With a three-game Thanksgiving Thursday serving as a lead-in to the remainder of the Week 12 motion, we thought we’d get this out a number of days early.

Can the Lions keep sizzling in opposition to the Bills? Which quarterback is dealing with a must-win matchup? And which workforce is finest geared up to take management within the NFC? The Athletic’s Mike Jones, Josh Kendall and Mike Sando dish on what they’ll be watching Thursday, Sunday and Monday.

On Thursday, we’ve got three video games between six groups that appear to be trending in reverse instructions (the Lions, Cowboys and Patriots are taking part in properly, whereas the Bills, Giants and Vikings are struggling extra of late). How do you see every of those taking part in out?

Jones: I feel the Bills might be OK. Last week’s method, the place offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey lightened Josh Allen’s load and went with a extra balanced method (Devin Singletary and James Cook each rushed for greater than 80 yards), was good. It’ll assist Allen get out of the thoughts lure that he has been in, pondering he has to do all of it, and the Bills needs to be again on monitor. Meanwhile, the Cowboys additionally appear to have discovered the proper recipe for achievement. I feel they win. I additionally imagine that the Vikings will bounce again after that disastrous efficiency in opposition to Dallas.

Kendall: The Bills might be fantastic in opposition to the Lions so long as they get good Josh Allen, they usually often get good Josh Allen. Allen has to search out the fitting stability between doing nearly the whole lot for the Bills and never making an attempt to do too a lot. Most of the time, he does. He will once more this week.

The Cowboys will beat the Giants once more as a result of they know methods to deal with Daniel Jones. That’s a bizarre sentence, isn’t it? But it’s true. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn can have a recreation ball coming after this one.

Kirk Cousins’ profession stats: 259.7 yards per recreation, 7.62 yards per try, 2.39 TD-to-INT ratio, 0.19 EPA per try. Cousins’ profession stats versus Bill Belichick: 209 yards per recreation, 4.98 yards per try, 0.67 TD-to-INT ratio, destructive EPA per try. New England wins for the sixth time in seven video games.

Sando: The Cowboys ought to have the ability to rating sufficient to power the Giants out of their consolation zone as a run-oriented workforce except Dallas is emotionally flat after an enormous win at Minnesota. I feel the Vikings protection ought to bounce again sufficient for Minnesota to win at house in opposition to a restricted Patriots offense, although New England’s particular groups may very well be an X-factor. In the Buffalo-Detroit recreation, there’s no means I can actually decide the Lions to win, however I’m curious to see if they’ll stand up emotionally sufficient to make a run on the Bills at house on a brief week.


NFL Power Rankings: Cowboys, 49ers enter conversation as serious Super Bowl contenders

With quarterback play maybe extra essential than ever, there’s an enormous quantity of strain on at present’s sign callers. Which QB is most in want of a big-time efficiency this week?

Jones: Nobody wants a much bigger rebound efficiency than Zach Wilson. That’s if he will get a possibility to take action this week. I feel Robert Saleh ought to roll with him for yet one more recreation. See if the child discovered from final week’s poor efficiency and the criticism he confronted afterward and if that motivates him. The Jets have a lot invested in him. So endurance is critical — offered he’s doing and saying the fitting issues from right here on out.

Kendall: The Jets are 5-2 with Zach Wilson because the starter this season. So why is the 2021 No. 2 decide on the new seat?

Wilson appears to be the one one that doesn’t notice New York is profitable regardless of him. His completion share (55.6) is the worst amongst starters within the league. His passer ranking (71.6) tops solely Kenny Pickett. His EPA per try (-0.06) tops solely Baker Mayfield. Wilson’s opponent Sunday, the Chicago Bears, principally waved the white flag on protection when it traded Robert Quinn and Roquan Smith. If the BYU product can’t contribute one thing optimistic this week, the Jets may not give him one other likelihood this season.

Sando: The two Wilsons — Zach and Russell — are most in want of robust performances. Zach wants a stable recreation simply to maintain his job, which stays in query. Russell wants Denver to exceed its common scoring output of 14.7 factors per recreation, which is final within the NFL.



As Jets ponder benching Zach Wilson, how did things go so wrong for the QB?

In the early Sunday window, the Bengals (6-4) journey to Tennessee to face the Titans (7-3) for a matchup between two of the AFC’s extra gifted groups. Which workforce is taking part in higher, and who do you see having the sting?

Jones: Although the Titans do certainly appear to be rolling, I feel the Bengals take this one. They’re simply so deep and potent on offense, and Tennessee will wrestle to maintain tempo. The Bengals simply racked up 37 factors with out two of their high weapons (Ja’Marr Chase and Joe Mixon). If they’ll get one or each of these guys again this week, it may not even be shut.

Kendall: The Titans’ solely loss since Sept. 19 is a three-point defeat at Kansas City. The Bengals are sizzling, too, however not that sizzling. The solely quarterback to publish a passer ranking of upper than 80.9 within the final 5 weeks in opposition to Tennessee is Aaron Rodgers. Mike Vrabel versus Joe Cool is perhaps the matchup of the week. The Titans’ hard-boiled head coach most likely hung up an image of Cincy quarterback Joe Burrow decked out in fur in Tennessee’s workforce assembly room this week simply to verify he stayed at peak anger ranges.

