Top 25 Most Pressing NFL Questions Heading into Week 11

Dan Van Wie@@DanVanWieContributor IIINovember 15, 2011

Top 25 Most Pressing NFL Questions Heading into Week 11

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    Week 10 of the 2011 NFL season is almost in the books. While we await the outcome of the Green Bay Packers against the Minnesota Vikings on Monday Night Football, we can then turn our focus on to the issues of importance for Week 11.

    There were some interesting developments in Week 10 that covered a wide range of topics in football, along with some things that we have seldom seen before. There were also some interesting trends that were formed in Week 10 and some teams that stepped up to make a strong statement, as well as some really good teams that for some reason looked like they took Week 10 off.

    Week 10 saw everything from a bench-clearing brawl, football again on Thursday nights, a team that completed only two passes and won and a player scoring and then giving the ball to a cheerleader on the other team. Only in the NFL.

    We will cover the most pressing 25 questions coming in to Week 11. The questions aren't listed in any particular order, but all of them are issues of relative importance.

Fewer Passes Equals More Wins?

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    Like most NFL fans, I watched as many games as I could over Week 10, reviewed the box scores and watched all the highlight shows. I noticed some patterns started emerging that I had to discuss. The main pattern was that for the most part, the team that threw the ball the fewest number of times were winning the vast majority of the games.

    Going around the league, the only teams that threw more passes than their opponent and won the game were Arizona, Jacksonville and Pittsburgh. New England and the New York Jets threw the exact same number of passes.

    Another thing I noticed was that if teams threw the ball at least 40 times, it increased their chances of losing dramatically. All of the following teams attempted at least 40 passes, and they walked away with a loss: New York Giants (40), Baltimore (52), Detroit (63), Carolina (40), San Diego (47) and Atlanta (52). It should be noted that Arizona (40) and New Orleans (43) threw the ball at least 40 times and won the game.

    Another interesting thing was the number of teams that won by throwing the ball 30 times or less, which meant that they had a more balanced offensive attack. Those teams that won, and the number of attempted passes were: Tennessee (27), Miami (29), Jacksonville (21), San Francisco (30), Seattle (27), Chicago (19), Houston (15), Denver (8), St. Louis (25), Dallas (26) and Oakland (20).

    Finally, only one losing team had a running back that ran for over 100 yards, and that was Fred Jackson of the Buffalo Bills, who totaled 114 rushing yards in the loss to the Dallas Cowboys. If you hold your opponent's leading rusher to less than 100 yards and force them to throw the ball 40 times or more, you stand a great chance to win.

Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos Are Defying Logic

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    We all know that the NFL is regarded as a pass-happy league, and that it's a quarterback-driven league. So how can we possibly come to grips with the Denver Broncos' current style of play where they attempt only eight passes, complete only two passes and win the game despite losing their top two running backs to injuries?

    For starters, the Broncos have gone with the read-option offense that you would see run at the college level, as opposed to the NFL. Then, the Broncos lost Willis McGahee to a hamstring injury in the first quarter, and Knowshon Moreno to a sprained knee in the second quarter. So, with the top two running backs injured, you then turn to the passing game, right? No, you instead turn to the third-string running back Lance Ball and watch him run for 96 yards over 30 carries.

    Tebow passed the ball eight times in the game. He completed only two passes, one for 13 yards to Matt Willis and then an improbable 56-yard bomb to Eric Decker for a touchdown in the fourth quarter that sealed the victory for Denver.

    The Broncos won the game by rushing the ball for 244 yards, but you have to wonder what they will do when they have to play on Thursday Night Football when they face the New York Jets, who were beaten badly by the New England Patriots. The Jets defense is usually stout against the run, and if McGahee and Moreno can't play, or are very limited, then what will the Broncos do to move the ball?

    After all, they are now tied for second place in the wacky AFC West and are just one game out of first place in their division. One thing is for sure, you have to wonder how much job security any wide receiver has in Denver these days. Will that position be phased out of the game plan while Tebow keeps racking up wins?

Were the Buffalo Bills Ready To Play Football on Sunday?

