Lombardi Ave Picks 2016: National Football League Week 12 roundup

Nov 28, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Green Bay Packers fans cheer late in the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Green Bay defeated Philadelphia 27-13. Mandatory Credit: James Lang-USA TODAY Sports

Week 12 seems to be a major turning point for picking games.

With just one month remaining, we should all have a strong idea of who teams are by now; based on the picks from our guys (outside of Josh, who was unable to get his picks in), that holds up pretty nicely.

Here are the Week 12 results, with some insights to follow:

Away Team MIN WAS PIT TEN JAX CIN ARI NYG LAR SF SD SEA CAR NE KC GB
Home Team DET DAL IND CHI BUF BAL ATL CLE NO MIA HOU TB OAK NYJ DEN PHI
Brad DET DAL PIT TEN BUF BAL ATL NYG NO MIA SD SEA OAK NE DEN PHI
Josh
Kenn MIN DAL PIT TEN BUF BAL ATL NYG NO MIA HOU SEA OAK NE DEN PHI
Thomas DET DAL PIT TEN BUF BAL ATL NYG NO MIA SD SEA OAK NE DEN PHI

Nov 24, 2016; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) and quarterback Dak Prescott (4) celebrate Elliott

What We Got Right

Games we correctly agreed upon

Washington-Dallas

The most entertaining game of the Thanksgiving day slate, one that easily goes the other way if the Washington kicker converts his attempts.

Dallas did what suits their style, getting out to a hot start and forcing the opposition to play from behind. When games work out best for them, they put up some time-consuming drives to gain the lead, and then their well-rested defense is able to force some turnovers and mistakes from an opposing offense which is now going to be one-dimensional and in catchup mode. Washington ended up in that unfortunate position in part because of two early missed field goals by their kicker; instead of a 17-12 deficit through two quarters, they were down 17-6 at the half.

Lucky for them, they have the kind of offense to make a comeback; unlucky for them, Dallas responded in-kind to every shot they levelled at them. After two punts to open the third quarter, the scoring didn’t stop until the very end. Washington went 90 yards for a TD; after a missed two-point conversion (which if successful would have made it a three-point deficit — a huge deal since that would mean only a field goal was needed from there to tie) they were down five. Dallas scored a TD to go up 24-12. Washington quickly broke out a deep 67 yard catch-and-run TD by DeSean Jackson for a 24-19 deficit, but again Dallas scored (this time after an onside kick failed for Washington) to put Washington down by 12, 31-19. Washington got themselves their third straight TD to cut the deficit to five again (31-26), but with too little time left they had to go for an onside kick again; it failed, and Dallas ran down the rest of the clock.

If Dustin Hopkins makes his earlier field goal tries, this doesn’t happen nearly the same way. Washington would have trailed 17-12 at halftime, but if they have those field goals in their pocket, they no longer need to go for that two-point conversion on their first TD — though it would still have been smart to do so. With the TD, they would sit at an 18-17 advantage; an extra point still has them up only two, but a two-point try either puts them up a field goal or leaves them up by one. Let the next couple drives happen as they did, and Washington is still up either 25-24 or 27-24. On Dallas’s last TD drive, they had the bonus of great field position to start due to the onside kick from Washington failing; without it, they have to drive the field. Even assuming they make that final TD still, Washington is then down either 31-25 or 31-27 with what eventually became their final touchdown drive; give it about the same time remaining as what did happen, that means we now see either a 32-31 or 34-31 lead for Washington.

So instead of just running out the clock with 1:53 left, Dallas now has to drive the field (again, they would be deeper in this case due to not getting another onside kick from Washington) to either win or tie. That can’t be counted out obviously — they likely would still have had all three timeouts remaining as they actually did, and they’ve made similar quick drives this season — but rather than Washington having to be in a situation where they were highly improbable to win, they instead have the chance to make a stop from ahead on the scoreboard. It isn’t like their defense is a powerhouse, but surely they and their fans would gladly take a late lead than what actually transpired.

