Even with the weather getting colder across much of the United States, things continue to heat up in the NFL as we enter Week 13 of the 2016 season. Division races are still tight almost across the board; Wild Card spots are still up for grabs and roughly half of the NFL’s 32 teams still have a legitimate opportunity to make the playoffs.
As always, the end of the NFL calendar means more important and intense matchups across the board, and this week’s slate of games is no exception.
One of the biggest this week is an inter-conference affair between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Atlanta Falcons on CBS. The showdown will affect playoff races in both conferences and could even be a Super Bowl preview.
Few people are more qualified to break down this game than NFL legend and current CBS NFL Today analyst Tony Gonzalez, who played for both teams over the course of his illustrious 17-year NFL career.
We caught up with Tony to discuss the game some have dubbed “The Tony Bowl” as well as the Texans-Packers and Bills-Raiders matchups.
Kansas City Chiefs vs. Atlanta Falcons – 1:00 p.m. ET – CBS
CBS Local Sports: Who do you think has the edge in the matchup between Julio Jones and Marcus Peters?
Tony Gonzalez: It’s going to be a great matchup because those guys are certainly the best in the business, so I’m looking forward to it. I’m an offensive guy. I think the offensive guy always has the advantage because he knows where he’s going and the defender doesn’t. And a guy like Julio Jones — I never played with Marcus, but I did play with Julio — is a freak. He’s a flat-out nightmare matchup for anybody. So I would give the advantage to Atlanta, especially with the way that Matt Ryan is playing right now.
But KC and Andy Reid and Mark Sutton, their defensive coordinator, they’re good at coming up with game plans to take the opposing team’s best player out of it. So that’s going to be a fun one to watch right there. But I have a feeling (Peters) is going to have a little extra help wherever Julio goes. And he should, because it would be foolish not to give help on a guy like Julio Jones.
CBS Local Sports: Do you think the Chiefs have enough weapons to exploit the Falcons’ defense and keep pace with the Falcons’ offense?
Gonzalez: I do. At this point, if you doubt their ability to move the ball, just look at last week going against one of the best defenses in the league in the Denver Broncos. They’re able to put points up when it counts, and Tyreek Hill has become an unbelievable weapon. People in Kansas City, we’ve been waiting for this breakout-type game, and that kid is only going to keep getting better; that’s a whole new dimension for the Chiefs.
They’re also going against an Atlanta defense that really doesn’t get pressure on the quarterback, so you have to believe they will be able to go out there and put some points on the board. They have a great tight end in Travis Kelce. With Tyreek Hill and Spencer Ware coming out of the backfield and a guy like Alex Smith — ‘no mistake’ Alex Smith — it’s going to be fun. They’re going to come out and have some success against this defense.
Houston Texans vs. Green Bay Packers – 1:00 p.m. ET – CBS
CBS Local Sports: In Monday night’s Packers-Eagles game, did you see anything in particular from Aaron Rodgers and the Packers telling you that they’re back?
Gonzalez: I’m going to believe Aaron Rodgers until they lose. He says they have to run the table, and he believes they can, so I’m picking the Packers from here on out. If they can stay healthy, which is where they’re at now with the running back, because Starks is getting his legs back, I trust Aaron Rodgers to go out there and play outstanding football and be on the money. He’s always going to move that ball up and down the field. The defense obviously has to get better and get healthy too, but I’m not going to count the Packers out right now, especially in that division.
CBS Local Sports: Brock Osweiler and the Texans offense have struggled of late. What can the Texans do to fix the offense to help out their defense?
Gonzalez: It seems like Osweiler has kind of struggled all year with getting his feet planted out there. At this point, the best friend a quarterback can have is a great running game. Look no further than Ryan Tannehill in Miami and how well he’s played since that running game got going. If they can continue to establish that running game and keep it basic for Brock and let him get warmed up at the beginning of the games, he’ll be more accurate.
I’ve never seen a guy like it, he’s so inconsistent with his passes being on the money. He’s getting it off but it’s just not going to the right place where he wants it to go. You’ve got to believe he should be able to do that. And if he’s not capable of doing that, then he’s in danger of being one of those guys we talk about who got this huge contract and never fulfilled expectations.
Just to get to the NFL you have to be a competitor, so I would like to think that sooner or later he’s going to figure out his accuracy problems. He just needs to find some accuracy, because when it’s on, it looks pretty good. But when it’s off, it can cost your team when you’re throwing picks.
Buffalo Bills vs. Oakland Raiders – 4:05 p.m. ET – CBS
CBS Local Sports: How good do you think the Raiders actually are, and how far can Derek Carr take them this year?
Gonzalez: Every week I watch the Raiders they make me more of a believer. They have a legitimate shot to do well in the playoffs and maybe get to the Super Bowl. But I’m not convinced yet that they are one of the top three teams in the AFC, and that’s not a knock against them.
The Denver Broncos and the Chiefs are a little bit better at this point, and obviously the New England Patriots are the best team in the AFC. But offensively I’m not worried about them at all. They have a guy (Carr) who’s in the MVP running, they have a great running back, great receivers, good tight ends and the second best offensive line in the NFL. Defensively is where I have my questions. But they’re starting to get it together. Khalil Mack is a beast. He’s an absolute monster. He’s probably the best defender in the league the last, six, seven games. He’s the No. 1 defender in the NFL right now, and it’s opening up everybody else. It’s opening up Bruce Irvin, it’s helping the DBs play better against the pass because of Mack. If they can continue to keep improving in that area, then they can go a long way.
But, I have to see them beat Kansas City, since Kansas City went there and beat them. They already beat the Broncos, but they have to play them again. I still want to see how they fare in their own division before I say [that] they’re a Super Bowl team and they’re definitely going to be representing the AFC in the Super Bowl.