The playoffs are getting closer with every week. Surprisingly, after Week 11 there are no teams who in theory already lost their hopes to reach the playoffs, but it’s the most likely that some of them will lose that chance after this weekend. And some - hopefully - will clinch their playoff spots.
Week 12 began with three Thanksgiving Day matches. In the early noon game Detroit Lions beat the struggling Philadelphia Eagles at home. It was a third win in a row for the Lions, while the Eagles have lost four of the last five matches. Lions' star wideout Calvin Johnson shined once again on the Thanksgiving Eve - he caught three touchdown passes. The veteran wide receiver now has scored at least 1TD in last seven Thanksgiving Day matches has played. The Lions are up to 4-7 and the Eagles are sharing the same record. It seems that Chip Kelly may be coaching for the last season in Philadelphia.
The second match was the one everybody was waiting for: unbeaten Carolina Panthers (10-0) came to Dallas to face the Cowboys. While the Texas team’s record was 3-7, they were still considered match favorites as they won all three matches with the quarterback Tony Romo under the center and after he came back from the injury, he brought back new motivation for his teammates.
But the dream was broken in the first moments of the game when Romo threw a pick 6, Panthers scored a defensive TD and rushed ahead leaving no chances for the Cowboys. Romo has thrown a total of three interceptions (two of them were pick 6) and injured his clavicle once again in the 3rd quarter.
While the x-ray results were inconclusive, it’s likely to be a broken clavicle which would mean the end of season for him and for the Cowboys – the end of the playoff dreams. The Panthers won a 15th regular season game in a row. 11-0 record is the best in the team's history and the QB Cam Newton is one of most popular names in the league's MVP conversations.
Last year, the Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers was named as the league’s MVP, but it is unlikely to happen again this season. In the third Thanksgiving Day match, the Packers lost at home to their NFC North divisional rivals Chicago Bears. It was their 4th loss in last five games and after an impressive 6-0 start now they are at 7-4.
The Bears couldn't have chosen a worse time to spoil an evening for the Packers franchise. The legendary QB Brett Favre had his number retired during the halftime, but on the field it was the Bears’ show. The Packers had a chance to win match in the two-minute drill at the end of 2nd half and successfully advanced to the opponents’ red zone, but the Bears were able to prevent a touchdown. The Bears improved to 5-6 and, unexpectedly, they are back in the divisional title hunt.
There’s still more action happening on Sunday. Since there are no more teams on a bye week, there are 13 more Week 12 games:
New England Patriots (10-0) @ Denver Broncos (8-2)
There is no question to the Patriots vs the Broncos being the match of the week. The defending champions are still undefeated, and they are coming to the Mile-high City to face the Broncos, who are currently sharing the 2nd place in the AFC conference together with Cincinnati Bengals.
After the 7-0 start, the Broncos lost two matches in a row and the veteran QB Peyton Manning has been looking horrible. Last week, the reserve QB Brock Osweiler started and led his team to on the road victory against Chicago Bears. Osweiler was praised by many NFL experts, and he will start again against the Patriots while Manning is battling a foot injury. The Broncos are hoping that Osweiler is going to be their franchise QB in the future and this match against the Patriots is the best test for the talented playmaker.
But the true Broncos’ strength is the best defense in the league - they are leading NFL with only 284,3 yards surrendered per game and limiting opposing QB's to only 190,6 passing yard on average. On the other hand, the Patriots are passing leaders with 320,4 yards per game. Both teams are at the top of the league when it comes to points allowed.
The Patriots leading with only 18,2 points per game allowed and, the Broncos are right behind with 18,3. The Patriots have a significant advantage on the offensive side of the ball - they are the second in NFL with 32,3 points scored on average, while the Denver team is in the middle of the pack with 22,2 points per game. Hopefully Osweiller can help to improve that number. In any case, this can be one of the biggest challenges of the regular season for the Patriots.
Prediction and pick: TonyBet is expecting the Patriots’ victory by 3 points. There’s no doubt that they are the favorites even in Denver, but we have a feeling that we haven't seen the best of Brock Osweiler yet. The result of this match will highly depend on the young QB’s success. If you are willing to gamble a little bit, you can find nice odds for the Broncos’ victory.
Minnesota Vikings (7-3) @ Atlanta Falcons (6-4)
The Vikings received good news on Thursday night when in the NFC North division battle Green Bay Packers unexpectedly lost a home match to Chicago Bears and dropped to a 7-4 record. This score opens a window for the Vikings to climb back to the first place in the division - all they need to do is win in Atlanta. But it may be a hard thing to do as the Falcons are desperate to find the winning path once again.
