Nov. 26, 2019
NFL Week 12 Preview
Time is ticking on the NFL regular season. With each passing week, more teams are eliminated from contention, and even more teams are hanging by a thread. But even with so few games remaining, nobody has guaranteed anything. Just about every division leader has a shot at a 1st-round bye, but they could just as easily slip out of the playoff picture altogether. There are teams hovering at or below .500 that still have a legitimate chance at playing into January. Everything important is still up in the air, which means that few games have nothing at stake. But there are a few that stand above the rest, and that's what we will focus on today. We start in Houston for a huge contest in the tightest division race in football.
Colts vs Texans
The AFC South has been wide open for the entirety of the 2019 season. All 4 teams have stayed neck-and-neck with each other since week 1, and nobody has been able to get on a roll and take command. However, it has always seemed clear that either the Colts or Texans will be the one to take the title. Right now, they stand at a tie with just 6 games remaining, which means that this game is crucial. With the Colts beating Houston the first time around, winning this game would essentially give them a 2-game lead by getting the tiebreaker. A Texans' win would not carry quite as much weight, but a simple 1-game lead would still be tough to overcome with just 5 games left to play. I do think the winner of this game will win the division, and it really could go either way.
Last time around, it wasn't a huge surprise to see the Colts walk away with a win, but the real shock was the way in which they won. Marlon Mack was a non-factor with an average rush of 2.4 yards with his longest run being just 7 yards. The Texans run game wasn't much better, which meant both QB's were forced to do most of the heavy lifting. To the surprise of many, it was Jacoby Brissett who stole the show with a 326 yards, 4 TD, and no INT's. Watson was very good as well, but 2 interceptions were enough to cost him the game. The real question this time is whether or not Brissett can outplay Watson for a second time. Brissett is a solid, reliable QB. He can certainly win plenty of games at this level. However, he's not often going to carry a team. He'll keep you in it, and put the rest of the team in position to win so long as they do their jobs. Rarely will you see a player like him duel a player like Watson and come out on top. With Marlon Mack out of the lineup, he will need to do just that on the road to get this win, and I think that is asking too much of him.
Texans win, 27-20
Cowboys vs Patriots
There are few teams more polarizing than the Cowboys and the Patriots. You either love them or hate them. But no matter what side you are on, I'm sure you hear a whole lot of talk about them, especially when they sitting atop their respective divisions like they are now. If you have been listening to any of that talk, you know that the two East division leaders are in very different positions. While the Patriots are tied for the best record in the league, the Cowboys wouldn't even be in the playoff picture if they were in any other NFC division. However, due to easy schedules, neither has beaten high-level competition to this point in the season. So while New England may seem to be miles ahead of Dallas, perhaps they are a bit more comparable than they appear.
The Dallas Cowboys have all the talent in place to win at a high rate. Prescott has been great. Elliott is one of the league's best Backs. The Dallas O-line is second to none. And the defense is still better than most. Yet, despite all of that talent and the impressive statistical results of that talent, they are not able to win nearly as many games as they should.
The Patriots are a different story. They have plenty of talented players, but I would argue that they do not have as much as Dallas. Brady has been closer to average than usual. They have had little success on the ground. The defense has been dominant for the most part, but when faced with a good Ravens' offense, they looked rather pedestrian. However, the Patriots always seem to find ways to win, even when they are outmatched in talent. That's because New England is a great team rather than a just a collection of great players. That's what they have been for nearly two decades. It is for that reason that the Patriots continue to dominate, while teams like Dallas falter.
Patriots win, 24-19
Packers vs 49ers
Things have turned around fast in Green Bay and San Francisco. Through 10 games, both teams have won more games than they did in either of the last 2 seasons. As a result, both of them have earned a 1st-place rank in their division for the time being, but with Minnesota and Seattle just a hair behind, neither can afford to take their foot off the gas. Any loss down this stretch could prove fatal in securing their division titles. It would take quite a collapse for either one to miss the playoffs entirely, but you know that neither one wants to settle for a wild card where their path to the Super Bowl would be filled with road games. A loss here for either side could put their division title hopes in jeopardy.
Some people want to tell you that you simply cannot win without an elite QB. I, however, disagree. Throughout football's history, there is an abundance of successful teams who did not possess high tier passers. The 49ers are one of those teams that really don't need one of those guys to succeed. However, no matter how good your roster is, you do need someone you can count on under center to perform when you need them to. I think many people are starting to question whether or not Jimmy Garoppolo fits that description. I don't know yet if he does, but I do know that his counterpart for this coming week has that ability and then some.
Aaron Rodgers has shown the ability to put the team on his back and bring Green Bay more wins than they deserve for the mediocre rosters they often supply him with. But this year, he doesn't need to do that. The defense has taken a big step up from the past several years, the O-line is finally giving him some protection, and their running backs have been able to find the endzone instead of forcing Aaron to put up all the points. The Packers may not have as much depth as San Fran, but QB's like Rodgers get payed the big bucks to make up the difference.
Packers win, 23-20
Ravens vs Rams
Sometimes sports isn't fair. Take the Rams for example. They have the same record as the Cowboys, and their win-loss order is exactly the same as them as well. But while that has earned Dallas a division lead, the Rams sit in 3rd place in the West with a steep climb to reach the postseason. L.A. has taken a step down from the previous pair of seasons, but they are still are very good football. I would argue that they deserve a playoff spot more than Dallas or Philadelphia, but their odds at getting one are slim. However, they do still have a chance. This week 12 game brings quite a challenge, but if the Rams can pass it, they may be capable of handling anything that comes their way.
The Rams' next opponent might just be the best team in football. While the rest of the league has become more oriented to the air, Baltimore has assembled a wild, run-heavy offense that no one seems to be capable of stopping. Opposing defenses are forced to prepare for the run on every single play, and that makes easy passing plays for Lamar Jackson when they need them. This unique formula is putting up just over 34 points per game, 4.6 points more per outing than any other team in the NFL. And as if that offense alone wasn't dangerous enough, the defense has really pulled it together as well. The Ravens have allowed 20 or less in each of their last 5 outings, including games against Seattle, New England, and Houston.
At this point, it is hard to see anybody stopping Baltimore. Somehow this team managed to lose 2 in a row earlier this year, but they have only gotten better since then. But no team is truly unbeatable. There has to be a defensive formula to stopping, or at least slowing down, this offense, and the Rams might have what it takes to do that. With the Rams having one of the best run defenses and a strong pass rush, I could see the Ravens having one of their poorer offensive showings this coming week. However, I'm not confident the Rams' offense can take advantage. It appears McVay's magic may be running out, and Goff and Gurley's best days might be behind them already. L.A.'s offense is becoming more ordinary by the day, and against any real defense, they aren't getting the job done.
Ravens win, 23-16