Top storylines for NFL Week 12

By Vincent Frank
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Week 12 around the NFL offers pivotal game after pivotal game. It’s obviously headed by the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers doing battle on “Sunday Night Football.”

The week’s slate also includes a statement game for both the Patriots and Cowboys in New England. Meanwhile, the Seattle Seahawks will head to Philadelphia to take on the Eagles.

In the final week of NFL action before the holidays, we check in on some of the many storylines around the league.

Can the Texans rebound on short week?

Deshaun Watson and the Houston Texans were looking to make a major statement this past week against a red-hot Baltimore Ravens squad. In no way did this come to fruition. Watson was under pressure throughout the game, finding himself sacked six times. Meanwhile, Houston’s defense was torn apart by Lamar Jackson and Co. in a 41-7 loss.

Now at 6-4 heading into “Thursday Night Football,” Houston will host the Indianapolis Colts in a battle for first place in the AFC South. The team needs to protect its home field and rebound from last week’s disaster. If not, a season that seemed destined for great things could derail rather quickly.

Epic battle on ‘Sunday Night Football’

One of the better games this late in the season in some time, the 8-2 Green Bay Packers will travel to Santa Clara to take on the 9-1 San Francisco 49ers. Not only are both teams still battling within their divisions, the winner of this game would have the upper-hand in the race for home-field advantage in the NFC.

Coming off its bye, Green Bay’s offense has been less-than-stellar over the past two weeks. That won’t cut it against the league’s No. 1-ranked overall defense. On the other hand, Jimmy Garoppolo washed away some struggles last week with a game-winning touchdown drive against the Cardinals. A win by San Francisco at home on Sunday night would put the team two games ahead of Green Bay. Yeah, this is a big game.

Steelers in must-win situation

At 5-5 following last week’s ugly overall game against the Cleveland Browns, Pittsburgh has a bit of a reprieve Sunday afternoon. It gets to take on the winless Cincinnati Bengals with an opportunity to remain very much alive in the AFC Wild Card race.

It will start with Mason Rudolph under center. A repeat of last week’s performance would make a Bengals home upset possible and push Pittsburgh further down in the pecking order. The Steelers are currently one game behind Oakland and Houston in the battle for the final playoff spot heading into Week 12. Pittsburgh will also likely be without both JuJu Smith-Schuster and James Conner, meaning Rudolph will have to put up a tremendous performance.

It’s over for Jameis Winston in Tampa Bay

At this point, it appears that Winston is simply playing out the string in his contract season. The much-maligned quarterback is coming off a four-turnover performance against the New Orleans Saints and leads the NFL with a whopping 18 interceptions.

While Bruce Arians might stop short of saying this, we’re intrigued to see if the Buccaneers now start to give Ryan Griffin a chance under center. Sure he’s not the long-term solution at 30 years old. But it’s hard to gauge the rest of this young roster when you’re always playing from behind because of your quarterback’s turnovers.

Set to take on a Falcons team that just forced four interceptions last week, it will be interesting to see if Winston has a short hook here.

Another statement game for the Eagles

Philadelphia blew a golden opportunity to make a statement against the defending champion New England Patriots last week. Up 10-0 in the first half, everything went awry once star tackle Lane Johnson exited the game to injury. The Eagles’ offense was a complete disaster. Carson Wentz struggled with accuracy and was under duress throughout.

Now set to take on an 8-2 Seattle Seahawks team at home on Sunday, Philadelphia has another opportunity to make a major statement here. This opportunity is also founded in the fact that the first-place Cowboys are traveling to New England to take on the Patriots. A win could even the NFC East race heading into Thanksgiving weekend.

Bounce back performance from Panthers?

Despite last week’s humiliating overall performance in a loss to the Falcons, Carolina’s playoff hopes are still hanging by a thread. The team is currently 2.5 games behind Minnesota for the final wild card spot. It is going to need a near-flawless final six games to sneak into the playoffs in what has been a top-heavy NFC.

Any hope of doing that will rest on Sunday’s game against the Saints in New Orleans. A win here would be a major stepping stone for the Panthers, especially after young quarterback Kyle Allen tossed four interceptions last week. A loss would have Carolina playing out the string without any expectation of appearing in the postseason.

Raiders looking to keep recent run going

Oakland is coming off a three-game winning streak at home with a trip to New Jersey planned for Sunday afternoon. West coast teams playing in the eastern time zone have historically struggled. But given how the NFL handed the Raiders an ugly schedule this season, we believe that Jon Gruden and Co. will be more than up for the task.

At 6-4 on the season, Oakland currently finds itself in a practical tie for the final wild card spot in the AFC. A win against an improved Jets squad would be absolutely huge moving forward, especially with a Week 13 game looming against the first-place Chiefs. Can the Raiders make it four in a row and really announce their presence on the broader NFL stage?

Browns attempting to remain relevant in AFC

Prior to the ugliness we saw late last Thursday night, the story in Cleveland had to be the Browns winning their second consecutive game to remain somewhat alive in the AFC Playoff race. Even without Myles Garrett for the remainder of the season, there’s a real opportunity for Cleveland here. It boasts the easiest remaining schedule in the NFL.

That starts Sunday at home against the two-win Miami Dolphins. It’s a game the Browns should handle relatively easy. Currently two games out of the final wild card spot in the AFC, a win here would go a long way in making the Browns relevant for the stretch run. A loss would be season-ending.

Can the Rams get right?

For the second consecutive week, the Los Angeles Rams will host a prime-time game with the team pretty much in must-win mode. Despite defeating the Chicago Bears this past Sunday, not everything is right in Southern California. That’s especially true when we look at quarterback Jared Goff who has thrown 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions on the season.

Monday night’s game against the red-hot Baltimore Ravens offers Goff and Co. an opportunity to make a statement. The Rams are currently two games out of the final wild card spot in the NFC. Another Ravens victory over a playoff contender would make it difficult for Los Angeles to earn a trip to the playoffs.

Given what we’ve seen from Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson, it’s safe to say Goff must have a season-best performance for the Rams to come out on top Monday night.

The Playoff picture

The final week before holiday football allows us to look at the playoff picture at great length for the first time. While the AFC is seemingly wide open, the NFC has six teams that will more than likely be playing meaningful January football.

As of right now, San Francisco is one game up on Green Bay, New Orleans and Seattle for the top seed. Minnesota is 2.5 games ahead Carolina and Philadelphia for the final wild card spot. Meanwhile, the only division that isn’t really competitive is the NFC South.

Over in the AFC, it’s a different story. A total of four teams are within one game of the final wild card spot. That’s headed by the Houston Texans and Oakland Raiders. Meanwhile, Buffalo is sitting pretty at 7-3. Starting this weekend, it’s going to be a blast to see how everything ends up in the more competitive of the two conferences down the stretch.