Taking a spin around the NFL to get you ready for the rest of Week 13:
The big questions
Will the Eagles take the torch from the Seahawks?
No, the Seahawks have not been back to the Super Bowl since they decided to pass from the 1-yard line rather than run Marshawn Lynch three seasons ago. But you could say they have defined the NFC since the 2013 season, when they blew out the Broncos in Super Bowl XLVIII. The Eagles, meanwhile, have that same angry, hungry, young look the erstwhile “Legion of Boom” had at the start of this decade. The Seahawks, despite so many injuries to so many key players, are not about to simply pass the torch to the Eagles; the Eagles are looking to take it by force in Seattle on Sunday night and win their franchise-record 10th straight game to improve to 11-1. In fact, Philadelphia has started 11-1 three other times in franchise history, winning the NFL title in 1949 and losing the Super Bowl in 1980 and 2004. But the Seahawks have traditionally risen to the challenge. Under Pete Carroll, and with Russell Wilson at quarterback, Seattle has never lost a regular-season game to a team with at least 10 wins, going 3-0 in such games and winning each of those games by at least 29 points since 2012. Then there’s this: Win, and Seattle sees its FPI chances of making the playoffs jump from 60 percent to 78 percent. Lose, and those chances drop to 44 percent. It’s the biggest difference between a win and a loss in the NFL this week. The similarities between the two quarterbacks when under duress thus far this season are striking. On 161 such dropbacks, Wilson is averaging 5.1 yards per attempt with six touchdowns and three interceptions; Carson Wentz is averaging 5.8 yards per attempt with six TDs and no INTs on 115 such dropbacks. A six-point underdog, the Seahawks are dogs for the second straight home game after being the favorite for 41 straight games in Seattle.
What are the Giants thinking?
At 2-9, the Giants were going nowhere with Eli Manning at quarterback. Critics will say they are going even fewer places with Geno Smith, who has the worst TD-INT ratio (0.78) in the NFL since 2013. Manning’s receivers were dropping 7.1 percent of his passes this season. The decision ends his streak of 210 consecutive starts, the second-longest such streak in NFL history for a quarterback, behind Brett Favre’s 297 straight starts. So why bench Manning? “He’s a pocket passer, just like Eli is,” Giants coach Ben McAdoo said of Smith to Raiders beat writers on a conference call this week. “He can do a little bit more with creativity. Being disciplined with the reads is definitely a strength of Eli’s and that’s something we’re asking Geno to do a tremendous job this week. He knows where he wants to go with the ball. He gets football. He’s been around it a long time and has played a lot of games in this league. We’re excited to see him in this system, playing a Sunday National League Football game.” Rookie third-round pick Davis Webb would seemingly represent the future of the Giants, not Smith, but Manning will be the backup in Oakland. Longstanding Chargers fans might see Manning’s inglorious benching as a karmic comeuppance, of sorts, for the way he pouted his way out of San Diego after the Chargers drafted him No. 1 overall in 2004. Just don’t tell that to Manning fans wearing Giants jerseys.
Numbers that matter
15: The number of consecutive seasons in which the Patriots will win at least 10 games if they beat the Bills in Buffalo. Only the 49ers, for whom Tom Brady grew up rooting in the Bay Area, have a longer such streak, going double digits in victories every year from 1983 through 1998. In fact, Brady has won 10 games as a starter 14 times, tying him with Peyton Manning for the most such seasons in the Super Bowl era. Spygate? Deflategate? Move on. Nothing to see here. The Patriots, who have yet to play the second-place and wild card-contending Bills this season, are 8½-point favorites.
2-30: Hue Jackson’s record as a head coach since Dec. 4, 2011. That’s when, as head coach of the Raiders, Jackson allowed middle linebacker Rolando McClain to play days after being arrested for firing a gun next to a man’s head and posing for one of the goofiest arrest photos in sports lore, a grinning visage entering the police car. Jackson’s Raiders closed that season by dropping four of their last five, then his Browns went 1-15 last year and this year’s team is 0-11. Oh, and the one team Jackson has defeated in Cleveland, the Chargers, are looking for some payback this weekend.
74: The NFL-high number of turnovers Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles has committed since joining the league in 2014, or, five more than Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. And Bortles has been especially magnanimous in the fourth quarter or overtime, with an NFL-worst 28 turnovers late, two more than Josh McCown. Thinking out loud here, but with the Jags’ dominant defense and Eli Manning’s time coming to an end in Gotham, might Manning, who won a pair of Super Bowls with Jags vice president Tom Coughlin, find new life in Jacksonville?
3: The number of catches Antonio Brown needs at Cincinnati Monday night to overtake Marvin Harrison for most receptions by a player during any five-year span in NFL history. Brown has 561 catches since 2013. Harrison compiled 563 catches from 1999 through 2003.
8-3: The records of the Eagles, Vikings, Rams, Saints and Panthers. It is the third time since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 that five teams in one conference are 8-3 or better through 11 games, the first time it has happened in the NFC. In 1999 and 2004, it happened in the AFC.
What we’ll be talking about after Week 13
The dawn of the Jimmy Garoppolo era in Santa Clara
So what if this is the lowest-rated game of the week, according to FPI’s pregame matchup quality. The 49ers (1-10) will take their shiny new car out for more than a test ride. Acquired in a trade with the Patriots on Oct. 30, Garoppolo will make his 49ers debut as a starter Sunday against the Bears (3-8) in Soldier Field, some 30 miles from where he grew up. His legend among the 49ers faithful was burnished last weekend when, pushed into duty late due to an injury to C.J. Beathard, Garappolo threw a 10-yard TD pass to Louis Murphy with no time on the clock in a 24-13 loss to the Seahawks. This will be Garoppolo’s third career start — he went 2-0 in the first two weeks last season while Tom Brady served a suspension for his role in the Deflategate scandal — and he averaged 248 yards passing with four TDs and no INTs. In fact, he is one of three players since the 1970 merger with at least six career TD passes and no INTs, along with, ahem, RB LaDainian Tomlinson (7-0) and WR Antwaan Randle El (6-0). What’s that? Garoppolo is a free agent at the end of the season and there’s a conspiracy theory floating about that he might choose to go back to New England because, well, Tom Brady cannot play forever? Meh, carry on.
The Saints taking control of the NFC South?
New Orleans (8-3) can thank Carolina for its recent hot streak. Because after starting 0-2, it ran off eight straight victories before falling at the Rams last week, a streak that began with a win at Carolina. Beat the visiting Panthers (8-3) to complete the sweep, and the Saints wrest control of the division, while the Panthers would have to start looking over their shoulder for the defending NFC champion Falcons, who are only one game back at 7-4. And while Christian McCaffrey has been a solid pickup in the draft, Carolina lives and dies with Cam Newton, who is averaging 5.6 yards per rush and has five rushing TDs, while all other Panthers players are averaging 3.8 yards per rush and have combined for 5 TDs. The Saints are favored by 4.5 points and Drew Brees is completing 70.8 percent of his passes at home. And since beating the Panthers in Week 3, the Saints are averaging 31.4 points. Oh, one last thing … each of the past two games between these two teams in the Superdome have ended with a score of 41-38.