Sunday’s Essentials – Week 12

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Dolphins at Browns (-10.5/45), 1 p.m. ET, FOX: The Browns play only one more team that enters Week 12 action above .500 between now and the end of the regular season, so talk of running the table isn’t evidence Baker Mayfield has gone mad and should be committed. It’s feasible, albeit unlikely, but considering the winless are on tap twice, certainly possible. Cleveland is looking for just its second three-game winning streak since 2014 as it attempts to handle business as a double-digit favorite for the first time in 12 years and only the second time since 1999. The last time we saw the Browns, Myles Garrett was swinging a helmet at Pittsburgh’s Mason Rudolph following a 21-7 Thursday night triumph. The former No. 1 pick won’t play again until next season at the earliest, so Cleveland will need to be more creative in generating pressure since it can no longer rely on one of the most talented guys on the field simply beating his man one-on-one. Miami’s Ryan Fitzpatrick was sacked seven times last week in Buffalo, so the Dolphins will make a good guinea pig for defensive coordinator Steve Wilks, who will also be without DT Larry Ogunjobi.

Miami is looking for more from Kalen Ballage at running back as he gets his crack at handling the position. Speedy receivers Jakeem Grant and Albert Wilson will both be available, so there should be an opportunity to challenge a shorthanded Browns’ defense that has also ruled out Miami native Olivier Vernon up front. Fitzpatrick missed practice time due to right shoulder and forearm discomfort, so the possibility exists you may have to rely on Josh Rosen at some point if you’re taking points here. Gusty winds should be a part of the equation, but former Dolphins’ WR Jarvis Landry and his pal Odell Beckham, Jr. are both expected to play despite appearing on the injury report with nagging ailments. Tight end David Njoku will miss at least one more week after not being activated from IR with his wrist not ready.

Broncos at Bills (-4/37), 1 p.m. ET, CBS: Denver dominated Minnesota early before collapsing and ultimately falling short, but first-year coach Vic Fangio has guys playing hard for him despite the season not going as expected and the group already out of playoff contention after blowing a 20-0 halftime lead. The Broncos are playing their second road game of four in a five-week span, so surviving between now and mid-December will likely be as mentally taxing as it will be physically, particularly if the losses keep piling up. Brandon Allen beat the Browns in his debut but contributed to last week’s loss by completing just 44 percent of his passes (17-for-39). He missed rookie tight end Noah Fant in the end zone on the game’s final play despite having him open, and that throw would’ve gone a long way in changing what the past week would’ve been like. It would appear that we’ll see second-round pick Drew Lock sooner than later, but Allen remains the starter and will lead his team into a Buffalo in an underdog role with Fant again looking to build on his recent progress, coming in tops among rookie tight ends with 27 catches for 360 yards.

The Bills have seen corner Kevin Johnson emerge to share snaps with Levi Wallace next to Tre-Davious White, so the Broncos will have their work cut out for them moving the ball effectively through the air. WR Tim Patrick has been cleared to play after entering Sunday questionable with a shoulder injury. RB Phillip Lindsay should get a lot of work despite a sore wrist. Buffalo is 5-1 SU as a favorite this season, covering on three occasions. Josh Allen has been one of the NFL’s top dual-threat quarterbacks, which should serve the offense well since wind gusts of over 20 miles per hour are expected to come into play on a chilly day. Nose tackle Mike Purcell has been cleared for the Broncos, so the key to their improved run defense is a go despite a rib injury suffered early last week.

Steelers (-6.5/37.5) at Bengals, 1 p.m. ET, CBS: If Cincinnati is going to win a game this season, this is as good a shot as any, which is saying something since games against the Jets and Dolphins remain. Rookie Ryan Finley has struggled and gets another chance to impress at home after the entire team was squashed by Baltimore two weeks ago. Strictly talking upset, Pittsburgh is vulnerable due to the absence of center Maurkice Pouncey, suspended for his role in the Garrett-Rudolph incident. Running back James Conner is out again, as is top wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster, who was dealing with a concussion and an injured knee. WR Diontae Johnson will be available and teams with James Washington as Rudolph’s top targets. RB Jaylen Samuels should be in for a heavy workload.

