NFL Week 12: Five things we learnt

The play-off picture is starting to take shape

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Week 12 is nearly done and dusted and the play-off picture is really starting to take shape. Zander Swinburne, looks at the five most important things we learnt from the NFL this week.

New England in 2007 form

Every year there is always a small narrative that gathers pace suggesting the New England Patriots are past their prime and that the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era is over. Following a week four thrashing by the Kansas City Chiefs, these discussions had pace.

Fast forward less than two months and New England look like shoo-ins to be the AFC representative in Arizona come February. Now winners of seven straight games after a 34-9 blowout of the Detroit Lions on Sunday, New England look every bit the team they did in 2007, a year in which they won every game except the Super Bowl.

Brady is once again making a good case for MVP having passed for nearly 3,000 yards and 26 touchdowns. So convincing and absolute are the Patriots victories that their offence should clearly be considered one of, if not, the best in league. Since their loss to Kansas City, only one team has finished the game within one score of the Patriots and that was not Peyton Manning with the Broncos or Andrew Luck with the Colts.

High winning margins is as much a testament to a team’s defence to their offence, but New England have once again hit a stride which no one else in the league seems able to keep up with.

The NFC East looks set to be decided this Thanksgiving

In what was originally tipped to be the NFL’s most uncompetitive division, the NFC East is shaping up to be the one to watch going into the final stretch of the season. With both the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys on 8-3, their Thanksgiving clash on Thursday could very well be a title decider.

Dallas have been the league’s surprise team of the season, mustering a respectable defence when they were widely expected to be the worst in the league. Quarterback Tony Romo has excelled behind a strong offensive line and DeMarco Murray has recorded 100-yard rushing in 10 out of 11 games, a feat nearly unheard of in a pass-dominated league. With a 31-28 win over the Giants on Sunday, the Cowboys are in the perfect position to take the division should they subdue Philadelphia. Under Chip Kelly’s offence, Philadelphia have continued to keep pace with the Cowboys. Their 43-24 win over the Titans was another strong performance that saw LeSean McCoy run riot.

With an offence consistently producing over 400 yards-per-game, they will provide a stern test for Dallas’ defence should Sanchez keep the mistakes limited. In front of a nationally televised audience, week 13 should show who we expect to see on top of the NFC East come January.

The NFL has its own superstar Beckham

As well known as the name Beckham is in the US, a new superstar bearing the surname is emerging in this kind of football. Odell Beckham Jr’s catch is spreading virally across the globe's internet users as he produced one of the most mesmerising displays of athletic ability seen in the NFL this season.

Beyond the one stunning catch, Beckham is proving to be a player of the future. Drafted 12th by the Giants this year, the wide receiver has only started six games this season, missing most of the first half through injury. He has quickly made up for lost time however, recording over 600 yards receiving and five touchdowns since.

His speed is unquestionable but at just 5ft 11in, the leaps he can pull off are all the more impressive. With the Giants season virtually over, Beckham represents an exciting future for the team’s offence, a player whose talents just might save Eli Manning from being relegated to the sidelines.

Mark Sanchez, an NFL starter?

With the 'butt fumble' an episode seemingly long forgotten, the Philadelphia Eagles have resurrected the career of Mark Sanchez under Chip Kelly’s offence. When securing a 43-24 win over the Titans, the Eagles not only look poised for a play-off run but most surprisingly it seems Mark Sanchez should be the man to lead them.

In his three starts for Philadelphia, Sanchez has consecutively thrown for over 300 yards and has a 62 per cent completion rating, his highest ever in his career. What many forget is that Sanchez does have post-season success, having made the AFC Championship game in two consecutive seasons. There is, however, a downside to Sanchez at quarterback as his time in New York was mired by turnovers.

With six interceptions already this year, Sanchez remains a liability when protecting the football. Nonetheless, Sanchez continues to impress, so much so that he could return to being a team’s permanent starter.

Cardinals come crashing down to earth

Having produced winning performances week in and week out, the Arizona Cardinals found themselves completely embarrassed on Sunday, losing 19-3 to the Seattle Seahawks.

Not only is the loss made worse by its divisional implications, but it also showed that Arizona have significant offensive weaknesses that could impact any deep post-season run. On offence, they were shut out almost entirely, barely producing over 200 total yards. With a running game that saw its starter held to just 24 yards, Arizona will be worried moving forward.

Drew Stanton showed why there were doubts over his ability to fill the injured Carson Palmer’s shoes, throwing for just 149 yards with one interception. All credit to the Seahawks, they went back to playing the dominant form of football that saw them win the title last year. Arizona will take away a strong defensive performance in a tough environment, but with their offensive woes too significant to ignore, the Cardinals may well be clinging on to their division lead towards the end of the season.