NFL Week 13 Preview
Cowboys @ Saints
With half of the Saints' starters out for this game, this is the Cowboys' game to lose. Taysom Hill is making his first start at quarterback this season which means that Sean Payton's goal will be to establish the run game. Payton knows how to coach to his team's strength; the Saints' biggest strength with Hill at quarterback is the power run game. Mark Ingram should have 20 carries and Hill will run the ball at least 10 times. Anyone who has been reading Between The Tackles for a long time knows that I am not a big fan of Taysom Hill when he is at quarterback. I believe he is a phenomenal weapon who is best when he can be used all over the field. While he may be a step up from Trevor Simeon, Jameis Winston will be the Saints' starter when he returns next season. The Cowboys' defense is filled with ball-hawks, but I believe Micah Parsons will cause the most problems for Hill. He is capable of running sideline-to-sideline with Hill and should torment whoever is replacing Terron Armstead at left tackle. Offensively for the Cowboys, Dak Prescott needs to have a big game. After back-to-back losses, the Cowboys need to get back on track in preparation for the playoffs. Looking at the bright side, if the Cowboys win this game they have to face the Football Team twice and the Giants once in the next three weeks. All of those games are ones that Dallas should win. This is the first step for the Cowboys to get hot at the right time entering the playoffs.
What to Watch For: Can Taysom Hill prove he is worthy of being a starting quarterback?
Player of the Game: Micah Parsons EDGE Cowboys
Final Score: Cowboys 24 Saints 13
Colts @ Texans
This game has major big/little brother fight vibes. In the past, the Colts have dominated this series. While there have been flashes by the Texans when Deshaun Watson was quarterback, the Colts have reclaimed big brother status over Houston. While the Texans have played substantially well since Tyrod Taylor re-entered the starting lineup, the Colts should dominate this match-up. The Texans have one of the worst run defenses in the NFL and are playing the best rushing offense in the NFL. The Buccaneers took Taylor out of the game last week; other than that, Taylor has terrorized defenses in 2021. From a pure matchup standpoint, the odds are in the Colts' favor. What the Colts do well on offense, the Texans are bad at defending, what the Colts do well on defense, the Texans are bad at on offense. After releasing Phillip Lindsay and trading Mark Ingram, Houston will have to lean on David Johnson and Rex Burkhead on the ground. The Colts gave up four rushing touchdowns to Leonard Fournette, but Houston's run game is not on the same level as Tampa Bay's. I expect the Colts to get up on Houston early in the game forcing them to throw the ball. With Kenny Moore dominating from the slot and Darius Leonard having another all-pro season, the Colts' defense will force a lot of turnovers. I expect the Colts to win big over their little brother.
What to Watch For: Can the Texans run the football and follow the Bucs' formula?
Player of the Game: Kenny Moore CB Colts
Final Score: Colts 31 Texans 17
Vikings @ Lions
The Vikings are on a stretch right now where they have lost to the Ravens in a close one, beat both the Chargers and Packers, and lost to the 49ers in a close one. Minnesota has been playing some very good football and still has a shot to make it in the playoffs as an NFC Wildcard team. With Dalvin Cook being sidelined for at least three weeks, it is time for the Alexander Mattison show. Both the Lions and Vikings have bottom four run defenses in the NFL this season which means this should be a ground and pound type of game. Everybodies favorite player, Jamaal Williams, will be handling the load for Detroit. As much as I want to see the Lions pick up their first win of the season, I just don't see it happening. The Lions do not have a cornerback who will be able to keep up with either Justin Jefferson or Adam Theilen. The Vikings' offense will be able to have their way against the Dan Campbell's defense. This is a crucial win for the Vikings' playoff push.
What to Watch For: Can Alexander Mattison be a true number one running back?