Washington may have lost, but they continued to solidify themselves as a definitive favorite for a wild card spot — and a tough out for whoever they would face there. Dallas meanwhile continued their starry trek to the #1 NFC playoff seed while feeling just as difficult to take down as ever.

Pittsburgh-Indianapolis

This game ended up as the scoreboard blowout we all probably expected to see even before finding out Andrew Luck wasn’t going to be playing due to a concussion, but it was pretty close to being a vastly different contest.

Pittsburgh came out strong with three touchdowns on their first three drives, putting Indianapolis in a hefty deficit from the start; still, it was missed opportunities by the Colts more than anything which should be the takeaway here. They missed a field goal after the first Steelers touchdown; that’s three points right there. They also failed two different times to punch in touchdowns after long drives; instead of a possible 14 points added in their drives right before and after halftime, they got zero.

If they convert just two of those opportunities, this game is either 21-17 or even 21-21 in the 4th quarter; complete all three, Indianapolis is actually leading 24-21.  Pittsburgh would score again so they would still be down, but the Colts wouldn’t have needed to try forcing things nearly as much as they eventually did; those two INTs in the second half could easily have been throws never attempted, going for something less risky to keep the drive alive at a steady pace rather than going for broke.

Nov 24, 2016; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Ross Cockrell (31) tackles Indianapolis Colts quarterback Scott Tolzien (16) as he throws a pass in the second half at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Steelers won 28-7. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Former Packer Scott Tolzien had a decent showing in Luck’s stead, getting 205 yards and a TD before the deficit forced him into those eventual INT tosses. He had the Colts in position for points despite little help from a running game (91 rushing yards for Indy) and T.Y. Hilton getting knocked out of the game midway through. He definitely did well enough to warrant a team like Indianapolis (who have to worry constantly about Luck’s constant hit-taking removing him from games) keeping him around as a startable backup.

Pittsburgh meanwhile took care of business. The offense put up all the points needed to win, running and throwing it effectively. Ben Roethlisberger had 3 TD passes (all to Antonio Brown), Le’Veon Bell put up 120 yards on the ground to go with a TD, and the defense held up when it counted to prevent those aforementioned TD chances by Indianapolis despite those drives being exceedingly long (1st drive: 10 plays, 62 yards, 4:47 of clock; 2nd drive: 19 plays, 89 yards, 11:22 of clock) and then forcing those two INTs to keep the Colts from cutting into their lead at all. The team is not the stalwart unit many imagined, but they have plenty of firepower to deftly handle scrappy-but-underwhelming teams like the Colts.

Tennessee-Chicago

Tennessee jumped out to a 20 point lead in this one, seeming to swiftly recover from a disappointing loss to Indianapolis to seal up a 6-6 record and put themselves at the forefront of their division-mates. They continued their frustrating habit of not being consistent however, and let Chicago get all the way back in this one behind the arm of Matt Freaking Barkley.

Up 27-7 just into the 4th quarter, they should have been able to finish out against one of the league’s worst teams (remember, this is a team which just a couple weeks prior destroyed the Packers — who are vastly better than this current Bears squad — and managed to keep answering every comeback try by Green Bay with more points). Instead, They allowed Chicago to score on their next two drives (while punting on their own two drives in that time) to get within one score, and then drive for the potential win with under two minutes left. Chicago got all the way to the Tennessee 7, but then came up short on four straight Barkley throws — at least two of which should have been touchdowns.

Tennessee is lucky to be 6-6 right now, and they have their work cut out for them if they want to finish this season with a surprising division crown. Among their final four games, only one seems like a lock (Jacksonville); the others see the Titans face a Denver team that is much better all around and desperate to not lose any more ground in the playoff race, a Kansas City team which is still vying for their division crown and a possible top 2 seed, and the current AFC South-leading Texans who probably will be in prime position to seal a second-straight division crown even with a loss in that one. Because of Houston’s fortuitous schedule so far and banking so many wins to this point, 8-8 likely doesn’t cut it for Tennessee to grab this division.

