Every NFL Team's Biggest Key to Victory in Week 11

Russell S. Baxter@@BaxFootballGuruContributor INovember 15, 2013

Every NFL Team's Biggest Key to Victory in Week 11

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    It's showdown time in the AFC West as the Denver Broncos host the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night.
    It's showdown time in the AFC West as the Denver Broncos host the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night.Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODA

    The fun has just begun in regard to the current NFL campaign.

    A total of 15 games are on the slate this week, including four rematches from earlier this season. There’s an intriguing interconference battle on Monday night between the New England Patriots and those surging Carolina Panthers.

    By the way, there’s also this AFC West showdown between the unbeaten Kansas City Chiefs and once-beaten Denver Broncos.

    Once again, we’re here to suggest what each team needs to do this week to get a win. As usual, we will take a look back to the Thursday night game and this week, how the Indianapolis Colts rallied to beat the Tennessee Titans.

    We will also take a look back at the seasons for the Dallas Cowboys and St. Louis Rams. Neither team is playing this week, and both teams find themselves at the opposite end of their respective divisional races.

    Good times indeed.

Indianapolis Colts 30, Tennessee Titans 27

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    For the third consecutive game, the Indianapolis Colts dug themselves a huge hole early in the game.

    For the second time in three weeks, quarterback Andrew Luck and his teammates managed to climb out of it and escape with a win.

    After spotting the Tennessee Titans a 14-0 first-quarter advantage and trailing their divisional rivals 17-6 at the half, the Colts used a 17-point third quarter to grab a lead they would not relinquish in what proved to be an eventual 30-27 victory.

    “We came in at halftime and, after adjustments, the first thing we talked to the guys about was...foremost, let's not beat ourselves,” said head coach Chuck Pagano to Stephen Holder of USA Today Sports. “Let's keep our head and not hand them the game.”

    Luck threw for 232 yards and also ran for 31 yards and a score. Pagano’s team played turnover-free football just four days after a 38-8 debacle versus the St. Louis Rams in which the Colts committed five turnovers.

    But what a difference less than a week can make. Now Luck and Co. own a three-game lead in an AFC South in which they sport a 7-3 record while the rest of the division is a combined 7-21.

Dallas Cowboys (5-5) and St. Louis Rams (4-6): Off

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    Dallas Cowboys (5-5)

    Judging by their previous two seasons, it appears that the Dallas Cowboys are right on course in 2013.

    After finishing 8-8 in both 2011 and 2012, Jason Garrett’s current team has split its first 10 games.

    To be honest, it is somewhat amazing considering the state of the Dallas defense these days. No team in the league is giving up more total yards per game (439.8) than the Cowboys, who also sport the NFL’s worst pass defense and have allowed 20 touchdown passes in just 10 contests.

    Like we stated, Garrett’s club is right on course. A year ago, Dallas allowed exactly 25.0 points per game. This season, the Cowboys are surrendering 25.8 points per outing.

    Add in one of the worst running games in the league and there’s apparently no rest for a weary defense.

    Meanwhile, quarterback Tony Romo continues to put up excellent numbers. The talented signal-caller has thrown for 2,681 yards and more than three times as many scores (21) as interceptions (six).

    Yet, the Cowboys find themselves at the .500 mark, good enough these days to be tied for first place in the NFC East. Now if Garrett and his crew could only string together a few consecutive wins, Dallas could be a playoff team for the first time since 2009.

    St. Louis Rams (4-6)

    Whoever said timing is everything obviously had no idea that the NFL would eventually implement off-weeks for teams during the regular season.

    We bring this up because the timing couldn’t be worse for the St. Louis Rams, who find themselves in last place in the NFC West.

    But the last time Jeff Fisher’s team took the field, the Rams took it to the Colts at Indianapolis by a stunning 38-8 score. Rookie wideout Tavon Austin had a game to remember, and the St. Louis defense arguably played its best game of the season.

    However, can Fisher’s club carry that momentum into the final six games of the season? Rookie running back Zac Stacy has opened some eyes in recent weeks. And defensive end Robert Quinn and that talented pass rush may be primed for a big stretch run.

    Unfortunately for the Rams, they may have dug themselves too big of a hole to climb out of by season’s end—especially when you consider this is the only team in the division sporting a losing record.

