Sunday Morning Under the Helmet: What to Watch for in NFL Week 12

Alex JohnsonCorrespondent INovember 29, 2009

IRVING, TX - OCTOBER 14:  Quarterback Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots celebrates a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Dallas Cowboys at Texas Stadium on October 14, 2007 in Irving, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

NFL coaches always emphasize the importance of games played after Thanksgiving and preach that the "real season" starts after Turkey Day.

Well, Thanksgiving was three days ago; The "real season" starts now!

Matchup of the Week: New England Patriots (7-3) at New Orleans Saints (10-0)

The Patriots vs. Saints matchup on Monday Night Football is clearly the "must watch" game of Week 12.

This primetime showdown puts two high-powered offenses led by two MVP candidate quarterbacks head-to-head in what may be a Super Bowl XLIV preview. It's sure to be a great game!

New England, which has won six straight games on Monday Night Football, will try to put an end to the Saints' bid at matching their 16-0 record from just two seasons ago.

To finally put a "1" in the Saints' loss column, the Pats will have to play a full 60 minutes of football. They've struggled in second half of games and it has cost them multiple times this season including Week 10's disaster against Indianapolis.

In the second half, the Pats have scored just 94 points as opposed to the 196 they've posted in the first half of games.

In fact, in all three of their losses they held a halftime lead.

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Against the Jets in Week Two, they were outscored 13-0 in the second half after holding a 9-3 lead at the end of the second quarter. In Week Five vs. Denver, New England led 17-7 at the half, but again were shutout in the second half, then lost in overtime. And of course against Indy in Week 10, they collapsed in the second half after holding a 24-7 second quarter lead going on to lose 35-34 in the final seconds.

New Orleans is the complete opposite. The Saints are fantastic in the second half. Drew Brees and company have posted 188 second half points this season and have made multiple late game comebacks.

After trailing 24-10 mid-way through their Week Seven game against the Dolphins, the Saints rallied with 36 second half points to take the victory 46-34. Two weeks later against Carolina, they outscored the Panthers 24-3 in the second half to win 30-20.

So basically if this game looks like a blowout after two quarters on Monday night, don't even dare let the thoughts of having to get up to go to work early the next morning enter your mind because chances are, the second half will be totally different and you'll be kicking yourself for going to bed.

No matter what happens in the second half, though, this game has "shootout" written all over it.

Both of these offenses rank in the top three in points per game, top two in yards, and top 10 in passing.

They both have Pro Bowl quarterbacks, and Pro Bowl receivers. There will be pigskins flying through the air all night long.

On the New England side, quarterback Tom Brady, who is currently riding a career long five straight 300+ yards passing streak, will likely look in the directions of Randy Moss and Wes Welker many times throughout the night.

Moss is second in the league in receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, he's the deep threat.

Welker leads the league in receptions and is second in yards after the catch, he's Brady's security blanket.

For New Orleans, Brees likes to spread the ball around a bit more.

Marques Colston and Robert Meachem are tied with the team lead in touchdown catches. Colston also leads the Saints in receptions and yards.

Devery Henderson is Brees' deep threat. Henderson is 10th in the NFL in yards per catch (16.8).

Tight end Jeremy Shockey is also a dangerous weapon for Brees to throw to. Shockey has hauled in 39 passes for 461 yards and three touchdowns this season.

Another weapon Brees has in his arsenal is the run game. Pierre Thomas, Mike Bell, and Reggie Bush have created quite a rushing attack for the Saints this season. They rank fifth in rushing yards per game.

But the key to this game may not be how these two offensive juggernauts use their weapons, it might be how the defenses try to stop them.

New England's defense ranks second in points allowed and sixth against the pass so they may have the upper hand over the Saints who rank 13th and 15th in those categories, respectively.

Right now the Saints are battling injuries on defense.

Defensive backs Tracy Porter, Randall Gay, and Jabari Greer all were either limited in practice this week or did not practice at all.

Good news, though, is that safety Darren Sharper, who sat out last week's game vs. St. Louis with a knee injury, was removed from the injury report.

Despite the bumps and bruises, expect the Saints D and coordinator Gregg Williams to continue their blitz-happy ways tomorrow night to try to stop Brady, Moss and Welker.

Keys to the game

-Brady vs. Brees

-Moss and Welker

-Saints run game

-Who can get more pressure on the opposing QB?

