As we approach Thanksgiving, it’s time to start thinking about the race to the postseason and which teams are in contention. (What, did you think I was going to say that it’s time to think about the things we are thankful for? This is something to be thankful for!)
For this reason, you’d think I’d have a hard time choosing which games to discuss this week. I did, but not because there were too many choices. The fact is, though many teams need to keep winning to stay alive for the postseason, the actual head-to-head battles this week are quite lacking in the excitement category. We find two examples in the NFC East and one in the NFC West.
In the NFC East, the Dallas Cowboys (5-4) travel to Washington, DC to face the wayward Redskins, who are circling the drain at 3 and 6. Dallas needs the win to stay in the division race with the New York Giants (6-3), who play the lackluster Philadelphia Eagles (also 3-6). Therefore, while these would typically be must-see games (especially the Dallas-DC bout, a classic rivalry), the action won’t give you much to write home about.
In the NFC West, the woeful Arizona Cardinals (at 3-6) will face the 2011 powerhouse San Francisco 49ers. Again, division rivalries always make for good television, but the 49ers have all but clinched the division title and Arizona’s troubles at quarterback should only help the Niners on their quest for the postseason.
In the sea of ennui that is this week in the NFL, however, I have found one game that has big implications for the playoff and may actually provide some excitement: the Cincinnati Bengals (6-3) at the Baltimore Ravens (also 6-3) (Sunday, 1:00 PM ET on CBS). As I mentioned last week, Cincinnati is having a rebound year after injury troubles left the team on the outside looking in come the postseason. Although much improved from last year with rookie QB Andy Dalton, this is only Cincinnati’s third division game this season. They won the first against the Cleveland Browns, who are last in the division at 3-6; they lost last week to the first-place Pittsburgh Steelers in a game that was well fought.
The Ravens, meanwhile, are coming off a shocking loss last week to the 2-7 Seattle Seahawks. This actually isn’t the first time that the Ravens have lost to a lesser team this season: they lost to the Tennessee Titans in Week 2 (final score: 26-13) and to the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 7 (final score: 12-7). In those losses, QB Joe Flacco’s quarterback ratings were 51.2 and 61.0, respectively; in last week’s loss, his rating was 67.4. So, does that mean anything? Well, in their six wins, Flacco’s rating averaged 82.4, and that includes a head-scratching 37.4 rating in a win against the New York Jets in Week 4 (without it, he averages 91.42). Cincinnati’s secondary will be missing cornerback Leon Hall, who is always a threat, but they have excellent depth at the position, with Nate Clements, Pacman Jones and Kelly Jennings. So, will Flacco carry his team to a redemption win? Will the Ravens Defense be playing angry after an embarrassing loss (and will that help or hurt)? Or will Andy Dalton (QB rating average of 82.6, by the way) and the upstart Bengals score their first win against a tough division opponent?
One last note: This is the last week that any teams will have a bye. So from Week 12 on, every team will be laboring on Sunday. Or Monday or Thursday. Before that, though, the following teams have a bye this week: Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints and Pittsburgh Steelers.