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Pivotal NFC showdown leads impressive Week 12 schedule

We're all pretty much thinking the same thing right now, aren't we? Man, these Thanksgiving games look like blowouts. I will never turn down a deep fried turkey, a Turducken stew or pretty much anything in the poultry family this time of year, and nothing goes better with Thanksgiving than football (I'll start my morning at 10 am watching my beloved Loyola Dons face Calvert Hall in the oldest Catholic High School rivalry in the country. Roll Dons Roll). But the Thursday slate could end up being a bit one-sided. And we get our first absolute clunker on Monday night as well. But we've got at least two blue-plate specials in the 4 p.m. ET Sunday games, and the Sunday Night game between San Diego and Indy should be something else. So let's all give thanks to the football gods and get primed for the stretch run in December.

The storyline:

A win here could be the deciding factor in who gets the NFC's No. 1 seed for the playoffs. Two of the hottest teams in the league are meeting with both quarterbacks playing exceptionally well. * #### Why you should watch:

John Abraham could be a handful for a so-so Green Bay offensive line. Clay Matthews could be a handful for the Falcons' offensive line. Matt Ryan is 18-1 at home as a starter. Count how many passes hit the ground, I bet there's not all that many. * #### Did you know?

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers has won five consecutive November games and has 13 TDs and 0 interceptions in those outings. ... Matthews leads the league with 11.5 sacks. ... Falcons RB Michael Turner has 22 touchdowns in 18 career home games with Atlanta. ... Roddy White has six career games with 10-plus catches. *

The storyline:

Peyton Manning has been pretty much perfect at home and comes in red-faced after throwing three picks last week. Philip Rivers looks to take another name as he marches toward a potential MVP. * #### Why you should watch:

Neither of these teams are flirting with 13 wins, but the loser could well see their era of dominance over their respective divisions snapped. Chargers WR Vincent Jackson is eligible to return from the roster-exempt list. Remember him? * #### Did you know?

The Chargers have won eight consecutive November games. ... San Diego leads the NFL with 32 sacks this season. ... The Colts have won eight straight home games in November. ... Indianapolis' Jacob Tamme has 31 receptions this month -- the most for any tight end. *

The storyline:

A win here could be the difference between a No. 2 seed or a wild card road game come January. Michael Vick and Jay Cutler might be the two most talented QBs who have change addresses in their primes in a long, long time, for drastically different reasons. * #### Why you should watch:

Vick is playing in this game. DeSean Jackson is playing in this game. The Bears are coming in off a shutout win and Cutler is looking much more at ease in Mike Martz's system than he did early in the season. Greg Olsen is becoming more of a factor as well. * #### Did you know?

Vick leads all NFL quarterbacks with 375 rushing yards and five touchdowns. ... Philadelphia leads the NFL with 26 takeaways. ... When Cutler has at least a 100 passer rating, his teams are 17-0. ... Chicago's Matt Forte is the only player in the NFL with at least four rushing TDs and three receiving TDs this season. *

The storyline:

The Ravens were supposed to be 7-3 behind their young QB. The Bucs were supposed to be more like 3-7 (at best) behind theirs. A win here would cement the Bucs as a legit playoff force. * #### Why you should watch:

Ed Reed vs. Josh Freeman. Ronde Barber vs. Joe Flacco. Flacco struggles against Cover 2, and he is meeting the quintessential Cover 2 ballclub. * #### Did you know?

Freeman has won six of his past seven road starts. ... Barber is the only player in NFL history with 25-plus sacks and 40-plus interceptions in his career. ... Ravens coach John Harbaugh is 4-0 at home against NFC opponents. ... Baltimore's Terrell Suggs has a sack in three consecutive games. *

The storyline:

The Seahawks know if they can win a few more games at home, where they excel, the NFC West will be theirs. The Chiefs know with the Raiders and Chargers facing tough tasks, this could be a pivotal weekend to improving their playoff hopes. * #### Why you should watch:

Kansas City's two-pronged rushing attack could have a field day. Matt Cassel faces his old college coach in a huge out-of-conference matchup. * #### Did you know?

