If Thursday night’s game between New Orleans and Dallas is any indication of what the rest of NFL Week 13 has in store, be prepared for some surprises.
The Cowboys held the high-octane Saints offense to just 10 points and handed New Orleans its first loss since Week 1. While the ‘Boys are hot, nobody saw that coming—least of all Who Dat Nation.
On Sunday, several other contenders are facing potential trap games. An 8-3 threat in the NFC will be without its quarterback for the second week in a row.
In the AFC, a team that has been without its franchise quarterback for two games will presumably take a rookie into Atlanta while trying to hang on to a playoff berth.
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Cleveland Browns’ rookie quarterback Baker Mayfield has weathered a media storm heading into Week 13. Will the outside noise rattle his confidence on the other side of being named November’s NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month?
On the other end of the spectrum, two veteran and future Hall of Fame quarterbacks will square off in primetime. Who will prevail and bolster his team’s playoff positioning?
Week 12 saw the Browns win back-to-back games for the first time since the 2014 season. To make the win even sweeter, Cleveland buried the Cincinnati Bengals, 35-20, in a game that saw Hue Jackson on the opposite sideline after his 3-36-1 tenure in Cleveland ended after Week 8.
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All this week, Baker Mayfield has been in the comments disparaging his former head coach. But on the field, the rookie quarterback’s improved play since Jackson’s firing speaks for itself.
According to NFL.com’s Graham Barfield, Mayfield’s passer rating since Jackson’s firing is 129.5, and only Drew Brees (142.1) had been better in that span through Week 12.
While the Browns have to be feeling confident, beating Houston will be no small task—certainly not the same task as beating the Bengals—as the Texans have won eight games in a row.
In those eight games, quarterback Deshaun Watson has thrown for 15 touchdowns and 1,936 yards. That said, he has also thrown six interceptions, giving the Browns defense—which ranks third among all defenses in turnovers, according to the NFL—just enough opportunity to turn the game on its head.
But if we’re talking about defenses changing the game, the Texans have the edge. In Week 12, Houston sacked Marcus Mariota six times.
The last time Mayfield and Watson competed was in college. On New Year’s Eve 2015, Watson’s Clemson Tigers defeated Mayfield’s Oklahoma Sooners in the Capital One Orange Bowl by a convincing score of 37-17.
In that game, Mayfield out-threw Watson by 124 yards. Fast forward to Sunday’s game in Houston and the box score may well look eerily similar.
While a trip to a championship game may not be at stake this time, both quarterbacks’ teams have playoff implications. At 8-3 and as hot as they are, the Texans are almost a lock to win the AFC South, but every game counts as the Indianapolis Colts are on a five-game winning streak of their own.
Yes, the New York Giants are 3-8 and not overwhelming in any aspect. At the same time, the Giants have given tough games to several playoff contenders—beating Houston in Week 3 and narrowly losing to Carolina, Atlanta and Washington in following weeks, and each of those teams had their starting quarterbacks.
The Bears will not have that luxury. Mitchell Trubisky is expected to misshis second game in a row due to a shoulder injury suffered in Week 11. Instead, Week 13 will see Chase Daniel start in just the fourth game of his eight-year NFL career. Last week, he guided Chicago to a 23-16 Thanksgiving win in Detroit with 230 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
This is set up to be a classic trap game when considering the quarterback position alone, but this Bears team is much, much more than who is playing under center. In fact, the reason Chicago beat Detroit was Kyle Fuller intercepting Matthew Stafford in the end zone with just over a minute left and the Lions on the 11-yard line.
The Bears defense makes or breaks this team, and Sunday will be no different. The Giants’ offensive line ranks 30th in the league, according to NFL.com, so that doesn’t bode well for quarterback Eli Manning. He has been sacked an alarming 38 times this season, while rookie star running back Saquon Barkley will struggle against a defense ranked No. 2 in rushing defense featuring Khalil Mack.
Since the Ravens’ Week 10 bye, franchise quarterback Joe Flacco has been out with a right hip injury. While Flacco practiced Thursday and Friday, he’s listed as doubtful to play in Atlanta.
In his absence, rookie first-round pick Lamar Jackson is undefeated. In his debut start, Jackson rushed for 119 yards while throwing for an additional 178 with a touchdown pass.
