After Week 9, the Detroit Lions were in great shape to win the NFC North crown.
After Week 9, the Baltimore Ravens were 3-5 following a loss to the Cleveland Browns. The offense was an absolute mess. The Super Bowl champs were struggling badly, and seemed irrelevant to the 2013 season.
It's Week 15 and both teams are in the middle of a tight playoff race. That's a positive for one of them.
The Lions have lost three of four since that win against the Bears seemed to put them on a fast track to the North title. They're 7-6, tied with the Bears and just a half game clear of the Packers, with the possibility of Rodgers' return hanging over the division race. Detroit isn't a franchise known for success, and they seem insistent on making the road to the division title much tougher than it should be. Now they have to deal with a tough Ravens team and don't know yet if running back Reggie Bush, who injured himself in snowy pregame warm-ups last week, will be available.
The Ravens aren't favored in Monday night's game at Detroit, but it's hard to count them out at this point.
Baltimore has won four of their last five, and the only loss came in a weird overtime game at Chicago that featured a long weather delay. The Ravens are playing well, something few other teams in the AFC wild-card race can say. Baltimore actually leads the race for the final playoff spot at 7-6 because of a head-to-head tiebreaker against fellow 7-6 contender Miami.
This matchup of 7-6 teams isn't the battle of the titans we've seen in some of the past few weeks, but it's going to have huge implications in the AFC and NFC playoff race.
Here are the other NFL games this week, from best to worst (all times Eastern, all games Sunday unless noted otherwise):
2. New England at Miami, 1 p.m.: The Dolphins have done a heck of a job to stay in the playoff race. Seeing how the Patriots react to being without Rob Gronkowski makes this a fascinating game for both sides.Tom Brady's single-season record. San Diego has the 28th-ranked pass defense in the NFL. Keep those two things in mind.
4. Green Bay at Dallas, 4:25 p.m.: If Aaron Rodgers plays, this game is probably No. 1 on the list. If he doesn't, it will be fascinating to watch the Packers try to remain afloat in the NFC North race until he can come back, against a Cowboys team trying to stay within striking distance of the Eagles.
5. Cincinnati at Pittsburgh, 8:30 p.m.: The Bengals can take a big step towards a AFC North title with a win on Sunday night. The Steelers are pretty much dead in the playoff race, but should give a good effort.
6. New Orleans at St. Louis, 4:25 p.m.: This seems like a sneaky tough game for the Saints, who can't afford to drop any games with the Panthers just a game behind in the NFC South.
7. San Francisco at Tampa Bay, 1 p.m.: This is the kind of game that, if the improved Buccaneers can pull off an upset, could mean Greg Schiano can officially start making plans to coach Tampa Bay in 2014.
9. N.Y. Jets at Carolina, 4:05 p.m.: The thought of Geno Smith against that Panthers defense is frightening, but maybe New York's defense can keep the Jets in the game.
10. Philadelphia at Minnesota, 1 p.m.: There are a lot of "good team at bad team" games this week. There's gonna be some surprisingly competitive games and a few upsets, folks.
11. Arizona at Tennessee, 4:25 p.m.: Remember, a lot of "good team at bad team" potential pitfalls ...
12. Houston at Indianapolis, 1 p.m.: Neither of these teams is very good right now. But one is in line to get the first pick, the other has already clinched a division title.
13. Kansas City at Oakland, 4:05 p.m.: The Chiefs have gotten the job done against every bad team they've played this year, so they should be fine here.
14. Seattle at N.Y. Giants, 1 p.m.: This might be an interesting game if the Giants were any good.
15. Buffalo at Jacksonville, 1 p.m.: The four teams in the AFC that have won at least four of their last five games: New England, Baltimore, Denver and ... yep, Jacksonville.
16. Washington at Atlanta, 1 p.m.: At least you get to see stars like Robert Griffin III and Julio Jones ... standing on the sideline.
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