NFL Week 12 got off to a sizzling start with a Thanksgiving tripleheader followed by the league’s first Black Friday game.
Things got more interesting after Thursday’s results: The Cowboys and Packers helped their playoff position with impressive wins over the Commanders and Lions, respectively, and the 49ers beat the Seahawks to solidify their position in the NFC West.
Meanwhile, there is frustration for struggling teams. Two other coordinators, Steelers offensive coordinator Matt Canada and Commanders defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, were fired this week. Will these last-ditch efforts change anything in the next six weeks?
Advance to another round of intense competition. Here are five of the most compelling storylines to follow for the rest of this weekend’s action. (See the NFL Week 12 schedule here.)
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1. Hotly contested factional battles
Six of the week’s remaining 12 games are divisional showdowns, including the Saints at Falcons, Steelers at Bengals, Rams at Cardinals, Chiefs at Raiders and Bears at Vikings. But the most interesting divisional rivalry may be in Houston, where the Texans host the Jaguars.
Jacksonville leads the AFC South with a 7-3 record, but the 6-4 Texans could take a significant — and surprising — step toward a division crown with a win Sunday. They already stunned the Jaguars with a 37-17 win in Week 3, and a season sweep would put them in a tie with Jacksonville for first in the division with six games remaining. The Texans, however, hold the head-to-head tiebreaker. Meanwhile, a Jaguars win would push the Texans back to within two games, and there won’t be any major tiebreakers in Houston.
The Texans enter this game on a three-game losing streak, but oddsmakers have them as 1.5-point home underdogs. Can DeMeco Ryans, CJ Stroud and company continue their impressive streak? Or will Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars rise to the occasion? (Jaguars at Texans, 1 p.m. ET Sunday.)
Don’t look now, but the Broncos (5-5) are one of the hottest teams in the NFL, riding a four-game winning streak entering Sunday’s matchup with the visiting Browns. The Browns (7-3) are hurting offensively due to Deshaun Watson’s season-ending shoulder surgery, but they still boast one of the most dominant defenses in the league. That means Russell Wilson and Sean Payton’s offense will get a much tougher test.
That should serve as a good measuring stick for the Broncos, because if they can be more effective against this Cleveland defense, we’ll know that Wilson (seven touchdowns, zero interceptions during this four-game winning streak) is indeed back. , and Denver’s playoff hopes are legitimate. The Broncos have a long way to go, but a win would represent another big step in the right direction. (Browns at Broncos, 4:05 p.m. and Sunday.)
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3. Another measuring stick game
Bills–Eagles looked like a potential Super Bowl frontrunner when the schedule was released in May, but at 6-5, it’s hard to see Buffalo as a top contender. A win against the 9-1 Eagles — perhaps the league’s most efficient team — would help restore the Bills’ billing as one of the contending favorites for the Lombardi Trophy.
Beating Philadelphia will be challenging. The Eagles boast a balanced offensive attack and a deep and versatile defense. The Bills are off to a slow start (averaging 12.6 points per first half) and could put more pressure on quarterback Josh Allen, who leads the NFL in touchdown passes (22) but threw a season-high 12 interceptions. Jalen Hurts and the Eagles aren’t flawless, but they are resilient and can quickly change the tone of games with their big-play ability. They delivered an impressive comeback win against the Chiefs, and another statement win over a projected AFC power would bolster their case as Super Bowl favorites. (Bills at Eagles, 4:25 p.m. and Sunday.)
4. High mission of chargers
After another disappointing loss, Chargers coach Brandon Staley was testy when asked if he would hand over defensive play-calling duties to an assistant. The Chargers, who are 4-6 and in last place in the AFC West, are 31st in yards allowed and 24th in points allowed. With each failure, the key is when Staley is fired.
However, Staley could find temporary relief if he can find a way to beat the AFC-leading Ravens. Staley’s defense must stop MVP candidate Lamar Jackson, who averaged 9.2 yards per rushing attempt, among the league leaders in completion percentage and passer rating. Jackson will be without his top target, tight end Mark Andrews, who could be done for the season with a cracked fibula. Wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr., Jay Flowers, Rashod Bateman and Nelson Agholar and tight end Isaiah Likely should step up. (Ravens at Chargers, 8:20 p.m. and Sunday.)
5. Playoff picture
As November draws to a close, the playoff race is shaping up to be a tense battle to finish in both the AFC and NFC. If the season ended this week, the NFC seeding would be: 1. Philadelphia, 2. San Francisco, 3. Detroit, 4. New Orleans, 5. Dallas, 6. Minnesota, 7. Seattle. The AFC field will feature 1. Miami, 2. Baltimore, 3. Kansas City, 4. Jacksonville, 5. Cleveland, 6. Houston, 7. Pittsburgh.
But this weekend’s results could shake up the lineup. The Saints lead the NFC South but, at 5-5, find themselves on shaky ground, especially if the Falcons (who return to Desmond Ryder at QB) pick up a win in their rivalry game this week. The Rams are a close 4-6 facing the Cardinals this week. Can they force their way into the thick of things?
As mentioned, Houston can overtake Jacksonville with a win. Denver can launch itself into the AFC picture with another win.
Pittsburgh and Cleveland are among the most volatile AFC teams. The Browns’ quarterback situation (will rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson be the starter or will newly signed Joe Flacco shake off enough rust to save the season?) could destroy their hopes. The Steelers hope Canada’s firing will give Kenny Pickett and his teammates a shock.
(Photos by Josh Allen, Miles Garrett and Russell Wilson: Maddie Meyer, Nick Gamet and Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)