Now or Never in the East
Not many predicted that the Eagles would sit on a 5-5 record going into Week 12. The good news for Philadelphia is that they only sit a game behind the 6-4 Dallas Cowboys with a match-up between the NFC rivals in Week 16 still to come. The bad news for Philly is that they welcome Russell Wilson and his 8-2 Seattle Seahawks to the city of brotherly love on Sunday. They are themselves just a game behind San Francisco in their quest for the NFC West.
In any week before this point, you would have easily predicted Wilson’s offense, who ranks 4th overall so far this season, to break through the fairly average Eagles defense. This is now Week 12 and despite a poor start to the season, the Eagles know it’s business time.
The Cowboys - coming out of a 35-27 win against Detroit last week - visit the New England Patriots in a match-up that could also go either way. The Patriots haven’t looked their best for a few weeks offensively but their defense, ranked 1st in the league, is well equipped to halt the progress of the Cowboys’ number-one ranking offense.
Both games stand out as contenders for Game-of-the-Day on Sunday with the results potentially shaping the destination of the NFC East title for this season. The odds on both teams winning can’t be good, seeing how they have shown inconsistency over the year. If it’s a Cowboys win and an Eagles loss on Sunday, it might be too much to ask for Philadelphia to get back in the race for a playoff spot. If it’s the other way around, then the East is as open as it has been in a long time. Whatever happens, it’s pretty much now or never for this season in Philadelphia.
What a Difference a Year Makes
Just over a year ago, the Packers and 49ers met in a narrow 33-30 win for Green Bay, a result that saw San Francisco slump to only three further wins in 2018 and a 4-12 record. Fast forward to their game this weekend and the 49ers sit 9-1 for the season. They are currently the first seed in the NFC.
The problem for them is that the second seed in the conference snapping hard at their heels is their visiting team. Green Bay sits on an 8-2 record for the season with the combination of quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, receiver Devante Adams, back Aaron Jones and new Head Coach, Matt LaFleur having pushed Green Bay back to the top of the NFC North. After having lost their first game of the season to Seattle two weeks ago, the 49ers were tested by the lowly Arizona Cardinals last weekend. Nick Bosa in defense is no longer marauding through offensive lines and Tevin Coleman has struggled to gain yardage in the offense. Fortunately for the 49ers, they are more than a one-man team on both sides of the ball. Quarterback, Jimmy Garoppalo, has been putting up big numbers to keep the wins coming.
The Packers, in those famous green jerseys and yellow helmets, are led by future Hall of Famer, Rodgers. When Rodgers connects with Adams or Jones, things go pretty well for the Pack and, after a couple of quiet weeks, it will be up to Nick Bosa and the rest of the second-best defense in the league to disrupt that trio.
A win for the Packers would see both teams sharing a 10-2 record for the season as Green Bay leapfrogs San Francisco for the top seed. A loss here for Green Bay could open up the NFC North with the Vikings just a game behind them.
Minnesota sits this week out and will return fresh for the season run-in with the two to face each other in week 16.
The pressure just got real for Green Bay and San Francisco will be playing football in January. You wouldn’t have thought that a year ago.
Hot in Cleveland
It all got a bit hot in Cleveland last week. Seconds before a drab 21-7 win over the Steelers on Monday night ended, tempers flared and the Browns’ defensive star Myles Garrett found himself suspended indefinitely for hitting Philadelphia's Mason Rudolph over the head with the quarterback’s own helmet.
There should have been a week spent on talking about how the Browns got back to winning. It was a disappointing year, considering the hype they created during the off-season. The week was instead spent discussing discipline and a whole host of other negatives.
So what could be a better way to blow off the cobwebs than by welcoming the Miami Dolphins to Cleveland? Though in true Cleveland style, their timing was off. Instead, they welcomed a Dolphins team that has looked far greater than the sum of their parts recently.
