This is the time of year when the NFL's top-flight quarterbacks usually separate themselves from the pack and lead their respective teams to the postseason. This weekend, several of the league's gifted signal-callers will square off against one another in games that both teams desperately need to win. The outcome of one battle could help decide home-field advantage in the AFC playoffs, while the outcome of another could have major implications on the wild-card race in both conferences.
Here are my five key matchups to follow for Week 14:
Tony Romo vs. Andy Dalton
Romo has had a couple lousy games this season, but he's played very good football over the past month. In his last four games, Romo has tossed nine touchdown passes while only being intercepted twice. He is currently the NFL's 13th-rated passer and he's averaging 306 passing yards per game, which is the second-highest mark in the league.
Dalton has also been playing very well lately. In his past four games, he's thrown 10 touchdowns and only been intercepted twice. He is currently the NFL's 12th-rated passer and on pace to throw 32 touchdown passes. His steady play has been instrumental in the Bengals' current four game-winning streak.
Edge: Dalton. Romo will put up solid passing numbers, but I expect Dalton to play an efficient game and use his legs to create the necessary plays to win the game.
Joe Flacco vs. Robert Griffin III
Flacco has been very inconsistent this season in leading the Ravens to a 9-3 record. He's on pace to throw for more than 4,000 yards, but his completion percentage is currently hovering below 60 percent. He is at his best when offensive coordinator Cam Cameron creates a healthy run/pass mix. If the Ravens are able to establish their running game early, Flacco will be able to generate some chunk passing plays through play action.
RG3 and the Redskins are riding high following their big divisional win over the New York Giants last Monday night. They are only a game behind the Giants in the NFC East and a win in this contest will help keep the pressure on the defending Super Bowl champions. Griffin is currently the NFL's second-rated passer and he's also rushed for more than 700 yards. The Ravens' defense traditionally plays great against athletic quarterbacks, but RG3 is much more than just an athlete. His ability to accurately place the football at all three levels is very rare.
Drew Brees vs. Eli Manning
Brees and the Saints are coming off a very disappointing loss to the Atlanta Falcons. Brees uncharacteristically tossed five interceptions in that contest and now the Saints must run the table in order to keep their postseason hopes alive. Prior to the debacle against Atlanta, Brees had been playing at a very high level. In the previous four games, he tossed 11 touchdowns and only three interceptions.
Manning and the Giants have been in a tailspin over the past month. They have lost three of their past four games and now their lead in the NFC East is down to just one game. In his past five games, Manning has thrown just four touchdown passes and he's been picked off on four occasions. Fortunately for the Giants signal-caller, the Saints' defense is currently the NFL's 32nd-ranked unit.
Edge: Manning. The Giants' pass rush will make things very difficult for Brees. I expect Manning to spread the ball around to all of his weapons and post some monster numbers in this contest.
Matthew Stafford vs. Aaron Rodgers
Stafford and the Lions have suffered three straight heart-breaking losses, dropping each contest despite holding a lead with less than two minutes remaining in regulation. Those losses can't be blamed on Stafford. He averaged 340 passing yards per game during that stretch. He has a very good chance of eclipsing the 5,000-yard mark for the second straight season.
Thanks to the play of the NFL's reigning MVP, the Packers have won six of their past seven games. During this stretch, Rodgers has thrown 19 touchdown passes and only four interceptions. Despite the absence of a credible running game and healthy receiving corps, Rodgers continues to play at an elite level on a weekly basis.
Edge: Stafford. This is my surprise pick of the week. I believe the Lions' pass rush will cause Rodgers some problems, while I don't think the Green Bay secondary will be able to contain Stafford and Calvin Johnson.
Matt Schaub vs. Tom Brady
This highly anticipated showdown could very easily be a preview of the AFC Championship Game. Schaub doesn't usually get mentioned in discussion about the NFL's elite quarterbacks, but he has quietly put together another outstanding season. He's on pace to eclipse 4,000 yards passing, which would be the third time he's done so in the past four years. He's led the Texans to the top record in the AFC (11-1), and he's yet to suffer a loss on the road this season (6-0).
After starting the season with a disappointing 3-3 record, the Patriots have won six straight. During this stretch, Brady has been on fire, tossing 15 touchdown passes and only one interception. He has benefitted from an improved rushing attack, but Brady clearly is still the straw that stirs the drink for the Patriots' offense.
Edge: Brady. The Texans' defense isn't as stout as it was earlier in the season, and Brady refuses to turn the ball over. Those two factors should lead to a productive night for the future Hall of Famer.
Follow Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter @MoveTheSticks.