Week 12 NFL Preview: What will be the deciding factor in this week's games?

The final six weeks of the NFL season is upon us and the sprint to the playoffs begins now. Let’s preview which NFL teams will grab the initiative in Week 12’s five crucial clashes.

Tennessee Titans @ Indianapolis Colts

With the Colts running away clear winners when these teams met in Week 10, the winner of this game will move to outright first in the division, with large implications for postseason tiebreakers. 

The Colts’ defense have been one of the best in the league this season, and will deploy their LBs to try and shut down RB Derrick Henry. Indianapolis’ secondary has improved steadily as the season progressed, and not having to send extra men into the box too often allows them to play Cover 2 if they choose, especially if the Titans try to throw deep. 

Tennessee’s offense relies on continuing to run the ball to wear down opponents, simultaneously setting up play action. Against the Colts, the Titans can continue to do this, but can’t let themselves fall behind, as a heavy run game doesn’t lend itself to playing catchup. Instead, intermediate throws over the middle to TE Jonnu Smith and WR AJ Brown might be more successful, as the Colts’ LBs don’t drop back too deep in pass coverage. 

The Colts’ own offense will also try to run the ball regularly, leaning on it more than their passing game. With RBs Nyheim Hines and Jonathan Taylor splitting carries, the Titans’ defense will be exposed in the slot as Tennessee brings their own LBs up and to the outside of the OTs. With Indianapolis’ 12 and 22 personnel used frequently, the Titans will also bring up their Safeties to cover the TEs on short and intermediate out and corner routes, setting up fake handoffs to Taylor up the middle or deeper slants and vertical routes by WRs Michael Pittman and TY Hilton. Indianapolis shouldn’t have too much difficulty against an average Titans defense, especially if their own defense can contain Henry for all four quarters.

NFL Preview Week 12
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Philip Rivers (17)] throws against the New York Jets in the first half of an NFL football game in Indianapolis, Sunday, Sept. 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Los Angeles Chargers @ Buffalo Bills

Although the Chargers managed to get their third win of the season, they aren’t looking at the playoffs in 2020, and are building for 2021, with the chance to play party crashers in the interim. 

The Bills, fresh off a bye, will be seeking to renew their push for a high seeding, especially with the Dolphins closing the gap in recent weeks. Buffalo’s offense has been carrying the team more than the defense this season, and have an ideal matchup in Week 12, especially if DE Melvin Ingram is ruled out. Against a Chargers secondary that is performing reasonably well allowing the third lowest completion percentage in the league.

The Bills should seek to run the ball more as Los Angeles has allowed 4.6 yards per carry, the sixth worst in the league. Buffalo’s tandem RB attack of Devin Singletary and Zack Moss will feature heavily, running through the middle of the line and acting as receivers to the flats. Aside from LB Denzel Perryman, once RBs get to the second level against the Chargers, there are few defenders that provide much resistance. 

Although Buffalo will take shots downfield to WR Stefon Diggs, who should have several receptions over the middle on crossing and slant routes, fellow WR Cole Beasley should be open more consistently underneath the Chargers’ CBs. With these receiving weapons and the RBs able to open things up, the Bills should move the ball without too much difficulty. 

The Chargers, however, are exceeding expectations on offense, but aren’t clinical enough yet. WR Keenan Allen will have a tough time against CB Tre’Davious White, forcing much of the burden to fall to the bigger targets in TE Hunter Henry and WR Mike Williams, as well as their own RBs in the slot and out of the backfield on screens and swing routes. While Allen should see targets on slants underneath, if he is taken away by a LB in zone coverage sliding towards the sideline and a safety coming up through the middle, QB Justin Herbert needs to work through his progressions quickly. 

The Bills will blitz often enough earlier on, but if they can build up a lead will pull back and clog up the passing lanes instead. The Bills should get the win here, but with the Chargers hanging around in every game, they can’t take it for granted.

Kansas City Chiefs @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Since losing defensive stalwart Vita Vea, the Buccaneers haven’t been the same on defense, be that against the run or when rushing the passer. The Chiefs will aim to build up a lead as their own defense hasn’t shown themselves capable of closing down opponents consistently. Tampa Bay’s offense will take advantage of the Chiefs’ CBs and LBs, who have struggled to defend TEs and slot receivers inside of the numbers, and on shorter out routes. With the Buccaneers’ passing offense primarily funnelled through their TEs and slot receivers, they should nickel and dime their way up the field with the occasional shot to the outside receivers. 

