The bye weeks are finally over. We are almost into a late-season stage of heavy divisional play. What we get this week, however, is an opportunity for some teams to separate or fall back, particularly in the NFC. There are three intriguing matchups between the NFC South and NFC West that could help settle some things in that regard; we get another Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning tilt; and there's a fight for supremacy in the NFC East. Not bad at all.
Neither team is particularly brawny on defense, but the Pats show better commitment to the run game. These teams tend to bring out the best in one another. New England is coming off a very physical game against the Steelers. This is another tiebreaker special for the playoffs. * #### Did you know?
The past five meetings have been decided by seven points or fewer. ... Manning has won five of his past six games against the Patriots. ... Brady can tie Brett Favre's NFL record by winning his 25th consecutive home start this Sunday. ... New England's Mike Wright has a career-high 5.5 sacks this year. *
Suddenly, the Giants look vulnerable, particularly with a wounded offensive line, while the Eagles are explosive with Michael Vick at the helm. Vick's elusiveness will help against that pass rush. * #### Why you should watch:
The Eagles can rise to first in the division with a win. The Giants will look to re-establish the power run game. Vick is the most exciting player in football. Let's hope the lights manage to stay on at The Linc. * #### Did you know?
Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw ranks third in the NFC with 1,040 yards from scrimmage. ... New York's Osi Umenyiora has a sack in five consecutive games against the Eagles. ... Eagles quarterback Michael Vick has yet to throw an interception this year. ... Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy leads all running backs with 46 receptions. *
One of the great AFC rivalries of the 1970s is renewed with playoff implications. Oakland's win at the Steelers last year kept Pittsburgh out of the postseason. * #### Why you should watch:
If Jason Campbell slips up at all, Tom Cable could bench him. Oakland is running the ball the way the Steelers used to. The Raiders are healthy off a bye, while the Steelers are dealing with growing injuries. That could help even things out even more. * #### Did you know?
Raiders running back Darren McFadden leads the NFL with 108.1 rushing yards per game this season. ... Oakland's Zach Miller ranks third among AFC tight ends with 461 receiving yards. ... Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger leads the NFL with 1,304 passing yards since Week 6. ... Pittsburgh has the league's best run defense. *
Recent first-round QBs Matt Ryan and Sam Bradford look to build playoff credentials. Both defenses are vastly underrated. The Falcons are trying to play as well on road as at home, but the Rams are proving hard to beat at home. * #### Why you should watch:
When Ryan has at least a 100 passer rating, the Falcons are 13-0. ... Atlanta is tied for the NFL lead with four fourth-quarter comeback wins this year. ... The Rams have won four consecutive games at home. ... St. Louis' Danny Amendola has a receiving touchdown in three straight games. *
Philip Rivers' quest for a 5,000-yard season is unlikely to hit a bump against one of the league's struggling defenses. The Chargers are likely to get back key pass-catchers like Malcom Floyd and Antonio Gates, as well. * #### Why you should watch:
Even if they're down 30 in the second half, the Broncos will keep throwing the ball as Kyle Orton takes aim at the record books. Brandon Lloyd has been the game's most consistent deep threat all season. If Denver can't run the ball -- and it usually can't -- keeping Rivers off the field will be difficult. * #### Did you know?
Broncos running back Knowshon Moreno had his first career 100-yard rushing game last week. ... Denver's Mario Haggan had a career-high three sacks last week. ... The Chargers have won seven consecutive November games. ... San Diego's Ryan Mathews leads AFC rookies with 382 rushing yards. *
The Saints hope to regroup after a late bye and restore their world champion swagger. Seattle wants to avoid another blowout loss after getting the best of Arizona last week. * #### Why you should watch:
Matt Hasselbeck's threadbare offensive line could have trouble with some of the exotic blitz looks that will be thrown their way. Reggie Bush could be back from a long-term injury. Watch Drew Brees get into a nice groove. * #### Did you know?
Seahawks receiver Mike Williams became the first player in franchise history to have three games with 10-plus catches in one season last week. ... Seattle's Earl Thomas leads NFL rookies with four interceptions. ... Saints wideout Marques Colston has at least four receptions in every game this year. ... New Orleans has the league's top-ranked pass defense. *
The Bucs keep hanging around the NFC playoff picture, while the 49ers badly need another win to make a push in the NFC West. * #### Why you should watch:
Josh Freeman and Troy Smith look like athletic, natural-born playmakers at QB. Mike Williams and Michael Crabtree look like strong, athletic playmakers at receiver. This will be a nice road test for the young Bucs. * #### Did you know?
Williams leads all rookies with 627 receiving yards. ... Tampa Bay's Aqib Talib has four interceptions in his past four games on the road. ... 49ers running back Frank Gore has 7,846 yards from scrimmage since 2006 -- the most in the NFL over that span. ... San Francisco's Justin Smith has three sacks in three career games against Tampa Bay. *
Wouldn't this be ironic if Brett Favre got benched for all of his turnovers and his streak ended against the Packers of all teams? That won't happen, but I'd have given Tarvaris Jackson a shot weeks ago. Oh, and Brad Childress could get fired after another loss. * #### Why you should watch:
You know, if nothing else can come of this season, trying to keep the Packers out of the playoffs should get the 41-year-old Favre pumped up. The Packers are healthy off a bye. Favre vs. Rodgers is always fun. * #### Did you know?
