What are some of the big questions heading into this week’s action in the NFL?
1. Can the Bears survive without Cutler?
In a word, yes. Remember, this was the same team that once went to the Super Bowl with Rex Grossman at the controls. They have a physical, unrelenting defense led by Brian Urlacher and Julius Peppers, a star at running back in Matt Forte, and the most dangerous returner in the league in Devin Hester. But the biggest question is whether or not Mike Martz will adjust. Leopards don’t change their spots and Martz is a leopard thru and thru. If he wants to run his offense with Caleb Hanie the same as if Jay Cutler were under center then the Bears are going to die a very quick death. But if Martz relies on Forte and the running game and allows Chicago’s defense and special teams to win games, then there’s no reason the Bears can’t still make the playoffs with Hanie under center.
2. Can the Lions bring down the Pack?
This is the moment the Detroit Lions have been waiting for all season: To finally be able to punch the bully back. The Packers have been abusing the Lions for years but now Detroit is bigger, better and meaner. The way to beat any elite quarterback is to pressure him using only the front four because it allows a defense to drop the rest of its defenders into coverage. And thanks to guys like Ndamukong Suh, Willie Young and Cliff Avril, the Lions have one of the best pass rushes in the league. Aaron Rodgers will make plays; that’s just what he does. But the Lions certainly have the pass rushers to make his Thanksgiving a little uncomfortable if the secondary can hang with guys like Jordy Nelson in coverage. The biggest question is whether or not Matthew Stafford can avoid mistakes. Turnovers will kill the Lions but otherwise, they have the tools to slay the dragon. Now they just have to go out do it.
3. Can Leinart keep the Texans moving ahead?
The Texans own a two-game lead over the Titans in the AFC South but Matt Leinart hasn’t taken a snap in a regular season game since 2009. And when he did have his opportunities to start, he flubbed things up pretty good. But from Kurt Warner to Rich Gannon to Kerry Collins, there have been plenty of quarterbacks who prospered after first facing adversity in their careers. Leinart has first-round talent but. he wasn’t ready to lead in Arizona. That said, he’s older, wiser and hopefully more mature. Armed with a great running game and a defense playing at the top of its game, the Texans are playoff-ready. All Leinart has to do is manage games and not muck things up but can he do it?
4. Can Sanchez restore what little confidence he has?
The Bills are a wounded animal lying on the side of the road right now and all the Jets have to do is come by and put it out of its misery. But knowing Mark Sanchez, he’ll probably shoot the Bills in the leg and try to finish them off with a shovel, leaving his defense to clean up the mess. What? Sanchez has lost whatever confidence he once had and is playing not to lose. The Jets don’t need that right now. They need a leader to take charge and get them back to the playoffs because Rex Ryan’s defense is a Super Bowl-caliber unit. But this team doesn’t have a running game so it’s up to Sanchez to make plays with his arm. Thus far, he hasn’t shown the ability to do that on a consistent basis. Now is the time though. Again, Buffalo is finished. Fred Jackson is hurt and Ryan Fitzpatrick is an even bigger mess than Sanchez is right now. This is a perfect opportunity for Sanchez to right the ship and start playing with a little confidence.
5. Which Harbaugh has the better team?
All three Thanksgiving matchups bring something to do the table but the NFL Network may have saved the best for last. Jim vs. John makes for a nice fluffy storyline for the cable news networks (since fluff is all they are these days), but the real story is whether or not the 9-1 Niners can knock off the 7-3 Ravens playing a Baltimore-brand of football. San Francisco likes to pound the ball on the ground and play great defense, not unlike its counterpart on Thursday night. It’ll be interesting to see if the Niners’ stout defense can fluster Joe Flacco and the inconsistent Raven offense. Baltimore has a habit of playing up to its competition though, so this should be a great game throughout.
6. Can the Eagles get back into the playoff chase?
All the Giants had to do Sunday night was beat the Eagles and send them away but they couldn’t do it. Now Philly has a chance to get back into the NFC playoff picture with a win against the Patriots on Sunday because the Giants play in New Orleans on Monday and Dallas has a tough match against a red-hot Miami team on Thursday. Of course, beating Tom Brady is easier said than done. The Eagles’ defense looked great against Eli Manning and the Giants but they’ve been inconsistent all year. Also, if Michael Vick can’t play again will Vince Young be able to win two big games in a row? Young has always been good in small doses but the more a team leans on him, the more likely he’ll fall in the end. This will be a great matchup on Sunday evening.
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Posted in: NFL
Tags: Aaron Rodgers, Brian Urlacher, Buffalo Bills, Caleb Hanie, Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Jay Cutler, Jim Harbaugh, John Harbaugh, Julius Peppers, Mark Sanchez, Matt Forte, Matt Leinart, Mike Martz, Ndamukong Suh, New England Patriots, New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles, Rex Grossman, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tom Brady, Vince Young