At this point in the season, the NFL’s top teams are jockeying for playoff position and preparing to make a run at the Lombardi Trophy.
And as luck would have it, the Week 13 schedule offers a postseason preview of sorts – as five high-profile games pit winning teams against one another.
To kick off the early slate of games, the Atlanta Falcons (7-4) host the Minnesota Vikings (9-2) in a battle of well-balanced teams.
Atlanta currently sports the 11th-ranked scoring offense at 24.1 points per game, and while that’s down from last season’s high-octane performance, the Falcons are benefiting from the 13th-ranked defense (20.9 points per game).
Minnesota is enjoying similar symmetry, with the 8th-ranked scoring offense (24.6) and the 5th-ranked defense (17.7). The surprising rise of career backup Case Keenum to the realm of elite quarterbacks has been the story, but as usual, head coach Mike Zimmer has the defense playing with passion.
The Vikes have won seven straight games, and even better for bettors, they’ve covered six straight against the spread.
An eighth straight victory is guaranteed to extend the covering streak too, as the latest lines posted by online sportsbook Bovada have Minnesota as 3-point road underdogs.
Next up, the Buffalo Bills (6-5) host the New England Patriots (9-2) in an AFC East “rivalry” that’s been anything but since Bill Belichick arrived in Foxboro. Since his tenure began in 2000, Belichick has simply dominated the Bills, to the tune of a 29-5 overall record.
That includes a five-game winning streak in Buffalo, during which time the Pats offense has averaged 38.6 points per game.
The Bills are 4-1 at home this year, but those victories came against low-powered offenses like the Jets, Broncos, Buccaneers, and Raiders. In their only home loss thus far, Buffalo was bombarded by the Saints in a 47-10 rout, which doesn’t bode well for the Bills as another top-tier offense comes to town.
Accordingly, the Bills find themselves as big-time 9-point home dogs here, even as they find themselves in the thick of the AFC Wild Card race.
Speaking of that race, the Bills are tied with the Baltimore Ravens (6-5) in the standings, but that could change quickly based on their history against New England. And if the Bills do wind up at .500 by week’s end, the Ravens could take a firm grip on a postseason bid by beating the Detroit Lions (6-5).
This one’s going down in Baltimore, where the Ravens just dismissed the Houston Texans (4-7) in a 23-16 defensive slugfest on Monday Night Football. That’s been par for the course for the Ravens, who are surrendering just under 10 points per contest during a 3-1 jag.
Detroit is also 3-1 over its last four games, but the Lions were slain by the Vikings on Thanksgiving Day in their last outing.
That means Detroit is fresh from a proverbial “mini-bye” with nine days of rest in between games, while Baltimore must cope with a short six-day week.
Even so, the consensus line has the Lions as 3-point road dogs despite the disparity in downtime.
The New Orleans Saints (8-3) host the Carolina Panthers in an afternoon affair, and the winner immediately takes the inside track towards an NFC South title.
That’s a shock to most pigskin pundits, given the Saints and Panthers finished last season at 7-9 and 6-10, respectively.
Both teams have used the ground game to get ahead, with New Orleans ranked third overall at 142.1 rushing yards per game, and Carolina close behind in fifth (129.2). But with quarterbacks like Drew Brees and Cam Newton under center, the potential for aerial attacks is always there – which goes a long way in explaining these rivals’ shared success this season.
With the raucous Superdome crowd on their side, the Saints are tabbed as 4.5-point favorites at Bovada.
To cap off the Sunday fun, the Seattle Seahawks (7-4) host the Philadelphia Eagles (10-1) in a game that very well may have implications on eventual NFC playoff seeding.
Obviously, the Eagles have the East locked down, but the Seahawks have been battered by injuries and currently sit in seventh place in the conference standings.
With the Legion of Boom broken up by major injuries to Richard Sherman and Kam Chancellor, the Eagles have the 6-point edge here, even heading into CenturyLink Field’s infamously hostile conditions.