In all sincerity, the schedule this week will include some games that are just not worth watching —and then a couple that shouldn’t even be played. But there are a few diamonds in the rough, and they make up Week 13’s must-watch list.
New Orleans Saints at Dallas Cowboys: Thursday Night Football
Three weeks ago, I would’ve labeled this game an embarrassment to put on my TV and a waste of time to watch. But since acquiring Amari Cooper at the trade deadline, Dallas has found their footing with three straight wins.
Cooper shined in his Thanksgiving debut, catching eight passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns. The holiday game marked his best performance as a Cowboy and possibly his best outing in the last two seasons.
Cooper was matched up against Washington’s Josh Norman, a former Pro Bowl selection. The matchup proved to be a poor one for the Redskins: Cooper’s route-running ability outmaneuvered the athletic skills of Norman. At the end of the day, the Cowboy wideout emerged as the top threat in Dallas outside of Zeke Elliot.
All of this is nice for a Cowboys team looking for the silver lining in an otherwise disappointing season, but the Saints are on a whole different level.
New Orleans has never looked back since their Week One loss to the Buccaneers (probably a fluke of Fitzmagic), leading the league in scoring, record, and beating any team ranked ahead of them until they reached the top. No team has dominated the league in all facets behind a hall of fame caliber quarterback since Peyton Manning was in Denver.
The Saints are the clear favorite in this one, but Dallas defensive lineman Demarcus Lawrence told ESPN’s Todd Archer his opinion on the ‘unbeatable’ Saints, “If you hit a m—–f—– in the mouth and then they ain’t doing what they’re regularly doing, putting up 50 points, they start to get a little distressed. Now you got them where you want them at, and then you f—ing choke their ass out.”
Dallas wants the upset, and they will have to earn it on Thursday night.
Prediction: Saints 40 Cowboys 23
Minnesota Vikings at New England Patriots:
The Vikings will travel to New England this week in an attempt to prove they are more than just a wild card team. New England seems to have shaken off a pre-bye-week loss to the Titans, correcting their errors and rolling over the hapless N.Y. Jets last week.
Tom Brady and the Patriots are excited to be playing in December again, where Brady has a career 58-10 record. The final stretch of the schedule has historically set New England up well to push for a one seed, and the Vikings are just the first team on the list for Brady to exploit.
Minnesota is happy to be healthy for the first time this season, with Stefon Diggs and Xavier Rhodes both expected to play this week, and Dalvin Cook running in the backfield. Kirk Cousins has a full compliment of weapons on offense for one of the first time this year and will try to model their playing style after the L.A. Rams passing raid attack.
The key matchups in this game is the Minnesota receivers against the New England secondary. The Patriots pass defense has been sub-par this season with the exception of Stephon Gilmore, who has effectively shut down the opposing teams top receiver week to week. Gilmore will likely match up with the faster Diggs, while the McCourty twins will likely double team Adam Thielen.
A fast start is a must for the Vikings, as the Patriots will make any team pay for giving them an early home lead. The upset will rely on the Viking passing game to out throw Tom Brady, which is often a losing battle.
Prediction: Patriots 33 Vikings 26
L.A. Chargers at Pittsburgh Steelers:
This is undoubtedly the best contest of all the Week 13 matchups, with the wildcard bound Chargers taking on the division leading Steelers. The Chargers would probably be leading any division other than their own in the AFC, and the Steelers are barley clinging to the lead they hold over Baltimore in the AFC North.
The Chargers are exactly what they appear to be, an above average team on a hot streak that will hopefully last into the playoffs, so they can upset a division leader in the first round. Any expectations above that are a reach, with an aging Phillip Rivers at the helm of the Chargers offense in a league thats transforming into a fast paced play style focused around mobility.
Rivers can still sling it but he still ranks just outside the realm of the greatest pocket passers of the new era (Brady, Manning, Rothlisberger).
Big Ben and the Steelers seemed to be back on track with a blow out win over Carolina two weeks ago, but a loss to Denver — in which James Connor couldn’t find room on the ground — forced Rothlisberger to toss the ball around the whole field, turning it over twice. The Steelers continue to live and die by the run game, a weakness left by LeVeon Bells departure.
The Chargers are the better team, but the Steelers have home field advantage and a slight edge at the quarterback position. But the remedy for success is very simple: if James Connor can run the ball and Big Ben can maintain possession, this will be a Steeler victory.
If the Chargers can take away either of those two game plans, it’ll be L.A. sleeping soundly on their flight home.
Prediction: Steelers 35 Chargers 31
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