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    As the Buffalo Bills were preparing to play the Dallas Cowboys, there were all kinds of human interest stories that were popping up out of One Bills Drive during the week.

    We found out that the Cowboys stadium was built on top of the neighborhood where Fred Jackson grew up as a kid. We learned that David Nelson was making plans to do something special with his Dallas Cowboys cheerleader girlfriend if he happened to score a touchdown.

    The Bills players that hailed from Dallas were besieged with ticket requests and were busy attending to filling their orders.There was also the issue of the Bills trying to win for Chan Gailey, who Jerry Jones fired as the Cowboys head coach.

    The only member of the Bills organization that seemed to be concentrating on actual football issues was head coach Chan Gailey who was expressing concern that the Bills knew exactly where DeMarcus Ware was on the field at all times.

    The Cowboys needed only five plays to drive the ball 80 yards to score a touchdown on their opening drive. Tony Romo completed 88.5 percent of his passes and led the Cowboys on four touchdown drives in the first four drives of the game. And what about DeMarcus Ware? On the Bills first play of the game, Ware came in to the backfield untouched and easily sacked Ryan Fitzpatrick. Things just went downhill from there.

    Fitzpatrick clearly was focused on making sure David Nelson got his touchdown so that he could pull off his surprise with his girlfriend. In the red zone, Fitzpatrick looked only for Nelson until the mission was complete. It was as if that mission was more important than the game. I know that isn't the case, but it appeared that it was.

    The sad thing is that the Bills have now turned a very promising start of 5-2 into two straight weeks of looking like the team that began the 2010 season as an 0-8 team. We thought they were serious about wanting to end their 11-year playoff drought, but that wasn't backed up by their play. Can the Bills forget about all the human interest stories for a while and concentrate on football? We'll see.

Which Teams Stepped Up with a Big Win in Week 10?

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    Wrote a story last week in which I was asked to predict which teams with a losing record would not make the 2011 playoffs. Of the teams that were selected, the fans of the Chicago Bears were the most vocal, expressing doubts as to my sanity or that I was indeed off my rocker.

    To their credit, the Bears played like a team that doesn't want to be denied a playoff berth and I tip my cap to the Bears team and to their fans for a solid game against the team that was directly ahead of them in the standings—the Detroit Lions.

    Other teams that stepped up with a major win in Week 10:

    AFC East - New England Patriots over the Jets.

    AFC North - Pittsburgh Steelers with a crucial win over the upstart Cincinnati Bengals.

    AFC South - Houston Texans continue to roll along with their convincing win over Tampa Bay.

    AFC West - Oakland Raiders and Denver Broncos both picked up key wins in Week 10.

    NFC East - Dallas Cowboys were only team to win from NFC East in Week 10.

    NFC North - Talked about the Bears above and we have the MNF game this evening.

    NFC South - New Orleans was the only NFC South team to win in Week 10 and continue to pull away from the rest of the division.

    NFC West -  All four teams won but only San Francisco is going to the playoffs. 49ers won a game against a quality opponent in N.Y. Giants to earn them more respect around the league, while the rest of the division won a game for pride and trying to build some momentum for the future.

Which NFL Division Is the Hottest Via Current Streaks?

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    For fun, I thought I would take a look at something I seldom do, looking at each division and figuring out which division is the best in football right now by adding up their current winning and/or losing streaks. Thought the results were very interesting to say the least.

    Obviously, this little study is flawed because some division had teams playing against fellow division rivals, meaning that they were going to be guaranteeing somebody within the division would be losing, while other divisions had no such obstacles. Leading up to the Monday Night Football contest, here are the findings, listed from the top division to the bottom division by winning percentage:

    NFC West (11-0) 1.000 percent, NFC North (13-1) 92.8 percent, AFC East (3-3) .500 percent, AFC South (6-10) .375 percent, AFC West (3-6) .333 percent, NFC South (2-6) .250 percent, NFC East (2-8) .250 percent and the AFC North (1-5) 16.66 percent.

