NFL Week 12: It’s Put Up or Shut Up Time.

Eleven of the top thirteen* teams play each other in games with big playoff implications.

USA Today Sports. Pictured: Jared Goff, Lamar Jackson

When it comes to football, missed kicks, injuries, bad coaching and even worse officiating are the only factors we can trust.

The teams that have weathered the storm best this season have been the best organizations, whose superior coaching, drafting and management of the salary cap have given them the flexibility to keep winning through adversity.

While this has been the year of the backup quarterback, we have crossed the Rubicon concerning mobile quarterbacks.

Of the 15 teams currently fighting for a playoff spot, only four have traditional pocket passers: New England, New Orleans, Minnesota and the Los Angeles Rams. And only the Patriots and Saints have a Super Bowl-winning coach and a balanced roster that is not in salary cap hell. The Vikings wasted a huge amount of money on Kirk Cousins and the Rams wasted an even huger amount of money extending Jared Goff and the mysteriously injured and ineffective Todd Gurley.

Here’s a summary of the big games this week and why they are important.

Tier I: Shooting for home-field advantage

New England vs Dallas

The Patriots have looked shaky the last couple of weeks. After fattening up on the worst pupu platter of quarterbacks in the league to go 8–0 and have people talk about their defense being historically great, they gave up 37 points in a loss to Baltimore. The following week, Tom Brady was awful, and the only touchdown the offense scored was on a trick play. The New England offense punted seven times and only got inside the Philadelphia 20 three times.

They need this win to right the ship and keep a hold of the #1 seed in the AFC — they do not want to play in Baltimore for the AFC Championship game everyone anticipates.

Green Bay at San Francisco

This game will probably decide who gets a first-round bye. Both teams have looked shaky recently.

San Francisco could have lost both games to Arizona and blew a game against Seattle. Jimmy Garroppolo keeps throwing interceptions that get dropped. He’s looking more and more like Alex Smith, and his coach is turning him into a game manager. The loss of George Kittles is a huge blow to their offense, and mobile quarterbacks have shredded their once-proud defense, giving up 26 points per game the last three games.

Green Bay had a truly horrendous loss to the Chargers, then almost blew a big lead against the Panthers. Aaron Rogers is not sharp, but their running game is picking up. The defense started the season looking great but it’s now just average and terrible against the run.

Given the remaining schedules, this is a must-win for San Francisco, as a loss could even jeopardize their chances of winning the division. San Francisco plays at Baltimore, at New Orleans, home to revitalized Atlanta and the unpredictable Rams, and finish at Seattle. If things go sideways against Green Bay, the 49ers could end the season at Seattle playing for their playoff lives.

If Green Bay wins, they play three miserable teams, the Vikings and the Lions, who suddenly need a quarterback and look to be a tanking candidate. A win against the 49ers assures a 12–win season and a bye.

Baltimore at Los Angeles Rams

Baltimore is the hottest team in football. After a 2–2 start, they have gained momentum with big wins at Seattle and home against New England and Houston. With Lamar Jackson’s running threat, they are destroying good defenses.

A win keeps them two games ahead of their competition in the AFC and puts pressure on New England for the #1 seed. With games left against San Francisco, Buffalo, the Jets, Cleveland and Pittsburgh, the Ravens should win 13 games and have a shot at running the table.

Tier 2: Winning their division

Seattle at Philadelphia

This is a huge game between two teams that are almost mirror images of each other. Seattle has a mobile quarterback having the best season of his career to bail out a bad defense giving up 25 points a game. Philadelphia has a mobile quarterback having the worst season of his career with a good defense that can’t quite win games by themselves.

Seattle needs this game to have a chance to catch San Francisco for the division title. With games left against Minnesota, at the Rams, at Carolina, Arizona, and San Francisco, a loss could make it difficult to win 11 games.

Philadelphia may look bad at times, but this game is a key to their season as it is backloaded with the worst teams in the NFL: Miami, New York Giants (x 2), and Washington. With a win against Seattle, Philadelphia is a lock to win 10 games and a chance at a wild card since they’ll own a tiebreaker over Seattle. Then, all they need then is to beat Dallas at home to win their division. With a loss, they have to run the table and hope that Dallas loses to the Patriots and the Rams.

Indianapolis at Houston

This Thursday night game was a must-win game for Houston as they had already lost to the Colts.

Houston’s win gives them the inside track to win the division in spite of all their injuries on defense because of mobile quarterback DeShaun Watson and his excellent skills players in Hyde, Hopkins, and Fuller.

