Can the Patriots defense get it done against a legit offense?
Most of the talk out of Foxboro this week has been about the Patriots’ offense: Tom Brady whining about the lack of production and speculation of a second act to the Antonio Brown drama.
But heading into Sunday’s NFL matchup of the week against the Cowboys, the real question for New England is about the defense. We saw Lamar Jackson and the Ravens take it apart two weeks ago. Can the Pats prevent another wipeout?
Let’s be honest, as good as Jackson is, the Ravens offense is nowhere as complete as what the Cowboys will be putting on the field this weekend. With a red-hot Dak Prescott under center, Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield and Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb at receiver, this is the most talented and diverse offense the Patriots have seen all season – which is amazing and damning considering its Week 12 of the football season.
So maybe there is a reason for Brady to be so crabby. And maybe there is a reason Patriots fans are willing to entertain the return of AB and all his baggage. This game on Sunday has the makings of a shootout, only this time it’s the Patriots who might struggle to hold up their end of the bargain.
Does the Packers-49ers rivalry have another chapter?
Was it really 20 years ago that a relatively-unknown wide receiver named Terrell Owens made one of the great catches in NFL history to beat the Packers in an epic Wild Card playoff game? Would he have even had the chance if modern NFL replay rules were in effect (looking at you, Jerry Rice)?
It’s all ancient history now, but the stakes between the two teams are just as high on Sunday night. Home-field advantage in the NFC is very much on the line when the Packers return to the Bay Area. It’s the debut of Rodgers vs. Garoppolo, which has some catching up to do to rate with Favre-Young, but this is a good start. The 49ers are 9-1 and lead the conference, but the Packers are right there at 8-2. No offense, Seattle and New Orleans, but it’s entirely likely the NFC’s top seed gets decided in this one.
Are the Raiders really for real?
It’s already been an incredible final season for the Raiders in Oakland. At 6-4, they’ve already matched the win total set for them by most oddsmakers before the season – and that was before Antonio Brown flaked and got himself cut from the roster. But that move only served to galvanize Jon Gruden’s crew, and here they are, the Cinderella story of the NFL.
But there is much more football to be played, and if the Raiders really want to be taken seriously over the final six weeks of the season, they need to avoid an enormous trap game this Sunday against the Jets.
Next week, in Week 13, the Raiders travel to Kansas City to face the Chiefs in a battle for first place in the AFC West. It would be very easy for the Raiders to look past the woeful Jets this Sunday, especially playing on the East Coast in the early window, where the Raiders have historically struggled to play good football.
So, this is the Raiders’ big test. Find the motivation to win this game, match the Chiefs with a 7-4 record and get ready for the NFL Game of the Year. Do that, and the rest of the football world will finally take you seriously.
Jeff Goldberg is the editor at sportsintel.com and was the team reporter for the San Diego Fleet in the Alliance of American Football in 2019. Jeff was also the Boston Red Sox and UConn women’s basketball beat writer for the Hartford Courant and wrote two books on the UConn program: Bird at the Buzzer (2011) and Unrivaled (2015).