    The NFC is generally considered the weakest division in the NFL, but it's rather curious that the weak NFC West is currently riding a streak of 11-0, making them the best division in the NFL at this particular moment in the season. Also of interest is that the AFC North is the worst.

    Say what you will about the schedule, timing and circumstances, but with the NFC West coming up with wins over the Baltimore Ravens, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles and Cleveland Browns, the division came away with some high-quality wins.

Will the NFL Fine or Suspend Matthew Stafford?

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    One of the more curious events from Week 10 was the play that resulted in Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford grabbing the face mask of Chicago Bears corner D.J. Moore, which led to Moore blasting Stafford and ultimately a bench-clearing brawl for both teams. 

    With the league going out of their way to fine players for various hard hits, it will be interesting to see if Stafford is hit with a fine for his actions in the game. Will the NFL fine an offensive player, albeit a star quarterback for his actions, or are they interested in fining defensive players only? 

    I somehow doubt that anyone will be suspended any games from the brawl, but a rather long list of fines would not be a total surprise.

    Then, we have the whole issue of Stafford playing this game with a broken finger and continuing to throw one interception after another, without head coach Jim Schwartz pulling Stafford for Shaun Hill. The Lions only had a one-game lead on the Bears, and they are now tied in the NFC North.

    Stafford only completed 33-of-63 passes, threw four interceptions to just one touchdown and had a terrible QB Passer Rating of 46.3. With the game no longer in doubt, head coach Jim Schwartz still kept Stafford in, where he could have hurt his finger even more. Stafford was sacked twice in the game, and given his injury history, I'm surprised that Hill wasn't brought in for the fourth quarter.

Who Is Responsible for the Mess in Philadelphia?

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    The Philadelphia Eagles, the "Dream Team of 2011" are basically finished. You can put a fork in them, because their season is done. So, now that we can stop paying attention to them because they are no longer a factor in the NFC East division race, who is responsible for the bottom falling out of this team?

    Is the Eagles demise the fault of Andy Reid, Michael Vick, Juan Castillo, DeSean Jackson, Nnamdi Asomugha, Vince Young or GM Howie Roseman?

    Maybe all of them had a hand in the problems that continue to drag this team down. One thing is for sure. With a roster loaded with talent on both sides of the ball, the 3-6 Eagles are not playing as a team. They have too many players that have their own agenda and can't seem to figure out what is best for the team.

    Case in point is Michael Vick. He takes a big shot on the second play of the game, and the result is that he has two broken ribs. Rather than have them checked out, he decides to gut it out and try to play through the injury.

    The end result is that Vick has one of his worst games of the season and is outplayed by Arizona quarterback John Skelton. Had Vick thought of the team first, and not me first, he would have told Coach Reid of the severity of the injury and let Vince Young come in and see what he could do.

    Then we turn to the DeSean Jackson, who was held out of the game for disciplinary reasons. Jackson continues to put his contract woes ahead of what the Eagles need him to do. He is becoming a major distraction to the rest of the team with his me-first attitude and is on the verge of becoming isolated from the rest of the team.

    These are just a couple examples, but this is what happens when players put their selfish needs ahead of what is best for the team. It would not be a surprise to see either Andy Reid and/or Juan Castillo fired as a result of the end product not matching up with the level of talent that was acquired.

Which Teams Have the Most Improbable Winning Streak in the League?

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    Which teams are currently holding the most improbable multi-game winning streaks in the NFL?

    There are currently three NFL teams that are in the midst of a two-game winning streak. There a number of things that they have in common with each other. All three teams have a losing record, and all three teams are being led by a quarterback that was not starting for the team a month ago. It just shows that when a team makes a change at quarterback, it really can make a big impact on the fortunes of a team, no matter how good or poor the rest of the team is perceived to be playing.

    The teams in question are the Denver Broncos, Arizona Cardinals and the Miami Dolphins. As poor as all three teams were playing a month ago, NFL fans would be surprised to know that these three teams are 6-0 over the last two weeks.

    The team with the biggest transformation is the Denver Broncos due to creating an offense around the limitations of QB Tim Tebow.

