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NFL 2012 Season — Week 14 Preview

NFL 2012 Week 14
Mike Ehrmann, Frederick Breedon / Getty Images

There are just four weeks left in the 2012 NFL season. Four playoff spots have already been filled, but two more teams can clinch this week. Here’s a preview of this week’s games:

Thursday, December 6

Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders — 8:20 P.M.

O.co Coliseum, Oakland
Denver (9-3) has already clinched the AFC West, but the Broncos are still chasing a first-round bye. Quarterback Peyton Manning has helped his team score 29.1 points per game, the third-highest average in the NFL. The Raiders allow 31.3 points per game, the most in the league. Oakland (3-9) hopes to start running back Darren McFadden, who has missed the last four games with an injured right ankle. The Broncos rank third in total defense, allowing 308.2 yards per game. Denver beat Oakland, 37-6, in the Week 4 meeting between the teams.

Sunday, Dec. 9

St. Louis Rams at Buffalo Bills — 1:00 P.M.

Ralph Wilson Stadium, Orchard Park, N.Y.
St. Louis (5-6-1) is still in playoff contention despite an offense that averages just 18.4 points per game, 28th in the league. Rams running back Steven Jackson will test the Bills defense, which gives up 139.2 rushing yards per game, third-most in the league. Buffalo (5-7) ranks fourth in the league in rushing at 147.9 yards per game. The Rams hope to contain Buffalo backs Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller and force passing downs for their fierce pass rush.

Dallas Cowboys at Cincinnati Bengals — 1 P.M.

Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati
Quarterback Tony Romo has 10 touchdowns and two interceptions during the last five games for Dallas (6-6). The Cowboys must protect him. The Bengals pass rush leads the NFL with 39 sacks. Cincinnati (7-5) may build its game plan around running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who ranks 11th in the league with 885 rushing yards. The Dallas run defense has been gashed for more than 100 yards by running backs in each of the past two games.

Kansas City Chiefs at Cleveland Browns — 1 P.M.

Cleveland Browns Stadium, Cleveland
Still reeling from the suicide of linebacker Jovan Belcher, Kansas City (2-10) will attempt to build on last week’s rare victory. Running back Jamaal Charles is still Kansas City’s main offensive weapon, ranking sixth in the league with 1,055 rushing yards. The Browns defense has played better as the team has won four of its last seven games. Quarterback Brandon Weeden threw for 364 yards in last week’s win for Cleveland (4-8). The Chiefs have the league’s ninth-best pass defense.

Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts — 1 P.M.

Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis
Tennessee (4-8) quarterback Jake Locker was sacked six times last week by the Texans. The Colts defense has only registered 23 sacks on the season. Just like during last Sunday’s dramatic win over the Lions, Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck was the hero in Week 8 — when his game-winning touchdown pass helped Indianapolis (8-4) beat Tennessee, 19-13, in overtime. Luck has thrown for 3,596 yards, but his passer rating is 76.1, mainly due to his AFC-high 16 interceptions. The Titans have allowed 29.9 points per game, the second-highest total in the NFL.

Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings — 1 P.M.

Mall of America Field, Minneapolis
Chicago (8-4) must protect quarterback Jay Cutler, who has been sacked 30 times in 11 games. When Cutler has had time, he’s often found receiver Brandon Marshall, who has an NFC-high 91 receptions. Vikings’ defensive end Jared Allen should play despite back spasms. He has 8.5 sacks in 2012. The Bears beat the Vikings, 28-10, in Week 12. Quarterback Christian Ponder has been woeful for Minnesota (6-6). His 2,305 passing yards are a league-low for quarterbacks who have played in all 12 of their team’s games. The Bears have given up the second-fewest points in the NFL. Chicago will be without middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, who injured his hamstring last week, and could also be missing cornerback Tim Jennings, who suffered a shoulder injury.

Philadelphia Eagles at Tampa Bay Buccaneers — 1 P.M.

Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.
Philadelphia (3-9) head coach Andy Reid named rookie Nick Foles the team’s starting quarterback for the remainder of the season — even if injured Michael Vick is cleared to play. Rookie running back Bryce Brown has been a rare bright spot for the Eagles. Brown has rushed for 347 yards and four touchdowns in the last two games, but he’s also fumbled three times. The Buccaneers defense stuffs the run, allowing a league-low 82.3 rushing yards per game. Tampa Bay (6-6) quarterback Josh Freeman has the same passer rating (92.1) as the Saints’ Drew Brees. Freeman will look for the holes in an Eagles’ secondary that has the second-fewest interceptions in the NFC.

Baltimore Ravens at Washington Redskins — 1 P.M.

