The Thanksgiving Day games on the NFL Week 12 slate get the most buzz, but that doesn’t make them the most intriguing. This week — with the Arizona Cardinals and Kansas City Chiefs out on byes — the most interesting games with the most compelling storylines take place on Sunday, not Turkey Day.
The best games of the NFL Week 12 schedule are all in-conference games with playoff implications. They include a mentor/pupil coach showdown, two of the most exciting young players in the league going head-to-head, and heavyweight veteran quarterback slugfest.
These are the three most intriguing matchups of NFL Week 12.
Tennessee Titans vs. New England Patriots – Sunday, November 28, 1:00 p.m. EST, CBS
One coach is trying to get back to the mountaintop by melding together a boatload of free agents and a rookie QB. The other is trying to win for the first time while holding his once-promising squad together with duct tape as injuries threaten to derail the season.
The Titans started hot and seemed to weather the loss of their all-world RB Derrick Henry nicely. However, a shocking performance that led to a massive upset against the lowly Houston Texans in Week 11 has critics asking questions.
The Patriots started slow, but five wins in a row — coupled with a troubling stretch of play by their AFC East rival Buffalo Bills — have Boston-area fans thinking that pro sports title No. 1,975,842 could be just a few months away.
If all this isn’t enough, Coach of the Year candidate Vrabel comes back to his old stomping grounds to face the coach he won three Super Bowls for as a player.
If Belichick can win this game, it could not only flip Coach of the Year but the entire AFC playoff picture as well.
Minnesota Vikings vs. San Francisco 49ers – Sunday, November 28, 4:25 p.m. EST, FOX
The 5-5 Minnesota Vikings currently hold the No. 6 slot in the NFC playoff race. Thanks to tiebreakers, the 5-5 San Francisco 49ers are currently the first team out, sitting in the No. 8 spot.
Needless to say, this NFL Week 12 matchup has enormous playoff implications. But that’s not why it’s so intriguing.
The game also features two perennially underrated and underappreciated QBs in Kirk Cousins and Jimmy Garoppolo and two coaches on the hot seat if they don’t make the 2021 playoffs in Mike Zimmer and Kyle Shanahan. But that’s not why it’s so intriguing.
The most intriguing thing about Week 12’s Vikings vs. 49ers showdown is that it features two of the best, most exciting, most game-breaking young WRs in the game today: Minnesota’s Justin Jefferson and San Francisco’s Deebo Samuel.
These two are in the top five in receiving yards — Samuel No. 2 (994 yards), Jefferson No. 4 (944 yards) — and have six and eight touchdowns, respectively.
Jefferson is putting up second-year numbers on par with Randy Moss and Odell Beckham Jr., and Samuel is posting explosive plays that bring back memories of Terrell Owens and, well, Randy Moss.
The possibility of a Jefferson vs. Samuel “can you top this” shootout is what makes this such an intriguing matchup on the NFL Week 12 schedule.
Los Angeles Rams vs. Green Bay Packers – Sunday, November 28, 4:25 p.m. EST, FOX
You can take the stat nerd perspective on this game and talk about how Los Angeles Rams QB Matthew Stafford and Green Bay Packers signal-caller Aaron Rodgers are two of the most efficient and effective quarterbacks by expected points added (EPA) per play.
Or, if you prefer, you can have the old-school take that Stafford and Rodgers are simply two of the best passers and best leaders with two of the best arms in recent history who’ve been putting up impressive stats for the better part of two decades.
Either way, we can all agree this is a killer NFL Week 12 matchup.
Both Stafford and Rodgers would have a considerable advantage come playoff time if the road to the Super Bowl went through their home field. Rodgers would love for NFC teams to have to visit snowy Lambeau in January. And Stafford’s path would become easier if he can stay at SoFi up to and through the Big Game.
Arizona, Dallas, and Tampa Bay are all still in the mix, but an LA or Green Bay win this weekend would give that team a nice leg up.
One more reason that this game is so good is that it definitely could be an NFC Championship Game preview. The only question is where it would be, and this NFL Week 12 matchup could answer that question.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference