23 TEAMS EITHER IN OR WITHIN ONE GAME OF PLAYOFF SPOT
AS NFL ENTERS WEEK 12
The standings are close as NFL teams begin their playoff push. Through the first 11 weeks, there are 23 teams either in or within one game of a playoff spot. Two others sit just one-and-a-half games out.
“We have talked about how the playoffs have already started,” says Arizona head coach BRUCE ARIANS, whose team has won three games in a row to improve to 6-4. “We have to keep winning. We have to take a playoff attitude every week that this is a playoff game and we have to win to catch up. The guys have done it.”
Week 12 kicks off on Thursday night (8:25 PM ET, NFL Network) when the New Orleans Saints visit the Atlanta Falcons in an NFC South divisional contest. The Saints lead the division and own the second-best record in the NFC at 8-2.
The Saints, who won seven games last year, are one of seven teams that have already matched or surpassed their win total from 2012 – Arizona, Carolina, Detroit, Kansas City, New Orleans, Oakland and Philadelphia. Additionally, three other teams can join that list this week – Cleveland, Jacksonville and the New York Jets.
Week 12 concludes with a Monday night contest (ESPN, 8:40 PM ET) featuring two playoff teams from a season ago as the Washington Redskins host the San Francisco 49ers. Some of the key games this week:
CAROLINA PANTHERS (7-3) AT MIAMI DOLPHINS (5-5) (Sunday, FOX, 1:00 PM ET)
The Panthers have won six in a row – tied with Seattle for the longest active streak in the NFL – and enter the week just one game behind New Orleans for the top spot in the NFC South. Carolina defeated New England 24-20 on Monday night behind CAM NEWTON’s three touchdown passes. The Panthers have allowed an NFL-low 135 points (13.5 per game) and are the only team to rank in the top five in total (third), run (third) and pass defense (fifth).
“I’m excited for our players,” says Carolina head coach RON RIVERA. “They won the kind of game that a lot of people don’t think we can win. I think we proved a lot.”
Miami is in the thick of the AFC playoff race at 5-5 and last week knocked off San Diego 20-16. Dolphins quarterback RYAN TANNEHILL passed for 268 yards and his 38-yard touchdown pass to CHARLES CLAY in the third quarter put Miami up for good.
“Someone’s got to get that last Wild Card spot,” says Dolphins tackle TYSON CLABO. “Why not us?”
CHICAGO BEARS (6-4) at ST. LOUIS RAMS (4-6) (Sunday, FOX, 1:00 PM ET)
The Bears moved back into a tie for first place in the NFC North with a 23-20 overtime win over Baltimore last week. Chicago running back MATT FORTÉ had 125 scrimmage yards and a touchdown in the victory. He has 1,148 scrimmage yards this season and is the only player in franchise history with at least 1,000 scrimmage yards in each of his first six seasons.
“It’s an awesome win,” says Bears kicker ROBBIE GOULD, who converted the game-winning 38-yard field goal in overtime. “To get to 6-4 and be at the top of our division is pretty big at this point. You spend the first couple months trying to get in the race and now you’re trying to finish the race.”
St. Louis is coming off a bye and looks to build off the team’s 38-8 win at Indianapolis in Week 10. Rams rookie TAVON AUSTIN returned a punt 98 yards for a touchdown and had receiving touchdowns of 81 and 57 yards, becoming the first player in NFL history with a 95+ yard punt-return touchdown and two 55+ yard receiving touchdowns in a single game.
The game will also feature a pair of brothers on opposite sides as Bears rookie guard KYLE LONG, who has started all 10 games, faces Rams defensive end CHRIS LONG, who has 6.5 sacks this season and scored on a 45-yard fumble-return touchdown in Week 10.
“It’s a dream come true for me to be able to look across the line of scrimmage and think my older brother and I are two of the few people on this earth to play in the NFL,” says Kyle Long. “We’re privileged and blessed.”
