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QBs big in important matchups, both conferences have playoff-caliber games

What happens today could be important in January. The Week 12 schedule features several key games that might have a major impact on the NFL postseason.

High-profile quarterback duels highlight two of the matchups, and the winners could have a tiebreaking edge in home-field advantage.

In the NFC, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers pay a visit to Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons.

In the AFC, it’s Philip Rivers leading the San Diego Chargers against Peyton Manning and the host Indianapolis Colts.

The Falcons, 2- to 2½-point favorites, are on a nice run, having won four straight while sporting a 5-0 home record. The Packers have been resilient, battling through numerous injuries and displaying an adaptable style that has reaped rewards.

Both teams are in hotly contested divisional races, with Atlanta facing stiff challenges from New Orleans and surprising Tampa Bay in the NFC South.

Running back Michael Turner usually has an added bounce in his step at home. And when the Falcons are churning out yards on the ground, wideout Roddy White becomes a lethal weapon in the play-action game.

Las Vegas Sports Consultants oddsmaker Sean Van Patten said both teams appear on the right track.

“The Packers have been able to patch things together, and their offense has remained solid despite not having a great running attack,” he said. “Atlanta has been forgotten by most people and may be playing with a little chip on its shoulder.”

Michael Vick has sparked a three-game winning streak for Philadelphia, a 3½-point favorite at Chicago. The line opened 3, and that number was still available at a few Las Vegas sports books early Saturday.

The Eagles defeated the New York Giants last week, and Philadelphia didn’t play its best game, which is a positive sign.

Vick will test a Chicago defense that is largely responsible for a solid 7-3 record. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler does great and stupid things alike during the course of every game, necessitating a steady diet of Tums for those who bet the Bears regularly.

“For the Bears, the main concern has to be their weak offensive line holding off a fierce Philly pass rush,” Van Patten said. “When under pressure, Cutler tends to throw off his back foot, which could be a recipe for disaster against a ball-hawking Eagles defense.”

The Chargers and Colts very well could meet again in the playoffs. The Colts, 3-point favorites today, have stumbled lately, with Manning even throwing uncharacteristic interceptions with the game on the line.

Van Patten said most bettors think offense first with these teams, but not so fast. The total is 51½.

“The total seems a shade on the high side,” he said. “San Diego puts up plenty of points against weaker defenses, and the Chargers’ defense is quietly the top-rated defense statistically.”

These are not college kids, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Baltimore and Pittsburgh could be looking ahead to next week’s AFC North first-place showdown.

The Ravens are 7½- to 8-point favorites over an exuberant Tampa Bay team that can’t be taken lightly.

The Steelers are 6½-point favorites at Buffalo. But the Bills have been playing with passion and scoring with regularity.

Brian Blessing, host of Sportsbook Radio on ESPN (1100 AM, 98.9 FM), can be reached at blessproductions@yahoo.com.

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NFL betting trends for Week 10

The Rams are 8-2 ATS in their last 10 regular-season games and have covered their last six road games. The Steelers are 5-1 ATS since QB Ben Roethlisberger was injured.