Skip to main content

Week 12 predictions: Broncos, Chiefs keep pace; Bears fall

Week 12, baby. Get the juicer ready, so that you can make an acai-fiber-wheatgrass blendi with a shot of soy protein to enjoy the sweet slate of games we have on the docket ... because nothing says football and Sunday Funday like a nice, healthy shake.

So what's the game of the week in pro football?

Not that one. But yes, both Raiders quarterback Matt McGloin and Titans coach Mike Munchak are from Scranton, Pa. So is Joe Biden. Get excited.

No, we think Broncos-Patriots is the top bill of the NFL weekend. And it's a timely matchup, considering both Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are sure-fire first-ballot Hall of Famers -- and the Pro Football Hall of Fame just narrowed down its list of 126 nominees for the Class of 2014 to 25 semifinalists. You can see how we see each of those legendary players' candidacies here.

Not after my picks two weeks ago ...

Now, this is what you want to see. Talk about a tweet stuffed with star power -- and supportiveness, too. That's part of what the Pro Football Hall of Fame is all about. And I can tell you, that voters room is awfully split regarding Andre Reed.

To spin it forward, Reed's Bills are on a bye this week, along with the Bengals, Eagles and Seahawks. Then, thankfully, we're done with the off weeks.

As far as the rest of the games, I'm really, really looking forward to Chargers-Chiefs. That matchup is awesome; it means everything to San Diego's playoff hopes, while Kansas City surely is ready to move on from last Sunday night. Take a look at that pick and the rest of this week's lineup below. And per the usual, hit us up with your opinion ... @HarrisonNFL is the place.

Now, let's get to it ...

What it comes down to: Basic quarterback stuff for the Jets and Ravens. Geno Smith must play turnover-free -- not necessarily mistake-free, but turnover-free. The Ravens' passing offense, meanwhile, stinks. If the Jets don't give Joe Flacco any short fields to work with, they'll be fine, because there's no way Baltimore can run on this New York defense (which is allowing just 73.2 rushing yards per game and 2.94 yards per carry). Flacco's job will be to play efficiently. He's not hitting enough of the high-percentage throws, which is why his completion mark sits at 58.6. That's 26th in the NFL ... right where Flacco was in 2011.

 **Ebony and Ivory ... and, er, Ivory:** 
 Chris Ivory was thought to be stuck in a committee situation earlier this season, but not anymore. Give him the football 25 times, 
 Rex Ryan, 
 *then* start utilizing 
 Bilal Powell. There's no reason for Smith to attempt more than 20 passes in this game. #slugfest. 

What it comes down to: What kind of punch the Cleveland running game gets. Ben Roethlisberger will notch two touchdowns against the Browns' defense, but that'll be about it. If Chris Ogbonnaya or Willis McGahee can get it going -- or if Fozzy Whittaker can bear down -- and grind out some yards, Browns coordinator Norv Turner will capitalize through the air. Between receivers Josh Gordon (125 receiving yards last week) and Greg Little and tight end Jordan Cameron, there's no reason Cleveland's offense should struggle so much in the aerial game.

 **Saved by the Bell:** Who 
 *isn't* waiting on 
 Le'Veon Bell to have a breakout performance? The 
 Steelers, their fans, draftniks, fantasy owners, even us hacks who cover the game; 
 *everyone* is eager for this guy to show why he was considered one of the steals of the 
 2013 NFL Draft. Many felt that he -- not 
 Zac Stacy -- would be well on his way to a 1,000-yard rookie season by this point. (Get it? 
 "Saved by the Bell" ... 
 "Zack" ... Le'Veon "Bell" ... 
 *You're welcome.*) 

What it comes down to: Can Detroit's front four stop Bobby Rainey -- who piled up 163 rushing yards last week -- or pressure Mike Glennon? If so, game over. If the unit plays like it did in Pittsburgh on Sunday, forget it. Would you believe the Lions, vaunted though their defensive line might be, have just 16 sacks? That's 30th in the league.

 **May the Schwartz be with you:** Detroit's coach didn't make the best decision Sunday, 
 faking a field-goal attempt instead of taking the (needed) three points. The intermittent, inconsistent use of 
 Reggie Bush and 
 Joique Bell could be handled better, as well. The 
 Lions need to pound Bell more, especially in this game. 

