Top storylines for Sunday’s NFL Week 12 action

By Vincent Frank

Thanksgiving’s slate of NFL action offered up a ton on our plates. It started with the Minnesota Vikings continuing their utter domination. Then, the night was capped off with an all NFC East battle between the Washington Redskins and New York Giants.

Sunday’s Week 12 action promises to bring us even more intrigue. Can Marcus Mariota overcome last week’s struggles to help his Tennessee Titans keep pace with Jacksonville in the AFC South? Can the Los Angeles Rams rebound after last week’s loss? They are set to take on a red-hot New Orleans Saints team. These are among the top storylines for Sunday’s Week 12 NFL action.

Not so Super Mario

Last week against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Marcus Mariota put up a career-worst performance. It’s a game that saw him throw four interceptions en route to a 40-17 beatdown at the hands of Pittsburgh.

Something must change big time Sunday against the last-place Colts if the Titans want to stick with Jacksonville in the AFC South. Whether that’s Mariota suddenly finding a connection with rookie Corey Davis or continuing to rely on Rishard Matthews and Delanie Walker, Tennessee needs a huge rebound performance from its young quarterback in Week 12.

The Dirty Bird is the word

After starting the season with a 4-4 mark, the defending champion Atlanta Falcons seem to be hitting their stride. It started with a Week 10 blowout win over the Dallas Cowboys and continued this past Monday night with an impressive road win against the injury-ravaged Seattle Seahawks. Sure both Dallas and Seattle have their injury issues, but they are defending division champs. These were two big wins for reigning NFL MVP Matt Ryan and Co.

Likely to be without Pro Bowl running back Devonta Freeman for a second consecutive week, Sunday’s contest against Tampa Bay is what we’d call a trap game. Long out of the playoff race, the Buccaneers have won two consecutive games and have to be considered a dangerous late-November opponent.

In order to remain alive in the NFC South race and stay in playoff positioning in the conference, Atlanta must avoid a letdown against a divisional opponent. With losses to both Buffalo and Miami on the season, the Falcons have shown they struggle against lesser opponents. That can’t happen here.

The Pats were never gone

It was just a few short weeks ago that New England found itself at 2-2 and seemingly set to find itself challenged in the AFC East. Some fooled themselves into thinking that maybe Miami or Buffalo could compete in the division. Eight weeks later, and the Patriots are three games up in the division and in the midst of a six-game winning streak.

The defending champs are not just back, they have to be considered the class of the AFC. During this six-game winning streak, Tom Brady and Co. have outscored their opponents by a combined 133 points. For his part, Brady is coming off consecutive three-touchdown games and has tossed 22 scores compared to two picks on the season. It should be pretty much the same end result Sunday against Dolphins squad that has lost four consecutive games.

Old NFC West foes battle in epic duel

When the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams used to do battle in the old NFC West division, it was usually the Rams that came out on top. That will have to be the case again on Sunday if Los Angeles has any aspirations of earning a first-round playoff bye.

The Rams were lucky this past week. After being completely outclassed by the Vikings in Minnesota, they saw Seattle lose at home to Atlanta. Now at 7-3 on the season, the Rams find themselves one game ahead of the Seahwks in the NFC West.

This game is not only important for playoff seeding. It’s importance is in the matchups. Surprisingly, the nine-win Saints boast a top-five rushing offense. Also surprising, Los Angeles ranks in the bottom five against the run. It’s in this that one specific matchup will determine whether the Saints roll to a ninth consecutive win or Los Angeles moves to 8-3 on the year.

Lesion of Boom

At this point, the Seattle Seahawks are going to have to rely even more on Russell Wilson’s excellence to inch into the playoffs. With Richard Sherman out for the season and fellow Pro Bowl defensive back Kam Chancellor also potentially lost for the duration of the year, a previously dominating Legion of Boom suddenly has a ton of holes.

This past Monday night, we saw Matt Ryan take advantage of the likes of Jeremy Lane to the tune of 34 points in a narrow Falcons win. It might be easier this week going up against the one-win 49ers.

Though, San Francisco is coming off a Week 10 win and just recently had a bye. It might also give shiny new quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo some run in this one. Who knows what he might be able to bring to the table? In a game against a 49ers team that narrowly lost to the Seahawks in Seattle earlier this season, it wouldn’t be a shock if this one was closer than expected.

This Carr is broken down

Derek Carr and the Raiders are struggling heading into Week 7.

