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Week 13 NFL Preview: Is Ravens-49ers Our Super Bowl Preview?

The best team in the NFC meets the hottest team in the league a week after both crushed in prime time. Plus, all the story lines, injuries, and info you need to know about every game.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

There are five weeks left in the regular season. Like the Thanksgiving leftovers, this year will soon be gone. We must be thankful for the football we have while we have it. That includes Week 13, which may give us the game of the season in Ravens-49ers at 1 p.m. ET Sunday. It also includes a meh Thanksgiving slate of games. Yes, seeing the Lions and Cowboys on Thanksgiving every year is getting tiring, but the same can be said of certain family members. That’s what the holiday is all about.


Thanksgiving Games

Chicago Bears (5-6) @ Detroit Lions (3-7-1)

Kickoff time: 12:30 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Announcers: Joe Buck, Troy Aikman, Erin Andrews (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Detroit -1.5
Over/under: 41

Key Bears injuries and absences: Receiver Taylor Gabriel (concussion), tight end Adam Shaheen (foot), tight end Ben Braunecker (concussion), right tackle Bobby Massie (ankle), defensive tackle Akiem Hicks (elbow), linebacker Danny Trevathan (elbow)

Key Lions injuries and absences: Quarterback Matthew Stafford (hip/back), pass rusher Trey Flowers (concussion), cornerback Rashaan Melvin (ribs)

What to watch: Mitchell Trubisky

Death and taxes may be avoidable, but there is no escaping the Detroit Lions on Thanksgiving. This year, the game is even more mediocre than it’s been in the past. Detroit is all but out of the playoffs. Quarterback Matthew Stafford is unlikely to play with a back injury, backup Jeff Driskel has a tight hamstring, and Adam Schefter reported the team might try to sign journeyman QB Josh Johnson, who is currently in the XFL.

The real QB to watch in this game is Mitchell Trubisky, if only to break family tension. Trubisky has had a rough season even by his standards, but if there was ever a game for him to give the Bears a reason to keep him as their starter in 2020—really, just one reason—this game on national TV would be it. If Detroit’s Trey Flowers misses this game after entering concussion protocol last week, Trubisky will have a much better chance to impress, though he’ll be without starting right tackle Bobby Massie.

Buffalo Bills (8-3) @ Dallas Cowboys (6-5)

Kickoff time: 4:30 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Tony Romo, Tracy Wolfson (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Dallas -7
Over/under: 45

Key Bills injuries and absences: Receiver Robert Foster (hamstring), tackle Ty Nsekhe (ankle), center Mitch Morse (hand)

Key Cowboys injuries and absences: Right tackle La’el Collins (knee), guard Connor Williams (knee), defensive tackle Antwaun Woods (knee), linebacker Leighton Vander Esch (neck), cornerback Anthony Brown (triceps), safety Jeff Heath (shoulder)

What to watch: Josh Allen and the Bills defense do a Patriots impersonation

The Bills defense is not as extraordinary as the Patriots D, nor are their players as famous, but they will try to replicate New England’s game plan that suffocated Dallas’s offense in one of the most-watched games in years last week. The Cowboys did not score a touchdown in that game, partially because they played in sideways rain in 38-degree weather. The conditions will be nicer at Jerry World in Dallas, so Buffalo will have a harder time stopping the Cowboys passing game. Patriots shutdown cornerback Stephon Gilmore held Dallas Amari Cooper to the first catchless game of Cooper’s Cowboys career, and the Bills will likely assign cornerback TreDavious White—one of the few cornerbacks near Gilmore’s level of play right now—to try to replicate that success.

Despite all of the Patriots’ success last week, they did not sack Prescott. He has been sacked the second-fewest times of any quarterback (minimum eight starts) one year after being sacked the second-most times, and he has just two fumbles this year after tying for the league lead with 12 in 2018. Prescott isn’t the only QB in this game who has been more careful with the football. Buffalo’s Josh Allen had his five-game streak without a pick snapped last week, but his play this year has been a revelation. He says he transformed his mind-set from getting touchdowns to first downs, and that’s helped him stop throwing picks or taking ugly sacks while hunting for deep shots. Allen, not Trubisky, is the QB who’s likely to change his public perception on Thanksgiving.

