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Packers-Giants, 49ers-Saints, Falcons-Bucs top Week 12 slate

Back in July, Green Bay Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk sat in a sponsor's tent alongside the practice range prior to the American Heritage Celebrity Golf Tournament in Lake Tahoe, Nev. The 2011 season was behind him, the new season was set to begin in a matter of days -- and golf was on everyone's mind.

Yet Hawk couldn't rid himself of the memory of losing to the New York Giants at Lambeau Field in the playoffs, describing the mistake-filled 37-20 defeat at the hands of the eventual Super Bowl champs as an experience he'll "never forget." Can you blame him?

"It definitely reminded us how tough it really is to go to the Super Bowl and win," Hawk told me. "It was so hard. We realized how much tougher it really was."



The intense race for the playoffs is in full gear. Check out the latest situation in the postseason chase. More ...

On Sunday night at MetLife Stadium, the Packers and Giants meet again. A chance for revenge. Perhaps it won't be the last time this season.

If Green Bay's players have any lingering feelings about how they were dispatched by the G-Men, this is the time to let them know. If the Packers would like to show the Giants that being the defending Super Bowl champions puts a new sort of target on your back, they can do that, too.

Besides all that, the NFC playoff race is still wide open, particularly with the Chicago Bears losing to the San Francisco 49ers in Week 11, dropping them into a tie for first with the Packers in the NFC North. Sunday night's result matters.

Here is your Week 12 primer, with games ranked in order of intrigue, from 1 to 16:

MUST-SEE GAMES


    • Atlanta at Tampa Bay

      Sun 1:00 p.m. ET, FOX Get Tickets
    • Why this game is No. 3:

      If Raymond James Stadium doesn't sell 7,400 non-premium seats (as of Tuesday), this game will be blacked out on television in the Tampa area. And with that news, I will shake my head. The hot-as-fire Bucs, winners of four straight, are taking on the best team in their division, the 9-1 Falcons. Tough to imagine a juicier matchup for Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman and his balanced offense. And it would be difficult to find a more intriguing clash of styles. You have the Bucs, who run and run and then stop the run. Contrast that with the high-flying Falcons, who run only when necessary, and you have a dichotomy. Can Tampa Bay cover the Falcons? Can the Bucs secondary force Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan into more interceptions after he coughed up five against the Arizona Cardinals in last week's near-disaster? Here's hoping the city gets to see the answers to these questions. #ATLvsTB
    • Watch: Game Preview

DON'T SLEEP ON (OR DURING) THESE GAMES


    • Pittsburgh at Cleveland

      Sun 1:00 p.m. ET, CBS Get Tickets
    • Why this game is No. 4:

      Even with this AFC North rivalry in full swing, this would normally be way down on the list. The vaunted Steelers vs. the lowly Browns? That's what this matchup would have been, except for two important things that have happened. One development: Steelers signal-callers Ben Roethlisberger AND Byron Leftwich are injured, necessitating a start by 745-year-old quarterback Charlie Batch. Yikes. That's a lot to handle, even for Pittsburgh, which seems to shrug off every injury. The second? Cleveland is slowly making strides. The wins haven't stacked up, but the Browns have been taking teams like the Cowboys and Ravens to the wire. This could be a fun one. #PITvsCLE
    • Watch: Game Preview

WORTH A PEEK


    • St. Louis at Arizona

      Sun 4:25 p.m. ET, FOX Get Tickets
    • Why this game is No. 9:

      The playoffs have almost certainly slipped away from both teams, barring an improbable running of the table. "Improbable" might not be a strong enough term when it comes to the Cardinals, given their woes at quarterback. What will be fun in this one is watching star Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald take on one of the game's most promising cornerback tandems. Maybe we'll see a wrestling match with Cortland Finnegan all game long. Maybe we'll see an old-school-vs.-new-school fight between Fitzgerald and rookie Janoris Jenkins. It'll be fascinating either way. #STLvsAZ
    • Watch: Game Preview

Follow Ian Rapoport on Twitter @RapSheet.

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