The Once-Over: Week 12
With attention spans dwindling, we forgo full game-by-game previews to give you the essentials you need to know about every contest this glorious NFL weekend. We call it The Once-Over.
The Early Games
Seattle (3-7) at St. Louis (1-9): It's still unknown which running back will start on Sunday, Julius Jones or Justin Forsett. It shouldn't matter as Matt Hasselbeck will be able to control this game through the air. Only three teams have fewer sacks then St. Louis and the Rams have the 23rd-ranked pass defense.
Once again the Rams are asking Kyle Boller to jump in at quarterback as Marc Bulger will miss the next three to six weeks with a fractured shin bone. St. Louis might also be without star running back Steven Jackson as he'll be a game-time decision with back issues. None of this is good news for the Rams.
Washington (3-7) at Philadelphia (6-4): Washington has the 21st-ranked rushing offense and now has the third-string running back starting games as Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts are both out. This is not good news for a team that had scored more than 20 points only once this season.
Philadelphia isn't without their share of injuries, but LeSean McCoy is a pleasant sight as a backup forced to start. Expect to see lots of McCoy on Sunday and maybe a little Brent Celek, who has scored in three of his last four games, mixed in.
Carolina (4-6) at New York Jets (4-6): Between these two quarterbacks there are only 18 touchdown passes and 30 interceptions in the 10 games they've played. One quarterback is a rookie, and the other, Jake Delhomme, is a veteran having a miserably off season. Only two teams in the league run the ball better than Carolina and that's where their focus will need to be on Sunday.
The Carolina pass run ranks 26th in the league, which is good news for Thomas Jones but the Panthers 3rd-ranked pass defense is a bad way to build back the confidence of rookie Mark Sanchez. They'll need Jones to take control here because Sanchez will likely make his fair share of rookie mistakes again in Week 12.
Indianapolis (10-0) at Houston (5-5): Peyton Manning has thrown four interceptions in his last two games. It took him six previous games to throw four picks, which clearly means Baltimore and New England found ways to fluster the All-Pro quarterback. Manning must fins ways to stay comfortable in the pocket and not force throws like he's seemingly done over his last two games.
Conversely, Mario Williams needs to regain his pass rushing prowess and help get pressure on Manning. If the Texans can force a few more mistakes out of Manning, they'll have a shot to win this game. If only Kris Brown nails any late-game field goals this time.
Cleveland (1-9) at Cincinnati (7-3): The Browns were embarrassed on Monday Night Football two weeks ago, which isn't a new feeling. They lost a heart-breaker last week to Detroit in the final seconds, having victory stolen from their hands by a interference call and a tough-as-nails rookie quarterback. If there was any fight left in the Browns, it may have been zapped away with the loss last week.
The Bengals lost to the lowly Raiders last week and look to bounce back in Week 12 and claim dominance over the state of Ohio. It's funny that no one has invited Ohio State to this in-state rivalry, they may be able to take second place in a round-robin among these three teams.
Miami (5-5) at Buffalo (3-7): Ricky Williams showed up last week and proved there was life for these Dolphins after Ronnie Brown. Buffalo ranks 30th in the league against the run, so expect Williams to have another stellar day.
This game may be closer than the first matchup of these two teams in Week 4 where the Bills lost by four touchdowns. Terrell Owens had a monster game last week with 197 yards receiving and a score and could exploit the 20th-ranked Dolphins pass defense.
Tampa Bay (1-9) at Atlanta (5-5): Josh Freeman enjoyed his first two games as a rookie starter leading his team to its first victory and almost pulling out a second win -- they, however, were clobbered by New Orleans the following week. Atlanta doesn't bring the same defense that the Saints did, so look for Freeman and the Buccaneers to have a better showing in Week 12.
The road to the playoffs starts right now for the Falcons who are in must-win situations for the duration of the season. Only one team in the league has a worse run defense then Tampa. That said, Jerious Norwood, Jason Snelling or maybe even Michael Turner, depending on injury status, will need to have a huge day on Sunday.
The Late Games
Jacksonville (6-4) at San Francisco (4-6): The Jaguars ability to win is closely related to how well Maurice Jones-Drew runs. He has 10 touchdowns when the team wins and four when Jacksonville loses. San Francisco ranks 5th int he NFL in rush defense, so it may be a long day for Jacksonville if Jones-Drew can't get going.
San Francisco has lost five of their last six games, and in that stretch the 49ers have gone from the 9th-ranked pass defense to being ranked 30th. They also have gone from allowing 13 points per game to allowing 26 per contest. This trend of poor defense is alarming and something that this offense isn't strong enough to overcome.
Kansas City (3-7) at San Diego (7-3): The biggest story line going for Kansas City this week is Chris Chambers and his desire to get back at the team that cut him in Week 8. Chambers has done well since coming over scoring twice and averaging 83 yards receiving per game. But if he's the biggest bit of locker room material the Chiefs have, they may be in trouble.
The Chargers have been one of the hottest teams in football lately -- winning five straight and beating Denver, the Giants and Philadelphia. LaDainian Tomlinson has five rushing touchdowns in San Diego's last four games and he's running better than he has all season.
Pick: San Diego
Arizona (7-3) at Tennessee (4-6): When Kurt Warner plays, he reads defenses well and uses superb decision making skills to take full advantage of the plethora of targets available to him. If Matt Leinart is forced to play because of Warner's injury, the playbook will be shortened and simplified, making this offense less potent.
In the four games since Vince Young had taken over at quarterback, Chris Johnson is averaging 161.5 yards per game and has six touchdowns. In the previous six games, Johnson had two touchdowns and averaged 99.3 yards per game. Young's mobility and strong use of the option pitch has bolstered Johnson's game. And defenses having to key on Johnson has allowed Young the time and open receivers to make throws.
Chicago (4-6) at Minnesota (9-1): Jay Cutler leads the league with 18 interceptions but Minnesota ranks 19th in pass defense and only three teams have fewer interceptions then the Vikings. Cutler could open up on Sunday, but will have to avoid the outstanding pass rush from Minnesota to do so.
Only one player in the NFL has more sacks than Jared Allen, who is not only a quarterback's nightmare but fills holes well in the run game. But, Adrian Peterson should be the start in this matchup as he's averaged 6.3 yards per carry in four career games versus Chicago and scored eight touchdowns.
Pittsburgh (6-4) at Baltimore (5-5): Both teams lost extremely close games last week, but Pittsburgh lost their field general when Ben Roethlisberger was knocked out of the game in the overtime period with a head injury. Look for Ray Lewis and the Ravens defense to take advantage of the situation with Dennis Dixon forced into the lineup for the Steelers.
The loser of this game could be in big trouble as Cincinnati is running away with the division and the AFC Wildcard race is heating up. Baltimore's last three games have only yielded one win (thanks to Cleveland for being sandwiched in there) as the offense has averaged just 12.7 points per game over that time. Pittsburgh has the best defense in the NFL and could cause a fourth week of scoring headaches for the Ravens.
New England (7-3) at New Orleans (10-0): All three losses for New England have come on the road and they face a difficult task this Monday traveling to the Superdome to face unbeaten New Orleans. Wes Welker, who was absent for two of those three losses, should be the key to this game as he forces crazy mismatch situations with linebackers in coverage.
Apologies to Brett Favre, whichever quarterback outshines the other this Monday should be the front-runner for the league's MVP Award. And even though Tom Brady has more yards through the air, Drew Brees averages more yard per passing attempt and has thrown more touchdown passes.
Pick: New Orleans