What it comes down to: Christian Ponder -- and whoever else ends up playing quarterback for the Vikings -- must threaten the Packers' defense. That will mean throwing deep sometimes, even if the attempt goes for an incompletion. Make Green Bay play the whole field, rather than just loading up to stop Adrian Peterson. When they've tried to go deep, Minnesota's QBs actually have been pretty successful, combining for a 94.7 passer rating on throws that go over 20 yards in the air. Don't forget: The Packers' secondary has given up some big vertical shots this year.

 **Eddie and the Cruisers:** 
 Eddie Lacy had a rough go 
 against the Giants on Sunday. Green Bay should give him 29 carries, like 
 the last time out against Minnesota, to take pressure off 
 Scott Tolzien. 

What it comes down to: First, whoever wins the turnover battle wins this game. Second, both of these offenses probably will stall, thus making this a Josh Scobee-Randy Bullock matchup. (Bullock is the kicker for Houston, in case you were wondering. He's a Sagittarius.) Both of these teams have been terrible in the red zone: Houston is 26th in red-zone scoring, Jacksonville 32nd. Ouch.

 **Andre the Giant:** The 
 Texans, who are spiraling toward a 3-13 record, must have 
 Andre Johnson focused and ready to rock. As the one guy who has really stepped up of late, Johnson has been getting a ton of looks (42 targets over the past three weeks). Everyone knows about 
 Week 11's sideline blowup; let's hope it doesn't affect AJ's play. By the way, he's now 34 yards short of his 
 *seventh* career 1,000-yard season. 

What it comes down to: How conservative will Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt's game plan be? The more he employs Ryan Mathews, Danny Woodhead and even Ronnie Brown, the better; Mathews and Woodhead trucked for 148 yards on the ground last Sunday. San Diego has to neutralize what will be a very motivated Chiefs pass rush, which was just shut out against the Broncos. Having Philip Rivers run a no-huddle offense would be understandable at Arrowhead -- arguably the loudest stadium in the league (still a tough call between that and CenturyLink). However, he can't be required to change a bunch of plays at the line, nor should he attempt more than 40 passes. One way to ensure that is to commit to the run and stay with it.

 **Alex the Great?** Watch any 
 Chiefs broadcast, and you'll hear about 
 Alex Smith's record as a regular-season starter since 2011, which is 28-6-1. Yet, even the most ardent Kansas City fan knows Smith needs to make more plays. He's doing two things very well: running and not turning the ball over. Everything else has been strictly average. Give the D a lift. 

What it comes down to: Can Ryan Tannehill get out of the pocket and make plays for the Dolphins with his mobility? The Panthers made Tom Brady plenty uncomfortable Monday night, even if they weren't getting the sacks. And while the Carolina pass rush is solid (though Charles Johnson is ailing), Miami's pass protection has been terrible. The offensive line -- which has allowed the most sacks in the NFL (41) -- will have to repeat Sunday's successful showing against San Diego. Tannehill has shown little presence in the pocket this year -- call it "David Carr-esque."

 ***Not* a fantasy wasteland:** If you play 
 fantasy football, you know how tough it is to find a quality tight end. Well, both the 
 Panthers and 
 Dolphins are better on offense when they get their respective tight ends, 
 Greg Olsen and 
 Charles Clay, involved. Olsen made some key catches in 
 the Monday night win over New England, while Clay's bulldozer style gave everyone in Sun Life Stadium a lift 
 versus the Chargers. Clay might be one of the most underrated 
 *players* -- at any position, not just tight end -- in football. 

What it comes down to: Facing a formidable Rams front seven, can Josh McCown get off to a better start than he did last week? McCown couldn't get anything going in the first half against the Ravens, throwing 20 passes that netted all of 84 yards. Ugh. On the road this week -- in a dome where it could get loud -- McCown can't afford to stumble out of the gate. St. Louis' pass rush is top notch, but will the Rams be flat following their bye? Several teams have struggled after their off weeks: Every squad that had a bye in Week 10 -- the Browns, Chiefs, Patriots and Jets -- lost in Week 11.

 **Encore?** Who isn't curious about what 
 Tavon Austin will do this Sunday -- especially after 
 he gained *314 yards* on eight touches 
 in Indy? One of those touches was 
 a dynamic 98-yard punt return. Speaking of, remember 
 that Monday night game in St. Louis when 
 Devin Hester took two kickoffs to the house? Whichever returner goes nuts Sunday could seal the deal for his team. Oh, and 
 like we did last week, we're calling another safety, this time courtesy of 
 Chris Long. 