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (7-3) at ARIZONA CARDINALS (6-4) (Sunday, CBS, 4:05 PM ET)
Last season, interim head coach BRUCE ARIANS guided the Colts to a playoff berth and was named the 2012 AP NFL Coach of the Year. Now with Arizona, Arians has led the Cardinals to a 6-4 start, the most wins by a head coach in his first 10 games with the team since CHARLEY WINNER in 1966. Arians is the first person to be named NFL Coach of the Year and then face that team the following season as the head coach of a different team.
Both clubs are coming off wins in Week 11 and find themselves right in the mix for the playoffs. The Colts, who lead the AFC South, erased a 14-0 first-quarter deficit to defeat Tennessee 30-27.
“At the end of the day, winning is what matters,” says Indianapolis quarterback ANDREW LUCK. “We were fortunate to be in this game to survive our mistakes and have a chance to win. We know that’s got to be fixed.”
The Cardinals have won three games in a row, including last week’s 27-14 win at Jacksonville. Arizona quarterback CARSON PALMER passed for 419 yards, including a 91-yard touchdown to wide receiver MICHAEL FLOYD, who finished with six catches for 193 yards and a touchdown. The Cardinals, who had an 80-yard touchdown run by running back ANDRE ELLINGTON in Week 8, are the first team since the 1962 Denver Broncos to have a 90-yard touchdown reception and 80-yard touchdown run in the first 10 games of a season.
DALLAS COWBOYS (5-5) AT NEW YORK GIANTS (4-6) (Sunday, FOX, 4:25 PM ET)
Entering Week 12, the Philadelphia Eagles (6-5), Dallas Cowboys (5-5) and New York Giants (4-6) are separated by just one-and-a-half games for the top spot in the NFC East.
Dallas, who is coming off a bye, defeated New York 36-31 on Kickoff Weekend. In his past four starts against the Giants, Cowboys quarterback TONY ROMO has 12 touchdowns, three interceptions and a 117.7 passer rating. Dallas tight end JASON WITTEN has 26 catches (13 per game) for 237 yards (118.5 per game) and two touchdowns in the past two meetings between the two rivals.
After an 0-6 start, the Giants have won four in a row. Last week, New York defeated Green Bay 27-13. Giants wide receiver RUEBEN RANDLE had a touchdown catch – his sixth in the past six games – and defensive end JASON PIERRE-PAUL had a 24-yard interception-return touchdown in the fourth quarter to expand the lead to 14 points.
“We knew we were going to have a tough challenge getting back into the mix, but the only thing we could do is to start getting one win at a time,” says Giants quarterback ELI MANNING. “We’ve done that these last four weeks. Obviously we’ve still got some room to go. We’ve got four in a row and that’s a good feeling. We’re going to keep fighting, keep getting better and see if we can keep winning.”
DENVER BRONCOS (9-1) AT NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (7-3) (Sunday, NBC, 8:30 PM ET)
For the 14th time in their careers, including the postseason, quarterbacks TOM BRADY (New England) and PEYTON MANNING (Denver) will meet. Brady has guided the Patriots to nine wins in those meetings over Manning’s Colts and Broncos.
This game will be the first in NFL history in which both starting quarterbacks are at least 90 games over .500 in the regular season. In their careers, Brady is +101 (143-42) and Manning is +92 (163-71).
The Broncos defeated Kansas City last week, handing the Chiefs their first loss of the season. With the win, Denver is now tied with Kansas City for the best record in the AFC at 9-1. The Broncos lead the NFL with 398 points scored – the third-most ever by a team through the first 10 games of a season – and Manning has passed for a league-best 3,572 yards and 34 touchdowns.
New England leads the AFC East by two games and the Patriots are 5-0 at home. In last week’s 24-20 loss at Carolina on Monday night, Brady made his 185th career NFL start with BILL BELICHICK as his head coach, the most starts by a quarterback under one head coach in NFL history. Miami’s DAN MARINO started 184 games for head coach DON SHULA; both Marino and Shula are enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.