FedEx Field, Landover, Md.
Baltimore (9-3) can clinch a playoff spot with a win over the Redskins. The Ravens can win the AFC North title with a victory and losses by the Steelers and Bengals. Baltimore may want receivers Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith to make a big impact this week. The Redskins have given up an average of 299 passing yards per game. Washington (6-6) depends on rookie quarterback — and NFL MVP candidate — Robert Griffin III, whose 104.4 passer rating is the NFL’s third highest. The injury-plagued Ravens’ defense isn’t as highly rated as it has been in past seasons, but it’s still allowing just 20.2 points per game.

Atlanta Falcons at Carolina Panthers — 1 P.M.

Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte
NFC South champion Atlanta (11-1) has a chance to clinch home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs with a win and losses by the Packers, Bears and 49ers. The Falcons squeezed out a 30-28 win over the Panthers in Week 4. Carolina (3-9) sacked Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan seven times in the earlier meeting, so the Falcons will need to improve their pass protection. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is still his team’s best offensive threat. The Falcons defense has 16 interceptions on the season.

N.Y. Jets at Jacksonville Jaguars — 1 P.M.

EverBank Field, Jacksonville
New York (5-7) will start quarterback Mark Sanchez, even though Greg McElroy led the Jets’ 29th-ranked offense to a win in relief last week. The Jaguars have the AFC’s worst-ranked defense, yielding 404.9 yards per game. Jacksonville (2-10) also has the AFC’s worst total offense. Barring the unlikely return of star running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who has missed five games with a foot sprain, quarterback Chad Henne will have to lead the Jaguars’ attack against an experienced Jets defense. Jacksonville receiver Cecil Shorts III suffered a concussion last week and could miss the game.

San Diego Chargers at Pittsburgh Steelers — 1 P.M.

Heinz Field, Pittsburgh
San Diego (4-8) suffered additional losses to its offensive line, with starters Jeromey Clary, Michael Harris and Tyronne Green all possibly out this week. That’s not good news against the Steelers’ top-ranked defense, which will be without injured cornerback Ike Taylor. After missing three games due to rib and shoulder injuries, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger could return this week for Pittsburgh (7-5). Charlie Batch will start if Roethlisberger can’t. The Chargers rank ninth in total defense, but they are much better against the run than the pass.

Miami Dolphins at San Francisco 49ers — 4:05 P.M.

Candlestick Park, San Francisco
Miami (5-7) offensive tackle Jake Long was placed on injured reserve with a triceps injury. Long’s absence could mean additional pass rush pressure on Dolphins rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who has thrown 12 interceptions and just seven touchdown passes this season. NFL sack leader Aldon Smith leads a 49ers defense that is ranked first in the NFC. Colin Kaepernick will remain the starting quarterback for San Francisco (8-3-1). The Dolphins defense ranks eighth in the league against the run, but has been beaten often through the air. The 49ers can clinch a playoff spot with a win and losses by the Cowboys, Vikings, Rams, Buccaneers and Redskins.

Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks — 4:25 P.M.

CenturyLink Field, Seattle
Arizona (4-8) beat the Seahawks, 20-16, in Week 1, but the Cardinals have now lost eight consecutive games. Injured quarterback Kevin Kolb could return for Arizona, which averages a league-worst 15.5 points and 279.1 yards per game. Seattle (7-5) has the NFC’s top-ranked total defense, allowing 313.4 yards per game. The Seahawks figure to get carries for Marshawn Lynch, the NFL’s second-leading rusher with 1,138 yards. Arizona’s run defense ranks 24th in the league.

New Orleans Saints at N.Y. Giants — 4:25 P.M.

MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.
New Orleans (5-7) averages 386.4 yards per game, the NFC’s second-highest total. Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees hopes to improve on his five-interception performance last week. The Giants defense has intercepted 18 passes already this season. On offense, New York (7-5) may turn receiver Victor Cruz loose on a Saints defense that gives up 440.5 yards per game, most in the league.

Detroit Lions at Green Bay Packers — 8:20 P.M.

Lambeau Field, Detroit
Detroit (4-8) will try to shake off another disappointing loss after being beaten on the final play of the game by the Colts last week. The Lions have the NFC’s top-ranked offense, piling up 416.1 yards per game. The Packers defense is tied for fourth in the NFL with 34 sacks. Green Bay (8-4) beat Detroit, 24-20, in Week 11. The Packers may use running back James Starks more often against the Lions’ questionable run defense.

Monday, Dec. 10

Houston Texans at New England Patriots — 8:30 P.M.

Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.
AFC South champion Houston (11-1) can clinch home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with a win and losses by the Colts, Ravens and Broncos. Texans quarterback Matt Schaub will face a vulnerable Patriots pass defense that ranks 29th in the NFL. Quarterback Tom Brady is the key to the offense for AFC East champ New England (9-3). He’ll face a Houston secondary weakened by injuries. AFC sack leader J.J. Watt will look to pressure Brady and add to his NFL-record 15 pass deflections. The Texans allow an AFC-low 18.4 points per game.

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