The Buccaneers will also try to remain balanced and get their RBs hitting the outside on counters and misdirects, which the Chiefs’ LBs often bite on and over pursue, leaving space behind them. Although Kansas City will bring up safeties to defend these spaces, Daniel Sorenson often leaves too much of a cushion, which is costly against the likes of WR Chris Godwin or TEs Cameron Brate and Rob Gronkowski. 

The Chiefs are capable of matching the Buccaneers on offense, and their speed at WR will give them an advantage throughout the game. WRs Tyreek Hill, Mecole Hardman and Byron Pringle will be used on jet sweeps, end arounds and reverses to get them away from the CBs and LBs, as well as delayed slants and in routes with comeback routes to throw off their defenders. The Buccaneers’ LBs will restrict TE Travis Kelce, as well as the run game from adding too much extra yardage, but the Chiefs will be content at times to pick up short yardage. 

Kansas City will rotate through different formations and pre-snap motions to get different mismatches, but with QB Patrick Mahomes struggling when LBs drop back in coverage over the middle, the Buccaneers are the perfect storm for the Chiefs’ offense. Kansas City might have a more dynamic and creative offense, but against this defense, could struggle to pile on points, allowing the Buccaneers chances to win.

Chicago Bears @ Green Bay Packers

The Bears’ offense has let them down for much of this season, and regardless of how good their defense is, they need to move the ball more consistently. However, with their starting RB David Montgomery not certain to be back for this game, and their interior OL struggling to protect whoever is under center, Chicago could find themselves punting often. 

If there was a chance for the Bears, they need to have a healthy and effective run game against an average Packers’ run defense, so that they could take pressure off their WRs against the Packers’ strong secondary. Chicago must use screens and quick strike plays to pick up small pieces of yardage, which will then free up space downfield on the outside for WRs Allen Robinson, Darnell Mooney and Anthony Miller. However, Green Bay will pressure the QB often, and outside of using LB Rashan Gary to defend against the RB on the field, will play a variation of Cover 3 to take away the intermediate throws. 

The Packers’ offense will have tough sledding though, and won’t pull away from the Bears easily. Chicago will force the Packers to run up the middle or to the side opposite LB Khalil Mack, allowing them to slide extra protection that way and keep ILB Roquan Smith lined up over an OG or the A gap to protect the middle. 

Green Bay will instead use TE and RB on curls and short out routes for these players, getting them outside of the reach of the LBs for gains up the sideline. With safety Eddie Jackson potentially out, the Packers could see space open up over the middle downfield for WRs Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling, it becomes a question of whether the Bears’ pass rush can get to Aaron Rodgers before he finds his open man. 

Green Bay can do a lot more on offense, and even though the Bears’ defense keeps them competitive, the Packers’ own defense should get enough stops to edge Chicago out late in the fourth quarter.

Seattle Seahawks @ Philadelphia Eagles

With both teams fighting to win their division and still in competitive situations, a win means a lot more at this stage of the season. 

The Eagles’ defensive front is their most consistent and strongest asset, and gives them a fighting chance. Seattle will want to run the ball, but if it can’t get going it won’t impact their game plan too much. WR Tyler Lockett and the Seahawks’ TEs should see plenty of work up the seam, over the middle and on intermediate out routes against the Eagles’ LBs, while DK Metcalf continues to test the deep coverage of the Eagles. With the Seahawks able to pass on short and intermediate routes without too much difficulty, other elements will open up, including RB screens to supplement their run game, and they should be able to score on most drives, especially if they avoid the middle of the Eagles’ DL. 

Philadelphia could see this as a get-right game for their offense, but only if QB Carson Wentz feels he can trust his receivers. Wentz has been heavily criticised this season, and while he hasn’t had a strong receiving corps that he has familiarity with, he needs to also make better reads, put the ball in places where only his receiver can get it, and get rid of the ball quicker. Short crossing routes, stack receivers and levels could assist Wentz here, and the Eagles should be happy to take what the Seahawks give them if it means they are moving the ball. 

Philadelphia’s run game has been effective for much of the season, and if RB Miles Sanders can find holes up the middle, it will put pressure on the Seahawks’ offense. However, with their track record against them this season, the Eagles look ready to crumble once more, even if they keep it close in the first half.

Owen Ravenna

NFL Analyst