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NFL Week 12 picks

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Both the Ravens and Jets need a win Sunday to keep their AFC wild-card hopes alive.

The winter wonderland known as the Super Bowl at MetLife Stadium is fewer than 11 weeks away, meaning we've officially made it past the halfway mark in the NFL season (not just the regular season). There are still plenty of serious contenders to make it to the big game in the Meadowlands, but we can probably eliminate the 49ers and Ravens right now and not think twice about it.

Why? Because teams don't make back-to-back Super Bowls trips any more. It used to be pretty common in the '60s (Packers), '70s (Dolphins, Vikings, Steelers, Cowboys), '80s (49ers, Redskins, Broncos) and '90s (Cowboys, Bills, Packers, Broncos). But the last team to accomplish it was the 2003-04 Patriots, and the last NFC team to go two years in a row was the Packers (1996-97).

So, sorry San Francisco and Baltimore. You had your fun run last year, but we've decided to simplify things and remove you from consideration this time around. Not that you're not doing a fine job of that yourself of late. Zing!

For all of Week 12's picks, see below:

Last week: 11-4; Season 107-55
 
Thursday, Nov. 21
 
8:25 p.m. ET (NFL Network) New Orleans Saints (8-2) at Atlanta Falcons (2-8)
After winning in big showdown settings in the Superdome against Dallas and San Francisco, and with next weekend's battle for NFC supremacy in Seattle looming, this could be a tricky little trap game for the Saints. Normally you can never say that about a New Orleans-Atlanta grudge match, but these are not the same Falcons we've grown accustomed to since 2008. Mike Smith's guys have been impersonating an NFL team for at least the past month or so.
 
Sunday, Nov. 24
 
1 p.m. ET (CBS) New York Jets (5-5) at Baltimore Ravens (4-6)
Rex Ryan had a darn good 10-year run in Baltimore as a defensive coach, and you might even have forgotten that he stayed and served as John Harbaugh's defensive coordinator/assistant head coach in 2008, after the Ravens bypassed him in favor of Harbaugh as Brian Billick's replacement that season. But that's probably not Ryan's primary motivation in this game. His Jets really need a win to stay in the lead for the AFC's second wild-card berth, and New York has to be eager to fumigate the stench from last week's collapse in Buffalo. But the Ravens need it every bit as much to keep their wild-card hopes alive, and their home-field advantage should be enough to finally end the Jets' win-one, lose-one trend.
 
1 p.m. ET (CBS) Pittsburgh Steelers (4-6) at Cleveland Browns (4-6)
Steelers fans must feel as if they've stumbled into some alternate universe that simply would not have made any sense for most of the past 40 years or so. Pittsburgh trailing first-place Cincinnati by a considerable margin and an underdog to the Browns? What in the name of Bubby Brister is going on here?
 
1 p.m. ET (FOX) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-8) at Detroit Lions (6-4)
Methinks Jim Schwartz doth protest too much in defending his dubious decision to try that fake field goal last week in Pittsburgh. We get it, Jimmy. You're going to be aggressive at all times. Whether it's prudent or not. But me also thinks the Lions win handily this week at home to get back on track and improve to 4-1 at Ford Field this season. I love when Shakespeare and the NFL blend seamlessly.
 
1 p.m. ET (FOX) Minnesota Vikings (2-8) at Green Bay Packers (5-5)
Greg Jennings might make his return to Lambeau Field, if his sore Achilles heals enough for him to play. It's not exactly the Favre Homecoming, but the Packers faithful can't wait to boo Jennings out of their beloved bowl after his ill-advised rip job of Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the preseason. But most of all, the 5-5 Packers need a win, and I think Scott Tolzien gets the job done this week against Minnesota. In a quirk of scheduling, Wisconsin (8-2) is at Minnesota (8-2) on Saturday, so Tolzien, the ex-Badger, should be familiar with this whole upper Midwest rivalry thing.
 
1 p.m. ET (CBS) Jacksonville Jaguars (1-9) at Houston Texans (2-8)
On the transcript of Gary Kubiak's Monday news conference, released by the team, the Texans embattled head coach used the down-home Southern term "fixing" five times. As in it was "something that I was fixing to go do in the fourth quarter that I thought would be very difficult on a young player," by way of trying to explain his reasoning for benching quarterback Case Keenum in favor of Matt Schaub in the second half of Sunday's loss to Oakland. If the Texans lose to the lowly Jaguars at home, Kubiak will find himself in quite the fix, and might even be "fixing" to get himself fired.
 
1 p.m. ET (CBS) San Diego Chargers (4-6) at Kansas City Chiefs (9-1)
There's a lot to like about the Chiefs, there really is. But I just can't see Kansas City's offense making enough happen in the postseason to hang with the big dogs in the AFC. In fact, I could see a one-and-done playoff run unfolding quite easily, a fate Chiefs fans are sadly quite familiar with (see 1994, '95, '97, 2003, '06 and '10, their six most recent playoff trips). The Chiefs at the moment look to be out-gunned by every other potential AFC playoff team, save the Jets perhaps.
 