New York Jets (5-4) at Buffalo Bills (3-7)

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    Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

    New York Jets

    Key to Victory: Eliminate the penalties

    Flash back eight weeks ago at MetLife Stadium as the New York Jets completed a 27-20 win over the Buffalo Bills.

    In that contest, Rex Ryan’s team rolled up a season-high 513 total yards in the seven-point win.

    How high? In their other eight games this season, the Jets failed to amass at least 400 total yards.

    However, Ryan’s team also rang up a season-high 20 penalties in the contest.

    How high? In seven of their other eight games, the Jets committed fewer than 10 penalties.

    Sounds pretty simplistic and indeed it may be. At the very least, it suggests that a more efficient effort by Ryan’s club should lead to a solid victory.

    Buffalo Bills

    Key to Victory: Slow down the ground game

    The Buffalo Bills’ revamped defense has certainly played better this season than in recent years, especially when it comes to stopping the run.

    Still, this is a unit that must develop a little consistency when it comes to stifling opposing ground attacks.

    While Bills defenders have limited four teams to fewer than 100 yards rushing, they have allowed their other six opponents to run for at least 120 yards.

    In their 27-20 loss to the Jets back in Week 3, Doug Marrone’s team allowed a season-high 182 yards on the ground. A similar performance by Ryan’s team would most certainly spell disaster for a Buffalo team trying to escape the AFC East basement.

Baltimore Ravens (4-5) at Chicago Bears (5-4)

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    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Baltimore Ravens

    Key to Victory: Dallas Clark and Ed Dickson

    Apparently, you just can’t keep a Super Bowl champion down.

    A week ago, the Baltimore Ravens found themselves two games under .500, trailing the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC North and in the words of Duncan Sheik…well, cue the music.

    But a funny thing happened on the way to disaster. Marvin Lewis’ team survived in overtime last week versus those same Bengals, and now Baltimore trails Cincinnati by just one game in the loss column.

    Still, let us fast forward to this week’s opponent in the form of the Chicago Bears, who have had their own issues as well lately.

    Logic would tell you that this would be a good week for the Ravens to get that struggling ground game healthy against a team that is allowing the second-most rushing yards per game in the league.

    But since that’s not what John Harbaugh’s team does this season, look for quarterback Joe Flacco to utilize tight ends Dallas Clark and Ed Dickson against Chicago’s mostly inexperienced linebacking corps.

    Chicago Bears

    Key to Victory: Generate a pass rush

    Are these really the Chicago Bears, and is this really their defense?

    Marc Trestman’s team has allowed 247 points and 24 offensive touchdowns in nine games this season. Consider that this same team surrendered 277 points and 25 offensive touchdowns in 16 games in 2012.

    True, the Bears remain one of the top teams in the league in terms of takeaways (20). But what Mel Tucker’s unit hasn’t done with any kind of consistency this season is rush the passer. Chicago has totaled just 14 sacks in 2013.

    But help is on the way—not in the form of better defenders but rather a Ravens team that has had problems protecting quarterback Joe Flacco. The Super Bowl XLVII MVP has already been sacked 30 times in nine games this season.

    On a side note, will we see one-time Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Jay Ratliff this week? The former Pro Bowler was inactive last Sunday versus the Lions and could certainly be a plus if healthy.

Cleveland Browns (4-5) at Cincinnati Bengals (6-4)

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    Cleveland Browns

    Key to Victory: Joe Haden

    Thanks to a 17-6 win back in Week 4, the Cleveland Browns are in position to sweep the Cincinnati Bengals for the first time since 2002.

    Of course, that was the last time we saw the Browns in the playoffs. And a second win over their intrastate rivals this season would go a long way toward a possible return to the postseason.

    One of the better matchups of the weekend pits Bengals wideout A.J. Green against Browns cornerback Joe Haden.

    The former leads the league in receiving yards and has totaled at least 100 yards in receptions in five straight games. Haden has totaled 35 tackles, one interception and an impressive 11 passes defensed.

    Given the recent struggles of the Bengals offense, eliminating Green gives Haden and the Browns a great shot at eliminating a Cincinnati victory.

