By Dan Durkin
(CBS) Ten weeks in the books and 23 teams remain in or within one-and-a-half games of a playoff bid. Week 11 is highlighted by two marquee, prime time matchups.
Here’s my take on how this weekend’s action plays out.
Game of the Week: BRONCOS 31, Chiefs 23 – 7:30 PM
First place in the AFC West is on the line in Denver. These two teams have combined for 17 wins, but have earned their sparkling records in very different manners. Peyton Manning’s ankle injury bears watching, as no team pressures the quarterback like the Chiefs. The Chiefs’ game plan will be to control the clock, but they won’t score enough points to hang with the high-octane Broncos offense.
Falcons 20, BUCS 17 – Noon
Certainly, the 2013 season hasn’t gone as planned for either of these NFC South teams who have a combined three wins. The Bucs got off the schnide last week against the discombobulated Dolphins, while the Falcons free fall continues. Matt Ryan has nothing to work with, but has won eight of his last ten against the Bucs. Make it nine.
Jets 23, BILLS 20 – Noon
In their last meeting quarterback Geno Smith had his best passing day as a pro, and running back Bilal Powell rushed for a career-high 149 yards. Translation: the Bills defense is not very good. The key for the Jets will be ball control, as their defense will make the Bills one-dimensional. The Jets will make it five for their last six in Buffalo.
STEELERS 24, Lions 23 – Noon
On the heels of a huge divisional road win, the Lions are again on the road, this time in Pittsburgh, where they’ve lost eight straight. Regardless of record, back-to-back road games are a huge challenge. The Lions front seven was dominant in Chicago; however, their secondary remains vulnerable. Since Le’Veon Bell became the Steelers load back, they’ve played .500 ball. Matthew Stafford’s erratic with his accuracy outdoors, which will cost him this weekend.
EAGLES 30, Redskins 27 – Noon
In their first meeting, the Eagles ran circles around the Redskins defense, dropping 26 points on them in the first half. A bit has changed for the Eagles since then, specifically at quarterback. Nick Foles has come in and efficiently run Chip Kelly’s system to the tune of 10 touchdowns and no interceptions in his last two games. For the season, Foles has 16 interceptions and no touchdowns, debunking the theory that Kelly needs a mobile quarterback to run his system. More of the same this weekend against a sieve-like Redskins secondary.
BEARS 20, Ravens 17 – Noon
Both of these teams are desperate for a win to keep their playoff hopes alive. It’ll be strength-on-strength when the Bears have the ball, but there will be plays to be made against the Ravens secondary. Outside of Torrey Smith, the Ravens lack weapons on offense, so the Bears should be able to stop the run with seven, allowing them keep a top on the defense and eek out a win at home.
BENGALS 27, Browns 24 – Noon
Battle of Ohio, part 81. Can the Browns put the first blemish on the Bengals home record? In their first meeting, the Browns kept the Bengals out of the endzone in a 17-6 win. The Browns had a bye week to prepare and are catching the Bengals’ offense – specifically quarterback Andy Dalton – in a rut. AJ Green has five straight 100+ receiving yard games, but that could be in jeopardy against Joe Haden. Buoyed by their defensive front, the Bengals will avoid being swept by the Browns for the first time in 11 years.
TEXANS 24, Raiders 16 – Noon
Here’s a matchup that will certainly put butts in seats, two undrafted rookie quarterbacks: Case Keenum and Matt McGloin. The Texans defense is hard to understand. They’ve given up a league low 2,520 yards, yet allowed the seventh most points (248). Keenum became the first undrafted rookie to throw three touchdowns in consecutive games. This weekend, he’ll have his way with a Raiders secondary that’s allowed 18 passing touchdowns.
Cardinals 23, JAGUARS 17 – Noon
Congrats to the Jaguars for getting their first win in their last fourteen games last week against the Titans, on the road, nonetheless. This week, they host the Cardinals. Can they get their first win at home and consecutive wins for the first time since 2010? No, no they won’t. The Cardinals are seeking their third straight win, and are doing it with defense.They’ll take away the run and make life difficult for an already challenged Jaguars offense.
Chargers 27, DOLPHINS 21 – 3:05 PM
Despite their sub-par record, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has enjoyed a renaissance season in 2013. Rivers is completing 72 percent of his passes, and has three games where he’s completed 20 or more passes while completing at least 80 percent of them. The Chargers issue on offense has been their sporadic running game. The Dolphins pass rush is fierce and will put heat on Rivers, but they won’t be able to keep up on offense.
SEAHAWKS 34, Vikings 17 – 3:25 PM
Percy Harvin makes his 2013 NFL debut against the team that traded him away. Chances are, Harvin will be playing on a snap count and eased back into action, but you can safely bet he will be involved in the game plan on specialty plays against a Vikings secondary that’s given up a league-high 21 touchdown passes. Offensively, the Vikings have nothing other than Adrian Peterson – sound familiar? – and will be shut down in Seattle.
SAINTS 30, 49ers 23 – 3:25 PM
It’s a battle of two NFC heavyweights in Nola. The Saints offense continues to rewrite the history books, with their latest chapter being 40 first downs against the Cowboys. No, that’s not a typo. Quarterback Drew Brees has thrown at least two touchdowns in 21 consecutive games at the Superdome. Colin Kaepernick is mired in a sophomore slump, but to be fair, he has very little to work with in the passing game. Tough matchup when your offense is struggling to score points.
GIANTS 23, Packers 20 – 3:25 PM
In a span of 13 days, the Packers will have gone from Aaron Rodgers to Seneca Wallace to Scott Tolzien. I’ve lauded the Packers depth and ability to withstand injuries to key players, but losing Rodgers is clearly something they weren’t braced for. This week, they travel to New York to face a Giants team that’s strung together three straight wins after starting 0-6. The common theme during the Giants winning streak has been facing teams with unsettled quarterback situations, so make it four straight.
Patriots 24, PANTHERS 20 – Monday Night 7:40 PM
This game will not only show us how for real the Panthers are, it will provide a glimpse into how the AFC and NFC stack up against each other. Winners of five-straight, the Panthers are sky high. Their defense is the only in the league to rank in the top five in total yards allowed (2nd), rushing yards allowed (2nd), and passing yards allowed (4th). The Patriots offense had their best performance of the season in Week 9 and had a bye-week to rest up. Games typically come down to a handful of plays, and I trust Tom Brady to make more of them than Cam Newton.
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