The Falcons started the season with an impressive 5-0 streak, but then something changed and the team lost four of the next five matches. Currently, the Atlanta team is gunning for a wild card spot in the NFC playoffs, but they must start winning if they want to compete in the postseason as it won't become any easier later - they will have to play twice against their divisional rivals Carolina Panthers in Week 14 and Week 16.
There is no doubt that the Falcons have a lot of talent on the offensive roster. The QB Matt Ryan is considered as one of the best in the NFL, and so is the star wideout Julio Jones, who is currently leading the league with 89 receptions and 1,189 receiving yards.
The sophomore running back Devonta Freeman became a pleasant surprise this season. The explosive youngster is the first among all RBs with 1,184 all-purpose yards. He is also leading the NFL with 11TD (together with the Bengals’ tight end Tyler Eifert). But while the Falcons have really strong playmakers, lately they are struggling to score: in the last five matches, they have scored an average 17,6 points per game.
Minnesota Vikings also had some problems on the offense, but they are still managing to win. The sophomore QB Teddy Bridgewater has strong support in the form of the league-leading rusher Adrian Peterson, who is currently the only player who has crossed a 1,000 rushing yards mark (1,006). The Vikings defense is 3rd best in the league with only 18,4 points per game allowed. The painful loss at home last week against the divisional rivals Green Bay Packers ended Vikings’ five game winning streak, but they will do everything they can to rebound this Sunday.
Prediction and pick: TonyBet is expecting the Falcons’ win by 2 points. We are not sure - the Falcons were unstable and the Vikings are looking like a better team overall. Their losses seemed more influenced by the lack of experience, but they are learning every day and the victory in Georgia can be a solid proof that they are ready for the playoffs.
Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4) @ Seattle Seahawks (5-5)
This Sunday Seahawks’ QB Russell Wilson will celebrate his 27th birthday and there is no better gift than a victory, but the Steelers may disagree. These two teams met each other 10 years ago in the Super Bowl XL, when the then-sophomore QB Ben Roethlisberger led Steelers to his first career Super Bowl title while Russell Wilson was still in high school at the time. Now "Big Ben" is the league's veteran, but he is still among the best.
The Steelers have suffered many injuries this season, but still managed to keep a winning record of 6-4. The team has lost their star running back Le'Veon Bell to a season-ending injury. Ben Roethlisberger also missed four games due to the foot injury. In the Week 9 match against Oakland Raider, he re-injured his left foot and began the Week 10 divisional match against Cleveland Browns on the bench, but he was forced to take field as his replacement Landry Jones left game with an ankle injury.
Roethlisberger showed no signs of injury, threw for 379 yards and 3TDs and led his team to a solid victory at 30-9. Last week, the Steelers had their bye week so "Big Ben" had the time to fully recover. Despite all the losses, the Steelers have their main offensive weapon – the wide receiver Antonio Brown who is unstoppable when Roethlisberger is under the center. Brown is the second in NFL with 1,141 receiving yards.
The Seahawks were representing NFC in the last two Super Bowl matches. They won the Super Bowl XLVIII and last year, they only lost at the very end of the final match against New England Patriots. You won't find such big names on the Seahawks’ offense, but they managed to find the way to victory by working like a team and using their star-studded defense. The highlight of this game should be the Antonio Brown’s and cornerback Richard Sherman’s duel.
It is important to note that the Seahawks are not as powerful at home as they used to be the last few seasons. They already lost in their own stadium against the yet unbeaten Carolina Panthers, and to the NFC West divisional rivals Arizona Cardinals. That loss most likely cost them the NFC West title, but they are still in the hunt of the wild card spot. Thus they must defend their own turf starting with the victory against the Steelers.
Prediction and pick: TonyBet is predicting Seahawks’ victory by 3-4 points. Once again, we do like the visiting team’s chances. The Seahawks were considered favorites in all home games this season, but lost two of them. We believe that the Steelers are tough enough to grant them their 3rd loss at home, and we should not forget that in the last two games between these two teams, the Seahawks’ offense was silent and they scored no points.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-5) @ Indianapolis Colts (5-5)
The Buccaneers were the worst team in the NFL last year. Because of that, they got the 1st draft pick and selected the QB Jameis Winston and it’s already clear that they have made the right choice. The rookie QB has already led his team to five victories. Last week in Philadelphia, he threw for 5 TDs in the unquestionable victory against the Eagles at 45-17.
