A guide to the best and worst of the NFL slate (and to which fans are stuck with the most of the worst). Maps via 506sports.com.
We're 12 weeks into the season, when otherwise mediocre games turn into slightly better than mediocre games thanks to the magic of playoff relevance. The Jets, one of eight AFC teams that stand at 5-5 or 4-6, would make the playoffs if the season ended today, and six of these teams play each other this week. While I didn't bump any of the games up to "Must See," consider this an admission that, yes, they do sort of matter. Here are your Week 12 NFL viewing maps:
Jacksonville at Houston: Everyone knew the Jaguars were going to be bad, but if the Texans lose to the Jaguars—or even play a contested game with the Jaguars, honestly—they should claim sole possession of the "most surprisingly terrible NFL team" crown, currently shared with the Falcons.
Tennessee at Oakland: Matt McGloin played well in his first start, but he was facing a Texans defense that Football Outsiders ranks 25th in the league against the pass. Tennessee (14th) will be a tougher test, but the Titans' playoff hopes are in rough shape at this point. They stand at 4-6 with games remaining against the Broncos and Colts.
NY Jets at Baltimore: In their last five games, New York beat the Patriots and Saints by a combined score of 56-47, and lost to the Steelers, Bengals, and Bills by a combined score of 105-29. The unpredictable Jets would still be playoff bound if the season ended today, but they have a lot of teams to hold off, and a rookie QB who now has 11 touchdowns (three rushing) against 20 turnovers on the season.
Pittsburgh at Cleveland: The Bengals get their bye this week, so one of these 4-6 teams will gain ground on the AFC North leader. The Browns have teased all season, but their total of 192 points scored is third worst in the AFC, behind only the Jets (183) and the Jaguars (129).
San Diego at Kansas City: The Chargers—whose defense Football Outsiders now ranks last (behind Jacksonville!)—are 4-6 and play three of their last six against the Chiefs and Broncos. Two, maybe three, of those have to be wins for their playoff hopes to stay alive. San Diego's frustrating offense (fifth in yards per play, 17th in points per game) will have to shoulder the load against Kansas City this week.
Indianapolis at Arizona: Buried a bit by the Chiefs' 9-1 start is that fact that Arizona—which lost 11 of its last 12 last year—stands at 6-4. Of course four of those wins came against the Jaguars, Falcons, Texans, and Buccaneers, but the Cardinals will get plenty of chances to make a statement in their closing six, starting with Indianapolis.
Minnesota at Green Bay: The Rodgers-less Packers are fading fast—three straight losses have dropped them to 5-5, and they haven't held a lead at any point in the last nine quarters.
Carolina at Miami: The Dolphins haven't scored 25 points since Week 3, and the Panthers haven't allowed 25 points since ... last season. If Cam Newton can get anything going against Miami's mediocre defense, this should be a milk run for Carolina, and a nice respite after two nail-biters against the 49ers and Patriots.
Chicago at St. Louis: Another start for Josh McCown, whose 22.6 percent DVOA ranks sixth in the NFL among quarterbacks who've attempted at least 15 passes, behind Nick Foles, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Philip Rivers.
Tampa Bay at Detroit: In blowing a lead to the Steelers, the Lions have now played in five consecutive games with contested, meaningful fourth quarters. I continue to ride them as the NFL's most watchable team—this week they face a Tampa Bay squad that's won two straight, and has scored an average of 29 points per game over its last three.
Dallas at NY Giants: Through five games apiece, the Cowboys, Eagles, and Giants were a combined 4-11; since then they've gone 11-5. The NFC East is still far from good, but it's shaping up to have as exciting a finish as it had in 2012, when Washington won its last seven to leapfrog New York and Dallas and clinch a playoff spot on the last game of the year.
Who's Getting Screwed?
This week's winner is Tyler, Texas, which gets a good game in Cowboys-Giants and an OK game in Panthers-Dolphins, but also gets stuck with Jaguars-Texans, which is hands down the worst, most meaningless match-up of the week. Tyler, which is an hour and a half east of Dallas but just close enough to Shreveport to get stuck with that market, is in diehard Cowboys country, and I assume couldn't give less than half a shit about the terrible Texans. Abilene, on the other side of Dallas, also gets Jaguars-Texans, but Case Keenum grew up there so they probably give more than half a shit.