Darnell's NFL Week 12 Breakdown
Miami Dolphins (-7) @ New York Jets (44.5)
The Miami Dolphins are right in the thick of the playoff hunt this season. They are coming off a tough loss to a Denver Broncos team that plays fantastic defense. They were able to only muster 13 points in that game. Tua Tagavaiola is the 33rd rated quarterback in the NFL. He has been helped in his victories by an opportunistic defense that was able to score touchdowns. Myles Gaskin has returned from injured reserve, but still needs more time to be evaluated in order to possibly suit up Sunday. If he were to miss, it would be up to Salvon Ahmed as the lead back again. Ahmed is nursing a shoulder injury so his status will have to be monitored. Matt Brieda has returned from his injury and is ready to go if his fellow running backs miss. Ty Johnson will be backing up the ageless wonder, Frank Gore because LaMichael Perine has been placed on injured reserve. Gore has scored a touchdown in three different decades. That is quite an amazing feat. I am not sure if he ever plans on retiring. I am sure he does not want to end this season with zero wins. This game will be determined by the Jets willingness to fight hard until they get their first win in order to avoid being historically bad.
Cleveland Browns (-6.5) @ Jacksonville Jaguars (49)
The Jacksonville Jaguars will be starting their third quarterback of the season. Gardner Minshew will not be able to start, but he will be the backup to Mike Glennon. Glennon has not started a game in three years. Neither DJ Chark nor Laviska Shenault were NFL football players when this happened. He averages 6.4 yards per attempt throughout his career. The Cleveland Browns with their fantastic offensive line will look to run the ball and control the clock. Glennon will have to be efficient in his time on the field in order to keep his team competitive against the Browns. This will be made much harder with the absence of DJ Chark and Chris Conley. They were just ruled out. The drop off from Chark to Laviska Shenault is nearly non-existent. Chark is rated 42nd and Shenault is 45th. The Drop off from Conley to Keelan Cole truly does not exist. They are rated the same. Cleveland has the best run-blocking unit in the NFL and both running backs are rated top 20 according to Pro Football Focus. This is a recipe for hard-nosed football as the weather gets cold. Thankfully, Florida is warm this time of year. Cleveland will continue to push for the playoffs by trying to compile victories.
New York Giants (-6) @ Cincinnati Bengals (43)
Wow! Joe Burrow was in the running for rookie of the year until he went down in the cursed spot in Washington. He suffered multiple season ending injuries to his knee. Ryan Findley came in to replace him and their offensive absolutely died. The Bengals showed no ability to move the ball against a solid Washington Football Team defense. Findley is 50% worse than Burrow according to PFF so the Bengals will have to find a way to maximize his abilities or get creative in moving the ball. Fortunately for them, the Giants have the fifth worse offense in the NFL. This may allow the Bengals to keep up with New York. The Giants seem to have found a starting running back to get the job done in Saquon Barkley’s absence. Wayne Gallman has been steadily effective and hopefully he can keep some pressure off of Daniel Jones and the passing game. The Giants have a chance to lead the NFC East in wins if they can get the job done on the road.
Arizona Cardinals (-2.5) @ New England Patriots (49.5)
Kyler Murray will continue to contend for the MVP award when he and his Arizona Cardinals travel to New England to take on the Patriots. The Patriots looked impressive in their win against the Ravens although some people say the rain helped. This may be true, but the Patriots were dominating the game early on. The Cardinals came up short in their rematch against the Seattle Seahawks. They will look to keep piling up wins to keep pace with them and the Los Angeles Rams. The Patriots will have to continue their ball control offense to cover up for their defensesive lack of efficiency. They have the seventh worst defense in the NFL. Stephon Gillmore is on the injury report. We will monitor this because the Patriots lead the league in questionable players every week. His impact is not as big as it once was. He is the third rated cornerback on this team. J.C. Jackson and Johnson Jones rank better, so they should be able to handle Deandre Hopkins and Christian Kirk. As I am writing this, I got word that Larry Fitzgerald will miss the game due to a positive COVID-19 test. He is the 104th ranked WR in the league and the drop off from him to Andy Isabella is not significant. Despite being in the bottom ten in points scored, the Patriots rank eighth in offensive efficiency. This will be a battle of styles. The Cardinals will want to go fast, and the Patriots will want to go slow. Whoever imposes their will and gets the game to go at their preferred speed should have the advantage.