Jacksonville-Buffalo

Rex Ryan was probably right when he said Jacksonville is the best two-win team he’s ever seen; they definitely played most of this game like a much tougher team than their record alludes to.

Jacksonville scored on their first drive and held the lead all the way until the first drive of the second half. Even after that quick touchdown by Buffalo, the Jaguars responded to take it right back. Buffalo scored again towards the end of the third quarter; yet again Jacksonville took the lead right back.

By the fourth quarter though, the Bills finally found a way to take and hold the lead, going up 28-21 and giving no more scores to the Jaguars on their final two drives. As a team led by LeSean McCoy and lacking much in the receiving game should do, Buffalo relied on their ground game to grind out 153 yards (103 from McCoy) and got timely efforts from their quarterback (Tyrod Taylor: 12/18, 166 yards, 1 TD; 38 rushing yards, 1 rushing TD as well) and top receiver (Sammy Watkins: 3 catches, 80 yards; includes a 62 yarder on their second TD drive).

With this win, Buffalo sits right behind Miami in the chase for wild card seeding as of now; with games against Oakland, Pittsburgh, and Miami remaining they are no lock, but they remain as the kind of low-ceiling, high-floor team which tends to stay in most contests. Don’t count them out.

Cincinnati-Baltimore

In one manner or another, Cincinnati has lost most of their offensive and defensive capabilities piece by piece since last offseason began: offensive coordinator Hue Jackson went to coach Cleveland, WRs Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu left for bigger contracts elsewhere, former stalwart safety Reggie Nelson went out to Oakland, Tyler Eifert missed a chunk of the year recovering from an injury, A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard are both now done for the season, and both lines have dropped off significantly in skill level and production. With all this, it has been left to Andy Dalton to hold them afloat with string and ribbons; he’s a good quarterback, but not THAT good, so their lackluster record makes a lot of sense.

Nov 27, 2016; Baltimore, MD, USA; Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Cody Core (16) is held by Baltimore Ravens safety Matt Elam (33) on the final play of the game, which resulted in a safety at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

We saw those issues all show up in spades against Baltimore. The offense couldn’t produce consistent drives against a strong Ravens defense, the defense could not make key plays against a bad Baltimore offense, and Baltimore came away with another ugly win in a season filled with them.

The one noteworthy thing from this game was the way it ended. John Harbaugh exploited a rulebook quirk to prevent giving Cincinnati any final chance at a game-stealing touchdown by taking a safety. He instructed his guys to do everything in their power (legal or not) to waste as much time off the clock as possible, and they did so long enough to run the clock out on the eventual safety. This was interesting to see, mainly because there isn’t really anything which could be done to prevent it. The way penalties are called in the NFL, an offensive one doesn’t stop the clock (which doesn’t hurt the Ravens here). The refs could have called this as essentially something against the spirit of the game in some manner, but that call basically requires a warning beforehand; in this situation, that also does nothing to Baltimore. There really was nothing at this time which could have forced a possession to be given to Cincinnati, regardless of how ludicrously obvious the Ravens were being in their intentions.

We rarely see something like this — and surely, it will come up in the owners’ meetings this offseason to try preventing it in the future — but unless you’re a Bengals fan you can just sit back and laugh for now at one of the rare oddities this season has provided us with.

Arizona-Atlanta

What looked like an enticing matchup at the start of the year became a flatlining stake in the Cardinals’ coffin. Arizona actually began with a lead, but Atlanta matched and surpassed it before the half even ended, putting a team which has lost its deep ball abilities in catch-up mode.

It didn’t work out well for them. Atlanta piled on three touchdowns in the second half and doubled Arizona’s totals for the game. At 4-6-1, the Cardinals are clearly out of the playoffs. Though mathematically they could make it still, this team doesn’t have a 5-0 run in them even if they were faced with poor competition; quite simply, they are the poor competition now. Quite an unfortunate situation for a team many were lauding as a Super Bowl contender coming into 2016.

