Sunday NFL Preview: Week Twelve

By Lloyd Vance
Updated: November 22, 2008

NFL PHILADELPHIA — As the 2008 NFL Season hits the third quarter pole and it is quickly becoming apparent that this wacky season is going to come down to the bitter end (week 17) before everything is said and done.

There are currently 21 teams at .500 or better — tied with 2002 with the highest number of teams with that mark after 10 games – so practically every team in the parity-laden league has a shot for one of the 12 coveted playoff berths.

Surprisingly two teams (Tennessee Titans and Arizona Cardinals) can clinch one of the playoff berths before the Thanksgiving holiday. Of being in such a good playoff position Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt said, “We’re in a good position, but it’s not a done deal yet”.

Coach Whisenhunt is a wise man as the NFL has shown us week after week that no team can take a week off…just ask the Philadelphia Eagles who tied the lowly Bengals in week 11.

The undefeated Titans (10-0) and the Cardinals (7-3) will be part of the two marquee match-ups for week 12. The Cardinals will host the NFC East leading New York Giants (9-1) in a “respect” game as the G-Men return to the site of their Super Bowl XLII victory — the last eight times a Super Bowl winning team has returned to the site of their victory that team has won seven times.

And the Titans will look to stay undefeated in a playoff type home game against the fast rising New York Jets (7-3) led by Brett “the Jet” Favre in the battle of the graybeard quarterbacks — 39-year old Favre will square off against fellow veteran 35-year old Kerry Collins.

The four teams involved have a winning percentage of 82.5%.

Giants head coach Tom Coughlin recently said, “There are many, many big games to go.” The fiery coach is right, as every NFL team must prepare for their weekly opposition like it is Super Bowl.

The two aforementioned marquee games will be prevalent on this week’s schedule, those two games are just part many exciting games this week. Week 12 in the NFL will features:

Four division match-ups — Bengals at Steelers, Patriots at Dolphins, Panthers at Falcons, and Raiders at Broncos).

Several bad-blood revenge type games– Bengals at Steelers – Hines Ward against the Bengals after breaking Bengals LB Keith Rivers’ jaw, Colts at Chargers – the Bolts knocked the Colts out of ’07 playoffs and ended their ’05 unbeaten streak, Patriots at Dolphins – the Wildcat formation crushed the Patriots in week 2, and Raiders at Broncos – Mike Shanahan hates Al Davis and the Raiders and I am sure the feeling is mutual.

A couple interesting reunions — Redskins head coach Jim Zorn and RB Shaun Alexander return to Seattle, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick leads his team versus his old mentor Bill Parcels’ group in Miami, and Ravens rookie head coach John Harbaugh leads his squad against his former team the Philadelphia Eagles.

Several must-win games for playoff hopefuls trying to stay in the hunt — Eagles at Ravens, Bears at Rams, Packers at Saints, Niners at Cowboys and Vikings at Jaguars.

Of all of the match-ups and news around week 12, I am most interested in the divisional races, as they will dictate, who will be scrambling for the four remaining wildcard playoff berths.

In the AFC Divisions are as follows:AFC South (Looks wrapped up as the Titans lead the Colts by 4 games), AFC North (Steelers lead the Ravens by 1 game), AFC East (Jets leading the Patriots and the surprising Dolphins by 1 game- all the teams in this division are .500 or better), and in the AFC West (Broncos lead the Chargers by 2 games).

In the NFC the races are also tight, except for the Cardinals who are looking like they will win their first division title since 1975: NFC East (The Giants may have wrapped this one up already as they have a 3 game lead over the Redskins and Cowboys – all teams in this division have winning records), NFC North (The NFL’s wildest division is all knotted up with the Packers, Vikings, and Bears all tied at 5-5), NFC South (Panthers lead the Bucs by 1 game), and in the NFC West (Cardinals have the near insurmountable lead of 4 games over the Niners).

The great thing is every NFL game no matter who is playing is must-see; in fact last week’s CBS doubleheader game – 19.7 Million viewers — and the NBC Sunday Night Game (Cowboys-Redskins drew 19.3 Million viewers) were the second and third most-watched programs of the week (Nov. 10-16) only behind “60 Minutes” profile of President-elect Barack Obama.

I even believe that this week’s perceived blowout match-up between the Buccaneers (7-3) and the winless Lions (0-10) is worth watching. The Lions have been playing better with comeback quarterback Daunte Culpepper and I am feeling an upset special.

Hopefully the Lions will be able to win one, as they really don’t want to trump the 1976 Buccaneers (0-14) in the NFL record books. But the Lions have a tough schedule down the stretch (Tampa Bay, Tennessee, Minnesota, at Indianapolis, New Orleans and at Green Bay).

Lloyd Leftovers for this week

Lots of winning in three divisions– The 12 teams in the AFC East, NFC East (best division in my opinion), and NFC South all have a record of .500 or better. That is the first time that three divisions have had every team with a .500 or better record this late in a season since realignment in 2002.

Porter gunning for Strahan’s record– We all know that Joey Porter can be a bit over the top with his mouth and antics. But one is for certain, the loquacious linebacker backs it up on the field. Porter leads the NFL with 13.5 sacks and with six games remaining needs 9.5 sacks to break former Giants defensive end and now Fox talking head Michael Strahan’s single season NFL sack record (22.5 in 2001). Porter has been a catalyst for the Dolphins and he even has half of Miami’s 27 sacks. Porter recently said about getting after the quarterback, “Pass-rushing is big, it changes the game a lot”.

