Week 12 is in the bag and, for me, I was struck by a number of statement wins which either strengthened a team’s claim to a playoff berth or proved that they were still alive for squeaking in to a wildcard spot. There were 6 wins of 17 points or more across (43%).
Out in front
Packers 8 – 37 49ers
Ravens 45 – 8 Rams
In two games, on Sunday night and 24 hours later, first the San Francisco 49ers and then the Baltimore Ravens walked all over opponents who should have provided both with a stiff test of their SuperBowl credentials.
The 49ers made the Packers look ordinary. By halftime the score was 23-0 and the game was effectively over. The defense restricted Aaron Rodgers to 104 yards passing but it wasn’t a performance of takeaways (only 1 forced fumble and 3 sacks) but as a pack they harassed Rodgers continually. The D smothered and strangled the Packers resulting in only 1 of 15 3rd downs converted. On the other side of the ball the 49ers play-calling is a thing of beauty at times. The 3TE set which then released George Kittle to be wide open for a TD to make it 30-8 was almost poetic. To me, their invention is this year’s version of what happened when Sean McVay got the Rams rolling last year. Talking of McVay….
The 2019 Rams are not the 2018 Rams. They have struggled to a now 6-5 record and look set to miss out on the playoffs after last year’s Super Bowl appearance. They were humbled by the Ravens. On paper this was a tricky tie. Having to go west coast, away to a side who should have been playing to keep pace in the NFC West. Instead the Rams fell the same way as the Texans, Bengals, and Patriots. The Ravens leaned on the run early on and rolled right over the Rams (285 yards rushing). If ever a team were in a sweet spot it is the Ravens right now. The Ravens D took the run away from the Rams and the addition of Marcus Peters in the secondary is looking a better more week after week.
So, who do both sides move on to next week? Well…. it’s the 49ers travelling to the Ravens! A Super Bowl LIV rehearsal….
Raiders 3 – 34 Jets
Dolphins 24 – 41 Browns
Jaguars 20 – 42 Titans
It is no coincidence that each of these victories come in the wide open AFC race for the 6th seed. Three weeks ago the New York Jets were dead and buried at 1-7, Sam Darnold was seeing ghosts and Adam Gase was going to be ‘1 and done’. Three wins later, with Darnold and Gase now on the same page and the O-line giving the QB time to throw, and things are looking much brighter. They blew the Raiders away and face the Bengals and Dolphins in the next 2 weeks – they could be 6-7 in a race where 8-8 might just do it if other results go their way – wouldn’t that be a turnaround!
The Cleveland Browns have negotiated the tricky part of their 2019 slate. They did everything they needed to do against the Dolphins in a convincing victory. Mayfield to OBJ – TD! That’s what the fans have been waiting for and the connections are starting to happen and Nick Chubb is always going to get you 100+ yards on the ground. They are in the soft spot now in the schedule – 4 of their next 5 fixtures would be seen as winnable. A 9-7 finish would give them a good claim to #6 in the AFC.
For the Tennessee Titans, it is not only a wildcard spot they could claim, the AFC South title is still up for grabs. At 6-5, following the dismantling of Jacksonville, the Titans are only 1 game back from the Houston Texans. The Titans don’t get enough love, that almost seems a given in the NFL. Ryan Tannehill has been efficient and effective since his insertion as the starting QB, taking over from Marcus Mariota. Derrick Henry is a juggernaut and ploughed on for 159 yards on the ground. The Titans D will always make you work for yards and points – they are a borderline top 10 D. Tennessee’s fate will be determined in the division – 3 of their last 5 fixtures are against their closest rivals and they do need to win those to improve on their current 1-2 record in the division. Sweep the board and a 9-7 might just be enough for the division or a strong claim for #6.
Cowboys 9 – 13 Patriots
Oh they just keep going don’t they. The Patriots are like the Terminator. They never know when it’s done. They themselves admit it, the offense is probably as poor as they have ever had under Belichick. No doubt it is the twilight of Brady’s career. The defense and the special teams are bailing them out week after week. However, it is New England in pole position in the AFC at the moment and who would bet against them if they end up #1 with homefield advantage?
On the Bubble
Broncos 3 – 20 Bills
The Buffalo Bills 8-3 record might be the most surprising of any team so far this season. They are almost, almost, secure in that #5 spot in the AFC. Josh Allen has shown great progression in his second year and the top 3 defense (points allowed) keeps them in any game they play. The visit of the Broncos could have presented a slip up but the Bills leaned on the run (Devin Singletary and Frank Gore on the 1-2 punch) to see them through. The issue for the Bills is they now run into the Cowboys, Ravens, Steelers then Patriots. A tough run which could see them go into week 17 as low as 8-7. I still think they make the playoffs, and in #5, but they will be glad of all those W’s in the bank.
Look ahead to week 13 match ups – my 4 to watch
Need i say it was .500 again last week with 2 out of 4 correct. Thanksgiving this week and some great matchups to try and predict.
Buffalo Bills @ Dallas Cowboys – some times a team just has to win. The Dallas Cowboys, and specifically Jason Garrett, are feeling the pressure. Jerry aint happy. The Bills are entering a tough run and I think they get an L here. Cowboys by 9
Cleveland Browns @ Pittsburgh Steelers – unfortunate in many ways that this fixture comes only 2 weeks after the last encounter which ended with such ugly scenes. However, the personnel has changed in the space of 2 weeks. Can the Browns offense continue to burn bright or will Devlin ‘Duck’ Hodges give Pittsburgh enough offense to back up their highly impressive D. Steelers by 4
49ers @ Baltimore Ravens – A Super Bowl LIV preview? Who could have predicted that at the start of the season. These are the form teams in the NFL. This will be fascinating. I think the Ravens have more on offense than 49ers. Ravens by 7.
New England Patriots @ Houston Texans – The Patriots keep rolling, doing what they have to do each week to get the next win. The Texans have slipped up time and again just when you think they should be dominating the AFC South. I think Deshaun Watson puts on a show and the Texans win by 3.
Same time next week!