|ESPN.com: NFL Nation||[Print without images]|
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
Carolina Panthers (8-3) at Green Bay Packers (5-6), 1 p.m. ET
In Charlotte, a town that's capable of overreacting, there's a sense of doom among fans after the Carolina Panthers lost a single game.
The Panthers went down to Atlanta, got thumped and fell to 8-3. That still doesn't sound like a bad spot to be in, but there might be some justification for all that gloom. Even in the two games before that, victories against Detroit and Oakland, the Panthers didn't look particularly impressive. Quarterback Jake Delhomme has struggled of late and a defense that seemed dominant early in the season has been ordinary recently.
A lot of folks are worried about Tampa Bay or Atlanta taking the NFC South title because Carolina has the toughest remaining schedule. This week's trip to Green Bay may sound grim because visits to Lambeau Field always are tough.
But maybe there's some good news among all the clouds for Carolina fans. The Packers might be struggling even more than the Panthers.
Consider these numbers: In Week 12, the Packers and Panthers combined to allow 96 points, 808 total yards, 42 first downs and 13 touchdowns.
The bright side? If you've got to go into Lambeau Field, this might be the right time to do it.
New Orleans Saints (6-5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (8-3), 1 p.m. ET
In NFC South circles, the quarterback talk has been all about New Orleans' Drew Brees and Atlanta's Matt Ryan. Understandable since Brees is on pace to set the single-season record for passing yards and Ryan is having the best season of any rookie since Dan Marino.
But, very quietly, Jeff Garcia has been one of the NFL's best quarterbacks for the last six weeks. After being benched early in the season, Garcia and coach Jon Gruden seem to have patched up their differences and Garcia's again playing like the Pro Bowl quarterback he was a year ago.
Garcia is 5-1 in his last six starts and ranks third in the league in passer rating in that span. At 38, he's also starting to show signs of the mobility that helped him prosper earlier in his career.
With Brees coming to town and Tampa Bay's running back situation a bit shaky with Earnest Graham lost for the year, the Bucs are going to need Garcia to be even better than he's been in the last six games.
Atlanta Falcons (7-4) at San Diego Chargers (4-7), 4:05 p.m. ET
There's been a lot of talk about how this game is a showdown between Michael Turner and LaDainian Tomlinson. That's understandable because Turner spent four seasons as Tomlinson's backup before signing with the Falcons this year. Turner has better numbers than Tomlinson, and he also is a guy with plenty of pride and there probably is a part of him that would like to show the Chargers how good he is.
But the fact is, the Chargers and the rest of the league already know Turner is a top-notch back. Turner and Tomlinson were -- and still are -- friends, so this isn't truly a grudge match. Turner and the Falcons are beyond that.
They're a team in the thick of a playoff race and they need a victory far more than Turner needs to prove anything. But let's just say Turner goes out there and hangs 150 yards on a struggling San Diego defense.
There might be a little sense of vindication involved.