The NFL’s Week 12 slate picked up where the wire-to-wire Thanksgiving action left off with a Sunday that featured a pair of do-or-die two-pointers on top of two overtime games that changed the outlook in both conference pictures. The AFC was impacted more heavily by these outcomes, but the NFC outlook also shifted when Raiders running back Josh Jacobs capped off his 300-yard-day with an 86-yard run in overtime that sent the once 6-3 Seahawks to 6-5.
The NFC Wild card race will be all the more wide open for the ineptitude in the NFC South; the Panthers put down the Broncos at home, but on top of Atlanta’s goal-line failure against the Commanders and New Orleans’ shutout loss to the 49ers, Tampa Bay’s chances off rallying took a huge hit when stud right tackle Tristan Wirfs was carted off late in Cleveland’s comeback win. Early reports are more positive than the on-field scene indicated, but even so, the Bucs can’t afford to lose another blue-chip player on top of center Ryan Jenson and edge rusher Shaq Barrett, and it’s looking less likely by the week that they will rally to championship form.
We’ll get into how the odds stack up on DraftKings after the weekend, but before we do, be sure to sign up for The Oracle’s picks if you haven’t done so already! The Oracle is putting together a huge 2022 against the NCAA and NFL slate, so get in on the action as we hit conference championship weekend on the college scene and the stretch run in the NFL!
2 PT Plays Keep Chargers Over .500, Tie Up AFC North
It’s hard to overstate what type of questions the Chargers would be fielding if they woke up today under .500.
There’s an easy comparison to make between Brandon Staley’s Chargers and Mike McDaniel’s Dolphins, given that their respective quarterbacks, Justin Herbert and Tua Tagovailoa, will always be tied at the hip as draft classmates. Tagovailoa has emerged as an MVP-caliber player in McDaniel’s quick-strike offense, which is beautifully tailored to everything Tagovailoa does well. McDaniel’s creative use of motion and ability to seamlessly blend option concepts with some of the more traditional aspects of the Shannahan scheme creates the type of space that an accurate, decisive quarterback like Tagovailoa can chew up.
The decisive part is the more surprising part of Tagovailoa’s turnaround, because during his 2021 struggles, the then-second-year quarterback often looked lost operating Miami’s hapless offense. It’s the total opposite in 2022, and the turnaround is reminiscent of Jared Goff’s transformation in the shift from Jeff Fischer’s tutelage to Sean McVay’s, which left you wondering what the heck could have been getting coached under the previous regime. The results have been overwhelmingly positive, as McDaniel is getting the most out of his quarterback and his team as Miami gears up for an AFC East run down the stretch.
Staley’s staff hasn’t created indecision in Herbert’s game – it’s hard to imagine any coaching could derail a player as gifted as Herbert – but they haven’t created an offense that truly maximizes Herbert’s unique tools, and they haven’t created a winning environment around their stud quarterback. Both are tough things to do in the modern NFL.
Fortunately, Staley’s commitment to live and die by aggressive decisions came up positive on Sunday, and the win prevented the Chargers from falling behind all four AFC East teams, as they remained tied with the Patriots at 6-5. They still need to find wins, but as bleak as things would have looked with a loss, Staley’s team still has a solid chance to get a Wild Card spot.
The Ravens could also end up in the Wild Card picture after Trevor Lawrence and the Jaguars picked up a comeback win over Lamar Jackson’s squad; with Joe Burrow and the Bengals stretching their win streak to three games with a victory over the Titans, Baltimore and Cincinnati both sit at 7-4, though Baltimore has a far easier schedule between now and their Week 18 rematch with Cincinnati.
With the Ravens facing the Steelers (2x), the Broncos, the Falcons, and the Browns, and the Bengals facing the Chiefs, Browns, Buccaneers, Patriots, and Bills, it’s easy to see why the Ravens are -300 to win the AFC North. If their Week 18 matchup came today, the Bengals would likely be favored on a neutral field, but the disparity in schedules makes their +250 Division odds tough to bet on.