    Cincinnati Bengals

    Key to Victory: No three-peat for Andy Dalton

    Even minus defensive tackle Geno Atkins, the Cincinnati Bengals possess one of the best defensive units in the league.

    Last week’s 20-17 overtime loss to the Ravens saw Mike Zimmer’s unit limit Baltimore to 189 total yards, sack quarterback Joe Flacco five times and force him into three turnovers.

    Speaking of miscues, that’s been the story all season for inconsistent Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton. In six victories this season, the third-year pro has thrown 14 touchdown passes while committing only five turnovers. But in Cincinnati’s four losses, Dalton has thrown for four scores and coughed up the ball 11 times, nine of those interceptions.

    The last two weeks, which have resulted in overtime losses to the Miami Dolphins and Ravens, Dalton threw three interceptions in each setback. A third straight sub-par effort would likely result in not only a third straight loss for the Bengals, but Marvin Lewis’ team would also have been swept by the Cleveland Browns.

    And that would not be the scenario this team would have ever envisioned this late in 2013.

Oakland Raiders (3-6) at Houston Texans (2-7)

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    Oakland Raiders

    Key to Victory: Crafty secondary play

    This offseason, the Oakland Raiders rebuilt nearly their entire defensive unit via free agency.

    When it came to the secondary, there was certainly a premium put on experience.

    The additions of veteran cornerbacks Tracy Porter (Denver Broncos) and Mike Jenkins (Dallas Cowboys) and free safety Charles Woodson (Green Bay Packers) added some ball hawks to a team that forced only 19 turnovers in 16 games last season.

    Nine games into 2013, the Raiders have totaled 14 takeaways, including six interceptions all courtesy of the secondary. Oakland has also recovered eight opponent fumbles, half of those via the team’s defensive backfield. And both Porter and Woodson have returned opponent’s turnovers for scores.

    With Case Keenum making only his fourth career NFL start for the Houston Texans, look for those veteran defenders to bait the young quarterback into a crucial mistake or two…or three.

    Houston Texans

    Key to Victory: Defense turned offensive

    Back in Week 1, the Houston Texans rallied from a 28-7 deficit to beat the Chargers, 31-28, in San Diego.

    The key play in the game was a diving interception by inside linebacker Brian Cushing, who returned the Philip Rivers miscue 18 yards for a touchdown.

    As we all know, Cushing was injured a few weeks ago and is gone for the season. And apparently, he took the defense’s ability to make big plays with him.

    Since that time, the Texans have picked off only three interceptions and returned them for a total of five yards. Despite allowing the fewest yards per game in the league, Houston has totaled only eight takeaways in nine games this season.

    But that could change in this meeting with the Raiders, be it Terrelle Pryor or perhaps Matt McGloin at quarterback. And a sudden strike by either defensive end J.J. Watt or perhaps safety D.J. Swearinger could be what the doctor ordered when it comes to curing a seven-game skid.

Arizona Cardinals (5-4) at Jacksonville Jaguars (1-8)

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    Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

    Arizona Cardinals

    Key to Victory: Quick strikes to Larry Fitzgerald

    After going through four different starting quarterbacks last season, the Arizona Cardinals have used just one in 2013.

    And while veteran Carson Palmer has had his ups and downs in terms of ball security, he has still been a breath of fresh air, especially to wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

    The franchise’s all-time leader in catches (803) and touchdowns scored (82) comes off a 2012 campaign that saw him total just four touchdowns in 16 games. This season, Palmer and Fitzgerald have already combined for five scores.

    No team in the league has scored fewer points than the Jaguars, who have totaled only 115 points in nine games, and 29 of those came in last week’s win over the Tennessee Titans. Gus Bradley’s team has also been outscored a combined 70-25 in the first quarter and 162-49 in the first half this season.

    So look for the Cards to put the Jaguars behind the eight ball early with a few well-timed strikes to Fitzgerald. And considering Jacksonville has already allowed 31 sacks in nine games, it could be a long afternoon for Bradley’s team playing from behind against the Arizona defense.

    Jacksonville Jaguars

    Key to Victory: Play turnover-free football

    The suggested key to victory for Gus Bradley’s Jaguars, off their first victory of the season, may indeed be easier said than done—especially when it comes to the quarterback position.

