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2011 NFL Week 12 Primer

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) leads his team on the field before their game against the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field on November 14, 2011 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. UPI/Brian Kersey

Packers @ Lions, 12:30PM ET, Thursday
I truly believe that it’s Green Bay and then everyone else when it comes to the power structure of the NFL. But don’t think for a second that the Lions can’t beat the Packers on Thanksgiving Day. They’ve been waiting a long time to be strong enough to finally punch the bully back and they’ll have their opportunity tomorrow. The key for Detroit is its front four. If they can rush Aaron Rodgers with only Ndamukong Suh, Cliff Avril, Corey Williams and Kyle Vanden Bosch, then they’re going to be fine. And with how suspect Green Bay’s defense has been this year, if its still a game in the fourth quarter then the Lions have a shot to pull off the upset.

Dolphins @ Cowboys, 4:15PM ET, Thursday
This is definitely the weakest of the Thanksgiving matchups but this game still offers plenty of intrigue. The Cowboys are now tied with the Giants for first place in the NFC East but they’ve turned in inconsistent performances all season. And during Miami’s three-game winning streak, the Dolphins haven’t allowed a touchdown in 12 quarters. This is going to be a bigger challenge for Tony Romo and Co. than people think.

49ers @ Ravens, 8:20PM ET, Thursday
Forget the Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh stuff – this is a great matchup between two physical teams that will fight for four quarters. The Ravens have been playing up and down to their competition all season and their offense has sputtered at times. On the other side, San Francisco’s defense has been a rock for nine straight weeks but Baltimore’s run defense is outstanding so it’ll be interesting to see how the Niners fare when they have to lean on Alex Smith and the passing game. There doesn’t figure to be much scoring in this game but if you like hard-nosed football, then it doesn’t get better than this.

Vikings @ Falcons, 1:00PM ET, Sunday
This isn’t a very exciting matchup with Adrian Peterson out with an ankle injury but it’ll be interesting to see if the Falcons stay with their no-huddle attack on offense. They ran the no-huddle exclusively in their 23-17 win over the Titans last Sunday and had great success with it (outside of settling for field goals when they reached the red zone, that is). Matt Ryan looks most comfortable running that offense but will OC Mike Mularkey make it Atlanta’s identity on offense? He’s been hesitant to ditch his “smashmouth” approach but at some point the Falcons need to develop more consistency on offense. Maybe running the no-huddle full-time is the answer.

Texans @ Jaguars, 1:00PM ET, Sunday
It’s time to see if Matt Leinart has matured as a quarterback. He failed in Arizona because he wasn’t ready to lead a young team with potential (unlike Kurt Warner, who prospered in the situation). Now Leinart is at the controls of a veteran club that has an outstanding running game and a sound defense. Can he manage games and make plays when his number is called or will he crumble under the pressure? In Jacksonville’s defense, he’ll face a stiff test right out of the gates.

Buccaneers @ Titans, 1:00PM ET, Sunday
One of these teams will keep its playoff hopes alive on Sunday while the other could be looking at a long offseason. The Titans remain two games behind the Texans in the AFC South but with Matt Schaub out for the season, Tennessee has a golden opportunity to get back into the divisional race if it can string some wins together. On the other side, the Bucs continue to fall further behind the Saints and Falcons in the NFC South. In some respects, this might as well be an elimination game for these two teams (although more so for the Bucs).

Cardinals @ Rams, 1:00PM ET, Sunday
Steve Spagnuolo and Billy Devaney’s jobs seem safe for now in St. Louis. But any more displays like last Sunday and the Rams could be searching for a new head coach and/or general manager this offseason. Sam Bradford and Co. were pitiful on offense in their 24-7 loss to Seattle last weekend.

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NFL Week 12 Primer

Brandon JacobsSunday’s Best: Giants (9-1) at Cardinals (7-3), 4:00 PM ET
It might not be the sexiest game of the year, but this is one of the best matchups of the 2008 season. The Giants have been one of the best road teams over the last couple years, and the Cardinals are a completely (better) different team in the comforts of their own home than on the road. Kurt Warner is playing like a league MVP and it’ll be interesting to see how the underrated New York secondary matches up with the explosive Arizona passing game. There haven’t been a lot of opponents have been able to get pressure on Warner this season, but the G-Men have one of the best front sevens in the league. All indications are that Brandon Jacobs will play, which should help New York keep Arizona’s potent offense off the field. Both teams have a commanding lead in their respective divisions, but a win for the Giants could go a long way in eventually securing home field advantage in the postseason.

Upset Watch: Buccaneers (7-3) at Lions (0-10), 1:00 PM ET
I’m sure I’ll get crap for this one, but give me credit for taking a shot with this upset. Outside of getting their ass handed to them by Jacksonville two weeks ago, the Lions have been inching closer and closer to their first victory. Jon Gruden’s offense is effective, but the Buccaneers have had issues once they get into the red zone this year. They settled for three field goals inside the red zone last week against Minnesota, which essentially kept the Vikings in the game. Not that Detroit’s defense will provide much of a challenge, but if the Lions can keep the game close throughout, they might have a shot at a late score. Every year it seems that the Lions manage to win a game they’re not supposed to and I’m calling my shot this weekend – it’ll be Tampa. It helps that the Lions beat the Bucs last season, too, although it’s safe to say that the 2007 Detroit team was a shade better this year’s version.

Philip RiversIntriguing Matchup: Colts (6-4) at Chargers (4-6), 8:15 PM ET
After getting embarrassed by the Titans on Monday Night Football in Week 8, the Colts have won three straight and beaten quality AFC teams like the Patriots and Steelers. Indy has jumped right back into the playoff race and are one of the more dangerous teams in the league. But without Bob Sanders (knee injury) in the lineup, the Colts are a completely different team defensively. And although LaDainian Tomlinson has been quiet this year, he’s still one of the most explosive backs in the league and does anyone believe he can’t still take over a game? The Chargers are always dangerous on national TV because they play with a chip on their shoulder. They’ve also shown improvements defensively under Ron Rivera, who took over for Ted Cotrell at coordinator. Even though San Diego has struggled this year and has stumbled to 4-6, this is going to be a dogfight.

Other Notable Games:
Jets (7-3) at Titans (10-0), 1:00 PM ET
Along with the Giants-Cardinals game, this could easily be the best matchup of the week. Pundits keep waiting for Tennessee to fall, but something tells me it won’t be this week. Brett Favre is susceptible to throwing an interception or two, which doesn’t bode well playing against a very opportunistic Titans’ defense. Some are smelling upset – I say the Titans remain undefeated after this week.

Panthers (8-2) at Falcons (6-4), 4:15 PM ET
The Falcons’ playoff hopes took a hit last week when they lost to Denver, but the Panthers have struggled with inferior opponents as of late. Jake Delhomme has not looked very sharp and Atlanta has been solid at home. This is a huge game for the NFC South.

Eagles (5-4-1) at Ravens (6-4), 1:00 PM ET
A loss for the Eagles and they can kiss their postseason hopes goodbye. The Ravens have a great chance to prove they’re for real after they were clowned by the Giants last week.

Patriots (6-4) at Dolphins (6-4), 1:00 PM ET
This is a massive game for the AFC East, especially with the Jets playing in Tennessee. A win for either one of these teams could mean a share for the AFC East Division lead and don’t forget the Dolphins absolutely crushed the Patriots in Foxboro earlier this season. The fireworks in this game have already started this week with Joey Porter.

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