    The Arizona Cardinals now have to figure out if they want to stay with the hot hand of John Skelton at QB, or if they will give Kevin Kolb his old job when he has finished rehabbing his injuries.

    The Miami Dolphins dropped their first seven games but have been fighting each week, playing hard for Tony Sparano. They remind me very much of the way that the Buffalo Bills started out in 2010, until they bottomed out and began their upward climb. That is where the Dolphins are now, trying to grow each week.

Does Rex Ryan Continue To Undermine the Confidence of Mark Sanchez?

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    Rex Ryan didn't pull any punches when he was quizzed about the time out that Mark Sanchez called late in the first half Sunday night, calling it "the stupidest move in football history." The story that ran today in the New York Post said that Ryan "called the Sanchez time out the stupidest move in the history of football".

    The situation was that the Jets were driving deep into New England Patriots territory in the first half with 1:24 left in the first half. There was some confusion on the play call, and Sanchez had trouble hearing the play over his communications device, so he panicked and called time out, while there was still more than 20 seconds left on the play clock.

    As soon as Ryan saw Sanchez call the time out, you could see him starting to lose control on the sidelines. The reason, of course, was not killing the extra 20 seconds on the play clock was just going to come back and haunt them when Tom Brady got a chance to finish off the remaining time in the first half.

    Sure enough, Brady threw a 18-yard touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski with only eight seconds left in the first half. That wasn't the final margin of victory, but it sure changed the momentum coming into the locker room at halftime.

    Whenever Sanchez makes a mistake like this, and Ryan blasts him publicly, it has to shake Sanchez's confidence level. Sanchez is after all, only in his third year in the league, and he is still learning things every week in the league. The mistake is part of the learning curve, but having your coach call you out as making the stupidest move in the history of the sport can't leave a good taste in your mouth.

Who Is on the Long List of Injuries Suffered in Week 10?

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    Whether you are concerned about your favorite team,or the guys on your fantasy team roster, there was a long list of injuries that happened during the Week 10 games, so we will break them down for you as follows:

    Major injuries - probably out for a month or out for the rest of the year:

    Bills center Eric Wood (torn ACL), Bengals corner Leon Hall (Achilles'), Bears tackle Chris Williams (fractured wrist), Rams TE Michael Hoomanawanui (torn ACL), Redskins WR Leonard Hankerson (hip-torn labrum), Jaguars corner Rashean Mathis (knee), Eagles corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (ankle torn ligaments), Rams corner Al Harris (torn ACL) Chiefs QB Matt Cassel (hand injury), Jaguars LB Kyle Bosworth (broken hand), Broncos RB Knowshon Moreno (torn ACL) and Seahawks guard John Moffitt (knee).

    Injuries awaiting further medical updates - Texans QB Matt Schaub (Lisfranc injury), Falcons WR Julio Jones (hamstring), Lions WR Calvin Johnson (undisclosed), Eagles QB Michael Vick (broken ribs), Panthers TE Jeremy Shockey (ribs and hip), Chiefs DL Glenn Dorsey (leg), Chargers LB Takeo Spikes (concussion and biceps), Chargers T Marcus McNeill (stinger), Chargers G Louis Vasquez (ankle), Giants LB Michael Boley (hamstring) and Cardinals T Brandon Keith (knee).   

    Lesser injuries - Eagles lineman King Dunlap (concussion), Eagles WR Jeremy Maclin (AC sprain), Jets RB LaDainian Tomlinson (sprained MCL), Seahawks S Kam Chancellor, Seahawks WR Sidney Rice (concussion), Jets WR Patrick Turner (kidney), Seahawks WR Doug Baldwin (concussion), Patriots corner Devin McCourty (separated shoulder), Raiders WR Jacoby Ford (sprained foot), Rams RB Cadillac Williams (calf) and Redskins DE Kedric Golston (MCL)

    Escaped with just a scare: Cincinnati WR A.J. Green (hamstring), Denver RB Willis McGahee (hamstring), 49ers RB Frank Gore (ankle and knee), Bills WR Steve Johnson (shoulder stinger), Cardinals corner Michael Adams (hamstring), Chiefs corner Brandon Carr and Texans TE Owen Daniels (hyperextended knee).

