The NFL Week 12 action just wrapped up and now is the time that the contenders and pretenders emerge. One dangerous contender is out in the NFC North from Minnesota, playing effectively both on offense and defense. One pretender this season has been the Dallas Cowboys, now at 5-6 on the season and losing in horrific fashion once again this past Thursday.

Another contender this year has been shockingly the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC West division. In the AFC West, the Kansas City Chiefs have fallen off and deemed themselves pretenders here in late November. Around Week 12 action is when fans have a good enough idea of the NFL playoff picture.

Playing on Thanksgiving this past Thursday, the Minnesota Vikings showcased why they are a contender in the NFL. Starting quarterback Case Keenum, threw for 282 yards and two touchdowns while only having nine incompletions. Even though Teddy Bridgewater, former Vikings starter before injury, returned to the team recently, the former University of Houston quarterback feels this is his team. Defensively, the Vikings forced an interception and only Matthew Stafford was not as efficient as Keenum was, having 15 incompletions compared to Keenum’s nine. For a key divisional matchup in primetime, the Vikings made a statement by winning this game 30-23 and moving to 9-2.

Following the Vikings’ win on Thanksgiving, America’s Team, the Dallas Cowboys, faced off against the Los Angeles Chargers. However, Philip Rivers and company made AT&T Stadium feel like a home game with his 434-yard performance against the Dallas defense. For the third straight week, Dak Prescott did not record a passing touchdown as now he looks like a completely different quarterback without playmaker Ezekiel Elliott. Also for the second straight week, the Dallas defense seemed to hold up in the first half, but then completely fell apart with no offensive support. This Dallas team looks horrific without their star running back and they won’t have him until mid-December. Once a contender earlier in the season, this suspension from the former Buckeye back turned the Cowboys’ season into pretenders.

In addition to the Vikings, another shocking contender is the Los Angeles Rams, where Jared Goff seems to have taken a huge step forward. With the removal of Jeff Fisher and addition of Sean McVay as head coach, Goff has turned into a dangerous quarterback. On Sunday, he threw for over 350 yards and two touchdowns in doing his part to hand the Saints their first loss in eight weeks. This is an impressive win from Goff and the Rams since the Saints had immense momentum especially coming from future Hall of Fame QB Drew Brees. As the season dwindles down, the Rams are staring at a possible division crown if they hold off NFC West foe, the Seattle Seahawks, who are only one game behind in the loss column.

Starting off hot in 2017, the Kansas City Chiefs were the favorites to win their division and go back to the playoffs. However, the Chiefs have lost five of their last six games as starter Alex Smith only threw for 199 passing yards. If Kansas City wants to go to the playoffs again and actually make a run, Alex Smith needs to be let loose. The Chiefs’ defense always plays hard and that was shown against the Bills on Sunday, only giving up 182 yards to starter Tyrod Taylor. The Kansas City Chiefs’ offense is what makes this team a pretender.

With about five weeks left in the season, teams have good indications if they are going to the playoffs. With the Vikings and Rams trending up and the Cowboys and Chiefs trending downwards, it is safe to say the Vikings and Rams will end up in the postseason, while the latter two teams will not. It is always nice to see different teams making postseason bids and different players getting exposed to the playoffs. These next five weeks are crucial for all the playoff-hopeful teams.

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