Player of the Game: Alexander Mattison RB Vikings
Final Score: Vikings 31 Lions 12
Giants @ Dolphins
We are finally witnessing the development of the Dolphins' young core. Tua Tagovailoa has been an extremely efficient game manager (like we expected him to be coming out of the draft), Jaylen Waddle has the most catches by a rookie, Jalen Phillips is second in sacks by a rookie, Robert Hunt is one of the best young interior offensive linemen, and Jevon Holland and Brandon Jones are one of the best safety tandems in the NFL. While the Dolphins may not be contenders this year, their future is very bright. With Daniel Jones sidelined from a neck strain, there is a very good chance the Dolphins' win streak extends to five games. Chris Grier has done a wonderful job at building the Dolphins' foundation, but his future depends on the success of Tagovailoa. He had the opportunity to pursue Deshaun Watson but chose Tagovailoa over him. If the Dolphins can win their fifth game in a row, Tagovailoa's leash as the Dolphins' quarterback will be extended until at least next season. In this game, I expect the Dolphins to utilize a heavy dosage of Myles Gaskin. The Giants have the 26th ranked run defense in the NFL and Myles Gaskins is coming off of a two-touchdown game. His outlook is bright for this game and so is Jaylen Waddle's. I expect Tagovailoa to target Waddle heavily before ten yards. Quarterbacks have not had success throwing the ball deep on the Giants, Xavier McKinney has five interceptions on the season. McKinney is quietly having an all-pro caliber season, and Tagovailoa will regret testing him if he decides to throw the ball deep. I don't see the Dolphins trying to win this game by throwing the deep ball. With Mike Glennon starting at quarterback, I see the Giants trying to run the ball with Saquon Barkley. The Dolphins have a top ten run defense this year and Brian Flores will do everything to take it away. If Tagovailoa continues to play the way he has been, the Dolphins should dominate in this game.
What to Watch For: Do the young stars shine for Miami once again?
Player of the Game: Myles Gaskin RB Dolphins
Final Score: Giants 10 Dolphins 20
Buccaneers @ Falcons
In the past two seasons, the Falcons have kept every game close with the Buccaneers; however, I expect the Buccaneers to dominate this game from the get-go. The Buccaneers have favorable matchups to stop everything that the Falcons do well on offense. Atlanta's two best weapons are Cordarrelle Patterson and Kyle Pitts. While at least one break-out run/catch is inevitable for Patterson, the goal for the Buccaneers' defense should be to limit him as much as possible. As for Kyle Pitts, Lavonte David, Devin White, and Antoine Winfield Jr. are all viable options to run with him. Winfield Jr. has proven to be one of the best young safeties in the NFL and reversed the momentum in the Colts game last week. His game-study and confidence allow him to play free. At free safety, it is important not to be thinking. It is a reactionary position where studying film is vital. Winfield doesn't need to think about where he should be, he already knows because it is engrained in his brain. I believe the Buccaneers' defense will cause the Falcons' offense problems no matter how many teeth they have. The Falcons' defense doesn't pose a threat to Tom Brady. This is no secret, but Tom Brady ages like fine wine. It feels like he gets better every season and is once again putting his team in a spot to grab the number one seed. I expect Brady to go full assassin mode and rip the Falcons' defense to pieces.
What to Watch For: Can Atlanta get Cordarrelle Patterson the football?
Player of the Game: Antoine Winfield Jr. FS Buccaneers
Final Score: Buccaneers 34 Falcons 17
Eagles @ Jets
The return of Minshew Mania... with Jalen Hurts out due to an ankle injury, Gardner Minshew will be starting for the Eagles. Before last week, it looked like the Eagles were serious contenders for the last playoff spot in the NFC. While Hurts played poorly through three quarters, it is not fair to put that loss entirely on him. Jalen Reagor dropped two potential game-winning touchdowns that were both perfect balls from Hurts. The Eagles do not have a receiver on the other side of Devonta Smith; that will be one of the positions they need to address with their three first-round picks. I expect Minshew to lean on Smith and Philadelphia's run game for the entirety of this game. Despite throwing zero touchdowns and one interception last week, Zach Wilson was able to pull out a win for the Jets. It was an ugly game, and I expect this game to be ugly as well. With Michael Carter on injured reserved, Mike LaFleur will continue to lean on his young quarterback. Elijah Moore is quietly putting together one of the best rookie seasons in the NFL this year. I don't expect him to have much success on the outside against Darius Slay. Slay has had an all-pro caliber season, but Moore will be able to make a difference from the slot. While I expect this game to be a low-scoring slug match, Gardner Minshew will be able to work his Minshew Magic. Darius Slay will cause problems for the rookie quarterback, and I expect the Eagles to come out victorious in a must-win.
What to Watch For: Has Gardner Minshew progressed or regressed?
Player of the Game: Darius Slay CB Eagles
Final Score: Eagles 17 Jets 13
Cardinals @ Bears
It feels like forever since Kyler Murray and Deandre Hopkins were in the starting lineup for the Cardinals. Even without their dynamic duo, the Cardinals were able to retain the number one seed in the NFC and are primed for home-field advantage. I expect Kyler Murray to come out of the hyperbolic chamber hotter than ever and go full Super-Saiyan mode. His return has been a long time in the making, and all the Bears will be able to do is watch. Murray will be naruto-running all around this defense and show why he is a top-five quarterback in the NFL. With Andy Dalton at quarterback, the Bears' offense won't be able to keep up. The lack of explosion without Justin Fields in the lineup is worrisome. The Cardinals are going to make Andy Dalton beat them with his arm. Arizona has the third-best run defense in the NFL this year so I don't expect David Montgomery to be a factor in this game. With Hopkins back on the field, I expect the Cardinals' offense to have many explosive plays. The Cardinals' downfield passing attack has been lacking without Murray or Hopkins in the lineup. All of that will change in the game against the Bears. The Cardinals are going to remind everyone why they are the best team in the NFC.
What to Watch For: The return of Nuk and Baby Yoda
Player of the Game: Kyler Murray QB Cardinals
Final Score: Cardinals 37 Bears 20
Chargers @ Bengals
This is the game I am most excited about for Sunday's slate of games. This is the game that gets me out of my seat. We get to see the matchup between the two best quarterbacks in the 2020 draft class. It should be a good one. I believe the determining factor in this game is the Chargers' run defense. They have given up a rushing touchdown in seven straight games while Joe Mixon has scored in the past eight. Brandon Staley needs to do everything to prevent Mixon from running all over his defense. He needs to make Joe Burrow beat him with his arm, which he is more than capable of doing. There are two head-to-head matchups that I'll be keeping an eye out for in this game. Asante Samuel Jr. vs Ja'Marr Chase is the first one. Both players are two of the best rookies at their position and have been playing like vets. I like Samuel to win that matchup because of his technique, and quite frankly I don't expect the Bengals to throw the ball very much. The other matchup I'm looking out for in this game is Rashawn Slater against Trey Hendrickson. Hendrickson has quietly had at least one sack in all but two of his 11 games this season. He was a phenomenal pickup for Cincinnati and I expect him to give the rookie, Slater, trouble. While Slater has been one of the best rookies in the NFL this year, Hendrickson is playing at another level. He is a good player who doesn't get any recognition. This game has major playoff implications; I believe Hendrickson and Mixon are going to help the Bengals get much closer to clinching a playoff spot on Sunday.
What to Watch For: Asante Samuel Jr. vs Ja'Marr Chase, Rashawn Slater vs Trey Hendrickson
Player of the Game: Joe Mixon RB Bengals
Final Score: Chargers 27 Bengals 31
Jaguars @ Rams
This game feels like a long time coming. This is Jalen Ramsey's revenge game, and unfortunately for the Jaguars, I don't think he is the type of person who has a lot of sympathy. He is going to make Trevor Lawrence regret throwing the football in his direction. The Rams have lost three games in a row, but I expect their losing skid to come to an end against the Jaguars. Sean McVay is a self-evaluator, he watches his tape even more than he watches his opponents'. He is going to find ways to get Odell Beckham Jr. the football and continue feeding Cooper Kupp. I expect Beckham to have his best game since the Browns Cowboys game last season. Beckham Jr. is a disrupter, he is a force, he is a stick of dynamite; against the Jaguars he is going to show everybody who Odell Beckham Jr truly is. Do you remember those snickers commercials that say, "you aren't yourself when you're hungry"? The Rams are starving for a win, and I believe their hunger will be satiated against the Jaguars. Not by a Snickers bar, but by OBJ, Jalen Ramsey, and Aaron Donald. The Rams are going to eat Trevor Lawrence alive and come out with a statement win.
What to Watch For: Jalen Ramsey Revenge Game
Player of the Game: Odell Beckham Jr. WR Rams
Final Score: Jaguars 14 Rams 41
Football Team (WFT) @ Raiders
Taylor Heinicke and the WFT have been on quite the tear lately. While none of their wins are ever "pretty", they find different ways to get the job done. From AAF to the NFL, Heinicke's story is inspiring, but leading the WFT to a playoff birth would be even more inspiring. A four game win streak is in reach for the WFT, but they need to find a way to upset the Raiders. The WFT is flying across the country and had four days less to prepare for this game. Last week, Derek Carr led the Raiders to their biggest win of the season. They upset the Cowboys on Thanksgiving day and this team is rallying together. Maxx Crosby, Yannick Ngakoue, Solomon Thomas, and Carl Nassib have come together and formed one of the best defensive lines in the NFL. As for the Raiders' offense, Hunter Renfrow will be the key piece to victory. Renfrow's statlines aren't big enough to result in major media coverage, but he has had a major impact on the field. He is one of the best route runners in the NFL, and this offense runs through him. I think he is going to have a huge game for the Raiders and step up in Darren Waller's absence. I believe this game has the potential to be the best game of the weekend. Derek Carr is going to feed his number one receiver and Josh Jacobs is going to run the ball hard. The Raiders are going to eek out a victory in a close game.
What to Watch For: Can Taylor Heinicke rally his troops in a cross-country game?
Player of the Game: Hunter Renfrow WR Raiders
Final Score: WFT 24 Raiders 23
Ravens @ Steelers
Both of these teams desparately need a commanding victory. In the past few weeks it has hurt to watch Ben Roethlisberger play football. It looks like a retired player trying to relive his glory days. Defenses have really focused on stopping Najee Harris which forces Roethlisberger to air the ball out. Diontae Johnson is a really good player, but so is Marlon Humphrey. That will be a great matchup to watch, and I think both players will have wins of their own. The player who I believe will have the greatest impact on the Ravens' defense will be Odafe Oweh. Oweh has been tormenting quarterbacks all-season long and his speed off the edge will be too much for Big Ben to avoid. As for the Ravens' offense, Lamar Jackson needs to bounce back. Last week he looked awful and the week before he was out with a sickness. They have won ugly games in back-to-back weeks, but I think the Ravens will put their foot on the gas in this game. Once Thanksgiving hits is when the playoff picture really begins to form. The Ravens are in a close race with the Bengals for the top spot in the AFC North. Dropping division games hurt the Ravens' chances to host a playoff game. I believe Oweh makes his case for defensive rookie of the year in this game and helps the Ravens come up with a huge win in December.
What to Watch For: Diontae Johnson vs Marlon Humphrey
Player of the Game: Odafe Oweh EDGE Ravens
Final Score: Ravens 27 Steelers 20
49ers @ Seahawks
While on past trends may favor the Seahawks in this game, the 49ers are one of the hottest teams in the NFL and Kyle Shanahan has found his rhythm as a playcaller. In the past, Russell Wilson has been a 49er-killer in the past and this game is in Seattle, but the 49ers have all of the momentum. Elijah Mitchell has been one of the best running backs in the NFL this season and has been able to exploit weak defensive lines. With Deebo Samuel out of the line-up, I expect Seattle to make Jimmy Garoppolo throw the football. Mitchell has been one of the hottest players in the NFL, so I expect Seattle to focus on clogging running lanes. That means Brandon Aiyuk and George Kittle will have a major role in the pass game this week. Garoppolo needs to be careful when throwing in the middle of the field. While Jamal Adams isn't necessarily known for his ballskills, he has two interceptions in the past three weeks. I could see him snagging one on a seam route to Kittle. While the 49ers will look to establish the run, I believe they'll be most effective on play-action. The Seahawks have the second worst pass defense in the NFL this season. Shanahan is going to scheme up a heavy day for Aiyuk and Kittle by exploiting Seattle's secondary woes. As for the Seahawks' offense, DK Metcalf should be in for a big day. Metcalf has a history of giving the 49ers fits. With that being said, the 49ers are going to focus on preventing the deep ball. Demeco Ryans is going to force Seattle to beat them with short passes and by running the ball with Adrian Peterson. The 49ers are going to be dominate the game through their air and win a big one in Seattle.
What to Watch For: Can the Seahawks limit Elijah Mitchell?
Player of the Game: George Kittle TE 49ers
Final Score: 49ers 28 Seahawks 23
Broncos @ Chiefs
The parity in the NFL this year has been amazing. Nobody knows who is going to get the number one seed in either conference and the MVP award is still up in the air. This is the game that Patrick Mahomes could solidify the Chiefs as contenders for the number one seed and make his case for the MVP award. Mahomes is 7-0 against the Broncos in his career and dominates on Sunday Night Football. With that being said, the area I want to focus on in this game is the Chiefs' defense. According to analytics expert Warren Sharpe, "prior to Week 6, Chiefs opponents scored on 58% of their possessions (highest % in NFL) since then, the opponents scored on 27.9% of their possessions (17 of 61) (#2 lowest % in NFL)". Tyrann Mathieu and Chris Jones has rallied this defense together. Since Teddy Bridgwater is banged up, I could see them bringing heavy pressure and giving him a hard time. As for the Broncos' defense, they are going to have a difficult time getting to Patrick Mahomes. Creed Humphrey and Trey Smith are two of the best rookie lineman in the NFL. The Broncos are going to feel helpless in this game as they will fall to 0-8 against number 15.
What to Watch For: Can the Chiefs defense make Teddy Bridgewater uncomfortable?
Player of the Game: Patrick Mahomes QB Chiefs
Final Score: Broncos 23 Chiefs 31