NFL Week 12 Storylines: Fallout from American Thanksgiving games, playoff picture

Buffalo Bills free safety Jordan Poyer (21) celebrates his interception with cornerback Taron Johnson (24) and safety Micah Hyde (23) in the second half of an NFL football game in New Orleans, Thursday, Nov. 25, 2021. The Bills won 31-6 (Butch Dill/AP).

Jim Harbaugh, the current Michigan football head coach who once coached the San Francisco 49ers, coined a phrase when describing his quarterback at the time, Alex Smith.

“Gobble, gobble, gobble, turkey.”

Harbaugh’s quote can accurately describe Week 12 in the 2021 NFL season. With American Thanksgiving taking place, that means the annual triple-header of football games on Thursday. A chance for fans to gather around their TVs, feast on several course meals, hoping their favourite football team wins.

Buffalo Bills fans are thankful. After they lost three of their previous five games, which included not scoring a touchdown against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Bills provided respite to their fan base.

Bills quarterback Josh Allen threw four touchdowns, propelling the Bills to a 31-6 domination against the New Orleans Saints. The Bills defence gave up only 190 yards of total offence the entire game, recording two sacks and one takeaway. With the win, the Bills moved back into a tie with the New England Patriots atop the AFC East with a 7-4 record.

Which Bills team will be on display the rest of the way? Hard to say. There’s the Bills team who scored six points against the Jaguars. Or the Bills team who put up 31 points on the road in the Superdome. Regardless, it will be an exhilarating ride for the Bills heading into December, with two games against the Patriots upcoming.

Thanksgiving wasn’t kind to the Dallas Cowboys. Down most of the game, failing to convert a two-point conversion from the one-yard line, the Cowboys fell to the Las Vegas Raiders in overtime 33-30. The Cowboys’ season is in a tailspin, losing three of the last four games.

While they hold a two-game lead over the Philadelphia Eagles atop the NFC East, the rest of the season isn’t kind to the Cowboys. With road games against the Saints and the NFC leading Arizona Cardinals, the Cowboys hope to get players such as Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Canadian defensive tackle Neville Gallimore back from injury.

Otherwise, a playoff berth hangs in the balance.

Before the Cowboys defeat and Bills victory, the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions squared off. Yes, the team where the head coach was rumoured to be fired against the winless squad who somehow still gets to play on American Thanksgiving. Like burning a turkey, the start of the game didn’t go according to plan, with both teams deferring the coin toss. It didn’t get any better for the Lions, who called consecutive timeouts late in the game, giving up five yards of field position.

The Bears received a Thanksgiving miracle, sparing head coach Matt Nagy for this week with a 16-14 win. The Lions go to 0-10-1 and are poised to claim the top pick in the 2022 NFL Draft.

Rodgers vs. Stafford in a potential NFC Championship Preview

At the start of the week, the public saw a closeup of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ toes on Zoom. That’s because Rodgers said he has a fractured toe, showing that he did not have ‘COVID toe.’ While the 2021 NFL MVP said the injury wouldn’t force him to miss additional games, how it impacts his mobility on the field remains to be seen.

The Packers enter this game after a 34-31 loss to the Minnesota Vikings last week. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Rams are coming off their bye, looking to avoid their third straight loss. Despite acquiring Von Miller at the trade deadline and signing Odell Beckham Jr. to a one-year contract, the Rams lost to the Tennessee Titans and 49ers in consecutive weeks.

Both the Packers (8-3) and Rams (7-3) are separated by one win. They can still catch the Cardinals, who sit atop the NFC with a 9-2 record, making this game on Sunday afternoon massive.

Clash of AFC North Rivals

Every team in the AFC North has an above .500 record. They all are vying for a playoff spot.

After losing to the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday Night Football, the Pittsburgh Steelers travel to Cincinnati to take on the Bengals. With the Steelers dealing with injuries on defence, expect Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow to put up big offensive numbers.

Sunday Night Football presents another pivotal matchup with the Cleveland Browns taking on the division-leading Baltimore Ravens. The Ravens get quarterback Lamar Jackson back this week, after dealing with a non-COVID-related illness. Having Jackson under center is critical for this Ravens offence, who only put up 16 points last week in the win over the Bears.

The Browns, only one win shy of the Ravens, are trying to turn their season around. However, the health of Baker Mayfield remains a concern, making this a difficult task to win on the road.

Playoff Picture

The jockeying for playoff position continues in both the AFC and NFC.

With the Bills and Patriots currently tied for the AFC East lead heading into Sunday, it makes New England’s game against the Titans critical. Titans-Patriots, Browns-Ravens, Bengals-Steelers, and Chargers-Broncos remain the biggest all-AFC games in Week 12 while the all-NFC includes Giants-Eagles and Vikings-49ers. The best crossover game is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers taking on the Indianapolis Colts, with both teams coming off wins.

While the top of both conferences is starting to take shape, there is a log jam of teams with five or six wins, making Week 12 of the NFL season a consequential one for the playoff picture.

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