Welcome to another weekend of the NFL season — a season that is flying by! After this weekend, just three football weekends left in the regular season. While that’s depressing, at least we’ve got a month of playoffs before things REALLY get cold and bleak, and the games are gone. Before this gets too somber, let’s just celebrate the football that we have left, with good food at Buffalo Wild Wings! There’s a location near you, and a seat right in the middle of all the action with your name on it. So stop by this weekend.
When you get to BWW this weekend, take note of all the implications of the games you’ll see. First, when it comes to clinching a playoff berth, there are a couple of potential spots to be claimed this weekend. Houston can wrap up the AFC South with a win over the Patriots on Monday night (more on that later) and a Colts loss to the Titans. Houston can also wrap up a first-round bye this weekend, provided that they win, Indianapolis loses to the Titans and Baltimore loses to the Redskins. Baltimore, meanwhile, can wrap up the AFC North, but they must win and also see the Steelers lose to the Chargers and the Bengals lose to the Cowboys. The Ravens can secure a playoff spot by winning and seeing either the Bengals or Steelers lose.
In the NFC, a couple of far-flung scenarios this weekend are all we have to look for in these games. Atlanta, which already won the NFC South last week, can clinch a first-round bye in the playoffs with a win over the Panthers, and a loss by the 49ers to the Dolphins. That’s the easiest way. They can also get the bye with a win and a Bears loss to the Vikings plus a Packers loss to the Lions on Sunday night. If all those losses happen (Atlanta wins, Bears, Packers and 49ers lose), the Falcons will grab home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. Meanwhile, San Francisco can grab a playoff spot if the following happens: The 49ers win… Dallas loses… Minnesota loses… Tampa Bay loses… Washington loses… and either the Rams or Seahawks lose. Yep. It’s just that simple.
Let’s talk games this weekend, and let’s start at the end: Monday night, where Kevin Harlan and our Westwood One crew have a great game to call in New England, as the Patriots host the Texans. This will be billed as a possible AFC Championship Game preview, and for good reason as these are arguably the top two teams in the AFC. The Patriots boast the best offense in the NFL, while the Texans have the 4th-best offense in the league. The Texans have the balance with the 6th-best defense in the NFL, while the Patriots have given up a lot of yards this season, ranking 26th overall in total defense.
One big matchup in this game is through the air. Both defenses have shown the tendency to give up yards through the air. Houston struggled against both the Jaguars and the Lions, and neither of those teams have Tom Brady at the helm. But the Patriots have been vulnerable to a strong passing attack all season, allowing nearly 280 yards per game. The Texans’ passing attack is especially effective because of Houston’s strength on the ground. Arian Foster’s success opens up play-action for Matt Schaub, who has shown that he can be especially effective operating behind a solid offensive line. On the other side, will the Texans D be able to create pressure? They have most of the season, behind J.J. Watt’s 15 sacks, and considering the Dolphins were able to sack Tom Brady four times last week, Houston defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has to be excited to see what his charges can cook up against that Patriots front. Should be a great game between two terrific teams, and one I think we have an excellent chance of seeing again with a Super Bowl berth on the line in late January.
I’ll be in Minneapolis this weekend with Mark Malone and my Westwood One crew to broadcast the Bears and the Vikings. We saw the Bears last week, losing a tough one to Seattle in overtime. That loss dropped the Bears into a first-place tie in the NFC North with the Packers, who have the tiebreaker at least for now. The Vikings lost to the Packers last week, and critics are up in arms in the Twin Cities. Cries to bench Christian Ponder have been loud and frequent this week in Minneapolis, and the fans will be looking for a strong performance from the young QB against the banged up Bears on Sunday. Two more critical injuries came in Sunday’s loss, both on the defensive side. Tim Jennings, who leads the NFL with eight interceptions, was seen with his arm in a sling this week. Word around the Bears was that they HOPE he’ll be back by the end of the year after a shoulder injury. And then, there’s Brian Urlacher. On the second-to-last play of the game, Urlacher limped to the sidelines, and has a hamstring injury that will likely keep him out for awhile. Not a good loss to suffer when you’ve got the task of trying to stop Adrian Peterson.
The Vikings would seem to have more on the line in this game, considering another loss to the Bears would put them at 6-7 on the year, and likely out of the division race and maybe out of the playoff race as a whole. But the Bears have plenty to play for too, considering that they face the Packers next weekend, and would love to go into that game tied with Green Bay atop the division. Winning against the Vikings sets up a great showdown in Chicago with the NFC North on the line.
Enjoy the great taste of Buffalo Wild Wings with your football this weekend, and be sure and tune in to all the games as you go back and forth on Westwood One Sports.
— Kevin Kugler
Westwood One NFL play-by-play announcer Kevin Kugler tackles subjects that are interesting to him each week in his blog. The Football Insider Report is brought to you by Buffalo Wild Wings. Protect the Football. This weekend, Kevin and Mark Malone will be in Minneapolis as the Minnesota Vikings host the Chicago Bears. Coverage starts at 12:30 PM Eastern on Westwood One Sports.