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NFL Week 13 Preview — How Long Can the Panthers Stay Unbeaten?

Washington Redskins v Carolina Panthers
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Three NFL teams can clinch playoff berths in Week 13, but only the Panthers can remain undefeated. Here’s a preview of this week’s action:

Sunday, December 6

The Bengals Can Clinch a Playoff Spot; the Browns Can’t
Cleveland Browns v Cincinnati Bengals
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Cincinnati at Cleveland | FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox

Cincinnati (9–2) needs to win against Cleveland (2–9) on Sunday and have the Colts, Texans and Jets all lose to clinch a postseason spot. The Bengals can also get into the playoffs with a victory and losses by the Colts, Texans, Chiefs and Chargers. Regardless, it looks like head coach Marvin Lewis and quarterback Andy Dalton are all but a certainty to be in the postseason again. Now they just have to win when they get there.

Poor Browns fans. After seeing their team lose courtesy of a kick-six against the Ravens on Monday night, they may also see their in-state rivals clinch a playoff berth on their home field in the same week. Ugh. You just know this story ends with benched QB Johnny Manziel turning into a star somewhere else (even if it is the CFL). FYI: Manziel-led Cleveland lost to Cincy 31-10 on November 6.

The Battle Of The Meadowlands
New York Jets v New York Giants
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N.Y. Jets at N.Y. Giants | MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS

Neither the Jets nor the Giants are legitimate Super Bowl contenders, but since both teams still have playoff aspirations this Sunday’s Battle of the Meadowlands is a very meaningful December game — one of these middling teams probably doesn’t deserve a postseason berth.

The Giants (5–6) find themselves in a tie for the NFC lead despite dropping three of their last four games. Quarterback Eli Manning and the offense must play more like the team that can score on any defense, rather than the squad that has been shut down by ordinary teams like the Eagles and the Redskins. The Giants rushing “attack” likely won’t get much yardage on the Jets top-ranked run defense.

The Jets (6–5) are a loss (and a Patriots win) away from seeing New England clinch the AFC East. Coach Todd Bowles’ solid defense has made the team an AFC Wild Card contender. If they continue to get competent game management from quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, they may sneak into the postseason.

The Texans-Bills Game Is Important? Yes, It Is
Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Houston Texans
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Houston at Buffalo | Ralph Wilson Stadium, Buffalo, N.Y.; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS

It’s much more common see the Texans and Bills jostling for NFL Draft position than battling for an AFC playoff spot, but these teams are very much in postseason contention with five games left to play.

AFC South co-leader Houston (6–5) is riding a five-game win streak during which they’ve allowed an average of just 8.8 points per game. NFL sack leader J.J. Watt and Co. may have a harder time defending the goal line against Buffalo (5–6) and quarterback Tyrod Taylor, running back LeSean McCoy and receiver Sammy Watkins. The Bills’ banged up defense catches a break with an anemic Texans’ offense that has very few weapons outside of receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Will he be enough?

A.P. Faces the Seahawks Defense
Minnesota Vikings v Atlanta Falcons
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Seattle at Minnesota | TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox

Adrian Peterson is most certainly a candidate to be the NFL’s MVP, especially if the Vikings can hold on to their lead in the NFC North. The NFL’s leading rusher in 2015 — and 18th all time — A.P. has carried Minnesota (8–3) from irrelevance to reverence in the NFL. Peterson faces a stiff challenge against the mighty Seahawks defense this week. Seattle (6–5) gets plenty of recognition for its eighth-ranked pass defense, but they are even better against the run (fifth). If they can contain the Vikings’ leader, the Seahawks could rack up a crucial conference win.

Can the Panthers Stay Unbeaten?
Carolina Panthers v Dallas Cowboys
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Carolina at New Orleans | Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans; 4:25 p.m. (ET) on Fox

There’s little doubt Carolina (11–0) will make the playoffs, but the larger question is how long they can stay undefeated. The foundering Falcons are the only team currently with a winning record left on the Panthers schedule, meaning Cam Newton could lead his team to an undefeated regular season. Let that sink in.

The perfect Panthers can clinch their third consecutive NFC South title with a win over the Saints on the road this week, or a Falcons loss (or tie). They can also clinch a playoff spot with a Seahawks loss or a Cardinals and a Packers loss. They beat New Orleans 27-22 at home in Week 3.

Carolina’s defense is good enough to make a deep playoff run; whether or not they can stop AFC contenders like the Patriots, Bengals or Broncos is unclear. They’d love to find out.

Other Games

Thursday, December 3
Green Bay at Detroit | Ford Field, Detroit; 8:25 p.m. (ET) on CBS/NFL Network

Sunday, December 6
Jacksonville at Tennessee | Nissan Stadium, Nashville; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Arizona at St. Louis | Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox
Atlanta at Tampa Bay | Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla.; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox
Baltimore at Miami | Sun Life Stadium, Miami; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
San Francisco at Chicago | Soldier Field, Chicago; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox
Denver at San Diego | Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego; 4:05 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Kansas City at Oakland | Coliseum, Oakland, Calif.; 4:05 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Philadelphia at New England | Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, Mass.; 4:25 p.m. (ET) on Fox
Indianapolis at Pittsburgh | Heinz Field, Pittsburgh; 8:30 p.m. (ET) on NBC

Monday, December 7
Dallas at Washington | FedEx Field, Landover; 8:30 p.m. (ET) on ESPN

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