Pick Six: Week 12

With five weeks of the NFL regular season remaining, hands up who can boldly predict the line-up for Super Bowl 50 at the start of February.

I thought we were nailed on for a Carolina-New England meeting in Santa Clara and that could still prove to be the case. But Week 12 in the NFL showed that this league remains wide open and tough to predict – some of the teams at the top are displaying their flaws and some of the down-trodden are rising up. And that's why we love the NFL!

Panthers getting stronger

The Carolina Panthers might be the exception to what I just said in terms of top teams showing some flaws because I think this club is getting stronger each week. Sure, Cam Newton didn't put up mega numbers in the Thanksgiving Day win on the road against the Cowboys – but they still won on the road in Dallas by an impressive 33-14 scoreline.

Different players are stepping up each week for these Panthers. In a Week 11 win over Washington it was Cam Newton and five different receivers who did the business and on Thanksgiving Day it was a defensive effort that powered Carolina to another big win.

A quick look at Carolina's recent results suggests this team is getting stronger and not merely gripping onto their unbeaten record by their fingertips. Their last three victories have been by 17, 28 and 19 points and they have now not lost in a whole calendar year. The Panthers will have to play at least seven more games before they can book a place in the 50th Super Bowl, but it sure looks good for them at the end of November.

Brock's job to lose

I've felt all along that the Denver Broncos would be on the verge of an awkward conversation once Brock Osweiler got into the starting line-up in place of the struggling and injured Peyton Manning. I certainly don't feel any different after the Broncos knocked New England from the land of the undefeated with a 30-24 overtime win on Sunday night.

Again, Osweiler was not perfect but he was a vast improvement on the ageing and declining Manning. Making his second NFL start, Osweiler threw for 270 yards and one touchdown and while he did throw one interception, he has avoided the disastrous days that have plagued Manning this season.

Trailing 21-17 late in the fourth quarter, Osweiler showed me something as he made big throw after big throw, connecting with Demaryious Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders before firing Denver into the lead with a strike to Andre Caldwell.

Reputation or not, the Broncos simply cannot go back to Manning when he is healthy, especially if Osweiler can keep winning during his injury-enforced absence.

Wilson shines in cracker

We witnessed one of the games of the season on Sunday night as the Seattle Seahawks recorded a thrilling 39-30 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. And on an evening of many stars in this game, few shined brighter than Russell Wilson.

The Seahawks quarterback threw a career-high five touchdown passes to remind us that there is more to this defending NFC champion than a strong running game and a defensive unit filled with big names.

These Seahawks – like virtually every team in the NFL – have their flaws and weaknesses, but Wilson and his fierce desire to win give them a chance each and every weekend.

Chiefs and Lions on a roll

There were few who were overly-excited by the Week 8 clash between the Detroit Lions and Kansas City Chiefs at Wembley Stadium. The Chiefs came in with a 2-5 record while the Lions were a lowly 1-6.

But, to paraphrase Washington Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins, how do you like them now?

The Chiefs have won five in a row and currently hold down a wild card spot in the AFC while the Lions have become relevant again in the NFC after winning their third contest in a row on Thanksgiving Day, inflicting a 45-14 hammering of the Philadelphia Eagles. Those turnarounds just go to prove how quickly things can change in the NFL.

Who wants to win the NFC East?

Anyone interested in a genuine, bona fide NFL division title? Come on, folks. This division title must go and believe me, it's going cheap. I'm not asking for 10 wins… I'm not going to ask you for nine wins… Come on, you're robbing me blind but eight wins and this division is yours.

Still no takers? Well, one of you lot has to take the NFC East. Yes, I'm talking to you Washington, New York Giants, Philadelphia and Dallas.

I give up trying to figure out the Jekyll and Hyde teams in this division. One minute the Giants appear in control and the next thing you know the resurgent Washington Redskins are in first place. The teams occupying the NFC East are wildly entertaining based on the fact they are so inconsistent and up and down. One of them will advance to the playoffs but I would be shocked if they make any noise when they get there.

Key injuries continue to mount

A brutal NFL season for injuries continued in Week 12, beginning on Thursday night as Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo re-broke the left collarbone that had sidelined him for seven games earlier this year.

New England will await news of the knee injury that knocked Rob Gronkowski from their overtime loss in Denver and Seattle paid a heavy price for their win over Pittsburgh as tight end Jimmy Graham, who was having one of his better games of a frustrating season, suffered a torn patellar tendon and is out for the remainder of the year.

Just as intriguing from a news point of view was the late injury of Ben Roethlisberger, of the Steelers. He appeared to get hurt on a roughing the passer penalty late in Pittsburgh's loss to Seattle. But he stayed in the game for an additional nine plays – and when the Seahawks iced the contest with Doug Baldwin's third touchdown, the Steelers then announced that Big Ben was out with a concussion.

Each NFL game has an independent neurologist trained to protect the players from themselves in this type of situation so there will be questions that need to be answered if Big Ben did indeed get hurt on they roughing the passer play but was allowed to stay in the contest until the game proved beyond Pittsburgh's reach.

That is not the kind of concussion protocol the league wants to promote in this time of increased player safety issues around the NFL.

Neil Reynolds 

Comments