We’re at the point in the careers of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning that we never know when their last showdown will be. It would be great for football fans (at least those outside Kansas City and Indianapolis) to see the two legends go at in the AFC Championship Game, but we don’t know how that’s going to play out. The Denver Broncos visit Foxboro for Sunday Night Football against the New England Patriots (8:30 PM ET, NBC) and it’s a time to stop and appreciate the moment.
Once that moment’s over, this is a big-time football game with significant consequences throughout the AFC. It’s the second straight big Sunday night for Denver, and last week’s win over Kansas City only , moved the Broncos into a tie for first in the AFC West. That division race is completely up for grabs, as is homefield advantage in the AFC.
New England needs to win to keep themselves in play for that top seed, and the Patriots are also tied with the Indianapolis Colts at 7-3 in the race for the #2 seed and first-round bye. Fans in Indy and Kansas City also have a vested interest in what goes down in Foxboro on Sunday night.
The Broncos are a slight road favorite–a (-125) pick on the moneyline, compared to the Patriots getting (+115) odds to win outright. I don’t see where this is coming from. If you want to argue Denver is better than New England by a little bit, I get that–the record backs you up and the Patriots have had problems with the receivers all year.
But this game is in Foxboro, New England has played decent defense all season, is getting a running game and played a good game on the road against a top NFC contender on Monday Night in Carolina, with only a disputed penalty standing in the way of the Patriots’ chance to win on the final play. Rob Gronkowski looks fully in rhythm with Brady after missing much of the early season.
While I don’t think the Patriots can pressure Peyton as much as would be ideal, I also think the Denver offensive lineman might suffer a bit of a letdown in this game. For this group of five, their big game was against the vaunted Kansas City pass rush last week, and while New England is much more respected as a team, the pass rush per se doesn’t leave anyone in awe. I suspect Bill Belichick can come up with some defensive tweaks to at least slow down Denver.
Furthermore, even allowing the superb protection Manning got last Sunday night, the 27 points they scored aren’t anything that blows out the scoreboard lights. I think they’ll score about the same this time around, but I see the Patriots grabbing a win in the 31-27 range.
Here’s a look at the rest of NFL Week 12, including TheSportsNotebook’s continued efforts to pick each game against the moneyline. I actually had a winning week last week, finishing (+280), with the bulk of that coming on the correct upset call of Oakland winning at Houston. I’m still in a (-2240) hole for the year
Dallas (+125) NY Giants (-135) (4:25 PM ET, Fox): This is the main national game in the late afternoon window, with Joe Buck and Troy Aikman on the call for Fox.
If a winning streak can look any uglier than the Giants’ current four-game run, I don’t want to see what it looks like. A win here and New York would essentially be all the way back from the 0-6 start. At 5-6, they would trail only Philadelphia by a game, and the Giants already have a head-to-head win over the Eagles and home game with their division rival in hand.
The Cowboys offer you more reasons to think they can win though. They front four is getting consistent pressure across the board, with a good year from defensive tackle Jason Hatcher making it more difficult to load up protection schemes against Demarcus Ware. I see this group getting pressure on Eli Manning, forcing some mistakes and getting out of the Big Apple with a road win.
The following three games will go to large chunks of the country in the 1 PM ET timeslot…
Carolina (-200) Miami (+170): I really hate picking this game. Miami showed in last week’s win over San Diego that they won’t go quietly because of the national media firestorm surrounding them. Carolina is coming off consecutive wins over San Francisco and New England and could hardly be faulted for a slipup on the road.
The Panthers are clearly the better team, and they also have the matchup edge. Miami’s defensive ends, Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon can be neutralized by Carolina’s inside running game and beaten by Cam Newton’s mobility. But I’m play the intangible “schedule spot” card rather than the matchup card, and pick the Dolphins.
