NFL Week 12 Preview
Steelers @ Bengals
Both of these teams are coming off of crucial games where one proved they were the real deal while the other provided encouragement for the rest of the season. The Bengals dominated the Raiders last week, and it was fun to watch. Joe Mixon officially claimed his spot as a top ten running back in the NFL. His combination of burst and vision has been unstoppable in recent weeks; not to mention, he has arguably the best touchdown celebrations in the NFL. Joe Burrow and Ja'Marr Chase reunited in the end zone against the Raiders as well. Seeing what the Raiders just did to the Cowboys, then seeing how the Bengals beat the breaks off of the Raiders makes one excited about the future of Cincinnati. The Steelers on the other hand have been a hard team to watch this season; outside of Najee Harris, their offense lacks any explosion. However, last week they exploded and scored 37 points against the Chargers. While the Steelers didn't end up with the win, what their offense put on tape was encouraging. Giving up 41 points looks tough on the stat sheet, but when you take into account the Steelers' two best defensive players were inactive (TJ Watt and Minkah Fitzpatrick), it doesn't sound that bad. With both Watt and Fitzpatrick returning, this game should be close. It also may be an offensive rookie of the year preview between Harris and Chase. The Bengals' defense can be exposed on the ground; they have the 11th worst run defense in the NFL. With that being said, Cincinnati was able to shut Josh Jacobs down last week and have been able to get out to early leads. The Bengals are going to make the Steelers throw the ball, and I believe that will work out in Cincy's favor. Joe Burrow is a player that I am very confident in; I believe this will be a huge game when it comes to deciphering who will win the AFC North.
What to Watch For: How does the Bengals' defense approach stopping Najee Harris?
Player of the Game: Joe Burrow QB Bengals
Final Score: Steelers 23 Bengals 24
Panthers @ Dolphins
I believe we, as football fans, can all agree that the league is in a better place when Cam Newton is healthy and playing football. He is a person who is hard not to root for; everybody wants to see him succeed. While his first game returning to the starting lineup as a Panther wasn't perfect, it was enough to say that he is certainly a better option than Sam Darnold. Newton provides a spark; he makes this team better. The throw he had to Christian McCaffrey last week on the seam was sensational; he placed it perfectly under the safety and over the linebacker. Even though the Panthers didn't win, it felt like their playoffs hopes have been rejuvenated. As for the Dolphins; Tua Tagovailoa has rallied this team to three straight wins. When looking at the entire AFC playoff picture, this should be considered a must-win for the Dolphins. Teams like the Bengals and Colts have a great advantage over Miami in terms of the wild-card spot. Miami has to win from here out, but I think Cam Newton will ruin their playoff hopes. I believe Joe Brady has seen what the 49ers have done the past two weeks and will look to milk the clock. He has a running quarterback and arguably the best running back in the NFL; he will look to establish the run. While the Dolphins have a dominant defensive tackle with Christian Wilkins, I think Brady will wear this defense out. He will attack them down the middle with Newton and on the perimeter with McCaffrey. I believe that McCaffrey will find pay dirt in this game and be the determining factor in the Panthers' win over the Dolphins.
What to Watch For: Can the Dolphins stop the Panthers' versatile run game
Player of the Game: Christian McCaffrey RB Panthers
Final Score: Panthers 26 Dolphins 21
Eagles @ Giants
The Eagles are rolling right now, and I don't think the Giants will be able to push against their inertia. Coming off of a short week in a loss to the Buccaneers, the Giants find themselves with their backs against the wall. They just fired their offensive coordinator, Jason Garrett, and will be without their first-round receiver, Kadarius Toney. While Saquon Barkley is back, the Giants won't be able to run the football if they fall behind early. I feel vindicated when talking about the Eagles. As a huge Jalen Hurts believer, I am not surprised to see him balling out. He looks much more confident as a passer and decisive as a runner. While his mechanics aren't perfect by any means, and his decision-making isn't where it could be, his improvement is obvious. He is playing free and doesn't second guess his decisions. The Eagles' defense has also shown that it can be dominant at times. Josh Sweat has had his best season as a pro while Darius Slay is playing at an all-pro level. When the front-end of a defense can complement the back-end, that's how takeaways happen. The Eagles' defense will dominate the Giants' lackluster offense. I believe Josh Sweat will reign terror on Daniel Jones and force him into faulty decisions. This game will get Eagles fans thinking playoffs.
