GREEN BAY, WI – OCTOBER 15: Aaron Rodgers #12 of the Green Bay Packers drops back to pass during a … [+]
Here are the six biggest games of the 12th weekend of the NFL season.
(All times Eastern)
Carolina Panthers (5-5) at New Orleans Saints (8-2), 1 p.m.
This game will feature two players on incredible paces.
New Orleans bounced back from an awful home loss to Atlanta by beating Tampa Bay 34-17 last week. In 10 games, Saints receiver Michael Thomas has caught an NFL-record 94 passes. He needs six receptions to become the eighth player in NFL history with three consecutive seasons of 100-plus catches.
It’s probably do or die for the Panthers, who have dropped three of their last four after a four-game winning streak. Carolina has turned over the ball 10 times and averaged just 15.5 points during their skid. The slump has potentially derailed running back Christian McCaffrey’s MVP candidacy, even though last week he became the first player in NFL history with 1,000 rushing yards and 500 receiving yards in the first 10 games of the season. He has 1,576 yards from scrimmage this season – a whopping 45.5 percent of the team’s total.
New Orleans will test McCaffrey with the league’s third-best run defense. “When you feel really good about the way those guys are playing, to me, it just kind of permeates throughout the rest of the unit because they feel that and the impact those guys up front make,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said of the Saints’ front four.
Seattle Seahawks (8-2) at Philadelphia Eagles (5-5), 1 p.m.
SEATTLE, WA – DECEMBER 03: Quarterback Russell Wilson #3 of the Seattle Seahawks in action against … [+]
Both teams are trying to keep pace in their divisions, with the Seahawks a game behind San Francisco and the Eagles a game behind Dallas.
In a big overtime victory over the 49ers before last week’s bye, Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson directed his fifth game-winning drive of the season. In his past nine road games, he’s authored a passer rating of 123.5. He’s one of the MVP front-runners.
“Just watching him as a player and his ability to create is something that I really admire,” Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz said. “His athleticism is something I tried to implement in my game a little bit. But at the same time, we’re different players. He’s way quicker than I am, way faster than I am, but a lot of respect for how he can improvise and make plays.”
The Seahawks have won each of the four matchups by 10-plus points. They’re coming off back-to-back overtime victories, and seven of their eight victories have come by seven points or less.
“I think the great thing about this game for our football team was just the resilience,” Wilson said. “We’ve had it all year. We’ve been, I think, the toughest team just in terms of resilience all year, in my opinion. Just how we stay encouraged, how we stay focused, how we keep having the faith and believe something great is going to happen.”
Jacksonville Jaguars (4-6) at Tennessee Titans (5-5), 4:05 p.m.
This is a must-win in the AFC South to keep pace with the first-place Texans, who improved to 7-4 with a victory over Indianapolis on Thursday.
Running backs will take center stage. For the Titans, Derrick Henry rushed for 188 yards and two touchdowns in an upset of the Chiefs before last week’s bye. The last time these teams met in Tennessee, Henry rushed for 238 yards and four touchdowns – including a 99-yarder. He’ll attack what’s been a tissue-soft run defense. The Jaguars gave up 264 rushing yards in last week’s 33-13 loss to Indianapolis.
For the Jaguars, Leonard Fournette is one of three running backs with 750-plus rushing yards and 250-plus receiving yards. However, he carried the ball only eight times in the blowout loss to Indianapolis. Fournette has 1,185 scrimmage yards – the most in 10 games in franchise history – but he and Tiki Barber (Gants, 2006) are the only players in NFL history with 1,000-plus scrimmage yards but no more than one touchdown in the first 10 games, according to STATS.
The Titans, who have won five straight at home in the series, have scored 10 consecutive red-zone touchdowns.
Dallas Cowboys (6-4) at New England Patriots (9-1), 4:25 p.m.
The Cowboys rank No. 1 in the NFL in offense with 444.6 yards per game. The Patriots rank No. 1 in the NFL in defense with 249.9 yards allowed per game. Something’s got to give.