Atlanta likely doesn’t mind having one less obstacle to worry about. They aren’t the NFC’s best or even second-best team as of now, but they have an arsenal of offensive options for their MVP-level QB Matt Ryan, and though the defense is still beatable they have discovered some pass rushing prowess in the form of Vic Beasley. They may sit below Dallas and Seattle right now, but they could give either a strong game (as evidenced by their close contest against them earlier this season).

New York Giants-Cleveland

The Giants have built up a strong record this year, but the way those games have tended to get to their result is basically what happened here too: New York played an ugly, sloppy game which was much closer than the final margin.

It took a Cleveland fumble to even get the Giants on the scoreboard at first (following four punts to open the game), and then after two big plays brought them another before the half the defense let up a second field goal to Cleveland to keep it at a one-score margin. Four more punts began the second half, and yet again a fumble by Cleveland is what began the scoring for New York. they would score on their next drive too, but only after a Cleveland touchdown yet again carved into their margin.

Much like Detroit, the end of the game has been where New York’s games have been decided in their favor, and we saw it again. Cleveland’s last two drives ended on downs and with yet another fumble respectively, giving the final 27-13 margin.

The Giants have the clear inside track for the NFC #5 seed with their 8-3 record, but things could easily get much better or much worse for them.

Based on their record and the way games have ended for them this year, we shouldn’t count out a strong closing stretch by them; 12-4 or even 13-3 could be attainable if their recent luck continues, and if Dallas were to slip up a couple times (with a game against these Giants — who handed them their only loss so far — three others against playoff contenders, and a season-ending matchup with an Eagles team that gave them all they could handle a few weeks ago) it could be New York who actually wins that division.

If that luck takes a dip however, this team might not even make the playoffs. Not a single game left for them is a lock (@ Pittsburgh, vs Dallas, vs Detroit, @ Philadelphia, @ Washington), and they have come out fortuitous in numerous situations already which could easily flip in another direction. Give them the other end of the stick in a few close games, and their wild card competition (Detroit, Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Washington) might have enough leeway to overtake them — and have the tiebreakers necessary to do so.

Cleveland…just wants the season to end. They are playing for the draft, and it would be a major upset if they win any single game left on their schedule.

Los Angeles-New Orleans

A matchup between vastly different 4-6 teams was entertaining at first, but became the blowout it always should have been expected to be.

Nov 27, 2016; New Orleans, LA, USA; New Orleans Saints wide receiver Willie Snead (83) gestures after throwing a 50-yard touchdown pass to running back Tim Hightower (34) in the second half against the Los Angeles Rams at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints won, 49-21. Mandatory Credit: Chuck Cook-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles had their rookie Jared Goff starting again, and it started well for the #1 overall pick: three first-half TD passes and just a 28-21 deficit at the half even though his defense was an open door for the Saints. He and the Rams’ offense fell off in the second half though (INT, 0 points) while Drew Brees and New Orleans piled on relentlessly.

New Orleans scored touchdowns on 7 of their first 11 drives en route to a 49-point effort. Brees accounted for five of those himself (four passing TDs to go with 310 yards, plus a rushing TD plunge from a yard out). Mark Ingram had a huge day on the ground (14 carries, 146 yards, 1 TD), and four different receivers had at least 54 receiving yards. One of the ones who didn’t (Willie Snead) actually threw for one too, going 50 yards to Tim Hightower on a trick play which saw nobody near him.

At 5-6, the Saints still have an outside shot of the playoffs if they can follow this sort of formula in the final month. Their offense is dynamic enough to beat all of the remaining defenses handily; it will be up to their own defensive group to do just enough against some dangerous offenses (Tampa Bay twice, Detroit, Atlanta) to hold on for victory.

At 4-7, the Rams have their work cut out for them to just get a winning record. One way or another, Jeff Fisher will probably be right about not going 7-9 again; it just doesn’t appear to be in the fashion which helps his job security.

San Francisco-Miami

Miami has gathered up a bunch of wins after a poor start, but they still play down to their competition too often; they did so again here. They scored a decent amount while having an overall good performance from Ryan Tannehill (285 passing yards, 3 TDs), but they had five punts and couldn’t put away a San Francisco team devoid of playmakers on all sides of the ball. The defense forced two turnovers, but allowed Colin Kaepernick to look like his 2013 self (296 passing yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT, and 113 rushing yards).

