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Cowboys-Patriots in the rain and Packers-49ers are must-see games in Week 12

For Kendrick Bourne and the Niners, the hard part of the schedule is about to begin. (Josie Lepe/Associated Press)

A month from now, the San Francisco 49ers will have a better idea just how good they are because their schedule is about to get really difficult — historically difficult, even.

After hosting Sunday night’s prime-time game against the 8-2 Green Bay Packers, the 9-1 Niners will head out on the road for games against the Baltimore Ravens and New Orleans Saints, both of whom are 8-2 and, like Green Bay, lead their divisions. If neither of those teams loses or ties before facing San Francisco, the next three games would be the toughest three-game stretch this late in a season in NFL history, according to ESPN’s Stats and Information.

As for this week’s meeting with the Packers, their combined .850 winning percentage is the highest for a game between those teams in the Super Bowl era.

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This week, the Cardinals, Chiefs, Chargers and Vikings have the final byes of the season. Six teams in action on Sunday — the Bears, Lions, Bills, Cowboys, Saints and Falcons — face a quick turnaround, playing on Thanksgiving.

All times Eastern.

Broncos at Bills
Giants at Bears
Steelers at Bengals
Dolphins at Browns
Buccaneers at Falcons
Panthers at Saints
Seahawks at Eagles
Lions at Redskins
Raiders at Jets
Jaguars at Titans
Cowboys at Patriots
Packers at 49ers

The early games

Broncos (3-7) at Bills (7-3), 1, CBS

The Broncos played well in the first half against the Vikings last week, taking a 20-0 lead before being outscored 27-3 down the stretch, with 20 of those points coming in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Josh Allen has had only one truly abysmal game — with three interceptions and a completion percentage below 50 against New England’s historically good defense. In six games since that loss, he has passed for 10 touchdowns, including three in a win over the Dolphins last week, and rushed for four, including one against Miami.

Giants (2-8) at Bears (4-6), 1, Fox

Will Mitchell Trubisky’s hip pointer give the Bears an excuse to throw Chase Daniel under center with a Thanksgiving game looming in four days? As for the Giants, the offensive line returned to health over the bye after being decimated by injuries in Week 10. That’s good news for rookie QB Daniel Jones, who passed for over 300 yards, with four touchdowns and no interceptions, for the second time this season in a Week 10 loss to the Jets.

Steelers (5-5) at Bengals (0-10), 1, CBS

Things don’t get any easier for the Steelers after last week’s incident with the Browns. Next up is another division rival with which they’ve famously tangled. Quarterback Mason Rudolph, who apologized for his role in the fight with the Browns, will play, but he’ll be without center Maurkice Pouncey, who was suspended three games for punching and kicking at Myles Garrett. (Pouncey’s suspension was reduced to two games on appeal.) And WR JuJu Smith-Schuster (knee and concussion) is not expected to play.

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Dolphins (2-8) at Browns (4-6), 1, Fox

Speaking of Garrett, this game marks the beginning of his indefinite suspension for hitting Rudolph in the head with his helmet, and that suspension was upheld. The Dolphins last week cut Mark Walton, the team’s leading rusher, because of an alleged domestic incident involving his pregnant girlfriend. He already was serving a four-game suspension.

Buccaneers (3-7) at Falcons (3-7), 1, Fox

Buccaneers wide receiver Mike Evans needs just seven yards to tie Randy Moss for the most 1,000-yard seasons at the start of a career (six).

Panthers (5-5) at Saints (8-2), 1, CBS

The Saints aren’t likely to allow another division team to leave the Superdome with an upset (see: the Falcons’ 26-9 win on Nov. 10). An interception by linebacker Demario Davis set New Orleans up for its first touchdown last week and a 55-yard pick-six by Marcus Williams helped seal a win over Tampa Bay. The Panthers have a shot at a playoff berth if they can win out, but they’ll need better play from Kyle Allen and the offensive line to pave the way for Christian McCaffrey.

Seahawks (8-2) at Eagles (5-5), 1, Fox

This figures to be one of the better games of the weekend, with both teams trying to stay in the thick of things in their divisions. The Eagles could be in trouble in the wild-card race, trailing the 8-3 Vikings and the Seahawks, and questions are surrounding quarterback Carson Wentz. He struggled last week in a game the Eagles could have won against the Patriots, despite playing without Jordan Howard, Alshon Jeffery, DeSean Jackson and Lane Johnson.

Lions (3-6-1) at Redskins (1-9), 1, Fox

Matthew Stafford will miss his third straight game with broken bones in his back, and will again be replaced by Jeff Driskel. The Redskins will start Dwyane Haskins again at quarterback in what has become a dismal season made worse by a Washington Post poll that shows just how badly their fan base has eroded.

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Raiders (6-4) at Jets (3-7), 1 CBS

Jon Gruden has Oakland in the thick of things in the AFC West, but the Raiders have been outscored, 250-225, making them the only NFL team with a negative point differential and a winning record. All six Oakland wins have been by a touchdown or less, while three of its losses were by more than two touchdowns. The Raiders face a Jets team that, gasp, is on a two-game winning streak.

The late shift

Jaguars (4-6) at Titans (6-4), 4:05, CBS

The Jaguars have lost two consecutive division games by a combined score of 59-16. Quarterback Nick Foles will start his second game since being sidelined for eight games with a broken collarbone. Last week, he looked a little rusty in a loss to the Colts, but before that he had the best winning percentage of any starting quarterback in November and beyond (including playoffs) since 2016. The Titans, who are coming off a bye, have won 20 of their last 26 games at Nissan Stadium.

Cowboys (6-4) at Patriots (9-1), Fox

We’ll leave the conversation about “what’s wrong with Tom Brady” for another time. But note that he and Dak Prescott are first and second in quarterback wins (44-38) since Prescott entered the league in 2016, according to ESPN Stats and Info and ESPN’s Ed Werder. Including the playoffs, Prescott and the Cowboys have beaten seven quarterbacks who have won a Super Bowl, the most by any QB in that span. Brady, who says he has disliked the Cowboys “since coming out of the womb,” has completed 53 percent of his passes for one touchdown and two interceptions (65.6 passer rating) against opponents with a winning record. The Patriots’ next three opponents, starting with the Cowboys, all have winning records. This game is going to be played in rainy, windy conditions.

The night game

Packers (8-2) at 49ers (9-1), 8:20, NBC

This game marks just the fifth time since 2007 that teams with two or fewer losses have played one another this late in a season. The winners of those games — the Seattle Seahawks in 2013 and Denver Broncos in 2015 — went on to win the Super Bowl. The teams’ head coaches know each other well, with Matt LaFleur working with Kyle Shanahan in Houston, Washington and Atlanta. The Niners have allowed only four completions on passes of at least 20 yards, the fewest in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats and Info. Aaron Rodgers will no doubt take that as a challenge.

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