What to Watch For: Does Saquon Barkley provide a spark for the Giants?
Player of the Game: Josh Sweat DE Eagles
Final Score: Eagles 34 Giants 13
Falcons @ Jaguars
Both of these teams have had very disappointing seasons and are coming off of underwhelming losses. One thing that both the Falcons and Jaguars have in common is they have first-round rookies who look to be the future at their positions. While the Falcons' defense has not been good by any measures this season, AJ Terrell has been a bright spot. The former first-round pick was written off way too early; he has been making quarterbacks pay all-season long. I don't see Lawrence having success throwing the ball in his direction; however, I see him having success in other areas. Standing at 6'6, Lawrence will be able to run the ball on this team. Teams underestimate his ability to punish teams on the ground, but I see his grit coming out in this game. Since Terrell will most likely be matched up against Laviska Shenault, I believe Marvin Jones will be Lawrence's go-to guy. Jones hasn't had his explosion game yet this year, but it is bound to happen; this may be the week. As for the Falcons' offense, a big determining factor in their success is if Cordarrelle Patterson is in the lineup. The Falcons' offense was insufferable without both him and Calvin Ridley playing. Since it doesn't look like Ridley will be coming back anytime soon, Kyle Pitts needs to step up. He was drafted early for a reason, Arthur Smith should find a way to force-feed him the ball. While they had an extra three days to prepare for the Jaguars, I expect Trevor Lawrence to catch the Falcons' defense sleeping. This will be a huge rebound game for whatever team ends up on top.
What to Watch For: Does Trevor Lawrence throw to AJ Terrell?
Player of the Game: Marvin Jones WR Jaguars
Final Score: Falcons 16 Jaguars 23
Jets @ Texans
While this game may not have any playoff implications, it has major draft implications. The Texans are coming off arguably the biggest upset of the year and the Jets are getting their franchise quarterback back. Teams seem to rally around Tyrod Taylor; he is one of the best leaders in the NFL, and I could see him leading the Texans to back-to-back wins. I could also see Zach Wilson lighting a spark in the Jets' offense; now that Elijah Moore has proven to be the number one receiver, we can get a preview of what this team could be. While Michael Carter will unfortunately not be playing, Jets fans will finally get to see what their young offensive duo is truly capable of. The Texans don't have a cornerback who will be able to stick Moore, I can see him shredding this defense to pieces. As for Wilson, I'm watching his eyes. He has had time to watch the game from a bird's eye view, which can greatly impact how a quarterback sees the game. Does the game slow down for him or will he be in his head too much? Knowing that he is coming off a knee injury, I expect the Texans to bring heavy interior pressure to force him to make plays from outside the pocket. The Texans will force him to be mobile, and I expect the rookie quarterback to make them pay for that. He will be able to buy enough time to get Elijah Moore open downfield. This dynamic duo is going to show why they were drafted so high and upset the Texans. While the Texans may lose this game, they win when it comes to draft position.
What to Watch For: Zach Wilson's progression post-injury
Player of the Game: Elijah Moore WR Jets
Final Score: Jets 21 Texans 20
Titans @ Patriots
Revenge is a dish best served cold, and it will be freezing in Foxborough during this game. If Derrick Henry was playing in this game, I'd put all my chips on the Titans, but since they don't have their workhorse, they won't be able to punish the Patriots' defense. I see the game going the other way around; I believe Bill Belichick will run the football on the Titans. While the Titans' defense has both Jeffrey Simmons and a strong linebacker core that will be able to hold their own, I believe the Pats will utilize both Rhamondre Stevenson and Damien Harris. This should be a low-scoring game, which plays in the Titans' favor, but I just don't think they have enough playmakers on offense. Without Henry, Julio Jones, and AJ Brown, the Titans are desperate for an offensive weapon. Even if this game is as low-scoring as I predict, I don't see it being enough to prevent Mac Jones from finding his receivers. The Patriots have had an extra three days of preparation and I believe they will be more than just prepared for this game. While it may not be reflected on the scoreboard, I see the Patriots dominating in this game and Belichick gaining his revenge from 2019 playoffs.
What to Watch For: Who will make a play for the Titans' offense?
Player of the Game: Rhamondre Stevenson RB Patriots
Final Score: Titans 10 Patriots 20
Buccaneers @ Colts
This is the biggest game of the weekend, the red-hot Colts against the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers. Coming off a short week, I think the Buccaneers will get off to a slow start. That will allow the Colts to establish a ground game with Jonathan Taylor who is coming off a five-touchdown game. To beat the Buccaneers, the Colts can't just run the football; Carson Wentz will have to make plays. He will need to throw the ball to Mo Allie-Cox and Michael Pittman Jr. The key for the Buccaneers is to avoid a slow get-off and make Wentz throw to win. Since the Colts run the football so much, Tom Brady will have to capitalize when he has the ball in his hands. By pounding Jonathan Taylor, the Colts will be able to keep the Bucs' offense on the sideline. That is why efficiency for Brady is so crucial; Tampa's offense needs to score seven, not three. I like how the Colts' defense matches up against the Buccaneers. Darius Leonard and Deforest Buckner will be critical in stopping Leonard Fournette while Kwity Paye and Kenny Moore are the keys to stopping the Buccaneers' passing attack. I like the Colts to come up with a big upset win in the game of the day thanks to Paye coming up with a big strip-sack over a fellow Michigan alum.
What to Watch For: Can the Buccaneers' defense stop Jonathan Taylor?
Player of the Game: Kwity Paye DE Colts
Final Score: Buccaneers 27 Colts 30
Chargers @ Broncos
Jon Elway and George Paton do a good job at taking care of their receivers; Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick just got paid, and I expect them to want to use their newly paid receivers a lot against the Chargers. After watching the Steelers expose the Chargers' pass defense on Sunday Night Football last week, I expect Pat Shurmur to lean on Teddy Bridgewaters' arm. Whether it is Patrick, Sutton, or Jerry Jeudy, the Broncos will be getting the ball to their receivers. With that being said, I expect Derwin James to step up and bounce back from what happened last week. Brandon Staley understands how teams will want to attack his defense, and I expect him to make the proper adjustments. That means Joey Bosa could be in for a huge day. As for the Chargers' offense, I see them using Austin Ekeler as a decoy to surprise the Broncos' defense. After having a four-touchdown performance, Denver's defense will key into stopping the man who plays the electric guitar in the end zone. That will lead to Joe Lombardi calling for a heavy dose of play-action. I believe Justin Herbert is in for another sensational performance as he leads the Chargers to another big division win.
What to Watch For: Brandon Staley's defensive adjustments
Player of the Game: Justin Herbert QB Chargers
Final Score: Chargers 33 Broncos 23
Rams @ Packers
Get your popcorn ready, because we get to see one of the best conference rivalries in the NFL once again this week. These games are always great, but the player matchups are even better. Matthew Stafford vs Aaron Rodgers, Odell Beckham and Cooper Kupp vs Eric Stokes and the Packers' secondary, and of course Davante Adams vs Jalen Ramsey. The last time these two teams faced off in the playoffs, Adams got the best of Ramsey, but I could see it being very different this week. Adams was able to take advantage of pre-snap motions to gain separation from Ramsey; I believe Raheem Morris will see the motions coming and have a switch call implemented in the secondary. While everybody recognizes that Sean McVay is an "offensive wizard", he has been exposed the past two games. No coach attacks the bye-week better than McVay, and I expect him to sure up the Rams' offensive woes. Since the Packers' defense will be focusing on stopping Cooper Kupp, I could see McVay dialing up a ton of plays for Beckham Jr. With an extra two weeks to learn the Rams' offense, OBJ should be fully up to speed and no longer on a pitch count. Aaron Rodgers is playing through a fractured toe and is facing two future Hall of Famers on the Rams' defensive line. It will be hard for Rodgers to get through this game especially if Aaron Jones is inactive. While this game will be fun to watch, I expect the Rams to get a statement win and right the ship.
