Week 12 NFL Preview

Playoff Berths Possible For Titans & Cards: Four Division Leaders Clash: Giants-Cards & Jets-Titans: Tiebreakers? It’s not even Thanksgiving!

But that’s what you get when you’ve had a great season – a possible playoff berth before that mad NFL holiday rush.

That’s where the Arizona Cardinals and undefeated Tennessee Titans find themselves this week – on the cusp of clinching a postseason spot.

That’s great. But the real assignment this week? Just beat the next opponent. The rest will take care of itself.

“We’re in a good position, but it’s not a done deal yet,” says Arizona head coach KEN WHISENHUNT. “The players are only talking about playing the Jets on Sunday,” says Tennessee coach JEFF FISHER. “That’s the challenge right now.”

The Cardinals (vs. the Giants) and Titans (vs. the Jets) play the two Week 12 games that pit division leaders against each other. Group these four teams together and you get an .825 winning percentage.

But, says Giants head coach TOM COUGHLIN, “There are many, many big games to go.” Like this week:


CINCINNATI BENGALS (1-8-1) at PITTSBURGH STEELERS (7-3) (Thursday night, NFL Network, 8:00 PM ET)


STORYLINE: Throw out the recordsit’s “Bengals-Steelers”!


“Hey, we’re a good team, regardless of the record,” says Cincinnati S CHRIS CROCKER. And no better time to prove it than Thursday night in the lair of the hated AFC North-rival Steelers, who defeated the Bengals a month ago 38-10.


It won’t be easy. Although they just edged San Diego 11-10 on Sunday, the Steelers seem to be solidifying things as the Thanksgiving turn approaches. QB BEN ROETHLISBERGER didn’t throw an interception against the Chargers, RB WILLIE PARKER ran for 115 yards and WR HINES WARD produced 124 yards. In Ward’s last three games against Cincinnati, he has had 15 catches for 238 yards and five touchdowns.


It will be a top-this showdown between Ward and the Bengals’ T.J. HOUSHMANDZADEH, who leads the NFL in receptions with 73 and comes off a 12-catch, 149-yard, one-TD day against Philadelphia. Houshmandzadeh’s specialty is going underneath and turning the short catch into long gains.


Congrats, Coach: Steelers defensive coordinator DICK LE BEAU, the Bengals’ head coach from 2000-02, will be honored by the NFL in pregame for his 50 years of service to the league as a player and coach.





STORYLINE: Mississippi vs. Tennessee!


In other words, the Jets’ BRETT FAVRE, from Kiln, Mississippi, against KERRY COLLINS and the Titans. Two of the oldest QB starters in the league (Favre, 39; Collins, 35) have shown this year that experience tops age by taking their teams to two of the three best records in the AFC (Pittsburgh, 7-3).


They will be tested. Favre, who has not thrown an interception in two games, will confront a pass defense that will






ROOKIE RUSHERS: Ten rookie running backs have had 100-yard rushing games this year — the most such rookies in a season ever. They are JAMAAL CHARLES (K.C.), MATT FORTÉ (Chi.), BEN JARVUS GREEN-ELLIS (N.E.), TIM HIGHTOWER (Ariz.), CHRIS JOHNSON (Tenn.), DARREN MC FADDEN (Oak.), RAY RICE (Balt.), STEVE SLATON (Hou.), KEVIN SMITH (Det.) and JONATHAN STEWART (Car.).


continuously change during the game, from man-to-man to zone coupled with mixtures of each. The Titans with 15 tie Baltimore for second in the league in interceptions to Green Bay’s 16. And Favre – sacked only four times in the past four games – will face a defensive tackle that has DE/LB quickness in ALBERT HAYNESWORTH and his seven sacks.


The Titans lead the league in turnover differential (plus-10), with a lot of credit for that going to Collins, who has been picked off only four times this season. He gets plenty of protection, being sacked the fewest times (5) among the league’s top-20 passers.


Matchup to watch: Jets marauding DT KRIS JENKINS has told FOX analyst TONY SIRAGUSA that he is definitely looking forward to going against former Jets C KEVIN MAWAE.





STORYLINE: Hey, Eliit’s Kurt!


The two starting QBs know each other well. As a matter of fact, Arizona’s KURT WARNER played the Giants’ first nine games of ELI MANNING’s rookie year (2004) before Eli finished the season’s final seven.


Both Super Bowl-winning QBs and MVPs, the two have excelled this year. Warner leads the NFL in passer rating (105.5), has posted a club-record four consecutive 300-yard games and has taken the Cards to a four-game division lead.


Manning has led the Giants to their best start since their Super Bowl XXV season of 1990 (10-0), to 30-or-more points in their past three games, and the No. 1 rank in points scored, 292 (Arizona ties the Jets for second-most, 289).


