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Tebow, Brady square off in juicy AFC showdown

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It's time to savor these full slates -- or should I say, plates -- of games my friends. Alas, time is running out. I know we poke fun here on Inside Slant, but pretty soon we'll all be longing for a Seattle-St. Louis tilt on a Monday night ... or at least I will. So it's time we salute all that is good, even with some of the lesser games this weekend, and not purely focus on the top end of the football feast.

But man, how about this schedule? We get monster games at all of the kickoff spots. The Sunday and Monday night games figure to be the best we've seen in a while. We get two primetime games on NFL Network, meaning Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday are the only days this week we don't have an NFL game to watch. That's something we can all applaud.

The NFL Network games feature must-wins for at least one of the teams participating in them. The Patriots and Broncos kick off at 4 p.m. ET on Sunday, and that game could set all kinds of rating records in its time slot. The late-afternoon slate is actually about as good as it could get -- all meaningful games with plenty of intrigue. And the Packers' march to perfection resumes at 1 p.m. ET, along with some interim head coaches making their debuts.

There is plenty to get excited about here, but alas, I'm getting a little misty-eyed as well. Only two more weeks of these to go.

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

    • New England at Denver

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

      This game is so good, TV networks and owners were flexing muscles at the league office to keep it from being flexed to Sunday night, or to keep it at the 4 p.m. kickoff time. It's Tebow Time vs. Tom Brady; two of the best fourth-quarter teams this league has seen. Could the Broncos pull off another miracle as they try to win the AFC West?
    • Inside slant:

      Denver's power-running approach could cause problems for a New England defense that is leaky and not exactly full of speed. Jerod Mayo must be the guy to contain Tebow. You have to like Denver's pass rush in what will be a raucous environment as well. The Broncos are built to play a ball-control game, which could keep Brady on the sidelines.
    • Rating:

      Footlong
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Pittsburgh at San Francisco

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

      It's a potential Super Bowl showdown, and a rare Monday night game recently that features two contending teams. This is a battle of two of the NFL's best defenses, with some Ben Roethlisberger drama as the cherry on top. Will he play, or will he sit? Will he walk, or will he limp?
    • Inside slant:

      This is a rare test for the 49ers' revamped elite secondary, with the Steelers getting young speedsters Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders more involved each week. The 49ers' running game has quietly slowed, and Pittsburgh restored its roar stopping the run as the season has gone on. It will be interesting to watch how Alex Smith fares against the zone blitz.
    • Rating:

      Footlong
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Detroit at Oakland

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

      The bad boys of the NFL -- the two most-penalized teams in the league -- get together with each desperate for a playoff push. Will someone be ejected? What's the record for personal fouls? We could have punches thrown and handshakes gone awry. The league office will be watching.
    • Inside slant:

      Suh is back from his two-game suspension, but will he be more restrained and contrite? His play has not reached the pocket-collapsing dominance of a year ago, and with Detroit's secondary regressing some, the Lions will need to attack a less-mobile Carson Palmer. Lions hopeful Kevin Smith is back to charge the run game. Still, it will be a struggle to bring the explosion back to Oakland's run game. The Raiders' yards per carry the past four games: 4.0, 2.7, 3.3, 4.0. Well short of the pace set in the first half of the season.
    • Rating:

      Footlong
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Baltimore at San Diego

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

      The Ravens can earn the AFC's No. 1 seed by winning out. The Chargers, meanwhile, seemingly never lose in December. All of a sudden, San Diego is back on the cusp of the playoff scene. How many lives does that team have?
    • Inside slant:

      The Ravens finally have Lee Evans -- a big preseason acquisition -- fully vested in the offense and will challenge the depleted San Diego secondary vertically with Torrey Smith and Evans on the outside, and Anquan Boldin in the slot with their young tight ends. San Diego's wilting pass rush should allow that. It will be a big challenge for Baltimore's young DBs as well, with tall rookie CB Jimmy Smith perhaps getting some looks at Vincent Jackson. Ray Lewis might be back for the Ravens, but their young linebackers are playing well in his absence.
    • Rating:

      Footlong
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • New York at Philadelphia

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

      Philly has the talent to play with anyone and be a spoiler, as the Jets try to hold on to a wild-card spot.
    • Inside slant:

      Michael Vick and the Eagles shredded the defense of Rob Ryan, Rex's brother, in primetime not all that long ago. Philly's offensive line, a cause of concern at the start of the season, has found consistency. Rex might have to really scheme it up to get Vick moving. The Jets badly wanted Nnamdi Asomugha this offseason, but the Eagles prevailed (if that's what you want to call it). The Eagles dabbled with the idea of signing Plaxico Burress, but he ended up with the Jets.
    • Rating:

      Footlong
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Tennessee at Indianapolis

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

      Jake Locker could make his first NFL start with Matt Hasselbeck ailing. The Titans need wins to stay in the wild-card hunt, and also have a chance to continue their rival's horrendous, winless season.
    • Inside slant:

      Locker's athleticism and ability to run have added a wrinkle to the Titans, but his accuracy will have to improve over time. Damian Williams remains a downfield threat for the Titans. It will be interesting to see what the crowd looks like for this one, and if any Andrew Luck signs start popping up.
    • Rating:

      Pita
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Green Bay at Kansas City

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

      The Packers continue their march to perfection, and there's a good chance coach Mike McCarthy starts yanking some starters at the half of what figures to be another blowout win. The Chiefs play their first game under interim coach Romeo Crennel.
    • Inside slant:

      The Chiefs have five losses in which they have been outscored by at least 27 points. They haven't scored more than 10 points in a game since October. Figure on someone other than Tyler Palko getting the start here.
    • Rating:

      Pita
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Carolina at Houston

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

      The Texans secured the AFC South (playoff picture), but surely want to retain a top-two seed, with Baltimore, New England and Pittsburgh also with 10 wins already. With all of the injuries they have suffered, however, it's easy to wonder if Houston starts to rest some workhorses down the stretch.
    • Inside slant:

      Cam Newton has taken a step back in ball protection the past few weeks, and his poor decisions with the ball keyed Atlanta's comeback win a week ago. Teams have taken away more of the deep stuff to Steve Smith as well. T.J. Yates comes in sky high after marshalling a few Tebow-esque drives in Cincy last week to secure the division title. Arian Foster is averaging just 3.2 yards per carry in the last three weeks -- Ben Tate looks fresher -- and has also lost his first two fumbles of the year in that span. Expect Andre Johnson to rest that hamstring another week.
    • Rating:

      Pita
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Cincinnati at St. Louis

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

      The Bengals are trying to rally after a series of tough losses to elite teams, with playoff hopes in the balance. The Rams are likely playing the final games of the Steve Spagnuolo era.
    • Inside slant:

      It is important for the Bengals to finish strong. Andy Dalton's play has dipped some, and play calling got a little odd last week as well. The losses of Carlos Dunlap and Leon Hall are eating away at the Bengals defense, but this should be a feel-good game for them against a hapless opponent.
    • Rating:

      Finger sandwich
    • Watch: Game Preview
    • Miami at Buffalo

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

      The Dolphins play their first game with Tony Sparano finally put out of his misery. The Bills are looking for any signs of the level of play the team achieved in the first six weeks of the season.
    • Inside slant:

      Chan Gailey is defending Ryan Fitzpatrick, but his turnovers have been out of control and the Bills can get out of Fitzpatrick's contract without much limitation. Don't see that happening, but it's worth monitoring down the stretch. C.J. Spiller is looking like a bust so far -- would be another wasted top 11 pick if so. This could be a big, big day for Cameron Wake.
    • Rating:

      Finger sandwich
    • Watch: Game Preview

Follow Jason La Canfora on Twitter @jasonlacanfora.

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