November 29, 2018 - by Seth Trachtman
With NFL Week 13 kicking off on on Thursday, here’s a stats-driven preview of three of this week’s biggest games.
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This AFC vs. NFC showdown features two teams starting to get healthy at the right time. The Vikings are coming off a big win vs. Green Bay, in which QB Kirk Cousins had one of his best games of the year with 342 yards passing and three touchdowns. He will try to keep that momentum going against a Patriots defense that allows only 6.8 yards per pass, eighth best in the league. Although RB Dalvin Cook has returned from nagging leg issues, he’s struggled to get going recently and shared carries with Latavius Murray vs. the Packers. The Vikes have really struggled to get anything done in the running game with only 3.9 yards per carry this season, and it’s no coincidence their one-dimensional offense has also struggled in the Red Zone, scoring a touchdown on only 51.4% of opportunities. As a result, the offense has been on Cousins’ shoulders this year.
The Patriots offense is starting to round into form as they get healthy. Last week featured the return of TE Rob Gronkowski from injury, and he burned the Jets with 56 yards and a score. Rookie RB Sony Michel also had a season-high 133 yards rushing, and he’s about to get some help with the pending return of RB Rex Burkhead from injury. Minnesota has done a great job stopping the run (3.7 yards per carry), but the versatility of the Patriots backs, with Michel, Burkhead, and James White, presents a matchup nightmare for any defense. Minnesota’s defense has shown some inconsistency this year, ranking third in opponent yards, first in third down conversion, first in Red Zone scoring, and second in sack rate, but still only 10th in points allowed (22.4 per game) due partially to the offense’s 1.5 giveaways per game. On the road against a formidable offense, the Vikings can ill-afford to make mistakes this week.
Head to Head: New England has won the last four matchups, dating back to 2002. The last matchup was a 30-7 win by the Patriots at Minnesota in 2014.
Point Spread on Thursday: New England -5 (after opening at -5.5)
Both the Chargers and Steelers are fighting for playoff positioning, and each team lost momentum recently with a loss to the Broncos. That loss came two weeks ago for the Chargers, who got back on track vs. Arizona last week. Unfortunately, they also lost star RB Melvin Gordon in that game, and he could miss a few weeks. The run game has been a strength all year with 5.0 yards per carry, but LAC now will be forced to turn to the tandem of Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson. Both have also averaged 5.0-plus yards per carry, but it remains to be seen if they can handle a full workload. Fortunately, QB Philip Rivers is playing at an MVP level going on age 37, with 9.1 yards per pass attempt and only six interceptions in 11 games. Even with the Steelers featuring an elite pass defense (only allowing 6.2 yards per pass and 223.3 yards per game), holding Rivers is always a difficult task.
Pittsburgh suffered a heartbreaking defeat at Denver last week, and are hoping to bounce back and salvage their seeding in the AFC. RB James Conner has played admirably overall, but the absence of Le’Veon Bell has really shown itself over the last two weeks, as Conner has totaled only 78 yards rushing on 21 carries. The Steelers have been the second most pass-heavy team in the NFL, but would probably prefer some more balance, especially now that DE Joey Bosa is healthy for the Chargers. Pittsburgh’s performance in the red zone could go a long way in determining the outcome of this game, as they’re second best in the NFL by scoring a touchdown on 75.8% of their red zone trips, but LAC’s defense is second best at holding teams from red zone TD’s (45.7%).
Head to Head: Pittsburgh has dominated the head-to-head matchups in recent years, 9-2 since 1995. The Steelers won the last game 24-20 at San Diego in 2015.
Point Spread on Thursday: Pittsburgh -3.5
If you like closely contested division races, you can’t do much better than the NFC East this year. The Cowboys and Redskins now have the same record atop the division at 6-5, while the defending Super Bowl champion Eagles are just one game back at 5-6. Washington lost a disappointing Thanksgiving matchup at Dallas, their first without injured QB Alex Smith. Colt McCoy will try to get on track this week in a critical matchup at Philadelphia after throwing three interceptions last week. His inability to protect the ball was a rude awakening for the team after Smith threw only five interceptions in 10 games, and the Redskins can’t afford for McCoy’s shaky ball security to continue, considering they already rank 28th in yards per play (5.2). Philly’s run defense has been exposed with 4.9 yards per rush allowed, and they’re also missing several key players in the secondary. The injuries to the backend were on full display when they allowed 297 yards passing (8.0 yards per attempt) to Giants QB Eli Manning last week, so McCoy and company should have ample opportunities.
The Eagles offense is only averaging 20.9 points per game and have been in search of a bell cow running back since losing Jay Ajayi for the season. It looks like rookie RB Josh Adams has emerged after getting 22 carries last week. He had only 3.8 yards per carry in that game against the Giants, but is still averaging 5.2 yards per carry for the year. Production from the running game would come as a relief to QB Carson Wentz, who threw five picks in three games leading up to last week’s win. Even with the recent addition of WR Golden Tate via trade, the Eagles haven’t been putting up big passing numbers lately, with Wentz averaging less than 200 yards over the last two games. That’s an area where the team could exploit Washington’s defense, as the Redskins have allowed 7.3 yards per pass this season and were gashed for 9.3 yards per pass attempt against Dak Prescott last week.
Head to Head: The Eagles have won the last two matchups, ending a streak of five straight wins by Washington.
Point Spread on Thursday: Philadelphia -6 (after opening at -6.5)
Enjoy NFL Week 13, and if you’re in an NFL pool or planning on betting some of the Week 13 games, please check out our premium products: NFL Survivor Picks, Football Pick’em Pool Picks, and NFL Betting Picks.
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