shouldn't pose as many problems for the Saints as San Francisco did last week, so there will be opportunities for Drew Brees to spread the ball around, but the Falcons can air it out just as well, with Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez as fine a trio of WR-WR-TE as there is in the league.
The difference-maker for the Saints could be a running game that is spread across four players, but they are more effective than Atlanta's lead back, Michael Turner, who has been fading, though the opportunity to run against the Saints' 32nd-ranked run defence might be just what the doctor ordered for Turner to get back on track.
SEATTLE (+3.5) at CHICAGO
The Seahawks barely have a passing attack to begin with, so going up against the Bears is a tall order for rookie QB Russell Wilson. If there is a positive to take from the match-up, it is that Bears star CB Charles Tillman may have a chipped bone in his foot, so even if he plays, he may not be at full speed.
At the same time, the Seahawks' defence is in the top 10 against both the run and the pass, so it's not like it's going to be an easy day offensively for a Bears team that could be without RB Matt Forte, who suffered an ankle injury last week. Michael Bush will get the bulk of the carries if Forte is out.
MINNESOTA (+7.5) at GREEN BAY
Both teams are coming off bad losses, but the Vikings are also without WR Percy Harvin, while the Packers are allegedly getting WR Greg Jennings back in the lineup for the first time since September 30.
In Harvin's absence, the Vikings will need receivers Jarius Wright and Jerome Simpson, along with TE Kyle Rudolph to contribute enough so that Adrian Peterson isn't facing eight-man fronts all game long.
The same goes for the Packers, whose running game garners no respect either, but their receiving corps has been much more productive, even if last week against the Giants was not their best showing.
SAN FRANCISCO (-7) at ST. LOUIS
After back-to-back wins, by a total of 35 points, Colin Kaepernick's 49ers are favoured by a touchdown. Of course, the Niners were lucky to escape with a tie against these Rams in Week 10.
The Rams have a decent secondary that could keep Kaepernick under wraps, but even if they can't go down field, the Niners should be able to run the ball. If San Francisco's top-tier defence is in form, though, it's tough to see where the Rams will get loose. Aldon Smith will generate pressure on Sam Bradford, while linebackers Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman should slow down Steven Jackson, who is coming off his best game of the season for the Rams.
ARIZONA (+4.5) at N.Y. JETS
It's a rare game in which the Jets hold an advantage at quarterback, but Mark Sanchez is further along than Arizona's Ryan Lindley. He doesn't have the same weapons, but there's been little evidence that Lindley, behind Arizona's porous offensive line, is capable of taking advantage of those weapons afforded to him. (TE Todd Heap is also expected to return to the Cardinals' lineup this week, for whatever that might be worth.)
This game does figure to be a low-scoring slug-it-out affair because both teams have such trouble moving the ball and both are have good pass defences, leaving the Jets' miserable run defence to try and slow down Beanie Wells or the Cardinals' subpar run defence to stop Shonn Greene. This one sounds ugly from every angle.
CAROLINA (-3) at KANSAS CITY
The Panthers have been a relatively competitive team, despite their record, unlike the Chiefs, who have been every bit as bad as their record suggests. DeAngelo Williams may see a bigger role in the Panthers' offence since Jonathan Stewart has a sprained ankle and QB Cam Newton ought to take advantage against a Chiefs defence that is one of four to allow a QB rating over 100.0 against this season.
If the Chiefs are going to keep it close, or even win, they will need to run RB Jamaal Charles and run him a lot because there hasn't been enough from QB Brady Quinn to think that he can make the difference.
INDIANAPOLIS (+5) at DETROIT
This is why we don't set point spreads based on records, kids, as the 7-4 Colts are underdogs at the 4-7 Lions.
The Lions have found ways to lose, but have the talent to take the Colts to school. Even with Titus Young serving a team suspension (which may still be in effect), rookie Ryan Broyles stepped up against the Texans and as long as there is someone other than Calvin Johnson available, that will help spread the defence.
While Broyles is the Lions' up-and-coming receiver, the Colts' version is T.Y. Hilton, who has moved ahead of Donnie Avery, at least in terms of production, with four touchdowns (and two 100-yard games) in the last four weeks.
JACKSONVILLE (+6) at BUFFALO
The Jaguars have a more vibrant passing game with Chad Henne at quarterback, enough that they should be able to keep pace with the Bills, however, it's worth noting that starting wide receivers Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon both missed practice Thursday. RB Rashad Jennings returns to the starting role for the Jags, with Maurice Jones-Drew and Jalen Parmele hurt.
Buffalo has committed to C.J. Spiller getting the majority of the carries (a 60-40 split, according to Chan Gailey) in the backfield with Fred Jackson, which makes sense, since Spiller is the one game-breaker in the Bills' offence. If the Bills can create some holes for him, Spiller is the most likely Bills player to make a difference in this game. The Bills may also have to contend with Jason Babin, the pass-rushing end that Jacksonville claimed from Philadelphia this week.
NEW ENGLAND (-7) at MIAMI
The way the Patriots have been scoring lately, putting up 190 points in the last four games, it's hard to fathom the Dolphins keeping pace, especially since Miami has scored more than 21 points only three times this season, including last week's 17-point fourth quarter rally against Seattle.
Miami's run defence is among the best in the league, allowing 96.7 yards per game on the ground, so that may cut into the production of Patriots RB Stevan Ridley, but if that holds true to form, then the Pats will take to the air against a Miami defence that ranks 26th against the pass. Former Dolphin Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and Brandon Lloyd are all viable plays, but Julian Edelman could be a sneaky contributor too.
The matchup doesn't work quite as well for Miami, since the Patriots' strength is run defence, which could limit Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas. New England, notoriously, has a shaky secondary, though it may be at least somewhat improved with Aqib Talib in the lineup, so it will fall on Ryan Tannehill to get the ball to Brian Hartline and Davone Bess frequently enough for the Dolphins to stay in the game.
HOUSTON (-6) at TENNESSEE
Back-to-back overtime wins have been less than impressive showings for the Texans, but they do keep winning and can do it in whatever manner is necessary. Usually, that means riding workhorse back Arian Foster, but WR Andre Johnson has exploded for 23 catches and 461 yards in the last two weeks, so it's not as if the Titans can afford to put all their attention on Foster.
The Titans are coming off a loss to Jacksonville, so they're not too high, and they have been getting consistent production from RB Chris Johnson, but they will likely need QB Jake Locker to have some success throwing the ball in order to match the Texans. Tennessee has options in the passing game -- Nate Washington, Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright, Jared Cook -- but none is established as a go-to-guy week-in and week-out.
TAMPA BAY (+7) at DENVER
The Bucs have been playing some tough football and will likely be decent opposition for the Broncos, but there is a decided mismatch here, as the Bucs have the 32nd ranked pass defence, allowing 316.5 yards per game and they are missing starting CB Eric Wright, who will beging serving his PED suspension. That seems like a situation tailor made for Peyton Manning, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. Getting reliable production from RB Knowshon Moreno would be great, but the Bucs do have the top run defence in the league, allowing 81.5 yards per game on the ground.
Tampa Bay's offence has been centred on rookie RB Doug Martin, but the passing game has been effective too, with WR Vincent Jackson ranking third in the league with 20.4 yards per catch. Jackson's big-play ability allows other Bucs receivers -- Mike Williams, TE Dallas Clark and, at least last week, WR Tiquan Underwood -- to get open and the Bucs will need to utilize all of their weapons against a Denver defence that ranks fifth against the pass and ninth against the run.
CINCINNATI (-1.5) at SAN DIEGO
In three straight wins, the Bengals have outscored opponents 93-29, while San Diego has dropped three straight and six of seven. As a result, the game means so much more to Cincinnati, holding playoff hopes, than it does to the Chargers, who would have to run the table to have a chance at the postseason.
Cincinnati's running game has picked up, with BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Cedric Peerman both running effectively and rookie WR Mohamed Sanu has been a solid complement to A.J. Green in the starting lineup, more than ably filling in for Andrew Hawkins, who may be ready to return this week.
San Diego's offence has been a mess all season, with relatively little production from TE Antonio Gates and a reluctance, most weeks, to throw down the field. Cincinnati's pass defence is strong, but the run D is mediocre, so if Ryan Mathews is going to do anything for the Bolts, maybe this is the game. To be fair, Mathews has gained at least 70 yards from scrimmage in all nine games he has played this year, but has managed just one touchdown.
PITTSBURGH (OTB) at BALTIMORE
Even though the Steelers have SS Troy Polamalu
and WR Antonio Brown
returning this week, the line is off the board, and will remain so until there is some confidence in who will quarterback the Steelers. Charlie Batch
struggled at Cleveland last week and would probably be overmatched against the Ravens, but if Ben Roethlisberger
is ready to play, that vastly improves the Steelers' passing game, and forcing respect for the pass might even open up more in the running game for Rashard Mendenhall
and Jonathan Dwyer
(heck, maybe Isaac Redman
and Chris Rainey
, while we're at it).
While there is uncertainty about the Steelers' offence, their defence should be formidable enough to keep the Ravens within striking distance. Baltimore scored 13 points in Pittsburgh two weeks ago and 16 in overtime at San Diego last week, so it's not as though they've built on their 55-point effort against the Raiders and, given the history between the Ravens and Steelers, a messy, hard-hitting affair is reasonable to expect.
CLEVELAND (+1.5) at OAKLAND
The Browns have been more competitive in recent weeks, beating the Steelers, losing to the Cowboys in overtime and beating the Chargers over the last four weeks, but the lines for this game are uncertain because of the status of Browns QB Brandon Weeden, who suffered a concussion last week and currently seems on target to play, but if he doesn't, Colt McCoy will start for Cleveland.
Cleveland's passing attack has some threats -- Josh Gordon, Greg Little, Ben Watson -- but it's effectively a complement to RB Trent Richardson, who has 106 carries for 407 yards in the last four games. With the Raiders ranking 28th in run defence, expect a heavy dose of Richardson again this week.
The Raiders may get RB Darren McFadden back in the lineup this week after he missed three games with a sprained ankle. If Run DMC is playing, that will take touches away from Marcel Reece, who gained 400 yards from scrimmage in those three games.
Oakland has an effective enough passing game, with WR Denarius Moore and TE Brandon Myers the preferred targets for QB Carson Palmer, but the Browns have good pass defence, especially when CB Joe Haden is in the lineup, so the running game may be the best plan of attack for the Silver and Black.
PHILADELPHIA (+10) at DALLAS
It's not easy to picture the inconsistent Cowboys as double-digit favourites against any team, but the Eagles do make a compelling case, as a team in free-fall. With WR DeSean Jackson out, Riley Cooper could see more looks for the Eagles and Bryce Brown will look to build on his 178-yard rushing effort last week with LeSean McCoy sidelined.
Philadelphia has lost seven straight, allowing at least 28 points in each of the last five, so Dallas' offence should be able to move. Who will run the ball for Dallas is still up for debate, with Felix Jones hurting and DeMarco Murray trying to get back from a foot injury, which could leave an opportunity for Lance Dunbar to get his first start.
Even without much of a running game, though, the Cowboys do have the weapons necessary to exploit the Eagles defence, whether it's Dez Bryant, Miles Austin or Jason Witten, Tony Romo has targets.
N.Y. GIANTS (-2.5) at WASHINGTON
Based on the Giants team that whipped the Packers last week, there is little chance for the Redskins to compete, mostly because Robert Griffin III will be running for his life as he tries to evade the Big Blue pass rush.
However, that hasn't been the standard Giants m.o. this season, so let's not write off RGIII, especially since he's thrown eight touchdown passes in the last two weeks and he's going against the Giants' 25th-ranked pass defence.
Washington's pass defence is worse, ranked 31st, so it figures to be a good matchup for Eli Manning, Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, but Manning had struggled for a month before delivering his highest-rated game of the season against Green Bay, so it's possible that he may not light up the 'Skins.
When it comes to the Giants' ground game, Ahmad Bradshaw is the main option and may get more goalline carries now that Andre Brown is out with a broken leg. David Wilson should get some touches too, but Bradshaw holds the most value.
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.