New Orleans Saints (9-2) @ Atlanta Falcons (3-8)

Kickoff time: 8:20 p.m. ET
Channel: NBC
Announcers: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya (sideline reporter)
Opening line: New Orleans -5.5
Over/under: 48

Key Saints injuries and absences: Left tackle Terron Armstead (ankle), left guard Andrus Peat (forearm), fullback Zach Line (knee), cornerback Marshon Lattimore (hamstring)

Key Falcons injuries and absences: Receiver Julio Jones (shoulder), tight end Austin Hooper (knee), tight end Luke Stocker (back), running back Devonta Freeman (foot), cornerback Desmond Trufant (toe), pass rusher Takk McKinley (shoulder)

What to watch: The Saints restore order to the NFC South

When these two teams met just over two weeks ago, the Saints were favored by 13 points, which was the biggest margin for either team in the rivalry’s history. Naturally, the Falcons walloped New Orleans 26-9 in one of the most surprising upsets of the year (example no. 453 of why to never bet on a game between two NFC South teams). New Orleans rebounded in a convincing 34-17 win against division-rival Tampa Bay, but then needed a game-winning field goal as time expired to beat the Panthers 34-31 last week. Meanwhile, the Falcons crushed the Panthers 29-3 two weeks ago but lost to the Buccaneers 35-22 last week. Again, the NFC South is very confusing. The Saints have a chance to set the record straight on Thursday, which will be the second Thanksgiving game in a row for these teams. Playing without left tackle Terron Armstead and left guard Andrus Peat will be tough for the Saints, but Atlanta lacks an intimidating pass rush that can easily exploit that matchup.

Expect the Saints to be much more focused than they were earlier this month. Perhaps they can cover that 13-point spread on their second try.

Sunday Headliner

San Francisco 49ers (10-1) @ Baltimore Ravens (9-2)

Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Announcers: Kevin Burkhardt, Charles Davis, Pam Oliver (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Baltimore -4.5
Over/under: 46

Key 49ers injuries and absences: Running back Matt Breida (ankle), left tackle Joe Staley (finger), tackle Justin Skule (leg), defensive end Dee Ford (hamstring), defensive end Damontre Moore (forearm), defensive tackle Jullian Taylor (jaw), kicker Robbie Gould (quadriceps)

Key Ravens injuries and absences: Center Matt Skura (knee), guard Ben Powers (thumb), defensive tackle Michael Pierce (ankle)

What to watch: Which team takes the lead first

If Baltimore’s game against the New England Patriots felt like a preview of the AFC championship game, this matchup feels like a Super Bowl sneak peek. Both teams just thrashed their opponents in prime time. The 49ers embarrassed the Packers in one of the worst games of Aaron Rodgers’s career on Sunday Night Football, and then the Ravens played fearless and nearly flawless football in a 45-6 smothering of the Rams on Monday night. Lamar Jackson and the Ravens offense looked untouchable in that game, and they were the first team to score six touchdowns on its opening six possessions since 2008. That year, the Saints did it to the eventual 0-16 Lions. The Ravens just did it to the defending NFC champions. Now Baltimore faces the team favored to be the next NFC champions, and the result is one of the most anticipated games of the year.

