NFL Predictions Week 11: Picking Winners of Biggest Divisional Matchups
Week 11 offers up plenty of meaningful NFL matchups, but a few select games between divisional foes bring an added sense of significance to Sunday's action.
Predicting how a division rivalry game will play out is all the more difficult, particularly when the two teams have played each other earlier in the season. However, such is the case with only one of these three marquee showdowns.
Some will be jostling for playoff position, while other teams involved in these intense battles will be fighting to keep their postseason hopes alive.
Green Bay Packers (6-3) at Detroit Lions (4-5)
Beginning with what should be a fine display of high-octane passing offenses, the Lions are one of those teams that definitely has their season on the line.
After two consecutive victories, it looked as though the ship was righted in Detroit. But Jim Schwartz's team couldn't snag a road victory in Minnesota, and now sit last in the division despite being just one game below .500.
The Packers rolled into their Week 10 bye on a four-game winning streak despite the extended absence of usual No. 1 WR Greg Jennings. Reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers is making a strong case for a repeat at the award, tying the Saints' Drew Brees for the league lead in touchdown passes with 25.
A trend that the Lions must break to compete in this game is their chronic tendency to get off to slow starts. It happened again this past Sunday as they fell into a 10-0 first quarter hole.
If the Chicago Bears can't beat the San Francisco 49ers on Monday Night Football, the Pack would move into the division lead with a victory. They hold the tiebreaker thanks to a 23-10 triumph over Chicago in Week 2.
It's tempting to say the Lions will come out and play desperation football to claw back into the playoff race, but they have struggled to put a complete game together all year. Matthew Stafford may rally Detroit late, but Green Bay will have already jumped out to an insurmountable lead.
Final score: Packers 38, Lions 34
San Diego Chargers (4-5) at Denver Broncos (6-3)
Chargers fans, your worst nightmare is coming for you once again, for the second time in about a month-and-a-half. Not Ron Rivera nor the friendly confines of Qualcomm Stadium can save you from the cerebral, sensational and all too punctual in the clutch Peyton Manning.
The Denver Broncos QB already has four NFL MVP awards in his legendary career, but why not make it five? It's hard to argue that Manning isn't the front-runner for the award in 2012—if nothing else, he will certainly win Comeback Player of the Year in a landslide.
After San Diego had taken a comfortable 24-0 lead in Week 6, Denver exploded for 35 unanswered points and haven't lost a game since.
Better make that four-game winning streak stretch to five after this Sunday's showdown in Sports Authority Field at Mile High. No matter what the Chargers throw at Manning, he'll be ready.
Some quarterbacks can be had when more tape is gathered on them—Manning isn't one of them. He benefits from gathering more tape on his opponents and burying them, especially in the regular season.
Expect the Broncos to try to establish more of a running game early on, with the Charger defense terrified of getting scorched by Manning once again.
That should lend to a more balanced attack, and with San Diego receivers Eddie Royal and Robert Meachem still not quite at 100 percent, Denver's pass-rushers will be able to pin their ears back and apply pressure to Philip Rivers.
It will be more low-scoring this time around due to the familiarity factor. However, Manning will still be his typical, efficient self, and Rivers will continue to press and make mistakes playing from behind.
Final score: Broncos 27, Chargers 17
Baltimore Ravens (7-2) at Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3)
Two of the most well-coached teams in football. Two of the most physical teams year in and year out.
Guaranteed to play each other twice per year, it's always a treat to watch the Ravens and Steelers bang helmets and play a throwback brand of hard-hitting football.
The Ravens may enter with the better record, but their wins in 2012 haven't been all that impressive. Other than a one-point victory over New England, Baltimore hasn't beaten a team with a winning record.
It's fitting in a way that Pittsburgh barely managed to beat the Kansas City Chiefs 16-13 in overtime on Monday night. KC is one of the two worst teams in the league, and the Ravens barely sneaked by them by a score of 9-6.
Yet in each game, it took both teams' trademark grit to overcome lackluster play, conditions or other extenuating circumstances.
To each team's credit, they have overcome a slew of critical injuries and pulled out enough victories to be prominently featured in the playoff discussion yet again. This should be a typical physical battle, but won't feature Ravens LB Ray Lewis or Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, two of the staples of this heated rivalry.
Perhaps there is some merit to the claim that these teams are getting "old," yet both continue to win consistently.
The fine line of success or failure of an NFL franchise most frequently comes down to the quarterback position, and the Steelers typically have the clear advantage there in two-time Super Bowl champion Ben Roethlisberger.
Unfortunately, Roethlisberger hurt his throwing shoulder in the Chiefs' game, making his status for the Ravens game very much in doubt. Even though this version of the rivalry takes place in Heinz Field, the Steelers won't have their edge under center.
The Ravens will steal one on the road, but there will be ample time for revenge.
Don't be surprised if this is the first of three games these two divisional stalwarts play in 2012.
Final score: Ravens 20, Steelers 14
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