TheSTN – With Four Games Remaining, NFL Enters Final Quarter

It’s Week 14 of the NFL season and only four games remain to decide who advances to the playoffs. And who goes is anyone’s guess as 29 teams remain in contention for a trip to Super Bowl XLVII.

“It’s a great feeling to clinch a playoff spot after all of the hard work put in by these guys in this locker room,” says Texans quarterback MATT SCHAUB, whose team secured a trip to the postseason with a 24-10 win at Tennessee. “It’s a great feeling to know that we’ve reached that goal, but we have a lot more to accomplish and we are looking forward to that.”

With four games to go, there are 22 teams either in or within two games of a playoff spot.

“The biggest thing is we have to focus on what we can do to win these last four games,” says rookie quarterback RUSSELL WILSON of the 7-5 Seahawks. “But the only thing you can focus on is winning one game at a time.”

Four teams have already clinched spots in the 2012 playoff field, including three division winners: Atlanta Falcons (NFC South), Denver Broncos (AFC West), New England Patriots (AFC East) and Houston Texans (playoff berth).

“We know we’re in the playoffs,” says Broncos cornerback CHAMP BAILEY. “Now we just need to keep fighting and try to get a better spot.”

Two more teams can join the postseason field this week as the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers can both clinch at least a playoff spot. The Ravens also have a chance to claim the AFC North.

Additionally, the Falcons have an opportunity to clinch a first-round bye and home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs while the Texans can clinch the AFC South, a first-round bye and home-field advantage in the AFC postseason.

As the NFL season enters its fourth quarter, the action is sure to match the excitement that NFL games have produced in the fourth quarter. This season, there have been 43 games in which the game-winning points were scored in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime. That is the second-most through Week 13 since the 1970 merger (46 in 2003). There were four such games last week:

  • Seattle 23, Chicago 17 (OT): Seahawks’ Wilson throws a 14-yard touchdown pass with 0:24 remaining in the fourth quarter and then wins the game in overtime with a 13-yard TD pass.
  • Indianapolis 35, Detroit 33: Colts rookie quarterback ANDREW LUCK throws two touchdown passes in the final 2:39 to rally Indianapolis back from a 12-point deficit. He throws the game-winning TD pass as time expires.
  • St. Louis 16, San Francisco 13 (OT): Rams rookie kicker GREG ZUERLEIN sends the game to overtime with a 53-yard field goal as time expires and then wins it with a 54-yard field goal with 0:26 left in OT.
  • Pittsburgh 23, Baltimore 20: Steelers kicker SHAUN SUISHAM converts a 42-yard field goal as time expires as the Steelers win on the road.

The Week 14 schedule starts on Thursday night (8:20 PM ET, NFL Network) when the Broncos visit the Oakland Raiders in an AFC West showdown. Some of the key games in Week 14:

            DALLAS COWBOYS (6-6) at CINCINNATI BENGALS (7-5)
(Sunday, FOX, 1:00 PM ET)                

The Cowboys will visit the Bengals in a matchup between two teams in the playoff hunt. Both clubs were victorious in Week 13 as Dallas defeated Philadelphia 38-33 and Cincinnati knocked off San Diego 20-13.

On Sunday night, Cowboys quarterback TONY ROMO completed 22 of 27 passes (81.5 percent) for 303 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 150.5 passer rating. Romo (168) also passed Pro Football Hall of Famer TROY AIKMAN (165) for the most touchdown passes in franchise history.

“Every game is a must-win from here on out,” says Dallas wide receiver MILES AUSTIN, who had a 27-yard TD catch.

Quarterback ANDY DALTON passed for one touchdown and rushed for another in Cincinnati’s win at San Diego. At 7-5, the Bengals find themselves in the middle of the playoff race and just two games behind Baltimore for the division lead.

“This team is getting better each week,” says Cincinnati wide receiver A.J. GREEN, who ties for the NFL lead with 10 touchdown receptions. “A lot of people said it was out of our reach to make the playoffs, but I feel like we have momentum on our side coming down the home stretch of the season.”

BALTIMORE RAVENS (9-3) at WASHINGTON REDSKINS (6-6)
(Sunday, CBS, 1:00 PM ET)

More than local bragging rights will be on the line when the Redskins host the Ravens. Both teams are in playoff contention. Baltimore can secure a playoff spot and the AFC North division on Sunday while the Redskins, who have won three consecutive games, find themselves just one game behind the division-leading New York Giants in the NFC East.

Washington has won three division games in a row, including a 17-16 win over the Giants on Monday night. Rookie quarterback ROBERT GRIFFIN III has a 140 passer rating and nine touchdown passes over those three games. During that span (since Week 11), Griffin leads the NFL in both categories.

“We know that our backs are against the wall,” says Griffin, who has helped rally his team from a 3-6 record to a 6-6 mark. “And even though we won (on Monday night), our backs are still against the wall.”

Despite a Week 13 loss to Pittsburgh, the 9-3 Ravens still lead the division by two games.

“There’s a lot of football left in this season,” says Baltimore running back RAY RICE. “We can still go ahead and win the division. We’re still the defending AFC North division champions. We’ve still got a lot of football left.”

DETROIT LIONS (4-8) AT GREEN BAY PACKERS (8-4)
(Sunday, NBC, 8:20 PM ET)

The Packers aim for their 11th consecutive division win when they host the Lions. Quarterback AARON RODGERS has thrown a touchdown pass in 35 consecutive games at Lambeau Field, the longest such streak at one stadium in NFL history, passing Pro Football Hall of Famer JOHNNY UNITAS (34 games at Memorial Stadium).

“We have a tough division,” said Packers linebacker A.J. HAWK after the team’s Week 13 win over Minnesota. “Every game is going to be like this. The NFC North is a fun division to be in as a linebacker. Every game is physical and I don’t think there are going to be many blowouts in the NFC North.”

In last year’s meeting between these two teams at Lambeau Field, Lions quarterback MATTHEW STAFFORD passed for 520 yards and five touchdowns. Detroit’s passing offense leads the NFL this season (312.5 yards per game) with wide receiver CALVIN JOHNSON playing a major role.

Johnson, who leads the NFL with 1,428 receiving yards, is the first player in NFL history with four consecutive games with at least 140 receiving yards in a single season. He has also tied the NFL record set byPAT STUDSTILL in 1966 with five consecutive games with at least 125 receiving yards.

HOUSTON TEXANS (11-1) AT NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (9-3)
(Monday, ESPN, 8:30 PM ET)

Two of the NFL’s best teams will meet on Monday night. Both teams have already clinched a playoff berth but this matchup may help determine the seeding for the AFC playoffs.

At 11-1, the Texans lead the AFC South and can move one step closer to clinching the division. In Houston’s Week 13 victory at Tennessee, the defense recorded six sacks and forced six turnovers. Leading the way was defensive end J.J. WATT, who had a sack, forced fumble and two passes defensed. Watt is the first player with at least 15 sacks (15.5) and 15 passes defensed (15) in a single season.

“New England has obviously been an AFC power for a while,” says Watt. “I know this game is going to be a big deal. We’re going to prepare just like every other week with intensity, focus and drive. We’re really excited about our chances.”

With last week’s 23-16 win at Miami, the Patriots clinched the AFC East for the fourth consecutive year and ninth time in the past 10 seasons. The division title is the 10th for TOM BRADY, who is the first starting quarterback in NFL history to win 10 division titles.

“It’s a good feeling being able to win the division,” says New England head coach BILL BELICHICK. “We’ll turn the page here now and move on to Houston. They’re a real good football team and it will be a big challenge for us.”

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