Looking at the NFL schedule for Week 11, there are a few high-profile matchups that figure to feature some major drama.
Playoff berths are on the horizon for the contenders, and a few of them are going head-to-head this weekend. Let's take a look at three of the biggest games slated to take place this weekend as teams jockey for postseason position.
|New York Jets||Buffalo Bills||Jets|
|Baltimore Ravens||Chicago Bears||Bears|
|Cleveland Browns||Cincinnati Bengals||Bengals|
|Oakland Raiders||Houston Texans||Texans|
|Washington Redskins||Philadelphia Eagles||Eagles|
|Detroit Lions||Pittsburgh Steelers||Lions|
|Atlanta Falcons||Tampa Bay Buccaneers||Buccaneers|
|Arizona Cardinals||Jacksonville Jaguars||Cardinals|
|San Diego Chargers||Miami Dolphins||Chargers|
|Green Bay Packers||New York Giants||Giants|
|San Francisco 49ers||New Orleans Saints||49ers|
|Minnesota Vikings||Seattle Seahawks||Seahawks|
|Kansas City Chiefs||Denver Broncos||Broncos|
|New England Patriots||Carolina Panthers||Patriots|
|Indianapolis Colts||Tennessee Titans||Colts 30-27|
Alex Espinoza's Picks
New England Patriots (7-2) at Carolina Panthers (6-3)
The Panthers made a big statement with a 10-9 road win at San Francisco in Week 10, but it won't get any easier with Tom Brady and the Patriots coming to town.
Rob Gronkowski is in full effect and it's paying major dividends for Brady, who was struggling mightily to begin the year. The talented tight end has 19 catches for 284 yards in three games since returning to the field following multiple offseason surgeries.
He's coming off of a nine-catch, 143-yard, one-touchdown performance in a 55-31 win against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Entering the Week 9 matchup, Brady hadn't thrown at least three touchdowns in any game. But he exploded by going 23-of-33 for 432 yards and four touchdowns, with receiver Danny Amendola also hauling in four catches for a season-high 122 yards and a score.
The Patriots offense is humming right now and Carolina's defense has been stingy its five-game win streak, holding opponents to just 11.4 points per game in that span. But something has to give when these two teams meet on Monday Night Football.
What's made Carolina so effective defensively is its No. 2 ranked unit against the rush (82 yards per game allowed), but the Patriots don't even need to run the ball effectively to win the game with Brady under center. If he can pick apart the No. 2 ranked Pittsburgh pass defense, there's no reason to think he can't do it against the fifth-ranked Panthers.
Prediction: Patriots win 35-17
San Francisco 49ers (6-3) at New Orleans Saints (7-2)
All eyes are will be on the injury report 90 minutes before kickoff, as we await the game-time decision on Vernon Davis. The explosive 49ers tight end suffered a concussion early in last week's 10-9 loss at home against the Panthers and it stifled the team's offense, with Colin Kaepernick going 11-of-22 for a a season-low 91 yards and an interception.
Davis is optimistic he'll play Sunday, per Matt Maiocco of CSN Bay Area, while the team's Twitter account shared coach Jim Harbaugh's thoughts on the situation:
Jim Harbaugh expects Eric Reid and Vernon Davis to be ready to go, pending the results of impact tests. #SFvsNO— San Francisco 49ers (@49ers) November 15, 2013
Davis has been quarterback Colin Kaepernick's biggest threat in the passing game this year with 30 catches, 527 yards and seven touchdowns. With Michael Crabtree still out as he rehabs from an Achilles injury and Mario Manningham questionable to play, the tight end's availability is crucial to the outcome of the game.
The NFL's official Twitter account shared some perspective on Davis' importance to the 49ers passing game:
The 49ers have 9 TD passes this season, all to Boldin & Davis. The Saints have 9 different players with a TD catch. pic.twitter.com/3hyXm9eHky— NFL (@nfl) November 15, 2013
Brees has certainly been prolific in 2013 with his 3,064 passing yards and 25 touchdowns trailing only Peyton Manning, while tossing only seven interceptions with a 68 percent completion rate.
Davis might be good, but he's no Jimmy Graham. The Saints tight end is tied for the fifth-most receiving yards in the NFL (805), nearly 200 ahead of the next closest tight end, Antonio Gates (612). Even though the 49ers rank eighth in pass defense (211.7 yards per game), you have to expect Brees to put up some big numbers.
The best bet for the 49ers will be to hand the ball off to Frank Gore early and often behind their powerful offensive line. Gore has been steady as ever this season, with 700 yards and seven touchdowns through nine games. San Francisco should try to exploit the 19th-ranked New Orleans rush defense and keep Brees on the sideline.
With signs pointing to Davis being on the field, expect him to make some big plays in a slim 49ers victory.
Prediction: 49ers win 28-27
Denver Broncos (8-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (9-0)
This is the matchup we've been waiting for all year long.
Despite being division foes in the AFC West, the high-octane Broncos and undefeated Chiefs haven't faced each other so far this year. At least we don't have to wait long for Round 2 of this heavyweight fight, with the teams scheduled to play in Denver in Week 13.
The two starting quarterbacks in this matchup are strikingly different, with Peyton Manning leading the Broncos offense to unprecedented success and Alex Smith quietly and efficiently guiding the Chiefs to wins on a weekly basis.
The NFL Twitter account also shared some perspective on the teams' respective offenses:
Whereas the Broncos appear to have an advantage on the offensive side of the ball, the Chiefs appear to have one on defense. Kansas City has the top-ranked scoring defense (12.3 points per game) this year, but the Broncos are a different beast, averaging a league-best 41.2 points per game.
The Chiefs have yet to score more than 31 points in a game this year and they'll probably need to do it against the Broncos, who have scored at least 31 points in every game but last week's 28-20 win against the San Diego Chargers.
In the end, I think the Broncos offense will be too much for the Chiefs to handle and hand them their first loss of the year.
Prediction: Broncos win 31-21