NFL Nation: audibles NFC 16

Posted by ESPN.com's Matt Mosley

Philadelphia Eagles (8-5-1) vs. Washington Redskins (7-7), 4:15 p.m. ET

The Eagles can't afford to stumble after their brilliant three-game stretch. Andy Reid must stay committed to the running game even if it's not there early. Donovan McNabb was lethal in Week 15 throwing downfield against the Browns, and there's a chance he'll pick the Redskins apart. The Eagles also have a revenge factor going. The Redskins went into the Linc and pushed the Eagles around at the line of scrimmage in the teams' first meeting this season.

For Jim Zorn, a win could go a long way in saving his job. Vinny Cerrato and Dan Snyder have offered few clues on what will happen after the season. Whether you want to blame it on injuries or coaching, this team imploded after a 6-2 start. The optimistic Zorn has questioned his own ability, and that's not a good sign. A win here would be huge for this team's psyche. I don't see it, though. The Eagles are finally firing on all cylinders. I don't see them slowing down. Look for Trent Cole to have a big game against the Redskins' injury-ravaged offensive line. Cole's had a lot better season than anyone's giving him credit for.

New York Giants (11-3) vs. Carolina Panthers (11-3), 8:15 p.m. ET

This could be a great one. The Giants will sell out to stop the run and try to make Jake Delhomme beat them. Something tells me that Justin Tuck is about to have a huge game. The NFC South blogger keeps telling me how great the Panthers' offensive line is, but I don't think they're ready for Tuck's quickness.

On offense, the Giants need a healthy Brandon Jacobs. As Tom Coughlin has pointed out, Jacobs sets the physical tone for the offense. Without him, Derrick Ward and Ahmad Bradshaw aren't as effective. After a poor effort against the Cowboys, the Giants need their offensive line to come back strong. This would also be a good time for Domenik Hixon to have a big game. Without Plaxico Burress in the lineup, teams have been playing more man-to-man coverage against the Giants. Manning needs to make them pay. If the Giants win, they'll have a bye and home-field advantage in the playoffs. I think they'll play a lot more like the desperate team that we saw last January. The Giants will win this one in a squeaker.

Click here to access the NFL Pick Center, a service for ESPN Insiders where fans can view two different simulation models for every NFL game.

Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas

New Orleans Saints (7-7) at Detroit Lions (0-14), 1 p.m. ET

  

At this point, the Saints are playing for pride. After all they've been through, with injuries and inconsistency, they still have a shot at a winning season.

They also have a shot at getting embarrassed. That's what losing to the winless Lions would amount to. It's unlikely because the Lions are as bad as advertised, but that's what makes it scary for New Orleans.

The Saints have shown a unique ability to play at the same level as their competition, which has the potential to make this game truly ugly. The best thing -- really, the only thing -- the Saints have going for them is quarterback Drew Brees.

He still has a shot at a 5,000-yard passing season. The Saints haven't been consistent all year, so they might as well go into Ford Field and turn Brees loose.

San Diego Chargers (6-8) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-5), 1 p.m. ET

  

A couple of weeks ago, the Bucs were in control of the NFC South and seemed destined for at least the No. 2 seed in the NFC. Now, they're scrambling just to get a wild-card berth.

Two straight losses have shown the Bucs have lots of problems. Their run defense fell apart against the Falcons and Panthers and, now, they've got LaDainian Tomlinson coming to town. The good news is the Bucs appear to be getting healthier on the defensive line.

But this is a team at a crossroads. Win this one and next week's game at home with Oakland and the Bucs will head to the playoffs with momentum. Lose this one or the next and they might not even be going to the playoffs.

Atlanta Falcons (9-5) at Minnesota Vikings (9-5), 4:15 p.m. ET

  

The Falcons need a little help -- like Tampa Bay or Dallas stumbling -- to get to the playoffs. But there's not much the Falcons can do about that. They just have to take care of their own business against a Minnesota team that has a lot to play for.

With a home game next week against St. Louis, the Falcons are pretty much guaranteed a 10-win season, but they want to make it 11. Rookie quarterback Matt Ryan didn't have his best game last week, but the Falcons still were able to win against Tampa Bay.

They'll need a big performance out of Ryan this week because the Minnesota defense is No. 1 in the league against the run and running back Michael Turner might have a tough time putting up big numbers.

Carolina Panthers (11-3) at New York Giants (11-3), 8:15 p.m. ET Sunday

 

Essentially, this is a playoff game because the winner gets the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage in the NFC.

That should provide plenty of incentive for a Carolina team that seems to be peaking at the right time. For the last month or so, the Panthers have been playing the best they have since their 2003 Super Bowl season. The offensive line and the running game are clicking.

But the Giants may try to load up on the running game and put the game in the hands of Carolina quarterback Jake Delhomme. That might not be a bad idea because Delhomme has had some shaky games this season.

But there's one huge downside to putting all your effort into stopping Carolina's running game: leaving wide receiver Steve Smith without enough defensive attention. Delhomme always has shown the ability to get Smith the ball in big games.