    Jacksonville has committed 17 turnovers in nine games this season, 14 of those interceptions by Chad Henne and Blaine Gabbert. In six outings this season, Jaguars quarterbacks have been picked off at least twice.

    Now enter the Cardinals, who have a quarterback in Palmer that has his own turnover issues. However, Arians’ club has totaled 20 takeaways, including a dozen interceptions, in nine games in 2013.

    Keep in mind that this is an offensively challenged Arizona club, one that ranks near the bottom of the league in total yards per game and a team that has produced just 18 touchdowns rushing and receiving combined.

    It’s safe to say the host Jaguars are hoping that they can hang onto the football and not make life a lot easier for that Arizona attack.

Washington Redskins (3-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (5-5)

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    Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

    Washington Redskins

    Key to Victory: Control the ball

    It’s pretty obvious that the Washington Redskins haven’t learned to stop anyone this season.

    Only the Jacksonville Jaguars have allowed more points per game than Mike Shanahan’s club, which has allowed at least 24 points in eight out of nine outings in 2013.

    One year after allowing 388 points, the most among the 12 playoff teams last season, the Redskins have already given up 287 points in nine games this year.

    So what are the defending NFC East champions to do? Well, keeping the red-hot Philadelphia Eagles offense off the field would certainly be a good idea. And considering Washington does boast the league’s third-best running game, the possibilities to do just that are certainly there.

    And it is certainly worth a mention that running back Alfred Morris has totaled 25 and 26 carries (good for a combined 260 yards), respectively, in each of his last two outings. That’s 25 or 26 fewer plays that the Philadelphia offense is not on the field.

    Philadelphia Eagles

    Key to Victory: Staying aggressive

    Scoring points didn’t figure to be an issue for the Eagles this season no matter what Chip Kelly’s offense looked like. And for the most part, those in the know have been pretty spot on.

    However, who knew that second-year quarterback Nick Foles would not only eventually be at the helm of the attack but would also emerge as one of the league’s hottest players.

    In seven appearances this season, Foles has thrown 16 touchdown passes without an interception. In his last two games, the young signal-caller has thrown for 10 scores.

    Meanwhile, the Eagles quarterback hasn’t been shy about getting the ball downfield, and he has developed quite the rapport with Riley Cooper. Over the last two weeks, the Philadelphia wideout has totaled eight receptions for a whopping 241 yards and five scores, three of those touchdowns covering 30 or more yards.

    “I'm having a blast,” said Cooper to Associated Press writer Rob Maaddi via Philly.com. “I love football, but it feels so good when you are contributing to the team and winning games.”

    Given the shortcomings of the Washington defense as well as their own team’s defensive issues, Foles and Cooper could be in for another productive outing, especially in the game’s second half.

Detroit Lions (6-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (3-6)

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    Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sport

    Detroit Lions

    Key to Victory: Matthew Stafford and the tight ends

    It’s been a long time since the Detroit Lions have won a division title.

    It’s been even longer since the Lions won a game in the Steel City.

    While the latter fact is more trivial than substantial, success in Pittsburgh this Sunday will keep Jim Schwartz’s club on course for its first divisional championship since 1993.

    As for beating the Steelers on the road for the first time since 1955, conventional wisdom says that quarterback Matthew Stafford and wide receiver Calvin Johnson will do their usual magic.

    But look for tight ends Brandon Pettigrew and rookie Joseph Fauria to play big roles against the Steelers 3-4 defense. Pettigrew ranks third on the team with 31 catches and has one score while five of Fauria’s nine receptions this season have resulted in touchdowns.

    And Johnson may have a thing to say on the matter as well.

    Pittsburgh Steelers

    Key to Victory: Establish Antonio Brown early

    For the vast majority of the first half last week versus the Buffalo Bills, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and wide receiver Antonio Brown had problems connecting.

    But with just over two minutes left before intermission, the duo got on the same page. When it was all said and done, Brown totaled six receptions for 104 yards in the team’s 23-10 victory.

    It may surprise some to know that Brown, a former Pro Bowl kick returner, leads the league with 67 catches this season. And while Calvin Johnson is likely the finest player at his position these days, Brown is starting to make a name for himself as a receiver.

    And if Roethlisberger can avoid the Lions’ potent defensive tackle tandem of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley often enough, look for him to challenge the Detroit secondary with Brown very early and quite often.