Los Angeles Chargers (+5.5) @ Buffalo Bills (53)
Now is the time to polish up the Rookie of the Year trophy for Justin Herbert. Unfortunately, his competition just had his season ended. Herbert will likely win this award, but it won’t be undeserved. He has had help by the fourth ranked wide receiver in the NFL, Keenan Allen. These two have been absolutely fantastic as a tandem. They face a tough task of traveling to Buffalo and taking on a Bills team that will want to keep winning in order to control their playoff destiny. The Bills have three cornerbacks ranked in the top 40 in the NFL. They will hope to contain Allen after his massive explosion against the New York Jets. Austin Eckler is expected to be back in the fold. This will be a welcome addition to this offense. Eckler is the fifth ranked running back in the NFL and is a very dynamic weapon. With Justin Jackson not expected to be back, this will leave the Chargers with the 49th and 56th running backs if Eckler did not make his return. The Bills are the worst rushing defense in the NFL by a lot, so a healthy running back tandem will bode well for the Chargers chances to move the ball effectively.
Las Vegas Raiders (-3) @ Atlanta Falcons (54)
The Las Vegas Raiders will take their bottom-ranked defense to Atlanta to take on the ninth best passing attack in the NFL. Both teams rank top ten in passing. Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley were limited in practice on Thursday. If the Falcons want to compete offensively, they will want these two to play. Both receivers rank in the top 20 and they make this offense go. Todd Gurley and Hayden Hurst both missed this Thursday practice. If Gurley were to miss, it honestly would not be a downgrade. Brian Hill is four spots better than Gurley according to PFF. One running back that was limited in practice that would impact the team big time is Josh Jacobs. He is the seventh best running back in the NFL. The Raiders rely on him heavily to keep the chains moving, keep the ball moving and pound their opponents into submission. The Atlanta Falcons have had a season filled with missed opportunities. Because of these blown leads and blunders, and because they aren’t in the NFC East, their playoff hopes are likely dashed. The Raiders are involved in the logjam of AFC teams competing for wildcard spots. The Raiders will want to keep up with teams such as the Cleveland Browns, Indianapolis Colts, and Tennessee Titans. They will look to bounce back from their close loss to the Chiefs.
Tennessee Titans (+3) @ Indianapolis Colts (51.5)
This is a rematch of a good game from a few weeks ago. Phillip Rivers was surgical and carved the Tennessee Titan’s defense up all night long. The Colts were in a must-win spot and now these teams face off with the exact same record. Tennessee will want to win here so they do not fall behind by a full game without having the tie-breaker advantage. In order to do this, they will need to click on all cylinders. They are the sixth best run blocking unit and they have the league’s fourth best running back running behind them. The Colts are a top ten rushing defense in the NFL, so we will see who imposes their will. AJ Brown missed practice Thursday so we will have to see if he suits up. If AJ Brown misses, the Titans will lose one of their two top ten wide receivers in the NFL. The Titans are the only team in the AFC that has two top ten wide receivers, so they will want them healthy in order to take advantage of that. The Colts seem like they will be clicking on all cylinders. The Colts spread the ball around so much, it seems unlikely that they will ever be affected by an injury to a skill position player. Utilizing six wide receivers, three running backs and three tight ends gives you the luxury of truly operating under the ‘’next man up’’ philosophy. The winner of this game will take a commanding lead in the division.
Baltimore Ravens (+4.5) @Pittsburgh Steelers (45)
Update: This game has been moved to Tuesday.
Side note- This game was written up for the Thursday slate. Because this game was moved to Sunday, I will add it on this write up. There will be a few additions to the write-up due to some news.
