NFL Week 13 Preview: 49ers at Eagles Highlights Big Weekend
The Thursday night barnburner in Dallas got Week 13 in the NFL off to a hot start, with Dallas upending a game Seattle team, 41-35
Looking at the schedule of games for Sunday and Monday, there appears to plenty of fuel to keep the blaze going.
At the top of that list is Brock Purdy and the San Francisco 49ers traveling to Philadelphia to take on Jalen Hurts and the Eagles. In terms of anticipation, this game ranks at the top of the 2023 season, even surpassing the MNF Eagles-Chiefs Super Bowl rematch from two weeks back. Cowboys fans and players will certainly be interested onlookers, as they prime themselves for a rematch with Philadelphia in Week 14.
Other key matchups this Sunday include Denver and its suddenly formidable defense against the brilliant rookie C.J. Stroud and a high-powered Texans offense. In New Orleans, the NFC South-pacing Saints take on Jared Goff and a visiting Lions team still smarting from a dreadful Thanksgiving performance.
And, on Sunday Night Football, the team that spoiled Detroit’s Turducken Day, the Green Bay Packers, host Patrick Mahomes and defending Super Bowl champs and hope to improve their postseason chances in the NFC — odds that seemed insurmountable a few weeks ago.
Let us take a deeper dive into this weekend’s slate of NFL games:
— NFL WEEK 13 PREVIEW —
Denver (6-5) at Houston (6-5) 1 p.m. ET
Few at the beginning of the 2023 season would have marked this game as a potential must-watch event. But the matchup of a suddenly formidable Broncos defense against C.J. Stroud and the surprising Texans makes it so.
Stroud was named Rookie of the Month for November. It’s a prelude to his Rookie of the Year win in the next few weeks. The first-year signal-caller threw two or more touchdowns in each of Houston’s home games this season. He’s got a stable of talented young playmakers to hand off and throw to, led by fellow rookie WR Tank Dell and wideout Nico Collins, who leads the Texans in catches (50) and yards (800).
But Denver’s defensive coordinator Vance Joseph has been pushing all the right buttons after embarrassing performances by his unit earlier in the season. Dead last in points allowed in the first third of the season, the Broncos allowed an average of just 16 points per game in their current five-game win streak. So the tussle between Joseph and Stroud will be one of the most interesting in Week 13.
Denver QB Russell Wilson has been as big a beneficiary of his defense’s resurgence as anyone — it is not as if his performance skyrocketed during the win streak. He did, however, throw nine touchdown passes without an interception during that five-game stretch. Look for the Denver offense to feature RB Javonte Williams in an effort to control the clock and limit the number of possessions Stroud and the dynamic Houston offense enjoys.
Something tells us Denver’s defense will frustrate Stroud and Houston’s No. 2-ranked passing offense enough to keep the game close, and kicker Will Lutz wins it with a late field goal. Denver 23, Houston 20.
Detroit (8-3) at New Orleans (5-6) 1 p.m. ET
Another potentially fascinating game with significant playoff implications.
Both teams look to rebound from tough Week 12 losses. The Lions benefit from an extra three days off but they appear to be in a rut, especially on offense, where Jared Goff gave away the football like Halloween candy in Detroit’s last two games. The key for a Detroit win will be for their leader to find his early season consistency — odd that Goff's poor play coincided with solid performances by Detroit's running game, boosted by the return of RB David Montgomery. Both he and backfield mate Jahmyr Gibbs averaged over 4.7 yards per carry in the loss to Green Bay.
New Orleans boasts on of the league’s best pass defenses, so look for Detroit to pound the rock with Monty and Gibbs. But, should the Lions' QB still feel generous, Saints safety Tyrann Mathieu, who intercepted two passes in the Saints' loss to Atlanta, prides himself on not looking a Goff horse in the mouth.
Meanwhile, New Orleans’ red zone offense continues to be an exercise in frustration for Big Easy fans. The Saints are 29th in the league in scoring TDs inside the opponents 20-yard-line and last week saw two such opportunities foiled by turnovers. The Lions defense is one of the league’s best in the red zone.
And that’s where the game will be decided. A well-rested Lions team will capitalize on their opportunities more often than will the Saints. Detroit 30, New Orleans 17.
Miami (8-3) at Washington (4-8), 1 p.m. ET
In a rematch of Super Bowls VI and XVII, the high-powered Dolphins offense looks to regain traction after a couple of weeks of looking mighty ordinary. The Commanders come off 10 days of rest, but a fast start by the Dolphins on Sunday might encourage Washington to start playing out the string on a frustrating 2023.
