NFL 2018 - Week 13
NFL 2018 – Week 13
Last week’s Game of the Week proved to be the tense grind we expected, with the Vikings eventually edging the Packers on Sunday night to give themselves a leg up in the NFC wild-card race. It may not have been Rams-Chiefs, but it takes all sorts to make an NFL season. Thanksgiving proved nothing if not traditional, with victories going the way most expected – to Chicago, Dallas and New Orleans – but the rest of the holiday weekend proved eventful, with surprises in Cincinnati, where the home side initially appeared to be on the wrong side of a rout before making defeat to the Cleveland Browns look a little more respectable, Buffalo and Denver, with the Bills and Broncos take unexpected wins over Jacksonville and Pittsburgh respectively. The Jets might have got in on the act after holding the Patriots in check for half of their game, but Tom Brady, with Rob Gronkowski back at TE after an extended absence, and rookie RB Sony Michel ultimately proved to much for Gang Green.
There wasn’t much good news for the blue side of the Big Apple either, as the Giants went down in Philadelphia despite appearing to have the Eagles on the ropes for some time. Houston, Baltimore, Seattle, Indianapolis and the Chargers all won to keep their post-season hopes alive, while Oakland, San Francisco and Arizona ensured that there is likely to be a strong western influence at the top of the draft. Carolina’s defeat at home to the Seahawks, however, dented their pursuit of the high-flying Saints.
Game of the Week – Cleveland Browns @ Houston Texans
Yes, there are other games we could have chosen, not least the Thursday night encounter between the Saints and Cowboys or Sunday’s late game involving the Chargers and Steelers but, with all four teams having already featured in this column, we’ve gone for something a little different. Houston started the year on a lot of lists when it came to picking division winners and playoff contenders, but started 0-3 before rattling off eight straight wins to vault to the top of the AFC South. With the Jaguars imploding and Colts still rebuilding on the back of Andrew Luck’s return, Tennessee has emerged as the Texans main rival, only to be put in their place on Monday night, when Houston came back from an early deficit to cement their place atop the standings in a game given extra emotion by the recent death of owner Bob McNair.
Cleveland, on the other hand, may only dream of the post-season (although they have yet to be mathematically eliminated) as they attempt to recover from last year’s 0-16 campaign and myriad miseries before that. Head coach Hue Jackson and OC Todd Haley are gone, fired in October, handing the controversial Gregg Williams the reins for the remainder of the year. Having tied their opener against Pittsburgh to ensure they couldn’t go 0-16 for a second consecutive season, the Browns have kept it close in most of the games they’ve played since, adding wins against the Jets, Ravens, Falcons and Bengals for good measure. Houston and Cleveland have met nine times, with the Texans holding a 6-3 upper hand, including the last four meetings dating back to 2008.
Players to watch?
Houston have stars on both side of the ball, and are now looking poised for another playoff run. A big key to that has been solving their problem at quarterback, with the addition of former Clemson stand-out Deshaun Watson (using a draft pick acquired from Cleveland). There were teams that doubted Watson’s ability to translate his college style to the NFL, but the Texans were only too happy to see him fall to them – and even happier to get him back from the ACL tear that curtailed his debut season. A quarterback would be nothing without at least one star receiver, and Watson has DeAndre Hopkins as his go-to. Capable of making as spectacular a catch as any of his peers, Hopkins also has great run-after-catch ability and ranks amongst the best wideouts in the league. He is complemented by rookie Keke Coutee and the recently acquired Demaryious Thomas, who joined Houston from Denver ahead of the trade deadline.