Cassel has eight passing TDs this month, the highest total in the league. ... Kansas City's Dwayne Bowe has a TD catch in six consecutive games. ... Seahawks KR Leon Washington leads the NFL with a 30.3 kickoff return average. ... Seattle ranks second in the NFC in red zone defense, having allowed a touchdown just 17 times in 43 possessions. *

The storyline:

If the Raiders are going to remain in the AFC West hunt, this is a must-win. Oakland is familiar with Tyler Thigpen from his days in Kansas City, so if the Dolphins have to start him again, the Raiders will be ready. * #### Why you should watch:

Perhaps the Dolphins will be able to execute a shotgun snap this week. Perhaps Brandon Marshall won't act the fool this week. The Raiders have a QB carousel on their hands again. * #### Did you know?

The Dolphins have won four consecutive games at Oakland. ... Miami's Davone Bess leads the AFC with 20 receptions on third down. ... Raiders K Sebastian Janikowski leads the NFL in points with 92. ... Oakland's Darren McFadden ranks second in the NFL with 128.6 yards from scrimmage per game. *

The storyline:

How about them Jaguars? Who thought this would be a battle of potential division winners? The Giants suddenly seem more vulnerable. * #### Why you should watch:

The Jags could get Mike Sims-Walker back. Maurice Jones-Drew is on a four-week tear. Jacksonville is a fourth-quarter fun bunch. Eli Manning is both giving and taking away. * #### Did you know?

Jaguars QB David Garrard has a 111.4 passer rating on the road this season. ... Jacksonville's Mike Thomas has a TD in three consecutive games. ... Giants DE Justin Tuck tied his career high with three sacks last week. ... Manning is one of only seven QBs in NFL history with 20 TD passes in six consecutive seasons. *

The storyline:

The Bills are suddenly stringing wins together and mounting an offensive attack, while the Steelers can't get caught looking ahead to the Ravens. * #### Why you should watch:

All Mike Wallace does every week is catch a 50-yard TD pass. The Steelers restored their physical approach last week after an embarrassing loss to the Pats. Ryan Fitzpatrick might be staking claim to that QB job in Buffalo beyond this season. * #### Did you know?

The Steelers are 4-1 on the road this season. ... Pittsburgh is 19-3 when Troy Polamalu has an interception. ... Fitzpatrick has a TD pass in 11 consecutive games. ... Paul Posluszny leads Buffalo with 88 tackles. *

The storyline:

The Pats schedule finally eases up, and after taking care of business here, they get an extended time off for the playoff push. Tom Brady better keep an eye on Ndamukong Suh. * #### Why you should watch:

What else are you gonna do early afternoon on Thanksgiving Day? Who doesn't like watching Danny Woodhead? I think I'm gonna take him off my fantasy team bench this week and inject a little rooting interest into this game. * #### Did you know?

The Patriots have won 19 of their past 20 regular-season games against the NFC. ... New England's Devin McCourty is tied for first among AFC rookies with three interceptions. ... The Lions are playing their 71st Thanksgiving game. ... Detroit's Calvin Johnson has nine touchdowns in his past seven games. *

The storyline:

Jason Garrett has the Cowboys in pads in practice on Wednesday's now, and viola, a two-game win streak follows. Somehow I figure they might have trouble not falling back to their old ways against this formidable foe, however. * #### Why you should watch:

Drew Brees could carve this secondary at will. Sean Payton gets plenty excited to face his former team. Reggie Bush could return after missing two months. * #### Did you know?