Prediction: Patriots win 37-31.

Small Names, Big Games

Here we will take a look at three non-superstars who will post big numbers in Week 12.

Rock Cartwright (RB, Washington)

With Clinton Portis and Ladell Betts both out with injuries, Rock Cartwright will be the starting running back for the Redskins this afternoon.

Cartwright and the 'Skins go against division rival Philadelphia today.

Because of the injuries, Cartwright will see the majority of the backfield touches which could mean a lot of yards from scrimmage. Expect over 100 total yards from Cartwright this afternoon.

Jamaal Charles (RB, Kansas City)

Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles has played well in the last two weeks since taking over the starting job after the release of Larry Johnson.

Charles has scored three touchdowns in those two games with one coming on a kick return.

In Week 10 against the Raiders, Charles ran for 103 yards on 18 carries.

Today he goes against the San Diego Chargers who rank 21st against the run.

Look for Charles to run for 80+ yards and find the endzone once again this afternoon.

Alex Smith (QB, San Francisco)

Since taking over the starting job back in Week Eight, former first overall pick Alex Smith has been impressive in what is, perhaps, his final attempt at making it as a starting quarterback in the NFL.

Smith has completed 61.3 percent of his passes this season and has thrown for 1,031 yards with nine touchdowns and seven interceptions.

Last week Smith threw for 227 yards and three touchdowns in San Francisco's 30-24 loss to Green Bay.

Today Smith matches up against the Jaguars' 25th ranked pass defense. Jacksonville is allowing an average of 244 yards through the air so watch for Smith to have another good game this afternoon.

To Watch: Fred Davis (TE, Washington), Jason Snelling (RB, Atlanta), Justin Forsett (RB, Seattle)

Upset Alert!: Houston (5-5) over Indianapolis (10-0)???

This afternoon the Houston Texans will attempt to keep their quickly fading playoff hopes alive by beating the 10-0 Indianapolis Colts. Doing so will certainly be a tough task.

Not only has Indianapolis won all 10 of its games this season, they've won 19 consecutive regular season games dating back to last year.

So why all of a sudden is this dominant team going to fall to a .500 club that isn't just trying to make the playoffs this season, but for the first time in franchise history?

Judging by Indy's last four games, they're a team that's just barely hanging onto the ropes of perfection and that rope is about to break.

Since beating St. Louis in Week Seven, the Colts have won four games by a combined 10 points.

That includes their 20-17 win over the Texans in Week Nine when Houston kicker Kris Brown missed a potential game-tying field goal at the end of regulation.

In that Week Nine game, which was held at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Texans quarterback Matt Schaub threw for 311 yards and one touchdown while connecting with his favorite target Andre Johnson 10 times for 103 yards.

It's very likely the Schaub-to-Johnson connection will light up the house again this afternoon.

Schaub and Johnson have hooked up 58 times for 878 yards and five touchdowns this season. The two are the NFL's third best quarterback to receiver tandems in the NFL this year only behind the Colts' Peyton Manning-to-Reggie Wayne and New England's Brady-to-Moss.

To make things worse for Indy, the Colts defensive backfield has been littered with injuries this season so they may be calling on backups to slow down Houston's third ranked passing attack.

Seven Indianapolis defensive backs found themselves on the injury report this week, the most devastating of which being cornerback Kelvin Hayden who's listed as questionable for today's game with a knee injury and of course safety Bob Sanders who was placed on injured reserve a few weeks ago.

To add even more insult to injury, Colts head coach Jim Caldwell ruled defensive end Dwight Freeney out for today's game with an abdominal injury.

The Texans defense is up against a great challenge this week themselves.

They have to go against Peyton Manning and the league's No.1 ranked pass offense. The Colts are averaging 313.5 yards per game through the air and a fifth ranked 26.9 points per game.

In Week Nine, the Texans struggled to stop Manning who threw for 318 yards and one touchdown in that victory. Manning's top target that day was tight end Dallas Clark who grabbed 14 balls for 119 yards. The Texans will need to do a better job slowing down Clark if they plan to pull of the upset today.

Keys for HOU

-Apply pressure on Manning

-Schaub-to-Johnson must connect early and often

-Stop Dallas Clark

-Keep the Colts offense off the field

Prediction: Texans win 27-23.


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