With the win, Miami is still well positioned for an AFC playoff spot. They are 7-4 and have no games left which aren’t winnable for one reason or another (@ Baltimore, vs Arizona, @ New York Jets, @ Buffalo, vs New England). At this point, if they don’t make it we can call it a disappointment.

Carolina-Oakland

One of the best games of the weekend.

Carolina may have a bad record, but they’ve stepped up their game even in the wake of Luke Kuechly’s recent injury.  Cam Newton (2 TD passes) and Jonathan Stewart (2 rushing TDs) have woken up on offense too, and they were in great position to win this one. They worked their way back up from a 24-7 deficit to take a 32-24 fourth quarter lead, and it felt like we were seeing them make a signature victory to get to 5-6 and throw themselves headlong into the backend of the NFC playoff picture.

Nov 27, 2016; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Raiders quarterback Derek Carr (4) celebrates after the Raiders defeated the Carolina Panthers 35-32 at Oakland Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

As Oakland has proved all year though, the Raiders will find a way to win. Eight of their games have been decided by one score; they’ve now won seven of those, and this showing was among the best they’ve accomplished in 2016. Oakland attacked that 32-24 lead quickly, scoring a touchdown and getting a two-point conversion to tie it up midway through the final quarter. The maligned defense forced a punt, and the offense went 82 yards down the field for a field goal with under two minutes remaining. The defense once again stepped up, with Khalil Mack bursting through to sack Cam Newton, forcing a fumble in the process and then falling on it.

It must also be mentioned that this comeback effort came after Derek Carr sustained a gruesome finger injury on his throwing hand (how his finger stayed attached — much less how he returned to finish and then win the game — we’ll never know). This Oakland team is for real, and though they have a tough closing stretch (Buffalo, @ Kansas City, @ San Diego, Indianapolis, @ Denver) we should consider them just as good of a bet for the #1 seed in the AFC as New England.

Carolina on the other hand is playing for nothing more than pride now. 4-7 is too bad to compete for the wild card spot even in a weakened NFC, and someone in that division (regardless of your feelings on any particular group) is probably finishing with at least 10 wins.

New England-New York Jets

This game was more competitive than many maybe expected, but in hindsight people should have seen that.

When Ryan Fitzpatrick plays well the Jets can move the ball, and New England doesn’t have the kind of pass rush to pressure the opposition with consistency. These teams also have a tendency to play close (New England held a 9-4 record in the 2010s including playoffs, but that includes eight one-score games and three overtime contests).

To continue that trend, the Jets came out here with a 10-0 lead and could have been up at halftime (instead of tied) if they hadn’t suffered a fumble and a blocked field goal. They even took a 17-13 lead in the second half, but giving up a field goal and a touchdown (failed two-point conversion) put them behind before another lost fumble basically sealed the deal.

Despite the win, New England isn’t looking like the top-seed lock most expected. Their record is still great, but their defense has not looked good for weeks (mostly due to the lacking pass rush) and their offense has struggled to get going for at least three games now. 24 against Seattle was understandable; struggling to 30 and 22 against the 49ers and Jets respectively is not. Injuries have played a part (Gronk missed most of the Jets game with a flare-up, and Martellus Bennett also got hurt at one point too), and they have managed to keep winning despite their problems, but at some point the issues on both sides will come back to haunt them again like it did against the Seahawks.

Nov 27, 2016; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) throws a pass for a first down during the second quarter of an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

What We Got Wrong

Games we got incorrect across the board

Seattle-Tampa Bay

If there’s a game this week that was a shocker, it was this one.