“It’s exciting,” Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott said. “You talk about wanting to win championships. You’ve got to beat the people that have won.”
The matchup of Prescott vs. New England’s pass defense will be fascinating. Prescott leads the NFL with 3,221 passing yards and 8.82 yards per attempt, is second with 21 touchdowns and is eighth with a 104.2 passer rating. Meanwhile, the Patriots are first in the NFL by a mile with an opponent passer rating of 49.2. That’s a whopping 23 points better than second-place San Francisco.
“They’re at the top of the league for a reason,” cornerback Stephon Gilmore said. “It’s a big challenge. And I’m looking forward to it.”
Between regular season and postseason, New England has won 20 consecutive home games. With a victory, New England will clinch its 17th consecutive season of 10-plus wins – a league record.
Neither team has a signature win this season. New England’s nine wins have come against teams with a .356 winning percentage. That’s a powerhouse when compared to Dallas. Its six wins have come against teams with a .258 winning percentage.
Green Bay Packers (8-2) at San Francisco 49ers (9-1), 8:20 p.m.
GREEN BAY, WI – OCTOBER 15: Ronald Blair III #98 of the San Francisco 49ers sacks Aaron Rogers #12 … [+]
There are six games left in the season, but the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs could be at stake. That, however, is just one of the storylines in the Game of the Week. San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan and Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur are close friends. LaFleur and San Francisco defensive coordinator Robert Saleh were roommates while coaching at Northern Michigan. LaFleur’s brother, Mike, is the 49ers’ passing game coordinator.
“I texted Saleh earlier this week on Monday,” LaFleur said. “I asked him to give me a call because I had a couple of questions about his defense. That’s what you do with close friends of yours. As a matter of fact, shoot, my wife was out to dinner with Kyle’s last night. We’re close but when it comes to game time, there are no friends. That’s your opposition and you’re trying to beat the crap out of each other, really.”
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will face a 49ers defense that ranks No. 1 against the pass and sack percentage and is No. 2 in opponent in passer rating.
“Just a really solid defense,” Rodgers said. “They’re obviously very stout up front. They’ve had a number of sacks, which is obviously helping not only their overall yardage but the back end, as well, because the back end knows the ball’s got to come out at a certain time. There’s not any holes on this defense. It’s solid from the front seven to the back end. They’re playing really well together. It’s going to be a really good test for us.”
Niners quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo will face one of the weaker pass defenses in the league. He ranks among the league leaders in completion percentage but also has thrown 10 interceptions and lost four fumbles.
“That’s just part of being a quarterback,” he said. “In football, bad things are going to happen at some point. No one’s ever going to play a perfect game, so it’s just how you react to those things.”
Baltimore Ravens (8-2) at Los Angeles Rams (6-4), 8:15 p.m. (Monday)
BALTIMORE, MARYLAND – NOVEMBER 17: Lamar Jackson #8 of the Baltimore Ravens rushes for a first down … [+]
Last year, it was the Rams that took the NFL by storm. This year, it’s the Lamar Jackson-led Ravens.
Jackson has emerged as the front-runner for MVP honors. He’s made big plays through the air and with his legs. He’s rushed for 781 yards, putting him on pace for 1,250. The quarterback rushing record belongs to Michael Vick, who rushed for 1,039 yards in 2016.
Rams safety Eric Weddle was with the Ravens last season when Jackson was a rookie.
“Lamar, love him and know the type of person he is, so it’s like the proud big bro watching him from afar, the success he’s having,” Weddle said, adding, “It’s going to be a huge challenge for us. You can play defense great and be perfect, but he’s the X factor. You can’t get down when he does make some plays or converts third down just by being him. You’ve just got to keep plugging along. But, shoot, we love the challenge, man. This is what it’s all about, and we get them at home.”
The Rams’ defense, however, is one of the best in the NFL. In terms of yards per play, Los Angeles is second against the run and fifth against the pass. It’s allowed just 44 points the past four games. That unit is led by defensive tackle Aaron Donald, the two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year.