Five Questions surrounding Week 13 in the NFL

Houston Texans head coach Gary Kubiak coaches against the Cleveland Browns in the second half at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas on November 6, 2011. The Texans defeated the Browns 30-12. UPI/Aaron M. Sprecher

What are some of the biggest questions heading into Week 13 of the NFL season?

1. Can the Texans survive with T.J. Yates at quarterback?
And by “survive” I mean win enough games to clinch the AFC South and make their first ever playoff appearance in franchise history. Apparently Gary Kubiak and his staff worked out Jeff Garcia and Jake Delhomme but for the moment, the starting job is firmly in the hands of Yates, who has zero experience outside of the two and a half quarters he played on Sunday. Now, Yates did have an impressive Pro Day back in April and does come from a pro style offense under North Carolina offensive coordinator John Shoop and head coach Butch Davis. He also impressed the Houston coaching staff this offseason and was considered a “sleeper” but some in the draft. But he’s a fifth-round pick and a developmental quarterback. He was never supposed to see the field this year and now all of a sudden the Texans’ playoff hopes are on his shoulders (for the moment, at least). Talk about pressure. This weekend the Texans play the Falcons, who have a solid run defense and who will certainly challenge Houston’s tough defense, unlike Jacksonville did last Sunday. It’ll be interesting to see how Yates on the Texans fare this week.

2. Can the Giants hand the Packers their first loss?
“Detroit and New York” were the two games most people pointed to as the games in which the Packers could suffer their first loss of the season. But after Green Bay somewhat easily disposed of the Lions on Thanksgiving Day, and following the Giants’ pitiful effort in New Orleans on Monday, it’s likely that there are less people on the New York bandwagon this week. If Aaron issues getting past New York. Granted, the Giants usually play better when their backs are against the wall but their backs were pressed firmly against the wall in New Orleans and they didn’t bother showing up. Thus, it makes you wonder if this isn’t another one of the G-Men’s late-season collapses under Tom Coughlin and Green Bay is just going to burn house down. We’ll find out soon…

3. Can the Bengals knock off the Steelers?
Just when you thought they would go quietly into that good night, the Bengals pulled off a come-from-behind victory last Sunday against the Browns and remain in Baltimore and Pittsburgh’s rearview mirror. That said, Cincinnati has to beat Pittsburgh this weekend if the Bengals are going to have any chance of making the playoffs this season. They’re not mathematically out if they lose but they have to prove to themselves that they can beat one of the two best teams in the AFC North. They fell to the Steelers by a touchdown at home three weeks ago but if they can win in Pittsburgh this weekend then the Bengals must be viewed as a legit contender.

4. Will the Cowboys seize control of the NFC East?
With the Giants’ loss to the Saints on Monday night, the Cowboys now have sole possession of first place in the NFC East. And seeing as how the Giants host the undefeated Packers on Sunday and the Cowboys play the 4-7 Cardinals, Dallas has a great opportunity to take a two-game lead in the division. But this is the Cowboys – the same team that needed overtime to beat the hapless Redskins in Week 11 and who were taken to the brink by the three-win Dolphins on Thanksgiving Day. (In defense of Dallas, Miami was on a three-game winning streak.) My point is that the ‘Boys have yet to put together that one signature win of 2011 and haven’t played a team with a winning record since Week 6 at New England. I wouldn’t be shocked if Arizona gives Dallas a game on Sunday.

5. The Broncos can’t keep winning this way, can they?
Actually yes, they probably can. At least this Sunday they can, because they travel to Minnesota to play a Vikings team that may or may not have Adrian Peterson (ankle) for a second straight week. There’s certainly no reason to believe that the Broncos can’t come away with another 16-13 victory as Denver’s defense stymies another opponent and Tim Tebow rushes for the game-winning score as time expires. Whatever “it” is, Denver has it as all of the players believe in Tebow despite his massive shortcomings as a passer. If the Vikings can’t figure the Broncos’ defense out then it’s going to be another long afternoon for Christian Ponder and Co.

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