1 p.m. ET (FOX) Carolina Panthers (7-3) at Miami Dolphins (5-5)
Now the challenge for Carolina is warding off the letdown, after winning in San Francisco and beating New England at home last Monday night. Short week and a road trip can be a taxing combination, but the Panthers seem mentally tough enough to handle this next step on the playoff contender growth chart.
 
1 p.m. ET (FOX) Chicago Bears (6-4) at St. Louis Rams (4-6)
This is a quirky one I know, but a sportswriter friend of mine the other day referred in print to Bears quarterback "Cade McCown" when he clearly meant Josh McCown. I can see how that could happen, and maybe I've even done it myself. But really, what are the odds that Chicago in the span of 11 or 12 years would have both a Cade McNown and a Josh McCown to keep track of at quarterback? McNown, a first-round pick out of UCLA in the celebrated QB class of 1999, of course, was quite the flop, playing just two years with the Bears. McCown, signed off the street in late 2011 for spare change after Caleb Hanie face-planted in relief of Jay Cutler, has worked out to be a heck of an insurance policy. They're different quarterbacks, but phonetically very similar.
 
4:05 p.m. ET (CBS) Indianapolis Colts (7-3) at Arizona Cardinals (6-4)
This game gives us yet another coaching reunion sub-plot, which seems to be all the rage this year. If first-year Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians, the former Colts offensive coordinator/interim head coach of 2012, knows any secrets on how to stop Andrew Luck, his onetime pupil, now would be the time to share them. Speaking of secrets, Arizona has been one of the best-kept in the NFL this season. But if the Cardinals win this one to get to 7-4, it won't be possible to ignore them any longer.
 
4:05 p.m. ET (CBS) Tennessee Titans (4-6) at Oakland Raiders (4-6)
You have to forgive the Raiders if they don't know what to think about their starting quarterback position at this point in 2013. They went to training camp with the presumption that the newly acquired Matt Flynn was their No. 1, moved on to the pleasant surprise that Terrelle Pryor was, and now are hesitating in an effort to buy some time for Matt McGloin to make his best possible case for the full-time gig. Being "the guy" in Oakland isn't a long-term commitment by any means. Every quarterback since Rich Gannon seemingly has held the job for an average of about 90 minutes.
 
4:25 p.m. ET (FOX) Dallas Cowboys (5-5) at New York Giants (4-6)
This is the type of game Dallas typically finds a way to lose, so it's up to Tony Romo to stop the bleeding and get the desperate Cowboys a win. If he's the quarterback his defenders maintain he is, he'll answer the challenge in the Meadowlands. But why do I feel like I know how this movie will end?
 
8:30 p.m. ET (NBC) Denver Broncos (9-1) at New England Patriots (7-3)
I actually saw a comparison of the Brady versus Manning hair styles over the years, and Brady won that one, too. C'mon, what's the big debate? Brady is 9-4 overall against his archrival, and leads 3-1 in the rings chase (no, Peyton doesn't get to count Eli's two won at the expense of the Patriots). The injury depleted Patriots defense shouldn't be able to stand up to what Manning and the Broncos can throw at them, but I thought the same thing when New England faced the Saints, and Brady pulled off the miracle in that one. Somehow, the Patriots' 5-0 home record and tendency to not lose consecutive games is getting a little overlooked this week.
 
Monday, Nov. 25
 
8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) San Francisco 49ers (6-4) at Washington Redskins (3-7)
I don't suppose the fine folks at ESPN will bill this Monday-night matchup as a battle of young star quarterbacks who were all that last year, but haven't quite pulled off the boffo follow-up act in 2013, but you never know, they could surprise me. Chances are better that Jon Gruden just gushes about both struggling quarterbacks for the full three hours-plus. But there was no gushing the other day from Washington receiver Santana Moss in regards to Robert Griffin III's less-than-heroic explanation of his game-ending end zone interception in the loss at Philadelphia.

I like what Moss said to his quarterback and Griffin needed to hear that from a veteran teammate: If you're the last one to have the ball in your hands, you own that play, you own that outcome. Fair or not. That's the way it works. Step up and take that ownership. Can you imagine if Redskins coach Mike Shanahan had tried to make the same point to RGIII, given the uneasy truce that seems to exist between them after Griffin's knee injury in the January playoff loss to Seattle? It would have been game, set, match in Washington. At least for Shanny.
 
MORE:
FARRAR: Seahawks rise to No. 1 in Week 11 Power Rankings
BUKOWSKI: Watt making case for second straight DPOY
BANKS: Refs showing officiating is a thankless job
ROSENBERG: Manning-Brady now closer than ever
BELLER: Player-by-player fantasy projections for Week 12
 
Pro Football Now: Sunday Night preview
On November 21st's Pro Football Now, co-hosts Maggie Gray and Amani Toomer, The MMQB editor-in-chief Peter King and NFL senior writer Don Banks preview the Sunday Night match-up between the New England Patriots and the Denver Broncos.
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