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2011 NFL Week 11 Primer

San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) gets up offf the field after being sacked by the Oakland Raiders during their Thursday Night NFL football game in San Diego, California November 10 , 2011. REUTERS/Mike Blake (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Jets @ Broncos, 8:20PM ET, Thursday
Tim Tebow will have a hard time winning another game this season in which he only completes two passes, especially this one tonight against the Jets. I know – I’m going out on a limb with that statement. I fully expect an angry Rex Ryan defense to shut Tebow down but then again, who knows? Maybe Tebow has another surprise up his sleeve. Denver’s defense is certainly good enough to keep this one close and if Mark Sanchez starts turning the ball over and making boneheaded decisions, the Broncos are certainly capable of pulling off the upset.

Eagles @ Giants, 8:20PM ET, Sunday
Last week I saw a team in Philadelphia completely give up. But they always seem to give the Giants problems, especially in New York. If Vince Young (assuming he plays for the injured Michael Vick) comes out motivated, then there’s no reason the Eagles can’t pull off the upset. But Eli Manning is playing some of the best football of his career and Philadelphia’s defense has looked lost under coordinator Juan Castillo. This game could really go either way. The G-Men could roll to an easy victory and keep Dallas at bay in the division, or Philly could surprise and turn the NFC East completely on its head.

Bengals @ Ravens, 1:00PM ET, Sunday
The Ravens have been playing up or down to their competition all year. One week they’re beating the Steelers (twice), Texans and Jets, while the next they’re losing to the Jaguars and Seahawks, or nearly losing at home to the Cardinals. Thus, it’ll be interesting to see how Baltimore comes out for this one. The Ravens blew it by not showing up last Sunday in Seattle and while Cincinnati is banged up, the Bengals have been competitive all season (as evidence in their 6-3 record). Will the real Ravens show up or will they view Cincinnati as an inferior opponent and once again take their foot off the gas?

Chargers @ Bears, 4:15PM ET, Sunday
The Chargers’ loss last week to the Raiders was pretty jarring, even for an underachieving San Diego bunch. Oakland has been competitive all year but the Raiders were banged up on both sides of the ball, were without Darren McFadden and were playing on the road. The Chargers needed to win that game. Instead, they lost for the fourth week in a row and now they have to travel to Chicago to play a red-hot Bears team playing with a ton of confidence right now. With Oakland in Minnesota this Sunday, it’s entirely feasible that the Bolts could be staring at a two-game deficit in the AFC West with six games to go. Philip Rivers has to step up at some point and stop making so many mistakes.

Titans @ Falcons, 4:15PM ET, Sunday
Here are the Falcons’ next five games: home against Tennessee and Minnesota, on the road against Houston and Carolina, and then back home against Jacksonville. There’s no reason Atlanta can’t be 10-4 when it travels to New Orleans for a Week 16 rematch against the Saints, but at some point its offense needs to put it all together. Matt Ryan has to be better, offensive coordinator Mike Mularkey has to be better and Roddy White definitely has to be better. Julio Jones or no Julio Jones, this Falcon offense has too much talent to be this inconsistent. There’s not a doubt in my mind that if Atlanta doesn’t play to its absolute full potential that Tennessee could win this Sunday. The Titans have an extra spring in their step following the news of Matt Schaub’s season-ending injury and their defense could definitely shut the Falcons down if it plays as well as it did last Sunday in Carolina.

Cowboys @ Redskins, 1:00PM ET, Sunday
The Giants sometimes have trouble with the Eagles so this is a prime opportunity for the Cowboys to pick up a big road win and then sit back and see if Philly can knock off New York on Sunday night. If that happens, both New York and Dallas would be 6-4 atop the NFC East. But the ‘Boys can’t get caught looking ahead. The Redskins have been abysmal offensively over the past month but Rex Grossman nearly led Washington to a win in Dallas earlier this season. Of course, that was when the Cowboys couldn’t even snap the ball and had several no-names at receiver, but still – take heed Dallas.

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A Six-Pack of Questions: NFL Week 11

Houston Texans quarterback Matt Schaub (8) signals his offensive line against the Indianapolis Colts during the third quarter of their NFL football game in Indianapolis November 1, 2010. REUTERS/Brent Smith (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

What are some of the big questions heading into this week in the NFL?

1. Can Matt Leinart save the Texans’ season?
You almost have to feel bad for the Houston Texans. Now that they’re finally knocking on the door of their first postseason appearance, they lose starting quarterback Matt Schaub (Lisfranc surgery) for the season. The good news is that the Texans are still two wins up on the Titans in the AFC South and hey, it’s not like the NFL has never seen a backup quarterback resurgence before. Don’t forget that in this very division, Kerry Collins once stepped in for Vince Young and led the Titans to a 12-3 record and a No. 1 seed in the AFC. That said, Collins had already taken a team to the Super Bowl earlier in his career and had some success as a starter. Matt Leinart has not. He may have won a bunch of games at USC but he’s done nothing in his four years in the NFL to make you believe that he’s going to one day wake up and put it all together. In fact, he hasn’t even attempted a pass since 2009. Maybe the question for the Texans isn’t whether or not Leinart can save their season, but whether or not the duo of Arian Foster and Ben Tate can rise to the challenge. Houston’s running game will be relied upon even more than it already has this season, although at some point Leinart will have to make plays. Like most people, I have my doubts about his potential to lead.

