While a select few National Football League (NFL) teams have seemingly clinched a spot in the postseason, the majority are still fighting to remain relevant in the playoff hunt.
The Seattle Seahawks (10-1), Indianapolis Colts (7-3), and Cincinnati Bengals (7-4) have big leads on the rest of their division opponents and are hoping a few more victories will help to crown them division champions.
The New Orleans Saints (8-2) and Denver Broncos (9-1) are on their way to the playoffs, but have the Carolina Panthers (7-3) and Kansas City Chiefs (9-1) breathing down their necks for divisional supremacy.
The Chiefs became the last unbeaten to fall as they lost last Sunday night and are hoping to jump right back aboard the winning train at 1 p.m. Eastern time at home against the San Diego Chargers (4-6) at Arrowhead Stadium. Although losing to the Broncos in Denver may not raise the alarm, what may start to trouble Chiefs fans is the offense’s inability to generate big plays and put numbers on the board.
Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith’s inability to throw the ball down the field is once again under scrutiny as the team managed only one play on offense that netted more than 30 yards, a rush by running back Jamaal Charles. Alex Smith told reporters at the Miami Herald that it may not be big plays, but consistency, that will take the Chiefs offense to the next level.
"I think the biggest thing is getting into a rhythm," Smith said, "moving some chains, getting consecutive plays ran, getting into the flow of the game, changing field position at a minimum. I think that's where it starts."
The Chiefs may not have to worry about playing catch-up like they did last week as they host the Chargers who are looking for a win in order to remain in the running for the last wild card spot. Since starting 4-3, the Chargers have lost their last three straight. With four of their last six games remaining against probable playoff teams, a loss will likely knock them out of contention. The Chargers will need to treat their division match-up this week as a must-win or else it might be lights out for the team.
The NFC East has heated up considerably since the first quarter of the season and this Sunday’s 4:25 p.m. Eastern time showdown between the Dallas Cowboys (5-5) and the New York Giants (4-6) will go a long way in deciding who wins the division.
The Giants seemed all but an afterthought after their 0-6 start, but have since won four straight and jumped back into contention. The team is doing it with their defense, giving up less than 12 points a game in their four wins compared with the almost 35 they were giving up in their first six losses.
And while Giants quarterback Eli Manning is not winning games single-handedly, he also is not losing them anymore. The quarterback has only thrown two interceptions in the team's four wins compared with 15 in his first six losses.
Veteran linebacker Jon Beason and the Giants know the importance of winning these division games.
“If we can get that one, we’ll be on our way,” Beason told the NY Times. “It’s going to be a big-time game.”
Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo knows the pressure of playing in a big game and fans will hope that the bye week has given their team an advantage. The problem? Romo has lost his last three games coming out of byes. Look for a high-scoring close affair this Sunday at MetLife Stadium.
Tom Brady and Peyton Manning are two quarterbacks who have played and won their fair share of big games. This Sunday night marks the 14th match-up between the All-Pro pair as the Broncos travel to New England to face the Patriots at 8:30 p.m. Eastern time.
The talk surrounding this game will undoubtedly center on the quarterbacks. Brady, with a career 9-4 record against Manning, is having one of his poorest offensive seasons while Manning might be on his way to setting several records in Denver. This game, however, may not be decided by the quarterbacks, but by the defense and coaching.
Last Monday, the Patriots could not slow down the Carolina Panthers offense, which converted eight of 11 third downs and put up 24 points on the Patriots. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton completed 68% of his passes and ran for another 62 yards against the banged-up Patriots defense.
While Manning will not test the Patriots defense with his legs, he is far and away a more accomplished passer than Newton. On an injured ankle last week, Manning was impressive as ever, throwing for 323 yards and one touchdown. Even more impressive was that the Chiefs defense was not even able to register a single quarterback hit, let alone a sack, for the entire game.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has beaten Manning before and it will come down to whether or not the legendary coach can come up with a scheme that will force Manning to take sacks and make mistakes.
Talkative and revealing as ever about his game plan, Belichick told WEEI Radio, “You have to play good team defense, that’s all there is to it. It’s not just ‘Take one guy away in their offense.’ They have a lot of weapons, they execute very well.”
Belichick knows what it is like to have an excess of talent on offense, which will help him prepare for Manning and company. Fans of all teams will want to tune into this battle of NFL royalty to see which all-time great, Manning or Brady, will walk away with a win in round 14.