GAME OF THE WEEK
Denver @ Kansas City
The time: 4:25 p.m., EST
The line: Broncos by 5 1/2
The story: The last time these two met was two weeks ago when Denver broke the Chiefs' unbeaten streak, flummoxed quarterback Alex Smith and stonewalled the Chiefs' pass rush. But that was in Denver where the Broncos haven't lost. Now we're at Arrowhead Stadium where the Chiefs are 5-1, where Denver is without two key members of it defense, safety Rahim Moore and defensive tackle Keith Vickerson and where cornerbacks Domonique Rodgers-Cromartie and Champ Bailey are hurting.
I haven't even mentioned running back Knowshon Moreno
, who returned to limited practice this week after suffering a bone bruise vs. New England. Moreno's return is promising for the Broncos, but they're not convinced he's 100 percent -- which means Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball have been put on standby.
Of course, the Chiefs have issues, too, with Tamba Hali
and Justin Houston iffy -- though Hali returned to practice this week. They're the two top pass rushers on a defense that didn't breathe on Manning two weeks ago, and if Kansas City exerts as much pressure on him now as it did then, get ready for another Chiefs' defeat.
A week ago, New England hit him, pressured him and confused him, and look what happened. Of course, the Patriots were aided by bitter cold, as well as a stiff wind. It won't be cold here (with temperatures probably in the 40s by game time), which is good considering Manning is 8-12 in games where it's 40 or below at kickoff. Plus, wind won't be a factor. But turnovers will be, and stay tuned.
The Chiefs must ... absolutely must ... force them and turn them into points. Otherwise, it's deja vu all over again.
Something to consider: Manning is 9-0 vs. the AFC West since joining Denver and is 10-1 lifetime vs. the Chiefs, including a victory two weekends ago.
THREE OTHER GAMES WORTH WATCHING
Tennessee @ Indianapolis
The time: 1 p.m., EST
The line: Colts by 4
The story: The good news: Indianapolis leads the AFC South by two games. The bad: The Colts are in a funk, outscored a whopping 93-12 in the first halves of their last four games -- two of which they lost. That coincides with the loss of star wide receiver Reggie Wayne, and it's hard to imagine one guy having an impact on an entire club ... yet that's what seems to be happening here.
The Colts' offense isn't as efficient. The defense is on the field more. And neither is very good. Normally, being home would change all that, but Lucas Oil Stadium was the scene of a St. Louis beatdown a couple of weeks ago, so there goes that.
Suffice it to say that Indianapolis must start fast, control Titans running back Chris Johnson (he scored twice against the Colts the last time these two played) and force quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to play catch-up. The Colts are the best team in the AFC South, but the division is the 98-pound weakling of the NFL, and it's time Indianapolis makes a push for the playoffs with four quarters of decent football.
Something to consider: Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is 7-2 vs. the AFC South, including 3-0 against the Titans.
Arizona @ Philadelphia
The time: 1 p.m., EST
The line: Eagles by 3
The story: Both these teams are heating up at just the right time. Arizona is on a four-game roll, while the Eagles won their last three. So maybe this is a playoff barometer, with Arizona's hopes pinned to a couple of factors -- the success of its defense, particularly its run defense, and turnovers.
Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles doesn't make them, and he'll have to for Arizona to win here. Reason: Philadelphia's defense is almost as good as its offense, with the Eagles not allowing 21 points in any of its last seven games. Keep that in mind because the Cardinals scored 25 or more points in their last four games ... and won -- the first time that's happened since 1988.
Still, this probably comes down to Foles. He quarterbacks the league's top-ranked rushing offense (or, "a great college offense," as Arizona coach Bruce Arians put it), so he doesn't have to carry the load ... except he might here because the Cards are the NFL's second-ranked run defense. If they can bottle up running back LeSean McCoy, maybe, just maybe, they force Foles into making his first mistakes of the year. The guy has 16 touchdowns, no interceptions and is rested. He's coming off a bye.
That will be tough to overcome, but at least the Cards have the home-field DIS-advantage working for them. Philadelphia lost 10 of its last 11 at home, breaking a 10-game slide with a 24-16 defeat of Washington two weeks ago.
Something to consider: Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer has a 110.8 passer rating in his last four starts and aims for his third straight 300-yard game.
St. Louis @ San Francisco
The time: 4:05 p.m., EST
The line: 49ers by 8 1/2
The story: Normally, this wouldn't show up on our radar, except St. Louis suddenly discovered how to get the ball to wide receiver Tavon Austin. Plus, the Rams didn't lose to San Francisco a year ago. OK, so they got drilled earlier this year. They seem to be a different team now, with Austin, running back Zac Stacy and a rejuvenated defense carrying the team.
Stacy returned to practice this week, and that's promising for a team that will need a lot of help to overcome a 49ers' run defense that ranks 12th overall. If the Rams can't get their running game untracked -- and that hasn't happened for awhile -- it's up to quarterback Kellen Clemens
to deliver, and good luck there.
It's not that Clemens is that bad; it's that the 49ers are that tough on opposing quarterbacks, and rewind the videotape to its defeat of Washington. If Robert Griffin III couldn't solve San Francisco, how do the Rams?
Something to consider: Clemens has four touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 100.5 in his last three games.
MONDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
New Orleans @ Seattle
The time: 8:40 p.m., EST
The line: Seahawks by 5
The story: The Seahawks are 10-1 for the first time in franchise history, are unbeaten at home the past two years and have one of the hottest quarterbacks in the business. So they're a slam dunk here, right? Not so fast. Yes, New Orleans' only losses have been on the road, but the Saints are the best opponent Seattle faces this season.
In fact, consider this a dress rehearsal for the NFC championship game.
The Saints can beat you with quarterback Drew Brees. They can beat you with running back Darren Sproles and tight end Jimmy Graham. Heck, they can beat you with running back Pierre Thomas, who has eight touchdowns in nine Monday Night appearances. Most of all, they can beat you with a defense that was the NFL's worst a year ago and now threatens to make defensive coordinator Rob Ryan look like a genius.
Normally, I'd suggest Seahawks coach Pete Carroll dial New York Jets
coach Rex Ryan to find out how he and the Jets shut down these guys ... except there's that matter of Rex having a twin brother named Rob. The Seahawks don't want to get into a game of tennis with Brees because they can't win it. So it's up to their pass rush to pressure Brees into hurried and inaccurate throws and force the mistakes that doomed him ... and the Saints ... against the Jets.
Something to consider: Brees won his last nine Monday Night Football appearances, completing 71.8 percent of his passes for 28 touchdowns, five interceptions and a passer rating of 123.6. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson is 2-0 on Monday Night, with a 107.7 rating.
CRUMMY GAME OF THE WEEK
Atlanta vs. Buffalo @ Toronto
The time: 4:05 p.m., EST
The line: Bills by 3 1/2
The story: Canada gives us Neil Young and Bobby Orr. We send them this game. No wonder Toronto mayor Rob Ford is prone to "drunken stupors." The Falcons are on a five-game losing binge and have become the league's Cliff Clavin (the often ridiculed character on the former TV sitcom Cheers). The Bills are comfortably settled in last in the AFC East. This game determines nothing but draft position and how much bad football the people of Toronto are willing to stomach.
Something to consider: Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan has five touchdowns and nine interceptions over his last five starts, all of them losses.
FIVE GUYS IT'S GOOD TO BE
--1. Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. In five games (including the playoffs) vs. Philadelphia he has 35 catches for 570 yards and nine TDs -- including six scores in his last three games against the Eagles. Fitzgerald has more TDs vs. Philadelphia than against any team outside the NFC West.
--2. Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson. In 14 games against Chicago, he has 1,185 yards rushing and 11 TDs. What's more, in his last four home games against the Bears he averaged 112 yards rushing per game and has six TDs. He aims for his fourth straight game against Chicago with over 100 yards rushing.
--3. San Francisco running back Frank Gore. He has 14 rushing touchdowns in the last 13 games vs. St. Louis. He had 153 yards and a score the last time he played the Rams.
--4. New York Giants
defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. In six games vs. Washington, he has six sacks, two fumble recoveries and two forced fumbles.
--5. Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman. In his last nine home games he has seven interceptions, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery and two touchdowns.
BELIEVE IT ... OR DON'T
--1. Since 2003, the Colts are 17-4 vs. Tennessee.
--2. The Patriots won 15 of their past 16 games in December.
--3. Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson is 13-0 at home, with 27 touchdown passes, six interceptions and a passer rating of 117.
--4. New England is an NFL-best 45-6 in December since 2001.
--5. Since the 12-team playoff format began in 1990, 16 teams with losing records after 11 games qualified for the postseason -- including last year's Washington Redskins
--6. The Cardinals' Bruce Arians is 16-7 over his last 23 games as a head coach. Only four NFL coaches are better: Denver's John Fox (19-4), New Orleans' Sean Payton (19-4), Seattle's Pete Carroll (19-4) and New England's Bill Belichick (18-5).
--7. When Seattle (10-1) hosts New Orleans (9-2) Monday it will mark the second-highest combined winning percentage (.863, 19-3) for two teams in a Monday night game after each played at least 10 games. Only the 1990 game between San Francisco and the New York Giants, each 10-1, was higher.
--8. The Broncos scored 25 or more points in 16-straight regular-season games, the longest streak of its kind in NFL history.
--9. Over the last 10 years there has been at least one team to finish atop its division after finishing last the year before.
--10. Dating back to the final half of the 2011 season the average margin of defeat for Seattle in its nine losses is 4.6 points, with its worst loss a seven-point defeat in San Francisco last year.
TEN NUMBERS THAT MAY MEAN SOMETHING
--1-4 -- Tennessee coach Mike Munchak's record vs. Indianapolis
--5 -- Carolina quarterback Cam Newton's rushing TDs in his last five games vs. Tampa Bay
--7 -- Career 100-yard games for Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith vs. Tampa Bay
--9 -- 400-yard games for the Philadelphia offense
--12-1 -- Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith in games where he has a passer rating of 100 or better
--16-4 -- New Orleans' record in prime-time TV games since 2009
--25-5 -- New England quarterback Tom Brady's record when the temperature is 32 or colder
--77.3 -- Tampa Bay quarterback Mike Glennon's passer rating in his last two starts
--152.8 -- Philadelphia quarterback Nick Foles' passer rating for November, the highest in any month in league history
--1977 -- The last time Arizona had five straight wins
-- 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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