Welcome to Crunchtime Previews Week 13. Crunchtime Previews is a weekly feature where Jonathan Kinsley takes a look at key matchups in the NFL from Week 13 to Week 17, in which teams fighting for a playoff spot face off against one another. The rule is that the matchup must include two teams in the playoff hunt.
For the Week 13 edition of Crunchtime Previews, there will be a whopping six games.
Crunchtime Previews: Week 13
So let’s get the list started.
Kansas City Chiefs (8-3) at Atlanta Falcons (7-4)
Both of these teams would make the playoffs if the season ended today, and Kansas City came victorious in a sloppy thriller at Denver last week. After concerns of the Falcons offense and a tough schedule came about in the preseason, Atlanta stormed to a 7-4 start to lead the AFC South with MVP candidate Matt Ryan.
Kyle Shanahan‘s offensive scheme has gotten the most out of a mostly limited receiving cast. Because Julio Jones takes away the need for another excellent receiver, the limited skill sets of Taylor Gabriel and Mohamed Sanu have fit into the play calling. Ryan’s been able to cut the key turnovers he made last season, and the team has weathered a storm of tough teams such as Denver, Oakland, and Seattle.
Against the Chiefs’ defensive line, the superb run game combo of Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman will be put to the test, as well as the offensive line, which has been hit or miss this season. On the other side of the ball, the Chiefs offense has been successful in execution for most of the season, but Alex Smith and the play calling were exposed last week against the Broncos (checkdowns on third and long?). Against a weaker defense, Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill and Spencer Ware should have an easier time eating up yardage.
This should be a good matchup, but I’m going with Atlanta in this one. I think Shanahan’s pass offense will be able to dominate a weak defensive secondary.
Detroit Lions (7-4) at New Orleans Saints (5-6)
Every game the Saints are in results in a shootout because of that defense, but in this case, we should expect another one. The Lions have been able to take advantage of key injuries in the NFC North to win six of their last seven games after starting 1-3 and are now first in the division. The Saints have had an up and down season, but remain two games out of first place with a huge matchup at home.
Matthew Stafford has been considered an MVP candidate for his play in the fourth quarter, where the Lions have trailed in every game they’ve played this season yet have seven game-winning drives. His mobility and arm strength will make plays against the worst defense in the league, especially with a quality receiving cast including the mighty Theo Riddick, Anquan Boldin, Marvin Jones, and Golden Tate.
Drew Brees would be a clear cut MVP if not for his defense, but his quality of play has been great. With the emerging Michael Thomas and reliable targets such as Brandin Cooks, Mark Ingram, and Willie Snead, the Saints offense is talented and diverse. The pass protection has also been a plus, and Coby Fleener offers an inconsistent but dangerous threat at tight end.
Will this be the game where Detroit’s fourth quarter trailing streak comes to an end? Both of these teams have had key matchups in the past, including a playoff game in 2011. The defenses are also weak, so I’m expecting fireworks on both offenses. Ultimately, New Orleans should win with their home field advantage.
Houston Texans (6-5) at Green Bay Packers (5-6)
Despite the awful quarterback play of Brock Osweiler, questionable coaching decisions, and disappearance of DeAndre Hopkins, the Houston Texans lead their division at 6-5. This is mostly because of how weak it is, but also because of an improved offense; the addition of Lamar Miller has been a key factor, as has the involvement of C.J. Fiedorowicz, Braxton Miller, and Will Fuller.
The Green Bay Packers have been a mess and are paying the price for it. Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback in the league, and the offensive line is one of the best in the NFL, but the skill players look terrible, with Mike McCarthy‘s play calling doing little to get anyone open. Still, they’re coming off a strong performance on the road at Philadelphia, and against one of the weaker playoff teams at home, the odds should be in their favor.
This game will be decided by how many mistakes Osweiler won’t make. His lack of accuracy and infuriating decision making have limited the offense, but against an injured defense and with Hopkins, he may be able to do some damage. Miller must get involved early on as well.
I do not expect a good game out of this one, and with Jadeveon Clowney being ruled out, Green Bay should have an easier time winning this matchup. The offensive line is the key in this one, and I think Rodgers’ mobility will create plays if or when the receivers fail to get open.
Miami Dolphins (7-4) at Baltimore Ravens (6-5)
This is the most unlikely matchup for a playoff spot in years. The Dolphins have rumbled to a six-game winning streak thanks to an improved offensive scheme from rookie head coach Adam Gase and the play of Ryan Tannehill and Jay Ajayi. The Ravens experienced bad luck in close matchups last season, and this time they’re on the good side of it.
Baltimore’s dink and dunk offense will need to be on point, because the Dolphins offense itself is not a pushover. Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon need to get involved early on, and Joe Flacco must limit the bad throws in this one and connect with Mike Wallace.
I’m expecting a close matchup because Baltimore has a good defense and is at home, but I’m going with Miami to win this one. The sloppiness of the Ravens’ offense is not sustainable in my opinion, and they will need a clean game to have a shot in this one.
Buffalo Bills (6-5) at Oakland Raiders (9-2)
This is a game the Bills need to have. The entire season has been up and down, starting with a two-game losing streak, followed by a four-game winning streak, then a three-game losing streak, and now a two-game winning streak. Somehow they’re in the playoff hunt. Despite a bad defense, the Oakland Raiders’ offense has stormed the team to a 9-2 start and guaranteed their first winning season since 2002. Derek Carr has made strides in progression, and the diverse skill set players have had equal opportunities to show case their talents.
The receiving corps is limited for Buffalo, but Tyrod Taylor‘s legs and LeSean McCoy will make this a competitive game. The defensive secondary is hurt, so I expect Michael Crabtree and Amari Cooper to get heavily involved. Latavius Murray and Jalen Richard will be able to pound the rock, and Richard’s receiving talent will make this a tough matchup for Buffalo.
I’m going Oakland in this one. The best chance Buffalo has is to force Carr to make mistakes early on then capitalize. Otherwise, against that offensive line, good luck.
New York Giants (8-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5)
2 of the best quarterbacks in the league (from the same draft class) will face off in this one. Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger have been inconsistent this year, but at least Ben can point to injuries for that. Manning’s accuracy has been all over the place this season, but with an improved offense that includes Odell Beckham, Victor Cruz, Sterling Shepard, and Paul Perkins, he’s not suffocating as much as he has in the past.
With the return of a healthy Ben and Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers are dangerous despite injuries to the receiving corps. Antonio Brown is obviously huge, but tight end Ladarius Green, signed in the offseason, has returned from injury, getting increased targets as the games go by. Combined with Todd Haley’s scheme and the offensive line, and it’s easy to see why the offense is so good.
Pittsburgh will get somewhat of a test with New York’s secondary, and their own defense will keep the Giants in this one. Pittsburgh should work underneath with Bell and Green before stretching the field with Ben and Brown. The Giants need to get rookies Perkins and Shepard involved; Shepard didn’t get any targets until the fourth quarter against Cleveland last week.
This will be a tough game, but Pittsburgh‘s home field advantage should emerge in this one.