Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Thomas on the NFL: 7 Things to Watch in Week 12

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Thomas on the NFL: 7 Things to Watch in Week 12

Article excerpt

Only seven teams in the NFL have records of 7-3 or better here in Week 12, and three of them just happen to reside in the AFC West in Oakland (8-2), Kansas City (7-3), and Denver (7-3).

Starting with Sunday night's Kansas City at Denver contest, two of those three heavyweights will be playing each other in four of the final six weeks of the 2016 regular season.

Besides Sunday's matchup, Oakland visits Kansas City in a Thursday night game Dec. 8, Kansas City plays host to Denver on Christmas night, and Oakland rings in the New Year in Denver on Jan. 1.

Those games will decide the AFC West championship, and have a lot to say about the AFC playoff field, as well as who gets the No. 1 seed in the conference. The fun begins with the Chiefs and Broncos with Sunday's 7:30 p.m. kickoff at Sports Authority Field at Mile High.

"I don't think you could make it any bigger or more intense than it already is," Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith told Kansas City reporters during the week. "The way the division has gone to this point, it's already pretty tight. This is our first crack at these guys, and they're the defending Super Bowl champions."

Kansas City's season has been littered with injuries from the outset, and just when they get a player or two back, somebody else goes down. Against the Broncos, they will be minus two of their top players in wide receiver Jeremy Maclin (Missouri/Kirkwood) and outside linebacker Dee Ford due to injury.

The remaining opponents for both Kansas City and Denver have combined records of 37-24, for a winning percentage of 60.7. That makes it the second toughest closing schedule in the league for the Chiefs and Broncos, trailing only Carolina's 61.6 percent against remaining opponents that were 36-22-2 entering Week 12.

RAMS DEFENSE

With six games left, the Rams could have their best defense in years. Coordinator Gregg Williams' unit currently ranks sixth in total offense and is tied for fifth in scoring defense in the league.

But we'll find out what these guys are really made of over the next three Sundays when they face New Orleans, New England and Atlanta in succession. In order, those are the league's No. 1, No. 6 and No. 3 teams in total offense not to mention the No. 4, No. 1 and No. 2 quarterbacks in terms of passer rating in the Saints' Drew Brees (106.4), the Patriots' Tom Brady (123.3) and the Falcons' Matt Ryan (115.1).

Sunday's game is the first for Williams in New Orleans since the "Bountygate" scandal as a member of Sean Payton's Saints staff. Williams received what proved to be a one-year suspension from coaching for his role in the scandal, in which bounties allegedly were paid to Saints defenders for knocking opposing players out of the game.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS

A holiday sampler of charitable work from the NFL Players Association:

* Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree flew to his hometown of Newman, Ga. …

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