There’s never a dull moment in the NFL. That’s especially true this week, as a slew of compelling storylines will take place across stadiums throughout the day Sunday.
Given the amount of stories, it’s easy to miss one, so we decided to list the most compelling ones ahead of this weekend’s slate of games. Not included is the Bears and Packers playing for the right to earn the title of the winningest franchise in NFL history and Bill Belichick’s odd decision not to use his timeouts at the end of New England’s Thursday night loss to Buffalo.
Here’s a look at the 10 biggest storylines entering Week 13.
Watson faces the former team in the first game back from suspension
For the first time in nearly two years, Deshaun Watson will play in a regular season game. His first game following his 11-game suspension will take place in Houston against the team he led to the playoffs three years ago. Watson’s return casts light on an otherwise dull matchup between two teams with losing records.
Watson kept the focus on football when he spoke to the media for the first time ahead of Sunday’s matchup. The former Pro Bowl quarterback was suspended after he was sued by 25 women for allegations ranging from sexual harassment to sexual assault. Watson has since settled 23 of those cases.
McDaniel returns to San Francisco in possible Super Bowl preview
In January of 1985, the Dolphins and 49ers played in the biggest Super Bowl ever. While future Hall of Fame quarterbacks Joe Montana and Dan Marino both put up gaudy numbers, the game was mostly a snooze fest in the second half, as the 49ers pulled away after halftime to post a 38-16 win.
Sunday’s game could possibly be a Super Bowl rematch between the two teams. The Dolphins are 8-3 and have won five straight games. Miami, led by former 49ers offensive coordinator Mike McDaniel, have not lost this season when quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has finished the game. The Dolphins are facing a 49ers team that is 4-1 since acquiring Christian McCaffrey before the trade deadline. San Francisco suffered a blow this week when fellow running back Elijah Mitchell was placed on injured reserve.
Reid talks trash ahead of Bengals-Chiefs
Justin Reid apparently doesn’t care about poking the bear. Or maybe the Chiefs safety thinks he and his team are the proverbial bears entering Sunday’s AFC Championship Game rematch. Reid acted like he didn’t know the names of Bengals wideout Tee Higgins and tight end Hayden Hurst when asked about the matchup. Reid essentially doubled down when Bengals Pro Bowl wideout Ja’Marr Chase messaged him via Twitter.
Hurst, who is enjoying a breakout first season in Cincinnaticlearly took offense to Reid’s comments.
“He could pick anybody in this locker room, but I feel like I’m the last person you probably want to talk shit about,” Hurst said. “I have a long memory.”
Mahomes vs. Burrow, Part III
Reid’s bulletin board material has somewhat overshadowed the compelling quarterback matchup between Patrick Mahomes and Joe Burrow. Burrow, who is 2-0 against Mahomes after leading the Bengals to two wins over Kansas City this past January, threw significant praise at Mahomes’ way earlier this week.
“He’s the best right now,” Burrow said, via Cincinnati.com. “He’s been playing the best all year. It’s fun to watch him play, he does it a lot of different ways. There haven’t been a lot of people like him to come through the game.”
Sunday’s game could go a long way in deciding this year’s league MVP. Mahomes won the award in 2018, his first full season as the Chiefs’ starting quarterback. Burrow would join Ken Anderson and Boomer Esiason as Bengals quarterbacks who have been named league MVP.
NFC East contenders face off
For the second time in three years, Ron Rivera’s team is aiming at a surprising playoff berth. Two years after capturing the NFC East, Washington (7-5) is once again in the running to make the postseason after winning six of its past seven games. Part of the Commanders’ recent success has been the switch from Carson Wentz to Taylor Heinicke, who has won five of his six starts.
Washington’s opponent, the New York Giants, are also in the playoff mix despite losing consecutive games. A shaky offense and an equally shaky run defense have plagued the Giants, who have two games against the Commanders over the next three weeks.
Battle of the best
A quarter century ago, one of the NFL’s best individual battles pitted Jerry Rice against Deion Sanders. Sandwiched in between their decade-plus long competition was the Super Bowl championship they shared as members of the 49ers in 1994.
Sunday’s matchup between Justin Jefferson and Sauce Gardner should have similar energy. Arguably the league’s best receiver, Jefferson’s 96.5 receiving yards per game average is the best in league history, according to the CBS Sports Research Team. Jefferson will look to at least match his average Sunday against Gardner, a confident player who is the current front-runner to win Defensive Rookie of the Year.
“These are the type of games I love,” Gardner said this week. “I love going against the best.”
White looks to keep the Jets soaring in Minnesota
A week after being named the Jets’ starting quarterback, Mike White has the task of facing the Vikings, owners of the NFC’s second-best record. White, who threw for 315 yards and three touchdowns in last Sunday’s blowout win over Chicago, will be up against a Vikings secondary that has allowed more passing yards than any other unit. Minnesota’s defense is also just 26th in the league in red zone efficiency, which could lead to a big day for the Jets’ young quarterback.
Battle of bruised QBs
Among the biggest storylines regarding the Bears-Packers showdown is the health of quarterbacks Justin Fields and Aaron Rodgers. Fields is on track to play after sitting out last Sunday’s game with a shoulder injury. Rodgers is also hoping to play despite dealing with thumb and rib injuries.
Regardless of who is Green Bay’s quarterback, it will be interesting to see if rookie Christian Watson can continue his incredible recent run of success. After catching just 10 passes in the season’s first nine weeks, Watson has caught 12 passes and six touchdowns over the Packers’ past three games.
Rematch of Week 17 thriller
While the Raiders’ 4-7 record has taken some of the hype out of this game, it should still be an entertaining matchup between two teams that this past January gave NFL fans a thrilling finish to the regular season.
Down 29-14 late, Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert led the Chargers on two scoring drives to force overtime. After both teams kicked field goals, the Raiders regained possession with 4:30 left in overtime. Given that fact that both teams merely needed a tie to make the playoffs, many wondered if the Raiders would play cautiously while making sure their playoff bid was secure. But an 11-yard completion from Derek Carr to Zay Jones, followed by runs of seven and 11 yards from Josh Jacobs, set up Daniel Carlson’s game-winning 47-yard field goal on the final play of the 2021 regular season. The kick clinched Las Vegas’ playoff berth while knocking Los Angeles out of the postseason.
Herbert and Co. would surely love nothing more than to extract sweet revenge on their longtime division rival on Sunday.
Pickett looking for second road win in six days
Don’t look now, but the Pittsburgh Steelers may be sneaking back into the AFC playoff picture. While still unlikely, Monday night’s win over Indianapolis has created optimism for a fan base that had all but cashed their chips after the Steelers’ 3-7 start.
A big reason for that optimism has been the play of rookie quarterback Kenny Pickett. The former Pitt standout has gone three games without throwing an interception after throwing eight in his first five games. A win over Atlanta on Sunday would further support the Steelers’ decision to draft Pickett while creating more buzz in Pittsburgh of a possible playoff push.