Friday Five, Week 12

NFL Playoffs: Titans vs. Patriots Spread, Total, Odds - Music City Miracles

The final weekend of November is here. As we turn the corner toward December, time is running short for those teams hoping to get into the playoffs and make a run at the title. Every game matters, adding extra intensity to a number of matchups. In fact, there were so many juicy options on Sunday it was tough to narrow it down. Nevertheless, here’s the five I’m highlighting for Week 12.

Sunday Early Games:

Pittsburgh Steelers (5-4-1) at Cincinnati Bengals (6-4)
Every team in the AFC North is at .500 or better entering Week 12. The North is one of two AFC divisions where that’s the case, adding extra weight to the backloaded divisional schedule. The Pittsburgh Steelers have suffered back-to-back non-wins. The first was a 16-16 tie with Detroit while Ben Roethlisberger was out with COVID, the second a narrow loss in Los Angeles to the Chargers. Now the Steelers hit the road for a game with the Bengals. Cincinnati endured its own losing streak prior to a bye week but came out strong, clocking the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 11. The Bengals are a surprising 6-4, in second place in the division and trying to make a run toward returning to the playoffs. They’ve beaten the Ravens already and won the first game against the Steelers. A win Sunday and the Bengals will have a season sweep, giving them a huge leg up on Pittsburgh.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (7-3) at Indianapolis Colts (6-5)
This is strength against strength. Jonathan Taylor is the No. 1 overall back in fantasy through 11 weeks. He’s rushed for 1,122 yards and 13 touchdowns, powering the Colts back to 6-5 and squarely in contention for the playoffs, and possibly even the AFC South crown. The Buccaneers are the defending Super Bowl champions and, at 7-3, they’re in first in the division and competing for a high seed in the NFC. They’re also notoriously difficult to run against. Both teams have aspirations in January and February, the question is whether Taylor or the Buccaneers’ defensive front will get the upper hand. This figures to be a heck of a battle.

Tennessee Titans (8-3) at New England Patriots (7-4)
Don’t look now, but this is a battle of division leaders. The Titans have overcome injuries and a rigorous schedule to land the best record in the AFC. A stumble last week against the Texans, who posted only their second win of the season, is a setback, but the Titans have a two-game lead in the AFC South and a sweep over the Colts to give an added advantage. But if they want the No. 1 overall seed, they have to keep piling up wins. The Patriots, meanwhile, are the scrappy underdogs. They were up-and-down early, but a five-game winning streak and sloppy play from the Bills, the Patriots are back atop the AFC East. To stay there, the Patriots will have to survive a gauntlet the next four games that starts with the Titans and includes two with the Bills and a game with the Colts. Is Mac Jones ready? Can Ryan Tannehill get the Titans back on track? This one will go a long way toward settling the top of the AFC.

Sunday Late Games:

Los Angeles Rams (7-3) at Green Bay Packers (8-3)
There’s only three late games on Sunday but all of them have major playoff implications. This one pits two top NFC contenders. The Rams are building a super team, but back-to-back losses leading into the bye week gave them plenty to think about. Now off the bye, they get a stiff test in a trip to Green Bay. The stakes are high for both teams. The Packers beat the Cardinals on a Thursday night and seemed to be tracking toward the top seed in the NFC. Then Aaron Rodgers got COVID, the Packers went 1-2 over the next three games and they find themselves in the midst of a pack of top NFC contenders with the Vikings starting to gain steam behind them in the NFC North. If the Packers want to land another high seed in the NFC Playoffs, then need to beat the best of the conference. That starts Sunday against the Rams.

Minnesota Vikings (5-5) at San Francisco 49ers (5-5)
This is a pair of scrappy teams that have fought their way back into the playoff race. Each has won the past two games to get to .500 and each has aspirations to go further. Both teams have also done it with red-hot quarterbacks. Jimmy Garoppolo has been hot the past four games, and he’s been making the most of his weapons in a healthy George Kittle, Deebo Samuel and Brandon Aiyuk. Meanwhile Kirk Cousins is fresh off out-dueling Justin Herbert and Rodgers in consecutive weeks to get the Vikings back to .500. He’s got plenty of his own weapons with receivers Justin Jefferson and Adam Thielen, and one of the best backs in the game in Dalvin Cook. The Vikings and 49ers are two of three teams sitting at 5-5 competing for two playoff spots in the NFC, with the 5-6 Panthers and Eagles breathing down their necks. Each win is precious but only one can take a step forward on Sunday.

Matthew Fox is a graduate of the Radio, Television and Film program at Biola University, and a giant nerd. He spends his free time watching movies, TV, and obsessing about football. He is a member of the FSWA. You can find him @knighthawk7734 on Twitter and as co-host of the Fantasy Football Roundtable Podcast.

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