The Oakland Raiders may have fired defensive coordinator Ken Norton Jr. on Tuesday, but if Jack Del Rio thinks that’s going to cure all the ills in Oakland, he is in for a rude awakening.

This Raiders team boasted a 12-4 record and was a legitimate Super Bowl contender before Derek Carr went down to a season-ending injury last season. That’s despite the fact that the Raiders yielded a half of point less per game than they have thus far this season.¬†At this point, it’s all about the team’s struggling offense. Oakland ranks 20th in the NFL in scoring after finishing last season in the top seven.

For his part, Carr has thrown nine touchdowns compared to eight interceptions over the past seven games. He threw six picks all of last season. It’s not a coincidence that Oakland is 2-5 in those seven starts. In order for this team to rebound and remain somewhat in playoff contention, Carr needs to stem the tide Sunday against a last-place Broncos team.

What in the wide world of Buffalo?

After last week’s failed experiment with rookie Nathan Peterman, first-year Bills head coach Sean McDermott announced on Wednesday that he’s going back to Tyrod Taylor under center this week against the Kansas City Chiefs.

The initial move of benching Taylor drew the ire of those around the NFL, resulting in a blowout 54-24 loss with Peterman putting up five interceptions in just one half of football. Benching a guy that led a team to a 5-4 mark and playoff positioning heading into Week 11 backfired big time here.

The question now is whether Taylor and the rest of his Bills teammates will respond to McDermott’s coaching. The team is still 5-5 and very much alive in the playoff race. It will be interesting to see how this squad performs Sunday against the struggling Chiefs.

Toilet Bowl in Ohio

The Cincinnati Bengals might technically be alive in the AFC Playoff race. But a lot would have to happen for this to come to fruition. Primarily, the Bengals need to play better football. The four wins Cincinnati boasts on the season has come against opponents with a combined 11 victories. In its other six games (all losses), Cincinnati came short by an average of over 10 points per game.

For the Browns, the situation is even more dire. Here’s a team that’s won a grand total of one game since Hue Jackson took over as head coach last season. They are 0-10 on the season and on the brink of making the wrong kind of history.

Fans in Ohio will tune into this game. It’s an in-state rivalry on a holiday weekend. It’s NFL football. But to expect anywhere near a good game would be foolish.

No, Patrick Mahomes is not the answer

Kansas City Chiefs fans pushing for rookie Patrick Mahomes to start are forgetting one thing. Prior to a horrible performance against the New York Giants last week, Alex Smith was firmly in the MVP conversation. One dud game might change that. But in no way does this mean Mahomes should take over for Smith under center.

Kansas City remains in first place in the AFC West, two games ahead of both the Chargers and Raiders. Smith is still in the midst of a career season, having thrown 18 touchdowns compared to three interceptions. Heck, the Chiefs still rank in the top seven of the NFL in scoring.

Let’s see how Smith and the Chiefs rebound Sunday against a suddenly struggling Bills team before drawing any further conclusions here. If the struggles do indeed continue, maybe a quarterback controversy in Kansas City will start brewing.

Is Steel town fixed?

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in NFL Week 5

Last week’s dominating performance against Tennessee could very well lead us to the conclusion that the Pittsburgh Steelers are back up there among the top rung of the AFC with the defending champion Patriots.

For the first time since October of 2016, Ben Roethlisberger tossed four touchdowns en route to leading Pittsburgh to a 40-17 win. Three of those scores went to Antonio Brown. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh’s defense intercepted Marcus Mariota four times in the win.

This week, the Steelers will be taking on a Green Bay Packers team that was shut out by Baltimore last week. It’s a game the Steelers should dominate. But as we’ve seen in the past, this squad has a tendency to play down to the level of its competition. Mike Tomlin and Co. can’t have that happen if the team is to move to 9-2 on the season and keep its hopes for a No. 1 seed alive.

Panthers clawing their way back to relevance

Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers quietly find themselves at 7-3 on the season and are just one game behind New Orleans in the NFC South. More than anything the recent turn of success has been established by a defense that’s yielded 41 total points during Carolina’s current three-game winning streak.

Though, Carolina’s offense did get back on track in its previous game prior to last week’s bye. The team put 45 points and 548 total yards of offense in a blowout win over Miami. Now playing stellar football on both sides of the ball, the Panthers are going to be dangerous moving forward. That should continue Sunday against a less-talented Jets squad.