NFL week 13 preview: Ravens can end the Steelers' playoff dreams, while Rams look to bounce back

As the NFL enters the festive period, there's a number of teams still vying for playoff spots. With a new slate of fixtures this weekend, we preview the best of the bunch.

It's December, and that means things are heating up in the NFL as teams jostle for position in what's one of the most congested playoff scrambles in recent memory.

There are not too many teams that you can currently rule out of playoff contention so far, with a plethora of teams all fighting to get into the post-season where anything can then happen on their road to the Super Bowl.

One of the big games of the weekend is the AFC North's bareknuckle bout between the Steelers and Ravens in Pittsburgh, where Baltimore could all-but end the playoff hopes of their fierce rivals.

The Colts and Rams need a response and will fancy their chances against two of the worst teams in the NFL, while the previously tough Seahawks are crumbling as they host their rivals from San Francisco.

Indianapolis Colts @ Houston Texans

Jonathan Taylor, Indianapolis Colts, NFL

The Colts held a 10-point lead at half-time against the Buccaneers last week but a series of mistakes cost them a shot at beating the champions, and more importantly put them into the almighty scramble in the AFC playoff race at 6-6.

Jonathan Taylor was bottled up for large parts by the Bucs but still managed to find the end zone for the ninth straight game - and he'll fancy his chances of becoming just the fifth player ever to score a rushing TD in 10 straight games.

Houston have allowed 17 rushing TDs this season and give up an average of 135 rushing yards per game - that is not a favourable matchup against the league's top running back in a must-win game for the Colts. They'll feed Taylor as often as they can and stuff the ball down Houston's throat at every possibility.

QB Carson Wentz needs to take care of the ball better this week, with the Colts going 5-1 when he doesn't turn the ball over and 1-5 when he does, but he shouldn't really have to do that much bar hand the ball off to Taylor to inflict most of the damage on the ground.

The Texans have won just twice this season and their messy defeat to the Jets before their bye week showed they've got more of an eye on next season than the remainder of this one.

Taylor clocked up 145 yards and two scores against the Texans earlier this season and now leads the league in rushing yards, total yards and touchdowns. He should add plenty to those stats in a healthy Colts victory. Back Taylor in yards and TDs but the Colts will score a few from different sources as well.

Best bet: 

Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers

Baltimore Ravens @ Chicago Bears, NFL

This is really one of the nastiest games in the NFL with two teams who share a similar identity, a love of hard, tough, smash-mouth football and a mutual dislike of each other. With both being able to land a gut punch in this game it's set up perfectly for another gritty gridiron battle.

The 8-3 Ravens top the AFC North but it's close behind them and the Steelers (5-5-1) could really hurt their chances of achieving top spot in the AFC with a victory at Heinz Field. A Ravens win could well end Pittsburgh's season.

Baltimore would love nothing more than to do serious damage to Pittsburgh's playoff hopes in their own back yard. To do that, though, they'll need a bounceback from former MVP quarterback Lamar Jackson, who had a nightmare against the Bears last week.

The Ravens bailed him out to get the win but Jackson was livid with throwing four interceptions in Chicago, and he's had similar struggles in his two games against Pittsburgh, throwing five picks and just two touchdowns.

Defensive star TJ Watt is likely missing for Pittsburgh, who have their worst run defence in 20 years. Jackson may be better served using his unique running ability and also handing it off to Devonta Freeman to hit the Steelers where it hurts.

Pittsburgh have allowed 41 points in both of their last two games, something which has been unheard of over the years with their game usually built around a frightening defence. It'll be a huge worry against a Baltimore side well capable of keeping the scoreboard ticking over.

Make no mistake, this is a game of rivalry, and you may pick up a few bruises just watching this one. Odds are it'll be a low-scoring affair with more injury timeouts than touchdowns, so we're playing the unders market with confidence.

Best bet:

Jacksonville Jaguars @ Los Angeles Rams

NFL, Cooper Kupp, Los Angeles Rams

It's crunch time for the Rams, the outside pick for the Super Bowl which is being held in their home stadium. After splashing out on Hollywood blockbuster moves for Matthew Stafford, Von Miller and Odell Beckham Jr, it's clear to see why they were fancied.

Yet they've lost three games on the spin for just the second time in Sean McVay's five year tenure, dropping them to 7-4 and in danger of losing touch with the front runners in the NFC.

The visit of the 2-9 Jacksonville Jaguars should offer the Rams some respite and the chance to bounce back, and hopefully look good while doing it. They've certainly got a few things they need to put right - notably Stafford's six turnovers in three games.

No team scores fewer points than the Jags despite top pick Trevor Lawrence being their starting QB, and he'll see a bit too much of Aaron Donald and Leonard Floyd for his liking in what will be another long day in his tough introduction to life in the NFL.

The Rams are 13-point favourites but Jacksonville were 15.5-point underdogs when shaking the foundations of the NFL and beating the Buffalo Bills earlier this season - but that will just serve to avoid any complacency in the Rams camp.

Plus, they've got a point to prove to their coach, their fans and the rest of the league that they're still in the Super Bowl hunt, so expect plenty of points on Sunday as they look to put out a statement of intent.

Best bet:

San Francisco 49ers @ Seattle Seahawks

It already looks like curtains for the Seahawks this season but a home defeat to the 49ers would be the final nail in the coffin of Seattle's playoff hopes, and San Francisco would love to be the team to do it.

Kyle Shanahan's side rose to 6-5 by beating the Vikings last week and are well in the NFC wildcard race as they face a Seattle side on a three-game losing slump since Russell Wilson returned from injury - he's struggled to match his usual standards since injuring his finger.

Wilson leads the league in inaccurate throws and his offense has scored just 26 points in the three-game slide that has derailed their season. Now he faces edge rusher Nick Bosa with 11 sacks in 11 games so will be pressured again to try and find his targets.

In Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf, Wilson does have a fine receiving tandem, but his inaccuracy and a lack of the ball has stopped them from making an impact. Seattle have the least time of possession in the league while the Niners have dominated of late, and with their dynamic rushing attack San Francisco can deny the Seahawks the ball again.

Even Seattle's home field advantage, which is usually one of the best in the league, hasn't been there with just one win in six this season, so the Niners won't worry too much about losing in seven of their last eight visits there.

Although this is usually a tough rivalry game, you can expect the Niners to dominate the ball, use their running game and give Seattle a mountain too tall for them to climb in their current state.

Best bet:

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