Miami’s offense should welcome the chance to play against a shaky Commanders defense that was gutted after the Washington front office traded away Montez Sweat and Chase Young — two supposed building blocks. Then GM Martin Mayhew did the next logical thing and scapegoated defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, whom Mayhew fired last week.
Del Rio’s replacement — none other than head coach Ron Rivera, who takes over the defensive play-calling duties — must take this talent-diminished unit and prepare it to stop Tua Tagovailoa, Tyreek Hill and the rest of Miami’s speed-kills aerial attack. To Hill and his staggering 1,324 receiving yards, going up against the league’s 30th-ranked pass defense must look awfully inviting.
If the Dolphins succeed in putting up points, then the Commanders chances of pulling the upset rest on Sam Howell, Terry McLaurin and the Washington offense matching Miami’s passing attack blow for blow. A great individual matchup to check out will be McLaurin against Miami’s terrific veteran corner Jalen Ramsey.
QB Sam Howell racked up five 300+-yard games in Washington’s first 12 games, and in the two games against Philadelphia, Howell and his receivers showed the ability to push a superior opponent to the brink. But to do that against Miami, Howell will need time, and no one should feel confident that the Commanders’ terrible pass protection — the OL has allowed 55 sacks so far this season — will afford him with enough to find McLaurin and fellow WR Jahan Dotson.
The Commanders need this game to entertain any chance of stringing together wins and make a run at the postseason. But this is not 2012 and a first-year RG3 is not walking through that door. The pace and ingenuity of Mike McDaniel’s offense is still fearsome, and the Washington franchise still has the stink of Daniel Snyder upon it. Miami 37, Washington 23
Indianapolis (6-5) at Tennessee (4-7), 1 p.m. ET
This game feels like a Derrick Henry special.
We say that on almost a weekly basis, but in last week’s win over Carolina, the Titans played from ahead and leaned on Henry to secure the win. Against a Colts defense that is struggling against the run, Henry could go off.
However, the Titans need to again grab an early lead or at least be within one possession for Henry to be a viable option. The chances of that occurring may or may have improved when the Colts announced Wednesday that star running back Jonathan Taylor will undergo thumb surgery and miss Sunday’s game. (It is not certain how much time Taylor will miss.) Taylor's absence may not matter given that the Colts still have RB Zach Moss to fall back on.
All Moss did against Tennessee when these teams first met back in Week 5 was rush for a career-hight 165 yards.
Indy QB Gardner Minshew could be play a decisive role in this game. The Titans are not clearly better than either the Patriots or the Bucs — the two teams the Colts recently beat — and Minshew’s mediocre play (one interception and zero TD passes in each) did not hurt the Colts in either game. But If he turns the ball multiple times, then expect the Titans to hang around and for Henry to be a problem.
Atlanta (5-6) at New York Jets (4-8)
A huge game for Atlanta as they visit a Jets team whose head coach might spend less time game planning than keeping his defensive players from strangling their teammates on offense.
The Falcons showed themselves an opportunistic lot in beating New Orleans last week. The defense came with two enormous plays in their own red zone to preserve the win. On offense, rookie running Bijan Robinson showcased his terrific all-purpose skillset against the Saints (two TD catches) and comes into MetLife with back to back 90+-yard games rushing — once again begging the question as to why Atlanta offensive coordinator Dave Raggone refused to devise game plans earlier in the season that featured the former Texas standout.
If New York comes away with the win, we can only imagine Atlanta turnovers playing a huge role. Desmond Ridder again gets the start for Atlanta, and his penchant for turning the ball over landed him on the bench a few weeks ago. The Jets pass defense is stingy; the Jets run defense is surprisingly bad.
All the more reason to feature Robinson in your game plan, Mr. Ragone.
The Jets’ offense continues to threaten observers with detached retinas and blurred vision on a weekly basis. How dismal is this unit — the real gangrene? It hasn’t scored more than 13 points in five weeks and that stretch of futility included 41 possessions without reaching the end zone. Tim Boyle will again start ahead of Zach Wilson, but when all the news about your quarterback situation centers on whether to reinsert a seriously injured veteran player at the end of a wasted season, you know your offense is a mess.
But for no reason at all, we think Boyle plays a solid game Sunday and the Jets turn over Ridder and the Falcons three times. New York Jets 15, Atlanta 13.
Cleveland (7-4) at Los Angeles Rams (5-6), 4:25 ET
The matchup of the Browns No. 1-rated pass defense against a potent Rams aerial game — aka Jim Schwartz against Sean McVay — makes this a potentially riveting game.
For Los Angeles, QB Matthew Stafford will need time to throw to trigger the Rams passing game. But for that to happen, an iffy Rams offensive line must block Myles Garrett and the ferocious Browns’ front seven. That task may be easier this week as Garrett (13.5 sacks) is battling a shoulder injury and did not practice Thursday.