With Jackson under center, according to the Ravens, Baltimore’s rushing attack has been propelled from 27th in the league to 11th, averaging 122.1 yards per game. As a unit, the Ravens’ 509 rushing yards in Jackson’s two starts set a franchise record and are the most in the NFL during that span.
So, what does all of this mean against Atlanta?
“I don’t really know what I’m getting myself into,” Jackson told Ryan Mink of BaltimoreRavens.com of his upcoming first away start. “I have to wait and see what Atlanta brings us.”
On the surface, what Atlanta will bring is a No. 8 rushing defense plus a safety in Damontae Kazee leading the NFL with six interceptions and ready to feast on a rookie quarterback.
We know what Atlanta’s offense brings to the table. Even in a down season at 4-7, the Falcons are sixth in the NFL in total offense and are led by former MVP Matt Ryan’s league-leading 3,683 passing yards.
This game will boil down to how Jackson reacts to playing in a hostile NFL environment for the first time. At 6-5 and hanging on to the second wild-card spot if the season ended today, the Ravens need a result.
Every year, New England fools at least some of us into believing that this will finally be the year the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era regresses. And every year, Brady and Belichick laugh at the end. This season, at least so far relevant to the former, has been no different.
Ahead of Week 4, after starting the season 1-2, many predicted Miami to waltz into New England and finally beat the Patriots at home. Brady and Co. responded to those predictions by stomping the Dolphins 38-7.
Will those Patriots show up in Foxborough on Sunday to welcome the 6-4-1 Vikings? Or will it be the Patriots of Week 10, who were embarrassed by Tennessee beating them at home 34-10?
Tight end Rob Gronkowski has missed three games so far this season due to persistent back and ankle injuries. On Thursday, Gronkowski was listed on the Patriots’ injury report only to be taken off of it on Friday. Even if he suits up, how effective will he be?
The 29-year-old has only found the end zone twice this season on 50 total targets. Will Minnesota’s third-ranked defense make Gronk a non-factor? And if so, can Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon and/or Sony Michel punish the Vikings anyway?
Perhaps the answer to which Patriots team we will see in Week 13 has as much to do with which Vikings squad we’ll see.
Last week in a win vs. Green Bay, running back Dalvin Cook scored his first touchdown—albeit a receiving one—since suffering a torn ACL in Week 4 of last season.
Cook is inching his way toward once again being a primary back, and New England’s rushing defense conceding over 100 yards a game can help him help the Vikes.
The Chargers and Steelers are coming into this game with opposing perspectives. Philip Rivers captained Los Angeles to a commanding 45-10 win over Arizona and tied an NFL record for most consecutive passes with 25 in the process (finishing the day 28-for-29 for three touchdowns).
Meanwhile, in Denver, Ben Roethlisberger cost Pittsburgh big. At the Denver two-yard line and with just over a minute to go, down 24-17, Roethlisberger tried to force a ball into Antonio Brown. Instead, it was intercepted by defensive end Shelby Harris. Ball game.
While the records are basically the same—the Chargers 8-3, Steelers 7-3-1—the momentum and circumstances are not.
The Steelers’ loss has followed them throughout the week. First, Big Ben publicly blamed Brown for “drifting” too much on his route in the end zone that resulted in the interception—adding that he wished he’d thrown to JuJu Smith-Schuster.
Brown responded by telling reporters on Friday, “Constructive criticism is only for you to get better. It’s not personal.” This isn’t the type of mojo you want heading into a big game, but this is also the same team that won football games under a giant cloud named Le’Veon Bell until Week 11.
All the quarterback talk is warranted, but the running game will also be interesting to watch. In Bell’s absence, James Conner has rushed for 849 yards and 10 touchdowns. However, after four consecutive 100-plus yard games, Conner hasn’t been as hot in his last three games.
The advantage would go to L.A. if Melvin Gordon wasn’t ruled out with a knee injury. Taking his place in the Chargers backfield will be a much less threatening Austin Ekeler.
So, the key question becomes whose WiFi will be stronger: Big Ben’s with Brown and Smith-Schuster or Rivers’ with Keenan Allen and Tyrell Williams?