NFC East

Pigskin Preview: National Football League Week 13

After a fantastic day of Thanksgiving football, and with Week 12 officially in the books, we are back for the Pigskin Preview for Week 13!

This week has some must-see games, starting out with the match up of two of the hottest teams in football.  The Vikings, winners of seven straight will be going on the road to face off with the red-hot Falcons.

Then in New Orleans, you will see a battle for first place in the NFC South as the Saints play host to the Carolina Panthers.

The Sunday Night Football showcase will feature the best the NFC has to offer in 2017. The 10-1 Philadelphia Eagles go on the road to face perennial NFC powerhouse, the Seattle Seahawks.

The week will also feature the return of troubled Browns WR Josh Gordon, who will be active on the main roster for their game at the Chargers, and make his first regular-season appearance since 2014.

In other NFL news for this upcoming week, the Giants shocked the sports world with the benching of QB Eli Manning, who has started the past 210 games for the G-Men, in favor for Geno Smith. The Giants aren’t the only team to make a quarterback change, as the late TD against Seattle was enough for 49ers Head Coach Kyle Shanahan to name Jimmy Garoppolo the signal caller for the Week 13 match up against the Bears. Those are just a few fascinating story lines for this upcoming week, but here is the complete breakdown for the best games of Week 13!

Minnesota Vikings (9-2) @ Atlanta Falcons (7-4)

As we head towards the final stretch of the NFL season, teams are starting to make their playoff push, and will start hitting their stride. That could not be anymore true for the Atlanta Falcons who are now riding a three-game win streak following a commanding victory over the Bucs 34-20.

The most noteworthy take from this game is the Falcons got back to their bread and butter and found their star WR Julio Jones 12 times for 253 yards and two touchdowns. Jones sits at 1039 yards for the season and has gone over 1000 yards now for the fifth time in his seven-year career. I think it will be pivotal in the match up against the Vikings to continue to feed the ball to Julio as much as possible because has proved time and time again the impact he can make when given the ball.

Another key to a Falcons victory is to continue to establish a running game, which was a crucial part of their 2016 Super Bowl run. Last week the Falcons were without starter Devonta Freeman at RB, but Tevin Coleman stepped up in place, rushing 19 times for 97 yards and two touchdowns. The Falcons are at their best when they have a running game to go along with their passing attack.

The challenge this week for the Falcons is can they stop this Vikings offense that has now scored over 30 points in three of their past four and is averaging 27.4 a contest on their current seven-game winning streak.

Case Keenum has continued to flourish in an offense with plenty of weapons around him, as he has three elite pass-catching options. First, there is speedster Stefon Diggs who has big-play ability and is capable of taking the top off of any defense. The breakout player on this team is Adam Thielen who has been Keenum’s favorite target, as he went over 1000 yards for the season in the 30-23 Turkey Day win over the Lions. The third is TE Kyle Rudolph, who had two TD’s on the Thanksgiving day, and is a reliable option for Keenum to go to when in trouble, or near the red-zone.

Another huge reason for the success of this Vikings offense is the production in the running game from starting RB Latavius Murray, and Jerick Mckinnon who’s continued success has given the Vikes that much more consistency on offense.

The biggest factor in the Falcons ending this Vikings winning streak is getting pressure on Keenum, as the Vikes have done one of the best jobs in the NFL of protecting him. With the Falcons coming into this game looking the best we’ve seen all season, it would be a huge statement to the rest of the NFC if the Vikings could go on the road and knock off the defending NFC champions, as they look to put themselves in position for a playoff run!

 

Carolina Panthers (8-3) @ New Orleans Saints (8-3) 

This is a showdown between the two top teams in the NFC South, and the winner of this will take sole possession of first place in the division. The importance of this game cannot be stressed enough, as the Saints topped the Panthers in Carolina 34-13 in Week 3 and haven’t looked back since. They have won eight straight before the 26-20 loss to the Rams in Week 12. But the Panthers know if they drop this game the Saints will essentially have a two-game lead over them due to the tiebreaker.