What it comes down to: Can Carson Palmer go turnover-free for the second time this season? The guess here is no. But if Andre Ellington is once again a non-factor, the Cardinals will be forced to lean on their veteran quarterback. We trust Andrew Luck more than we do Palmer, as the second-year pro can make the difference with his legs against a defense that has kept Arizona in games.

 **Fold, bluff, raise?** Yes, the 
 Cardinals are 6-4, but it's tough to exhibit tremendous confidence in them, given the organization's track record. Then again, that sneaky-good defense (tied for eighth in points allowed) should be bolstered by coach 
 Bruce Arians' knowledge of the 
 Colts personnel. 

What it comes down to: Which Tennessee offense will we see in Oakland: the group that ran the ball right down the Colts' throats in the first two drives last Thursday, or the unit that stalled repeatedly in the second and third quarters? Given the talent on their offensive line, the Titans should be able to run the football, and yet, they hover around the middle of the pack (15th in the league). Trust us, it's not because they're abandoning the run for more of that Fitzmagic. The Raiders' run defense, meanwhile, has been stout this season.

 **For a limited time, the McGloin:** Considering how reined-in the offense had been under 
 Terrelle Pryor -- and considering Pryor's restrictive knee brace -- why 
 stick with the guy who just threw three touchdown passes in 
 a win at Houston? 

What it comes down to: Flip a coin. Seriously. Anybody have one of those 20-sided dice from Dungeons & Dragons? Sure, the Giants have won four in a row. They also struggled some against former practice-squad quarterback Scott Tolzien and the Packers on Sunday. The Cowboys? Well, they make up for it by having the worst defense in the NFL. Literally.

 **The NFC Least:** Either of these teams could overtake the 
 Eagles in the NFC East. However, as long as 
 Eli Manning turns the ball over -- he's averaging nearly two per game -- it's difficult to trust the 
 Giants, regardless of any winning streak. As bad as the 
 Cowboys' defense is, it would be easier to hang your hat on their hopes if 
 DeMarco Murray would decide how great he wants to be. The running back has one 100-yard performance and three games under 40 yards. Nearly a third of his yardage this season came 
 in one contest. 

What it comes down to: Can the Patriots run on the Broncos, and can Aqib Talib, Devin McCourty, Kyle Arrington and Co. compete with those Denver receivers? Wes Welker is recovering from a concussion, so his status is unknown at publishing. Considering how effectively Peyton Manning sprays the ball around, it's imperative that the New England secondary stays disciplined in coverage.

 **High ankle chain:** For 
 all the talk about Manning's high ankle sprain, the way the Denver offensive line stuck together and played as a cohesive unit 
 Sunday night was remarkable. The 
 Chiefs never even laid a hand on Manning. Sure, the likely 
 Hall of Fame quarterback's decision-making abilities mean opposing pass rushers often have less than three seconds to collapse the pocket. Still, the line was nothing short of awesome. If those guys play like that in Foxborough, Denver will be 10-1. 

What it comes down to: Let's go to the tale of the tape ...

 **Quarterback:** Even 
 **Running game:** 
 **Special teams:** 
 **Pass rush:** 
 **Run defense:** 
 **Even Steven, except not at all:** We tried looking at this game through the prism of the 
 Redskins turning their season around, but we're 
 just not seeing it. The quarterback matchup is close, as are the teams' running games. The issue for Washington is defense, where about the only thing going for the 
 Redskins is the pass rush (which has been strictly mediocre). It doesn't help much that 
 Kai Forbath has missed some very makeable kicks. 

What it comes down to: Can the Falcons' receivers beat the Saints' secondary, which just lost Jabari Greer for the season? New Orleans has received far better play in the back seven than anyone expected. Matt Ryan, however, has not been able to muster much of anything for Atlanta, with Roddy White not playing like Roddy White and Harry Douglas being the WR1. Ryan also has been picked off nine times in his past four games. The matchup between Ryan and the Saints' D is everything.

 **Be the man:** Is 
 Steven Jackson "just a guy" at this point, or is he still a difference-maker? How will he close out this season for the 
 Falcons? In six games, he's rushed for 192 yards at 3.3 yards per carry. 
 You make the call: Will we see a finish worthy of 
 being presented by Alcoa? 

Follow Elliot Harrison on Twitter _@HarrisonNFL_.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content