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Judge: NFL Peeks of Week 12

The SportsXchange

GAME OF THE WEEK

Denver @ New England

The time: 8:30 p.m., EST

The line: Broncos by 2 1/2

The story: NBC is calling this one Manning-Brady XIV, and it does have the feel of a Super Bowl. It's not just that these are two of the best quarterbacks today; it's that they're two of the best of all time, with Brady leading the series 9-4.

That's the good news for New England. The bad? Manning won five of his past eight against the Patriots (one was vs. Matt Cassel). That's one reason the Broncos are favored. Another is that they're the best team in the AFC and maybe the best team in football.

But that's only when they have a complete cast, which they don't this weekend. Safety Rahim Moore is out. Tight end Julius Thomas is hurt. Wide receiver Wes Welker is recovering from a concussion and is questionable. Still, the Broncos have Manning, and he's playing some of his best football ever ... which he must here because it's Brady, and he's 5-0 at home this year and has tight end Rob Gronkowski and wide receiver Danny Amendola back.

Better yet, he and the Patriots just lost, and seldom do they ... or Brady ... drop two straight, especially when that second game is at Gillette Stadium.

Something to consider: Denver coach Jack Del Rio is 0-5 vs. New England. OK, so that's when he coached Jacksonville. Nevertheless, it's worth noting.

THREE OTHER GAMES WORTH WATCHING

Carolina @ Miami

The time: 1 p.m., EST

The line: Panthers by 4 1/2

The story: Carolina is hot, hot, hot, and, suddenly, the NFC South isn't a game of solitaire for New Orleans. The Panthers won their last six and are beginning to look more like a team than a supporting cast for quarterback Cam Newton.

No question, Newton is still front and center when you talk Carolina. But he's had to make room for the league's third-ranked defense, a unit that earlier this week survived Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. Carolina looks like the safe choice here, but I'd be careful. First of all, the Panthers are operating on a short week. Second, quarterback Ryan Tannehill is 3-0 vs. the NFC at home. And third, Carolina pass rusher Charles Johnson probably doesn't play ... making it easier for Tannehill to push that record to 4-0.

Nevertheless, Tannehill won't decide this game. Defense will. If Miami can pressure Newton as it did Philip Rivers a week ago, the Dolphins have a chance to pull the upset. If they don't, adios.

Something to consider: Newton has a 111.9 passer rating on third downs, best in the NFL.

Indianapolis @ Arizona

The time: 4:05 p.m., EST

The line: Cardinals by 2

The story: A year ago, then-interim coach Bruce Arians turned the Indianapolis Colts from a bottom feeder into a playoff club. Now, he's threatening to do the same thing with Arizona, which suddenly is 6-4 and talking playoffs.

Don't laugh. The Cards have beaten Detroit and Carolina, two teams in the playoff mix, and are a popular upset pick here. The reason: Indianapolis doesn't seem to wake up until the second half, outscored the past three games 63-3 in the first quarter.

The Cards have the defense to flummox Andrew Luck. They have a coach who schooled him. And they have a quarterback coming off a 419-yard passing performance. The key here: The pass rush. Whoever is more effective pressuring the pocket wins this game.

Something to consider: The Colts are 4-1 on the road this season.

Dallas @ N.Y. Giants

The time: 4:25 p.m., EST

The line: Giants by 2 1/2

The story: I used to think you had to go to Movies On Demand to see "There Will Be Blood." Then I realized you don't have to; just watch this game. Yep, that was the Giants' Jason Pierre-Paul who predicted a bloodletting when these two meet, and maybe he's trying to ignite his teammates. Someone should. The Giants have one division victory, and it's not against Dallas; it's against Philadelphia.

The Giants are on a four-game roll, and oddsmakers like them here. But their victories were at the expense of lousy quarterbacks, often third-stringers, and Tony Romo doesn't fit that description. In fact, in his last four games vs. the G-Men, he has 12 touchdown passes and a 100-plus passer rating in all four. Plus, he's 22-5 in November.

What's more, he has wide receiver Miles Austin back, and all he did in the season opener vs. New York was haul down 10 passes. The onus is on the Giants to prove they can make a playoff push, and if they don't ... yep, there could be blood.

Something to consider: The Cowboys are plus-11 in turnover differential, tied for second best in the NFL; the Giants are minus-11, tied for 29th in the league.

MONDAY NIGHT LIGHTS

San Francisco @ Washington

The time: 8:40 p.m., EST

The line: 49ers by 6

The story: We started the season with ESPN's Ron Jaworski saying Colin Kaepernick "could be one of the greatest quarterbacks ever," and NBC's Cris Collinsworth calling him "a superstar." Two months later, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh has to defend the guy against critics, saying there's nothing wrong with his quarterback when the numbers say, actually, there might be.

Clearly, there's unrest in San Francisco, where Kaepernick has just 218 yards passing the last two weeks, and the Seattle Seahawks -- not the 49ers -- are the best in the West. But San Francisco's issues shrink in comparison to what's going on in Washington, with Robert Griffin III -- another quarterback who was going to conquer the world -- so frazzled he's decided to attack the playbook instead of his opponents, and coach Mike Shanahan's seat at the head table getting mighty warm.

Straight up, the Redskins stink, and RGIII ain't what he used to be. Of course, neither is Kaepernick. But at least the 49ers are 6-4, and the quarterback isn't lobbing Molotovs at the coaching staff. Moreover, they still look like a playoff team.

Washington, on the other hand, looks about as energetic as Capitol Hill, and while the Redskins recovered from a 3-6 hole a year ago they look like a goner now. Let's put it this way, RGIII: It's not just Philadelphia that knows what's coming. Everybody does, and maybe that's what has Trent Williams so upset.

Something to consider: The 49ers are 6-1 this year when scoring 20 or more points and 5-1 when leading at the half.

CRUMMY GAME OF THE WEEK

Jacksonville @ Houston

The time: 1 p.m., EST

The line: Texans by 10

The story: If someone four months ago told the Jaguars that only a game would separate them and Houston in late November they would've been grateful. Well, this just in: A game does separate them, but only because the Texans are almost as dreadful as Jacksonville.

Correction: They're worse. We expected the Jags to stink. We didn't expect Houston to do so. Now the Texans are such a mess that coach Gary Kubiak is replacing the quarterback he summoned into last week's loss (Matt Schaub) with the quarterback he benched (Case Keenum).

If he seems confused, imagine how his players feel. They were supposed to be the trendy pick for this year's Super Bowl. Now they're in a tug-of-war for the first overall draft pick. As defensive coordinator Wade Phillips might say, "The truth is the truth."

Something to consider: Kubiak is 61-61 in his career as head coach of the Texans.

FIVE GUYS IT'S GOOD TO BE

--1. Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. He's 15-1 vs. Cleveland.

--2. Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson. In 14 career games vs. Green Bay, he averages 114.4 yards rushing and has 10 TDs in his last 11 regular-season starts vs. the Packers.

--3. Miami defensive end Cameron Wake. He produced four sacks in his last two starts at home.

--4. N.Y. Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. In his last five starts vs. Dallas, he has five sacks, a 28-yard interception return for a touchdown and a fumble recovery.

--5. San Francisco wide receiver Anquan Boldin. He has five touchdowns in his last three games vs. Washington and aims for his fourth straight against the Redskins with at least one scoring catch.

BELIEVE IT ... OR DON'T

--1. Carolina hasn't allowed a first-quarter touchdown in 14 straight games, the longest active streak in the NFL.

--2. If Denver and Kansas City each win Sunday, it would mark the first time in 65 years that two teams in the same division won 10 of their first 11 games.

--3. Arizona's Bruce Arians is the first ever Associated Press Coach of the Year to face his former team as a head coach the following season.

--4. Green Bay's Eddie Lacy leads the NFL with 645 rushing yards since Oct. 1.

--5. With a win Sunday, the New York Giants can become only the second team in league history (the 2009 Tennessee Titans were the first) to lose its first six, then win its next five.

--6. With a win Sunday, Peyton Manning extends his NFL record of 10-win seasons to 13. Brett Favre is second with 10.

--7. Baltimore's last five defeats have been by a total of 17 points.

--8. The Ravens have at least two sacks in 18 straight games, the longest streak of its kind since the 2003-04 Philadelphia Eagles, with 19.

--9. Carolina has 21 drives of five-plus minutes, the most in the NFL.

--10. After allowing six touchdown passes the first four weeks, Tennessee has allowed only one scoring pass the last six games. The seven TD passes allowed by the Titans are a league low.

TEN NUMBERS THAT MAY MEAN SOMETHING

--0-4 -- Carolina vs. Miami

--4 -- Adam Vinatieri field goals of 50 or more yards this season

--4-0 -- Baltimore's record vs. the New York Jets at home

--6 -- Games played by Baltimore decided by three or fewer points

--6-3 -- Eli Manning's record in his last nine starts against Dallas

--11-0 -- Dallas' record when DeMarco Murray has 18 or more rushing attempts

--22 -- San Francisco first downs the past two games

--27.2 -- Opponents' third-down conversion rate vs. Kansas City

--48.4 -- Third-down conversion percentage for Carolina, best among NFL offenses

--818 -- Combined TD passes for Peyton Manning and Tom Brady

-- Clark Judge, a Senior NFL Writer for The Sports Xchange, has covered pro football since 1982 and is a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selections Committee.
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