By Don Banks | November 30, 2017 2:00 pm PT
After Thanksgiving is when the NFL season really kicks it up a notch in terms of intensity, at least for the teams still in playoff contention. With five weeks left in the regular season, there’s no reason to hold back anything in reserve. It’s go for broke, make your move time, and that usually makes for great December drama.
My game of the week in Week 13? That’s easy. Minnesota (9-2) is at Atlanta (7-4) and I can’t ever watch those two teams play without thinking back to their epic 1998 NFC Championship Game in the Metrodome, when I was the Vikings beat writer for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune. That 30-27 Atlanta upset victory in overtime was still the most memorable game I’ve ever covered, when the 15-2 Falcons did the near-impossible in rallying from a late-game deficit to force sudden death and vanquish 16-1 Minnesota.
If we get half that game this Sunday, we’ll be fortunate. But with the Vikings on a seven-game winning streak and the Falcons having righted their season by winning three in a row, this matchup has both glamor and the potential to greatly impact the NFC playoff chase. Minnesota is currently the NFC’s No. 2 seed, with Atlanta in the No. 6 slot. But there’s still time for that to change.
Nineteen years later, Vikings-Falcons is must-see TV once again.
Washington at Dallas — The Cowboys have been beyond anemic offensively without Ezekiel Elliott, with no one deluding themselves into thinking Dak Prescott can carry the load by himself any more. Washington’s Kirk Cousins isn’t playing like his team is all but out of the NFC wild-card chase, and he likes to show up in prime time. Winner: Washington.
Kansas City at the New York Jets — Herm Edwards used to coach both of these teams, and now it looks like he’s getting back into the game, as the favorite to take the vacant Arizona State job. The reeling Chiefs couldn’t beat the Giants at MetLife Stadium two weeks ago, but their luck will finally turn for the better in JetLife Stadium. Winner: Kansas City.
Tampa Bay at Green Bay — There are some easy Bay of Pigs jokes to be made with both of these teams under .500 after 12 weeks. But after watching Brett Hundley and the Packers almost knock off the Steelers in Pittsburgh last Sunday night, they don’t deserve the ridicule. Winner: Green Bay.
Minnesota at Atlanta — The Falcons offense has looked 2016-esque of late, and no longer are Atlanta fans calling for the head of first-year coordinator Steve Sarkisian. Mike Zimmer was once Atlanta’s defensive coordinator and he’ll have his guys amped up to appropriate big-game levels. But the Falcons are putting some things together at the right time, and Minnesota’s winning streak is about to come to an end. Winner: Atlanta.
San Francisco at Chicago — Hard to factor in the first-time Jimmy Garoppolo start in terms of how much improved San Francisco’s offense will be. Chicago’s defense could make a play or three to boost the Bears, but Mitchell Trubisky still has those training wheels on his game, and the 49ers should hang up win No. 2 of the year. Winner: San Francisco.
Detroit at Baltimore — The Lions haven’t won a game in Baltimore since the Colts were the home team and Bert Jones wore the horse shoe on his helmet. If the Lions are to have legit hopes of making the playoffs, this is a must win. But the Ravens will scrape together another ugly win and take a firmer grip on the AFC’s No. 6 seed. Winner: Baltimore.
Denver at Miami — Dolphins Head Coach Adam Gase used to be Denver’s offensive coordinator, but his team now has lost five in a row, its longest skid since 2011. Broncos Head Coach Vance Joseph used to be Miami’s defensive coordinator, but his team has dropped seven straight, its longest losing streak since 1967. The tiebreaker? Miami quarterback Jay Cutler is back, and he started his NFL career in Denver. Winner: Miami.
Indianapolis at Jacksonville — Man, was that one weird Chuck Pagano press conference the other day. Between him and Colts owner Jim Irsay, their trains of thought left the tracks long ago. I don’t believe we’ll have too many more Pagano press conferences to enjoy/endure, and another loss this week against the Jaguars will hasten that reality. Winner: Jacksonville.
Houston at Tennessee — Houston hung up 57 points the last time these teams met, in Houston in Week 4. But that was Deshaun Watson time for the Texans, and sadly the rookie quarterback is done for the year with an ACL injury. Tom Savage is a turnover machine, and the Titans will continue their bid to win the AFC South for the first time since 2008. Winner: Tennessee.
New England at Buffalo — Tom Brady is 26-3 against the Bills in his career, more wins than he owns against any other team. Can you imagine? Buffalo has only beaten Brady three times in the span of 17 seasons? Number four is not forthcoming. Winner: New England.
Cleveland at Los Angles Chargers — Last year the Browns beat the visiting Chargers in Week 16, earning their only victory of the year and avoiding the ignominy of 0-16. That’s still the only win in Hue Jackson’s tenure, with his 1-26 mark growing more historic by the week. The surging Chargers won’t let it come down to a field goal once again, and the Browns will be dealing with an 0-12 reality. Winner: Los Angeles.
Carolina at New Orleans — The Saints already went into Charlotte and beat the Panthers in Week 3, meaning this game could wind up deciding the NFC South champion. If they couldn’t slow down the Saints at home, I don’t see the Panthers getting it done in the Superdome. Winner: New Orleans.
New York Giants at Oakland — After the way the Giants botched the Eli Manning benching, playing 3,000 miles away from their fan base seems prudent. Good luck, Geno Smith. This is a New York team that wouldn’t always play hard for the face of the franchise in Manning. You’re probably not getting their best effort either. Winner: Oakland.
Los Angeles Rams at Arizona — I have to admit I kind of miss the days when Bruce Arians and Jeff Fisher would snipe at each other through the press. Those Rams, as Arians liked to remind everyone, were always 8-8. These Rams are 8-3, and bear no resemblance to the old Rams. Winner: Los Angeles.
Philadelphia at Seattle — The high-flying, quick-to-dance Eagles haven’t been tested in over a month, winning four straight games by at least 23 points. Another blowout isn’t happening. In fact, this is near desperation time for Seattle, and the Seahawks are going to rise up and remind the rest of the NFL to not forget about them. Winner: Seattle.
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati — If I’m Bengals coach Marvin Lewis, I’m making sure my team sees that Mike Tomlin-Tony Dungy interview from last Sunday night on a continuous loop. The Steelers might be looking ahead to the Patriots, but they’re still good enough to do so while taking care of business against Cincinnati. Winner: Pittsburgh.