Since the start of 2008, Packers cornerback Charles Woodson leads the NFL with six interception returns for a touchdown. ... Green Bay's Greg Jennings has a touchdown catch in his last two games against Minnesota. ... Vikings running back Adrian Peterson has a rushing touchdown in five consecutive games vs. the Packers. ... Minnesota's Percy Harvin is the only player in the NFL this year with a rushing, receiving and return touchdown. *
The Albert Haynesworth Bowl. His former team explored trading back for him several times. Now, with two ailing QBs, the Titans better hope like heck he doesn't plop down on one, or both of them. * #### Why you should watch:
Randy Moss makes his home debut, and should engage in world-class trash talk with DeAngelo Hall. Chris Johnson has to like his chances here. Might the 'Skins give up 500 yards of offense again? It happens every few weeks it seems. * #### Did you know?
Redskins wide receiver Anthony Armstrong leads the league with 22.6 yards per catch (minimum 20 receptions). ... Washington's Keiland Williams has five touchdowns in his past four games. ... The Titans have won 12 consecutive regular-season games against the NFC. ... Since 2009, Tennessee's Chris Johnson leads the NFL with 113.8 rushing yards per game. *
David Garrard has posted back-to-back marvelous performances, and the Jags refuse to go away in the AFC South. The Browns seem on the cusp of turning things around and plucky rookie Colt McCoy deserves to stay under center. * #### Why you should watch:
Maurice Jones-Drew and Peyton Hillis have vastly different styles, but can take over games. Cleveland defensive tackle Shaun Rogers is playing his best football in years. The Browns need to respond to a heartbreaking OT loss, while the Jags can't get too high after a ridiculous last-second win. * #### Did you know?
The Browns have won three consecutive games at Jacksonville. ... Cleveland linebacker Marcus Benard has a career-high 5.5 sacks this year. ... Jaguars quarterback David Garrard leads the NFL in fourth-quarter passer rating (137.2). ... Jacksonville's Marcedes Lewis has seven TD catches this year, the highest total for a tight end in franchise history. *
Tyler Thigpen is the next QB up for the Dolphins as they try to remain in the hunt. Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall, both exiled from Denver, get together on opposite sidelines. * #### Why you should watch:
Devin Hester is quietly having a bounce-back year on special teams. Cameron Wake could present big problems for a suspect Chicago offensive line. * #### Did you know?
Cutler averages 336 passing yards per game on Thursday night during his career (three games). ... Chicago linebacker Brian Urlacher has 21 tackles in two career games against Miami. ... Dolphins wide receiver Davone Bess is tied for the league high with 20 third-down receptions. ... Anthony Fasano had Miami's first 100-yard receiving game for a tight end since 2003. *
If this was the Texans' year to finally break through, they sure have a funny way of showing it. The Jets, meantime, excel in close games and finish games in ways Houston can only dream of. * #### Why you should watch:
Mark Sanchez is coming off his most complete game as a pro. Santonio Holmes should find plenty of yards after the catch against this outfit. Could a return to his home state cull something from a fading Brian Cushing? * #### Did you know?
The Texans lead the NFL with 13 rushing touchdowns this season. ... Houston's Andre Johnson ranks second in the AFC With 97.6 receiving yards per game. ... The Jets became the first team in league history to win back-to-back overtime games on the road last week. ... New York's LaDainian Tomlinson leads all AFC running backs with 36 receptions this year. *
Not that the Ravens needed a nine-day respite to face the league's worst team, but they got it anyway. * #### Why you should watch:
This should be the perfect foe for Ray Rice to flash against in the running and passing game. Baltimore needs to feast on these lesser teams and start hitting opposing quarterbacks. * #### Did you know?
Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco has an NFL-best 114.2 passer rating over the past four games. ... Baltimore's Anquan Boldin has three touchdown receptions in his last three games against the Panthers. ... Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith has 6,499 receiving yards since 2005 -- the fourth-most in the NFL over that span. ... Carolina's Mike Goodson had a career-high 100 rushing yards last week. *
I tend to think if the Chiefs literally called nothing but alternating runs for Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones the entire game, they might still win. Kansas City's young defense needs to make some plays to try to restore some swagger. * #### Did you know?
Including the Super Bowl, Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald has nine touchdown receptions in his last nine games against the AFC. ... Arizona's Joey Porter is third among active players with 97 sacks. ... The Chiefs are aiming for their first 5-0 start at home since 2003. ... Kansas City's Tamba Hali has a sack in three consecutive games. *
Break up the Cowboys! Jason Garrett tries to stake a case for becoming the permanent head coach by stringing some wins together and coaxing more effort from the players. It worked in New York last week. * #### Why you should watch:
Dez Bryant is becoming a big-play machine. Aren't we glad these two teams host the Turkey Day games? Yeah, not so much this year, eh? * #### Did you know?
The Lions have the best red-zone touchdown percentage in the NFC (68 percent). ... Detroit's Stefan Logan is the only player in the NFL to rank in the top five of both kickoff return and punt return average. ... Cowboys running back Marion Barber has a rushing touchdown in three consecutive games against the Lions. ... Dallas linebacker DeMarcus Ware has the most sacks in the NFL since 2006 (64.5). *
T.O. faces his former teammates. Remember he played in Buffalo last season? The Bills are actually looking like the better team recently. Do the Bengals sit Carson Palmer at some point? * #### Why you should watch:
Both of these teams could be firmly in the market for a QB in the first round, so it might prove better off losing this game. Could the Bills win two in a row? * #### Did you know?