Longtime division rivals battle in Dallas on Sunday night, the Steelers head to Baltimore to try to avoid being swept by the Ravens in consecutive years, and the Vikings and Packers both try to shake off horrible Week 12 losses in a showdown at Lambeau Field. The Buccaneers’ 32nd-ranked pass defense goes up against Peyton Manning in Denver, the Chad Henne train keeps on rolling up in Buffalo, and two struggling Ryans — Rex and Lindley — square off in East Rutherford. Oh, baby. Here are the 10 Storylines to watch in Week 13. — Peter Schrager
End your fantasy football season with some guts
Divisional showdowns, Ndamukong Suh’s temper and that awesome Browns-Raiders game will all be worth watching this weekend, but so will your Week 13 fantasy football matchup. In most leagues, this is the final week of the regular season, and in most instances, it’s “win or go home.” My advice? Have some guts and be courageous. Start Beanie Wells over Arian Foster if you feel like it. Sign Vikings rookie wideout Jarius Wright and start him against a bad Green Bay defense if the mood is right. Bench that Texans defense — the one that’s all sorts of banged up after playing two overtime games in five days — and start the Carolina D out in Kansas City, instead. No one will ever remember your fantasy team if you win this week playing safe. Start Cowboys wideout Cole Beasley and win on him getting a fourth-quarter reception Monday night? No one will ever forget that.
Key Steelers might play
Steelers fans would be hard-pressed to think of a worse loss than the 20-14 debacle in Cleveland last week. The 37-year-old Charlie Batch threw three interceptions, the Steelers turned the ball over eight times and they lost to the Browns for only the second time in their past 18 meetings. Three weeks ago, Pittsburgh appeared to be in great shape coming off a 24-20 win in New York. Now, they’re a loss in Baltimore away from being 6-6 and potentially out of the AFC playoff picture (Cincinnati, at 6-5, has the struggling Chargers). Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, safety Troy Polamalu and receiver Antonio Brown are all probable, but the Steelers could also use some more from star wideout Mike Wallace. Since Roethlisberger went down vs. Kansas City in Week 10, he has caught only five balls for 33 yards. The Steelers are in “must win” mode. They need all of their stars back in the lineup — 100 percent or not — in this one.
All Chad Henne, all the time
Who knew the Jaguars had a franchise quarterback on their roster this whole time? His name just happens to be Chad Henne, not Blaine Gabbert. Henne has been magnificent since he replaced an injured Gabbert against Indianapolis three weeks ago. After tossing four touchdown passes in an overtime loss vs. Houston, Henne got his first win as a starter since 2010 in Jacksonville's victory over the Titans last Sunday. Henne, who has made Justin Blackmon and Cecil Shorts III look like one of the best 1-2 receiver duos in football the past two weeks, heads up to Buffalo, where the cold weather shouldn’t faze him. Remember, he was a starter at Michigan for four years in college. Western New York is nothing.
The A.F.E. era
That’s right, the “After Fireman Ed” era. “Fireman Ed” Anzalone, the face of the Jets fan base and a season ticket holder since 1976, “retired” from whatever he is on Sunday night. How will the team possibly take the field without him hoisted on a buddy’s shoulders yelling things for the JumboTron? How can the NFL possibly play this game? I kid. The show, obviously, will go on without Fireman Ed in the stands, but the better show might actually be in the stands throughout this game. If Gang Green comes out and gets smoked by a Cardinals team that has lost seven straight games, the boobirds will be out and active. New York’s still, amazingly, mathematically somehow alive in the AFC wild-card picture. A loss on Sunday would put any playoff hopes to bed. It also would bring out the very worst (or best, depending on who you ask) from the Jets fan base.
Potential playoff preview
If the playoffs were to start this week, the Seahawks would be playing the Bears in Chicago in a wild-card round matchup. The Seahawks beat Chicago at Soldier Field late last season, but that was without Jay Cutler in the lineup for the Bears. For all his majesty and late-game heroism this season, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson has only one win outside of Seattle. The crowd will be hostile, the weather will be bad and the stakes will be high. If the Seahawks escape the Windy City with a win, the Seahawks will silence many doubters who think they’re strictly a team that wins at home.
RG3 gets another crack at Giants
The Giants broke out of their two-game skid and came out of the bye week with a dominant performance over the Packers last Sunday night, giving Big Blue a healthy and somewhat safe two-game lead in the division standings. But don’t get too comfortable just yet, Giants fans. The Redskins — quietly (outside of DC, at least) — have won two straight games themselves, and have a far more manageable schedule than the Giants from here on out. Hypothetically speaking, a Redskins win would put them one game behind the Giants with four to play — home against Baltimore, at Cleveland, at Philadelphia and home against the Cowboys. The Giants still have to play the Saints, Falcons, Ravens and Eagles. I don’t want to sound too crazy, but it’s possible.
Chiefs have a winnable game
The Chiefs have the 3-8 Panthers on six days’ rest in Arrowhead this weekend. Winless in six tries at home this season, Sunday’s the second-to-last game for the Chiefs in front of their home crowd this season. Indianapolis, Kansas City’s Week 16 opponent, will be in the thick of the playoff hunt and likely playing for a wild-card berth that afternoon. Let’s be real — if the Chiefs are going to win a game in front of their home fans this season, it will be on Sunday. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton had his best game of the year Monday night in Philadelphia. The Chiefs did a solid job containing Peyton Manning last week — they’ll look to do the same against the 2011 Offensive Player of the Year. Whether the offense can put any points on the board is an entirely different issue.
Niners' ever-changing QB situation
Two weeks after they played to the NFL’s first tie in four years, the 49ers and the Rams go at it again on Sunday. St. Louis — fresh off a rare road win in Arizona — has no quarterback controversy. Whether the fans like it or not, Sam Bradford’s the guy. San Francisco? Who knows? A few days after Colin Kaepernick led the 49ers into New Orleans and toppled the surging Saints, Jim Harbaugh came out Monday and declared, “Alex Smith is our starting quarterback.” Though it’s tough to imagine Kaepernick being put back on the bench after his performance the past two weeks, it’s entirely possible. Either way, St. Louis needs to prepare for both quarterbacks. Clever — if not dicey — stuff from Harbaugh this week.
Texans wounded, tired
The 10-1 Houston Texans are the top seed in the AFC and would have the all-important home-field advantage in the postseason if the playoffs were to start today. But this Texans defense is not the same one that beat up the Ravens in Week 7 or even the unit that smacked around the Bears in Week 10. In a five-day span, Houston played 10 quarters worth of football, losing several key players on both the offensive and defensive side of the field because of injury in the process. Yes, the Texans won those games. But how much of a toll will two wild overtime games in a row take on a team that still has two games against the surging Colts left on the schedule? Tennessee’s coming off a bad loss to Jacksonville, and it fired offensive coordinator Chris Palmer on Tuesday. Knocking off the Texans in Nashville on Sunday would be their season highlight.
Patriots' offense better than record-setting 2007 one?
Crazy? Not so much. Eleven games into the 2012 season, the Patriots have scored 407 points. They’re averaging 37.0 points per game. The second-highest scoring team — Houston — is putting up 29.7 points per game. Granted, a handful of those points have come from defense and special teams, but with five weeks left to go, the Patriots would need to score 182 points to top the 18-1 squad of 2007. That’s 36.4 points per game from here on out. That’s doable. Two of those five remaining games — including Sunday — are against Miami.