Something for every appetite
A new running back is tearing it up in Minnesota, an old standby is struggling in Indianapolis, and reborn stars are pulling double duty in Dallas and New England.
What to look for in Week 12 of the NFL season:
Setting the table
1. At the beginning of the season, nobody would have guessed the Green Bay at Detroit Thanksgiving Day game would be so appetizing. But Green Bay (9-1) has rounded into one of the NFL’s elite teams, and Detroit (6-4) is surprisingly tough at home. The Packers could pretty much wrap up the NFC North with a victory, and Mike McCarthy would join Curly Lambeau and Vince Lombardi as the only Green Bay coaches ever to win at least 10 of the first 11 games.
2. The early betting lines are the most lopsided of the season, with Dallas by 14 over the New York Jets, Indianapolis by 11 over Atlanta, Arizona by 10 over San Francisco -- and you know you’re bad, 49ers, when the Cardinals are favored by 10 -- San Diego by 9 1/2 over Baltimore, New England by 20 over Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh by 15 over Miami.
3. What’s up with Indianapolis kicker Adam Vinatieri? A week after he blew a 29-yard, would-have-been winning field-goal attempt at San Diego, he missed two of three against Kansas City on Sunday before making one to halt the Colts’ two-game losing slide. Is there something wrong with Automatic Adam’s plant leg, as has been rumored? This week, he’ll be working on just three days’ rest.
4. At a disappointing 5-5, the Chargers have a trembling grip on the AFC West lead (they’re tied with Denver) and, on the heels of a 14-2 season, couldn’t find a winning streak with a GPS device. So who’s at fault? General Manager A.J. Smith? Coach Norv Turner? Quarterback Philip Rivers? Maybe all of the above. At least they (should) get a breather Sunday against struggling Baltimore.
Pilgrimage to perfection
5. With six regular-season games remaining, the Patriots seemed destined to go 16-0 and, when it’s all over, perhaps 19-0. They shouldn’t have much trouble against the inconsistent Eagles, who have all sorts of quarterback problems. Depending on the severity of Donovan McNabb’s sprained ankle, Philadelphia might start A.J. Feeley. Or is it time to look at rookie Kevin Kolb?
It’s all gravy
6. It feels as though we’ve rolled back the clocks, because the league’s two most exciting receivers are once again Randy Moss and Terrell Owens. Each is coming off a four-touchdown game in which he also batted down a pass as the deep safety in the Hail Mary defensive package. This week, Owens is the Jets’ problem, and Moss is Philadelphia’s.
Pass the stuffing
7. While Dallas and Green Bay have gotten most of the attention in the NFC, Tampa Bay has been quietly building momentum. The Buccaneers have allowed an NFC-low 151 points and yielded just 49 yards rushing Sunday in a 31-7 rout of Atlanta. With the Redskins coming to town, Tampa Bay has a two-game lead in the NFC South.
Stuff the passing
8. Minnesota showed it doesn’t need Adrian Peterson in order to run the ball effectively. Backup Chester Taylor ran for 164 yards and three touchdowns in a 29-22 victory over the Raiders. The Vikings will need to keep the ground game going Sunday against the Giants, who have been pounding quarterbacks to a pulp, including three sacks by Michael Strahan against Detroit.
No place like home
9. After a stunning loss to the Jets, the Steelers return home, where they’re obviously a lot more comfortable. They’re 2-3 on the road but a league-best 5-0 at home. (The only team with a disparity that marked is the Chargers, who are 4-1 at Qualcomm Stadium and 1-4 away from it.) The Steelers can right their ship Monday against winless Miami. It should be a laugher. But can you say trap game?
Stick a fork in ‘em
10. The Dolphins have already been mathematically eliminated from the playoff picture, and you can pretty much write off the Jets, Ravens, Bengals, Texans, Raiders, Bears, Vikings, Falcons, Rams and 49ers. Still, a lot of strange things have happened over the years. Sometimes Thanksgiving prayers are answered.