The Bengals expect to get a huge boost with left tackle Cordy Glenn back and making his debut after being sidelined with concussion issues the past few months. When he’s seen the field, he’s been an asset, but it remains to be seen whether he can find a rhythm with the lights on after such a lengthy layoff. Talented WR Auden Tate is also expected back from concussion symptoms, giving Finley another key target to alongside Tyler Boyd and his tight ends. RB Joe Mixon has been productive and the offensive line should be better with Glenn in the mix, so a Pittsburgh defense that has keyed the team’s resurgence thanks to the addition of safety Minkah Fitzgerald will have to step up to help make up for the team’s offensive absences. Considering how much Finley has struggled, it’s entirely possible Pittsburgh can outscore Cincinnati’s offense by itself. Finley is 1-for-6 on passes of 20 or more yards. Temperatures will be in the low 40s as rain that had been in the area has cleared out.

Giants at Bears (-6/41), 1 p.m. ET, FOX: Mitch Trubisky will start after being pulled late in last week’s 17-7 loss to the Rams with a hip pointer. He threw the ball well Thursday and won’t have to deal with awful weather conditions, so there really will be no excuse if he struggles against a vulnerable New York secondary. There will be over 60,000 fans in place hoping to see progress and expressing their opinions if he continues to struggle, so this could certainly turn into a situation where playing at home works against you. Backup Chase Daniel doesn’t want to be the most popular guy in the building come second quarter, but there’s a chance that ends up the case.

The Giants come into on a six-game losing streak but did have a bye week that allowed WR Sterling Shepard (concussion) to get back in the mix for this one, but tight ends Evan Engram and Rhett Ellison are both out. Untested Scott Simonson and rookie Kaden Smith will be called upon but we may see more four-receiver sets considering the weather won’t be a factor. Daniel Jones had a big day against the Jets in a 34-27 loss prior to the bye week but will face one of the toughest defenses he’s seen all season. Chicago has surrendered just 17.4 points per game, second in the NFC and have been disruptive despite sack numbers being down. This game certainly looks likely it will come down to what quarterback can be most productive while eliminating mistakes. Saquon Barkley says he’s feeling much better and expects to be more of a factor than he’s been in recent weeks.

Raiders (-3/45.5) at Jets, 1 p.m. ET, CBS: After playing three consecutive games in Oakland, the Raiders go back on the road for the first time since Oct. 27. They’ve handled business at home in a favorite’s role over the Lions, Chargers and Bengals, which isn’t exactly murderer’s row. The Jets aren’t either, but have posted 34 points in back-to-back wins over the Redskins and Giants, two of the worst teams in football. Adding to this interesting mix will be inclement weather since heavy rain is expected to play as large a role as starting QBs Derek Carr and Sam Darnold. Wet, windy conditions will be tough for both teams to navigate, but Carr has a history of really struggling with the elements so he’ll need Josh Jacobs to make headway against the NFL’s top-ranked run defense.

Panthers at Saints (-10/46), 1 p.m. ET, CBS: Christian McCaffrey has enjoyed a single victory in his four matchups with the Saints and he’s amassed just 103 yards on 29 carries and only found the end zone once. The Saints will likely key on Carolina’s primary weapon, so Kyle Allen will need to find ways to bounce back from a pair of rough efforts as the team has produced 10.6 points in losses to the 49ers, Packers and Falcons over the past month. Allen’s chore of moving the ball against the New Orleans defense gets a little easier with word coming down that corner Marshon Lattimore is going to sit this one out with a hamstring injury. He should have tackles Dennis Daley and Greg Little available too, but will have to deal with the loudest road atmosphere he’ll have seen to date in the Superdome.

Drew Brees got back on track after his post-bye setback against the Falcons but against won’t have one of his top offensive linemen available with guard Andrus Peat also out. We’ll get a great individual matchup pitting Alvin Kamara against Luke Kuechly. Judging by how often he got the ball against Tampa Bay last week, we should see Kamara get even more touches as he looks to pad a TD count that stands at just two after he found the end zone 32 times in his first two seasons. He wasn’t available for New Orleans’ lone loss to Carolina over the past two season and has found the end zone three times in as many games, racking up 371 yards.

Seahawks at Eagles (-1/45.5), 1 p.m. ET, FOX: Philadelphia comes off a disappointing offensive effort against the Patriots and now find themselves tasked with staying within striking distance of Dallas so that it can catch them in Week 16 when the teams square off at Lincoln Financial Field. Considering the friendly schedule ahead, pulling off its first victory over Seattle since 2008 would go a long way in ensuring that will be the case for Philly, which is also attempting to avoid slipping under .500. The Eagles are just 3-2 at home, so making sure that the Linc is again the fortress it has been will dictate the team’s success the rest of the way.