Tampa Bay has found a way to wiggle into people’s psyches before seemingly every season, appearing on the cusp of making a run to the playoffs. Each year since the 2010 season (where they barely missed out with a 10-6 record), they have continued to garner hype in each offseason through moves in the draft, free agency, young talent, and coaching changes; each year it has come up empty. 2011 saw a 4-2 start become a 4-12 record. 2012 went from 6-4 to 7-9. 2013 was so bad Josh Freeman was sent packing midway through an 0-8 start. 2014 had Josh McCown (fresh off a great half-season in Chicago) be part of a big free agent class which helped the team pick up a mere two wins. 2015 started decently under Jameis Winston, but 6-6 turned into a 6-10 rife with poor performances.

2016 seems much like the others, but may have the chance to be better. This team has multiple signature wins (@ Atlanta, Kansas City, and now Seattle), something those previous teams failed to accomplish. Winston is playing well (past four games: 8:2 TD:INT ratio, 67.1% completion percentage, 8.22 yards per attempt, 80.8 QBR, 105.3 passer rating), Mike Evans has become one of the league’s best receivers (73 catches, 1,020 yards, 10 TDs on the year) and the defense has stepped up often enough to let the team win even when the offense doesn’t put up points (three of six wins came with offense scoring under 20 points).

That defense was really the star here. They gave up just a field goal to a Seahawks team which seemed to be finding their rhythm in the past few weeks (31, 31, 26 the past three games), expertly exploiting the sieve that is the Seattle offensive line to force six sacks and help cause multiple turnovers from the supposedly dominant Seahawks.

The win by Tampa Bay doesn’t mean we aren’t set for another season-ending dropoff, but there is enough there to think they are a viable threat for a wild card spot at least. Seattle doesn’t have to worry about that, but the loss pretty much locks them into prime position for the #2 seed while almost completely taking out the chance of someone besides Dallas picking up home-field advantage in the NFC (barring their own unexpected fall).

Denver-Kansas City

This was probably the best overall game of the entire weekend.

We started with a defensive struggle, where in the first half we saw just three points from both offenses combined — and that team (Denver) found itself down by six due to a safety and the resulting free kick being returned for a touchdown.

Nov 27, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs kicker Cairo Santos (5) celebrates his game winning field goal in overtime against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Chiefs defeated the Broncos 30-27 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

From there, the offenses opened up a bit more. A 9-3 Kansas City lead turned into a 24-24 tie which sent the game into overtime behind big plays in key situations on each side. Denver’s first possession of the second half became a touchdown; Kansas City responded with their own. After forcing two straight Chiefs punts (one of which followed a recovery by them on a Denver return on the prior punt return attempt), Denver took back the lead at 17-16 on a great Trevor Siemian-Emmanuel Sanders 35-yard connection. Denver’s next drive went for 96 yards in 2:37 for what seemed like the finishing blow, a 76 yard touchdown catch by Bennie Fowler to put Denver up 24-16. Despite starting out with a sack and no timeouts, the Chiefs made it down the field in 13 efficiently-quick plays to score a touchdown, converting two third downs and a fourth down in the process. Still down two, they went for it with their chances all resting on that one play to convert.

Overtime had its own fun to add. Denver drove deep into Kansas City territory, but settled for a field goal after a 6+ minute drive; Kansas City responded with basically the same drive in slightly less time, also settling for a field goal. From there Denver, with 4:19 left in OT, drove slowly towards Kansas City territory again. They stalled out far from the end zone, and had a choice to make which people will likely talk about for weeks: punt the ball (essentially playing for a tie; even with a stop, they likely don’t get the ball back), or attempt a long field goal (going for the win, but putting them in a precarious spot defensively if it were to miss). They ended up missing, which gave Kansas City the ball at the Denver 48. Kansas City got themselves close enough for their own field goal try, and that was an event to behold. Cairo Santos kicked it from 34 yards out — basically a PAT — and he hit the left upright! As I watched, I was about to turn it off with the unsatisfying feeling of yet another tie weighing down a great game. Before I could, I heard cheers! Somehow, that kick had bounced off one upright and in behind the other! Game, Kansas City.