    Considering that Schwartz’s team has given up its share of passing yards, Roethlisberger and Brown could be in for a pair of impressive afternoons.

Atlanta Falcons (2-7) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-8)

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    Atlanta Falcons

    Key to Victory: A few wrinkles for Mike Glennon

    Last season’s top seed in the conference is suddenly just one game ahead of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who are in last in the NFC South.

    The disappointing Atlanta Falcons have won just twice in 2013, and their last victory came four weeks ago courtesy of a 31-23 win over the Bucs at the Georgia Dome.

    In that game, Tampa Bay rookie quarterback Mike Glennon threw for 256 yards and a pair of scores. He wasn’t intercepted but was sacked three times and lost a fumble.

    One of those sacks came courtesy of strong safety William Moore while outside linebacker Joplo Bartu had part of a sack as well.

    Look for Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan to give Glennon a few more new looks via the pass rush in this rematch.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers

    Key to Victory: Answer the bell in the second half

    When you have won just one game in nine tries, it is hard to find many positives.

    And that is certainly the case with the Buccaneers, who have watched their rookie quarterback Mike Glennon improve on a weekly basis despite the team’s dismal win-loss record.

    But in recent weeks, Greg Schiano’s club has gotten into a nasty habit of impressing early and struggling late. Against the Seattle Seahawks, the Bucs opened up a 21-0 second-quarter lead before falling in overtime, 27-24. On Monday night at home against the Miami Dolphins, the Buccaneers opened up a 15-0 second-quarter lead and fell behind before rallying in the fourth quarter for a 22-19 win.

    Schiano’s team has been outscored a combined 104-43 in the second half and overtime this season, but it's facing an Atlanta team riding a three-game losing streak and one that is struggling for answers.

    And if the Bucs can stop the Falcons from answering in the second half this Sunday, win number two is a distinct possibility.

San Diego Chargers (4-5) at Miami Dolphins (4-5)

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    San Diego Chargers

    Key to Victory: Underneath passing game

    Two weeks ago, the San Diego Chargers were 4-3 and riding high thanks to two straight wins in which they did not allow a touchdown in ether game.

    Suddenly, Mike McCoy’s team is one game under .500 and a distant third behind the 9-0 Kansas City Chiefs and 8-1 Denver Broncos.

    Last season, quarterback Philip Rivers took his lumps. He was sacked 49 times and had problems hanging onto the football. This season, the former Pro Bowler has thrown only seven interceptions and fumbled just once.

    Some of that can be attributed to an improved offensive line. Some of it can also be attributed to the receiving combo of running back Danny Woodhead and tight end Antonio Gates, who have combined for nearly half (105) of Rivers’ 232 completions this season. Woodhead leads the team in catches (53) while Gates paces the Chargers in receiving yards (612).

    Given Woodhead’s knowledge of the Miami Dolphins defense, you may see this duo busier than usual on Sunday.

    Miami Dolphins

    Key to Victory: Establish run

    Talk about coming full circle. Or is it more like half a…never mind?

    In 1972, the Dolphins finished 14-0 in the regular season (and went onto win Super Bowl VII) and also became the first team to have two 1,000-yard rushers in the same season.

    On Monday night, 14 and two were relevant numbers once again. Joe Philbin’s running game totaled 14 attempts for a mere two yards in the 22-19 loss.

    The performance was made even more stunning considering Miami has rushed for over 150 yards in its previous two outings. But the fact remains that it marked the third time in nine games that Philbin’s club failed to run for at least 25 yards in a game.

    Against a San Diego defense that ranks 29th in the league in total yards allowed per game, including 20th versus the run, look for a more balanced effort from the Miami offense. And that should be enough against an erratic Chargers club that has allowed a combined 58 points the last two weeks.

San Francisco 49ers (6-3) at New Orleans Saints (7-2)

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    San Francisco 49ers

    Key to Victory: Exploit Saints run defense

    The defending NFC champion San Francisco 49ers remain one of the top teams in the league.

    But Jim Harbaugh’s club hasn’t always looked like a Super Bowl contender this season, especially on the offensive side of the football. The Niners have scored a combined 208 points in their six wins, 31 or more points in each victory, while San Francisco has scored a mere 19 points in three setbacks in 2013.

