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NFL begins final quarter with key games

December 5, 2014

The Miami Dolphins have revealed a serious weakness in the last two weeks, after being gouged on the ground for 277 yards by the New York Jets and 201 yards by the Denver Broncos.

When the Baltimore Ravens go to Miami on Sunday, they probably should be thinking run, run, run. Yet their primary ball carrier, Justin Forsett, isn’t carrying any such mindset.

“I don’t want to fall into the trap of thinking this thing is going to be easy and we’re going to be able to run all day,” says Forsett, who has rushed for 1,009 yards and an NFL-leading average of 5.6 yards per carry. “They’re a physical bunch, they’re athletic, and they’ve got a lot of playmakers over there. I’m anticipating a tough game.”

The Ravens’ strength is the running game, and how Forsett fares easily could decide this one.

“They are going to gain some yards,” Miami coach Joe Philbin says. “We have to tackle better.”

Dolphins-Ravens is one of many intriguing matchups as the NFL schedule hits the final quarter with 26 teams still owning playoff hopes.

Both have 7-5 records and probably should be thinking wild card rather than division title.

The Indianapolis Colts will become the first team to secure a playoff spot with a win against the Cleveland Browns, and a Houston Texans loss against Jacksonville, which hands the Colts the AFC South title.

Indy has the league’s top offense overall, led by Andrew Luck coming off a five-touchdown game against Washington.

Quarterback Brian Hoyer, who has put the Browns in position to make the playoffs for the first time since 2002, has held off hotshot rookie Johnny Manziel to start again, but he must win without his most consistent wide receiver, playing behind a backup center, and with two rookie running backs who have had trouble holding onto the ball.

Houston comes off its best game of the season and one of the top offensive performances in franchise history, with 45 points and 457 yards against Tennessee. Ryan Fitzpatrick set a franchise record with six touchdown passes last week, and always fares well against Jacksonville.

The Seattle Seahawks have rediscovered the swaggering defense that led them to the NFL title last season, allowing a total of six points in the past two weeks. They are ranked at the top again for stinginess, and also have the No. 1 rushing offense.

They go into Philadelphia, where the Eagles have won 10 in a row in the regular season. Philadelphia’s balanced offense and improving defense will offer a terrific test for the defending champions.

Even after their loss at Green Bay, from which they immediately flew to California rather than back to chilly New England, the Patriots own the AFC’s top seed. The hosting San Diego Chargers represent the Patriots’ biggest remaining challenge to keeping it.

The Chargers have won three straight, but quarterback Philip Rivers is 1-5 as a starter against the Patriots.

Denver welcomes the Buffalo Bills with a playoff-clinching scenario. It’s complicated, as Denver needs to win and rely on five other results.

Both quarterbacks, Denver’s Peyton Manning and Buffalo’s Kyle Orton, have enough to worry about, especially sackmasters. Buffalo’s Mario Williams has 12 sacks and Marcell Dareus has 10. Denver’s Von Miller has 11 1/2 sacks and DeMarcus Ware has 10. The Bills lead the NFL with 48 sacks, and have a sack in 25 straight games.

Atlanta goes to Green Bay in their first Monday night meeting since 1971. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has thrown an NFL-record 360 straight passes at Lambeau Field without an interception, while the Falcons have 11 takeaways in the past four games and rank third in the NFL with 24 this season.

Week 14 began with Dallas beating Chicago 41-28. League rushing leader DeMarco Murray ran all over the Bears with 179 yards as the Cowboys improved to 6-0 on the road.

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