Marino may have to move aside for two- I still remember a young gun-slinging Dan Marino setting the near impossible NFL single-season passing yardage mark of 5,084 yards in 1984 and I thinking no would ever come close to that record. Well Dan might have to make room for not one, but two throwers as Saints quarterback Drew Brees and Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner are approaching his standard. Through 10 games of the 2008 NFL season Brees (projected to have 5,201 yards) is on pace to smash the record and Warner is not far behind (projected to have 5,048 yards).

Rookie running backs living up to the hype- I still remember one of the scouts that I talk to a lot at draft time telling me that the 2008 NFL Draft running back class was up there with the 1983 NFL Draft quarterback class (Marino, Elway, Blackledge, O’Brien, Eason, and Kelly). I will have to send that scout a beverage of choices as he was so correct the chain-movers that joined the NFL this year. An NFL record 10 rookie runners have cracked the 100-yard mark (Chiefs Jamaal Charles, Bears Matt Forte, Titans Chris Johnson, Patriots Ben Jarvus Green-Ellis, Cardinals Tim Hightower, Raiders Darren McFadden, Ravens Ray Rice, Texans Steve Slaton, Lions Kevin Smith, and the Panthers Jonathan Stewart) and that number could continue to grow if Broncos new featured back Peyton Hillis continues to pound the rock.

Featured Game

49ers (3-7) at Cowboys (6-4), Sunday 1 p.m. ET (FOX) at Texas Stadium

Broadcast Team:Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, and Pam Oliver (Field reporter)

In a game that I am dubbing the “T.O Bowl” for former Niners and current Cowboys pain-in-the-butt receiver Terrell Owens (remember when as a Niner he dared pose on the star in the middle of Texas Stadium twice after touchdowns), the Cowboys will look to avoid a very costly letdown against a better than their record Niners squad.

After quite possibly saving their season with a tough 14-10 road win over the Redskins, the Cowboys are entering a very tough phase of their schedule where they must play twice in the span of five days. With little chance of catching the Giants for the NFC division, the Cowboys must go 2-0 against the Niners and Seahawks (Thanksgiving opponent) to keep up with the Redskins (6-4) and Bucs (7-3).

Some encouraging signs for the soap opera filled Cowboys — this week alone Pacman is back, Felix Jones put on I/R, T.O gripes, etc — are that quarterback Tony “Mr. Jessica Simpson” Romo (147-227, 1887, 15 TDs, and 7 Ints) is playing his second game after a 3-game absence due to a broken pinkie – will get rid of the splint this week – and running back Marion Barber (196 rushes for 779 yards, and 6 TDs) is running with authority. Barber closed the game with the ‘Skins with a chain-moving display (touched the ball on Dallas’ final 11 plays) and I am sure the Cowboys will be looking for more of the same against a Niners defense that has allowed an average of 342 total yards per game.

I am sure the splint-less Romo will try to get the ball to T.O as the superstar receiver has been pouting again after not getting his “catches” (40 catches for 505 yards and six touchdowns) and TE Jason Witten is very banged up with rib problems. T.O recently said in an interview, “When I came here, I came here with the idea and the notion that we had a chance to win a championship”. He added, “Me coming to the city of Dallas, I want to bring a sixth Super Bowl championship to the city of Dallas. And for me to have the numbers that I have, not really being involved, it is discouraging. It is frustrating.”

On the other side of the field, there is a new sheriff on the Niners’ sideline as fiery defensive coach Mike “Iron Mike II” Singletary was instilled a new attitude to the struggling team. The Niners have seem to have responded playing tough in week 10 against the Cardinals (came up short at the goal line) and they won their first game under Singletary in week 11 over the Rams.

Singletary may have found the spark that he needed in quarterback Shaun Hill (49-83, 602 yards, 5 TDs, and 2 INTs) as the scrappy leader and running back Frank Gore (177 rushes for 834 yards and 6 TDs) is running with authority again after being slowed by an injury earlier in the season.

Defensively look for the Cowboys DeMarcus Ware (NFC leading 11 sacks) to get after Hill with the hope that back from injury corner Terrence Newman get another game-changing interception. While the Niners will be looking for a solid tackling day from LB Patrick Willis and get more turnovers to improve on their -12 turnover ratio.

LV’s Pick: I know this looks like a potential blowout, but nothing is guaranteed in the NFL….just ask the Cowboys, who were embarrassed in week 7 by the lowly Rams. I expect the Cowboys to be all-business as owner Jerry Jones has made it abundantly clear that anything worse than an appearance in the second or third round of the playoffs will not due (i.e. Bye, Bye Wade Phillips) — no playoff wins since 1996. Look for Romo to get Owens, rookie TE Martellus Bennett, and Barber involved early and often as the Cowboys continue their march back to respectability with a dominating 31-14 win.

NFL Week 12

Thursday’s result

Cincinnati 10 at Pittsburgh 27. (NFL Network)

Sunday’s games

New England at Miami, 1 p.m. (CBS)

Carolina at Atlanta, 1 p.m. (CBS)

Philadelphia at Baltimore, 1 p.m. (FOX)

Houston at Cleveland, 1 p.m. (CBS)

N.Y. Jets at Tennessee, 1 p.m. (CBS)

Buffalo at Kansas City, 1 p.m. (CBS)

Chicago at St. Louis, 1 p.m. (FOX)

Minnesota at Jacksonville, 1 p.m. (FOX)

Tampa Bay at Detroit, 1 p.m. (FOX)

San Francisco at Dallas, 1 p.m. (FOX)

Oakland at Denver, 4:05 p.m. (CBS)

N.Y. Giants at Arizona, 4:15 p.m. (FOX)

Washington at Seattle, 4:15 p.m. (FOX)

Indianapolis at San Diego, 8:15 p.m. (NBC)

Monday’s game

Green Bay at New Orleans, 8:30 p.m. (ESPN)