    Same can be said for the Niners running attack. Harbaugh’s team has averaged 168.2 yards per game in six wins and more than 60 yards less per contest (106.7) in their three losses.

    It stands to reason that the Niners should and will attack a New Orleans Saints defense that is ranked in the bottom half of the league against the run. And it stands even more to reason that Harbaugh and his team will continue this strategy early and often against Sean Payton’s club.

    New Orleans Saints

    Key to Victory: Pressure Colin Kaepernick early

    There’s nowhere to go but up for a Saints defense that allowed the most total yards in a season in NFL history.

    New Orleans also surrendered 454 points in 2012, the second-highest total in the league.

    Thanks to new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, neither one of those shortcomings figures to be repeated this season. The Saints are currently seventh in the league in total yards per game allowed and have limited seven of their nine opponents to fewer than 20 points.

    Ryan’s defense has also totaled 29 sacks this season, one fewer than New Orleans managed during all of 2012.

    San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been sacked 21 times this season, nine times in six wins and a dozen times in his team’s three losses. So look for Ryan to try to rattle the young signal-caller early and often, especially if the Saints can shackle the Niners ground game.

Minnesota Vikings (2-7) at Seattle Seahawks (9-1)

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    Minnesota Vikings

    Key to Victory: Win the special teams battle

    There is a very good chance that the Minnesota Vikings will see an old friend this week in the Pacific Northwest.

    And if former-Vikings-turned-Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin indeed makes his season debut this weekend, it could be a sleepless Saturday night for Leslie Frazier and his team.

    Then again, Minnesota was hoping that first-round pick Cordarrelle Patterson could fill the void left by the trade of Harvin to Seattle. And hope has sprung success as the third of the team’s three first-round picks in April has delivered to date.

    Patterson has returned a pair of kickoffs for scores this season and leads the league in kickoff return average (35.2). The former University of Tennessee product has totaled an NFL high 845 kickoff return yards on 24 tries this season.

    And if Patterson can generate his share of big plays this Sunday at Seattle, perhaps the Vikings offense won’t have to travel very far all afternoon against the formidable Seahawks defense.

    Seattle Seahawks

    Key to Victory: More Marshawn Lynch

    With all of the attention surrounding then-rookie quarterback Russell Wilson a year ago, it was easy for any other member of the Seahawks offense to be overshadowed.

    But it would also be hard to ignore what Pro Bowl running back Marshawn Lynch did last season. The league’s third-leading rusher in 2012 with 1,590 yards rushing, the battering Seahawk ran for 100-plus yards in 10 games during the regular season and also reached the century mark in the playoff win over the Washington Redskins.

    But can you tell it’s time for teams to crank up the ground game? Lynch has rushed for 125 and 145 yards, respectively, in his last two games, his best two performances of the season.

    Consider that the Minnesota defense has been mediocre at best (Frazier’s team has allowed 23 or more points in all nine games this season), look for Lynch to remain on a roll and take a little pressure off Wilson and a passing attack that isn’t operating at full strength these days.

Green Bay Packers (5-4) at New York Giants (3-6)

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    Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

    Green Bay Packers

    Key to Victory: Big plays from the defense

    For the Green Bay Packers, the formula for a victory over the New York Giants this Sunday appears pretty apparent.

    However, it remains to be seen if Mike McCarthy’s team can live up to its end of the deal.

    No team in the NFL has turned over the ball more often than the Giants, who have coughed up the ball 28 times in nine games. Tom Coughlin’s club has yet to play mistake-free football this season and has turned over the ball at least three times in seven contests in 2013.

    But can and will the Packers take advantage of the Giants’ shortcoming? It’s somewhat surprising to note that McCarthy’s club has forced only eight turnovers in nine games this season and four of those takeaways came in one contest.

    However, it is also worth mentioning that outside linebacker Clay Matthews is back on the job. And New York’s offensive line must be up to the task when it comes to blocking the prolific pass rusher.

    New York Giants

    Key to Victory: Commitment to ground game

    Perhaps it’s a bad play on words, but head coach Tom Coughlin needs another giant effort from Andre if the New York Giants are to defeat the visiting Green Bay Packers.