It really ought to be a day for Baker Mayfield to show off and finally connect with receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Despite the fanfare that accompanied Beckhams trade to the Browns, there has been something missing between the second-year quarterback and the star receiver. Neither appeared to be on the same page at any point this season. Last week, there was some better play between Mayfield and his other weapons, like Jarvis Landry, but even that hasn’t quite clicked for them as expected.
The optimists in Cleveland will tell you that with games against the Dolphins, the Bengals, Cardinals, and the Steelers there is still a chance for them to put together a big run. With the talent they have, they could start building for next year's push with key offensive relationships.
The pessimists will all be fearing the worst of banana skins in a Dolphin's defeat and discussing what happened against the Steelers.
A Raid on New York
Perhaps one of the biggest surprises of the season is that we have gotten to Week 12 and the Oakland Raiders are a significant part of the AFC playoff conversation. This NFL is weighed down by more bad teams than it would care for with all already eyeing the 2020 draft as their salvation. Teams like the Jets could do a lot worse things than look to the Raiders on how to draft successfully.
Their rookie class is quite possibly the best in the league this year. Fourth overall pick defensive lineman Clelin Ferrell has remained solid while his fellow rookie and 106th overall pick, Maxx Crosby, has been a standout. Crosby has recorded six sacks for the year already.
Running back and first-rounder Josh Jacobs has bulldozed his way into the league’s top-five for rushing yards while 149th overall pick receiver, Hunter Renfrow, chipped in with two important touchdowns. Renfrow averages over eleven yards gained on each of his thirty-three season receptions. Add to that cornerback Trayvon Mullen, tight end Foster Moreau, and Isiaih Johnson and a lesson in building a draft will take shape.
It might also be worth remembering that the Raiders still hold the Bears’ first-round pick for the 2020 draft after the Khalil Mack trade of last year. It is the same team that most people predicted would end in some form of implosion. Something they teased us with in the first weeks of the season with the now largely forgotten Antonio Brown exit.
Head Coach Jon Gruden deserves plaudits for the job he and his front office have done in reshaping the Raiders. The team set off into their Sunday game against the New York Jets - an example of how to do things in an off-season. A win in New Jersey would see the Raiders on 7-4 for the season with a game coming up against the Chiefs in Week 13. With games to follow against the Titans, Jaguars, Chargers, and Broncos, they look set to stay in the play-off debate all the way through December.
Whether they make it or not, the future looks as bright as the lights around their new Vegas home for next year.
Putting it to Bed
Rounding off the Week 12 action on Monday night is a visit to Los Angeles for the 8-2 Baltimore Ravens. They face a Rams team that stumbled through a 17-10 win against the Bears in last Sunday night’s prime time snoozefest.
A look at some of the talent in the Rams belies just how ordinary they have been this season. Perhaps it is the famous Super Bowl hangover or maybe it is a regression to true form. The team has gone all-in on Jared Goff who just isn’t an elite quarterback. Despite the weight of the contract Goff has been given to be the franchise leader, they are suffering offensively and were only made to look competent last week by a woeful Bears offense.
Defensively, the Rams are a different beast with Aaron Donald, but the pressure of having to carry a team that struggles to score inevitably gets to a defense who spends far more time on the field than they ought to. In addition, the incoming Ravens led by Lamar Jackson and the pressure on the Rams to stop the free-scoring Ravens will be immense.
Despite their troubles this season, the Rams have somehow managed to claw their way to a 6-4 record to keep them in the NFC playoff hunt. They will need every bit of that grit, determination, and fortune to upset the odds and keep their hopes alive against Baltimore who boasts a much better defensive record than people remember.
You can’t imagine the Rams scoring enough points to trouble the W column and this could be the point of the season where the Rams’ postseason hopes fade away. With games to come against the Seahawks, Cowboys, and 49ers, even if this game isn’t the one to put them to bed, it could easily turn out to be the one to hand them their cocoa and send them on their way.
Contributing Author - Rees Dale