Winston is improving with every match. He finally got a bond with the talented sophomore wide receiver Mike Evans who had triple-digit receiving yards in three of the five last matches. This Sunday, the Bucs’ QB also will get another weapon back as the tight end Austin Seferian-Jenkins will play for the first time since Week 2 when he suffered an injury. And let's not forget the running back Doug Martin who has rushed for 941 yards (2nd in NFL) and has been solid help in offense. The Buccaneers won last two matches and they want to extend their winning streak, as they are still in the hunt for the NFC playoff wild card.
Indianapolis Colts share the same 5-5 record but in the Week 9 match they lost their QB Andrew Luck for at least few more weeks. However, it’s still not certain whether this is a problem as the backup QB veteran Matt Hasselbeck has won all three matches he started this season, including the last week victory on the road against Atlanta Falcons. Despite a neutral record, the Colts are leading AFC South division, but the Houston Texans have the same 5-5 record, so the Indianapolis team can’t afford to lose.
Prediction and pick: TonyBet is predicting the Colts’ victory by 3 points, but we’re not sure once again. The Colts have been unstable, while the Bucs have shown an improvement lately. It may be a close game where the winner will emerge at the last moment and we see no clear favorite here.
Other Week 12 matches:
Buffalo Bills (5-5) @ Kansas City Chiefs (5-5) - Two more teams with the same 5-5 record, but with the different paths to that point. After the Week 1 victory, the Chiefs lost five games in a row, then their star running back Jamaal Charles suffered a season-ending injury. At that point, everyone discarded the Kansas City team, but they made do and won four matches in a row. The Bills were inconsistent, and last week, they couldn't challenge the divisional rivals Patriots. Still, both these teams are still in the wild card hunt, so we can expect an intriguing duel in Missouri.
New York Giants (5-5) @ Washington Redskins (4-6) – An important NFC East duel. The Giants are currently at the top of the division, but the Redskins are just one win behind. The Eagles (5-6) have been horrible lately and, the Cowboys most likely lost QB Tony Romo due to an injury once again, so there is a big chance that the main fight for the divisional title will be among the Giants and the Redskins.
St. Louis Rams (4-6) @ Cincinnati Bengals (8-2) – The Bengals started season with an impressive eight game winning streak, but then lost two games in a row - at home against the Texans, and the road game against the Cardinals. Currently, they are tied for the 2nd place in the AFC, and each victory is important as it may grant the first bye week in the postseason. The Rams have shown some flashes of solid play this year, but lately they were looking mediocre. The Bengals must win at home if they still have serious postseason ambitions.
New Orleans Saints (4-6) @ Houston Texans (5-5) – The Saints have the worst defense in the NFL. They allowed an average of 31,5 points per game, but still managed to win four of them including the 52-49 shootout with New York Giants where the QB Drew Brees threw for a staggering seven passing TDs. The Texans had a bad start of the season, but won the last three matches and came back to the fight for the AFC South division title. They must win at home if they want to continue this fight.
San Diego Chargers (2-8) @ Jacksonville Jaguars (4-6) - The Chargers are currently the worst team in the NFL. They are on a six game losing streak, and it is hard to imagine why something would change in the nearest future. The Jaguars may not be the best team in the NFL, but they still have some playoff hopes, so at home, they must win against the hopeless Chargers.
Miami Dolphins (4-6) @ New York Jets (5-5) - AFC East divisional rivalry between two teams who are currently in the 3rd and 4th places. It is pretty clear that the Dolphins are not the team they were expected to be this season. They lost to all the tougher opponents and are lucky to have four wins. The Jets must win the important divisional stand at home.
Oakland Raiders (4-6) @ Tennessee Titans (2-8) – The Raiders are young, talented, but inexperienced and this led the team to three consecutive losses. Now they have a chance to rebound - even at the road game to Tennessee, who have been consistently bad although the rookie QB Marcus Mariota has shown some positivity in his game.
Arizona Cardinals (8-2) @ San Francisco 49ers (3-7) - Arizona is one of the best teams in the NFC, while the 49ers - one of the words. They have been a complete mess lately, losing some key players due to injuries, benching the QB Colin Kaepernick to the favor of Blane Gabbert. The Cardinals will win in San Francisco - even the 49ers have no doubt about such outcome.
Baltimore Ravens (3-7) @ Cleveland Browns (2-8) - Week 12 will end with the Monday Night Football match between the two AFC North divisional rivals. Both teams are among AFC outsiders. The Ravens lost their QB Joe Flaco and the Browns benched Johnny Manziel due to the off-field incidents. The veteran QB Josh McCown will lead the Browns, and he was playing solid football earlier this year. Therefore, the Browns are favorites to win at home.