Week 12 NFL Picks: Surging New England, back in first place, hosts Tennessee

Game of the week

Tennessee at New England

The Patriots, back atop the AFC East thanks to Buffalo’s issues, are a 6 1/2-point favorite over the Titans, who inexplicably lost to Houston at home last week. Major credit to rookie quarterback Mac Jones for helping New England dig out of its 1-3 start.

Patriots 24, Titans 17

Lock of the week

L.A. Rams at Green Bay

When last seen, the Rams and their cast of All-Stars had no answer for San Francisco. They’ve had two weeks to re-group and their assignment is a Packers offense that rolled up 467 yards in last week’s loss at Minnesota. The Packers are a one-point favorite and they coast to a win.

Packers 35, Rams 21

Upset of the week

Pittsburgh at Cincinnati

The Bengals are a 4 1/2-point favorite and ended a two-game slide with last week’s win at Las Vegas. But we’re not ready to buy stock in Cincinnati, which visits the Broncos next month. Pittsburgh keeps pace in the jumbled AFC North as Ben Roethlisberger improves to 16-3 all-time in Cincy.

Steelers 29, Bengals 24

Around the AFC: Upset win over Tampa Bay would put Colts RB Jonathan Taylor in MVP conversation

Taylor’s MVP pursuit. Indianapolis running back Jonathan Taylor leads the NFL with 1,122 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns, but the Colts are a middling team (6-5) so can he really be considered a part of the MVP conversation? Yes, if the Colts can beat Tampa Bay Sunday. In last week’s rout at Buffalo, Taylor became the first player in league history to have at least 175 rushing yards, four rushing touchdowns and one touchdown catch in the same game. Taylor was the fifth player all-time with four rushing scores/one receiving score in a game and the first since Seattle’s Shaun Alexander in September 2002.

Houston screwing up. The Texans are going to screw up and not draft in the top three, right? Houston’s first blunder was winning its opener against Jacksonville. Its second blunder was snapping an eight-game losing streak and shocking Tennessee last week. The Texans entered Week 12 with the fourth pick behind Detroit, Jacksonville and the Jets. Houston hosts the Jets Sunday and a win might push the Texans out of the top five. General manager Nick Caserio’s looming decision: Draft a quarterback in the first round or stick with Tyrod Taylor and build the non-quarterback foundation while waiting for an option.

Judon free-agent home run. New England signed pass rusher Matthew Judon away from Baltimore in March with a four-year, $54.4 million contract. In 76 games for the Ravens, Judon had 34 1/2 sacks. In 11 games for the Patriots, he has 10 1/2. Judon reminds us of the impact Denver native Calais Campbell had on Jacksonville in 2017 after signing as a free agent (career-high 14 1/2 sacks in helping the Jaguars to the AFC title game). Judon’s Patriots host Tennessee on Sunday and have allowed the league’s fewest points per game (16.1).

Around the NFC: Philadelphia using running game to climb back into playoff contention

Eagles running wild. The Broncos’ defense shouldn’t feel too bad about being gashed for 216 yards rushing by Philadelphia in Week 10; the Eagles are running through and over most opponents. The Eagles have climbed to second in the league in rushing (153.4 yards per game) after gaining 236, 176, 216 and 242 yards in the last four games (3-1 record).  During those four games, they have rushed 46, 39, 39 and 50 times. The Eagles (5-6) are in the NFC wild-card hunt and play at the lowly Giants Sunday.

Garrett gets gate. Jason Garrett’s two claims to fame during his 26-game tenure as the Giants’ offensive coordinator, which ended with his firing after losing to Tampa Bay: He told the media he preferred to be called “Coach,” instead of “Jason,” and his offense finished 31st and 25th in scoring. This can only be viewed as a last gasp for coach Joe Judge, whose second year started by throwing a red flag against the Broncos to challenge a scoring play (which are automatically reviewed). The Giants need a total housecleaning — general manager/coach/quarterback — but what are the chances ownership can get it right? Not great so the Giants aren’t a very attractive franchise at this point.

Elimination game? Minnesota travels to San Francisco in a matchup of 5-5 teams on two-game winning streaks. A wild card spot is the best playoff route for the Vikings and 49ers so this game has major tie-breaking implications. We’ll go with the 49ers, who are literally driving opponents crazy. Against the Rams in Week 10, the 49ers had scoring drives of 18 plays-88 yards-11:03, 11-91-7:52 and 10-31-6:54. At Jacksonville last week, they opened with a scoring drive of 20 plays-87 yards-13:05; the longest possession in terms of time since at least 2000.

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