Saints defensive end Will Smith has a sack in three consecutive games against the Cowboys. ... Brees threw five touchdowns in his only start at Dallas. ... The Cowboys have won four straight on Thanksgiving. ... Dallas' Bryan McCann is the only rookie in NFL history to score two 97-plus yard touchdowns in the same season. *

The storyline:

The Titans used to play in Houston, in case you didn't know. Jeff Fisher goes back that far. This should have been Vince Young's homecoming, but he seems to have one foot out the door now. * #### Why you should watch:

The Titans could be picking up another QB off the street, which is always fun in late November. Once it looked like this game might settle the division; now it looks like a draft-order tiebreaker. Randy Moss not catching any balls, but he is opening things up for Chris Johnson in the run game. * #### Did you know?

The Titans are 6-2 against the Texans at Houston all time. ... Tennessee rookie Marc Mariani leads the NFL with a 17.1 punt return average. ... Texans RB Arian Foster leads the NFL with 12 rushing TDs. ... Houston's Andre Johnson has seven TD catches against Tennessee -- his highest against any opponent. *

The storyline:

Brett Favre vs. Donovan McNabb in the beleaguered QB Bowl. The Redskins have already surpassed last year's win total. The Vikings might need two more seasons to amass their 2009 win total. * #### Why you should watch:

Perhaps these two drama-filled teams will create a diversion during pre-game warmups. * #### Did you know?

Favre is 4-0 in his career as a starter at Washington. ... Minnesota's Adrian Peterson leads the NFC with 1,277 yards from scrimmage and 65 first downs. ... McNabb has a 5-0 record with nine touchdowns and only one interception in five career starts against the Vikings. ... Washington's Chris Cooley ranks third among tight ends with 49 catches. *

The storyline:

A rematch of last year's playoff game. Remember that? When the Bengals went 6-0 in the AFC North and hosted the divisional round? Yeah, seems like more than 10 months ago. * #### Why you should watch:

Mark Sanchez is living up to the hype, and then some. Santonio Holmes has scored two straight game-winning touchdowns. The Bengals defense is in total disarray and has to travel in a short week. That could lead to fireworks. * #### Did you know?

Bengals QB Carson Palmer has thrown at least two touchdown passes in seven consecutive games. ... Cincinnati's Jermaine Gresham leads AFC rookies with 42 receptions. ... The Jets have won three in a row against the Bengals (including the playoffs). ... New York's Brad Smith leads the AFC with a 28.1 kickoff return average. *

The storyline:

Jake Delhomme faces his old teammates (perhaps as the starter). If, by old teammates, you mean what's left of this decimated Panthers roster. * #### Why you should watch:

Play the guess the QB game when the Panthers have the ball. Peyton Hillis is now getting it done in the screen game, too. * #### Did you know?

Panthers RB Mike Goodson has 220 rushing yards in each of the last two weeks. ... Carolina's Everette Brown has a sack in two consecutive games. ... Browns RB Peyton Hillis has scored in nine of 10 games this season. ... Cleveland's Joe Haden has an interception in two straight games. *

The storyline:

The Rams are fading, and the Broncos haven't played a meaningful game in weeks. Kyle Orton will keep chasing some offensive records, however. * #### Why you should watch:

Sam Bradford is putting together Rookie of the Year credentials, but the Rams have been bad away from home. * #### Did you know?

Rams RB Steven Jackson has 2,308 yards from scrimmage in his past 18 games against AFC opponents. ... St. Louis' Chris Long has five sacks in his past five games. ... Broncos WR Brandon Lloyd leads the NFL with 1,046 receiving yards. ... Denver coach Josh McDaniels is 3-0 at home against NFC opponents. *

The storyline:

The team that has dominated the NFC West the past few years meets the team that was supposed to win it this season -- with absolutely nothing at stake. * #### Why you should watch:

It's Monday night. There's nothing else on. And Kurt Warner is off "Dancing With The Stars" now, so maybe he sneaks into the Cards' locker room and dons a jersey? * #### Did you know?

Niners RB Frank Gore has 10 rushing TDs in his last eight games against the Cardinals. ... San Francisco's Justin Smith has three sacks in his past three games. ... Cardinals RB Beanie Wells has a rushing TD in five straight division games. ... Arizona's Joey Porter is third among active players with 97 sacks. *

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