A pair of high-level, prime-time games, as well as a couple late-afternoon contests between Super Bowl contenders highlight the Week 12 slate in the National Football League.
I also have opinions in a couple more intriguing matchups, as well as one of the weekend’s least compelling games in this week’s Six Pack.
The Packers come off their bye week and head to the Bay Area to take on the 49ers. Green Bay’s defense started the season strong under defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, but has come back down to earth over the last several weeks, even though the Packers have gone 5-1 during that stretch. The Packers rely heavily on turnovers and sacks and should force Jimmy Garoppolo into a few mistakes Sunday night, but they are also likely to be gashed by Kyle Shanahan’s zone run game. Even if they are down a few key skilled position players, the San Francisco offense should still have success.
The San Francisco defense has been one of the NFL’s best through 11 weeks, but has not been as dominant as the competition has gotten stiffer. The 49ers gave up 11 points per game over their first seven contests, but have yielded 25, 24 and 26 in their last three. The loss of linebacker Kwon Alexander to a pectoral injury has made a noticeable difference, and now they are likely to be without one of their top pass rushers, Dee Ford, who could miss multiple games with a hamstring issue.
In Week 12 the Niners will meet one of the league’s most complete offenses, led by one of the best to ever play quarterback, Aaron Rodgers. It took a little while for Rodgers and new head coach Matt LaFleur to get on the same page, but things have been clicking of late, other than an outlier against the Chargers in Week 9. The Packers have a top-tier offensive line, a strong running game led by Aaron Jones and now finally have wide receiver Davante Adams back in the lineup, after he missed several weeks with turf toe. They will score points every Sunday, including this one on the road.
Look for the offenses to have their way in what should be a highly entertaining game to close out the Sunday slate.
Pick: Over 47.5
Atlanta entered its bye week at 1-7, but has been a new team, especially on defense, since the week off. The Falcons have played the NFC South’s top two teams on the road, the Saints and Panthers, since the bye. The Falcons not only came away with victories, but they outscored their competition 55-12, behind a defense that is rallying to the ball and putting serious pressure on the opposing quarterback with their front four.
The Falcons host a Tampa team that has been involved in eight straight games that have gone over the total. This is in large part because of a slew of turnovers from quarterback Jameis Winston, as well as a defense that has given up 27 points ore more in all eight of those contests.
Jameis Winston with his third INT. Marcus Williams 55-yard pick six for the #Saints.
— Garland Gillen (@garlandgillen) November 17, 2019
Given the recent display from the reinvigorated Atlanta defense and the inability for Tampa to limit the opposition on the scoreboard, I expect the Falcons to make it three straight wins in their first home game since October 27.
Pick: Atlanta -4
Cleveland was the preseason favorite to win the AFC North but got off to a 2-6 start. Fortunately for the Browns, they have won two straight and now have one of the easiest remaining schedules over the last six weeks.
The first overall pick in last year’s draft, Baker Mayfield has made far too many errors, and his offensive line has been a major issue, but the second-year quarterback avoided big mistakes and played pretty well in last week’s 21-7 win against Pittsburgh. He and the Browns offense are in a smash spot in Week 12 against the Dolphins, but it is the defense I am more concerned about.
At full strength I like Steve Wilks’ group quite a bit, but the Browns will be without their best defensive player, Myles Garrett, who has been suspended indefinitely after an ugly incident a week ago. They also will take the field without starting safety Morgan Burnett, who is out for the year with an Achilles injury. Miami is unlikely to light up the scoreboard but should find the end zone enough to hang in this one.
The Dolphins covered five straight before their 37-20 home loss to Buffalo in Week 11. Look for Ryan Fitzpatrick to create enough magic to reward Miami backers Sunday.
Unexpected stat of the day: Ryan Fitzpatrick is 5-1 against the Browns.
— Dan Labbe (@dan_labbe) November 18, 2019
Pick: Miami +11
Neither of these defenses are among the NFL’s best, but both appear to be coming around late in the 2019 season. The return of Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills has bolstered an Eagles secondary that was pitiful early in the season, while Pete Carroll’s defense has taken a step forward, with the addition of Quandre Diggs and improved play from Jadeveon Clowney, who had one of his best games as a pro in Week 10 against the Niners.
CHAOS CLOWNEY! Last night @clownejd had the single most DOMINANT defensive lineman performance I’ve seen all year. How do you complete a pass with this chaos all around you? Rivals anything Von Miller or JJ Watt have ever done in a game. @seahawks #baldysbreakdowns pic.twitter.com/w0GLfyUJhZ
— Brian Baldinger (@BaldyNFL) November 12, 2019
Russell Wilson will make a few big plays down the field, and the Eagles will find a way to score more than they did last Sunday against the Patriots, but not enough to get this one over the total.
Pick: Under 48
It is never easy to lay points on the road with a backup quarterback, but until rookie Dwayne Haskins and the Washington offense prove they can function like an NFL offense, I will continue to endorse wagering against them.
The Redskins finally found the end zone—after a month without a touchdown—last Sunday, but they were dominated at home by the Jets in yet another discouraging performance.
The Lions have been disappointing after a strong start to the season and will once again be without quarterback Matthew Stafford, but they played hard last Sunday at home against Dallas and should cover in the nation’s capital.
Pick: Detroit -3.5
Kyle Allen has played pretty well since he took over for injured quarterback Cam Newton, but things went south quickly last Sunday, in a 29-3 loss to the Falcons. The Panthers backup threw four interceptions and got no help from an offensive line that gave up five sacks. Things will not be any easier for Allen this Sunday, as he and Carolina will head to New Orleans to take on the first-place Saints.
For years the Saints have been known for their high-flying offense, led by Drew Brees and head coach Sean Payton, but in 2019 it has been their defense that has been the more consistent unit. Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen’s group has given up just 19.9 points per game and has led New Orleans to a comfy three-game lead in the NFC South. Look for the Saints to dominate the Panthers offensive line and lean on the running game, with Alvin Kamara and Latavius Murray, to all but clinch the division title.
The Panthers should play with desperation and hang in this one, but I doubt it will be because of a big game from their offense.