Monday Night – New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins
Welcome to the ultimate trap game. The Patriots lost this matchup last year when everyone expected them to steamroll Miami. This game has that exact same feel and you can bet the Dolphins will be looking to catch them by surprise once again. Miami is a little better than they get credit for and they proved that at the end of last season when they started putting things together. We’ll see what happens when these two meet under the Monday night lights.
Keys to the Game
Don’t fall asleep at the wheel. New England got caught in this late-season meeting last year and ended up losing the game. Luckily for them, they’d already locked up the AFC by that point. I can guarantee Belichick wasn’t happy, though. The most important thing for New England is going to be protecting Tom Brady. The Dolphins have a sickeningly good defensive line that can pulverize quarterbacks at will. This team will fall apart if they lose Brady, so they’ve got to keep him upright and healthy at all costs. If they’re able to do that, Tom Terrific should take care of the rest and lead his team to a win in the Miami heat.
No matter who you are, the key to beating New England is getting to Brady. The entire game is going to be won in the trenches when the Pats are on offense. Miami will need both Ndamukong Suh and Cam Wake to be at their best for this one so that they can disrupt the New England offense. You can bet that Brady will be ready with quick passes to counteract their rush, so strong tackling on the backend will be a must as well. It’s a tall task for Miami, but let’s not forget that they pulled it off last year. Jay Ajayi can help out by extending drives with his running and keeping the New England offense on the sideline.
Sunday Night – Baltimore Ravens at Pittsburgh Steelers
It’s always exciting when the Ravens and Steelers get together to play a little football. It’s even more exciting when they’re playing under the lights on Sunday night. It just brings everything to a new level. There’s no guarantee that the Ravens will still be in the playoff hunt in Week 14, but that won’t have any effect on the intensity of this game. That’s the beauty of rivalries, the flow of the game doesn’t depend on the standings, they’re always playing for pride.
Keys to the Game
Baltimore will need to get back to their old ways of playing shutdown defense. They don’t have the talent on that side of the ball that they used to, but they’re still a strong group. It will be on the secondary to make big plays when Roethlisberger makes ill-advised throws (which he will do) and get the ball back in Joe Flacco’s hands. The Ravens could easily create multiple turnovers in this one and that will really turn the tables in their favor. As long as Flacco doesn’t give the ball right back, the Ravens will be in the driver’s seat.
This is one of those games that everyone will expect Pittsburgh to win… but it won’t be as easy as the masses will think. Baltimore has some playmakers on offense and a talented defense, the Steelers can’t afford to take them lightly at this stage in the season. Roethlisberger is going to need to make smart plays when he’s under pressure rather than trying to force the ball into coverage. He’s not as young as he used to be and turning the ball over is going to keep Baltimore in this game.
Sunday Afternoon – Minnesota Vikings at Carolina Panthers
When the Vikings and Panthers clash down in Carolina, it’s going to be another potential playoff preview. Each team could win their division and if they don’t, they’ll be frontrunners for the Wild Card. This matchup gives us the unstoppable force (Cam Newton) meeting the immovable object (Vikings defense). Who wins? Let’s find out.
Keys to the Game
We already know that the Vikings are going to need find a way to slow down Cam Newton, that’s obvious. What may not be so obvious is that the Vikings will need to protect their QB in order to stay in the fight. Carolina’s pass rush is fearsome and Minnesota will struggle to put points on the board if their QB winds up on the ground every time he drops back. Establishing the run game with McKinnon and Asiata will be an important part of keeping Bradford upright as it will force those defensive linemen to hesitate for a second, ensuring it’s not a running play, before they crash upfield. Do that and the Vikings will find this a much easier game to win.
Carolina is going to need to stay patient on offense. The Vikings are a formidable opponent and they’re going to make Newton and company earn every yard and every score. Newton can’t let that fluster him, because the Minnesota won’t miss opportunities to create turnovers. Staying within the offense and being patient will be paramount if Carolina wants a late-season victory over a playoff-bound opponent. A couple big plays from the defense will only help lock this one up for Carolina.
Thursday Night – New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons
How about a fireworks show to kick off Thursday Night Football in December? Well, that’s exactly what we’ve got when the New Orleans Saints head to Atlanta to take on the Falcons. Drew Brees and Matt Ryan will have those defenses trembling as they fire the ball down field and start racking up the points. With the NFC South on the line, you can bet that neither of these teams will be backing down in this one
Keys to the Game
Let’s not pretend that New Orleans has the capability of slowing down the Falcons’ attack. So, we’ll focus on the other side of the ball. To compete, Drew Brees will have to be on his game and so will the receiving corps. Michael Thomas and Willie Snead will have to find ways to get open and haul in the passes when Brees drops them in. The key, though, will be Adrian Peterson. If AP can can get back to his old ways, he can help keep the Saints offense on the field and the Falcons off it. That’s going to be the best defense New Orleans can play in this one.
Atlanta will be in the driver’s seat for this matchup from the start. They’re simply the superiorly talented team. However, you’ve still got to execute any time you’re faced with a Hall of Fame quarterback on the sideline. The Falcons would do well to establish the run game early with Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman and follow it up with some solid defensive play to get the ball back sooner than later. Keeping the defense fresh will be the key to surviving a game against Drew Brees and Adrian Peterson. A spent defense will have no shot at slowing down that duo.