With the win, the Chiefs are primed for the #5 seed now — and might be able to take the AFC West still, with a game in-hand against Oakland and still one to play. They aren’t what you would call exciting (something I’m sure I’ve said before; if so, it emboldens that point), but they play efficiently, have more firepower offensively than previous iterations of the Alex Smith-led teams there, and have Justin Houston giving their defense the biggest missing part of their attack (pass rushing).

Denver meanwhile is going to keep getting flak for Gary Kubiak’s decision to attempt that field goal in overtime, but they shouldn’t. While a loss is technically worse than a tie, Peter King of The MMQB mentioned in his podcast this week that a tie wouldn’t help Denver much when it came down to it. Due to their 1-2 division record coming in, a tie still keeps them low in terms of playoff positioning. A win would have made so much more of a difference for them beyond just this contest, so going for it was their only true choice on that field goal try. If anything should be criticized, it should be either the inability of the offense to do better on the preceding plays or of their defense not making a quick stop after that miss or even on the final drive before the overtime period. Not as simple to quantify in some cases (was it the playcalls or execution on the offensive plays? Who was at fault on those?), somewhat unfair in others (defense was mostly strong all game; dealing with tough field position is hard to realistically criticize), but those options make more sense to point to when you factor in how little a tie would have done for them going forward.

Green Bay-Philadelphia

Our group of guys didn’t believe in the Packers going into this one — something about their recent 1-5 stretch probably weighed on our minds — but Green Bay came away with what was perhaps their most impressive win of the season.

Nov 28, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Green Bay Packers safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (21) celebrates after intercepting a pass in the third quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles during a NFL football game at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

After struggling mightily with the way they have started games recently (halftime deficits in four of previous six games — three of which were by at least 11 points) Green Bay started strong here. They scored touchdowns on their first two drives on their way to a 14-10 lead, and their efficient clock-controlling gameplan kept their defense fresh and ready during their best showing since facing the Bears in Week 7. They sacked Carson Wentz four different times (including two on Philadelphia’s final drive) and picked him off to begin the 2nd half (in part due to strong pressure on prior plays adding up).

With the win, Green Bay somehow still has a decent path to the playoffs left. The Lions have a tough closing schedule (more on that later), the Vikings offense is sub-mediocre and one-dimensional; with a nice closing stretch for themselves (vs Houston, vs Seattle, @ Chicago, vs Minnesota, @ Detroit) the door appears like it could still be open in those final couple weeks.

Philadelphia probably will finally fall away from being playoff hopefuls now because the expectation of what they would be back at the start of the year is coming to fruition. The defense remains a strong overall unit with many excellent pieces, but while the offense does have a quarterback they should be able to build around the rest of it is sorely lacking. The wide receiving corps is among the worst in the league; they showed that in not taking advantage of the terrible Green Bay secondary. The offensive line is aging and has lost most of its former high-level ability; here, they allowed Green Bay to get pressure and sacks far too often to cut into the lead in a game where drives were sparse. They excel in special teams, but that is easily the least influential of the three areas of football, and can only do so much. They remind me a lot of the Kyle Boller-era Ravens: excellent defense held back by an offense which has few reliable weapons (one of which happens to be a tight end; Todd Heap for those Ravens, Zach Ertz for these Eagles). Luckily for them, they already have a better quarterback to build around.

Nov 24, 2016; Detroit, MI, USA; Detroit Lions kicker Matt Prater (5) celebrates with center Travis Swanson (64) and teammates after kicking the game winning field goal as time expired in the fourth quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at Ford Field. The Lions won 16-13. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

The Muddled Middle

Games we didn’t agree on

Amazingly, this section was just me dissenting on a couple games this time around; every other game was completely chosen the same across the board.

Minnesota-Detroit

The first matchup between these two was a close one, decided at the end by a late Detroit FG to send it into overtime before winning it there. This one was pretty much the same style of ending.

As with the first meeting, neither side did much offensively most of the game and Minnesota held a slight 13-10 advantage with about 12 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. Sam Bradford had been having an efficient-if-unspectacular showing with short throws and keeping free of turnovers; with 5:02 remaining following punts by each side at that point, it appeared that would be enough for a win to get Minnesota for a 7-4 record and the division lead.