The Texans are a little more mercurial at running back, having yet to land a stand-out at the position, although Lamar Miller showed what is capable of with 162 yards on the ground against Tennessee on Monday Night Football. For some time, however, it was Houston’s defense that got all the attention, with JJ Watt a celebrated figure on and off the gridiron. Although his football exploits established Watt’s name, his charitable deeds – especially in the wake of Hurricane Harvey – will cement his legacy. Watt’s primary partners in crime on the field include Jadaveon Clowney and Whitney Mercilus, although the Browns can’t afford to ignore the likes of Zach Cunningham and DB duo Johnathan Joseph and Tyrann Mathieu either. Cleveland’s D is not to be sniffed at, however, with the accumulation of draft picks by former GM Sashi Brown bringing talent to both sides of the ball. Former first overall pick Myles Garrett gets most of the headlines, but rookie CB Denzel Ward and the more experienced Joe Schobert, Jamie Collins, Demarious Randall and Jabrill Peppers all deserve mention too.
On offense, the spotlight shines brightest on rookie QB Baker Mayfield as the Browns again try to find their ‘quarterback of the future’. This one looks like he might stick, having guided his new team to four wins so far, but Mayfield is never too far from controversy, having marred his college career with some questionable antics and already called out former HC Jackson over his decision to join the staff in Cincinnati. Mayfield’s weapons aren’t too shabby either, with fellow rookie Nick Chubb now in possession of the running back role - and liable to rumble to long-distance TDs – and the rangy target David Njoku at tight end providing a red zone threat. A third rookie, Antonio Callaway, has inserted himself as WR2 following the departure of Josh Gordon, and provides an adequate foil for Jarvis Landry, who committed himself to the Browns as a free agent leaving Miami.
Best of the rest?
With nobody left to take a bye, all 32 teams will be in action between Thursday and Monday nights, starting in Dallas and ending in Philadelphia. Dallas and New Orleans were both in action on Thanksgiving Thursday so come into their TNF encounter with a full week of rest – but that can only benefit one of the hottest offenses in the country as the Saints line up their next victim. They have outscored their opponents 130-38 in the last three games and the Cowboys’ defense, as good as the likes of Demarcus Lawrence, Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch have looked, will do well to contain Drew Brees and Co. On offense, however, the ‘Boys have looked better following the arrival of Amari Cooper, freeing up both Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, so this may not be a blow-out.
Minnesota return to our screens this Sunday as they visit the Patriots in another test of their defensive mettle. With Gronk back at TE, New England has one of the most dominant players in the league in its armoury and the difference showed against the Jets last weekend. James White took something of a backseat in that game, with fellow RB Sony Michel racking up the yards, and the Vikings are unlikely to know what they’ll be facing until Bill Belichick wheels out his offense on the weekend. Minnesota looked better against Green Bay with Dalvin Cook complementing Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs, so can give as good as they get. The late game – and our other GOTW candidate - sees the Chargers travelling to Pittsburgh on the back of one of the all-time great QB performances from Philip Rivers. Having completed his first 25 passes against the Cardinals, Rivers finished with just one incompletion and three touchdowns, putting his name in the record books. The QB insisted that he could not have done it without his supporting cast, and the Chargers indeed boast the likes of Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and veteran Antonio Gates as receiving threats, although running back Melvin Gordon took a knock in the game and may miss the trip.
Pittsburgh, on the other hand, are equally stacked in terms of weapons, with QB Ben Roethlisberger able to call on running back James Conner – a more than ample replacement for Le’Veon Bell – and wideouts Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster. Roethlisberger will have to keep one eye out for the pass rush of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, however, as well as rookie standout Derwin James in the Chargers’ backfield. The final game of the week is an all NFC East battle, pitting the early division leaders against the reigning Super Bowl champions. Washington are coming off a bruising loss to old rival Dallas on Thanksgiving, which gives the ‘Boys the edge in the playoff race, while Philadelphia had to rally to overcome a stern test from the Giants last weekend. Neither side is at full strength, however, and this could be another battle of attrition.
Elsewhere on the Week 13 schedule, we’re intrigued by the Broncos @ Bengals, Bears @ Giants and Colts @ Jaguars, while wondering whether the Bills can upset the Dolphins in Miami., and if Carolina can get back to winning ways against unpredictable Tampa Bay. Whatever you choose to watch….. Enjoy!
Don't forget Walkabout show all the LIVE NFL action on a Sunday evening so make sure you head to your local Walkabout, pre-book a booth with your pals and enjoy every touchdown and sack!