Both of these teams are designed to protect leads. On offense, Baltimore and San Francisco grind the clock with their running games. They are the top two teams in rushing attempts, rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, and time of possession. Both teams use their devastating rushing games to set up play-action to take devastating deep shots, especially to their speedy rookie receivers (Marquise Brown for the Ravens, Deebo Samuel for the 49ers) and athletic tight ends (Mark Andrews and George Kittle). On the other side of the ball, their opponents try to play catch-up by passing the ball, but usually fail. Each defense is top six in turnovers, top four in efficiency per Football Outsiders, and top three in pass defense by the same metric. Both Baltimore’s and San Francisco’s defenses feature a former member of Seattle’s Legion of Boom (Earl Thomas and Richard Sherman). Each play with an average lead of more than six points per offensive drive, according to Football Outsiders. That’s more than twice as many as the next closest team, and three-quarters of NFL teams have less than a one-point lead on their average drive.

These teams accomplish the same things, but go about it in opposite ways. The 49ers defense, led by a defensive line that boasts five first-round draft picks, leads the league in sacks and quarterback pressure rate despite blitzing roughly once every five plays (the fourth-lowest mark in the league). The Ravens, led by an unheralded collection of mid-round draft picks rushing the passer, blitz at the highest rate in the league (roughly one in two plays), but pressure the quarterback at a below-average level. On offense, the Baltimore Ravens run everything through Lamar Jackson. He leads the NFL in rushing yards per attempt with 7.1 yards per carry, which is more than 14 teams are averaging per pass. Jackson’s abilities create a scare for the defense on every play, and Baltimore effectively uses that deception for big plays. Baltimore has run the most run-pass options this season according to Pro-Football-Reference, and they also take easy chunks of yardage with Jackson running read-option handoffs that isolate edge rushers. Meanwhile, Jimmy Garoppolo isn’t exactly mobile, but he has the second-most passing yards on play-action, according to Pro Football Focus. San Francisco stretches defenses horizontally with its zone-running game and then attacks the vertical seams—kind of like pulling two ends of paper until it rips in half. That strategy was extremely evident on a pass to George Kittle the 49ers used against Green Bay last week.

If either team has something resembling a weakness, it’s that neither excels at what is required when playing from behind—stopping the run to get the ball back and then passing to move the ball quickly. Efficiency-wise, the 49ers are an average run defense and the Ravens are below average. Each team is in the bottom five in pass attempts because they so rarely have had to throw in the second half. Their teams are usually running to bleed out the clock for a big win. If either team falls into a two-possession deficit, the shoe will be, as they say, on the other foot.

Other 1 P.M. Game Worth Keeping an Eye On

Tennessee Titans (6-5) @ Indianapolis Colts (6-5)

Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Announcers: Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon, Jay Feely (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Indianapolis -3.5
Over/under: 42

Key Titans injuries and absences: Tight end Delanie Walker (ankle) pass rusher Cameron Wake (undisclosed), cornerback Malcolm Butler (wrist)

Key Colts injuries and absences: Running back Marlon Mack (hand), receiver T.Y. Hilton (calf), receiver Parris Campbell (hand), tight end Eric Ebron (ankles), cornerback Rock Ya-Sin (ankle)

What to watch: Ryan Tannehill’s playoff push

It only took the entire decade, but Ryan Tannehill has broken out. Tannehill is 4-1 in his five starts since replacing Marcus Mariota, and his numbers are outstanding. Tannehill leads the league in passing yards per attempt (9.2), is tied for fourth in touchdown percentage (6.5 percent), and is tied for third in game-winning drives. He had more 20-plus-yard runs last week than Ezekiel Elliott has all season. If the Titans continue their surge against the division-rival Colts, it would go a long way to their playoff push, which will fall on Tannehill and running back Derrick Henry, who is fourth in rushing yards per game (90.1) and rushing touchdowns (10).

A Tennessee win this week combined with Houston losing to the Patriots would tie the teams for the division lead, and they play twice over the final three weeks of the season. It would also be a devastating blow for the Colts, whose once-promising post–Andrew Luck season is circling the drain.

