So last week kind of sucked in the NFL, which was my concern going into last Sunday. The early afternoon slate was especially low on drama. A total of six teams won by at least 17 points in Week 11, the most since Week 17 last year. Some teams clearly mailed in their performance to end that season, so this was especially one-sided.
When I look at the 1 P.M. slate for Week 12, I see very little to get excited for. My preference would be to just watch Seahawks-Eagles with some RedZone sprinkled in, because it’s one of the closest games of the season by many projection models. Could be a true pick ’em with a Seattle team that’s been scraping by all the close ones against an Eagles team that can stop the run and should be desperately playing to hang onto division title hopes.
But instead I’ll probably be focusing on the Steelers looking to continue their mastery in Cincinnati, or perhaps add another soul-crushing loss to a terrible team to Mike Tomlin’s resume.
Steelers at Bengals (+6.5): Don’t Bet on 0-16
It’s a safe bet to pick a team to NOT go 0-16 in the NFL. Only the 2008 Lions and 2017 Browns have done it. Meanwhile, 10 teams have finished 1-15 and 32 teams have finished 2-14 since 1978. The 0-10 Bengals have a favorable schedule coming up for a win, but none may be sweeter than this opportunity against Pittsburgh (5-5).
I’ve probably been writing about this for a decade now, but Mike Tomlin’s Steelers love to come up small in the small games, especially on the road against teams they’re expected to beat. Losing to the 0-10 Bengals as a 6.5 point underdog would certainly fit that bill. Since 2007, the Steelers are 16-9 (.640) straight up and 8-17 (.320) against the spread on the road as a 6+ point favorite.
It’s a bit surprising the Steelers remain a 6.5 point favorite. They beat the Bengals 27-3 at Heinz Field earlier this season, but they won’t have QB1 (Ben Roethlisberger), RB1 (James Conner), or WR1 (JuJu Smith-Schuster) for this game. You’d have to go back to 1999, if not further, to find a Pittsburgh offense this devoid of talent, and I’m saying that even with the consideration of the RB and WR returning soon. Oh, not to mention the center is suspended.
Yes, Mason Rudolph has already won a game against the Bengals, but he is coming off one of the worst QB performances of the season. There’s also obviously some controversy surrounding him from his role in the Myles Garrett incident. There’s no Maurkice Pouncey at center because of his suspension from the fight. The Steelers are going to rely heavily on defense to win this game, which it can do with the way it has gotten turnovers this year. Andy Dalton was also sacked a career-high 8 times in the last meeting. Ryan Finley has taken over and done nothing to really impress anyone. He’s not afraid to scramble though. The Bengals have been competitive at times with 3 blown fourth quarter leads, and the running game has gone for over 150 yards in consecutive weeks. It’s likely to be a game decided by turnovers.
One of the most stunning stats I’ve ever seen in the NFL is this one: ex-Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis was 2-16 at home against the Steelers. Rookie head coach Zac Taylor has done practically nothing to establish a name for himself this season, but reversing that home trend and pulling off an upset win over the Steelers would easily be the team’s highlight this year.
With the Steelers lacking so much talent on offense, I feel like this is a great upset to pick. Keep the RC Cola bottles ready, Detroit and Cleveland. Your 0-16 club may be closing up membership for at least another year very soon.
GOTW: Cowboys at Patriots (-3)
It sure would be nice if this turns out to be a great game seeing as how Jags-Titans is the only other game scheduled for the late afternoon. I’m not sure how that happened, but clearly the NFL wants to milk what should be Brady/Belichick vs. Dallas for the last time.
Standing in the Cowboys’ way is The Clapper (Jason Garrett). The thought of him outsmarting Belichick is why I have no issue picking the Patriots in this one, but there are reasons to be optimistic about Dallas’ chances. Concern is do they run Zeke too much and put Dak Prescott in tough third-and-long situations. It could be tempting to run if you look at the success Cleveland and Baltimore had doing so against New England this year. If it’s working you really can’t knock it, but Dallas will have to be careful to not fall into the trap of continuing to slam Elliott into the line on so many early downs.
This is the best pass defense Prescott has seen in his NFL career. He’s playing better than ever this season, but he’ll definitely have to bring his A game to succeed in this one. If the Patriots want to take Amari Cooper away with Stephon Gilmore, then I think Dallas is still fine in this matchup. Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb are healthy and playing well. The tight ends can contribute as well. Cooper only had 38 yards in Detroit last week, but Dak still threw for 444. Dallas (52.1%) is the only offense in the league converting more than 50% on third down in 2019. That’s helped this offense lead the league in yards per game, yards per play and first downs per game thru Week 11. This offense has evolved thanks to the progression of a young QB and new OC Kellen Moore.
I just worry about this coaching staff preparing for a team they only see once every four years. The Cowboys have another game like that on Thanksgiving against Buffalo, so a lot of eyes will be on them this week. It’s the type of week that could launch Dak on an MVP path, or sink this team’s season if the Eagles can go on a run too.
The Patriots have really only played four teams of note this season: PIT, BUF, BAL, PHI. Everyone else has a losing record. If you look at the expected points added breakdown on Pro Football Reference, their three worst games on offense were against PHI/BAL/BUF. Their four worst games on defense were against BUF/PIT/PHI/BUF. Dallas has played a similarly weak schedule (plays the AFC East and NFC East), but this is one of the best challenges the Patriots will see all year. Dallas doesn’t have a great defense, but it has been respectable most weeks.
I don’t want to belabor the point about NE’s mediocre offense, because it should be obvious at this point. They basically peaked in the first two weeks of the season when they played a Pittsburgh defense they always murder at home and a Miami team that was completely lost. Since then the offense has rarely been good. Brady’s TD% is a career low 3.5% right now. Replacing Rob Gronkowski with an ancient Ben Watson isn’t doing a whole lot. They’ve already gone through Antonio Brown and Josh Gordon. It’s basically Julian Edelman moving the chains and their big plays are coming down to James White turning a screen pass into 30+ yards.
Only the Patriots can trade a 2nd-round pick for a 30-year-old WR who was averaging a career-low in yards per catch and have people think it’s a great move. That’s Mohamed Sanu and now he’s injured and may not even be active. Oh and the Patriots stink at running the ball this year to boot. I’d love to see Dallas just double up on Edelman and shrink the field, forcing Brady to beat them deep.
New England basically loses one home game a year and blow one 4Q lead a year, so if there’s a game on the schedule where that’s most likely to happen this season, it’s probably this one. However, keep in mind that Dallas is 0-3 at 4QC opportunities this season as we knew regression was going to come in that area for them. Still, you can trust Dak on a game-winning drive opportunity. The Patriots offense has yet to have one this season since the defense always has them ahead, and they couldn’t do any better than trail by 10 in their lone loss in Baltimore.
I think this one goes down to the final drive, but I’m still going to take Belichick over Garrett every time.
NFL Week 12 Predictions
I had Houston by 6 points on TNF, but of course they wouldn’t kick a late FG and only won by 3. I should probably feel lucky that the Texans even won that game.
The Bengals are not my only upset pick this week. I think the Jets take care of Oakland in the early game after showing some life offensively last week. I also have the Buccaneers beating Atlanta for no good reason other than the NFC South doesn’t make sense right now, but I still don’t believe the Falcons have magically fixed their defense the last two weeks.