The rematch has lost some of its luster with Kansas City dropping its last two games and Denver’s collapse in New England after beating the Chiefs.
Still, the AFC West showdown is far better than many other matchups this holiday week, and there remains plenty on the line.
Only three games involve two teams with winning marks: Denver (9-2) at Kansas City (9-2); Arizona (7-4) at Philadelphia (6-5); and the Monday nighter, with New Orleans (9-2) at Seattle (10-1), a matchup of the top two teams in the AP Pro32 and in the NFC.
The Broncos handed the Chiefs their first loss two weeks ago — yep, they are meeting twice in three weeks in a scheduling quirk. Then San Diego torched what had been the league’s top defense when linebackers and sacks threats Tamba Hali and Justin Houston left with injuries.
Hali expects to play. Houston’s availability, just as critical for KC, is far less likely.
“It’s a division game, that’s the biggest thing. As the season goes on the playoff implications get bigger and bigger,” Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said. “Regardless of we both lost last week, it’s still right there in front of us. No question, that’s the focus.”
As it is in Denver, where folks are questioning Peyton Manning’s ability to win in the cold after his so-so performance at New England. Temperatures are not projected to dip below freezing at Arrowhead Stadium today. “We’re sitting here, we’re tied for first,” interim coach Jack Del Rio said. “We’re 9-2; we’ve won a lot of games. We’ve got some ball in front of us and we’re getting excited for the very next one. That’s where we are.”
New Orleans (9-2) at Seattle (10-1), Monday night
If this one is as memorable as their last meeting, in a 2010 divisional playoff game when the Seahawks, a 7-9 NFC West winner, knocked off the Saints, then it will be special. The league surely is hoping so by scheduling it for prime time.
Marshawn Lynch’s 67-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter remains a must-see highlight. He’s been a beast again this year, needing 75 yards to reach 1,000 for the fifth time in career.
Seattle has won a franchise-best 13 straight at home, and no one relishes visiting CenturyLink Field in the postseason.
Nor does anyone really want to go to New Orleans, where the Saints are perfect in 2013. A Saints win will put them in prime position for NFC home-field advantage.
Drew Brees has won nine straight starts on Monday nights with a 123.6 passer rating.
Arizona (7-4) at Philadelphia (6-5)
Two first-year coaches — Arizona’s Bruce Arians won NFL Coach of the Year as an interim in Indianapolis filling in last year for Chuck Pagano, who was battling leukemia — with teams on the rise.
The Cardinals have won four straight and haven’t won five in a row since 1977. Carson Palmer has had two consecutive big games, and Larry Fitzgerald tends to toy with the Philadelphia secondary. Fitzgerald was NFC offensive player of week following each of his last two games against the Eagles and has nine TD catches in five games against them.
Eagles have won three in a row. The offense under Chip Kelly has already set a franchise record with nine games of 400 total yards. The defense has held opponents to 21 points or less in each of the last seven games.
New England (8-3) at Houston (2-9)
It’s a December game, which means the Patriots are more dangerous than ever. They’ve won 15 of their last 16 in the month, and they are getting healthier on offense, if not on defense. Their confidence should be soaring after rallying from a 24-0 hole at halftime to beat Denver last Sunday night.
Houston has lost a franchise-record nine in a row and is in contention for the top overall draft pick.
Cincinnati (7-4) at San Diego (5-6)
With the Broncos, Chiefs and Colts stumbling lately, the Bengals suddenly are in the mix for a first-round bye if they can surge to the AFC North title. The schedule isn’t daunting, but this week the Chargers come off an uplifting win at Kansas City and are in the wild-card chase.
San Diego plays four of its final five games at home, which would seem to give the Chargers an edge in that race. But they are only 2-2 at Qualcomm Stadium.
Tennessee (5-6) at Indianapolis (7-4)
The Titans have never won in Lucas Oil Stadium (0-5). A first victory there would make it a race again in the AFC South. Indy, though, has gone 26 consecutive games without back-to-back losses.
Tennessee tight end Delanie Walker and Colts linebacker Erik Walden will square off for the first time since Walden ripped off Walker’s helmet and delivered a head butt, which drew Walden a one-game suspension from the NFL.
Tampa Bay (3-8) at Carolina (8-3)
Two streaking teams, with the Panthers establishing themselves as a title threat with seven straight wins. Tampa Bay lost its first eight and now has won three in a row.
Rookie quarterback Mike Glennon is the first in NFL history to throw a TD pass in each of his first eight games. He faces the stingiest defense points-wise in the league (151).
Carolina’s Cam Newton in the last five games against Tampa Bay has a 106.6 passer rating and five touchdowns rushing. Newton has led winning drives in three straight games.
Chicago (6-5) at Minnesota (2-8-1)
The Bears have alternated wins and losses in each of the last seven weeks, and that should mean a victory in their last trip to the Metrodome before it is demolished. They have lost eight of their last 10 there.
Maybe the spotlight belongs on the kick returners: NFL career record setter Devin Hester for Chicago, rookie Cordarrelle Patterson for the Vikes.
Or maybe not: Vikings RB Adrian Peterson is 154 yards from 10,000 for his career, and the Bears’ banged-up defense is on track to give up more than 2,300 yards rushing. No, not on Sunday, despite how dangerous Peterson is, but for the entire season.
Miami (5-6) at New York Jets (5-6)
Hard to believe one of these teams will be solidly in wild-card contention after they meet at the Meadowlands. New York’s wins and losses in alternating weeks ended with a defeat at Baltimore last Sunday, and rookie QB Geno Smith seems lost. It doesn’t help that other than RB Chris Ivory, he has virtually no skilled players at the skill positions.
Miami is the only team to score less than 28 points in every game. It hopes to get back center Mike Pouncey, who missed two games with a stomach ailment.
New York Giants (4-7) at Washington (3-8)
The NFL didn’t flex this game away from prime time, perhaps hoping one of these NFC East weaklings would have made a turnaround. The Giants were doing so with four consecutive victories following an 0-6 start, but they fell at home to Dallas last weekend.
At least New York has found a running game. Andre Brown has rushed for 308 yards in three games after returning from a broken leg.
The Redskins have lost three straight and clinched a 10th non-winning record in 13 years. Washington is 0-4 in night games this season.
Jacksonville (2-9) at Cleveland (4-7)
Remember that almost-guaranteed top overall draft pick for Jacksonville next May? It is disappearing quickly as the Jags won two of their last three.
Just when the Browns seemed to have a shot at a run to the postseason, they’ve dropped two straight within the AFC North. They’re back to Brandon Weeden at quarterback with Jason Campbell having a concussion. His best target, Josh Gordon, set a team record with 237 yards receiving last week and tied a team mark with 14 catches.
Atlanta (2-9) vs. Buffalo (4-7) at Toronto
Remember how close the Falcons were to making the Super Bowl last season? One play.
Now, they are in strong contention to start off the draft next spring, a shocking collapse. Atlanta was the first NFC team eliminated from the playoff picture.
Buffalo is 1-4 in the regular season in games at the Rogers Centre. Led by DE Mario Williams’ 11 sacks, Buffalo is tied with New Orleans for the NFL lead with 37. Its defense has 16 interceptions, also tied for first, with Seattle.