Indianapolis was not as fortunate, with a banged-up Jacoby Brissett and TY Hilton. They still have a shot at the Wild Card in the weaker AFC, competing with Buffalo and Oakland, but they don’t have an easier schedule.

Dallas at New England

Dallas can afford a loss there as long as they can beat Philadelphia in week 15.

But this is a statement game.

Dallas is 0–3 against teams with a winning record this season. Their offense has the #1 DVOA rating. Dak Prescott is the #1 rated quarterback. They have Zeke, a great offensive line, a hall-of-fame tight end and some excellent receivers. Their defense isn’t great, but it’s good enough to put some pressure on New England’s stagnant offense.

Everything points to a close game and a possible Dallas win.

Except the coaching.

If Dallas wins, they only need to split their remaining tough games against the Eagles and the Rams to win the division.

More importantly, this game signals whether Dallas has a chance to win a first round playoff game.

Tier 3: Loser goes home

Los Angeles Rams

I don’t know what to think about the Rams. Maybe I just don’t want to face the awful truth about the Rams.

I know Jared has been Goff-ul this season when he is under pressure. But when he gets the time he can still lead the team down the field when the game is on the line. Of course, it helps if your field goal kicker doesn’t blow a game-winning kick.

The Rams have rebuilt their secondary and offensive line on the fly this season, which is why this team is so unpredictable.

Their cornerback play was so bad earlier in the season they gave up 85 points in two games they could have won. But they traded Peters and Aqib and brought in Jalen Ramsey, an elite cornerback. Suddenly, the defense can play the way Wade Phillips wants to run his scheme. They have only given up 9 points per game since the trades, and almost won a game by themselves.**

After the Steelers game, the Rams offensive line came back to have a strong game against the Bears’ top 5 defense. Coach Sean McVay simplified the Rams’ blocking schemes, which allowed the two rookies on the right side to find the man and hit him, instead of trying to maintain alignment with the zone blocking scheme the Rams have used for three years.

In spite of two early turnovers that stalled drives, The defense was solid, in an ugly win over the Bears. With the improved running and a strong game by Todd Gurley, Jared Goff completed two long passes for the first time in months.

If the Rams lose to Baltimore, they would need to win the rest of their games to have a shot at a Wild Card spot that will probably require 11 wins.

It’s mathematically possible but this feels like the game that could end their season.

7 Reasons Why the Rams Can Pull Off an Upset.

  1. Baltimore is due for a let down after their remarkable winning streak.
  2. East Coast teams playing a night game on the West Coast tend to play a little worse (though not as badly as West Coast teams playing early games on the East Coast).
  3. Aaron Donald — running quarterbacks hate dealing with inside pressure on the pocket. Jackson likes to throw balls with a 3/4 sidearm motion which means some passes could be deflected and up for grabs.
  4. The Rams run defense is #3 in the league. If they can stop Baltimore’s running game (a big IF), the Ravens can struggle on offense.
  5. Baltimore is a bottom 10 defense against the run. The Rams’ new offensive blocking scheme could dominate the line of scrimmage and control the ball on long drives.
  6. Regression to the mean on turnovers. Baltimore got blown out against Cleveland in part because they were a -2 in turnovers but destroyed Seattle and Houston because they were a +4 in turnovers. They beat New England with the help of a scoop and score off a fumble. The Rams beat Chicago and Cleveland in spite of losing the turnover battle in each game. Also, in three of their losses, they led or trailed by less than 5 points late in the fourth quarter, even though they had a whopping -6 turnover differential. In games where the turnovers were even, the Rams are 2–0. For the season, Baltimore is+6, while the Rams are -3 in turnover differential.
  7. Desperation —the Rams’ season probably ends with a loss as it will be difficult to reach 10 wins. The problem is the NFC Wild Card teams will probably need to win 11 games.

Footnotes:

*Minnesota and Kansas City are the only other playoff teams with a bye this week.

**The nightmare game against the Steelers featured a terrible Rams offense and even worse referee calls. Pittsburgh’s only touchdown drive happened because a bogus PI call wiped out an interception. Their defensive touchdown came on an ambiguous play where the Rams though Goff threw an incomplete pass but the refs ruled it a fumble. Later, Mason Rudolph fumbled the ball and the refs ruled it an incomplete pass.

Written by

Ad agency creative director, writer & designer at https://guttmanshapiro.com. Former pro tennis player and peak performance coach for professional athletes.

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