2019 NFL: Week 12
Things are coming to a head in Week 12. Several potential matchups with juicy implications, playoff or otherwise. But there’s one game that’s making me excited — and a little scared, if I’m being honest.
The Rams are fresh off their decidedly uninteresting win over the Bears on Sunday night, and with all the doom and gloom surrounding this franchise, it’s fair to point out that they have won three of their last four games. That’s encouraging.
The bad news is, three of their next four games are against potential playoff teams, starting with Monday night against the Ravens. Panic time? No. Time to worry? Absolutely, especially since the Rams are a home underdog for the first time in two years. Let’s break this one down.
(You can discuss this on the BSL Board here.)
What’s at stake?
For the Ravens? Nothing that urgent per se, as they are securely in the No. 2 spot in the AFC playoff race and are comfortably leading a crumbling division. That being said, they’re just a game behind the Patriots for the top seed and can’t afford to drop a game. That could be the difference between facing Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in Foxborough, or within the comfy confines of M&T Bank Stadium in the AFC Championship game.
The Rams, meanwhile, are desperately trying to stay alive in the playoff hunt. At 6-4, they trail the 8-2 Seahawks and the 8-3 Vikings for a wild card spot. If they stumble here and the Seahawks beat the Eagles to pull even further ahead (Minnesota is on a bye), the Rams might want to start looking into vacation plans for January.
Who are the players to watch?
“A dynamic athlete.”
“Best player in the league right now.”
“Once he gets started, it’s a wrap.”
Those are some of the words Rams players and coaches are using (via the Los Angeles Times) to describe the man who has gained MVP momentum with each passing week. Remember when people were worried about Jackson’s arm talent? Well, he’s completing 66 percent of his throws and has 19 touchdown passes with only five interceptions. But of course, that’s just part of his arsenal as his most dangerous weapons are his two legs.
The Rams defense has improved as of late, especially since they acquired CB Jalen Ramsey, a transaction that seems like it went down half-a-lifetime ago. But they must be wary of how they rush the passer as they tend to leave running lanes open in the middle and their linebackers aren’t strong enough to be everywhere at once.
Here are stats that should give even the most experienced defensive coordinator nightmares: The Ravens are first in the NFL in points scored, second in yards and first in rushing. Thanks in no small part to Jackson’s talent.
“Once we start game planning and stuff like that, we’ll have the right plan for him,” pass rusher Dante Fowler Jr. said.
Great. I wonder if that quote will be plastered all over the Ravens locker room. Sigh.
The Rams head coach has been kneecapped somewhat by a rash of injuries up front. With new starters at left guard, right tackle and center against the Bears, McVay simplified his offense, limiting Jared Goff to just 18 throws and taking feared pass-rusher Khalil Mack out of the game.
That worked fine against a team with Mitchell Trubisky at quarterback. That’s not going to fly against the Ravens, who have scored at least 30 points in their last four games — and at least 40 in their last two.
They need points, or a way to keep Lamar Jackson off the field. Expect a heavy dose of Todd Gurley at least in the beginning, but if the Ravens jump out to a two-touchdown lead, McVay will have no choice but to air it out. Thankfully, they expect deep threat Brandin Cooks back from a concussion on Monday night. No word yet if Robert Woods will play (personal matter), but if he does, he’s another tool at Goff’s disposal.
They key will be to get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands fast with short routes and screens, because the line has proven they can’t pass block worth a lick.
The ultimate wild card. The man spent all of last season and part of this season in a Rams uniform before being dealt midseason to Baltimore. He’s practiced against McVay’s offense, he probably knows their audibles and the strengths and weaknesses of every L.A. receiver.
Don’t be surprised if he gets a pick-six.
Unfortunately for the Ravens, that also works the other way. The Rams have also practiced against Peters and know when he tends to, ahem, “freelance.” He’s just as capable of being burned deep if he guesses wrong.
Who will win?
There’s isn’t a hotter team in football. They’re hotter than Hansel. I’m going with Baltimore in this one.
NFL’S TOP 10
1) Patriots — Offense isn’t where it needs to be. Tom Brady is frustrated. Questions are popping up about their defense, too. It doesn’t matter and you know it. We all know how this story is going to end. My apologies for repeating myself, but I refuse to pick against New England.
2) Ravens — They really should be in the top spot. They’ve won six straight, injected new life into the NFL and have become the darlings of the national media. And yet, I can’t pull the trigger. Not with New England around.
3) 49ers — They’re sort of being punished for living in the toughest division in football. They had to rally from 16 down to beat the Cardinals, but the latter has proved to be one of the league’s toughest outs, despite their subpar record. What’s concerning is what lies ahead. Here’s what’s coming over the next five weeks: The Packers, Ravens, Saints, Falcons and Rams. It doesn’t take a genius to see a possible losing streak looming.
4) Saints — That’s more like it. Not sure what happened in Week 10 when they lost to Atlanta, but Drew Brees and Co. shook it off with a convincing win over the Bucs. By the way, did you realize that receiver Michael Thomas has 94 catches in just 10 games this season? Yowza.