Cincinnati is -250 to make the playoffs on DraftKings, but given the road they face, it might make more sense to take them at +1000 to repeat as AFC Champs, because if they do rack up enough wins for a Wild Card spot or the AFC North title, it will mean that the Bengals are entering the NFL Playoffs hitting on all cylinders.
QB Shuffle Makes a Strong AFC Deeper
Mike White is at it again.
Roughly a year after White dazzled in his debut for the Jets, the signal-caller once again stepped in for Zach Wilson and outperformed the former second overall pick. Last year, White did the bulk of his damage through his running back tandem, but this year, it was the receiver tandem of Garrett Wilson and Elijah Moore, an indication that White’s game has progressed since his stint as the starter last season. White’s performance makes it far less likely Zach Wilson will see the field again, because the Jets are going to be in the thick of the race for the AFC East as well as the Wild Card, and it would make no sense to insert their third-best quarterback (behind White and Joe Flacco) back in the starting lineup under such circumstances.
At the same time, Deshaun Watson is set to return for the Browns, and while it may be difficult to rally given the wins other teams have banked, Cleveland’s schedule features the Texans, Saints, Commanders, and Steelers on top of key division matchups with the Ravens and Bengals. Watson needs to find his form quickly to be an upgrade over Jacoby Brissett’s quality play this season, but if that happens, and the 4-7 Browns finish 10-7 or 9-8, the AFC Wild Card picture will look very different than it does entering December.
The other quarterback changes were less significant, unless you believe that Sam Darnold’s win over Russell Wilson and the Broncos is a sign that Carolina will rally to win the NFC South. Packers fans may not have stayed up to watch Jordan Love when he came on for Aaron Rodgers, but the third-year signal-caller showed dramatic improvement in his command of the offense in last night’s appearance, and the results followed, with Love delivering several strikes, including a catch-and-run touchdown by rookie Christian Watson that offers some hopes for Green Bay’s future, as well as their ability to play spoiler down the stretch if Rodgers’ mounting list of injuries sidelines him.
The one quarterback switch that went as expected was in Houston, where Kyle Allen did not provide an upgrade over Davis Mills. Texans fans will try to make Watson uncomfortable on Sunday, but Houston’s offense will likely give their former quarterback a lot of room for error as he makes his return to the field.
Teams such as the Packers and Cardinals likely fell out of the NFC Playoff race with Sunday’s losses, but with the Giants losing to the Cowboys and the Seahawks losing to the Raiders, the NFC South winner might end up with a better record than the third NFC Wild Card.
That won’t be a great look for the NFL if both teams have losing records, but it’s starting to look like a possibility. The Seahawks have two winnable games against the Rams and Panthers coming up, but they follow up with the 49ers, Chiefs, and Jets before a Week 18 game against the Rams. In other words, if Seattle drops one of the games against the Rams or Panthers, the second-place team in the NFC North, South, and West is unlikely to have a winning record.
There was a lot of talk before the season about how the quarterback strength had shifted to the AFC, and that’s proven even more true in light of Tua Tagovailoa’s emergence. Jalen Hurts added a top-tier signal-caller on the NFC side, but with veterans like Brady, Stafford, and Rodgers out of the picture, the NFC playoff field is set up to be a cakewalk compared to the AFC. Depending on the field, the NFC Winner could end up playing a team with a losing record after their first-round bye, leaving one competitive game in the NFC Championship between them and the Super Bowl. Given that Philadelphia is -400 to get the #1 seed while Minnesota is +475 and Dallas is +650, Philadelphia’s +250 odds to win the NFC are probably a far better value than San Francisco’s +275, particularly because Jalen Hurts is a far better quarterback than Jimmy Garoppolo.
Steven Clinton, better known as "The Professor", is a former D-1 Quality Control Assistant (Northwestern, Toledo) who holds a B.A. in Economics and M.S. in Predictive Analytics from Northwestern University. He maintains an end-to-end NFL game projection model and is a film junkie who breaks down the tape of every NFL game.