Detroit flipped things from there. Matthew Stafford — the leader of a team which has trailed in the final quarter for all of their wins this year — went 6/8 for 61 yards before a 48 yard field goal by Matt Prater tied things up with just 1:45 remaining. Minnesota seemed to have the control necessary to either win it in regulation or take it to overtime, but Darius Slay came up with a key interception for Detroit on a 3rd & 2, returning it 13 yards to put Detroit at Minnesota’s 20 yard line. Another field goal from Prater sealed the stolen win for the Lions; with it, they sit in the NFC North driver’s seat.

They have a tiebreaker over the Vikings (based on their two wins over them this season) and sit at 7-4. That bodes well for Green Bay’s fleeting hopes at somehow taking the division back, by the way; they have a tough closing schedule (@ New Orleans, vs Chicago, @ New York Giants, @ Dallas, vs Green Bay), have trailed late in every single victory, have a beatable defense, and haven’t shown consistent offense. At some point those things tend to catch up to a team, and the only game remaining which seems like a lock is to a team they’ve lost to this season.

We shouldn’t expect a collapse here — though they suffered one in a similar position in 2013 — but there are enough areas of concern for them which could leave them vulnerable to being overtaken by their division rivals.

San Diego-Houston

This game encapsulated the strangeness of circumstances this season has provided us.

Nov 27, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) completes a pass against the Houston Texans in the second quarter at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Thomas B. Shea-USA TODAY Sports

San Diego came in at 4-6, but has routinely played above that in their play. For most of the year the offense and defense both rated highly in advanced metrics (the defense still does; #9 in Defensive DVOA), and if not for a laughable amount of late-game mishaps happening early in the year they would be right there with the rest of their AFC West division-mates for playoff seeding. Houston meanwhile has been undoubtedly terrible (especially offensively) all season, yet due to being in the worst division in the league they came in as the clear leader for the AFC South crown with a 6-4 record.

The teams showed exactly who they really are here.

San Diego fell behind 7-0 early, but went on to dominate the final 49 minutes of the contest by a 21-6 margin. Philip Rivers threw 3 touchdowns in that process to his cavalcade of unknowns at receiver — Dontrelle Inman (6 catches, 119 yards, 1 TD), Tyrell Williams (8 catches, 70 yards, 1 TD), and Hunter Henry (2 catches, 20 yards, 1 TD) — and his defense did more than enough to make that work for the victory.

Houston meanwhile was about as bad on offense as we should all expect by now. Despite having an elite receiver in DeAndre Hopkins, a deep speed threat in Will Fuller, and a capable running back in Lamar Miller, Brock Osweiler is a train wreck every week, and this showing was among his worst. He barely completed half of his 37 passes, missing guys in a variety of ways — despite the defense only forcing one sack. His offense went on 12 drives: 4 punts, 5 turnovers (3 INTs, 1 fumble, 1 downs), 2 field goals, and 1 TD. That huge contract is becoming a bigger mistake every day, and despite its size it wouldn’t be a surprise if Houston cuts bait as soon as this offseason.

Nov 28, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; A Green Bay Packers and Philadelphia Eagles fan react as time winds down on a game at Lincoln Financial Field. The Green Bay Packers won 27-13. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Who Won The Week

Despite one of us missing the picks deadline this was the best week of picks for us all, and in a week where we all agreed heavily it makes sense we had a tie at the top.

Brad and Thomas each hit the highest number of correct picks in a single week with 13, and even on the ones where they were wrong the picks made plenty of sense coming into the weekend.

If the games keep up like this, we might actually see one of those highly-elusive 0-miss weeks before it’s all said and done.

With the massive lead Brad has over the rest of us on the year, that may actually not be the more unattainable goal.

Week 12 Picks Records:

Brad: 13-3
Thomas: 13-3
Kenn: 11-5
Josh: 0-16

2016 Picks Records:

Brad: 111-64-2
Kenn: 99-76-2
Thomas: 94-81-2
Josh: 82-93-2

This article originally appeared on

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