The Patriots are trying to improve to 10-1 with the Cowboys in their way; the Seahawks are seeking an important road win at Philadelphia; and the Falcons — yes, the Falcons — are trying to stay red hot. These games make for solid appetizers, but the real meal will take place near San Francisco, where Aaron Rodgers and the Packers will try their best to find room to pass against the dominant pass rush and secondary of the 49ers.
Here is a look at N.F.L. Week 12, with all picks made against the point spread.
Last week’s record: 7-7
Overall record: 85-75-2
Here’s what you need to know:
Sunday’s Best Games
Packers at 49ers, 8:20 p.m., NBC
Line: 49ers -3 | Total: 47
With both the Packers (8-2) and the 49ers (9-1) having exceeded expectations this season, this game was flexed into the “Sunday Night Football” spot, knocking a perfectly good matchup between Seattle and Philadelphia out of prime time. Beyond the Seahawks and Eagles’ players, families and fans, it is hard to imagine anyone else arguing that they would not prefer to see Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers take on San Francisco’s punishing defense.
The 49ers knew they needed to rush the passer better this year, and they addressed that need in a huge way by trading for Dee Ford, who had 13 sacks for Kansas City last season, and selecting Nick Bosa with the No. 2 pick in this year’s draft. Those two, with help from a strong group of defensive tackles, have made converting third downs nearly impossible for opposing teams, as their pressure routinely overmatches offensive lines. Even with Ford being a gametime decision this week because of a hamstring injury, San Francisco’s defense can still punch holes with DeForest Buckner and Arik Armstead, letting Bosa run free toward Rodgers.
Rodgers, though, has never been one to back down from a challenge. He has managed the N.F.L.’s fourth most efficient passing offense, according to Football Outsiders, and he and Coach Matt LaFleur have probably been studying tape of what worked for Russell Wilson and Kyler Murray against San Francisco, with those mobile quarterbacks having put the only real dents in the 49ers thus far.
The big unknown, however, is how the matchup will play out between San Francisco’s offense and Green Bay’s defense. After a strong start to the season, the Packers’ defense has regressed; at full strength, Jimmy Garoppolo and the 49ers could expect to run away with things. But Coach Kyle Shanahan has said that George Kittle, Emmanuel Sanders, Deebo Samuel and Matt Breida will be game-time decisions. If even two of those four are ready to go, San Francisco should be able to improve to 10-1 for the first time since 1997. But if all four are out, the game is a tossup. Pick: 49ers -3
Cowboys at Patriots, 4:25 p.m., Fox
Line: Patriots -6 | Total: 46
Years of dominance have left Tom Brady with expectations that other N.F.L. players may not relate to. In a recent radio interview, Brady, the quarterback of the Patriots (9-1), discussed his team’s offensive struggles, and if you did not know who was speaking, you would believe he played for a team that was in danger of not making the playoffs.
“As critical as we can be of our team at times, we’re still in a good position,” Brady told Westwood One’s Jim Gray. “We’re 9-1, and that’s a good place to be this time of year. It’s not perfect, it’s not as bad as the worst teams in the league, but we have an opportunity ahead of us that we’re going to try and take advantage of.”
He’s not wrong that the offense has struggled against good teams, and the Cowboys (6-4) represent the best team the Patriots have played this season beyond Baltimore (and that game, a 37-20 loss, did not end well for New England). But with Brady having once again kicked in his faux underdog persona, a renewed New England offense is likely to make an appearance. Pick: Patriots -6
Seahawks at Eagles, 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Eagles -1.5 | Total: 48.5
After going ahead, 10-0, against New England last week, only to lose, 17-10, Philadelphia has to be frustrated. Especially with that loss putting the Eagles (5-5) a game behind Dallas in the N.F.C. East. Philadelphia will have no chance to lick its wounds, though, as the Seahawks (8-2) are riding high, with their bodies fresh after a bye week and their morale peaking after a dramatic overtime win over San Francisco. The Eagles seem to have righted what was wrong with their defense over the season’s first seven games and that gives them a chance to win against anyone. But Russell Wilson is a legitimate candidate for the Most Valuable Player Award, and if he wants to hold off other contenders like Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson, these are the kinds of games he will need to win. Pick: Seahawks +1.5
Panthers at Saints, 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Saints -10 | Total: 47
With losses in three of their last four games, it’s reasonable to assume the wheels have come off for the Panthers (5-5) after a competitive start to the Kyle Allen era. But a generous person would note that the losses have come against San Francisco (9-1), Green Bay (8-2) and the Falcons, a bad team that is on an incredible hot streak — just ask the Saints (8-2), who got crushed by Atlanta two weeks ago. New Orleans can be counted on to win at home, but an assumption that it will outscore Carolina by 10 seems to overestimate the Saints’ defense. Pick: Panthers +10
How Important Are This Week’s Games?
