EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ—The late NFL commissioner Alvin “Pete” Rozelle always strove for parity in his beloved league. The NFL’s owners structured a league to create an even playing field for its clubs, with egalitarian revenue sharing of TV and merchandise sales, draft and waiver wire systems giving the bad teams first dibs at players, and so forth.
The late commissioner surely smiles from above, as the NFL enters Week 12 of its 2015 season with myriad teams lingering around the .500 mark in playoff contention. Is it parity or mediocrity? You could make an argument either way, but it does set up some exciting late-season action, with a multitude of teams in contention for division crowns and wildcard playoff spots.
Let’s take a look at Sunday’s action in the league where parity is king . . .
ARIZONA CARDINALS (8-2) at SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (3-7)
It will be hard for the 49ers to keep up with the Cardinals on the scoreboard. The Cardinals boast the NFL’s #1 offense, and the 49ers rank 32nd. This is like Secretariat racing Mr. Ed. Even though the 49ers host, they enter the contest a 10-point underdog.
The Cardinals should have little trouble winning this game.
BUFFALO BILLS (5-5) at KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (5-5)
The Buffalo Bills have the NFL’s #29 passing offense. Their coach Rex Ryan wants to jump start his pass attack, even if it takes forcing the ball to WR Sammy Watkins, who has just 25 receptions on the season. “I think Sammy is such a talent that you can probably force the issue a little bit,” Bills coach Rex Ryan said.
So are you ready Kansas City defensive backs, they are prepared to force the ball to Watkins?
The Bills play without two outstanding defensive linemen – Mario and Kyle Williams. The Chiefs are at home, and winners of four straight. They will likely prevail in this contest.
MIAMI DOLPHINS (4-6) at NEW YORK JETS (5-5)
The Jets need to stop putting games on back of well-traveled QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. When they get too pass-happy, he tends to get in trouble. Fitzpatrick is a game-manager who needs a balanced attack to succeed. So, expect a heavy dose of tailback Chris Ivory against the Dolphins’ porous run defense, ranked 31st in the NFL.
The Jets take the field without cornerback Darrelle Revis. But that isn’t a big deal. There is actually little or no drop-off to his backup Marcus Williams. Aside from the Revis injury, the Jets are much healthier than the Dolphins, and at home. They should find a way to win this game.
MINNESOTA VIKINGS (7-3) at ATLANTA FALCONS (6-4)
What is wrong with Atlanta’s offense? Probably what is right with Tampa Bay’s offense.
The Falcons’ long-time offensive coordinator, Dirk Koetter, one of the best in the business, went to the Buccaneers this offseason. Rookie QB Jameis Winston flourishes under him. Atlanta’s QB Matt Ryan clearly misses his old play caller.
Speaking of passing games, the Vikings need to get their 30th-ranked aerial attack going. They rely too much on tailback Adrian Peterson, and it could be tough-sledding against Atlanta, the NFL’s #1 rush defense.
While the Falcons have lost three in a row, it was by a combined seven points, so each game could have gone either way. Expect this one to go Atlanta’s way since they play at home, and wield one of the few NFL run defenses that can contain Peterson.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (4-6) at HOUSTON TEXANS (5-5)
The Saints fired defensive coordinator Rob Ryan last week, and the move was totally justified. Just ask Rob Ryan himself. “Something had to be done,” Ryan said on NFL Network. “Right now the defense is ranked 33rd in the league and there’s only 32 teams.”
Actually they are ranked 32nd, so they can’t get any worse under new coordinator Dennis Allen, the former Oakland Raiders head coach.
New Orleans comes off a bye week. You give Saints head coach (and offensive guru) Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees two weeks to prepare for a game, they will have the mother-of-all game plans.
If the Saints come up with a decent plan to deal with superstar defensive end J.J. Watt, they enjoy a good chance at winning this game.
NEW YORK GIANTS (5-5) at WASHINGTON REDSKINS (4-6)
The Redskins come off a debacle in Carolina. They have proven they can throw the ball against suspect secondaries, and the Giants fall into that category, ranked 31st in pass defense.
