PLAYER YOU NEED TO KNOW THIS WEEKEND
Cameron Jordon, defensive end, New Orleans (No. 94). The key to the Saints defense stopping the Panthers offense Sunday night will be their ability to put pressure on Cam Newton without letting him escape from the pocket. Jordan leads the Saints with 9.5 sacks and lines up all over the place in Rob Ryan’s defense. If he and the rest of the Saints’ front seven can keep the heat on Newton, and with the help of a raucous Superdome crowd, New Orleans stands to get the W in the first of these teams’ two meetings in the next three weeks that will essentially decided the NFC South.
SOUNDBITE OF THE WEEK
“There are repercussions of a blunder of that nature and I embrace it. With my position comes the charge of preserving and protecting the game of football. … I think my biggest error on Thursday night is not realizing that play jeopardized the game from an integrity standpoint.”
—Steelers coach Mike Tomlin during his Tuesday press conference, at which he issued a mea culpa for interfering with Jacoby Jones’ kickoff return in Baltimore’s 22-20 win over Pittsburgh on Thanksgiving. Tomlin was fined $100,000 by the NFL, which may still take away or modify a Steelers draft pick.
TEN THINGS I’LL BE WATCHING FOR THIS WEEKEND
1. The first shoe drops in the coaching carousel. Gary Kubiak was fired by the Texans after the team’s Thursday loss to the Jaguars, their 11th straight defeat. It’ll be interesting to see whether owner Bob McNair and GM Rick Smith go with Wade Phillips (who will serve as the interim for the remaining three games), a rising coordinator, someone with previous NFL head-coaching experience or a college star as Kubiak’s permanent replacement.
2. Can the Chiefs stop the bleeding? Kansas City heads to Landover, Md., and can’t afford to lose to Washington. Remember when the buzz was about their turnaround season? Now it’s about turning around a three-game losing streak in which they’ve allowed nearly as many points (103) as they did over the first nine games (111).
3. Return to the ’Burgh. Mike Wallace is heating up (12 catches, 209 yards and two TDs in the past two games) just in time for this weekend’s showdown with the team that drafted him in 2009 but wouldn’t open up the checkbook for him during free agency during the offseason. The Steelers aren’t hurting, assuming you ignore their 5-7 record. Antonio Brown hasn’t just replaced Wallace as Big Ben’s favorite target, he’s also second in the NFL with 85 receptions.
4. Big game by the Bay. The Seahawks can clinch the NFC West with a win over the 49ers at Candlestick Park Sunday, and take another big step toward clinching home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. But they may be catching Colin Kaepernick at the wrong time. The 49ers have won two straight following a two-game skid and are in position for a wild-card berth at 8-4. During that skid, Kaepernick completed 52.8% of his throws, had two TDs, two picks and a 60.1 rating. In the last two wins, his line: 65.4% completion rate, four touchdowns, no interceptions and a 123.1 rating. This game just might be a preview of an epic playoff battle in January.
5. Two huge NFC East vs. NFC North matchups. The Lions-Eagles and Cowboys-Bears are must-watch games with playoff implications. Nick Foles has Philly on fire, having won four straight to match Dallas’ 7-5 record. The Eagles would love to see the desperate Bears knock off the Cowboys, allowing them (with a win) to move into sole possession of first place in the East. The Lions, fresh off their Turkey Day bludgeoning of the Packers, are eager to distance themselves from the Bears in the North, and the Cowboys wouldn’t shed a tear to see the Eagles lose. Really looking forward to seeing how these scenarios play out.
6. The Daniel Adongo experiment put into action. The rugby-star-turned-outside-linebacker is on the Colts’ active roster for the first time this week. How cool would it be to see Adongo make a big special teams play in the tussle with the Bengals? I’ll be looking for him whenever the Colts are kicking off.
7. More life without Rodgers The Packers are holding on for dear life after getting smacked around by the Lions on Thanksgiving. Inserting Aaron Rodgers back into the lineup would have been a huge shot in the arm against Atlanta. He practiced on Wednesday, but was ruled out for Sunday’s game. Green Bay is already 2.5 games out of the last playoff spot with four games to go, so they can’t afford another loss, no matter who’s under center.
8. Peyton in pursuit of history. Manning’s 4,125 passing yards are the most ever through 12 games. He needs 338 in each of the Broncos’ final four games to surpass the single-season record (5,476) that Drew Brees set in 2011. Manning’s 41 passing touchdowns are tied for second most through 12 games, with Tom Brady, who set the single-season record with 50 in 2007. If the Chiefs couldn’t slow Manning down last weekend, what kind of shot do the Titans have this weekend? Or the Chargers, Texans and Raiders the rest of the way? I like Peyton’s chances.
9. Which Colts team will we see? Indy has been wildly inconsistent of late, and traveling to Cincinnati is going to be a real test. One 8-4 team against another. Since Week 9 it’s been W, L, W, L, W for the Colts. Chuck Pagano’s squad has the AFC South all but wrapped up, but momentum is essential for a postseason run.
10. Prime time in the Big Easy. Carolina at New Orleans. Two teams having bounce-back seasons. Riverboat Ron at the mouth of the Mississippi. This one should be fun. And real loud. The streaking Panthers, winners of eight straight, will get a taste of a playoff atmosphere when they enter the Superdome Sunday night. Both teams are 9-3 and in position to take the division, but the Saints will surely be ticked off after getting embarrassed by the Seahawks Monday night. Cam Newton vs. Drew Brees, the first of two showdowns between these QBs in the next three weeks. Prove-it time for the Panthers.