Have Redskins Stopped Playing for Mike Shanahan and His Mind Games?

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    Not sure what's worse, the way that Mike Shanahan is playing mind games on his Washington Redskins or the way that they are responding to playing for the coach. Either way, the bottom line is that the Redskins are currently playing some of the worst football in the NFL right now.

    Over the past three weeks, the Redskins have been beaten by the Buffalo Bills 23-0, the San Francisco 49ers 19-11 and the Miami Dolphins 20-9. It's one thing to score only 20 points in three full games, but they were shut out by the Bills defense, who just allowed 44 points to the Dallas Cowboys. The Miami Dolphins had only won one time out of their last 13 home games, but the Redskins found a way to lose.

    The mind-games reference had to do with how Shanahan toyed with the RB situation between Roy Helu and Ryan Torain, and which QB to start between Rex Grossman and John Beck. During the prior week, Shanahan was praising Helu but featured Torain in the game instead.

    The starting quarterback will now be decided on a week-to-week basis, which means that there is going to be a short-leash on each QB for the rest of the year. The problem with this arrangement is that it will be difficult for anybody to grow from one week to the next. Based on how poorly the offensive line was playing when the Redskins allowed 10 sacks to the Buffalo Bills weak pass rush, maybe this is a job that nobody wants to win. 

Did Falcons Coach Mike Smith Gamble Their Playoff Chances Away?

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    In a move that reminded people of a decision that Patriots head coach Bill Belichick made and lost, Atlanta Falcons head coach Mike Smith gambled in overtime on Sunday, and the decision may prevent his team from returning to the playoffs.

    The Falcons were tied in overtime at 23-23 with the New Orleans Saints, and they were faced with a 4th-and-1 to go at their own 30. The Falcons originally lined up to punt the ball, and in retrospect, his initial gut reaction to punt was probably the right decision.

    Smith changed his mind and decided to go for it instead. The Falcons tried to run the ball, and the Saints did a great job of stuffing the line of scrimmage, and the Falcons turned the ball over on downs. Shortly thereafter, the Saints kicked the game-winning field goal, and just like that, the Falcons playoff chances were now in jeopardy.

    The Falcons held an advantage of 481-353 yards of total offense over the Saints, but when it came to overtime, Smith didn't have enough confidence in his defense that they would be able to stop Drew Brees.

    The Falcons were tied with the Chicago Bears for the final wild-card spot, but since the Bears hold the tiebreaker advantage, the Falcons now are basically trailing the Bears by two full games with seven games to go. This might be a move that keeps Mike Smith up at night for many nights to come.

Are the Baltimore Ravens Suffering from an Identity Crisis?

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    Would the real Baltimore Ravens please stand up? The Ravens own quality wins as they have swept the Pittsburgh Steelers, beat the New York Jets and beat the Houston Texans.

    The Ravens are also a team that has followed up those quality wins by losing the next week. Each time the Ravens beat the Steelers, they lost the next week. They also lost after beating the Houston Texans. The weird thing is that two of the three losses came against teams that are below .500. (Jacksonville and Seattle).

    It's like the old one-step forward and two-steps back mentality. The Ravens prove that they are one of the best teams in the NFL one week, and then they look like they have a hard time beating the worst teams in the league.

    Nobody knows what the ultimate fate of the Ravens will be this year, but if they wind up losing out on home-field advantage in the playoffs, they can look back at the losses to the Jaguars and Seahawks and kick themselves during the entire offseason.

Can Anybody Beat the Green Bay Packers in 2011?

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    Can anybody beat the Green Bay Packers?

    So far in 2011, the Green Bay Packers (8-0), own wins over four quality teams (Chicago, Atlanta, New Orleans and San Diego). Still remaining on the schedule in the second half are: Tampa Bay, Detroit (twice), New York Giants, Oakland and Chicago. While it's possible that the Packers could lose a game any week, the most realistic possibilities would be Detroit, Chicago or the N.Y. Giants.