5) Seahawks — It’s a good thing they’re coming off a bye, since their next three games are against the Eagles, Vikings and Rams. Russell Wilson has lost some ground in the MVP race since people tend to forget about you when you don’t play. A solid performance on the road this week should refresh people’s memories.
6) Packers — Their game against the 49ers this week got flexed into the Sunday night spot. If they can get through with a win, their next three games are against the Giants, Redskins and Bears before closing out the season with two divisional games. Green Bay is in good shape.
7) Vikings — Chris Long brought up a good point on a podcast this week. Once people start making memes about you, it’s tough to pull yourself out of that muck. Poor Kirk Cousins has been stuck in that territory for a while now, and truth be told, he deserved to be since he was a middling quarterback making a ton of money. But you can’t argue with his 114.8 QB rating this year. Or his 21 touchdown passes with just 3 interceptions. Let’s see how he does down the stretch. If he finishes strong, people should stop making fun of him. Or at least back off a little bit.
8) Cowboys — This team annoys me. They tend to feast against teams in their own division and then get pantsed by playoff contenders that aren’t in the NFC East. And yet, Dak Prescott has been a revelation and his talent alone should keep this team afloat and in the playoff hunt.
9) Chiefs — They were lucky to face Philip Rivers and his four interceptions on Monday night. I’d give credit to the defense for that, but each of those picks were horrible passes. They’re still 7-4, but you can’t just hand them the AFC West crown.
10) Raiders — You can’t crown K.C. because Gruden is right behind them. Lemme tell you somethin’ about the Silver and Black, man. He’s going to Spider 2 Y Banana you to death.
WHAT’S THE CHATTER?
Sigh: I was feeling optimistic. I really was. I was hoping Colin Kaepernick was going to attend that NFL tryout at the Falcons facility and light it up. And soon after, he’d be holding a new NFL contract. That didn’t happen.
What did go down has been the subject of much conjecture, yelling and finger-pointing in the days since. And quite frankly, it bores me. It should have been a simple process, and yet it wasn’t. A lack of trust on both sides led to Kaepernick running drills while wearing a shirt designed to poke the NFL at a high school however many miles away.
And now it seems as though we’re never going to see him play an NFL again. Like I’ve said before, I’m not going to lose sleep over this. Everyone is an adult here and everyone has to live with the choices they make. The NFL made theirs. Kaepernick made his. The end.
Oh, goodie: Antonio Brown is back in the news! And he’s hoping to get back into the NFL this season! Apparently, there are a few teams with interest in the mercurial wide receiver. That’s not surprising at all. He has way too much talent for the NFL door to close on him just yet.
Took this long? In case you hadn’t heard, the Giants can be officially eliminated from playoff contention this week. Let’s be honest. They were eliminated the day training camp started.
Can’t have nice things: This has been a lost season for Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill. He got injured in the regular season opener and after several weeks on the shelf, made his way back into the lineup. Things were progressing until he pulled up lame with a hamstring injury against the Chargers on Monday night. He’s scheduled for an MRI, but even if the tests come back clean, hamstring injuries don’t heal fast. Bummer.
It’s time: Bears head coach Matt Nagy is a bright man. He designs cool plays. He has a future in this game. But he’s given the Trubisky thing long enough. In case there was any doubt left in his mind, let’s make it clear for him: You need a real quarterback. Start Chase Daniel the rest of this season and then find a long term option in the offseason.
APPOINTMENT VIEWING FOR WEEK 12
Colts at Texans: The AFC South race is going to come down to the final week and while both of these teams are 6-4, it’s not harsh to say they’ve both been a bit disappointing. Expect a physical affair here.
Buccaneers at Falcons: If Atlanta wins a third straight game, can we say they’re back?
Dolphins at Browns: If Cleveland drops this game, Freddie Kitchens might be fired that day.
Panthers at Saints: Carolina is fading out of the playoff hunt. A loss here would pretty much cement their fate.
Raiders at Jets: Admit it, the league is better when the Silver and Black are relevant.
Seahawks at Eagles: Philly is in the unique position of being pretty much out of the wild-card race, but still very much in play for a division title. They need this win in the worst way. Expect the home crowd to behave accordingly.
Cowboys at Patriots: This is a game I would have drooled over when I worked for FOX. Ratings, baby, ratings. Like most big games, the Patriots get this one at Foxborough. They’re the easy pick since I’ll always take Bill Belichick over Jason Garrett.
Packers at 49ers: What a perfect way to end the weekend with two signature NFL teams battling it out in the Bay.
Ravens at Rams: Grab the popcorn.
Currently a Mobile Editor at Yahoo, Saraf spent 5.5 years (Oct. 2010 - Feb. 2016) working for FOX Sports as an NFL Editor and Writer. Prior to that, Saraf worked for CBS Interactive for 4.5 years (May 2006 - Oct. 2010) as a Staff Editor.