Cleveland Browns (5-6) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5)

Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Announcers: Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts, Evan Washburn (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Pittsburgh -3
Over/under: 40.5

Key Browns injuries and absences: Defensive end Myles Garrett (suspended), defensive end Olivier Vernon (knee), safety Eric Murray (knee)

Key Steelers injuries and absences: Quarterback Mason Rudolph (benched), center Maurkice Pouncey (suspended), running back James Conner (shoulder), receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster (concussion), cornerback Artie Burns (knee)

What to watch: Cleveland’s offensive traction

Well, this is awkward. Just two weeks after Myles Garrett hit Mason Rudolph with his own helmet, Pittsburgh and Cleveland play each other again. The key players in that incident won’t be on the field. Garrett and Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey are suspended for this game, and quarterback Mason Rudolph was benched for Devlin “Duck” Hodges last week. The Garrett incident hid just how awful Rudolph was for the first 59 minutes and 52 seconds of the Browns game, when he threw four interceptions. His play did not improve last week when Rudolph completed just eight of 16 passes for 85 yards before being benched. Hodges needed just two passes to get to 90 yards and a touchdown. On Monday head coach Mike Tomlin was asked why he is sticking with Hodges.

“He has not killed us,” Tomlin said according to ESPN’s Brooke Pryor.

Garrett may have hit Rudolph with a helmet, but Tomlin is the one who threw him under the bus.

Bounceback Games Versus Beatable Opponents

Green Bay Packers (8-3) @ New York Giants (2-9)

Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Announcers: Thom Brennaman, Chris Spielman, Shannon Spake (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Green Bay -7.5
Over/under: 47

Key Packers injuries and absences: Right tackle Bryan Bulaga (knee), guard Cole Madison (ACL)

Key Giants injuries and absences: Receiver Golden Tate (concussion), tight end Evan Engram (foot), tight end Rhett Ellison (concussion), safety Jabrill Peppers (back)

What to watch: Angry Aaron Rodgers

The 49ers embarrassed the Packers last week. Aaron Rodgers was held to just 104 passing yards, the second lowest of his career in a start where he finished the game. Expect the Packers to rebound against a Giants team that is abysmal on defense. The Giants simply don’t have a cornerback capable of corralling receiver Davante Adams. Rodgers has a lethal ability to home in on undisciplined and underprepared defenders, and he could expose young cornerbacks Deandre Baker and Sam Beal. If the Packers line up running back Aaron Jones or Jamaal Williams as a receiver against New York’s inside linebackers (who have a tendency to get lost in coverage), things could get ugly. There are plenty of questions about Green Bay after losing to San Francisco, but this is the first of what is likely three cupcake games for the Packers, with upcoming matchups against Washington and Chicago before facing the Vikings on Monday Night Football in Week 16.

Philadelphia Eagles (5-6) @ Miami Dolphins (2-9)

Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Announcers: Kenny Albert, Ronde Barber, Peter Schrager (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Philadelphia -7.5
Over/under: 46.5

Key Eagles injuries and absences: Quarterback Carson Wentz (hand), running back Jordan Howard (shoulder), receiver Alshon Jeffery (ankle), receiver Nelson Agholor (knee), right tackle Lane Johnson (concussion), guard Brandon Brooks (illness)

Key Dolphins injuries and absences: Cornerback Xavien Howard (knee), safety Reshad Jones (chest/ankle/shoulder), safety Bobby McCain (shoulder)

What to watch: Philadelphia’s playoff push

The bad news: The Eagles’ players are battered, their fans are back to questioning Carson Wentz, and the team is behind in the standings.

The good news: The Eagles can still win the NFC East. Wentz has a bruised hand but Philly can still cruise to victory in Miami even if he is surrounded by backups. Dallas has been unable to pull away in the division, and the Eagles have three extremely winnable games coming up: at Miami, home against the Giants, and at Washington before playing Dallas again in Week 16. The Eagles have a path to the playoffs, but they have to not trip up in Miami.