    The Packers roll out just too many weapons to contain their offense, and quarterback Aaron Rodgers is playing out of his mind this year. The Packers have the No. 3 passing offense in the NFL, and Rodgers is the highest ranked QB in the league, with a lofty QB Passer Rating of 129.1.

    The Packers aren't a one-dimensional team. The Packers defense leads the NFL in interceptions with 16 and will likely be looking to pad that total against rookie QB Christian Ponder tonight.

    The Packers have now won 14 straight games since their last loss, a 31-27 game at the New England Patriots in the 2010 regular season.

    The Packers are loaded again this year, and it will be interesting to see how many more straight wins that they can roll off.

Are the Houston Texans the Best Team in the AFC?

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    The Houston Texans are rolling along at 7-3 and looking like they are well on their way towards securing their first playoff appearance. If the Texans are able to win the AFC South, and there's no reason to think that they can't, the only remaining question is do they hold home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoff run?

    One blip in the Texan's plans just hit the news wire today, as the Texans announced that starting QB Matt Schaub is going to miss the Week 12 game against the Jacksonville Jaguars and possibly longer than the one game.

    That gives him the Week 11 bye week and the following week to get over a foot injury he suffered on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Bucs.The Texans are prepared to let Matt Leinart start, but if Schaub needs to be placed on injured reserve, are the Texans willing to let Leinart take over for the rest of the year?

    The Texans are currently the No. 1 ranked defense in the NFL, as they are only allowing 269.7 yards per game. That is a strong turnaround in just one year, when the Texans finished the year as the No. 30 defense in the league, allowing 376.9 yards per game. That is an improvement of 110 yards per game, which is a dramatic change.

    While the Texans are continuing to play well enough to win, they are also buying time for star wide receiver Andre Johnson to get healthy for the playoffs. The Schaub situation is an unfortunate turn of events so it will be interesting to see what the final medical results are and what the Texans decide to do to stay as competitive as possible.

Why Did the N.Y. Jets Change Their Spots Against the Patriots?

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    Another way to ask the main topic on the top of the slide, is who is responsible for creating the game plan for the New York Jets on Sunday night? The Jets had been struggling with their identity and had gotten away from their power-rushing offensive attack. The end result is that Jets fans have no idea what to expect, and you can see how upsetting the latest effort is to their fans.

    But after winning three straight games by focusing on running the ball and placing less emphasis on the passing game, the Jets did an about-face and went back to a pass-slinging team against Tom Brady and the Patriots.

    In the three wins against Miami, San Diego and Buffalo, the Patriots only threw the ball for 173 to 230 yards. QB Mark Sanchez attempted only 25 to 33 passes during the three-game stretch.

    Yet, there were the Jets on Sunday, when running the ball and moving the chains would be a great game plan because it would prevent Tom Brady from being on the field. But on their first drive, the Jets ran five pass plays to only two rushes. On the second drive, the Jets called three passes to only two rushes, and so it went.

    For the game, the Jets threw 39 passes for 306 yards, running for only 110 yards. They completely changed up what they had done in winning three straight and lost their best chance to win the AFC East and enjoy home-field advantage in the playoffs. They have nobody to blame but themselves.

Is Chris Johnson Finally Back?

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    Chris Johnson had only ran for more than 65 yards in a 2011 game just one time coming in to the Week 10 contest against Carolina. The one exception was when he ran for 101 yards against the Cleveland Browns in Week 4. But against the Panthers last Sunday, Johnson exploded for 130 yards.

    Johnson needed just 27 carries to pick up the 130 yards, and he averaged 4.8 yards per carry. This kind of production has been something that the Titans team, their fans and Johnson's fantasy owners have been waiting for all year.

    Was this an exception to the general rule, a one-week outlier, or has Johnson finally found his stride and will be solid from here on out? The Titans are 5-4, and they are in position to make a run at the wild card if they can string a winning streak together.

    The Titans met Johnson's excessive contract demands, so it's time for Johnson to step up and keep them in contention. Whether or not he can do it remains to be seen. Their opponent this weekend, the Atlanta Falcons are No. 3 in the NFL against the run and are only allowing 90 yards per game. They will be hungry after the crucial loss to New Orleans in overtime, so something has to give.

