Things are heating up in the NFL, with a slew of important intra-divisional matchups on tap for this weekend. With so much at stake, let’s take a closer look at the week 11 schedule:
New York Jets at Buffalo – The Bills are coming off their worst performance of the season, as they looked pitiful last week against the Steelers. That game was followed by a frustrated yet passionate postgame press conference by Doug Marrone, so expect Buffalo to play with a lot more purpose this week, especially after they failed to capitalize on opportunities to beat the Jets the first time they met. As for Rex Ryan’s team, they were impressive in their win over the Saints two weeks ago heading into their bye week, but they’ve yet to win two straight games this season, so that’s a hump they’ll try to get over this week. If the playoffs are a realistic possibility for the Jets, they can’t afford to lose to a team like Buffalo, and Geno Smith will need to be sharp to ensure that doesn’t happen.
Baltimore at Chicago – The Ravens kept their slim playoff hopes alive with a win over the Bengals last week, and a win this week would get them back to .500 on the heels of a three-game home stand. Outside of a lucky Hail Mary, the Baltimore defense clamped down on Cincinnati last week, forcing three turnovers, and they’ll have to do the same this week against another offense that’s loaded with playmakers. Josh McCown will start at quarterback for the Bears, but he’s exceeded expectations for a backup quarterback and should put Chicago in good hands. The Chicago offense could be too much for the Ravens to stop for four quarters, but Chicago’s defense may not be able to keep Joe Flacco and company out of the end zone either, so expect this to be a competitive game that both teams need to win.
Cleveland at Cincinnati – The Bengals have lost in overtime the last two weeks, and now they take on a team that beat them earlier in the season, so the pressure is mounting, especially since the Browns can pull within a game of first place if they can get a season sweep of Cincinnati. Andy Dalton has thrown three interceptions in each of the past two games, and if that trend continues, the Bengals could be in danger of losing their third game in a row. Jason Campbell has provided a spark for Cleveland’s offense, and if he plays well again the Browns will be competitive on the road and have a chance to win.
Washington at Philadelphia – The Eagles may have found something with Nick Foles at quarterback, as he’s played well the past two weeks, and that shouldn’t be too hard to keep up against the Washington defense. The Philadelphia defense has also played better the past couple of weeks; however, this week they’ll go up against a much healthier and more dangerous Robert Griffin III than the guy they faced in week 1, so we should expect plenty of points to be scored in this game. The Redskins have a killer schedule down the stretch, so even in a weak NFC East this is a must-win game for Washington if they’re going to make a move late in the season. Meanwhile, the Eagles are tied with Dallas atop the division, and if they can find a way to win at home for the first time this year, they’ll be alone in first place.
Detroit at Pittsburgh – The Lions got into first place with last week’s win, and now they need to find a way to stay there. When Detroit gets its running game going, their offense goes to another level, which should be the case this week, as the Steelers are one of the worst teams in the league at defending the run. Pittsburgh will try to counter with Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, but if Detroit’s pass rush can be effective, it’ll be hard for Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh offense to keep up with the Lions.
Atlanta at Tampa Bay – Both teams are out of the playoff race, but the Bucs have a chance to pull themselves even with the Falcons in the standings with a win. Both quarterbacks played well when the two teams met in week 7, so even if this isn’t a meeting between two good teams, we should at least see plenty of offense.
Arizona at Jacksonville – The Cardinals can put themselves into the thick of the wildcard race with a win, but they can’t afford to overlook the Jaguars on the road after Jacksonville is riding high from their first win of the season last week. Of course, even in their win, the Jaguars were barely able to eclipse 200 total yards, so if Arizona can avoid turning the ball over and play solid defense against the run, which they’ve done all year, the Cardinals should be able to win.
Oakland at Houston – The Texans hope that the return of Gary Kubiak gives them enough of a lift to end their seven-game losing streak. Houston has lost its last three games by a combined seven points, so they’ve been competitive, but just haven’t had enough to get over the hump. The matchup to watch in this game is Oakland quarterback Terrelle Pryor going up against the top pass defense in the NFL, which is a matchup that favors the Texans and could give rookie Case Keenum a little less pressure to rally the team late in the 4th quarter, which is the position he’s been in the last three weeks.
San Diego at Miami – The turmoil in Miami continues both off and on the field, as the Dolphins have lost five of their last six games and are in danger of completely falling out of contention. The schedule gets real tough for the Dolphins for the next four weeks following this game, so if they can’t get a win here, the season will be all but over for them. Look for the Chargers to go all out with their pass rush to expose a weak Miami offensive line. Unless the Dolphins can counter with an effective running game, they could be in trouble, especially after rushing for two yards against Tampa Bay Monday night. San Diego is also in a must-win position, as they make their fourth trip to the east coast of the season. However, the Chargers have played well on the east coast this season, and if Phillip Rivers can avoid turning the ball over, they’ll be in good shape to win.
San Francisco at New Orleans – The last thing the 49ers need right now is a trip to New Orleans, as a loss would make San Francisco’s playoff chances a lot less certain than we thought they would be heading into the season. Colin Kaepernick is struggling and the team doesn’t seem to trust him, which means they’ll be relying on Frank Gore and their running game to move the ball and help keep Drew Brees off the field. San Francisco can’t afford to get into a shootout, so they’ll need their defense to step up. If the San Francisco pass rush is effective, it should prevent the Saints from running away with the game, and at least give Kaepernick and the offense a chance to win.
Green Bay at New York Giants – These are two teams moving in opposite directions: the Packers are struggling to hold on after two straight losses and an injury to their quarterback, while the Giants are slowly building momentum with a three-game winning streak. Regardless of who’s playing quarterback, the Packers still pose a threat with their running game and will be a challenge for the Giants, who need to cut down on the mistakes they’re still making despite their recent winning streak. If New York can continue the recent improvement in their pass rush and put consistent pressure on Scott Tolzien, the offense should be able to muster up enough points to win, but if Tolzien has time in the pocket he should be able to move the ball enough to keep the Packers close.
Minnesota at Seattle – The Vikings got a nice win last week, but they could be in a little over their head with a trip to Seattle this week. The Seahawks finally put together a complete game last week after two questionable performances, and they need to keep that going. Seattle’s biggest problem this week could be complacency with their bye week coming up next week. The Seahawks face a tough schedule coming out of the bye and can’t afford to slip up against a weaker opponent heading into their off week.
Kansas City at Denver – This game is the highlight of the weekend, and one that we’ve been waiting to see. Obviously, the player to watch is Peyton Manning; he’s a little banged up and the depleted offensive line in front of him is going to have its hands full with one of the best pass rushes in the NFL. Look for the Broncos to get the ball out of Manning’s hands as quickly as possible, even if it means taking less shots deep. On the other side of the ball, Alex Smith and the Kansas City offense have been steady this year, but are in no way prepared for a shootout against Manning and the Denver defense. If the Chiefs have to score more than 20 points to win the game, they could be in trouble, as Denver’s pass rush could get after Smith if he has to throw the ball downfield in order to keep up with Manning. This game will come down to whether the Kansas City defense can get after Manning and keep the Broncos out of the end zone, as the Chiefs will feel good about their chances in a low scoring game.