By Milt Northrop
NEWS SPORTS REPORTER
No doubt injuries have greatly affected the outcome of NFL seasons before, so this one may be no different. Still, it seems like cataclysmic injuries have changed the script more than ever heading into the December portion of the 2013 schedule.
Certainly the absence of quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers (Green Bay) and Jay Cutler (Chicago) have altered the picture in the NFC North. Green Bay is just about out of the running and the Bears probably won’t make the postseason unless they beat out Detroit for the division title.
And season-ending injuries to WR Reggie Wayne (Colts), DTs Geno Atkins (Bengals), Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo (Patriots), WR Julio Jones (Falcons) and QB Sam Bradford (Rams) have had or will have a great impact on the final outcome.
Another example is Kansas City, which started 9-0 behind an effective pass rush, but faces the prospect going down the stretch with sackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston either out of action entirely or hampered by injuries suffered last week.
Week 12 games open the tell-tale final month of the regular season with virtually every game having some impact on the postseason picture. Here’s a look:
Game of the week
Saints (9-2) at Seahawks (10-1)
TV: ESPN, Monday, 8:30 p.m.
The line: Seahawks (-5)
The scoop: Many believe this will be a preview of the NFC Championship Game and will decide No. 1 seed and home-field advantage in conference playoffs. ... Last time Saints visited Seattle (2010), they were favored as an 11-5 wild card over Seahawks team that had won NFC West with 7-9 record. Seattle shocked NFL world with 41-36 win. Now people are penciling in a Seattle win this time.
Outlook: Saints have lost to Patriots and Jets on road and struggled at Bucs, Bears and Falcons. Seattle, 27-17.
Broncos (9-2) at Chiefs (9-2)
Kickoff: 4:25 p.m., Ch. 4
The line: Broncos (-5½)
The scoop: Both sides enter this game on a downer, Denver after losing to Patriots and Chiefs for losing at home to division rival Chargers and suffering injuries to pass rushers Hali (ankle) and Houston (elbow). Hali will play today but not Houston. Denver has injury concerns, too. RB Knowshon Moreno is beaten up after 38-carry, 224-yard game against Pats. ... Denver blowing 24-0 lead and losing at New England was huge for Chiefs, because it now gives them chance to take back AFC West lead with a win in front of boisterous Arrowhead crowd today.
Outlook: Peyton Manning may get roughed up by Chiefs’ rush but he will break their hearts in K.C. Denver, 38-28.
Bengals (7-4) at Chargers (5-6)
Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.
The line: Chargers (-1)
The scoop: Bengals coming off bye week, which followed 41-20 win over Browns. Prior to that Cincy had lost a pair of OT games on the road. ... Chargers saved their playoff hopes with win at Kansas City last week after damaging loss to Miami. Bolts probably will have to go 4-1 versus Bengals, Giants, Broncos, Raiders and Chiefs to have playoff shot. ... Philip Rivers of Chargers having huge season with 3,381 passing yards, 22 TDs and 106.6 rating but defense is giving up 389.5 per game.
Outlook: Bengals are only 2-4 on road with win in OT versus Bills and three-pointer at Lions. San Diego, 30-27.
Titans (5-6) at Colts (7-4)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Indianapolis (-3½)
The scoop: Tennessee would put some suspense in AFC South race with a win here. ... Colts won first meeting, 30-27, in Nashville on Nov. 14. Indy has won nine of last 10 in division rivalry and is 3-0 with Andrew Luck at quarterback. ... Titans’ Ryan Fitzpatrick will be making his fifth career start against Indy. His record: 5 TDs, 3 INTs, 87.2 rating, won 1, lost 3.
Outlook: Indy opponents are averaging 32.4 points last five games (3-2), but can Titans match that with Fitz at quarterback? Indianapolis, 28-20.
Cardinals (7-4) at Eagles (6-5)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Eagles (-3)
The scoop: Two of the hottest teams in NFC meet. Cards have won last four although three of the wins were over 2-9 Atlanta, 2-9 Jaguars and 2-9 Texans. That 40-11 rout of Colts at home last week was impressive. Eagles have dispatched Raiders and Packers on road and finally ended 10-game home losing streak with win over Redskins before taking bye week. ... Two hot QBs meet, too. Carson Palmer of Cardinals has 110.8 rating for his last four games and is looking for his third 300-yard passing game in a row. Nick Foles of Eagles has 16 TDs and no INTs and leads league with 128.0 passer rating.
Outlook: Arizona maturing nicely under Bruce Arians, who once coached college ball in Philly (Temple). Cardinals, 24-21.
Dolphins (5-6) at Jets (5-6)
Kickoff: 1 p.m., Ch. 4
The line: Jets (-2)
The scoop: Winner stays in contention for last AFC wild-card berth. ... Miami averaging only 85.4 yards rushing and Jets are giving up only 72.6, the best in league. However, Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline will test Jets’ secondary. ... Jets rookie QB Geno Smith has league-worst 62.1 passer rating and is coming off horrible games against Bills and Ravens.
Outlook: Dolphins speed rushers should bother Geno. Miami, 24-16.
Best of the rest
Falcons (2-9) vs. Bills (4-7) in Toronto
TV: Ch. 29, 4:05 p.m.
The line: Bills (-3½)
The scoop: Bills really need this one to keep long-shot playoff push alive. A loss would leave them two games behind Ravens and winner of Jets-Dolphins at least. ... Falcons’ five-game losing streak is longest in league except for woeful Texans. They held Saints to 17 in last start, 10 days ago, but gave up 34, 33 and 41 in three previous games.
Outlook: No reason Toronto venue should hurt the Bills, but it certainly doesn’t help the cause much. Atlanta is overdue. Atlanta, 33-30.
Patriots (8-3) at Texans (2-9)
Kickoff: 4:25 p.m.
The line: Patriots (-7½)
The scoop: Back in August, this looked like one of the big games of the AFC season, between teams that met in divisional round of playoffs last season. Will Texans rise up and show their pride? Will Pats let down after dramatic comeback and OT win over Denver?
Outlook: Who can have any confidence in Texans even though they still lead the league in total defense (290.4 ypg)? New England, 35-17.
Rams (5-6) at 49ers (7-4)
Kickoff: 4:05 p.m.
The line: 49ers (-7½)
The scoop: Niners and QB Colin Kaepernick were back in form with 27-6 win at Washington last week, but that was Washington. Rams have routed Colts (38-8) and Bears (42-21) in last two with ex-Jets journeyman Kellen Clemens at QB. Niners are 12-4-1 in last 17 against Rams, including 35-11 rout in St. Louis on Sept. 26, but were 0-1-1 versus Rams in 2012.
Outlook: Rams have had some success in SF over the years, but home field should carry the Niners through, 28-20.
Buccaneers (3-8) at Panthers (8-3)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Panthers (-7½)
The scoop: Bucs have won last three while Carolina’s seven wins in a row is longest win streak going in NFL, including last three by 1, 4 and 4. Panthers won first game of season series, 31-13, on Oct. 24. ... Tampa Bay won, 27-21 in OT, last time they played in Charlotte last season. ... Carolina would tie for NFC South lead if it wins today and Saints lose at Seattle. Panthers and Saints will meet twice in next four weeks (Dec. 8 in New Orleans and Dec. 22 in Charlotte).
Outlook: Bucs offense improved with rookie Mike Glennon under center but defense has given up almost 27 ppg in last seven. Panthers, 24-20.
Jaguars (2-9) at Browns (4-7)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Browns (-7)
The scoop: Browns are second in AFC defense (306.1) while Jags found a little offense in win at Houston last week with Chad Henne completing 71.9 percent of his passes and Maurice Jones-Drew racking up 144 scrimmage yards. ... Cleveland may have to start Brandon Weeden at QB if Jason Campbell (concussion) isn’t cleared to play.
Outlook: Jaguars have faced tough schedule. Ten opponents before Houston last week are a combined 68-43. Cleveland, 17-13.
Bears (6-5) at Vikings (2-8-1)
Kickoff: 1 p.m.
The line: Vikings (-1)
The scoop: Bears needed Jay Cutler to Martellus Bennett TD pass with 10 seconds left to pull out 31-30 win at Soldier Field in Week Two. Cutler is still out, but backup Josh McCown has 7-1 TD-INT ratio in five starts. ... Bears contained Vikings RB Adrian Peterson in first meeting. He had 100 yards but only 3.8 per attempt.
Outlook: Minnesota has given up 26 points or more in 10 of 11 games. Chicago, 30-27.
Dog of the day
Giants (4-7) at Redskins (3-8)
TV: Ch. 2, 8:30 p.m.
The line: Giants (-1½)
The scoop: Giants’ chances of getting to playoffs probably vanished with home loss to Cowboys last week, but is there a team in NFL playing worse than the Deadskins right now?
Outlook: Giants, 27-13.
Last week’s results: 6-6-1 outright; 6-6-1 vs. spread.
Season’s record: 92-71-1 outright; 80-78-6 vs. spread.