THIS WEEK IN THE NFL
Quarterback decisions seem to be the issue of the week. In Green Bay, Aaron Rodgers will miss his sixth straight game while recovering from a broken left collarbone, and 180 miles down the pike Chicago will bring back starter Jay Cutler from a sprained ankle despite the outstanding play of backup Josh McCown. The Packers are concerned about the long-term health of Rodgers, which also just happens to be the reason Washington coach Mike Shanahan is benching Robert Griffin III for the rest of the season. In all three cases, the starter wants to play, but in only one of the cases is the club willing to play him. Shanahan will be gone after the year and he may have convinced owner Daniel Snyder that he can showcase backup Kirk Cousins for a possible off-season trade. That way he doesn't have to deal with RGIII anymore and maybe bow out doing it his way. The Bears' decision to go with Cutler isn't surprising. What makes it intriguing is how long they might stick with him if he struggles. There will be a lot of pressure on coach Marc Trestman to play McCown if that happens.
Three teams can clinch division titles this weekend after Denver blew its chance with a home loss to San Diego on Thursday night. Cincinnati, New England and Seattle can lock down a first-round home game. New England is the only one of the three that can clinch with just a victory. If the Patriots (10-3) beat Miami (7-6), they would have a four-game lead over Miami with two games to go. The Patriots would have to lose their final three games to blow the division, so even if they lose to the Dolphins, the title will soon be theirs. They are very much in the running for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs after the Broncos' loss. The Bengals (9-4) have a two-game lead over Baltimore (7-6) in the AFC North and would clinch with a victory and a Ravens loss. Seattle (11-2) needs a win and a San Francisco (9-4) loss to Tampa Bay to clinch the NFC West. The Seahawks also are vying for home-field advantage and need to stay a step ahead of New Orleans (10-3).
After their snow-globe loss to the Philadelphia Eagles last week, the Detroit Lions (7-6) return home to face the Baltimore Ravens, seeking desperately to hang onto their slim lead over Chicago (7-6) and Green Bay (6-6-1). The Lions hold a tiebreaker over the Bears due to a season sweep and thus control their own destiny. The Bears need Cutler to protect the ball as well as McCown has and hope their defense can hold up against Cleveland. The Browns have a very good defense, and the Bears can't stop anyone. But no one has a receiver tandem like the Bears, and Cutler just needs to get them the ball to win. Minnesota continues to play out its season with a home game against Philadelphia. Resting running back Adrian Peterson would be the right thing, but good luck getting him to sit out. The Packers will try to beat the Cowboys in Texas for the first time since 1989.
GAME OF THE WEEK
BALTIMORE RAVENS (7-6) at DETROIT LIONS (7-6)
When: 7:40 p.m. Monday (ESPN).
Key injuries: Ravens -- LB Elvis Dumervil (ankle) and S Brynden Trawick (ankle) are questionable. Lions -- CB Chris Houston (toe) and CB Darius Slay (knee) are doubtful; RB Reggie Bush (calf) and DE Ziggy Ansah (shoulder) are questionable.
Player to watch: Returner Jeremy Ross has been on a tear for the Lions. After a strong game against Green Bay, he had touchdown returns of 98 yards on a kickoff and 58 yards on a punt against the Eagles.
Recent history: The Ravens have won two of the last three, the last a 48-3 drubbing of the Lions in Baltimore in 2009.
Key statistic: Kicker Justin Tucker has made 27 consecutive field goals, the longest active streak in NFL.
Bottom line: The Ravens need this game as much as the Lions, and this should be a dogfight. The whole key might be the health of Bush, who arguably has been the team's offensive MVP. If he's not in the game or is less than 100 percent, it would allow the opposing defense to double-team wide receiver Calvin Johnson with far fewer consequences. The Lions are a much better team at home than in the snow, so this won't be a pleasant day for Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco. He's going to get hit, especially if he has to throw it all night because running back Ray Rice is a non-factor again. The Ravens will try to put pressure on the Lions' injured secondary, but you have to have time to throw to do that, as the Packers found out on Thanksgiving Day. The return of Baltimore tight end Dennis Pitta takes some pressure off the Ravens receivers, because he has to be accounted for.
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