Los Angeles Rams (6-4) @ Arizona Cardinals (3-7-1)

Kickoff time: 4:05 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Announcers: Chris Myers, Daryl Johnston, Laura Okmin (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Rams -3.5
Over/under: 47

Key Rams injuries and absences: Tight tackle Rob Havenstein (knee), center Brian Allen (MCL), guard Joseph Noteboom (knee), defensive back Darious Williams (ankle)

Key Cardinals injuries and absences: Running back Chase Edmonds (hamstring), tackle Jordan Mills (knee), defensive back Tramaine Brock (hamstring), defensive end Jonathan Bullard (foot), defensive end Zach Allen (neck)

What to watch: The Rams’ resilience

The Rams were flat-out embarrassed Monday night against the Ravens. How they respond to the worst game they’ve played in the Sean McVay era show us what we need to know about a team whose Super Bowl ambitions have unraveled. Nobody’s game is more important than Jared Goff, who is facing the easiest team to attack in the air in the league. Goff has not had more than seven fantasy points since October.

Tank Race Check-in

New York Jets (4-7) @ Cincinnati Bengals (0-11)

Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Announcers: Spero Dedes, Adam Archuleta (analyst)
Opening line: Jets -3.5
Over/under: 41

Key Jets injuries and absences: Left tackle Kelvin Beachum (ankle), right tackle Chuma Edoga (knee/MCL), linebacker C.J. Mosley (groin), linebacker Paul Worrilow (quad), cornerback Darryl Roberts (calf)

Key Bengals injuries and absences: Receiver A.J. Green (ankle), cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick (knee)

What to watch: Andy Dalton’s return

Ryan Finley’s brief tenure as the Bengals starting quarterback was a lot like fellow rookie Gardner Minshew II’s, but without any of the wins or memories. Finley has been replaced by Andy Dalton, and now Dalton can try to win just enough games in the final stretch that Cincinnati struggles to replace him in the draft. That begins against the Jets, who are quietly on a three-game winning streak after eviscerating the Raiders last week.

Washington (2-9) @ Carolina Panthers (5-6)

Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Announcers: Greg Gumbel, Trent Green, Melanie Collins (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Carolina -9
Over/under: 41

Key Washington injuries and absences: Quarterback Dwayne Haskins (wrist), running back Chris Thompson (toe), receiver Paul Richardson Jr. (hamstring), tight end Vernon Davis (concussion), pass rusher Ryan Kerrigan (concussion), defensive lineman Daron Payne (ankle)

Key Panthers injuries and absences: Tackle Greg Little (ankle), guard Greg Van Roten (toe), defensive tackle Dontari Poe (quadriceps), defensive back Ross Cockrell (quadriceps)

What to watch: Christian McCaffrey chasing history

Christian McCaffrey is on pace to beat LaDainian Tomlinson’s 2006 season as the greatest fantasy season of all time in PPR scoring. As noted by PFF’s Scott Barrett, McCaffrey has 499 fantasy points in his last 16 games, which would pass Tomlinson’s 483 in 2006. (McCaffrey’s gaudy reception total makes up for the touchdown disparity, and in standard scoring McCaffrey is not close.) In PPR scoring McCaffrey is currently averaging more than 30 points per game. Even if that drops down to 20 points for his next five games, he’ll have one of the five best fantasy seasons of all time, better than Marshall Faulk in 2001. He appears to be a lock for the Fantasy Football Hall of Fame.

Florida Men

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7) @ Jacksonville Jaguars (4-7)

Kickoff time: 1 p.m. ET
Channel: Fox
Announcers: Dick Stockton, Mark Schlereth, Jennifer Hale (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Jacksonville -4.5
Over/under: 49

Key Buccaneers injuries and absences: cornerback M.J. Stewart (knee), cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting (knee), safety Justin Evans (Achilles)

Key Jaguars injuries and absences: Defensive end Calais Campbell (back), defensive tackle Marcell Dareus (abdomen) linebacker Myles Jack (knee), defensive end Josh Allen (knee), safety Ronnie Harrison (concussion)

What to watch: Two quarterback enigmas

Nick Foles has been awful in his first two games back from injured reserve, mostly racking up yardage in garbage time as the Jaguars have lost by a combined score of 75-33. His play can be attributed to rust, but the Buccaneers have been shredded by opposing quarterbacks all season. If Foles can’t get back on track this week, the Jaguars may hear calls for Minshew to get back onto the field. Meanwhile, Jameis Winston is one fumble away from 50 in his career to pair with his 78 interceptions across five seasons.

