It’s a light card for NFL Week 12 Sunday, after the three good games on Thanksgiving and most of the better matchups today are in the late window, so it’s a good day to get done what you need to early and then settle in a little later. Here’s the Notebook rundown…
Buffalo-NY Jets (1 PM ET, CBS)
This is the top matchup of the early window, seen by most of the country, and it’s between a pair of .500 teams who are reeling, which underscores my point about how the day shakes out for fans. The Jets struggles are a little more understandable right now—they played poorly against New England and then on a cross-country trip to Denver on a Thursday immediately after. Buffalo on the other hand, is just in full-scale meltdown. There’s no reason to think they can stop the Jets’ running game and if that’s established Mark Sanchez is very effective throwing the ball. Buffalo’s also got instability at left tackle and this is an opportunity for Jets’ linebacker Calvin Pace to step it up and create some havoc in what’s been an otherwise disappointing year. Add to all this that Buffalo running back Fred Jackson is now out for the year and I defy anyone to come up with a reasonable explanation in advance for how the Bills can win.
Minnesota-Atlanta: Atlanta has pulled even in the loss column in the race for the last playoff berth, along with Detroit and the NY Giants/Dallas runner-up and a home date with a battered Viking offense that isn’t all that good even when healthy is some nice Thanksgiving dessert. Adrian Peterson is out, while Percy Harvin and Vincente Shiancoe are beat up. Atlanta’s playing well right now, getting the running game from Michael Turner and allowing that to create opportunities for Matt Ryan throwing the ball. The Falcon front four should be in Christian Ponder’s face all day and it’s an easy day for Mike Smith’s team in getting to 7-4.
Tampa Bay-Tennessee: The pesky Titans are still sitting on 5-5 and at two games back in the AFC South are still alive, given that we don’t know how well Houston will play without Matt Schaub. I keep waiting for Tampa Bay to play one game that shows me that haven’t thrown in the towel on the season. The Bucs came close last Sunday in Green Bay, as Josh Freeman played one of his better games in a disappointing year. I also keep waiting for Tennessee’s Chris Johnson to finally deliver a breakout game. The excuse that he held out and missed a lot of time in August no longer holds water. I suppose I’d lean Titans in this one, but without a lot of conviction behind it.
Carolina-Indianapolis: The main point of interest is how the Carolina defense looks here. If there was ever an opportunity for the Panther D to step up with a shutdown effort this one is it, as Indianapolis is still operating at a level well below the other 31 NFL teams. Regardless, Cam Newton’s offense puts up enough points to grab Carolina’s third win of the year.
Arizona-St. Louis: Unlike the Colts, these two cellar-dwellers in the NFC West have at least shown a little spunk this season, with upsets over the Eagles and Saints respectively. Arizona’s likely to be without Kevin Kolb and tight end Todd Heap—or at least have them at partial strength, so I’d look for the gradually improving Rams to pick up a win here.
Houston-Jacksonville: All eyes are on Matt Leinart as he steps in for Schaub, but this game is an ideal chance for the Texans defense to start getting some deserved due. They’re playing well in all phases and against a one-dimensional Jacksonville offense can key in on Maurice Jones-Drew. The Texans also get Andre Johnson back at wideout and in his absence showed just how well they could run the ball with Arian Foster and Ben Tate. It’s not the blowout it might have been with Schaub, but Houston still churns out an efficient win.
Cleveland-Cincinnati: The only issue here is whether the Bengals can avoid a letdown after tough losses to Pittsburgh and Baltimore the past two weeks. On paper Cincy’s defense should have no problem getting after Colt McCoy and making life miserable for the Browns’ inept offense and this kind of game is perfect for Andy Dalton’s game-managing capabilities. Its must-win for Cincy at 6-4 and with that in mind, I believe their head will be in the right place.
New England-Philadelphia (4 PM ET, CBS): I know Vince Young delivered a clutch drive to beat the Giants last Sunday night, but it doesn’t change the fact he was mistake-prone and mediocre most of the game and the Eagles defense bailed him out. The absence of Michael Vick and the injury to Jeremy Maclin, who may or may not play, drastically hurts the Eagle ability to exploit New England’s vulnerable and injury-riddled secondary. It’s again up to the defense to keep it close for three quarters and that means Jason Babin and Trent Cole have to get after Tom Brady. There’s a chance they can do it and I expect this to be a good game, but also one where the Pats are able to keep the hosts at arm’s length and eventually salt away the win.
Denver-San Diego (4 PM ET, CBS): With Tim Tebow’s religious faith and political views becoming a lightning rod pro and con throughout the country, this fairly pedestrian game is now going to half the country, opposite the Pats-Eagles. On the field it’s a classic matchup of one team who should win on paper, but always seems to find a way to lose, against another who’s the exact opposite, at least in the five weeks since Tebow took over. I respect Tebow’s ability to play in the clutch and to lead, but I also can’t get past these awful passing numbers and think it has to catch up to Denver eventually. The Chargers, being the mistaken-prone outfit that they are, keep it close, but San Diego is able to get a home win.
Chicago-Oakland (4 PM ET, Fox): Oakland is leading the pack in the AFC Wet and getting better each week as Carson Palmer settles into the offense and even without Darren McFadden, the Raiders have a solid running attack with Michael Bush. The Bears play their first game without Jay Cutler, but a healthy and surging defense, along with Matt Forte running the ball still give them chances to win. Also keep in mind Caleb Hanie played well in relief duty last year in the NFC Championship Game against Green Bay. I’ll pick Oakland because they’re at home, but this promises to be a good one between two teams who have good football ahead of them in December.
Washington-Seattle: Neither team is going anywhere, at 3-7 and 4-6 respectively, but both could set the stage for a good finish. Seattle’s looked better in recent weeks, while Washington finally looked like an NFL-caliber offense in last week’s overtime loss to Dallas and now gets Santana Moss back in the lineup. With a healthy team, I like my ‘Skins to look the way they did in September again and win a close one out west.
Pittsburgh-Kansas City (8:20 PM ET, NBC): Kansas City made a good move in picking up Kyle Orton, but it won’t do them any good this week. Tyler Palko was in over his head last week against New England and again tonight against Pittsburgh. Tough way to break in, with consecutive games against Super Bowl contenders on prime-time. The Chiefs never sniffed the end zone last Monday in Foxboro and for an offense that’s scored 16 points in the last three games, it’ll be a moral victory to do that at home tonight.