What to Watch For in NFL Week 11
It’s time to grab a big bowl of popcorn, your favorite chair and huge television for this week’s exciting slate of NFL matchups.
This week features what could turn out to be the biggest game of year in a battle for first place in the AFC West. But is Peyton Manning really healthy enough to step up to the challenge?
The 49ers face the Saints in a big matchup against a record-breaking offense and a consistently dominant defense. The winner of this contest could be determined by the impact of Aldon Smith.
Who will win in the head-to-head battle of top-drafted rookie quarterbacks this week?
All of this and much more from Week 11 of the NFL will be previewed right here…
How Will Manning’s Health Factor in the Big Game?
I’ve always marveled at how difficult it is to play the quarterback position in the NFL—although Peyton Manning tends to make it look much easier than it really is. However, come Sunday, that job is about to get a whole lot more challenging considering the Chiefs and their top-ranked defense come to town.
It's paramount the Broncos to do everything in their power to keep the 37-year old quarterback on his feet for the entire 60 minutes of this competitive matchup. In order to do that, they must devise a game plan that enables Manning to get the ball out quickly without asking him to move around much in the pocket.
The good news here is that Manning is one of the toughest quarterbacks in the league to get dirty. So far the Broncos are second in the league in both sacks allowed (13) and hits on the quarterback (31).
We still don’t know if the high-ankle sprain and Peyton’s mosaic of other injuries will dramatically affect his ability to deliver a football downfield. After all, his arm strength is already under fire as of late, and this added challenge would only seem to magnify this potential weakness.
One weakness it will undoubtedly amplify is his mobility. This has obviously never been an asset for Manning, but there could be cause for concern considering Kansas City leads the league in quarterback sacks with 36.
The outcome of this heavyweight bout hinges upon the effectiveness of Peyton Manning and, conversely, the Chiefs’ ability to put relentless pressure on him throughout the day.
Will Aldon Smith Have an Impact Against the Saints?
Last week against the Carolina Panthers, Aldon Smith’s opportunities were extremely limited as he made his first appearance since Week 3 of the season. Smith was away from the team these past few months while receiving treatment for alcohol abuse.
In the first three games of the season, Smith managed to rack up 4.5 sacks to his credit.
This week the 49ers face a high-powered Saints offense led by quarterback Drew Brees. If they ever needed a boost from one of the game’s best pass-rushers, this would be the game for it. Last week Brees and the Saints set an NFL record with 40 first downs in a single game.
A 49ers victory against this offense will almost certainly require a major impact from Aldon Smith. But his ability to impact a football game is almost guaranteed as long as he’s given an opportunity. In his first 36 games as a pro, Smith has accumulated an impressive 38 sacks.
At least now the team knows it has some depth at the outside linebacker spot considering rookie Corey Lemonier did a solid job filling in. It will be interesting to see how the 49ers handle their new rotation of available outside linebackers.
Battle of the Top Two Rookie Quarterbacks
Heading into the draft last April, the two most highly touted quarterbacks of the class happened to be EJ Manuel and Geno Smith. Manuel was the first quarterback taken and the only one taken in the first round. Smith was expected to go in the first round as well but slipped all the way into the second where the Jets seized the opportunity to get a potential steal.
So far both the Bills and the Jets have generated similar offensive production, although Manuel has missed four weeks of the season. Despite that fact, Geno, who has started every game this season, has only thrown two more touchdowns than EJ.
It’s important we shake off the unrealistic expectations of a dominant rookie quarterback set by last year’s incredible outliers. Typically, rookie signal-callers are going to struggle—and struggle they both have. Manuel and Smith are the two lowest-graded quarterbacks with at least 25 percent of the snaps, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
This game should be fun to watch as each quarterback looks to prove his dominance over the other. Manuel will likely be at the greatest disadvantage having to face Rex Ryan’s dominating defense without his top receiver, Stevie Johnson.
Percy Harvin’s Debut as a Seahawk vs. His Former Team
According to Terry Blount of ESPN.com, wideout Percy Harvin fully participated in practice on Thursday for the first time since having hip surgery back in the beginning of August. It's looking more likely that he'll make his season debut in Week 11 against the Minnesota Vikings, his former team.
It’s unclear just how many snaps we can expect from Harvin this weekend considering he’s been out of commission for quite some time now and will need to get himself into football shape.
Based on comments made by offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell obtained through Seahawks.com, the team likely won’t put too much on the receiver’s plate right off the bat.
We can't just go hog-wild and say, "Hey, here's all the things we want to do with Percy." We have to just do what we do. That's kind of our thing. We're just going to continue to run our offense and then fit him in where we can and start to build it from there. We've just got to see where Percy's at.
Harvin should eventually serve as an explosive weapon for the Seahawks down the final stretch of the NFL season, but his impact in Sunday’s game should be limited at best. It wouldn’t be wise for Seattle to risk any setbacks in Harvin’s return considering this game against the Vikings should be a winnable one with or without him.
In any case, watching this dangerous playmaker face his former teammates while dawning the Seahawks’ colors for the first time should make for an interesting storyline.
Lynch vs. Peterson
Aside from the Percy Harvin spectacle that will likely take center stage, there’s another intriguing matchup that should be a ton of fun to watch.
Running backs Marshawn Lynch and Adrian Peterson are set to face off in a showdown between two of the NFL’s best ball-carriers. Both of these dominating runners just so happen to originate from the same draft class six years earlier. Peterson was drafted seventh overall, while Lynch was taken just five slots after him.
Both runners are averaging 4.5 yards per carry and having solid seasons thus far. Peterson leads the league in yards after contact, while Marshawn leads in missed tackles, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
Though Seattle is the run-away favorite to win this game, you never know what’s going to happen with Adrian Peterson. One play with No. 28 in your backfield can change the entire momentum of the game.
It should be fun watching these two competitors duke it out for bragging rights as the best running back in the NFL. There’s no doubt Lynch will be looking to stake his claim as the best to come out of that 2007 draft class.
Which Andy Dalton Are We Going to Get?
Over the last two seasons Andy Dalton has been one of the most inconsistent quarterbacks in the NFL. His up and down performances have left many Bengals fans wondering—which Andy Dalton will show up this week?
Last season Dalton finished six games with a passer rating of at least 100, yet he also had six games below 80. Those extreme highs and lows have only become more dramatic in 2013. So far this year he has completed four games with a passer rating above 100 and three games with a rating below 60. Two of those three games below 60 represent his last two outings.
This week Dalton will take on a talented Cleveland Browns defense, which is ranked fifth in the NFL in total yards allowed per game (315.7).
After two terrible performances from Andy against the Dolphins and Ravens, it’s definitely time for the pendulum to swing back in the other direction.
One thing worth noting here is that since entering the NFL, Dalton has only lost a single game in which he had a passer rating above 100. This means if the Browns hope to win on Sunday, they’ll need to stop the Red Rocket from having one of his better games.
Ryan Riddle is a former NFL player and is a current Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.