Taking a spin around the NFL to get you ready for the rest of Week 12:
The big questions
Can the Saints take L.A. by storm?
There is only one game left on this NFL docket featuring two teams with winning records: an unlikely heavyweight bout between the New Orleans Saints (8-2) and the Los Angeles Rams (7-3) at the Coliseum.
Thanks to a comeback, overtime victory against the Washington Redskins in Week 11, the Saints joined the 1947 Bears as the only team to win eight straight immediately following an 0-2 start. New Orleans has it going on offensively. The Saints are leading the league in yards per game (415.7), second in passing (271.7 YPG) and third in both rushing (144 YPG) and points per game (30.2). Quarterback Drew Brees is tops in completion percentage (71.6), and Mark Ingram is tied for most rushing touchdowns in the league (eight).
The player Ingram is tied with is the Rams’ Todd Gurley, who is enjoying a resurgence under new head coach Sean McVay. Quarterback Jared Goff (16 touchdowns, four interceptions) has taken off, as well. Despite scoring just seven points in a Week 11 loss to the Minnesota Vikings, the Rams are still averaging 30.3 points per game (second in NFL) after scoring just 14 PPG last season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau research, this will be just the fourth time since the 1970 merger that two teams averaging at least 30 points per game meet this late in the season.
Fittingly, theirs in the highest over/under line of the weekend, at 53.5.
Will home field be the difference? Not necessarily, given how this season has gone so far. The Rams are actually better away from the Coliseum (5-1) than they are at home (2-2). The Saints are 4-1 outside of the Superdome. And the Rams will likely be shorthanded Sunday, as wide receiver Robert Woods is expected to be out with an injured shoulder.
Is Paxton Lynch the answer to Broncos’ QB woes?
The 3-7 Denver Broncos are going with quarterback Paxton Lynch this week against the Oakland Raiders, because why not? Trevor Siemian and Brock Osweiler have combined for 12 TDs to 14 interceptions, heading an offense that ranks 27th in completion percentage, 30th in Total QBR and 24th in points per game (18.3).
Lynch, who missed two months’ worth of practices after injuring his right shoulder in a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers, is finally ready to step in. He represents the last, best hope that the answer to the team’s QB problem lies on the roster.
The Broncos moved up in the 2016 NFL draft to select the Memphis product 26th overall. The 6-foot-7, 244-pound Lynch was unspectacular in three appearances as a rookie, completing 59 percent of his throws with two touchdowns and one interception. Lynch has a 23.3 career Total QBR, second-worst in the NFL since the start of last season, ahead of only Bryce Petty, per ESPN Stats & Information. Siemian won the job out of training camp in ’16 and was tabbed again this season.
Lynch gets his chance to show he has made strides since starting a pair of games as a rookie. And Denver is putting him in a good position to succeed right out of the gate. The Raiders’ defense ranks dead last in opponent QBR, TD-INT ratio and opponent completion percentage. Perhaps Lynch can get some wind in his sails Sunday. If he can’t take advantage, that’ll only add to the front-office heartburn. Spinning on the QB carousel is no way to live. If anyone knows that, it’s vice president of football operations John Elway.
Numbers that matter
1: Number of wins Tom Brady needs to pass Brett Favre for the most victories by a starting QB in a single season after turning 40 years old (nine). The Pats are 16-point home favorites Sunday against the Dolphins.
27: The number of consecutive games the Cleveland Browns have lost on Sundays, the longest streak of its kind in NFL history. Eight-point underdogs to the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 12, the Browns are on the verge of starting 0-11 in consecutive seasons. The only team that has done that is the 1976-77 Buccaneers.
5.0: Rushing yards per carry for the Miami Dolphins since dealing Jay Ajayi to the Philadelphia Eagles, up from 3.8 before the trade. Philly has no regrets. The Eagles are averaging 144 rushing yards in the second half alone over their past two games. Before the trade, that number sat at 69.3.
398: Number of career completions for Panthers QB Cam Newton when targeting TE Greg Olsen, 184 more than the next-closest receiver (Steve Smith). The Panthers have activated Olsen from injured reserve ahead of Sunday’s visit to the New York Jets — good news for the Panthers, who are 7-3 after winning three in a row. Olsen missed the previous eight games with a broken foot.
8: Number of catches Julio Jones needs this week against the Bucs to pass Anquan Boldin for the most catches by a player in his first 90 games in NFL history. He enters with 551 career receptions, an average of 6.2 per game.
What we’ll be talking about after Week 12
The Kansas City Chiefs have dropped four of their past five games, including an overtime loss to the lowly New York Giants in Week 11. Quarterback Alex Smith was in the MVP discussion as he helped lead the Chiefs to a 5-0 start, but he has experienced a statistical decline across the board in the weeks since. His three interceptions on the season have come in the past two games.
The Chiefs selected QB Patrick Mahomes with the 10th overall pick in the 2017 draft, but he has yet to see the field in the regular season. If the offensive slump continues — Kansas City has scored a touchdown on a league-low 17 percent of red zone drives since Week 6 — outside buzz on the merits of a QB change will pick up.
Internally, it could be a different story. The Chiefs (6-4) maintain a two-game lead in the AFC West. There’s a good chance coach Andy Reid would lean toward stability and allow the veteran Smith to work out of a rough patch rather than prematurely pull the plug.
The best scenario for them is to eliminate the conversation altogether. Smith can help in that cause with a strong showing at home against the Buffalo Bills. Kansas City enters as a 10-point favorite.
The Falcons as an emerging contender
The 6-4 Falcons host a 4-6 Bucs team that will be without QB Jameis Winston (shoulder). Atlanta has a 76.6 percent win probability, according to ESPN FPI. If things go as projected, that would be three consecutive victories for a team that battled a Super Bowl hangover early on but has looked more sturdy of late.
The good news for the Falcons is that four of their final six games are at home. The bad news is they play the Saints twice and still have to host the Panthers and Vikings. If nothing else, they’ll have ample opportunity to make headway both in the NFC South and conference standings by playing teams currently above them.