Jacksonville Jaguars (3-7) at Buffalo Bills (3-7)
1pm ET, CBS
A year ago heading into Week 12, these two were 7- and 6-win teams, respectively, en route to the playoffs. This year, both are largely playing things out to the offseason to recalibrate.
For the Jaguars, the quarterback situation will lead the way. QB Blake Bortles continues to Bortle surprising noone except perhaps the Jags’ front office who just signed him to a short contract extension in February. The out in his contract comes after next season, but surely the Jags can’t wait that long to add someone to the rotation to push past backup QB Cody Kessler for Bortles’ spot, right?
As for the Bills, they’re getting rookie QB Josh Allen back from an elbow injury. The seventh overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft hasn’t taken the league by storm by any means, but he at least gives Bills fans hope for the future.
Cleveland Browns (3-6-1) at Cincinnati Bengals (5-5)
1pm ET, CBS
A classic. The Browns have played the Bengals 89 times in the regular and postseason, more than any other team Cleveland has played except for the Pittsburgh Steelers (132 times!). Reflexively, it’s the same setup though the Bengals have played the Steelers 96 times. So while this matchup has history, it’s lacking a bit of punch with the Browns’ record coming and the fact they’ve been stuck in an extended era of ineptitude since 1990. Oh and the fact the Bengals have won the last seven meetings.
They are showing signs of breaking through perhaps though. A few wins and the swell that rookie and #1 overall draft pick QB Baker Mayfield is providing have fans optimistic for the future.
For the Bengals, the future is now. But having lost four of their last five and with WR A.J. Green set to likely miss this one, they’re in dire position needing to pull out a win to keep in the thick of the playoff push.
New England Patriots (7-3) at New York Jets (3-7)
1pm ET, CBS
Another historic matchup though one that is perhaps even more lopsided. While the Pats have downed the Jets in seven of the last eight compared to the Bengals’ seven-game winning streak over the Browns, the Patriots have won 12 of the last 14 over the Jets. So unsurprisingly yet again, the Pats are among the class of the AFC while the Jets are considering moving on from Head Coach Todd Bowles.
New York Giants (3-7) at Philadelphia Eagles (4-6)
1pm ET, FOX
The NFC East! Where hope spring eternal! Yes, these two are at the bottom of the division, but they’re not far enough behind the 6-5 Dallas Cowboys to count anything out right now. The problem for both, including even the reigning Super Bowl Champion Eagles, is that the NFC playoff picture has largely pushed them off the ledge leaving just the division as an entrypoint.
Sure, the Giants would perhaps have to win out. But that means the Eagles are just one loss away from the same desperation. I’M SURE THE FANS AT THE LINC WILL BE RESTRAINED AND RESERVED GIVEN THE CIRCUMSTANCES.
San Francisco 49ers (2-8) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-7)
1pm ET, FOX
Another 2019 play-in.
For the Niners, they’re focused on cleaning things up for the return of QB Simply Gonelongago. Of course, the pressure is building behind Head Coach Kyle Shanahan for what has been an insanely volatile franchise for head coaches. Mike Singletary took over for Mike Nolan in mid-2008 and was outed in mid-2010. Jim Harbaugh took over the next four years taking the team to three NFC Championships and a Super Bowl with QB Colin Kaepernick before Harbaugh left for Michigan and Kaepernick...yeah. The team turned to Jim Tomsula, who had filled in as the interim in Singletary’s truncated season. That lasted a year. Then they turned to Chip Kelly. That lasted a year. They since moved on to Shanny the Younger. Now in Year 2, the 49ers have just two wins and look mired in a rut that goes well beyond their handsome, well-paid and absent starting quarterback. I’d be surprised if Shanahan isn’t back next year, but the leash will be SHORT.
Tampa on the other hand had their turnaround in sight. In 2016, first-year Head Coach Dirk Koetter had the team moving upward with nine wins as second-year QB Jameis Winston looked all the part of a franchise QB. Fast forward to late November 2018, and I’m not sure either will be back in Tampa next year. A full reset for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2007? At least that’ll bring hope.
Seattle Seahawks (5-5) at Carolina Panthers (6-4)
1pm ET, FOX
The highest combined win total of any game from the early slate, and it involves won team without a winning record and one that’s one loss away from .500! Oh, Week 12. You went all in on Thanksgiving and didn’t pace yourself for the weekend and now you’re regretting the gluttony, but you know you’re just going to do it all over again for the rest of the holiday season.
Perhaps the best game of the early slate is the easy watch for Los Angeles Rams fans as a Panthers win would seal the NFC West division title for us. I can excuse QB Cam Newton’s...”fashion” for this week. Go grab the W, Cammy Cam.
Oakland Raiders (2-8) at Baltimore Ravens (5-5)
1pm ET, CBS
The hungover uncle from Thanksgiving of games today, you’ve got the rebuilding Raiders in Baltimore with QB Lamar Jackson making his first start. This game is just confused. And confusing.