    In last Sunday’s 24-20 win over the Oakland Raiders, running back Andre Brown carried 30 times for 115 yards and a score in the victory. It marked only the second time all season that a Giants player had totaled at least 20 carries in a game.

    Last week at Lambeau Field, Philadelphia Eagles running back LeSean McCoy ran for 155 yards in his team’s victory over the Packers.

    New York’s running game ranks just 29th in the league this season in terms of yards per game. But it is certainly worth mentioning that during the team’s current three-game winning streak, the Giants have totaled 30 or more running plays in each of those victories.

Kansas City Chiefs (9-0) at Denver Broncos (8-1)

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    Kansas City Chiefs

    Key to Victory: I’ll take 3 touchdowns for 200, Alex

    When it comes to the offensive side of the ball, everyone acknowledges that there is a statistical mismatch between the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos.

    The brunt of that analysis falls upon the quarterbacks. Kansas City’s Alex Smith has thrown nine touchdown passes in nine games this season. Denver’s Peyton Manning threw seven touchdown passes in Week 1 and has 33 scoring tosses in 2013.

    The Chiefs have held all of their nine opponents this season to 17 points or less. So common sense tells you that 200-plus yards passing and three scores for Smith may be enough for Andy Reid’s team to get a win in the Mile High City.

    The fact that the Broncos defense ranks 30th in the league in passing yards allowed and has surrendered 16 touchdown passes this season doesn't hurt either.


    Denver Broncos

    Key to Victory: Ball security

    Yes, you read that correctly.

    No team in NFL history has ever scored more points in the first nine games of a season than the 2013 Broncos. In fact, Denver’s 371 points are more than 15 teams managed during all of 2012.

    Just think what the numbers may look like if quarterback Peyton Manning and company managed to hang onto the football?

    John Fox’s team certainly relies on No. 18 but could also do without the 18 turnovers the team has committed in nine games, 11 of those by their star signal-caller. In fact, Manning has nearly as many lost fumbles (five) as interceptions (six) this season. And no team in the league has lost more fumbles (12) than the Broncos.

    Hence, that would be good news for the Chiefs, who have totaled 11 fumble recoveries in amassing 23 takeaways, the most in the NFL this season. And the last thing the Broncos need is to make life easier for the Kansas City offense.

New England Patriots (7-2) at Carolina Panthers (6-3)

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    New England Patriots

    Key to Victory: Brady on target

    Admittedly, it’s not been the greatest of seasons for New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

    Still, where would Bill Belichick’s team be without one of the best performers at his position to ever play in the league?

    The AFC East leaders have had some extra time to retool their inconsistent offense, although it did ring up a whopping 610 yards in a 55-31 win over Pittsburgh Steelers back in Week 9.

    While Brady’s completion percentage is down this season, he does remain the catalyst of this attack. For what it is worth, the only two games in which he didn’t throw at least one touchdown pass were the losses to the Cincinnati Bengals and New York Jets.

    But things are looking up, especially when it comes to Brady’s rapport with Rob Gronkowski. In the duo’s first two games together this season, the standout tight end was target 22 times and caught just 10 passes for 141 yards. In the win over the Steelers, Brady threw at Gronkowski 10 times and connected nine times for 143 yards and a score.

    If Brady and his receivers are on the same page on Monday, it could be a long night for the red-hot Carolina Panthers defense.

    Carolina Panthers

    Key to Victory: Brady on the sidelines

    The last time the Patriots took the field, they scored seven touchdowns in a 55-31 win about two weeks ago.

    In the nine games the Panthers have taken the field this season, they have given up a total of nine touchdowns.

    Led by linebackers Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis as well as defensive ends Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy, Ron Rivera’s defense has made an impression all season and enhanced that with last week’s 10-9 road win over the San Francisco 49ers.

    Still, any time you face the likes of Tom Brady and a New England offense that may be getting ready to hit its strides, the best thing you can do is keep them on the sidelines.

    While quarterback Cam Newton and the Panthers attack don’t necessarily have that “wow” factor, Rivera’s team has scored 214 points this season, only 20 fewer than the Patriots (234).

    And if you can take advantage of New England’s 30th-ranked run defense via the NFL’s 10th-ranked rushing attack, the fact is that the Patriots offense may be enjoying a very relaxing evening.