2011 NFL Feel Good Stories: Has Their Bubble Burst?

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    Coming in to Week 10, a week that all 32 teams were scheduled for games, there had been four teams in the league that were considered to be feel good stories, or the Cinderella teams of the year. Those four teams were the Cincinnati Bengals, Buffalo Bills, San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions.

    Of the four teams in question, three of the four lost on Sunday, with only the San Francisco 49ers coming through with a win. The losses for the three teams were costly. It dropped the Bills out of first place in the AFC East, dropped the Bengals into a second place tie in the AFC North and dropped the Detroit Lions into a second place tie with the Chicago Bears.

    The Bills and Lions have been absent from the playoff picture for the past decade running. The only team of this group that has won a Super Bowl of course has been the San Francisco 49ers, so that is why there was some optimism from the fan bases of all four teams a few weeks ago.

    For most teams that have been floundering for many years, a meteoric improvement like the 49ers franchise is experiencing happens rarely. You want to see improvement and that has definitely happened for the Lions, Bengals and Bills.

    The 49ers are basically assured of a playoff spot already. How many of the other three get there remains to be seen, but Week 11 will be another important step. The Bills are at Miami, the Lions are hosting Carolina and the Bengals travel to face the Baltimore Ravens in the toughest contest of the three teams.

Can Any Team in the AFC West Start To Pull Away from the Pack?

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    With all four teams in the AFC West being within one game of each other, which team is best equipped to pull away from the rest of the pack?

    The Oakland Raiders and the San Diego Chargers are the two teams that appear to have the best balanced attack on offense in the division. The Chargers are getting healthy at running back and the depth of the Oakland Raiders wide receivers is scary good. Both of these teams have 10 days to prepare for their Week 11 trips to the NFC Central. The Chargers are at Chicago while the Raiders are at Minnesota.

    The Chiefs loss to Miami and Denver are a pretty solid indication of how poor the Chiefs are playing now, and the injury to Matt Cassel, that go along with the injuries of Eric Berry and Jamaal Charles make me think the Chiefs are too short-handed to be a threat in the division.

    Then we come to the Broncos. How in the world can Tim Tebow continue to defy the odds week in and week out? I think after a few more weeks of game tape circulates around the league, teams will start figuring out new ways to defend against Tebow or at least figure out how to contain him better.

    If anyone should be able to do slow Tebow down, you would think the Jets are a good bet to do it.

Have the Miami Dolphins Saved Tony Sparano's Job?

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    Will Tony Sparano be allowed to finish out the year as the Miami Dolphins head coach? The Dolphins have their two-game winning streak going, and now host the Buffalo Bills this Sunday in a AFC East division contest.

    The Dolphins have registered one win at home in 2010 and have now matched that with one home win in 2011. The team seems to be playing better on offense under the direction of Matt Moore as quarterback, so it will be interesting to see how many more wins they are capable of reeling off in a row, now that they apparently believe in themselves.

    The Dolphins offense is ranked No. 19 and the defense is ranked No. 20. Chad Henne had a monster game in Week 1 when he threw for over 400 yards, but nobody has topped 300 yards in a game since then. Daniel Thomas and Reggie Bush each have gained over 100 yards rushing in one game this year. Brandon Marshall has topped 100 yards receiving in three games this year, and that pretty much sums up the Dolphins offense exploits.

Have the Indianapolis Colts Already Mailed It In?

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    Have the Indianapolis Colts mailed in the rest of their season as early as Week 10? If you look at the last four games, it appears that the answer is yes.

    The Colts have been outscored in those four games 137-27. The Colts have scored 7, 10, 7 and then three points during those contests.

    Quarterback Curtis Painter has not been able to pass for over 100 yards in three of those four games, which shows how anemic the offense truly is.

    The offense is now ranked No. 31, and the defense is ranked No. 29. Neither side of the ball is playing with any emotion, and it appears that the team has quit on head coach Jim Caldwell in the process. This year will set the Colts franchise back considerably.

