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NFL Week 12 Preview — The Patriots Could Lose This Sunday (No, Really, They Could)

Buffalo Bills v New England Patriots
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The 2015 NFL season has reached its final six weeks with two teams — the Patriots and the Panthers — still unbeaten. They’ll both face serious challenges this week. Here’s a preview of this week’s action:

Thursday, November 26

The Panthers Headline a Thanksgiving Day Football Feast
Washington Redskins v Carolina Panthers
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Philadelphia at Detroit | Ford Field, Detroit; 12:30 p.m. (ET) on Fox
Carolina at Dallas | AT&T Stadium, Arlington, Texas; 4:30 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Chicago at Green Bay | Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wis.; 8:30 p.m. (ET) on NBC

The NFL owns Thanksgiving Day. Each of the league’s three scheduled holiday games have a compelling storyline, but the most interesting match-up will occur when unbeaten Carolina (10–0) travels to Texas to face Dallas (3–7). The Cowboys have new life thanks to the return of quarterback Tony Romo — and the inability of their mediocre NFC East rivals to pull away. The Panthers hope to stay perfect by getting to Romo often, and letting quarterback Cam Newton find holes in the Dallas secondary. If Carolina wins, they can clinch a playoff spot on Sunday if the Seahawks and Buccaneers lose; the Seahawks and Falcons lose, or the Buccaneers, Vikings and Cardinals all lose.

Prior to the Dallas-Carolina game, football fans can watch Chip Kelly’s underachieving Eagles against the also-ran Lions, when Philadelphia (4–6) travels to Detroit (3–7). Both teams have considerable offensive firepower and very questionable defenses, which could make for an entertaining shootout. Green Bay (7–3) hosts rival Chicago (4–6) in an NFC North battle in primetime to close out the Thanksgiving Day slate.

Sunday, November 29

You’re Not Dreaming: The Falcons & Vikings Are Playoff Contenders
Green Bay Packers v Minnesota Vikings
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Minnesota at Atlanta | Georgia Dome, Atlanta; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox

Prior to the season, neither the Vikings nor the Falcons were considered by many to be a likely part of the NFC playoff picture in 2015. However, both teams have played their way into contention. The winner of this Sunday’s game will have the inside track to an NFC Wild Card berth.

Atlanta (6–4) started off 5–0, but they have dropped four of five games since, as quarterback Matt Ryan has struggled. The Falcons won’t find much relief against Minnesota (7–3). Despite last Sunday’s uncharacteristic 30-point hiccup against the Packers, the stingy Vikings have given up an NFC-low 18.4 points per game. Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson will be looking for a bounce-back performance, too.

The Steelers-Seahawks Game Should Be Very Physical
Cleveland Browns v Pittsburgh Steelers
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Pittsburgh at Seattle | CenturyLink Field, Seattle; 4:25 p.m. (ET) on CBS

Both Seattle (5–5) and Pittsburgh (6–4) head into Week 12 in contention for wild-card playoff berths in their respective conferences. The Steelers and the Seahawks need the intensity of their defenses to match the productivity of their offenses over the last six weeks of the season to reach the playoffs. Expect plenty of blitzes to be thrown at both hobbled Ben Roethlisberger and inconsistent Russell Wilson. Expect their receivers and running backs to pay the price on every offensive play, too.

The Broncos Are the Patriots’ Biggest Obstacle to a 16–0 Season
Buffalo Bills v New England Patriots
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New England at Denver | Sports Authority Field at Mile High, Denver; 8:30 p.m. (ET) on NBC

It’s hard to believe that the Patriots are just six wins away from matching their incredible undefeated 2007 regular season. After this week’s road test against the Broncos, New England (10–0) doesn’t have another game scheduled against a team currently over .500. However, Denver (8–2) is quite the obstacle. The Broncos’ aggressive and physical defense is responsible for the team’s three-game lead in the AFC West. Tom Brady and the New England offense will be tested, but the Pats defense must find the flaws in quarterback Brock Osweiler’s game if the returning Super Bowl champs are to stay perfect.

Monday, November 30

Will Anyone Watch This Monday Night Game?
Cleveland Browns v Baltimore Ravens
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Baltimore at Cleveland | FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland; 8:30 p.m. (ET) on ESPN

This week’s Ravens-Browns Monday Night Football game might not have looked that bad when Baltimore (3–7) had Super Bowl aspirations and Cleveland (2–8) looked like a team on the rise. Well, networks plan and the football gods laugh.

With the Ravens losing quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Justin Forsett to injury last week, there aren’t many recognizable names left on either roster, except for Browns’ quarterback Johnny Manziel — and we may not even see him. For what it’s worth, Cleveland won the first meeting between the teams, 33-30, in overtime in Week 5. Don’t expect that level of drama on Monday. ESPN will do well just to keep analyst Jon Gruden from ranking dishes made from Thanksgiving Day leftovers during the broadcast.

Other Games

Sunday, November 29
Buffalo at Kansas City | Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Oakland at Tennessee | Nissan Stadium, Nashville; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Tampa Bay at Indianapolis | Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox
N.Y. Giants at Washington | FedEx Field, Landover, Md. ; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox
New Orleans at Houston | NRG Stadium, Houston; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox
St. Louis at Cincinnati | Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox
San Diego at Jacksonville | EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Fla.; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Miami at N.Y. Jets | MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Arizona at San Francisco | Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif.; 4:05 p.m. (ET) on Fox

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