This is the best weekend of the NFL regular season
Please plan for Sunday accordingly.
December is officially here, which is a good reminder that December will be gone in a blink.
Once you’re married with kids, the Christmas season becomes more of a March Madness blur of buzzer-beating fadeaways and controversial officiating decisions. You’re shuttling the Highlander to grandparents’ houses and Santa Claus visits and watching The Muppet Christmas Carol for the 297th time. (A damn good film, mind you.) Everything happens so, so fast that it’s important to take a deep breath, pause, and remember what’s most important this time of year.
I kid. Sort of.
Week 13 in the NFL is unquestionably the best we’ve had all season. If you’re able to re-finagle your schedule to fit in 12 straight hours surgically implanted to your recliner, now’s the time. Best of luck negotiating those Sunday terms with your wife. And better yet, if you live in Western New York, bring your whole family to Mister’s Bar & Lanes in East Aurora, NY if you’d like. I’ll be posted up with copies of “The Blood and Guts: How Tight Ends Save Football” around 3 p.m. (EST).
Rather than hurry a feature from my visit with the New England Patriots this week, I figured we’d do something a little different this morn at Go Long. Let’s preview what promises to be a phenomenal slate of games, starting with a doozy tonight in Foxborough.
(And I’d love to know what your favorite Christmas movie is in the comment section, too. We’ll give Clark and Cousin Eddie the slight edge over those Muppets here.)
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Bills (8-3) at Patriots (6-5)
Thursday, 8:15 p.m. (EST)
There’s no other way to put it. Buffalo straight-up curb-stomped New England the last two times these teams played — 80 points, zero punts, severe damage to the pride of a franchise that owned the AFC East for an entire generation. When I sat down with Matthew Judon, the Patriots star pass rusher didn’t flinch when the losses were put in those terms. He assured those memories do not fade, but…
“You can’t keep imagining that,” Judon added. “Because once you do? They become the superior.”
The script has flipped in the division. From 2001 to 2019, the Bills were on this side of the psychological warfare. The Bills were the team trying not to envision the Patriots as some bogeyman.
Without question, this is the key for the Patriots tonight.
Said Judon: “They’re beatable. They’ve lost three games this year. They’ve been in some close games. They’re a very good team, a very solid team. All around. But it’s any given week. Any given week. We’ll see what Bills team we get this week. But I don’t want to say they’re unbeatable. Because I know they are. We just have to come to play.”
Next week, I’ll have much more on Judon. He’s the sort of ass-kicking throwback we love around here. He’s right, too. The Patriots cannot picture the Bills as a cast of Marvel characters and, frankly, they shouldn’t because many of those characters are either sidelined or hurting. Quarterback Josh Allen clearly is not himself. The ball’s not snapping off his hand with the same effortless velocity, due to that UCL injury. The absence of left tackle Dion Dawkins and Von Miller could also loom large over this matchup. It’s not time for the Bills to outright panic but between rough offensive line play, the injuries and the lack of a true No. 2 opposite Stefon Diggs, offensive football will more of a slog compared to that wild card night at Highmark Stadium.
It would not surprise me if New England wins this game but I’ll still bank on Allen making the play late that Mac Jones cannot. Bills 24, Patriots 23.
Jets (7-4) at Vikings (9-2)
Sunday, 1 p.m.
As you consume pro football, always remember that there’s the talking points spewed into a microphone and then there’s what players and coaches actually believe.
Obviously, Robert Saleh isn’t going to tee off on 2021 No. 2 overall pick Zach Wilson.
Of course, teammates aren’t going to trash their own quarterback publicly.
There’s been enough smoke emanating from the building to realize Saleh would’ve lost his team if he continued to roll with Wilson as his starter. The head coach needed to treat Wilson exactly as he’d treat anybody on his roster. When a player performs this poorly, the player unquestionably must be benched. And here was Wilson, the worst starting quarterback in the NFL, struggling to do anything. The Jets had more punts than completed passes in a 10-3 loss to the Patriots. Wilson taking approximately zero responsibility was the final straw.
The odds of Mike White becoming Kurt Warner 2.0 are low but he’s more than capable of getting these Jets to the playoffs. Winning should be the objective, not babying a No. 2 pick because he was the No. 2 pick. I think White makes this an entertaining game. A week ago, the Vikings’ secondary struggled vs. Mac Jones on Thanksgiving Night. Still, Justin Jefferson wills these Super Bowl-contending Vikings to another win. Vikings 27, Jets 21.
Commanders (7-5) at Giants (7-4)
Sunday, 1 p.m.
We are likely witnessing the New York Giants descent to reality. After a blowout loss to the Lions and a bitter loss to the Cowboys — the echos of Brian Daboll screaming at officials are still ringing inside AT&T Stadium — New York has a frisky finish to its schedule: Two matchups with Philly, a trip to Minneapolis, a date with the Fightin’ Jeff Saturdays and these two matchips with the Washington Commanders.
All Washington has done is win six of their last seven games.
The rise of quarterback Taylor Heinicke, a player spat out by the sport at every turn, is inspiring. But let’s give the defensive line overdue praise here. Everything starts up front for this team with Jonathan Allen (6.5 sacks, 16 QB hits), Daron Payne (6.5 sacks, 14 QB hits), Montez Sweat (seven sacks, 24 QB hits), James Smith-Williams (two sacks, 13 QB hits) and a name our readers may be familiar with in Efe Obada. Remember the native Nigerian’s remarkable story? He has three sacks himself in Washington’s rotation.
Daniel Jones can run with the best of the best quarterbacks in the open field but remains one of the league’s most immobile starters where it matters most: navigating a messy pocket. Bank on Washington getting home and continuing the resemble the defense we all expected last season. Commanders 23, Giants 12.
Titans (7-4) at Eagles (10-1)
Sunday, 1 p.m.
If we were to brainstorm the top 10 most miserable teams to play against, Mike Vrabel’s Titans would be No. 1. Hands down. It never matters who’s in, who’s out, who they’re playing. Once a season enters the winter months, these Titans are guaranteed to blanket opponents in bruises.
Make a point to watch one possession — offense or defense — start to finish on Sunday. Every block, every tackle. On the ball, off the ball. Everything is done with a purpose under Vrabel. Nobody takes a play off. You can tell this team is incredibly well-coached. Vrabel’s interaction with rookie Treylon Burks after Burks’ fumble recovery on Sunday was pretty cool, too:
The Eagles just blasted the Packers for 363 rushing yards but this hasn’t exactly been a dominant 10-1 start. They’ve enjoyed one of the league’s softest schedules, squeaking out a one-point victory over the Colts in Indy. No knock on Jalen Hurts, A.J. Brown and a roster that’s clearly a Super Bowl favorite but they don’t have a signature win yet. Beating the ornery Titans would qualify. Here’s thinking Tennessee wins with running back Derrick Henry — who has averaged only 2.8 yards per carry his last three games — finally busting out. Titans 17, Eagles 13.
Dolphins (8-3) at 49ers (7-4)
Sunday, 4:05 p.m.
We are about to learn a lot about one, Tua Tagovailoa.
He has yet to lose a game he has finished. His numbers are sparkling. His confidence is soaring.
Next comes a date with the best defense in the NFL, a unit fresh off a 13-0 shutout of the New Orleans Saints. This could prove to be an MVP moment for Tagovailoa or a game that reels the Fins back to shore. A win or loss doesn’t mean much for either team in the standings. One team’s in the AFC; the other the NFC. But if Tagovailoa picks apart a defense that’s been eating quarterbacks alive, you can only imagine what that would do for this QB’s burgeoning confidence.
And make no mistake: The motivation is real here. In Part II of our “Tua Time” series, you heard ex-Niners Raheem Mostert and Jeff Wilson. These are two running backs quite eager to face their former team and, as written, the Miami Dolphins are counting on both supplying balance. As defenses grow more… and more… and more preoccupied with containing Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle, lanes will inevitably rupture in the ground game. Be it how San Francisco handled Mostert’s knee injury or Wilson feeling overlooked, they’ve most certainly had this date circled on their calendars.
One more quick note. There’s no use swimming in the sewage that is Twitter. Whenever a tweet takes off — and the reaction is this loud — I typically choose not to engage. There’s nothing to be gained. The site’s a cesspool. But if our Go Long readers are curious, no, nothing was taken out of context when it comes to a certain comment making the rounds. This game is appointment viewing. The difference in quarterback play will, indeed, prove to be the difference. Dolphins 24, 49ers 16.
Chiefs (9-2) at Bengals (7-4)
Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
We know Cincinnati is a team completely unafraid of the Kansas City Chiefs, having come from behind to slay them twice in 2021. We also know that this is the time of year Joe Burrow heats up and that he’s welcoming back Ja’Marr Chase.
It’s always refreshing when a player like slot corner Mike Hilton calls his shot and doesn’t back down from his words. Ahead of the AFC Championship Game last season, Hilton assured his Bengals were ready to beat KC. They fully intended to upset the mighty Chiefs and promptly turned Patrick Mahomes to mush in a 27-24 overtime win.
It’ll be more difficult this time around. Chidobe Awuzie, the team’s No. 1 corner, tore his ACL. Mahomes will get his. Mahomes could have his own MVP moment. But as Bengals quarterbacks coach Dan Pitcher explained, Burrow has a unique ability to store intel away. His recall is stunning. Cincy’s starter unquestionably knows where KC’s secondary is vulnerable after their two meetings a year ago. Expect this one to be high-scoring. Bengals 34, Chiefs 31.
Miss an episode of “Go Long with Dunne and Monos?” All episodes are always available at Apple, Spotify and YouTube, in addition to GoLongTD.com. Co-host Jim Monos tore into the hapless Houston Texans on our most recent show. The plan is to tape an episode immediately after tonight’s Bills-Patriots game as well.
Head to Mister’s Bar & Lanes this Sunday 3-6 p.m. if you’re local! Let’s watch football, drink a few beers and talk all things “Blood and Guts.” Would love to sell and sign copies for whoever can head out. Mister’s is located at 206 Main St, East Aurora, NY 14052. They also have Bubble Hockey — I welcome all challengers.
I need to get into the habit of book recommendations. Here are three I just listened to on Audible: “The Son” by Phillip Meyer, “Project Hail Mary” by Andy Weir and “Beartown” by Fredrik Backman. All three are excellent for different reasons. Have your own rec? Feel free to share below.
Mentioned this earlier, but keep an eye out for a new “VIP” membership option soon.
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