What to Watch For in NFL Week 12
Several teams are still vying for a spot in the evolving NFL playoff picture. In order to solidify their place in the postseason, many will be forced to prove their worth by dominating some of the more intriguing matchups of the week.
For the players tasked with such a challenge, this could be a defining moment in their professional careers.
Who among the legends will continue shaping their legacy?
Which promising youngsters can climb their way out of the abyss and avoid further media torment?
When the dust clears at the end of Week 12, many questions shall be answered.
Which Quarterback Will Fall Under Serious Scrutiny After Monday Night’s Matchup?
Could there really be something to this sophomore slump? Cam Newton’s success in his third year after his second season could add to the theory’s validity.
Both quarterbacks have some interesting parallels in their plight. Each were afforded the luxury of facing stacked defenses each and every week while they connected on wide-open receivers all game without having to read defenses. Kap and RG3 were further made more comfortable in their first year taking over by having their current offensive coordinators implement versions of their college offenses.
This unfortunately meant these QBs would be further delayed in their development as true threats from the pocket by way of reading defenses simply because it’s a skill set they have very little practice at.
San Francisco and Washington have each lost their last two games while they continue to come under heavy scrutiny for their disappointing play. A third straight loss for either of these QBs could spell severe trouble for the stability and continuity of these once-proud franchises who each won their respective divisions only a season ago.
The last thing Griffin needs right now is for his job to get harder, yet that’s exactly what appears to be happening. RG3’s targets will be limited with Leonard Hankerson out with a knee injury and Jordan Reed likely to miss Monday’s game with a concussion.
Peyton Manning vs. Tom Brady
Not only is the game between the Patriots and Broncos on Sunday night a battle for home-field advantage in the playoffs, but it’s also a battle of legacies between these two first-ballot Hall of Fame QBs.
Tom Brady has a 9-4 head-to-head record over Peyton Manning (including playoffs), though Manning has generated better stats over those games.
The Broncos have given up 255 points this season, while the Patriots defense has allowed the second-fewest points in the AFC behind only the Chiefs. This should give Brady a slight edge in the box-score category; however, Peyton Manning has submitted to nobody when it comes to putting up big numbers this season.
Will New England be able to disrupt Manning’s timing in the pocket better than the Chiefs were able to last week? Once again, putting pressure on Manning and forcing him to hold onto the ball will be the key for Denver’s opponent. Last week, the Chiefs failed miserably at this task and paid the price dearly.
Bill Belichick has always seemed to find ways to bring out the more indecisive versions of Manning. I’m sure the chess match between these two strategic geniuses will be in full force come Sunday night.
Brady is not having the best year by his own standards, but is definitely on the upswing with his reinforcements now getting comfortable in the offense.
So, who is really the better quarterback?
Perhaps this Sunday’s matchup will help provide a bit more clarity to that infinitely complex question.
Wes Welker Returns to New England to Face His Old Team
This is a solid matchup for Wes Welker, who is bound to have a huge chip on his shoulder against his old team and will be looking to prove Bill Belichick wrong. Few things are more motivating for a top-notch competitor than to be made to feel like all of your success for years was merely the product of a good system and a great quarterback.
Clearly, Welker’s success as a Bronco, paired with the struggles for the Patriots at receiver, have been vindication on some level, but a head-to-head matchup back in New England is sure to bring out the very best in this fiery overachiever.
Welker has been one of the toughest slot receivers in the league over the course of his 10-year career. In fact, he has become somewhat synonymous with the position.
It should be interesting to see how Belichick and the Patriots go about defending against a man they know well and yet apparently had such little respect for. How much emphasis the secondary puts on him will tell us a lot about just how big of a threat they really think he will be.
How fascinating will it be if the Patriots end up losing because they have no answer for the guy they once thought of as a highly replaceable commodity?
Something worth noting here is that Welker suffered a concussion in last week’s win over the Chiefs, though he is listed as probable and is almost certainly going to play in this game. Add him to your fantasy lineup for Week 12.
Chuck Pagano Faces Bruce Arians
For those who happen to remember the inspiring run the Indianapolis Colts went on during head coach Chuck Pagano’s first year where he was hospitalized after being diagnosed with leukemia, you must also remember Bruce Arians, the guy who replaced him and did a remarkable job.