Arizona Cardinals (2-8) at Los Angeles Chargers (7-3)
4:05pm ET, FOX
Don’t look now, Rams fans.
No, I mean don’t look.
The 7-win Chargers have an opportunity to solidify their playoff standing with a relatively soft schedule up front to play. Coming off of a disappointing home loss to the Denver Broncos, they’ll have all the motivation...even if that “home” crowd they’re suffering for persists.
Which is why you shouldn’t look. This is the Los Angeles Chargers, wading through the muck of modern local fandom as Los Angeles’ second-ran team. With the Rams at 10-1, it’s easy to punch down at the crosstown team. When you’ve got the City of LA twitter account throwing shade, it’s just fodder for Rams fans. But consider that a year ago, the Rams were being mocked for their lack of support. Outside observers were pointing to the Chargers AND the Rams questioning Los Angeles’ support for NFL football. But the Rams’ turnaround season leading to the wild-card round of the playoffs and the atmosphere at that game accelerated the developing fan base into 2018 where things have taken off. Are we sure an 8-win Chargers barreling toward the playoffs won’t begin to draw attention? USC and UCLA are done now. I don’t mean until bowl season. I mean they’re done. The Rams have this week off with the bye coming off the huge MNF win over the Kansas City Chiefs leaving just the Chargers in action this weekend. While we’ll take up the lion’s share moving forward, the Chargers have three primetime games remaining.
So don’t look. They don’t need the help.
Pittsburgh Steelers (7-2-1) at Denver Broncos (4-6)
4:25pm ET, CBS
A really tricky game.
The Steelers are on a six-game winning streak, though they were veeeeeeeeeeeeeeeery fortunate to get out of Florida with a win over the Jags last week. The Broncos are just 2-2 in their last four, but those two losses were to the Chiefs in Kansas City by a touchdown and to the Houston Texans by just two points. Oh, and the game before this four-game run? Losing to the Rams by just three points.
The Broncos are dragging teams into their kind of games on the ground. They can’t pass and they can’t defend the run, but they’ve got a phenomenal ground offense and pass defense. And while RB James Connor has had a fine season, does a Week 12 contest for the Steelers without RB Le’Veon Bell being played on the ground seem advantageous to Pittsburgh?
The Broncos are dragging teams into their kind of games on the ground. Hard not to like them here. And if they get this one here, look out. They’ve still got the Bengals, 49ers, Browns and Raiders left and could quite obviously get back into the fight if they can hold home field today.
Miami Dolphins (5-5) at Indianapolis Colts (5-5)
4:25pm ET, CBS
So many pure AFC games today! This one is really about two 5-5 teams who feel completely different right now.
The Dolphins have won just one of their last four and that was against the Jets. They won’t have to continue with QB Brock Osweiler as starting QB Ryan Tannehill is back from an unusual shoulder injury, but even pre-injury his performance level was hardly spectacular: 194.4 passing yards per game with a TD:INT ratio of 8:5. And if you take out early games against the Raiders and Jets, his three-game run was working with 171.67 passing yards per and a 5:4 TD:INT ratio.
Meanwhile, the Colts are on a four-game winning streak. QB Andrew Luck is looking like his old self. They’re turning into one of the feel-good teams of the season under first-year Head Coach Frank Reich.
The AFC has five teams with seven or more wins. There are no six-win teams heading into Week 12. Whoever gets this one will be buoyed to move into that gap and beyond.
Green Bay Packers (4-5-1) at Minnesota Vikings (5-4-1)
8:20pm ET, NBC
How is this not a better game? How have these two teams combined for just nine wins?
This should be an absolute top-tier matchup for SNF. You’ve got Packers QB Aaron Rodgers against Vikings QB Kirk Cousins. A Packers team that made the playoffs eight years in a row before last year’s absence due largely (entirely?) to Rodgers’ broken collarbone. A Vikings team that has had one of the best defenses (the best?) in the NFL coming off of an NFC Championship appearance.
How is this not a better game?
Somehow, this is just a playoff push game looking at the wild card as the Chicago Bears lead the NFC North at 8-3. Should the Packers lose this one, which as the underdog they’re favored to do, there’s virtually no chance for them to catch the Bears. For Minnesota? Even if they get this one, next week they travel to the northeast to take on the Patriots. The Bears get the Giants.
It’s incredibly opportune for the Rams to have this bye week.
We’re coming off of the huge Monday Night Football win and the week of Thanksgiving football. Think about how much football there has been. NFL and college. The narratives! The content!
Instead of having to worry about the Rams on Thursday or Saturday or today, we can just kick back and enjoy things. Yanno. The way we have all week. Because it’s Thanksgiving. No, it’s not over! This is Thanksgiving Sunday for Rams fans! We can still keep giving thanks! Comfortably! All day!
What a wonderful way to cap Thanksgiving week. We’re living in great times, friends.