Another area of the Browns’ defense may also be missing a key piece: Cornerback Denzel Ward, who missed the Broncos game, is doubtful for this Sunday. No Garrett and no Ward could mean bigger afternoon for Stafford, Cooper Kupp and Puka Nacua than at first anticipated.
On offense, the Browns may again go with with either rookie Dorian Thompson-Robinson or journeyman P.J. Walker. OR, they may play longtime NFL QB and former Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco, whom the Browns signed off the fire-sale scrap heap.
Will Flacco make much of a difference? He will have Amari Cooper and TE David Njoku (19 catches in the last three games) to throw to, but expect Cleveland to try and run the ball with backs Kareem Hunt and Jerome Ford against a mediocre Rams run defense.
If Cleveland is to keep the Los Angeles under 20 points — and the Browns struggle to win games when they allow more — Ford and Hunt need to be involved. We say they do and the Browns come away with a huge road win, despite fielding an injury-plagued roster. Cleveland 19, Los Angeles Rams 17.
San Francisco (8-3) at Philadelphia (10-1), 4:25 ET, Fox
In terms of anticipation, this game ranks at the top of the 2023 season, even surpassing the Eagles-Chiefs Super Bowl rematch of two weeks back.
The woofing for this rematch started pretty much after the final gun of last January’s NFC title game, with the Niners pointing at the first-quarter injury to quarterback Brock Purdy as the reason they lost, 27-7.
Purdy is back and playing lights out football. The 49ers recovered from a three-game losing streak with three convincing wins, doing so by imposing their physical brand of play on both sides of the ball. To that point, expect a heavy dose of Deebo Samuel and Chris McCaffrey, NFL rushing leader and a front-runner for league MVP, to set the tone.
Another MVP candidate, quarterback Jalen Hurts, leads a Philadelphia team running a gauntlet of tough opponents who gear up when playing the conference champions. Week after week the Eagles demonstrate their tough-mindedness: They have won five times this season after trailing at the half, and they beat Buffalo in a comeback win despite losing the turnover battle and giving up 500+ yards of total offense.
But this could very well be the game where the reserves of Philadelphia’s resiliency are finally depleted. Hurts was special in the comeback against Buffalo, with five total touchdowns, but faces a San Francisco pass rush that’s rounding into form since the acquisition of Chase Young. A month ago, A.J. Brown against the Niners secondary looked like a mismatch. But after a historically torrid stretch, the Eagles’ star wideout has cooled off. Brown against Charvarius Ward is an individual matchup to keep an eye on, since the Niners corner played his best game of the season on Thanksgiving against D.K. Metcalf, a receiver with a similar physical profile.
The Niners come in with an extra three days rest, while the Eagles played an overtime game. Add to that the Philly defense played a season-high 92 snaps in that OT win. And add to that the news that both DT Fletcher Cox and OT Lane Johnson are dealing with groin injuries. All signs seem to point to a Sunday when San Francisco consistently beats Philadelphia to the punch.
Or it may rain heavily at Link for the second week in a row and Brock Purdy can not grip the football to save his life.
We are predicting solid weather and a solid win for Niners: San Francisco 28, Philadelphia 20.
Kansas City (8-3) at Green Bay (5-6), Sunday Night Football, NBC, 8:20 p.m. ET
In a rematch of Super Bowl I, the Chiefs look to stay tied atop the AFC against a Green Bay squad reenergized by its impressive Thanksgiving Day win in Detroit.
Kansas City looks to build off its best second-half offensive performance in several weeks, as it scored two TDs after intermission in its road win over Vegas. Still, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs passing game has yet to string together two impressive games this season; penalties, dropped passes, and questionable play-calling, especially in the red zone, keep tripping them up.
Whether the Chiefs transfer their second half from Vegas to Lambeau and do so against a tough Packers pass defense, will bear watching. Because the Packers defense suffers against the run, look for Kansas City RB Isiah Pacheco to take on a meaty role Sunday.
Meanwhile, the Packers offense is playing its best football of the year. QB Jordan Love and his young receiver corps, led by Christian Watson and rookie Jaylen Reed, are starting to mesh. The KC D they face Sunday night is No. 4 overall and allows just 16 points per game, but is also in the bottom half of the league in defending the pass. The Packers offensive line played its best game of the year in Detroit, and Love, not coincidentally, played his. If the OL repeats that performance and neutralizes Chiefs star end Chris Jones, the Green Bay passing game could thrive.
But we do not think that is going to happen. It just feels a given that at some point Andy Reid, Mahomes and the Chiefs offense are going to figure things out. And Sunday night is as good a time as any. Kansas City 26, Green Bay 17.