Naturally, after an emotionally charged journey like the one shared by Pagano and Arians last season, you would expect these two men to have a unique bond.
Friendly as they may be, come Sunday, these two passionate competitors will square off as head coaches for the first time ever.
Pagano and his Colts are looking promising at 7-3, while the Cardinals have won three straight games and are sitting at 6-4. Both guys appear to be well-suited for the job, as they’ve helped turn their respective franchises into playoff contenders almost instantly.
Not surprisingly, the upper hand in this matchup may hinge upon which coach is able to outsmart the other. Both teams are not without their flaws and seem to be evenly matched—especially considering the Cardinals are currently fighting for their playoff lives in the NFC.
Arians even has Carson Palmer stepping his game up lately, as he’s coming off his best performance as a Cardinal last week.
Pagano’s Colts have the edge on the offensive side of the ball, but Arians gets the nod for having a better defense—interesting when you consider the expertise of each coach is on the opposite side of his team’s strength.
Two NFC East Coaches Fight for Their Job
Unfortunately, the NFL is a league defined by the ideals of “what have you done for me lately.”
So, even a relatively successful coach like Tom Coughlin, who has won two Super Bowls in the last six years, is far from secure in his prospects of returning as coach next season.
Considering Coughlin is now entering murky waters as the head coach of the Giants, we can only assume that Jason Garrett’s future with the Cowboys is not nearly as secure as owner Jerry Jones wants us to believe.
Earlier in the week Jones went public saying that Garrett will return as head coach of the Cowboys in 2014. Those sentiments should be taken with a grain of salt, as the outspoken owner has a reputation for being full of hot air.
In any case, the struggling Cowboys (5-5) and the disappointing Giants (4-6) will continue their storied rivalry this weekend while not only the division, but the jobs of two head coaches could hang in the balance.
Darrelle Revis vs. Calvin Johnson
Darrelle Revis held Calvin Johnson to one catch for 13 yards in their 2010 Week 9 matchup.
Will the Buccaneers have the confidence in Revis to put him in single coverage against the most dangerous receiver in the world?
Perhaps if Revis wasn’t rehabbing from knee surgery all offseason it might be a safer bet to let these two go man-to-man on Sunday. As it stands, Revis has not fully returned to his old self, as he’s still trying to build his confidence and leg muscles around his knee joint. Nevertheless, he still possesses enough talent and instinct to make it a great matchup for four quarters.
Megatron has an enormous physical advantage in nearly every aspect from speed, height, weight and strength. In order to succeed against such a glaring physical mismatch, Revis’ preparation and anticipation will have to be top notch this week.
Rams Pass Rush Against Bears OL
Don’t be fooled by the fact that Bears quarterbacks have only been sacked 16 times this season—according to Pro Football Focus (subscription site), the Bears have still managed to have the second-worst pass-rush grade in the entire NFL.
Meanwhile, bookends Robert Quinn and Chris Long are currently the second-best pass-rush tandem in the league. They have combined for 18.5 sacks in just 10 games.
Rookie right tackle Jordan Mills, who was drafted in the fifth round, is currently the lowest graded tackle in the NFL who has played at least 25 percent of the snaps, per PFF (subscription site).
Obviously this could spell trouble for backup quarterback Josh McCown, who has played remarkably well in the absence of Jay Cutler so far.
McCown has a passer rating of 100 and a Total QBR of 81.3, which puts him in the same range as Peyton Manning, although given a much smaller sample size this season.
We should expect to see McCown utilize his athleticism and mobility, which has helped keep him around the NFL, far more this game than he has in his previous matchups. How well he is able to sniff out and avoid pressure should determine whether or not the Bears will come away victorious against a defense which is playing very well as of late.
In their last game, they held the Colts to only eight points and forced three interceptions by Andrew Luck. Quinn and Long combined for three sacks on the day and provided relentless pressure from start to finish.
If anyone thinks this is going to be an easy game for the Bears, they better think again. Of all the matchups between backup quarterbacks facing off, this may be the most interesting to watch.
Ryan Riddle is a former NFL player and current Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.