The most important player for the Panthers to focus in on and stop is Rookie RB from Tennessee Alvin Kamara, who was the Saints lone bright spot in LA last week. Kamara had a 74-yard rushing touchdown in the game and finished with six catches for 101 yards, and another score through the air. For the season, the rookie back has been one of the most productive and balanced attacks in football. He is averaging over seven yards per carry and 546 rushing yards, with 54 catches for 548 yards. That gives him 1094 all-purpose yards for the season with nine total TD’s on the year.

Teams, in years past, have usually had to key in on Brees and the lethal passing game, but this year the Saints have the most balanced offense in football with the third most rushing yards per game and the second highest passing yards per game. That’s good enough for second in total offense in the NFL. The Saints will be put to the test by a team that is currently winners of four in a row, and hold the #2 defense in the NFL allowing just 288.3 yards a contest.

The Panthers stole one in New York after a sloppy game offensively but benefited greatly from two huge fourth-quarter touchdowns. The first came from Luke Kuechly, who picked up a Josh McCown sack-fumble for 34 yards and a score. Then, shortly after, Kaelin Clay makes the play of the day and returns a punt for 60 yards and sealed the victory for the Panthers.

The Panthers have not been the flashy or dominant force we saw in the 2015 15-1 season. In large part that has been because of the inconstant play of Cam Newton. The former league MVP has the fourth most INT’s in the league with 11, and poor QB rating that sits him right in between Blake Bortles and Jay Cutler, near the bottom of that category for starting QBs.

This game will come down to the play of Newton, and let’s see if we get the MVP form of Newton or the one we saw in New York this past week who only completed 11/28 passes for 168 yards. With how unpredictable both these teams have been this season, and how phenomenal they have both looked at times, it’ll be a great game as one of these teams take control of the NFC South!

Philadelphia Eagles (10-1) @ Seattle Seahawks (7-4)  

The Seahawks have lost their past two home games and Russel Wilson will be looking to end the worst home stretch of his career, where he holds an all-time record of 37-8. Another thing the Seahawks are not accustomed to is being underdogs in their home building, as the line opened with the Hawks getting 4.5 points. But there is a good reason this week as the Philadelphia Eagles come into this clash potentially with the NFC East already locked up depending on the outcome of the Thursday night game between the Redskins and Cowboys.

The Eagles have rolled over everyone in the path over the past few week scoring over 30 points in five straight games. They will be looking to make a statement to the entire league on Sunday Night as they will go on the road and likely face their toughest game in over a month. Eagles MVP candidate Carson Wentz has been causing havoc to secondary’s all throughout the league and will look the expose the injured Seahawks defense.

The Seahawks will be without All-Pro CB due to Richard Sherman due to a torn Achilles, and Kam Chancellor, who was placed on IR with a neck injury. Although the Legion of Boom isn’t fully intact, the Seahawks still have one of the scariest front seven’s in the NFL and can make it a long day for Wentz. They have Bobby Wagner at LB who has 100 tackles already on the 2017 season. Still, it is the pass rush led by Michael Bennett who leads the team with 7.5 sacks, to go along with playmakers such as Sheldon Richardson, Frank Clark, and Dwight Freeney. Getting to Wentz should be #1 priority for the Hawks this week because if given all day throw in the pocket, the #2 pick from North Dakota will tear the Seattle defense to shreds.

For the Seahawks, you should not expect much change in the running attack, as it has failed them all year, and will be facing the #1 ranked run defense in Philadelphia, who only allowed 65.1 yards per game to opposing backs.

This prime-time contest is a test to show how great this Eagles team truly is, and if they can go on the road and win their 10th straight game and beat an NFC powerhouse, it’ll show that this Eagles team ceiling in the NFC might just be a trip to Minnesota and be playing in Super Bowl LII.

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