Even with those strong arms, the real battle could come on – where else? — the ground. The Giants, with their three-pronged rushing attack of BRANDON JACOBS, DERRICK WARD and AHMAD BRADSHAW, lead the league in rushing and come off their third 200-yard rush game in a row, giving them a team-record five such games in a season. They go against the NFL’s No. 7 rush defense.


Home in domes: The Giants have won six consecutive games in domes, including at the site of this Sunday’s game in University of Phoenix Stadium when its roof was closed for Super Bowl XLII.


INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (6-4) at SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (4-6) (Sunday night, NBC, 8:15 PM ET)


STORYLINE: Colts getting hot, but the Chargers cooled them off last year.


Indy, after starting 3-4, has won its last three and is starting to look like its old fireworks self. Primarily using the no-huddle, Colts QB PEYTON MANNING engineered three long second-half scoring drives against Houston last week while completing vintage Peyton numbers of 30-of-46 completions for 320 yards and no interceptions.


But…a year ago (November 11) at the same site, San Diego was all over Manning, picking him off a Colts’ single-game record six times in a 23-21 victory. Two months later in Indianapolis, it was two more Manning INTs by the Chargers (not including a nullified 89-yard TD return by ANTONIO CROMARTIE) in a 28-24 San Diego Divisional Playoff win.


That all adds up to a Chargers’ ’07 Indy sweep. But now it’s 2008 and 4-6 San Diego — who has won 18 of its past 20 at home — knows time is getting short. “The Colts are getting hot, so they’ll be tough,” says Chargers QB PHILIP RIVERS, who leads the league in touchdown passes (21). “But we’ll be ready to go.”



GREEN BAY PACKERS (5-5) at NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (5-5) (Monday night, ESPN, 8:30 PM ET)


STORYLINE: Put-it-up against shutdown.


That will be the special Monday night in New Orleans when the air-show-express of QB DREW BREES and the Saints confronts the blanket pass coverage of the interception-crazed Packers.


Brees, No. 1 in the league in attempts (398) and yards (3,251), is on pace to break DAN MARINO’s season passing yardage record (5,084). He has the most 300-yard passing games (7) in the league this year and throws to fleet wideouts MARQUES COLSTON, DEVERY HENDERSON and LANCE MOORE, and could get back RB REGGIE BUSH (42 catches) this week.


That all said, the Packers’ secondary of CHARLES WOODSON, AL HARRIS et al can be daunting. Last Sunday, for instance, Green Bay played five DBs to limit Chicago’s air game. The Pack tops the NFL with 16 interceptions (six returned for TDs) and limits opposing QBs to league lows in passer rating (59.5) and completion percentage (51.5).


Meanwhile, let’s not forget that other QB Monday night, Green Bay’s AARON RODGERS. In his first year as a starter, Rodgers has taken the Packers to the same record as the Saints, sits only one spot behind Brees in passer rating (No. 5, 94.5, to Brees’ No. 4, 95.4) and has thrown at least two touchdowns in a game five times this season.


(Home team in CAPS)


Thursday, November 13

Sunday, November 16, Cont.’d.

N.Y. Jets 34, NEW ENGLAND 31 (OT)

N.Y. GIANTS 30, Baltimore 10


TAMPA BAY 19, Minnesota 13

Sunday, November 16

SAN FRANCISCO 35, St. Louis 16

Denver 24, ATLANTA 20

Arizona 26, SEATTLE 20

CAROLINA 31, Detroit 22

Tennessee 24, JACKSONVILLE 14

Philadelphia 13, CINCINNATI 13 (tie, OT)

PITTSBURGH 11, San Diego 10

GREEN BAY 37, Chicago 3

Dallas 14, WASHINGTON 10

INDIANAPOLIS 33, Houston 27


MIAMI 17, Oakland 15

Monday, November 17

New Orleans 30, KANSAS CITY 20

Cleveland 29, BUFFALO 27



(All times local)


Thursday, November 20

Sunday, November 23, Cont.’d.

Cincinnati at Pittsburgh, 8:00 PM (NFLN)

Chicago at St. Louis, 12:00 PM


N.Y. Jets at Tennessee, 12:00 PM

Sunday, November 23

Oakland at Denver, 2:05 PM

Philadelphia at Baltimore, 1:00 PM

N.Y. Giants at Arizona, 2:15 PM

Houston at Cleveland, 1:00 PM

Carolina at Atlanta, 4:15 PM

San Francisco at Dallas, 12:00 PM

Washington at Seattle, 1:15 PM

Tampa Bay at Detroit, 1:00 PM

Indianapolis at San Diego, 5:15 PM (NBC)

Minnesota at Jacksonville, 1:00 PM


Buffalo at Kansas City, 12:00 PM

Monday, November 24

New England at Miami, 1:00 PM

Green Bay at New Orleans, 7:30 PM (ESPN)