The NFL playoff picture is slowly rounding into view and the cream is rising to the top. While it has been a topsy turvy season, many of the recent, traditional contenders are now making their push for the playoffs.
This week has huge playoff and seeding implications for a couple of teams. Let's break down my five favorite matchups for NFL Week 11.
At first glance you wouldn't necessarily say that this matchup is huge. However, for both teams, a win could vault them back into playoff contention. The Titans, at 5-4 are in a better position than the 4-5 Redskins, but both teams are coming off a beat down and will look to recoup this week.
The Redskins, after a promising start, have dropped two games in a row and three of their last four. Their offensive struggles and quarterback controversy are well documented. McNabb has played poorly of late and is ranked 29th in passer rating. With Clinton Portis and Ryan Torrain still battle injury, the Redskins have struggle to manufacture a running game.
On defense, the Redskins were torched this past weekend by Michael Vick and the Eagles wide receivers. The defense ranks 31st in the league against the pass and 25th against the run. The woes of the Redskins will likely continue if they can't get those stats turned around.
The Titans have acquired Randy Moss to give the offense a better deep threat and give Chris Johnson more room to run. That said, the offense struggled in Moss's first week. Moss only caught one ball while Collins and Young combined throw for only 124 yards. Chris Johnson, though not having as strong a season as last year, is still third in the league in rushing yards.
Defensively the Titans have been relatively stingy. They are ninth in the league in points, giving up an average of 19.9 points a game. They are tied for second in the league with 27.0 sacks. The Titans will try and get after McNabb and should have some success against a relatively weak offensive line.
Despite having records that are relatively close, the Titans are the better team and need this game more. They have yet to play two divisional foes, the Colts and Texans, and must get a few wins before they head into the divisional games. Vince Young, though not a particularly polished short and intermediate passer, throws a nice deep ball and should have plenty of opportunities against a 'Skins defense that will try and limit Chris Johnson.
On defense expect McNabb to be running for his life. The Titans knocked two Dolphin quarterbacks out of the game last week (although the Pennington injury wasn't really the result of physical play) and will look to hit and fluster McNabb all day.
Prediction: Titans win 34-17
As long as Favre plays for the Vikings, this game will always be bigger than just another divisional game. The Vikings were expected to contend this season, but find themselves at 3-6 with an apparent crisis in lockerroom leadership. The Packers, on the other hand, got off to a bumpy start and have since reeled off three straight wins and are coming out of their bye week.
The Vikings looked like they might have rediscovered the magic after a dramatic comeback over the Cardinals. Those hopes came crashing down at Soldier Field as the Bears handily defeated Minnesota. Adrian Peterson is having another phenomenal season, averaging well over four YPC and is second in the league in yards. Favre, on the other hand, is struggling. He's thrown 10 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. The loss of Sidney Rice certainly hasn't helped, but Favre looks much worse than last year.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Vikings aren't nearly as intimidating as last season. Jared Allen and Co. have failed to put much pressure on opposing quarterbacks and have only recorded 13 sacks on the season.
Adding to the disarray in Minnesota is the brewing controversy between Childress and his team. His players have anonymously doubted him and Favre is under investigation from the NFL.
Green Bay Packers
The Packers, on the other hand, look like a team poised to make a run. They blanked the Jets 9-0 and then manhandled the Cowboys 45-7. Clay Matthews has terrorized opposing quarterbacks and Aaron Rodgers has managed to spread the ball around despite losing Jermichael Finley and Ryan Grant for the season.
Look for the surging Packers to continue their dominance this week. Favre has made a lot of mistakes this year under pressure and will do the same this week. Rodgers should be able to carve up this Vikings defense, like he did in Week 7. The only wildcard is Peterson. If Peterson has a big game the Vikings could win this one at home.
Prediction: Green Bay wins 31-24
At 4-5 the Houston Texans still have a shot to make the playoffs. They suffered a devastating defeat at the hands of the Jaguars and are now 1-2 in their division. They'll need to reel off quite a few consecutive victories to make a run at the playoffs. The Jets, on the other hand have won their last two games in overtime. While Rex Ryan is saying he couldn't be more pleased with the way his team has responded, you wonder why the Jets are in overtime games with the Lions and Browns. I know both are on the road and both teams are a little better than their records indicate, but still. Championship teams don't let a rookie quarterback drive the length of the field to tie the ball game in regulation.
The Texans boast the league's leading rusher in Arian Foster and have possibly the leagues best receiver in Andre Johnson. They will need to get both on track to defeat the Jets, a task that is easier said than done. Look for the Texans to try and get Foster involved early to keep the Jets from ramping up the pressure on Schaub.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Texans need to limit big plays and force more turnovers. They have only forced three fumbles all year and are last in the league in creating turnovers. Pressuring Sanchez should create bad throws or sacks.
