When the season began, all four NFC East teams would have been happy to contend with six weeks remaining.
Consider them happy, even with their anemic win totals.
At 3-6-1, the Philadelphia Eagles are the gold standard in the NFC East. Yes, it’s good enough for first place. Meanwhile, the New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys and Washington Football Team are in hot pursuit with identical 3-7 records.
So any one of these four teams could realistically win what is now known as the NFC Least.
Give all those teams 7-3 records and nothing changes. Even is even. It only matters who gets hot now.
Well, at least the NFC East race is still certainly interesting 😅 pic.twitter.com/06Caiz9E3H
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) November 23, 2020
We start the Football Five looking at Big Blue.
Will the Giants make a late run?
The Giants, who visit the Cincinnati Bengals, have asserted their claim for the prize on the basis of a rare two-game winning streak.
Quarterback Daniel Jones played error-free in recent victories over Washington and Philadelphia. The offensive line has made some holes for running back Wayne Gallman, and Darius Slayton is one of the league’s best wide receivers.
Coming off a bye, the Giants also received a break they never would have asked for, the season-ending injury to Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow. His leadership had transformed the Bengals’ attitude, and they were 7-2 against the spread before he left Sunday’s game against Washington, which they lost.
The Bengals are rudderless, while the Giants now face a key contest. Barring a Turkey Day tie, either Washington or Dallas will lead the division with four wins before this game kicks off. Should Washington defeat Dallas, the Giants would momentarily assume first place with a triumph. And they would be the first team in the division to … wait for it … win three games in a row.
But a loss would drop them a game off the pace.
AFC teams heading into Week 12
The AFC East-leading Buffalo Bills had to endure a bye after losing on a last-second Hail Mary to the Arizona Cardinals. They host the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday. The Bills lead the division by one game over the Miami Dolphins. The second-place Dolphins visit the still-winless but suddenly feisty New York Jets. Despite being 0-10, the Jets are authors of three covers in the last four weeks.
The defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs, tops in the AFC West, invade the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It’s Patrick Mahomes and Tom Brady, an invitation to get out the calculator. These two have hooked up for epic shootouts in the past. Brady, however, has come up small in big games this year, including Monday’s 27-24 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
The Pittsburgh Steelers, towering atop the AFC North and the NFL world at 10-0, host the Baltimore Ravens in one of their toughest obstacles to a 16-0 season.
The Ravens have dropped two straight after losing two games all of last year and are scuffling at 6-4. This one concludes the Thanksgiving triple-header, preceded by the Houston Texans at Detroit Lions and the Washington-Dallas battle.
The Indianapolis Colts–Tennessee Titans rematch comes two weeks after the Colts won the first battle 34-17 in Tennessee. Last week, the Titans roared back to beat the Ravens in overtime, and the Colts overcame a 14-point deficit against the Green Bay Packers.
Note to in-game bettors: So far, during every week of the season, a team has come back from a double-digit deficit to win.
Nuggets on key Week 12 NFC games
The NFC East-leading Eagles and NFC West co-leader Seattle Seahawks battle Monday night. The North-leading Packers try to lick their wounds from Sunday’s collapse against Indianapolis and take it out on the Chicago Bears.
The NFC South-leading New Orleans Saints, winners of seven straight, are red hot heading into Sunday’s game at the Denver Broncos. Taysom Hill has replaced Drew Brees at QB for at least a couple of more weeks. The Saints went 5-0 without Brees last year under Teddy Bridgewater and won last week with Hill.
The peril of season-long player props
Burrow was projected to reach nearly 3,700 passing yards this season in sportsbook props. The top pick of the draft and Cincinnati’s new leader was easily on pace for that but suffered a season-ending injury on Sunday.
This scenario is dramatically evident in football more than any other major sport. One play can take a franchise player out of the loop, underscoring the bevy of roughing-the-passer calls designed to protect NFL quarterbacks. But when a big injury occurs, the teams and bettors get burned.
The philosophy extends to other sports. In 2015, Giancarlo Stanton was on pace to reward bettors at 8-1 odds in Las Vegas sportsbooks for any player to reach 50 homers that year. He had a league-leading 27 through 74 games. And then he got hurt. Bet over. The league leader ended with 47.
The revamped top-rookie chase
Burrow’s injury elevated Justin Herbert of the Los Angeles Chargers and Chase Claypool of the Steelers. Claypool scored his 10th touchdown of the season Sunday, becoming the first player in NFL history to notch 10 touchdowns in his first 10 games.
Herbert plays for a less-accomplished team but has an outstanding 22 touchdowns versus just six interceptions.
Will the Cleveland Browns be hot or cold?
Which Cleveland Browns team will invade Jacksonville this week?
Remember the Browns notching 30 points four weeks in a row, including 49 against the Dallas Cowboys? But then they had a homestand and the weather dismantled their passing game. The Browns played a run-first game, and their offense produced 29 points total.
How do bettors approach them?
This now 7-3 team has learned how to win in the cold, an essential ingredient of postseason football. Should the Browns qualify, they are well situated, with the league’s best running tandem of Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt.
Quarterback Baker Mayfield has not thrown a touchdown pass over the last three games, but the Browns have won two of them. Cleveland’s defense provided eight points in its 22-17 triumph over the Eagles.
The Browns will pound the ball again versus a team that has lost nine in a row, but don’t be surprised if Mayfield opens up and tosses a couple of scores. The books expect offense, as DraftKings Sportsbook has the total points at 49.
photo by ASSOCIATED PRESS