The Giants can also throw the ball, and should see plenty of success against a Redskins secondary that lost starting cornerback Chris Culliver to a season-ending knee injury in practice on Thursday. But what should help the Redskins a great deal in this contest are Giants health issues on their offensive line. They will be without their center and left guard.
This game could go either way.
OAKLAND RAIDERS (4-6) at TENNESSEE TITANS (2-8)
Since the blowout win over the Jets in which the Raiders looked like a playoff team, Oakland has three straight.
Against the Jets on November 1, Raiders QB Derek Carr threw for 333 yards, four touchdowns, posted a 130.9 QB rating, and looked like Tom Brady. He’s looked like Peter Brady the last two games in loses to Minnesota and Detroit. Ask Marcia Brady about Peter’s QB skills.
Not helping Carr’s case has been the absence of center Rodney Hudson during the losing streak. He’s one of the best centers in football. This one should be close, a battle of two quarterbacks learning on the job.
The pick here is the Tennessee at home. They should be able to get a lot done against an Oakland pass defense that isn’t particularly good.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS (6-4) at SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (5-5)
Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch sits following hernia surgery. While backup tailbacks Thomas Rawls and Fred Jackson are terrific players, it might be time for the Seahawks to air it out a little more, especially with the Steelers and their 28th-ranked pass defense coming to town
Steelers are the healthier team. But the Seahawks are at home.
Your guess is as good as mine.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (2-8) at JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (4-6)
There are rumors that the Chargers are going to move. Perhaps they should consider moving to a city with a great hospital system.
Over the last few years they’ve been one of the NFL’s most injury-ravaged teams.
The Chargers face a talented Jaguars pass rush with two starting offensive linemen out – left tackle King Dunlap and right guard D.J. Fluker. That could be problematic.
This is the first meaningful late season game in Jacksonville in quite some time, as the Jags try to stay in contention in the anemic AFC South. The Jaguars should win this game, but with Philip Rivers at quarterback, the Chargers always have a puncher’s chance.
ST. LOUIS RAMS (4-6) at CINCINNATI BENGALS (8-2)
The NFL is a quarterback-driven league, and a big reason the Rams are 4-6 is substandard QB play.
They have the 32nd-ranked passing offense in the NFL, and they have been in that slot for quite some time. They benched starter Nick Foles last week, but his replacement, Case Keenum, got concussed in Baltimore, so they must go back to Foles this week. While Bengals QB Andy Dalton isn’t great, he’s much better than what the Rams have.
The Bengals should end their two game losing streak.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (5-5) at INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (5-5)
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are one the true surprise teams of 2015. Not many people expected them to be 5-5 after 10 games with a rookie quarterback (Jameis Winston).
This week they travel to Indy to face a Colts team starting a 40-year-old backup quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, without his blindside pass protector, left tackle Anthony Costanzo. But you know what? Hasselbeck might be 40, but the Colts are 3-0 this season in games he’s started for the injured Andrew Luck.
“Obviously you don’t ever want to be down your star quarterback, but we are,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said on Monday. “But thank God we’ve got Matt.”
And while the Buccaneers are hot, the pick here is the home-standing Colts with their savvy veteran quarterback, who is doing a terrific job managing games, and not trying to be Tom Brady.
“I know my limitation,” Hasselbeck said.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (10-0) at DENVER BRONCOS (8-2)
This is a tough spot for the Broncos. They want to run the ball to take pressure off QB Brock Osweiler, making just his second NFL start. However, the Patriots are the NFL’s #2 run defense, so Osweiler will likely have to throw more than his coaches want him to.
This is a match-up between the NFL’s top-ranked passing offense (New England) and the league’s #1 pass defense (Denver). The Patriots are very banged-up, and are really thin at wide receiver with Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola sidelined. Also, the Patriots could have major protection issues with their patchwork offensive line facing Denver’s talented Front Seven.
There is a very good chance the Patriots leave the Mile High City with their first loss, and their long injury list would be a biggest reason why.