New York Jets
Rex Ryan's team prides itself on being efficient and running the football. The resurgence of LaDanian Tomlinson has made this possible. They rank 4th in the leauge in rushing yards.
Sanchez has been effective if not spectacular. He has made some nice throws in overtime and allowed his receivers to pick up yards to win the past two games.
On defense, the Jets like to blitz and harrass opposing quarterbacks. This strategy has paid off. The Jets are ranked third in scoring defense.
Breakdown: Texans upset Jets 28-21
The Jets havent been that impressive in their last few games and the Texans are capable of exploiting the Jets defensive weaknesses. Look for Schaub to have success finding Andre Johnson,
This matchup is always intriguing because it pits the two best quarterbacks of the last decade against one another. On one hand you have the three-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady who is a fiery leader and calm under pressure, and on the other hand you have the cerebral, quarterbacking wizard, Peyton Manning who has managed to keep the Colts offense afloat despite many moving parts.
As per usual, Manning has the Colts on the right track. They rank third in the league in passing but have struggled to manufacture a running game. Offensively, they have been decimated by injury. Dallas Clark is out for the season while Austin Collie and Joseph Addai will probably be unable to play this week. Despite these absences, the Colts have continued to play well, once again proving that Peyton Manning and the Colts coaching staff turn normal players into stars.
Defensively, the Colts still struggle to stop the run and Bob Sanders is out (no shock there). They do, however, do a nice job pressuring the quarterback with Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis.
I read a column two weeks ago suggesting that Brady would never regain his pre-ACL injury greatness. Brady has put those fears to rest after a dominant performance against the Steelers. Without a true deep threat or a very effective running game, Brady carved up a strong Steelers defense.
Defensively, the are just ok. They gave up huge yards on the ground two weeks ago to Cleveland but did a nice job with the Steelers. Expect Belichick to have a solid game plan this week for the Colts.
Despite being decimated by injury I still think the Colts will be able to move the ball. Jacob Tamme has been a solid replacement for Dallas Clark and Reggie Wayne is still dangerous. They do, however, need to establish the run a little bit to keep the Pats from blitzing. I think some draw or screen plays will slow the rush and give Manning time to find receivers.
The Pats will look to pound the ball against a defense that gives up 5 YPC. If the Colts can gum up the running game, they can have some success defensively. They will be able to get after Brady with both defensive ends and shouldn't be afraid to bring a safety up since the Patriots lack a real deep threat.
Prediction: Colts win 27-17
This may be more difficult if the weather is bad.
These two teams had polar opposite results this past week. The Eagles lit up the scoreboard, dropping 45 points on the Redskins before halftime en route to a 59-21 victory. The Giants, on the other hand, lost to a rejuvenated Cowboys team at home.
This game is huge for both teams. Both are 6-3 and 1-1 in the division. The winner will be in the driver's seat in the NFC East.
New York Giants
Before playing poorly at home last week against the Cowboys, the Giants were one of the hottest teams in football. Their offense had been dominant thanks to a balanced attack. Ahmad Bradshaw is having a breakout season as is second year wide receiver Hakeem Nicks.
On defense, the Giants are getting improved play in the secondary and are harrassing quarterbacks.They have also stifled the run, giving up only 83.3 YPG.
The quarterback controversy that plagued the Eagles over the first few weeks of the season is clearly over. Michael Vick is clearly the quarterback, and one of the best in the NFL. His performance this past week has solidified his return to greatness and he is now perhaps more dangerous than he was in Atlanta. He has more weapons than ever before and is a more patient, mature passer.
Defensively, the Eagles have been pretty solid against both rush and pass but have given up big plays and performances. Against the rush, Jim McDermott brings lots of run blitzes. Against the pass, the Eagles also blitz and the corners play aggressively. Asante Samuel in particular is a very good corner and has sticky hands.
The Giants have got to contain Vick. Despite his improvement as a pocket passer, the real concern with Vick is his ability to scramble and extend plays. If the Giants get to him, they must bring him down. Also, blitzing hard off the edge opens up running alleys for Vick. They should keep their safeties back and come up field slowly on the rush to keep him contained. Forcing the Eagles to sustain long drives is the only way to beat them right now.
On offense, the Giants should look to pound the ball the keep Vick off the field. If they can do that they can have some success.
Prediction: Eagles win 31-27
I think Vick will end up running wild late in the game and the Eagles will win at home. The Giants will have success but will ultimately give up too many big plays.