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The 10 most important players to watch in Week 13

The playoff race is reaching a fevered pitch heading into December, and Week 13 features some huge matchups. We break down who could prove critical in these key matchups, and one free agent who could still impact things down the stretch.

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson carries the ball during the third quarter against the Los Angeles Rams at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome to Thanksgiving week! The NFL kicks off Week 13 with the annual triple-header on the holiday, which means plenty of football to keep us occupied while we eat turkey — and subsequently fall asleep during said football games. Thursday opens with the Detroit Lions hosting the Chicago Bears at 12:30 p.m. ET. The Dallas Cowboys then host the Buffalo Bills at 4:30 p.m. The day wraps up with the Atlanta Falcons hosting the New Orleans Saints at 8:20 p.m.

The playoff race has reached a key point with December upon us this week. We have our first playoff clinching scenarios as the race for the Lombardi Trophy heats up. There will be a host of players looking to get their teams over the hump this weekend. We’ve got a look at the ten most important or notable players heading into Week 13 of the NFL season.

Lamar Jackson, QB, Baltimore Ravens

We might as well just include him every week. Jackson impressed on Monday Night Football last week, and now gets to face an impressive 49ers defense. Jackson has all but locked up the MVP award, and a big performance against the 49ers could be a cherry on top. The Ravens need the win to at least maintain pace with the top-seeded Patriots.

Arik Armstead, Nick Bosa, Fred Warner, San Francisco 49ers

It’s hard to think anybody can contain Jackson, so odds aren’t great for this defense and 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh. That being said, they will provide an intriguing test for Jackson. The 49ers have arguably the most athletic front seven in the league, and it will be interesting to see if they’re able to keep Jackson from sliding out into running lanes. I’m not holding my breath, but this week and next week at Buffalo are the two toughest remaining games on Baltimore’s schedule.

Russell Wilson, QB, Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks remain a game back of the 49ers and could move into the top seed with a win thanks to their tiebreaker over San Francisco. Seattle faces a stout Vikings defense that will give Wilson a sizable test. He’s the key to this Seahawks offense and will need to come up big against an impressive Vikings squad.

Dak Prescott, QB, Dallas Cowboys

An interesting number for Prescott this season, courtesy of ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler. He’s on pace for 5,000 yards, but the Cowboys are 0-4 against teams with winning records. QB wins is not a real stat, but his struggles against New England last week will only fuel the narrative. He faces a tough Bills pass defense on Thanksgiving. The Cowboys are only one game up on Philly in the NFC East and need a win this week.

Andy Dalton, QB, Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals have been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs and remain on track for an 0-16 season. Head coach Zac Taylor elected to bench rookie Ryan Finley and return to Andy Dalton as his starting quarterback. The Bengals have a two-game lead in the race for the top pick, but Dalton could make this interesting.

Minkah Fitzpatrick, DB, Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers face the Browns in a critical matchup. Both teams badly need a win to maintain their chances in the AFC wild card race. Baker Mayfield and the Browns passing game has shown some life of late, and it will be up to Fitzpatrick and the defense to contain OBJ, Jarvis Landry, and company. Fitzpatrick has been a huge addition to this defense and will be a big reason if they get into the playoffs.

Ryan Tannehill, QB, Tennessee Titans
Jacoby Brissett, QB, Indianapolis Colts

I don’t think anybody expected Ryan Tannehill to be impacting the playoff race. The Colts host the Titans in Week 13, with both teams sitting at 6-5. They’re tied with the Steelers and Raiders in the wild card race and sitting one game back of Houston in the AFC South. This matchup might come down to which quarterback can step up with a shaky group of pass catchers (if T.Y. Hilton sits).