Best Contests To Look Forward to in Week 11

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    Week 11 is the final week that bye weeks are scheduled this season, and the four teams that finally get a breather this week will be the Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints, Houston Texans and Pittsburgh Steelers.

    Due to three of the teams with a winning record having a bye this week, it turns out that Week 11 only has two games scheduled where teams with a winning record are facing each other. In other words, there could be quite a few clunkers or games that will be ratings disasters. 

    On paper, the best two games look to be Cincinnati at Baltimore, which will have bearing on the AFC North standings. The other key game is Tennessee at Atlanta, where both teams are 5-4 and trying to take a step closer towards securing a playoff spot.

    The Thursday night game is the New York Jets traveling to Denver to try to solve how to stop Tim Tebow. The Sunday night game is the Philadelphia Eagles at the New York Giants, where the Giants have the chance to bury the Eagles mathematically from any chance of the playoffs.

    Monday Night Football is the Kansas City Chiefs at the New England Patriots. With Matt Cassel's injury, that should be another one-sided game.

    For what it is worth, there are three home underdogs this week. The Broncos (+ 5) hosting the Jets, the Browns (+ 1) hosting the Jaguars and the Redskins (+ 8) hosting the Cowboys.

What Happens Due to All the New Quarterback Injuries?

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    It appears that there are going to be at least three backup quarterbacks taking over going forward, with the possibility of other changes as well.

    In Week 11, it looks like there will probably be two changes right off the bat. Expect to see Tyler Palko taking over for Matt Cassel in Kansas City and Vince Young taking over for Michael Vick in Philadelphia. Cassel is having surgery on his throwing hand, and Vick would be wise to let his broken ribs heal.

    When the Texans come back off their bye in Week 12, Matt Leinart will relieve Matt Schaub. Then there is the possibility that the Cardinals will want to allow John Skelton to continue playing quarterback, even after Kevin Kolb comes back.

    If Matthew Stafford continues to throw the ball as ineffectively as he did last Sunday, due to his broken finger, you wonder if the Lions will let the season start slipping away or turn to Shaun Hill.

Can DeMarco Murray Continue His Torrid Pace?

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    DeMarco Murray has been taking the NFL by storm ever since he became the starting running back for the Dallas Cowboys. As things stand now, Murray will continue to assume the starting running back job even though Felix Jones is going to be healthy again in the near term.

    Murray continues to ascend up the running backs leader board, as he now is ranked at No. 11 in the NFL. Murray has accounted for 601 rushing yards in the last four weeks, which is a very solid 150 yards per week average. 

    On the year, Murray has 100 rushes for 674 yards, good for an average of 6.74 yards per carry. He already was an effective pass receiver from his days at the University of Oklahoma, and that skill has carried over to the NFL.

    The ability of Murray to use his speed, power and balance has breathed new life into the Cowboys running game, and if you happened to catch what Tony Romo did on Sunday, it's allowing Romo the chance to become a better passer as defenses have to respect Murray and the running game.

Who Will Win the NFL Rushing Crown?

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    As we come into Week 11, the NFL running back race looks like it's boiling down to five guys. In order of where the five are now, they would be Fred Jackson (Buffalo, 917 yards), LeSean McCoy (Philadelphia, 906 yards), Matt Forte, (Chicago, 869 yards), Maurice Jones-Drew (Jacksonville, 854 yards) and Adrian Peterson (Minnesota, 795 yards). We are awaiting the results of Peterson from Monday Night Football.

    Of the five backs, the top three seem to be distinguishing themselves the most; Jackson, McCoy and Forte. All three are averaging at least five yards per carry. Jackson is at 5.6, McCoy at 5.5 and Forte at 5.2 yards per carry. All three backs are the only backs in the league that have at least 10 carries that have gone for 20 yards or more this year. Forte leads with 11, while Jackson and McCoy have 10 each.

    In addition, all three will be playing in outdoor weather stadiums when the winter hits and will be a key cog in making their offenses go when the elements begin to kick in.

    While it's possible that somebody could still have some monster games and move up the list, I like the chances of the current top three emerging as the NFL rushing champion this year.