”We obviously haven’t found the right answer,” Buccaneers quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen told Joebucsfan.com about limiting the turnovers this week. “But we try everything.”

Hm.

The AFC West

Los Angeles Chargers (4-7) @ Denver Broncos (3-8)

Kickoff time: 4:25 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Announcers: Andrew Catalon, James Lofton (analyst)
Opening line: Denver -1.5
Over/under: 38

Key Chargers injuries and absences: Left tackle Russell Okung (groin), right tackle Sam Tevi (knee), center Mike Pouncey (neck), guard Forrest Lamp (broken leg), safety Derwin James (foot), safety Adrian Phillips (broken arm)

Key Broncos injuries and absences: Receiver Courtland Sutton (ankle), pass rusher Von Miller (knee), pass rusher Bradley Chubb (ACL), tackle Ja’Wuan James (knee), cornerback Bryce Callahan (foot)

What to watch: Quarterback disarray

The Chargers are in distress, with Philip Rivers throwing seven interceptions in his past two games and the team falling to 4-7 a year after going 12-4. The Broncos quarterbacks are in an even worse situation. Joe Flacco was placed on injured reserve the same week he criticized head coach Vic Fangio’s late-game aggressiveness, and Brandon Allen has a 46 percent completion percentage in his three starts. Rookie Drew Lock may be activated off of injured reserve and added to the active roster for the first time all season, but he might be thrown to the wolves by playing without much practice time. Both of these teams may be quarterback shopping a few months from now, and this game could be a prime example of why.

Oakland Raiders (6-5) @ Kansas City Chiefs (7-4)

Kickoff time: 4:25 p.m. ET
Channel: CBS
Announcers: Jim Nantz, Tony Romo, Tracy Wolfson (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Kansas City -8.5
Over/under: 54.5

Key Raiders injuries and absences: Receiver Hunter Renfrow (ribs/lung), center Rodney Hudson (ankle), pass rusher Arden Key (foot), defensive back Lamarcus Joyner (hamstring), safety Karl Joseph (foot), safety Johnathan Abram (shoulder)

Key Chiefs injuries and absences: Running back Damien Williams (ribs), running back LeSean McCoy (undisclosed), receiver Tyreek Hill (hamstring), guard Martinas Rankin (knee), defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah (pectoral), defensive end Alex Okafor (ankle), cornerback Kendall Fuller (thumb)

What to watch: Patrick Mahomes get back on track

When these teams played in Week 2, Patrick Mahomes threw four passing touchdowns in the second quarter. All four went for 20-plus yards, they were the only points Kansas City scored in the whole game, and the Chiefs won 28-10. Mahomes has not been nearly as sharp in recent weeks. He’s coming off of perhaps his worst game as a pro last week against the Chargers in Mexico City, when he threw for just 182 yards on 32 pass attempts (5.7 yards per attempt) and his second interception of the season. Luckily for Mahomes, the Raiders pass defense is just as bad as it was in Week 2. Oakland has allowed the fifth most passing yards and is tied for the second most passing touchdowns allowed. Last week they were shredded by Sam Darnold’s Jets in a 34-3 loss. Two weeks ago the Raiders barely beat the 0-11 Bengals and allowed 115 passing yards to Ryan Finley. This week, Mahomes may once again have four touchdowns by halftime, but the Chiefs might have more than 28 points by the end of the game.

