In last week’s Thanksgiving Day games, the Packers moved one step closer to perfection, the Cowboys got a game closer to winning the NFC East, and the 49ers suffered just their second defeat of the season – losing 16-6 to the Baltimore Ravens. Green Bay’s win in Detroit inflicted the 8th straight Turkey Day loss for the Lions – the home team’s cause was not helped by a petulant stamp by their defensive lineman, Ndamukong Suh. That penalty not only gave the Packers a first down, which allowed them to get a touchdown rather than settling for a field goal, it also resulted in a 2 game suspension for Suh – an absence that will make it tough for Detroit to stay in the hunt for a Wild Card.
The race for the playoffs, examined here before the Week 12 games, has intensified going into the final third of the season. Atlanta beat Minnesota last week, while Chicago (who have lost first-choice quarterback, Jay Cutler, for the year) lost in Oakland – leaving the Lions, Bears and Falcons are all tied with 7-4 records. Assuming the Packers, 49ers, Saints and Cowboys hold on for the division titles, this group of three teams, plus the 6-5 Giants, are competing for 2 wild card spots. The remaining schedules for these playoff contenders is as follows:
Chicago: Kansas City, @Denver, Seattle, @ Green Bay, @ Minnesota
Detroit: @New Orleans, Minnesota, @Oakland, San Diego, @Green Bay
Atlanta: @Houston, @Carolina, Jacksonville, @New Orleans, Tampa Bay
New York: Green Bay, @Dallas, Washington, @NY Jets, Dallas
Of the four, the Falcons have the easiest looking fixtures remaining: they will be favoured in every game other than against the Saints; they play the Texans this week, who lost their replacement QB, Matt Leinart, last week, so are down to their third string Quarterback; and are the only team who do not still have to face the undefeated Packers. As the Bears will struggle to win without Cutler, Detroit could make the playoffs with wins in those three middle games – bracketed by tough away trips to face the Saints and Packers. The Giants will be hoping to ruin another team’s bid for perfection this Sunday against Green Bay – repeating their performance in Superbowl XLII, when they beat the 18-0 Patriots – but their main hopes of making the postseason come with the two matchups against the Cowboys, who are currently a single game up on them in the division.
The AFC playoff race has become very congested, with divisional races and wild card spots still up for grabs. New England are likely to win the East, as they are two games up on the Jets, though New York’s home win over the Bills kept them in the hunt for a Wild Card and effectively ended Buffalo’s chances of making the post-season. The Texans are two games ahead of the Titans in the South, but, as mentioned above, have lost both Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart and are scrambling to find a replacement Quarterback for the rest of the season. Oakland are a game up on Denver in the West – but the Broncos won for the fifth time in six games with Tim Tebow as their starting QB last week, against the slumping Chargers. In the North, Pittsburgh kept pace with Baltimore by squeaking past the Chiefs on Sunday night, while the Bengals remain just one game back after beating the Browns in Cincinnati. The Ravens and Steelers are both favoured to make the playoffs, one as divisional champion, leaving the second wild card place as a battle between the Bengals, Jets, Broncos/Raiders, and Texans/Titans (whichever of each pair does not win their respective divisions).
There were two other big stories from the Week 12 round of fixtures. On Monday Night, New Orleans continued their recent impressive performances with a 49-24 routing of the New York Giants – Saints QB, Drew Brees, threw four touchdown passes, and added another on the ground. Meanwhile in Jacksonville, Jack del Rio became the first head coach to lose his job in the 2011 season – he was fired after a home loss to the Texans saw his Jaguars team slump to a 3-8 record. There was a bright spot for Jags fans this week though, as the team was bought by Shahid Kahn, a businessman who has vowed to keep the team in north Florida, not move them to Los Angeles (as had been projected for some time).
Last week, 11-5; Season 95-81
Home teams in bold
Seahawks +2.5 over Eagles
Falcons -2.5 over Texans
Titans +1.5 over Bills
Chiefs +8.5 over Bears
Steelers -7.5 over Bengals
Broncos +1.5 over Vikings
Patriots -20.5 over Colts
Dolphins -2.5 over Raiders
Redskins +3.5 over Jets
Buccaneers -1.5 over Panthers
Ravens -6.5 over Browns
Cardinals +6.5 over Cowboys
Giants +6.5 over Packers (again, don’t want to curse Green Bay!)
Rams +13.5 over 49ers
Saints -6.5 over Lions
Jaguars +2.5 over Chargers