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Playoffs start in Week 14 for Giants, Cowboys

One of the great things about this time of year is the way the schedule skews to divisional matchups. We're backloaded, by design, and it should provide no shortage of big games down the stretch.

Yes, we know the Packers and 49ers have divisions wrapped up, and the Saints and Patriots are threatening to pull out of reach. But for the most part, there is legitimate uncertainty as to who will take most division crowns.

Can the Texans maintain their lead, with T.J. Yates, as the Titans begin to really ride Chris Johnson for the first time this season? Can Baltimore hold off Pittsburgh? One more Ravens slip-up against a lesser foe could really cost them. Will Tebow Time make it to the big dance? Could either the Giants or Cowboys sweep the two remaining games between those teams, and effectively settle the NFC East?

The answers are coming my friends. The final four weeks of the season figure to present us with another stunner or two (who saw the Jaguars over Ravens, or Rams over Saints, or Seahawks over Giants coming earlier this season?), and generally it's the time of year when the cream rises as well.

We've seen many an upstart club ride a hot December into a long playoff drive, and with Drew Brees chasing history, the Packers chasing perfection and the Colts chasing infamy, well, it makes for enough subplots to keep most games intriguing on one level or another. Oh, and I hear it's fantasy football playoff time as well. Congrats to those still playing. Alas, my Sonic Reducers are in a bit of a rebuilding mode, and if I could fire myself as their coach, I would.

Remember, games here are rated as either a footlong, a six-inch, a pita or a finger sandwich.

    • New York at Dallas

      Sun 8:20 p.m. ET, NBC Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      The NFC East will be settled by the two remaining meetings between these teams. Neither club has been complete or all that consistent, but somebody is going to the playoffs. This is a big game.
    • Inside slant:

      Jason Garrett is going to be hearing about it for going uber-conservative, but against this pass rush you wonder if he skews that way again. Ahmad Bradshaw changed the complexion of the Giants offense in his return last week. Miles Austin could be back for Dallas, but having missed so much time some might wonder how effective he could be. The Giants traditionally play well in Dallas. Eli Manning will test Dallas' beat-up secondary.
    • Rating:

      Footlong
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Houston at Cincinnati

      Sun 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      This is a playoff game here, with all kinds of tiebreaker potential. The Texans keep rolling despite losing key players (hello, T.J. Yates), while the Bengals come off their first lopsided loss of the season. Houston is still pushing for the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC, while the Bengals hope for a wild-card berth after three straight division defeats.
    • Inside slant:

      Johnathan Joseph faces his old team, with so much on the line, and a likely matchup against the Bengals' Rookie of the Year candidate A.J. Green. This will be quite the homecoming for the former Bengals player. The other key matchup would have been Leon Hall vs. Andre Johnson, but they're both hurt. Cincy must establish ball control with Cedric Benson. The Texans are ballhawking in the back end.
    • Rating:

      Footlong
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • New Orleans at Tennessee

      Sun 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      Drew Brees, on pace to shatter the mark for yardage in a season, faces one of the toughest secondaries in the NFL. New Orleans is as hot as any team in the league other than the Packers. The Titans, meanwhile, need to keep winning to remain in the playoff hunt.
    • Inside slant:

      Chris Johnson is back, in peak form and killing defenses on the edge. Expect a fair amount of run blitzes from the Saints, buoyed by the return of LB Jonathan Vilma. Matt Hasselbeck has been slowing some for the Titans after a fast start.
    • Rating:

      Footlong
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Oakland at Green Bay

      Sun 4:15 p.m. ET, CBS Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      The Packers are heading toward 16-0 and the Raiders are trying to stay in the AFC playoff picture. Aaron Rodgers is playing out of his mind. The Raiders are banking on Carson Palmer being elite in December when it counts.
    • Inside slant:

      The Raiders need to get healthy at wide receiver and running back, ASAP. You have to wonder at what point does Green Bay's staff begin resting key starters, and perhaps preparing for the postseason. Clay Matthews continues to lead the NFL in combined QB hurries and knockdowns.
    • Rating:

      Footlong
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • San Francisco at Arizona

      Sun 4:05 p.m. ET, FOX Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      Arizona has been an interesting team lately, winning wild overtime games with some zany finishes. The 49ers clinched the division, but are trying to hold onto the NFC's No. 2 seed.
    • Inside slant:

      San Francisco ran the ball 49 times in the first meeting between these teams, but the Cards' run defense has been much better the last few weeks. Beanie Wells is running as hard as anyone in the league right now. Don't kick to Patrick Peterson. WR Andre Roberts comes in off a breakout game against Dallas. If Larry Fitzgerald can get going early, the 49ers are not built to be great from behind.
    • Rating:

      Six-inch
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Minnesota at Detroit

      Sun 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      The Lions are a threat to pick up a personal foul, get ejected or be a part of handshake theatrics at any moment. Don't miss whatever they're up to, even if it's self-destructive. They need to gain positive momentum back, sweep the Vikings and then hope a reformed Ndamukong Suh can lead the way to the playoffs.
    • Inside slant:

      Percy Harvin in the Wildcat and direct-snap situations will present problems, and it will become a bigger part of the offense, especially if Adrian Peterson is still inactive. The Vikings' secondary is woeful right now, and Matthew Stafford will find seams. This could be a big day for Detroit's tight ends.
    • Rating:

      Pita
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Indianapolis at Baltimore

      Sun 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      The Colts' march for perfect failure continues with conviction. The Ravens cannot afford another slip-up against a weaker foe.
    • Inside slant:

      People in Baltimore haven't forgotten about the Colts sneaking out of town in moving vans in a snowstorm. They will take considerable glee in beating the Colts any chance they get, especially with them flirting with 0-16. This won't be a passive environment, despite the record of the road team in this one.
    • Rating:

      Finger sandwich
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • New England at Washington

      Sun 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      Try to figure out which wide receivers or special teams guys Bill Belichick has to start on defense this week. We're all waiting for Wes Welker to line up next to Vince Wilfork before the season ends.
    • Inside slant:

      Rex Grossman has been horrible, again, but the only other option is John Beck. The Redskins jettisoned Andre Carter after he got caught in a scheme switch; he's been a dominant pass rusher for Belichick for about the last five weeks. And Washington's offensive line is vulnerable, and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan is notorious for getting pass happy at odd times.
    • Rating:

      Finger sandwich
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Kansas City at New York

      Sun 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      Did you see that Hail Mary pass from Tyler Palko last week? Wonder if he can duplicate it. This is a must-win game for the Jets, as depleted Kansas City tries to play spoiler.
    • Inside slant:

      It's likely that Palko will be seeing a fair amount of pressure from defensive backs. Rex Ryan will attack, with the Chiefs' receivers limited. If this game gets ugly, and the Jets start slow, you know they're going to hear about it from the home crowd.
    • Rating:

      Finger sandwich
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Tampa Bay at Jacksonville

      Sun 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      One team recently let its coach go, and the other could consider it without some improvement down the stretch. It will be interesting to see how hard the Buccaneers play.
    • Inside slant:

      Josh Freeman's development will be crucial, and changes on the Bucs' offensive staff are expected. Raheem Morris might be safe. The Jaguars defense remains quietly effective and they'll try to negate Tampa's power-running game above all else.
    • Rating:

      Finger sandwich
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Buffalo at San Diego

      Sun 4:15 p.m. ET, CBS Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      An old AFL rivalry is now being played out by two of the more disappointing teams in the NFL the last five to six weeks. It's always interesting to see which Philip Rivers shows up -- the one from the last five years or the 2011 edition.
    • Inside slant:

      Bills GM Buddy Nix was a long-time scout for the Chargers, and had a hand in the drafting of many of San Diego's players. The Chargers could be looking for a new GM after the season, and many of Nix's decisions are being scrutinized as well after two years in Buffalo.
    • Rating:

      Finger sandwich
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • St. Louis at Seattle

      Mon 8:30 p.m. ET, ESPN Get Tickets
    • Why to watch:

      Play guess who's at quarterback for the Rams this week, with Sam Bradford and A.J. Feeley ailing. It's looking bleak there. The Seahawks could end up finishing right around last year's 7-9 record, but no home playoff game this time around.
    • Inside slant:

      Seattle is a mere 3-3 at home this season; usually they're better in that regard. Can't imagine Steven Jackson having much room to operate, as Seattle will stack the line of scrimmage, and boasts some top run stuffers.
    • Rating:

      Finger sandwich
    • Watch: Game Preview

Follow Jason La Canfora on Twitter @jasonlacanfora.

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