The Seahawks are perfect on the road through five outings and look like a lock to make the postseason. They’ve got a shot to finish as the No. 1 overall seed if they’re able to overcome the 49ers. Coming off a bye week, Pete Carroll will have a great defensive game plan in place, but may be hindered by the absence of DE Jadeveon Clowney if he’s not able to play after seeing a specialist for nagging knee and hip ailments. New safety Quandre Diggs has upgraded the secondary, so a defense that has surrendered 27.5 over the last six games has a chance to look far more imposing coming out of the break with everyone rejuvenated. The Eagles are going to be without Desean Jackson again and list WRs Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor as questionable. RB Jordan Howard doesn’t look like he’s be cleared to return from a shoulder injury, which will leave rookie Miles Sanders, Boston Scott and Jay Ajayi as ball carriers. Tackle Lane Johnson also failed to make it back from concussion protocol. Rain and windy weather will be a part of this game too but both teams should be used to those conditions.

Jaguars at Titans(-3.5/41.5), 4:05 p.m. ET, CBS: The AFC South saw the Texans climb to the top with Thursday’s win over the Colts, who are now 6-5 and may have company there if Tennessee is able to hold serve at home here. Jacksonville is looking to stay alive after faltering in Nick Foles’ return last week, sputtering offensively in Indianapolis. They’ll try to get things going in Nashville and will have nice weather to help aid the cause. Foles has shown nice chemistry with DJ Chark and will have more preparation time in place to try and punish a defense that has surrendered an average of 26.3 points per game over the last four games. Despite that, Tennessee has won three of those four games and come off a win in a shootout over Kansas City. Ryan Tannehill has left Marcus Mariota in the dust with fans openly lamenting the change not being made sooner since it has obviously cost them a few games.

The Titans will likely feed Derrick Henry, who ran for 238 yards and four scores in the most recent matchup with Jacksonville, including a 99-yard run. Tennessee ran for 470 yards against Jacksonville in its two games last season and saw its start back rack up 188 yards against the Chiefs prior to the bye. The Jags rank last in the NFL in yards allowed per carry (5.2). The Jags won 20-7 in Week 3 by pressuring Mariota and may not have as much success this time around considering they’ll be dealing with an improved offensive line now featuring Taylor Lewan, who was suspended for that game. Delanie Walker is expected back from a lengthy absence, so this should be a big game for Tennessee as it makes its push to try and reach another postseason.

Cowboys at Patriots (-5.5/45.5), 4:25 p.m. ET, FOX: Outside of North Florida and Tennessee, most eyes will be on this game late in the day. The Cowboys have been inconsistent all season and come off a 35-27 win where they took advantage of Detroit’s defensive shortcomings but the fact is that this will be the toughest defense that Dak Prescott has run into. Only the Ravens have managed to score more than 14 points against the New England defense this season, so a mobile Prescott may be part of the game plan early despite the fact that both he and the Cowboys prefer he hang in the pocket. New England hasn’t played at home since taking down the Patriots on Oct. 27, but both Tom Brady and Prescott will have to deal with steady rain. For the Pats, this should be nothing new given last week’s conditions in Philadelphia and other games they’ve toiled in this season, but it’s certainly cause for concern where Dallas is concerned since it has played almost exclusively in domes over the past few months. They have run into inclement weather at Met Life Stadium, but the combination of facing a stifling defense in less than ideal weather should be disconcerting if you’re a Cowboys fan.

Dallas doesn’t have much experience playing at Gillette Stadium, facing Bill Belichick and Tom Brady in their house for just the third time over the past two decades. Aaron Hernandez scored the game-winning TD when the teams last met in 2011 and Bill Parcells left with a 9-0 loss back in ’03, so we’re definitely witnessing history here. New England must find a way to move the football better than it has of late since Brady has been stifled and has been nursing an elbow injury that landed him on the injury report. Brady has thrown 14 touchdowns this season against just five interceptions and is just 248 yards shy of 3,000, so reports of his demise have been exaggerated. The total here reflects his struggles and takes the weather into account, so don’t jump all over the ‘over’ despite the low bar.

Follow Tony Mejia on Twitter at @TonyMejiaNBA

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