Six teams have already completed their Week 12 work, but there are still 13 games to look forward to this weekend. The marquee game of the week features the two most recent Super Bowl champions, and there are several other intriguing contests worth following, as well. Inside each of these games are key individual matchups that could determine which team comes away with a victory.
Here are five crucial battles to follow in Week 12:
Colin Kaepernick vs. Steve Spagnuolo
It looks as though Kaepernick will make his second straight start at quarterback for the 49ers. He played beautifully in San Francisco's Monday night beatdown of the Chicago Bears, completing 16 of his 23 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns. He made quick decisions, threw the ball accurately and avoided committing turnovers against the opportunistic Chicago defense.
Kaepernick won't be facing a defensive juggernaut this week, but Saints coordinator Spagnuolo will likely show him a variety of looks in an attempt to confuse the second-year signal-caller. Spagnuolo's defense is currently ranked dead last in yards allowed, but the unit has played much better during the team's current three-game win streak. During this stretch, New Orleans has yielded just 19 points per game.
EDGE: Kaepernick. It is going to be difficult for Spagnuolo to get too creative against Kaepernick, because of the effectiveness of the 49ers' ground attack.
Kyle Rudolph vs. Lance Briggs
Most of the attention garnered by the Vikings tends to focus on either the miraculous recovery of running back Adrian Peterson or the up-and-down play of quarterback Christian Ponder. Rudolph has stayed under the radar this season, but the tight end is having a quality year. He isn't a dynamic downfield threat, but he is an ideal red-zone target. His enormous size and catching radius present major problems for opposing linebackers and safeties.
The Bears' Briggs has long had a reputation as one of the NFL's top cover linebackers. He has already picked off two passes and broken up six others this season. Despite his well-earned renown and recent production, his struggles last week against 49ers tight end Vernon Davis sparked some concerns. Briggs matched up with Davis on numerous occasions and was unable to stay with him down the field. He will have another difficult challenge this week, trying to contain the Vikings' mammoth tight end.
EDGE: Briggs. Rudolph doesn't possess the speed to exploit Briggs the way Davis did last week.
Marshawn Lynch vs. Karlos Dansby
Lynch has been one of the most consistent players in the NFL during the first 11 weeks of the season. He's averaging over 100 rushing yards per game and has proven he can handle a heavy workload. Though Lynch is one of the NFL's most physical runners, he's also extremely agile for a bigger back. His strong performance has played a huge role in the development of Seattle's rookie quarterback, Russell Wilson.
The Dolphins' Dansby is one of the NFL's top linebackers, but he never seems to get much notice at the national level. Despite suffering a torn biceps muscle almost a month ago, Dansby continues to produce on a weekly basis, and currently leads the Dolphins with 76 tackles. He has outstanding size, lateral range and natural instincts for the linebacker position. He is one of the main reasons the Dolphins have a top-10 run defense.
EDGE: Lynch. It's very difficult to bring Lynch down with two healthy arms, much less one. I expect another 100-yard effort from Seattle's bruising ball carrier.
Tony Gonzalez vs. Mark Barron
This is a classic battle of veteran experience vs. youthful exuberance. Gonzalez continues to play inspired football with the Falcons as his quest for postseason success trudges on. Dallas Cowboys star Jason Witten (82 grabs) is the only tight end with more catches than Gonzalez (64) this season. The 36-year-old Gonzalez is a master route runner who understands how to set up defenders and create space for his quarterback.
Barron is 13 years younger than the Falcons' future Hall of Fame tight end, but the 23-year-old is having an excellent rookie campaign. He's currently Tampa's third-leading tackler (57 stops) and also has one interception and eight pass break-ups. He provides a very physical presence in the middle of the Bucs' defense, having delivered more than a few huge hits to excite his fellow defenders this season.
EDGE: Gonzalez. Barron's aggressiveness will work against him when facing a savvy veteran like Gonzalez.
Packers' offensive line vs. Giants' defensive line
This is the key matchup in the weekend's marquee game. It's pretty simple for the Packers: When they protect Aaron Rodgers, he puts up big numbers, and they are extremely tough to beat. However, that has been a tough task for Green Bay's offensive line during the 2012 season. The unit has allowed an alarming 32 sacks (fourth-most in the NFL) and 54 quarterback hits over the Packers' first 10 games. And don't forget: After posting a league-best 15-1 regular-season record last year, Green Bay was ousted from the postseason by a Giants team that sacked Rodgers on four occasions. The Pack must lower that total in order to pull out a win Sunday night.
The Giants enter with a two-game losing skid, but they should be well-rested following their bye-week. Big Blue's defensive line hasn't been quite as dominant as most anticipated (25 sacks, tied for 13th in the NFL), but this unit is capable of exploding at any moment. If the Packers are unable to establish any semblance of a running game, this Giants defensive line could dominate.