Sando: The Titans have been higher on protection and particular groups. The Bengals have been higher on offense. Tennessee is the more durable workforce. Cincinnati is extra harmful. This is an efficient playoff-preview sort of recreation. I’ll lean towards the Titans coming off the prolonged break, however I feel the Bengals are in good place to peak on the proper time, with Chase returning soon and (hopefully) Mixon clearing concussion protocol for the stretch run.

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Joe Burrow and the Bengals will face a tricky Titans protection that hasn’t allowed greater than 20 factors in over two months. (Kareem Elgazzar / USA Today / The Cincinnati Enquirer)

Among the NFC’s profitable groups, the Buccaneers, Seahawks, 49ers and Eagles are all favored Sunday. Which of these do you see making the most important push within the season’s second half? 

Jones: The 49ers actually seem to be they’ve gotten wholesome on the proper time, they usually have so many weapons. They undoubtedly might go on a run. Their schedule performs out fairly favorably with 5 of their final seven video games at house. Of the groups they face down the stretch, Tampa Bay is perhaps probably the most harmful. Miami may very well be a menace as properly, however Kyle Shanahan tends to do properly in opposition to his former assistants. The Bucs additionally might go on a run, although they face San Francisco and Cincinnati. Otherwise, the remainder of their video games seem winnable.

Kendall: The 49ers. Since Week 8 (the primary full week of Christian McCaffrey integration), San Francisco is fourth within the league in yards per play (6.38). Pair that with a protection that’s second within the league in yards per play allowed (4.67) and also you’ve obtained a Super Bowl contender. In the final three video games, the 49ers are gaining greater than 2 yards extra per play than they’re permitting. The cumulative impact of that was on show in Monday night’s 38-10 dismantling of Arizona.



Kawakami: Put the 49ers on the Super Bowl short list

Sando: I really feel the 49ers might have one of the best workforce, however Tampa Bay might need the sting from a scheduling standpoint, because the Bucs get Cleveland earlier than Deshaun Watson returns, plus three NFC South video games and one other in opposition to Arizona. The 49ers do get Tampa Bay at house and 5 of their ultimate seven at house, however that’s a reasonably powerful four-game December stretch with Miami, Tampa Bay, Seattle and Washington.

If you needed to decide one upset this week, who would you are taking? 

Jones: I’m tempted to roll with the Packers on the street in opposition to the Eagles. Green Bay is a bizarre workforce that hasn’t persistently performed as much as its potential, however it could possibly run the ball, which is one in every of Philly’s few weaknesses, and Christian Watson seems to have lastly figured issues out. But it’s exhausting to really feel assured in selecting them. So I’ll go together with Pittsburgh. The solely purpose why the Colts are narrowly favored is that they’re taking part in at house. But that doesn’t imply something to me on this case. Steelers for the win.

Kendall: The Bears, who’re round 4.5-point underdogs in opposition to the Jets, can rating if Justin Fields performs. They are averaging 29.6 factors per recreation since centering their offense on Fields’ operating capacity. Fields left final week’s recreation in opposition to Atlanta on a cart and has a left shoulder harm of some sort, but when he’s in a position to go in opposition to New York, he alone can maintain tempo with Zach Wilson and the Jets offense.

Sando: Beyond Tennessee, which is barely a one-point underdog in opposition to Cincinnati, I wouldn’t be shocked if the Steelers beat the Colts on Monday evening — with T.J. Watt getting after Matt Ryan. Pickett performed fairly properly for a lot of the Steelers’ recreation in opposition to the Bengals, which needed to be encouraging for Pittsburgh.

What is probably the most attention-grabbing storyline of Week 12 that we haven’t but mentioned? What are you personally most excited to see? 

Jones: How is Taylor Heinicke going to do now that he is aware of he’s the beginning quarterback in Washington and never merely filling in for Carson Wentz? He’s taking part in at house in opposition to an Atlanta workforce that’s more durable than its file suggests. Can he enhance to 5-1 as a starter and nudge Washington two video games above .500? Or will he subconsciously lose just a little little bit of that underdog edge?

Kendall: Are the Buccaneers actually again? There’s no purpose the NFC South needs to be aggressive. Atlanta, Carolina and New Orleans are holding issues collectively on a week-by-week foundation with rosters which might be restricted. Tampa Bay, in the meantime, has Tom Brady at quarterback and a loaded protection. And but it has taken two wins within the final two video games simply to get the Bucs again to .500. The Buccaneers are coming off a bye that was most likely properly timed, they usually have Cleveland and New Orleans up subsequent. This stretch ought to put the NFC South title out of attain for everybody else. But will it?

Sando: It’s wild seeing the Super Bowl-champion Rams as 15-point underdogs in opposition to Kansas City 4 years and one week after their epic 54-51 victory over the Chiefs, who stay simply as productive offensively now as then.

(Illustration: John Bradford / The Athletic; images: Wesley Hitt, Adam Glanzman, Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)

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