Thanksgiving time is a good time of year for NFL fans. The playoff races are in full heat, and we get a good chance to evaluate each team after 10 games of play.
Here are a few of the things I'll be watching for in the coming weeks:
1. Where is Dallas' offense?
The Cowboys entered this season with the "Romo friendly" offensive attack that would allow him to spread the ball around and have solid run support. For the first eight games of the season, it was effective.
However, Dallas' offense has fizzled in the last two games, scoring only seven points each time. The good news is they get to play the Raiders at home on Thanksgiving Day. However, you have to figure that Nnamdi Asomugha is going to be covering Miles Austin, which means the rest of Dallas' receiving threats need to pick up the slack in the passing game, and the running game needs to be effective.
2. Can Tennessee actually pull this off?
We all know the story. The Titans started 0-6, and Chris Johnson made a seemingly absurd guarantee that the Titans would win out and make the playoffs. Four wins later, however, it doesn't seem so unrealistic after all.
Many give credit to Vince Young for the success, but the reason they are winning is because they are getting back to their identity: run and play defense. The only downside is that they still have to play the Cardinals, Colts, and Chargers. It will be a very tough road, but it's possible.
3. Big Showdown in the Big EZ
The Saints have been impressive thus far, but a game against the Patriots will be their biggest test to date. Both defenses will have their hands full trying to stop two of the best offenses in the NFL, and it figures to be a high scoring game.
The two things that will decide this game are:
1) Can Brady protect the football against a defense that is outstanding at taking it away?
2) Which defense does a better job at stopping the other team's prolific offense?
4. When is a Steelers vs Ravens game not a big deal?
The difference between these teams and other major rivalries is not only do they not like each other, they both know how to hurt people. Both teams will be playing for pride after losing last week. Baltimore needs a win to stay in the Wild Card race. Pittsburg needs a win to keep up with Cincinatti in the race for the AFC North title.
Naturally, it will be a hard-hitting affair and fun to watch, and it doesn't figure to be a high scoring game.
5. Two teams trying to find their groove again
The Giants and Broncos both had very impressive starts to the season, and appeared to be in the drivers' seats of their respective divisions. The Giants lost four in a row, but beat Atlanta to stay tied with Philadelphia only one game out of the division lead, and they also have a road win against Dallas working in their favor.
Denver started 6-0, but has also gone on a four game losing streak to fall a game behind San Diego. Both of these teams still have time to turn things around, but they need to do so fast if they want to win their divisions and get a home playoff game.They play each other Thanksgiving night, and the winner will be in good position to get things going again.
6. Can the underdogs play spoiler?
The Chiefs and Raiders last week reminded us that anything can happen on any given Sunday. This week, the Packers play the Lions, the Cowboys play the Raiders, the Bucs play the Falcons, the Redskins play the Eagles, the Browns play the Bengals, the Colts play the Texans, the Chiefs play the Chargers, and the Bears play the Vikings.
All of these games have one team considered significantly better than the other. Keep in mind that six of those games are division games in addition to what happened last week, and we could see some serious noise made by these underdogs.
7. Are the Texans really a playoff caliber team?
This team is so good at some times, but so awful at others. Two 20-17 losses on missed field goals. Turnovers inside the opponent's five yard line. Untimely turnovers. They need to get rid of these frequent mental errors if they still want to take a wild card this year.
If they want to eventually be a true threat in the AFC South, they're going to have to start winning against the Colts. This week is a good chance at home to make a statement.
8. Wide open Wild Card races in both conferences
Two of the past three Super Bowl champions were Wild Card teams. This year, both conferences have several teams that are still in the hunt for those playoff spots. Right now in the AFC, the Broncos, Steelers, and Jaguars are at the front of the race with 6-4 records.
The Texans, Ravens, and Dolphins are all at 5-5, with the Jets and Titans at 4-6. All of those teams are still in the race, but the Broncos and Jets really need to play better to make it to the playoffs.
In the NFC, the Eagles, Giants, and Packers are all at 6-4, with the Falcons at 5-5, and the Bears and Panthers at 4-6. There's still a lot of football to be played, and there are several teams who could find their way into the playoffs, and possibly further.
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