Click here to access the NFL Pick Center, a service for ESPN Insiders where fans can view two different simulation models for every NFL game. 

Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert 

New Orleans Saints (7-7) at Detroit Lions (0-14), 1 p.m. ET

Earlier this week, we noted the Saints' historic willingness to bail out teams buried deep in the oh-fer column, but current-day statistics suggest this is another bad matchup for the Lions.

Detroit's beleaguered defense has given up an NFL-high 444 points this season, an astounding average of 31.7 per game. The Lions, in fact, are on pace to give up the second-most points for a season in NFL history. (The 1981 Colts gave up 533, the only figure higher than the Lions' projected total of 503.)

And which team happens to have the league's highest-scoring offense this season? Why, yes, you guessed it. The Saints, naturally, are averaging 27.9 points per game -- a full 4.6 points more per game than the next-closest offense.

Could the Lions get in the win column Sunday? It's conceivable, considering New Orleans is 1-6 away from the Superdome this season. But playing inside opponent-friendly Ford Field, it seems more likely the Saints will go for 50.

Atlanta Falcons (9-5) at Minnesota Vikings (9-5), 4:15 p.m. ET

Discussion of all things quarterback -- namely: Tarvaris Jackson, Gus Frerotte and Matt Ryan -- have overshadowed the most important element in this game. Which team will control the ball better with its running game?

This is what December football is all about (sans the Metrodome): Two powerful tailbacks squaring off to determine playoff fate. Will Minnesota's Adrian Peterson keep Atlanta's Michael Turner off the field? Or vice versa?

The wild-card factor will be how well the Vikings compensate after losing run-stopping nose tackle Pat Williams to a fractured scapula. Minnesota still has some strong defensive pieces, most notably defensive tackle Kevin Williams, but there's little doubt the Falcons will test the Vikings' interior defense at the outset. Or at least, they should.

Green Bay Packers (5-9) at Chicago Bears (8-6), 8:30 p.m. ET Monday


It will be interesting to see if this game falls in line with the recent history of this rivalry.

In this decade, 70 percent of the games (12 of 17) have been decided by double digits. Since Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy took over in 2006, the average margin of victory in the matchup has been 22.8 points. Chicago has won three of the five games over that span, but the most recent was a 37-3 Packers victory at Lambeau Field last month.

As of Friday, the Bears have far more incentive to win this installment. If everything falls their way, they will still be alive for both the NFC North title and a wild-card spot. (The reverse is also true; they could be eliminated from both races before they take the field.)

The Packers steamrolled the Bears for 200 rushing yards in last month's meeting, making at least one thing certain: On a night in which temperatures are expected to dip into the single digits, the Bears shouldn't be surprised if the Packers test their run defense once again.

Click here to access the NFL Pick Center, a service for ESPN Insiders where fans can view two different simulation models for every NFL game. 

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Arizona Cardinals (8-6) at New England Patriots (9-5), 1 p.m. ET

Kurt Warner has repeatedly lamented the difficulties associated with throwing the ball too frequently. He went further following the Week 15 defeat to Minnesota by suggesting the Cardinals lost because they failed to hold up at the line of scrimmage -- on both sides of the ball.

Warner might need the ground game even more against the Patriots. Wintry weather could make throwing the ball more difficult. The Cardinals would have another reason to tighten their formations if Pro Bowl receiver Anquan Boldin sits out to rest a shoulder injury.

The Cardinals' frustration -- evident in comments from Warner, strong safety Adrian Wilson and others after the Minnesota game -- will grow if the Patriots blow them out at Gillette Stadium. Coach Ken Whisenhunt keeps talking about opportunities to demonstrate progress against playoff-tested teams. Beating one of those teams has proven elusive.

New York Jets (9-5) at Seattle Seahawks (3-11), 4:05 p.m. ET

Mike Holmgren's final home game as Seahawks coach should be memorable. Light snow and winds projected to exceed 23 miles per hour could turn Qwest Field into a winter wonderland.

The Seahawks have played hard for Holmgren down the stretch and that should continue against the Jets. An inspired performance from Seattle, backed by an emotional home crowd, should give the Seahawks a chance.

Brett Favre and the Jets have struggled in West Coast defeats against San Diego, Oakland and San Francisco.

San Francisco 49ers (5-9) at St. Louis Rams (2-12), 1 p.m. ET

The 49ers have won two of their last three games against the Rams at the Edward Jones Dome.

Shaun Hill's steady play at quarterback gives San Francisco an excellent chance at making it three times in four seasons. When the teams played in Week 11, the 49ers scored touchdowns on all five red zone possessions.

The emotional edge belongs to the 49ers as well. Rams fans figure to save their loudest cheers for 49ers receiver Isaac Bruce. The 49ers are also playing better on defense. Nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin should have the advantage against the Rams' interior line.

In short, nothing about how these teams are playing would appear to favor the Rams.

Click here to access the NFL Pick Center, a service for ESPN Insiders where fans can view two different simulation models for every NFL game.

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