Peyton Manning will somehow manage to fit his massive head into a plane for a flight to San Diego (either that, or he'll saddle up his GM, the original Bronco, and lead a stampede down to the land of sun and rumors of a move to LA) in an effort to crush the Chargers' playoff hopes once and for all. He's lost Montee Ball for the season to IR due to a lingering groin injury, but he still has Emmanuel Sanders, Julius Thomas, Demaryius Thomas, Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware available. The Denver Broncos lead the AFC West by two games and have won three in a row, while the Chargers, led by Philip Rivers, the stalwart Antonio Gates, Keenan Allen, along with the talents of Manti Te'o, formerly elite Dwight Freeney, and Melvin Ingram are second in the division and want to avoid losing two in a row. Jim Nantz and Phil Simms have the game on CBS for most of the western US, as well as our friends in Alaska, and the Buffalo, Charlotte, Cleveland, Norfolk (VA), Tampa Bay, and Green Bay markets.
On the east coast, the worst QB battle of eternity will take place in the Land of Meth and Despair. The Titans will be missing their best QB in Zach Mettenberger, and will likely miss their best OL in Taylor Lewan (their other well known OL, Michael Oher, was put on IR this week). However, they will be welcoming Rex Ryan and the Jests, who will be sitting their best QB (Michael Vick) in an effort to continue to justify the decision to draft Geno Smith. Rex Ryan's guys honestly look like they're just playing out the string but, as pathetic as they've looked all season, the Jests are actually favored to win this game (which says something about how dire the situation is in the home of the Grand Ole Opry). Either way, the Flaming Thumbtacks' former 1st round QB Jake Locker will be leading the efforts to stop Sheldon Richardson from wrecking shop (or Locker will be running for his life, especially if Lewan can't go). He'll have the services of Delanie Walker.
There's a reason the former Houston Oilers are sitting at 2-11 and Nate Washington was dropping mad hints about dysfunction and poor coaching. The Titans might actually be more dysfunctional than the always-chaotic Jests, who have somehow managed to keep Percy Harvin from boxing his teammates and Eric Decker from agreeing with his wife's Twitter beefs. Either way, Jurrell Casey, Kamerion Wimbley, and Jason McCourty will be hoping to feast on Geno's INT-passion, and that they make enough plays to overcome Locker's love of the INT. The Big Apple and Tennessee will be "fortunate" to see the game, called by Andrew Catalon, Steve Tasker, and Steve Beuerlein on CBS. The rest of us will be relying on Sunday Ticket or NFL RedZone to see the lowlights.
Meanwhile, Jim Caldwell will be "expressing" emotions in Ford Field when his Detroit Lions host their NFC North rivals, the Minnesota Vikings. The Lions sit at 9-4, second in the division, and have benefitted from improved play from Matthew Stafford, as well as Golden Tate, Brandon Pettigrew, Eric Ebron, and Reggie Bush, all of whom have stepped in to help out when Calvin Johnson struggled through injuries earlier in the season. Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley are both in contract years, and there are serious questions as to whether Martin Mayhew can get either under contract going forward. On the other side, Teddy Bridgewater stepped in for Matt Cassel as the Vikes' starting QB when the latter broke his Lisfranc, and the Vikings are sitting at 6-7, good enough for third in the division ahead of the Bears. While the Vikes will be missing Adrian Peterson for the rest of the season (and there are questions of whether the Wilfs are willing to bring him back at all), Norv Turner has the services of Greg Jennings, Kyle Rudolph, Matt Asiata and Jerome Felton (plus Ben Tate!) to help out his rookie QB. Captain Munnerlyn and Sharrif Floyd will be hoping to constrain Stafford's offense. Chris Myers and Ronde Barber will be calling the game on Fox for the upper Midwest and Louisville to see.
Finally, the Seahawks and a host of 12s will be "welcoming" the 7-6 49ers to CenturyLink Field. The 49ers have been engulfed in controversy most of the season, with rumors of Jim Harbaugh being traded to the Raiders, or leaving to coach Michigan, or battling GM Trent Baalke feeding the 24/7 NFL news cycle for months now. After the last time these two teams met, Trent Baalke's daughter called out OC Greg Roman on Twitter, further fueling tales of discord. Regardless, the 49ers have rewarded the still-developing Colin Kaepernick with a strangely arranged contract extension designed to make him look like he's their franchise QB but that actually gives Baalke and Jed York repeated chances to exit the deal. Given that his backup is "Whoa there, MF" Blaine Gabbert, I tend to think CK will be around for 2015. Frank Gore, Anquan Boldin, Michael Crabtree, and Vernon Davis should be offensive stars for their team, but Bobby Wagner, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Richard Sherman, Bruce Irvin, Byron Maxwell, Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett should be able to handle them. Russell Wilson's skillset and skill level has caused numerous lengthy debates on this blog about whether he's developing into an elite QB or not, but he's clearly the Seahawks' QB of the future. Marshawn Lynch is the linchpin of their offense, but he may or may not be in Seattle next season. Doug Baldwin is another weapon for the team and will be battling Aldon Smith, Justin Smith, Chris Borland (On Wisconsin!), and Antoine Bethea. The team just IR'd NaVorro Bowman, who suffered that nasty leg injury at the end of last season, and they lost Patrick Willis to a toe injury a while ago. Other than our "friends" in Nashville, and those who get the Lions-Vikings matchup, the rest of the country will have access to Joe Buck and Troy Aikman's call on Fox.
Enjoy the games and make use of this open thread.
Texans vs Colts coverage