TheSTN – Playoff Races Intensify As NFL Enters Final Month

As the calendar turns to December, the NFL enters the final month of the regular season. With 11 games down, only five remain for teams to make their playoff push. 

“This is when you need to be playing your best ball heading into the playoff atmosphere,” says New York Giants defensive end JUSTIN TUCK, who has won two Super Bowls (XLII, XLVI). “This is when you want to be playing your best. Hopefully we can end this season playing our best ball and head into the playoffs playing that way. That’s where you want to be.”

As the league enters Week 13, there are 26 teams either in or within two games of a playoff spot

“Our goal is to keep winning and get to the big one,” says Denver Broncos wide receiver DEMARYIUS THOMAS. “We’re going to take every game one at a time, take it week by week and just keep going. We’re going to try to keep winning.”

Five teams – Atlanta (NFC South, playoff berth), Baltimore (AFC North, playoff berth), Denver (AFC West), Houston (playoff berth) and New England (AFC East) – can clinch a playoff berth this week. But there is still plenty of football left to be played.

“It’s all right there in front of us,” says quarterback DREW BREES of the 5-6 New Orleans Saints. “I firmly believe that if we take care of our business and worry about ourselves, things will happen in a way we envision and we’re going to have a chance to get into the playoffs. We understand the sense of urgency and the small margin for error at this point.”

The Saints will visit the division-leading Atlanta Falcons (10-1) on Thursday night (NFL Network, 8:20 PM ET) to kick off Week 13. Some of the key games in Week 13:

NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (5-6) at ATLANTA FALCONS (10-1) (Thursday, NFLN, 8:20 PM ET)                

Two NFC South rivals will meet in the Georgia Dome on Thursday night when the Falcons host the Saints.

In Week 10, New Orleans handed Atlanta its first loss of the season by defeating the Falcons 31-27. In that contest, JIMMY GRAHAM of the Saints (146 receiving yards, two touchdowns) and TONY GONZALEZ of the Falcons (122 receiving yards, two touchdowns) became the first set of tight ends to each have at least 120 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the same game.

“We played New Orleans a couple of weeks ago, so that game and their schemes are probably still fresh in our minds,” says Atlanta quarterback MATT RYAN. “We’ve done this before. We know how to handle the short week. It’s just going to take a good effort this week.”

The Falcons will look to continue their success at the Georgia Dome. Ryan is the only quarterback in the Super Bowl era to win 31 of his first 35 starts at home. The Saints have climbed back into the playoff picture after an 0-4 start and sit just one game behind the NFC’s final Wild Card spot. Since joining New Orleans in 2006, Brees has won 11 of his 13 starts against Atlanta and has a 100.6 passer rating in those games.

“It’s a quick turnaround for us,” says Brees, who joined BRETT FAVRE (nine) and PEYTON MANNING (six) as the only quarterbacks with 30 touchdown passes in five different seasons. “We’ve got to get to their place, we’ve got to get prepared and we’ve got to put it all together. We’ve got a huge game on the road against the leader of our division. This is how you feel better, to go on and get a win.”

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (6-5) at CHICAGO BEARS (8-3) (Sunday, FOX, 1:00 PM ET)

Two teams in the thick of the playoff chase will meet at Soldier Field. The Bears lead the NFC North with an 8-3 record while the Seahawks are battling for a Wild Card position at 6-5.

Rookie quarterback RUSSELL WILSON has guided Seattle to six wins and he led the NFL with a 128.6 passer rating in November. Wilson posted a passer rating of at least 125 in all three November starts and he is the first rookie in NFL history to register a 125+ rating in three consecutive games.

“We’ve got a huge game in front of us,” says Wilson about the Week 13 matchup with the Bears. “That’s our only focus. That’s got to be a narrow focus. We’ve just got to keep battling.”

Chicago improved to 8-3 with a 28-10 win over Minnesota last week. Running back MICHAEL BUSH rushed for two touchdowns and the defense recorded its league-leading 20th interception. Wide receiver BRANDON MARSHALL, in his first year with the Bears, became the fifth player in NFL history with a 1,000-yard receiving season with three different teams (Denver, Miami, Chicago).

“We are where we want to be,” says Bears head coach LOVIE SMITH. “Back on the winning track and we feel good.”


The Broncos (8-3) can clinch the AFC West on Sunday with a win while the Buccaneers remain in the middle of the NFC playoff hunt. Denver has won six consecutive games – the longest active streak in the NFL – and Tampa Bay has won four of its past five.

Since Week 6, Tampa Bay leads the NFC with 228 points (32.6 per game). During that period, quarterback JOSH FREEMAN has 16 touchdowns, three interceptions with a 104.1 passer rating and rookie running back DOUG MARTIN has 1,082 scrimmage yards (154.6 per game) and nine total touchdowns.

“We’re going to do our best to make sure that we’re at our best,” says Buccaneers head coach GREG SCHIANO about the team’s upcoming game against Denver.

Denver has won six in a row, outscoring opponents 183-107 in that span. The Broncos, who are averaging 30.5 points per game during their winning streak, are led by quarterback PEYTON MANNING. Last week, Manning passed for 285 yards and two touchdowns to record his 149th career win, passing Pro Football Hall of Famer JOHN ELWAY (148) for the second-most in NFL history.

“The only question I have for Peyton now is if he will win his fifth MVP,” says NFL Network analyst STEVE MARIUCCI.


The Giants (7-4) lead the NFC East by two games over Dallas (5-6) and Washington (5-6) but the Redskins can close the gap when they host New York on Monday night.

The two teams met earlier this season in Week 7 with the Giants winning 27-23. In that game, New York wide receiver VICTOR CRUZ caught the game-winning 77-yard touchdown pass from quarterback ELI MANNING with 1:13 remaining in the fourth quarter. It marked the longest game-winning TD in the final two minutes of a game in franchise history.

“Washington is a great team and in this division, everybody plays each other tight, so we’ve got to go out there and prepare well and take advantage of the opportunities when they come,” says Giants wide receiver HAKEEM NICKS, who had a touchdown catch in New York’s 38-10 win over Green Bay in Week 12.

The Redskins have won two in a row – both against NFC East opponents – and have been led by rookie quarterback ROBERT GRIFFIN III. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft has thrown eight touchdowns in the past two games and is the only rookie in NFL history with back-to-back games with four passing touchdowns.

“There’s definitely a sense of urgency when you know you cannot stumble,” says Redskins head coach MIKE SHANAHAN. “You’ve got to go out and win each week and it starts with the present game. That mindset has been there. There’s a good sense of urgency that everybody’s got to play their best game and that everybody’s got to do what they’re capable of doing.”

In the team’s past two games, Griffin has completed 34 of 43 passes (79.1 percent) for 511 yards with eight touchdowns and one interception for a 146.1 passer rating.

“When he came back from the bye week, he said, ‘Hey, our backs are against the wall. We know what we’ve got to do and I’m going to play my best football,’” recalls Shanahan about Griffin. “That’s what leaders do. That’s what captains do.”

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