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NFL 2011 Season – Week 12 Preview

LeSean McCoy
Al Bello / Getty Images

Last week was the final bye week of the 2011 NFL season. All of the teams have now played 10 games of the 16-game season. Six teams got an early start on the playoff push with Thanksgiving Day games, the rest play Sunday and Monday. Here’s a rundown of all the scheduled action for Week 12:

Sunday, Nov. 27

Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars – 1:00 PM

Houston (7-3) placed quarterback Matt Schaub on injured reserve with a right foot injury suffered in the Texans’ win over Tampa Bay in Week 10. That means Matt Leinart starts at the helm of an offense that averages 27.3 points per game, the fifth-best in the league. Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson should return after missing six games with a hamstring injury. Jacksonville (3-7) counters with a defense that gives up the third-fewest yards per game on average and just 18 points per game. The Jaguars could not get their offense going when they lost to the Texans in Week 8. Jacksonville quarterback Blaine Gabbert directs the NFL’s worst offense, which averages just 249.5 yards gained per game and is next to last in scoring with 12.5 points per game. AFC rushing leader Maurice Jones-Drew will be counted on heavily, as the Jaguars hope to dent the NFL’s best overall defense, which allows just 269.7 yards a game.

Buffalo Bills at N.Y. Jets – 1:00 PM

Buffalo (5-5) has problems. Bills running back Fred Jackson was placed on injured reserve with a leg injury he sustained last week. Without Jackson, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick won’t have his best weapon and may have to throw more often against a Jets’ secondary that is rated sixth in the league. Fitzpatrick threw seven interceptions in the last three games, all Bills losses. New York (5-5) has its own issues, as quarterback Mark Sanchez and head coach Rex Ryan are reportedly at odds over practice snaps taken by backup QB Mark Brunell. Sanchez’s 15 turnovers are a greater problem. The Bills defense gives up 372.4 yards per game, suggesting New York will have its chances to score, as they did in a 27-11 rout over Buffalo three weeks ago.

Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals – 1:00 PM

Cincinnati (6-4) lost to divisional opponents the past two weeks. This week, the Bengals face another AFC North foe in Cleveland (4-6), whom they thumped 27-17 in Week 1. Bengals rookie quarterback Andy Dalton threw five interceptions in the last two games. The return of rookie wide receiver A.J. Green, who missed last week with a knee injury, could help against a Browns defense that gives up just 166.5 passing yards per game, the league’s best average. Over his last two games, Cleveland’s Colt McCoy has completed 37 of 51 passes for 417 yards with one touchdown and one interception. McCoy is the Browns’ best hope for offense, as running back Peyton Hillis will miss his sixth straight game with an injured hamstring and Montario Hardesty is questionable with a calf injury. Chris Ogbonnaya ran well last week, but he’ll be facing a Cincinnati run defense ranked third in the league.

Minnesota Vikings at Atlanta Falcons – 1:00 PM

Minnesota (2-8) faces the NFL’s second-ranked run defense possibly without star running back Adrian Peterson, who injured his ankle in last week’s loss to Oakland. Backup Toby Gerhart will start for the Vikings, if Peterson can’t go. Without a running game, Minnesota will lean on rookie quarterback Christian Ponder, who has six interceptions in his four starts. Atlanta (6-4) will use its offensive weapons like Julio Jones, Roddy White and Michael Turner against a Minnesota defense ranked 30th in points allowed per game with 27.1.

Arizona Cardinals at St. Louis Rams –1:00 PM

Arizona (3-7) hopes to get quarterback Kevin Kolb back from injury. John Skelton had played well while Kolb missed three games with foot ailments, but then he completed just 6 of 19 passes for 99 yards and three interceptions in a loss to the 49ers last week. If his knee holds up, Cardinals running back Beanie Wells could be effective against the NFL’s worst rushing defense. Averaging a meager 12 points per game, St. Louis (2-8) has the lowest-scoring offense in the league. When Rams running back Steven Jackson isn’t piling up yards, the offense is nearly non-existent. St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford should have opportunities against a Cardinals’ defense ranked 28th in the NFL.

Carolina Panthers at Indianapolis Colts – 1:00 PM

Indianapolis (0-10) may view this game as its best chance at a win this season. The Colts will start Curtis Painter at quarterback despite benching him in a loss to Jacksonville before the bye week. Painter throws against a Panthers’ defense that allows 28.6 points per game, second most in the NFL to the Colts’ 30 points per game average. Carolina (2-8) averages more than 400 yards of offense per game. But while the Panthers can move the ball, they make too many mistakes that prevent them from scoring. Rookie quarterback Cam Newton’s 14 interceptions are tied for third-most in the league. Indianapolis gives up an average of 145.6 rushing yards per game, the second-most in the league. Newton and running back DeAngelo Williams should be able to exploit that weakness.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Tennessee Titans – 1:00 PM

Tampa Bay (4-6) gave the Packers a scare last week, but the team was victimized by the deep pass. The Buccaneers pass defense is ranked 29th in the league. Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck will be counted on to power the offense, if he can recover from a sprained elbow. Rookie Jake Locker will start if Hasselbeck can’t. Tennessee (5-5) needs more from its running game, the NFL’s worst, averaging just 77.3 yards per game. Tampa Bay’s offense is best when LeGarrette Blount is making bruising runs to open up the passing game for Josh Freeman. The Titans defense can be very effective, but has also been blown out in several games when the opposing quarterback has had time to throw.

Chicago Bears at Oakland Raiders – 4:05 PM

Chicago (7-3) starts Caleb Hanie at quarterback in place of Jay Cutler, who suffered a broken right thumb last week against San Diego. Hanie has only 14 regular season pass attempts. Look for the Bears to use running back Matt Forte, the NFL’s fourth-leading rusher, to move the ball against a Raiders defense that wants to rush the inexperienced Hanie. Oakland (6-4) may still not have running back Darren McFadden back from a foot injury, but Michael Bush has been stellar in his place. Bush has 266 yards rushing and two touchdowns in the past two games. The Raiders may stick to the ground with injuries to receivers Denarius Moore, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Jacoby Ford and Darrius Heyward-Bey. The Bears defense gives up the third-most passing yards per game in the league (270.7), but Chicago is tied for second with 15 interceptions.

Washington Redskins at Seattle Seahawks – 4:05 PM

Washington (3-7) is tied for the league lead in quarterback sacks with 31. Seattle (4-6) is quarterbacked by Tarvaris Jackson, who has been sacked 26 times this season. To keep Jackson from seeing constant Redskins blitzes, the Seahawks will need Marshawn Lynch to run like he has while gaining 332 yards in the past three games. Washington has the league’s third-worst rushing attack, gaining only 84 yards per game. The Redskins need to find an answer for a running game averaging just 2.9 yards per carry since starter Tim Hightower was hurt in October. Washington quarterback Rex Grossman should have time to throw, as the Seahawks have just 19 sacks.

Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers – 4:15 PM

Denver (5-5) has won four of quarterback Tim Tebow’s five starts. The Broncos cut former starter Kyle Orton earlier this week, so this is now Tebow’s team. Even though the Broncos have the NFL’s second-worst passing offense, Tebow has thrown seven touchdown passes against only one interception this season. Tebow’s ratio is a stark contrast to Philip Rivers of San Diego (4-6), who has thrown 17 interceptions and 15 touchdowns. The Chargers are fourth in the league in passing yards per game. If they can keep the Denver pass rush from forcing Rivers’ into mistakes, San Diego should be able to move the ball and score.

New England Patriots at Philadelphia Eagles – 4:15 PM

New England (7-3) relies on Tom Brady, whose 102.5 passer rating is second in the NFL. Brady uses all his receivers well, as the Patriots score 29.3 points per game on average. Tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez could create coverage issues for the Eagles. The play of New England’s offensive line is also vital against a Philadelphia defense with 29 sacks. The Eagles (4-6) send the NFL’s leading rusher, LeSean McCoy, against the NFL’s worst overall defense. Philadelphia quarterback Michael Vick is still nursing broken ribs and may not start. Vince Young will play if Vick can’t, but the Eagles could also be without wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, both of whom have injuries.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Kansas City Chiefs – 8:20 PM

Pittsburgh (7-3) comes off their bye week with a rested defense that gives up the second-fewest yards per game in the league. The Steelers should not fear a Chiefs offense that averages just 14.4 points per game. With quarterback Matt Cassel now out for the year with a hand injury, Kansas City (4-6) will start Tyler Palko. The Chiefs claimed Kyle Orton off waivers from Denver  just in case Palko doesn’t improve on his three-interception performance last Monday. The Kansas City defense showed it can be effective by knocking around New England’s Tom Brady in the first half on Monday night. Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger, who will play despite a broken right thumb, presents a big target. He’s been sacked 31 times, tied for most in the NFL.

Monday, Nov. 28

N.Y. Giants at New Orleans Saints – 8:30 PM

New York (6-4) might benefit from balance in its offensive attack. While the Giants have the league’s fifth-best passing attack, led by Eli Manning throwing to the emergent Victor Cruz, they are next to last in rushing yards per game with 82.3. New Orleans (7-3) an NFL-best 436.9 yards per game. Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees is dangerous when he has time, so the Giants will look to their pass rush to make him uncomfortable. New York will have to account for New Orleans’ tight end Jimmy Graham, whose 62 receptions and 873 yards are both the best totals in the league at his position.

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