Every Tuesday I’ll take a look at the five biggest questions surrounding NFL teams for that week. This week I take a look at the Broncos-Patriots showdown, the Giants’ important divisional game against the Redskins plus Big Ben’s injury situation.
1. Can the Broncos really do the unthinkable?
At this point it might be foolish to doubt what the Broncos can do. They’ve won six in a row and seven of their last eight, which includes comeback victories in either the fourth quarter or overtime of five games. Tim Tebow has received most of the attention but if not for Denver’s stingy defense or kicker Matt Prater it’s safe to say that Tebow wouldn’t have had the chance to turn in so many clutch performances. But can the Broncos really do the unthinkable? Can they knock off Tom Brady and the Patriots? If they can, they might as well punch their ticket as AFC West champions because they face beatable Buffalo and Kansas City in the final two weeks. But first things first: they must beat New England. That’s obviously easier said than done but if the Broncos come up victorious this weekend they’ll send a message to the rest of the league that they should be taken seriously. (Of course, one could say that they’ve already sent that message over the past six weeks.)
2. Can the scrappy Redskins halt the Giants momentum?
With the Giants’ wild 34-31 win over the Cowboys on Sunday night, things are all tied up again in the NFC East. New York is technically in first place by virtue of its head-to-head tiebreaker, but Dallas will have its shot at revenge in Week 17. In the meantime, there’s no more room for letdowns. The Cowboys travel to Tampa Bay on Saturday night to take on a Bucs team that is coming off a 41-14 spanking at the hands of the lousy Jaguars while the Giants host the 4-9 Redskins. For all intents and purposes, Dallas and New York should emerge from Week 15 with identical 8-6 records. That said, let’s not forget that Rex Grossman and Co. knocked off the Giants all the way back in Week 1. Granted, that game was also played in Washington but the Skins have nothing to lose at this point and they’re playing decent football of late. They’ve dropped three of their last four games but outside of their 34-19 loss to the Jets in Week 13 (a game that didn’t get out of hand until the fourth quarter), they’ve been competitive over the past month. The Giants have a habit of playing down to their competition and if they do it again this week the Mike Shanahan’s could nip them again.
3. How will Big Ben’s ankle injury affect his play?
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported the high ankle sprain that Ben Roethlisberger suffered last Thursday against the Browns was the least damaging type of sprain. That’s obviously good news for the Steelers and considering Big Ben was able to return to the Cleveland game, he shouldn’t miss Monday’s game versus San Francisco. That said, how effective will he be is the question. Roethlisberger has played through various injuries all season and has played quite well. But he said this latest injury was “one of the most painful things I ever felt.” With the Steelers still battling with the Ravens for first place in the AFC North, they can ill-afford to have Roethlisberger sit if he says he’s able to go. But considering they all but have a playoff spot locked up, at what point does Pittsburgh decide that the risk isn’t worth the reward? This will be an interesting storyline to follow the next three weeks.
4. Can the Falcons find some consistency?
The Falcons have seemingly been on a roller coaster all season and you don’t know whether they’re going to finish the ride with their hands raised in jubilation or if the damn thing is going to go spiraling off the tracks. On paper they should be dominating but one moment they’re scoring 20-plus points in a half and the next they look completely hopeless offensively. One moment Roddy White and Julio Jones are catching everything in site and the next the ball might as well be a greased pig. One moment the offensive line is allowing Matt Ryan to pick defenses apart and the next they’re constantly helping him off the turf. This team is maddening to watch but maybe their impressive comeback against the Panthers last Sunday was just the thing they needed to wake them up. Yes, they were expected to beat Carolina. But anyone who watched their mistake-filled loss to the Texans the week before realized that the Panthers had a very realistic shot of beating the Falcons at home. And for one half of football, it looked like Carolina would beat Atlanta. But the Falcons finally found their groove in the second half and completely dominated the Panthers in the final two quarters. The question now becomes whether or not the Falcons found whatever has been missing this season. If they have, they’ll be a dangerous team from here on out. If not, well, strap in tight.
5. Will the Jets rise to the challenge?
The sixth seed in the AFC now belongs to the 8-5 Jets, who have won three in a row after losing back-to-back games to the Patriots and Broncos in Weeks 10 and 11. But the Jets don’t have the luxury of enjoying the moment because the Titans, Bengals and Raiders are still hot on their heels at 7-6. With upcoming games against the Eagles, Giants and Dolphins, the Jets could easily find themselves on the outside looking in if they slip up over these final three weeks. Their running game finally got going last week against the Chiefs, which is a good sign seeing as how poorly Philadelphia’s run defense has been this season. But can Mark Sanchez continue to stay out of the way and allow Shonn Greene and the defense to win games? Better yet, can he raise the level of his play so that the Jets soar into the postseason instead of limp to the finish line?
Posted in: NFL
Tags: Atlanta Falcons, Ben Roethlisberger, Ben Roethlisberger injury, Denver Broncos, julio jones falcons, Mark Sanchez, Matt Prater, Matt Ryan, New England Patriots, New York Giants, New York Jets, Pittsburgh Steelers, Rex Grossman, Roddy White, Shonn Greene, Tim Tebow, Washington Redskins