We move over to the AFC to look into another very famous division rivalry. The Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers have battled each other close for over two decades. Pittsburgh has already defeated Baltimore this season so Baltimore will be looking to make up for that loss. With the Ravens being 6-4, they also need this victory in order to keep up with the Cleveland Browns and other teams in wildcard contention. The Steelers have moved to a pass-heavy offense this season. They have the quarterback and wide receivers to be able to accomplish this style of offense. Chase Claypool, Dionte Johnson and JuJu Smith-Schuster are all in the top 60 of wide receivers. Because the Ravens rank in the bottom ten in pass rush, Ben Roethlisberger should have a decent amount of time to find his talented wide receivers. The Ravens have had some problems to start the week. Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins are ruled out because of positive COVID-19 tests. This will force Gus Edwards to take on the lead role in the backfield. He is actually rated slightly ahead of Dobbins, so I don’t think there is a drop-off in quality of player. The problem lies is that Baltimore likes to use a lot of running backs and having two of them out will cause changes in their offense. Lamar Jackson will miss this game due to a positive COVID-19 test. Robert Griffin III will start for him. I am absolutely unsure of what to expect from RG3, but if there is one team’s defense that I would hate to make my first meaningful start in years against, it’s definitely the Steelers. I hate to call a game a must-win, but if Baltimore wants to continue controlling their destiny, they will need to win. Either the Tennessee Titans or Indianapolis Colts will get their eighth win on the season. Baltimore doesn’t want to fall behind too many teams for the wildcard race.
Carolina Panthers (+3.5) @ Minnesota Vikings (51)
The Carolina Panthers will head up north to take on the Minnesota Vikings. Both teams have four wins. In order for either team to go on a miraculous run to make the playoffs, they will need a victory here. Dalvin Cook has been absolutely fantastic for the Vikings. Kirk Cousins is rated number six in quarterbacks. The Vikings employ the second and third best receivers in the NFL according to PFF. With the whole starting unit near the top of the charts, I have no clue why the Vikings are on the brink of missing the playoffs. Christian McCaffrey has been upgraded to questionable, but it seems unlikely that he will play. He and Mike Davis both rank in the top 15, so having both of these running backs available would be more than helpful for the Panthers. With the Vikings’ second ranked offense versus the Panthers’ second worst defense, Teddy Bridgewater and company will have to work hard to keep their playoff chances alive.
New Orleans Saints (-6) @ Denver Broncos (43.5)
The New Orleans Saints will take their new-look offense on the road to take on the third best defense in the NFL. The Denver Broncos may be without arguably their best receiver, Jerry Jeudy. He is ranked 62 in the NFL. Although Tim Patrick is rated better, the next best wide receiver for the Broncos is rated 112. Although Drew Lock is very bad, having Jeudy out there can only help this pedestrian offense. The Saints will look the move the ball with a monstrous three-headed monster. Taysom Hill is a triple threat quarterback, Alvin Kamara is a dual threat running back specialist, and Latavius Murray adds power and force to the backfield. This running back tandem is one of three in the NFL with two top twenty running backs. In a battle of two top five defenses, one of them with have to come out on top.
San Francisco 49ers (+6.5) @ Los Angeles Rams (45.5)
Here is another NFC West matchup that appears to be a good, competitive game. The 49ers, due to a multitude of injuries, have fallen to a record that will likely keep them out of the playoffs. The Rams, coming off a huge win against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, will look to get revenge from their primetime loss last month. The 49ers will attempt to fight their way to a decent record. The 49ers will have a healthy tandem of wide receivers. They are led by Brandon Aiyuk who is ranked above Tyler Lockett at 22. The problem is that they will have the 37th rated quarterback throwing to them. Nick Mullins is worse than Joe Flacco. That’s a problem. The Rams are top ten in offense and defense. That makes them very balanced and hard to defeat. The 49ers have shown them once that they can beat them. Can they repeat that success?
Kansas City Chiefs (-3.5) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (56)
This will likely be a popular opinion, as this will be the game I am looking forward to the most. Arguably the best quarterback in the league will take on unarguably the greatest quarterback of all-time. Both quarterbacks have great weapons to throw to. The defenses separate these teams. The Buccaneers have the fourth best defense in the league. They seem to look lost at times against certain offensive schemes. This matchup could possibly be the Superbowl show down, so I anticipate these teams wanting to show each other who the cream of the crop is. The Chiefs avenged their only loss of the season by vanquishing the Oakland Raiders. The Buccaneers may very well be the best seven win team in the NFL. Due to the New Orleans Saints sweeping them this season, Tampa Bay will want to start adding wins to their record if they want a chance at the division title. I will have my popcorn ready for this one, as will most.