Sunday Night Football

New England Patriots (10-1) @ Houston Texans (7-4)

Kickoff time: 8:20 p.m. ET
Channel: NBC
Announcers: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, Michele Tafoya (sideline reporter)
Opening line: New England -4.5
Over/under: 44.5

Key Patriots injuries and absences: Receiver Mohamed Sanu (ankle), receiver Phillip Dorsett (concussion), safety Patrick Chung (heel), cornerback Jason McCourty (groin), kicker Stephen Gostkowski (hip)

Key Texans injuries and absences: Defensive end J.J. Watt (pectoral), defensive end Carlos Watkins (hamstring), linebacker Dylan Cole (ACL), cornerback Lonnie Johnson (ankle), cornerback Bradley Roby (hamstring), safety Mike Adams (concussion)

What to watch: DeAndre Hopkins vs. Stephon Gilmore

The Houston Texans had the misfortune of being created during the Brady-Belichick era, so they are 1-10 vs. the Patriots as a franchise. Not only do they get stuffed on the field, but the Patriots even deny them in front office personnel hiring. Yet in that morass is a lot of compelling games. Two years ago, in Deshaun Watson’s second career start, he nearly led the Texans to a rare win in Foxborough until Tom Brady led a touchdown drive to take a 36-33 lead with 23 seconds left. Earlier that year, in the divisional round of the playoffs, the Texans nearly defeated the Patriots only to be felled by Brock Osweiler’s incompetence. Their previous matchup was the Jacoby Brissett game, when the Patriots were without Brady due to the Deflategate suspension and Jimmy Garoppolo due to injury and turned to rookie and (now Colts quarterback) Brissett on a short week for Thursday Night Football. New England won 27-0. Back in 2012, the 11-1 Houston Texans had the audacity to wear customized letterman jackets into Foxborough like they were the Cleveland Cavaliers walking into the NBA Finals with suit shorts. Houston was run off the field 42-14. Perhaps this has come full circle. Last week the Texans linebackers dressed as elaborate Mortal Kombat characters.

In this iteration there is one showdown worth keeping an eye on: Houston’s DeAndre Hopkins’s being shadowed by cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the league’s best cornerback who might win Defensive Player of the Year if the season ended today. Hopkins is not having his best season in 2019, but he is the second-fastest receiver to reach the 600-catch mark in NFL history, and he has a touchdown or at least 80 yards in every game since Week 6. If Gilmore shuts Hopkins down, it will add to what might be the best cornerback season since peak Darrelle Revis.

Monday Night Football

Minnesota Vikings (8-3) @ Seattle Seahawks (9-2)

Kickoff time: 8:15 p.m. ET
Channel: ESPN
Announcers: Joe Tessitore, Booger McFarland, Lisa Salters (sideline reporter)
Opening line: Seattle -3
Over/under: 49

Key Vikings injuries and absences: Receiver Adam Thielen (hamstring), guard Josh Kline (concussion), defensive tackle Linval Joseph (knee), safety Anthony Harris (groin), safety Harrison Smith (hamstring)

Key Seahawks injuries and absences: Tight end Will Dissly (Achilles), tight end Luke Willson (hamstring), tight end Jacob Hollister (foot), tight end Ed Dickson (knee), pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney (hip), defensive tackle Jarran Reed (ankle), safety Tedric Thompson (shoulder)

What to watch: Big Dad Energy

Kirk Cousins vs. Russell Wilson is the corniest Dad Instagram crossover event of the 2019 season. Wilson didn’t play well last week in the rain against the Eagles, but he was the leading MVP candidate until the Lamar Jackson train derailed him. Now he could get passed in the race by Cousins, who is ahead of Wilson on a per-throw basis.

If the season ended today, these would be the two wild-card teams, but neither would be satisfied after missing out on a division crown. The Seahawks are one game behind the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC West and the Vikings are only a head-to-head loss tiebreaker behind the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North. If neither can take the division lead, this game will have to do. The winner could decide which teams gets the no. 5 seed (which would likely play the Cowboys or the Eagles) and which team gets the no. 6 seed.