What to Watch For: Aaron Rodgers' ability to plant and run on his bad foot
Player of the Game: Odell Beckham Jr. WR Rams
Final Score: Rams 31 Packers 25
Vikings @ 49ers
This game has major implications in the NFC wild-card race. The 49ers have won three out of the past four games and the Vikings are coming off a major upset over the Packers. A fair warning to Vikings fans that they probably don't need is that teams tend to start slowly after amazing thriller wins. Mike Zimmer knows that after what happened following the Minnesota Miracle. What Klint Kubiak should do to prevent a slow start is run the football. Utilize his franchise running back, Dalvin Cook, and bring in Alexander Mattison to switch up the pace. With that being said, not all offensive coordinators are as patient as Kyle Shanahan and Mike McDaniel. The 49ers have been able to put together 18+ play drives in back-to-back games. This hasn't been possible solely because of their run-game, Jimmy Garoppolo has strung together elite games in three out of the past four weeks. He has been the most efficient quarterback in the NFL this past month thanks to George Kittle being healthy, Deebo Samuel emerging as a top-five receiver, and Brandon Aiyuk coming into his own. Garoppolo has been threading the needle and deserves praise. With that being said, I can see him getting overly confident and giving one to Harrison Smith. Kyle Shanahan has finally found his rhythm and the Vikings' defense isn't what it once was. The 49ers will be able to pound the rock with Elijah Mitchell and Nick Bosa should be able to get to Kirk Cousins. With all of the pressure on Cousins, I see him getting in his head. The 49ers' defense will punish Cousins for second-guessing himself and come out with a huge win.
What to Watch For: Emmanuel Moseley vs Justin Jefferson
Player of the Game: Fred Warner LB 49ers
Final Score: Vikings 22 49ers 27
Browns @ Ravens
The Ravens just put together arguably their most crucial win of the season last week. Without both Lamar Jackson and Marquise Brown in the starting lineup, the team had to come together and rally around Tyler Huntley. Those are games that Super Bowl-caliber teams win, and that is exactly what the Ravens did. They came together and formed chemistry; that game was huge. The Browns on the other hand are on a free-fall. Baker Mayfield is playing through pain while this entire team is just falling apart. Even with Myles Garrett and Denzel Ward playing at all-pro levels, there is a good chance this team finishes fourth in the division. With that being said, there is a way the Browns can stop their negative momentum, by beating the Ravens. The first thing Kevin Stefanski must do is establish the run. With Kareem Hunt coming back and Nick Chubb healthy, the Browns need to feed their workhorses. Small incremental runs can add up and keep Lamar Jackson on the sideline. This offense needs to be patient and eventually, they will be able to hit Donovan Peoples-Jones for a deep ball when Baltimore's defense isn't expecting it. Patience is a virtue that most teams don't have, and I don't expect the Browns to be patient with Jackson making plays for the other team. I expect Lamar Jackson to show out once again on Sunday Night Football.
What to Watch For: The return of Kareem Hunt and Lamar Jackson
Player of the Game: Lamar Jackson QB Ravens
Final Score: Browns 17 Ravens 34
Seahawks @ Football Team (WFT)
It has been a while since the NFL hasn't seen the Seahawks in the NFC playoff picture. Even in the one season that Russell Wilson didn't make the playoffs in his career, it came down to the very last week of the season. With Russell Wilson banged up, the Seahawks have been practically irrelevant this year. With Wilson back in the lineup from injury, Seattle has gone 0-2 and put up 13 points combined in the two weeks he has been playing. While giving up 23 points to a Cardinals offense without Kyler Murray and Deandre Hopkins is concerning; scoring just one touchdown in two games is even more alarming. Some of the responsibility falls on coaching, but a lot of it has to be on the stars of the offense. A team with Wilson, DK Metcalf, and Tyler Lockett should not ever be scoring less than 14 points in a two-game stretch. If Seattle is going to turn the ship around, it would have tonight on primetime. The WFT's defense is not as daunting as it once was and will have to rally without Chase Young coming off the edge. Speaking of rallying, the WFT's offense has fully bought into Taylor Heinicke and has rallied around him. Heinicke is a natural-born leader and has put together back-to-back upset wins. Whether it's making a throw while bracing for contact or heaving up 50/50 balls to his receivers, Heinicke has admirable cojones. He is an easy player to root for; I believe he will blow out Russell Wilson's birthday candles and pull off yet another upset. The game should be close and low-scoring, but it is hard not to bet on Heinicke especially after watching his past two games. The Seahawks are going to fall into an even deeper hole and have to get ready for the red-hot 49ers next week.
What to Watch For: Will the Seahawks' offense finally click?
Player of the Game: Taylor Heinicke QB WFT
Final Score: Seahawks 16 WFT 20