San Diego (+175) Kansas City (-205): CBS sends Jim Nantz and Phil Simms to call this game, where the Chiefs need to hold serve in their race with the Broncos. If Philip Rivers can get opened up, the Charger quarterback could put Kansas City’s ball-control attack in an uncomfortable position. The problem is that Rivers doesn’t have the weapons to do that against a defense this good.
While I respect what Mike McCoy in his first year as San Diego head coach, the loss in Miami suggests the Bolts are running out of steam. If they were catching Kansas City off a win in Denver, I might be on upset alert. But not when I expect a focused Chiefs’ team looking to take care of business at home and then get ready for another Bronco battle next week.
NY Jets (+155) Baltimore (-180): CBS will send this game to regions east of the Mississippi that don’t have a natural home team with the network. The Jets are tied with the Dolphins at 5-5 for the final playoff berth, while the Ravens are in a group of teams at 4-6. This is pretty much it for Baltimore if they’re going to make the postseason.
The Jets’ defense has been solid, but they don’t do a great job at pressuring the quarterback, making it unlikely they’ll exploit Baltimore’s main problem, which is protecting Joe Flacco. The Baltimore defense has been a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing year. I think Flacco can make at least enough plays to get some points on the board and the Raven defense will force Geno Smith into mistakes, as Baltimore wins an ugly 17-13 kind of game.
The rest of the NFL Week 12 card…
Indianapolis (+120) Arizona (-140): This game will be a good test of Indianapolis’ Super Bowl-worthiness. Arizona defends the run as well as anyone, they’re playing at home and playing well generally. Andrew Luck has to step up.
Pittsburgh (+100) Cleveland (-120): Pittsburgh is crawling its way back into playoff contention even if they don’t always look good doing it, and a road win against another 4-6 team from the AFC North is a must. I do like the way the Browns are playing defense though, and look for them to pick up the W.
Tampa Bay (+320) Detroit (-400): The Bucs have got it going with two wins in a row, but doing it on the road in Ford Field will be tough. The Lions can take away the running game with Bobby Rainey and if that happens, Mike Glennon needs to win a shootout in climate-controlled conditions against Matthew Stafford and Megatron–and a team that’s mad after losing last week in Pittsburgh. Not happening.
Chicago (+100) St. Louis (-120): Josh McCown again gets the call for the injured Jay Cutler and that’s again good news for the Bears, who seem to have rallied to their backup. St. Louis won’t be an easy place to go and win, but I’ll take Chicago to get it done.
Minnesota (+170) Green Bay (-200): From the moment Aaron Rodgers went down, this was the game we knew the Packers had to find a way to steal if they were going to be alive when #12 returns to the lineup at some point in the next couple weeks. The Vikings defend the run reasonably well under normal circumstances and will certainly challenge Scott Tolzien to beat them. I’m concerned about the way the Green Bay defense has looked, and this moneyline is just a bit too much exposure. I’ll take an upset shot with the Vikings.
Tennessee (-115) Oakland (-105): The Raiders are still lurking around in the playoff race at 4-6, and coming off a nice road win at Houston. It’s looking like Matt McGloin will again start at quarterback, and while some greater efficiency would be nice, McGloin gives this team enough to win. I think the Titans got the best game they’re ever going to get from Ryan Fitzpatrick last Thursday against Indianapolis and they still lost, so I’m picking Oakland here.
Jacksonville (+385) Houston (-450): Two teams having lost seasons, and while Jacksonville is more lost, I’m going to take a flier with them here. The reasoning is simple–Houston isn’t good enough to risk blowing the entire week with a loss at (-450) and if I’m going to get back to break even I need some upsets of this magnitude to hit.
San Francisco (-240) Washington (+200) (Mon, 8:30 PM ET, ESPN): TheSportsNotebook ran a complete discussion of the problems with the Redskins, focusing on the dysfunction between RG3 and Mike Shanahan, and that’s the main story in this game. If the ‘Skins can rally the troops, they can win at home against a 49er team that will be on dangerous ground if they lose and slip to 6-5. I’ll stick with my ‘Skins for an upset shot, proving only that love and loyalty are often blind.