Week 11 of the NFL got off to a surprising start, as Tim Tebow again let his defense carry the team for 50-plus minutes then stepped up with a huge play, as Denver upset the Jets on Thursday night. Here’s a look at the TV agenda for Sunday…
It’s the biggest game of the day with both teams neck-and-neck along with Pittsburgh in the AFC North. Baltimore came up with its second inexplicable loss of the season last week when they lost at Seattle because they didn’t stop the run. Cincinnati has to exploit that this week with Cedric Benson, because it’s going to be tough for the Bengals to throw the ball. Rookie quarterback Andy Dalton has never faced a game this big on the road and receiver A.J. Green is doubtful. The Cincy defense is tough and will keep the team in it, but ultimately this is about the Ravens. When they’re ready to play, prepared to commit to the run and throwing the ball down the field, they win. They play to the level of their competition, and in this case that’s a good thing, so I expect a strong outing and a home win for Baltimore, as they gradually pull away in the second half.
Oakland has a chance to show they can play with the focus necessary to reach the playoffs, as they try and follow up a big win at San Diego last Thursday with another road win here. Not only do the Raiders come in with extra prep time, but the Vikes are on a short week after the MNF beatdown in Green Bay. The battle between the Viking running game with Adrian Peterson, against a quality front seven for the Raiders should be a good one and an injury to defensive tackle Richard Seymour gives Minnesota a bit of an edge, even if Seymour does play. That, along with the absence of Darren McFadden, gives the Vikings a chance to keep this one close. It comes down whether Carson Palmer can make plays, and while the Raiders are lacking at receiver, the Vikes are equally bereft at corner, and Palmer has gotten sharper each week since coming to Oakland. He finds a way to win this one and keep his team in the AFC West lead.
Tampa Bay-Green Bay (Fox)
With no doubleheader for Fox this week, this is the game they’ll show most of the country, as Joe Buck and Troy Aikman are sent to Lambeau Field. At the start of the season I had this projected as the NFC Championship Game, and at minimum thought this November battle would be a game with significant playoff implications. Instead it’s about Tampa Bay’s last desperate gasp to stay alive in the NFC South. They’ve brought in Albert Haynesworth, as if to underscore the desperation they’re facing. Haynesworth and Adrian Clayborn have to get to Aaron Rodgers, the Tampa secondary has to be sure in its tackling and Josh Freeman needs to play his best game of the year. I can see some of that happening and the Bucs staying in the game, but drawing the inside straight and winning? Not gonna happen here.
Carolina-Detroit: The Lions’ showing in Chicago last week was extremely disappointing, as Matthew Stafford wasn’t up to playing well on the road against a good defense. I’m looking for Cam Newton’ s mobility to cause Detroit a lot of problems and neutralize the impact of their front four. The Panthers spring an upset.
Dallas-Washington: If I may be allowed a Redskin-fan vent, they are playing dead football and inspire no confidence whatsoever. I still plan on making the hour drive to Fed Ex Field and enduring a few hours of torture.
Jacksonville-Cleveland: I have zero confidence in the Browns, and while the Jaguars aren’t exactly overwhelming, I like Blaine Gabbert’s development and having Maurice Jones-Drew is enough to produce a win here.
Buffalo-Miami: Buffalo is reeling, while Miami is playing well. Bills’ receiver Steve Johnson is doubtful with a shoulder injury and if he’s not full strength, the one big receiving threat Ryan Fitzpatrick has is taken away. Miami’s Matt Moore is getting the job done and the defense is looking good. Miami wins its third straight. If the Bills do lose and join the Jets at 5-5, it puts the AFC North in position to sweep the wild-card berths.
San Diego-Chicago (CBS)
This is the main national game of the week, with Jim Nantz and Phil Simms calling the action from Soldier Field. The Chargers played flat against the Raiders last week and now Philip Rivers has to find his form against a defense that’s playing very good football right now. I don’t see Rivers having a breakout game here, but I am looking for the inconsistent Bolts to come up with a complete game at a time they’re not expected to. They have some injuries in the secondary, but that’s not where the Bears beat people. Antwan Phillips should be able to make some noise on the pass rush, and while Matt Forte will get his yards, I see San Diego playing with a hunger and urgency that wasn’t there last week and getting a road win.
Tennessee-Atlanta: The Titans are hanging around the playoff picture at 5-4 even as they look nothing like a playoff team. As long as Atlanta isn’t in the doldrums after the overtime loss to New Orleans, they have too many weapons for Tennessee to keep up with.
Arizona-San Francisco: After initially thinking about the 49ers letdown possibilities after beating the Giants, I realized the Cards have an even bigger problem in that area after winning in Philly. Frisco, unbelievably is only a game back of Green Bay for the #1 seed and in commanding position for a bye. They’re too good to lose at home here.
Seattle-St. Louis: Seattle has at least resembled an NFL team this year, with wins over the Ravens and Giants. The Rams look nothing of the sort.
Philadelphia-NY Giants (NBC)
Everything about the Eagles is questionable right now, from Michael Vick’s health status to Andy Reid’s job status. Their home loss to Arizona as a 14-point favorite in a must-win situation was inexcusable. Even with Ahmad Bradshaw banged up, the Giants can still get a running game established in this spot and if you can do that, it seems Philadelphia can’t play 60 minutes without beating themselves. If the Eagles can play a complete game, they’ll win here, as I don’t expect much from Eli Manning if the weather stays chilly, an environment he’s never played well in. Earlier in the week I was thinking I liked the Eagles to get it done, presuming Vick played, but as game time draws near I find myself asking what basis I have for a belief that they can get through a game against a good defense and not commit turnovers. Certainly not past performance and with nine games gone, it’s time to accept that the Birds are what they are. They can tease with their potential, and you know in general they’ll still get a few good wins, but to actually pick it in advance requires a leap of faith not justified.