Sunday’s Other Games
Jaguars at Titans, 4:05 p.m., CBS
Line: Titans -3 | Total: 41.5
Derrick Henry may want to switch to a pair of track shoes for this week’s game. The supersize running back of the Titans (5-5) is likely to break into the open field multiple times against the awful run defense of the Jaguars (4-6), and as people saw in Week 10 — and in Weeks 13 and 14 of last season — once that happens, it is hard to catch up to him, let alone bring the big guy down. Jacksonville’s offense may be improved in the second week of Nick Foles’s comeback, but Tennessee has the advantage at home. Pick: Titans -3
Buccaneers at Falcons, 1 p.m. Fox
Line: Falcons -4.5 | Total: 51.5
What are we to make of the Falcons (3-7)? After starting 1-7, they were comically dominant in their last two games, crushing the N.F.C. South’s two best teams, with both wins coming on the road. Now they return home to face a far more flawed division rival in the Buccaneers (3-7). If they can muster even 60 percent of the intensity they had over the last two games, this one should be easy. Pick: Falcons -4.5
Raiders at Jets, 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Raiders -2.5 | Total: 46
A three-game winning streak has the Raiders (6-4) filled with optimism for the first time in quite a while, but those wins came against the Lions, Chargers and Bengals, with Los Angeles in particular having done its best to lose the game. That’s not to say Coach Jon Gruden hasn’t turned the ship around this season. But with only one of Oakland’s wins having come against a team with a winning record, the Raiders should not be printing playoff tickets just yet. But a fourth win in a row, courtesy of the Jets (3-7)? Sure. Pick: Raiders -2.5
Steelers at Bengals, 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Steelers -6.5 | Total: 39.5
The Steelers (5-5) are surviving because of their defense and running game, with quarterback Mason Rudolph providing little in his season-long fill-in role for Ben Roethlisberger. The team’s starting running back, James Conner, is expected to be out with a shoulder injury, and its top wide receiver, JuJu Smith-Schuster, is likely out with a concussion and a knee injury. Despite all that, Pittsburgh is still favored by nearly a touchdown on the road. Yes, the Bengals (0-10) are bad. But that bad? Pick: Bengals +6.5
Broncos at Bills, 1 p.m., CBS
Line: Bills -4 | Total: 47
The Broncos (3-7) were averaging 15.6 points a game when Joe Flacco criticized the team’s offensive philosophy and then was ruled out for the season with an injury. In the two games since, they have scored 24 and 23 points with Brandon Allen, a little known backup quarterback, starting. So the problem may have been Flacco. The Bills (7-3) are an intriguing opponent, as they can match Denver’s defensive intensity, but vary wildly on offense from week to week. The difference in this game, though, could be motivation. According to The Upshot, Buffalo’s chances of making the playoffs spike to 80 percent with a win and crash to 50 percent with a loss. Also, the game is in Orchard Park, tipping the scale in the Bills’ favor. Pick: Bills -4
Dolphins at Browns, 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Browns -10.5 | Total: 44.5
Lost in the intense reaction to Myles Garrett’s on-field actions and his lengthy suspension was that the Browns (4-6) won a second consecutive game and Baker Mayfield went a third straight game without an interception. Cleveland needs more than wins at home against Buffalo and Pittsburgh to convince anyone that it is over its struggles, and a win over the Dolphins (2-8) — which is close to a given, even if the point spread is generous — won’t move the needle, either. Pick: Dolphins +10.5
Lions at Redskins, 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Lions -3.5 | Total: 42
It appears Jeff Driskel will get at least one more start at quarterback for the Lions (3-6-1), which downgrades that team’s offense regardless of his decent numbers against Dallas last week. The Redskins (1-9) are not good by any stretch of the imagination, and their quarterback Dwayne Haskins will continue to make rookie mistakes, but he gives his team a 50-50 shot to win at home against Driskel. That makes Washington a good bet as an underdog. Pick: Redskins +3.5
Giants at Bears, 1 p.m., Fox
Line: Bears -6 | Total: 40.5
Watching the Bears (4-6) simply give up against the Rams last week was something to behold. Down by 10 points in the fourth quarter, Coach Matt Nagy pulled quarterback Mitchell Trubisky — the team said Trubisky injured his hip, but he was a full participant in practice this week — and they meekly turned the ball over on downs to effectively end the game. The Giants (2-8) are on a six-game losing streak, and the Bears are a much more talented team, but Chicago’s offense is so unreliable that this game is more evenly matched than oddsmakers have predicted. Pick: Giants +6
Ravens at Rams, 8:15 p.m., ESPN
Line: Ravens -3 | Total: 46
To say this is a matchup of last year’s hottest offense and this year’s hottest offense would be true, but it might be hard to believe when you watch the two teams play. The Rams (6-4) have slowed considerably from a year ago, partly as a result of injuries but also because of the regression of quarterback Jared Goff. The Ravens (8-2), meanwhile, have turned into a juggernaut using a blend of running and passing that no one beyond the Chargers in last year’s playoffs has been able to figure out.
As different as they look on offense, the teams are eerily similar on defense. The Ravens allow 19.6 points a game and the Rams allow 19.8. The Rams allow 324.6 yards a game and the Ravens allow 332.9. They are both top-10 teams against the run, and they are both more middling against the pass — though some advanced metrics suggest Baltimore’s pass defense is better than its raw yardage totals suggest, which is backed up by last week’s dominant win over Houston.
The Rams may get a boost this week from the expected return of receivers Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods, which would open up their offense considerably. But with the way the Ravens have played recently, it’s hard to imagine a team they would not be favored against. Pick: Ravens -3
Anticipating a return to form from Houston’s Deshaun Watson, we picked Texans -3.5. The game played out mostly as expected, with Indianapolis struggling to pass against Houston’s defense and Watson largely recovering from last week’s disaster against Baltimore. But the Colts got enough production out of the team’s backup running backs to beat the spread, losing by 20-17.
How Betting Lines Work
A quick primer for those who are not familiar with betting lines: Favorites are listed next to a negative number that represents how many points they must win by to cover the spread. Eagles -1.5, for example, means that Philadelphia must beat the Seahawks by at least two points for its backers to win their bet. Gamblers can also bet on the total score, or whether the teams’ combined score in the game is over or under a preselected number of points.
Bye weeks: Kansas City, Minnesota, Arizona, Los Angeles (Chargers).
All times are Eastern.
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