In this April 28, 2016, file photo, Los Angeles Rams’ Jared Goff, left, and Philadelphia Eagles’ Carson Wentz, greet fans at Selection Square in Grant Park after the quarterbacks were selected No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the NFL football draft in Chicago. The coolest of matchups this weekend has Goff and Wentz facing each other on Sunday. Both have matured rapidly, sparking turnarounds that could lead to, well, the Super Bowl. AP NEWSWIRE

In this April 28, 2016, file photo, Los Angeles Rams’ Jared Goff, left, and Philadelphia Eagles’ Carson Wentz, greet fans at Selection Square in Grant Park after the quarterbacks were selected No. 1 and No. 2, respectively, in the NFL football draft in Chicago. The coolest of matchups this weekend has Goff and Wentz facing each other on Sunday. Both have matured rapidly, sparking turnarounds that could lead to, well, the Super Bowl. AP NEWSWIRE

Call it “December Definition.”

We’ll learn plenty about the various playoff contenders this week when the Eagles visit the Rams, the Vikings take on the Panthers, the Seahawks meet the Jaguars, the Raiders are at the Chiefs, and the Ravens head to Pittsburgh.

The Eagles, Rams, Jaguars, Vikings and Steelers all have ways of clinching postseason berths. So do the Patriots, who visit Miami.

Most intriguing might be:

Philadelphia (10-2) at Los Angeles (9-3).

The Eagles had their nine-game winning streak snapped at Seattle, then stayed out west trying to figure out why an offense that had been dominant was shut down. Now they take on the Rams, with an equally dangerous offense and, like Philly, a division leader.

“I think sometimes … winning can kind of cover up or mask some things, some deficiencies,” Eagles coach Doug Pederson said. “A little chink in your armor, if there is any. And coaches and players fall into the same boat sometimes. We need games where we get hit in the mouth and we have to fight and battle and scratch. … You just have to understand that there’s no substitute for the preparation and the hard work.”

The coolest of matchups has Rams QB Jared Goff , the top selection in the 2016 draft, against Eagles QB Carson Wentz, who went second overall that year. Both have matured rapidly, sparking turnarounds that could lead to, well, the Super Bowl.

A Philadelphia win gives it the NFC East title. So does a Dallas loss.

Should the Rams win, a complicated formula gives them a playoff spot.

The pivotal week began Thursday night with the Atlanta Falcans’ 20-17 victory over the New Orleans Saints that set up a three-way race for the NFC South title. Deion Jones made a leaping interception in the end zone with 1:25 remaining for the Falcons (8-5) after Drew Brees drove the Saints (9-4) to the Atlanta 11.

Minnesota (10-2) at Carolina (8-4)

The Vikings haven’t gotten to the top of the NFC the easy way. They’ve already played New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Atlanta, Green Bay and the Rams — none of which has a losing record. Most of those teams will make the playoffs.

Now, a trip to Carolina, which also is in the NFC mix. A victory in Charlotte, with Cincinnati, Green Bay and Chicago remaining, would stamp the Vikings as a conference favorite. And remember, the Super Bowl will be played in Minneapolis in February.

The Panthers must improve late in games: Carolina has been outscored 75-58 in fourth quarter. They are hopeful that standout tight end Greg Olsen can contribute more in his return from a broken foot.

Baltimore (7-5) at Pittsburgh (10-2)

Pittsburgh’s victory over Cincinnati on Monday night was brutal, marred by malicious hits, launching and taunting on both sides. Now, the Steelers get their biggest rival in what always has been a physical affair.

“When you play Baltimore you are going to get your head knocked off, they’re going to knock your head off, you’re going to try to knock theirs off, but you’re going to help them up and respect it, and say ‘Hey great job, let’s go at it again,” Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger says.

The Steelers need to step up their game, despite having won seven in a row. They are barely getting by inferior opponents, and the Ravens — no matter the situation — are always dangerous for Pittsburgh. Preventing the Steelers from winning the AFC North is almost as prime a goal for Baltimore as remaining in front for a wild-card berth.

Seattle (8-4) at Jacksonville (8-4)

Tennessee (8-4) at Arizona (5-7)

The AFC South race, with a huge dose of NFC West.

Tennessee holds the tiebreaker right now over Jacksonville, but the teams finish off the schedule against each other. The Titans are the only franchise never to have played at University of Phoenix Stadium. In their visit Sunday, they bring a potent running game of DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry, who’s coming off his second career 100-yard rushing game, including a 75-yard run against Houston.

Tennessee hasn’t allowed an opponent to run for more than 100 yards in eight straight games, the longest streak in NFL this season, which doesn’t bode well for Arizona’s Adrian Peterson.

Jacksonville has a much tougher task, even at home. Although Seattle has some key injuries in its secondary, the defense has stepped up and shut down Philadelphia last week. The offense, as sensational QB Russell Wilsonstates his case for league MVP, has been dynamic, particularly now that TE Jimmy Graham has become a major force.

With a series of occurrences, the Jags can clinch a playoff spot.

Oakland (6-6) at Kansas City (6-6)

Washington (5-7) at Los Angeles Chargers (6-6)

If it’s not the best rivalry in pro football, Raiders-Chiefs is top three. That it has so much meaning Sunday is like adding a tasty dessert to some delicious Kansas City BBQ.

Raiders coach Jack Del Rio explains the AFC West situation best.

“There’s a better feel when you’re winning and doing things well. For us, it’s about the next game,” Del Rio says. “We went through, we had our stretch. … The Chargers had theirs the first four games. We had ours, four in a row after winning two. The Chiefs have had a little bit of a spell. Yet we all sit here at 6-6 with an opportunity.

“Which team takes the most advantage of that opportunity is sitting there?”

Lately, that team has looked like LA. And they get perhaps the most injury-ruined squad in the league in the Redskins, who have lost five of seven.

The Chargers have racked up more than 400 yards in three straight games while outscoring opponents 101-40.

Philip Rivers has completed 72 percent of his passes for 1,029 yards, six TDs, no interceptions in the past three weeks. Keenan Allen became the first player in NFL history with 10-plus catches for 100-plus yards and at least one TD in three straight games.


Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: