We’re back, people. Your weekly look-around the NFL for the best performances, worst chokes, and most questionable prognostications.
If I didn’t mention your team this week, no worries. Good, bad, or meh, I’ll be getting to everyone in due time.
NFL Week 12
1. The Ravens are this year’s Chiefs
Young quarterback that’s shredding defenses: Check. Previously unrecognized weapons that are a threat to score at any time, from any formation: Check. Almost impossible to come from behind on: Check. If there’s a lesson to be learned after watching Baltimore just absolutely shred the Rams, it’s this. Never defer. Once the Ravens have a lead, things can get bad, quickly. I’m always skeptical when the team’s leading rusher is the quarterback, but in this case, Jackson’s game is all about balancing the threat of the run with the (very real) threat of him throwing darts. It’s working and confusing the heck out of opposing defenders. How well is it working? Fun stat: The Ravens have punted just twice in their last three games. In both of those instances Lamar Jackson was resting comfortably on the bench, watching teammate RGIII do some mop up duty late in the fourth quarter. The main difference between these Ravens and last year’s Chiefs? The defense. This defensive unit is lightyears beyond that KC defense, and that’s what can get them to the next level in January and beyond. Yes, there’s a definite chance that these guys could end up as the two seed and need to travel in the playoffs, but honestly, how fun would it be to see the Patriots, complete with the league’s best defense, as a home underdog in the AFC Championship game?
2. Atlanta is the most confounding team in the league
In the past three weeks, Atlanta has gone on the road and blown out the division leading Saints and wildcard hopeful Panthers. It looked like Atlanta’s performance was starting to match its prodigious talent. Then they turn around, at home, and lay an egg against the one team in the division that they SHOULD be able to beat: The Buccaneers. Matt Ryan has been off since the ankle injury, but this was a winnable home division game. He targeted Julio Jones ten times, completing only five, and finished the game with one INT and no TDs. I’m not exactly saying that the core of this Atlanta team that almost won a Super Bowl is done, but they’ll need to make some serious adjustments and be far more consistent to contend in 2020.
3. Tampa Bay could (theoretically) be good
With that being said, Tampa Bay should also just be better than they are. Jameis Winston trails only Dak Prescott in passing yards. They have two of the top three receiving yardage leaders in Chris Godwin and Mike Evans. Shaq Barrett leads the league in sacks and the Tampa Bay defense has allowed the second-fewest yards on the ground in the league. They can stop the run, get after the QB and spread the ball around on offense. Granted, Winston has thrown too many interceptions, he leads the league with twenty, but this is another talented team that can’t seem to fire on all cylinders for more than a quarter at a time.
4. Dallas leads the NFC East, but still might fire their coach
Jerry Jones has steadfast and firm in his support for Jason Garrett over the years. Now, despite leading the division, things might get messy. After New England shut down the league’s most potent total offense and held star WR Amari Cooper catch-less, it sounds like the Cowboys owner might be getting frustrated.
In an interview on Good Morning Football, Jones minced no words:
“I don’t have to win the Super Bowl in business every year. I can come in sixth and have a hell of a year. But in this case, you’ve got to come in first. You’ve got to come in first. So fundamentally, you’ve asked for something that’s a very narrow window to begin with. I want Jason to get it done.”
The Cowboys won’t have it easy, either, as they’ll play again on Thanksgiving against a Bills defense that’s almost as stingy as New England.
5. The Rams are a shadow of last season’s team
While we’re all (rightly) ooh-ing and ah-ing at Lamar Jackson and the Ravens after they mopped up the defending NFC Champs, let’s remember a few things. Most importantly, this is not the 2018 Rams. Last year’s Rams reminded us of the “Greatest Show on Turf”. This year’s Rams are currently third in the NFC West, have yet to win a divisional game, and boast a seriously meh point differential of +6. Total. All year. The Rams haven’t been the same since Todd Gurley got injured last year, then got held to a field goal in the Super Bowl. Last season, head coaches were getting interviews if they had once been at a party with some different guy who happened to be named Sean McVay in college. This season, McVay rarely looks like the brilliant young football savant he was. Maybe it’s as simple as a Super Bowl hangover, but those can last for years. Just ask Atlanta.
6. The Steelers need to figure out this whole QB situation
I’m not sure that many wild card contenders who are already working with a backup go into week thirteen by benching their number two dude for the third stringer. Mike Tomlin sounded just absolutely spent when answering questions about why he’s rolling with Devlin Hodges instead of Mason Rudolph. He was kind of mumbling, but I’m pretty sure he said something about Hodges “not getting us killed”. Maybe it’s that Cleveland is coming to town and last time Mason played against the Dawgs it didn’t end so well. Maybe Hodges is the man of the future and Tomlin wants to see what he has. There were rumors in training camp that he was the better of the two backups. Either way, with five weeks to play, Pittsburgh needs to pick a lane and drive if they want to hang on to that sixth seed.
7. Green Bay can’t hang with the big boys
We know that the Niners are good. But holding Aaron Rodgers and crew to six punts, a turnover on downs and a fumble in an entire half of football? Sheesh. In all, Rodgers could only manage 104 yards passing and one TD against the stiff Niners defense that gives absolutely nothing away. Rodgers only converted 6% of their third down chances and left drive after drive unresolved. It was Rodgers’ worst game of the season by a landslide, and if they want to hold onto their advantage in the NFC North, they’ll need to stiffen up along the offensive line, and quickly because…
8. Minnesota is about to get better
I don’t mean to scare Packer fans as that week sixteen matchup that will almost surely decide the division approaches, but Minnesota has been chugging along quite nicely with Dalvin Cook and Stephon Diggs…and they’re about to get their best receiver back. Adam Thielen has been on the shelf since week seven (when he only caught one pass…a 25-yard TD). His impending return will make Minnesota much, much harder to defend. Kirk Cousins has made his options look good thus far, but with Thielen back in the mix, opposing defenses will have to pick their poison. Minnesota has also been far more consistent, boasting a higher point differential than not only the Packers, but the division-leading Saints and the tougher than leather Seahawks.
9. The Bills are at the edge
“Easy” schedule or no, the Bills have a hefty lead in the AFC Wildcard race and can all but lock it up on Thanksgiving against Dallas. The Bills haven’t really been taken seriously this year, because the offense isn’t necessarily a juggernaut, but then again, neither are the Patriots in 2019. The Bills trail only the Pats and Niners in points and yardage allowed this season. If they can come out of Jerry World with a win before the cranberry sauce gets all sticky and lumpy, They’ll go to 9-3, with the rest of the wild card contenders at 6-5 or worse going into the weekend.
10. The Browns, yes, those Browns are still in the mix
Don’t believe me? Do only easy early schedules count? The Browns had a hard run of it early, but face what can only be considered a cakewalk the rest of the way. Here’s who the Browns will face over the last five weeks. Pittsburgh (who they just blew out 21-7), Baltimore (ok, so they probably won’t win that one, but they did humble the Ravens back in week four by hanging 40 on them), Arizona and get this, the winless Bengals…twice. If they win the games that they should win, they’re 9-7 with a tiebreaker over the Steelers. I’m not saying that it WILL happen, these are the Browns after all, but it would be fun.
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Image Source: AP Images