2. Can the Titans capitalize?
Tennessee has kind of gotten lost in the midst of Houston’s current four-game winning streak. But now that Leinart is taking over under center, the Titans have a realistic chance to win the division if they can play well in the second half. Chris Johnson is coming off a 130-yard effort against the Panthers and is showing signs of life for the first time all season. Matt Hasselbeck has also stayed healthy and is managing the game like the seasoned vet he is. The defense, however, has regressed. While the Titans have been stout against the run and good (not great) in coverage, their pass rush has been non-existent at times. For the Titans to beat teams like the Saints, Falcons and Bills over the next month, they’ll need to be able to rush the quarterback. But with games against the Bucs, Colts, Jaguars and Texans left on their schedule, there’s no reason the Titans can’t steal the AFC South right from under Houston’s nose. It’s really up to Tennessee to step up and string some wins together if Leinart falters.

3. Can Mike Smith and the Falcons bounce back?
That was a nasty way to lose last Sunday. While some have argued that Smith’s decision to go for it on fourth-and-1 from his own 29-yard-line last weekend against the Saints was a risk worth taking, the bottom line is that the move backfired. It cost the Falcons a potential victory and now they sit a game and a half back of the Saints in the NFC South. Smith’s decision is something that could come back and bite the Falcons later on once the NFC playoff picture takes shape. That said, the toughest part of Atlanta’s schedule has already been played. Tennessee, the Falcons’ opponent this Sunday, is certainly beatable, as are Minnesota, Houston, Carolina and Jacksonville (Atlanta’s four opponents before taking on New Orleans again on December 26). The Falcons close the season out at home against a Bucs team that is presently floundering, so there’s a chance they could win out if they play to their full potential. But not if they can’t put “the decision” behind them. To Smith’s credit, he hasn’t backed down from taking responsibility for the fourth down call and his players have come out in full support of their head coach. Now they just have to prove that they’re over the loss on the field.

4. Can the Chargers shake out of their funk?
The Chargers pissed away a golden opportunity to take their lead back in the AFC West when they lost to a banged up Oakland team last Thursday at home. Now they have to travel to Chicago to take on a red-hot Bears team that is playing with a ton of confidence right now. The Bolts have lost four straight and Philip Rivers isn’t carrying the team like he did a year ago. Norv Turner’s passing attack is still explosive but Rivers can’t stop turning the ball over and the running game is nowhere to be seen. On the other side of the ball, San Diego’s secondary has been suspect all season, which isn’t good considering Chicago likes to put the ball in the air. Fortunately for the Chargers nobody in the AFC West seems ready to pull away. But for confidence sake, the Bolts need to pick up a huge road win this Sunday.

5. Will the Ravens’ rebound from their horrendous loss last week?
I didn’t think the Ravens could play any worse than their 12-7 loss to the Jaguars in Week 7. And then they came out last Sunday and lost 22-17 to the Seahawks in a game they never led. The Ravens have clearly played to the level of their competition this season. They played inspired football in wins over Pittsburgh (twice), the Jets and Houston, but in losses to Tennessee, Jacksonville and Seattle the Ravens clearly thought their inferior opponents would just roll over. So how will they perceive the Bengals this Sunday? Cincinnati didn’t have what it takes to beat Pittsburgh at home last week but it did fight to the end. They’ve also played solid defense this year, although they just lost star cornerback Leon Hall to a season-ending injury. Will Baltimore view Cincinnati as a tough divisional opponent and play up to its potential or will the Ravens not take the banged up Bengals seriously and drop consecutive games for the first time all season?

6. Are the Bills finished?
If they’re not, they better be able to beat a 2-7 Miami team this Sunday. Buffalo has lost two in a row and has looked really bad in the process. The Dolphins may have started the year 0-7 but their confidence is rising with two straight wins. Still, they’re the Dolphins. They’re beatable. They’re certainly beatable when you’re a 5-4 Bills team that is trying to keep pace with the Jets and Patriots in the AFC East. This is a must win for Buffalo, especially considering New York and New England should beat Denver and Kansas City, respectively. If the Bills lose for a third straight week, then chances are this fairytale season is about to have a horrendous ending.

T.G.I. Friday’s NFL Weekend Preview – Week 11

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The Scores Report has teamed up with T.G.I Friday’s to promote the action in Week 11 of the NFL. Here’s a look at Sunday’s top games.

The Top-5 Games of Week 11:

1. Giants (6-3) @ Eagles (6-3), 8:20PM ET
It’s time to find out whether or not Michael Vick is for real or if his video game-like stats are the by-product of the defenses he’s faced. Of the four teams that he’s started and finished against (the Lions, Jaguars, Colts and Redskins), none of the four has a defense ranked in the top 15. That doesn’t mean Vick hasn’t been as good as advertised (on the contrary – he’s been phenomenal), but he’ll get his first true test this Sunday against an angry, aggressive Giants’ defense that was embarrassed by the Cowboys on their home turf last Sunday. This has all the makings of a true NFC East showdown and with it being shown on primetime, one that shouldn’t disappoint.

2. Colts (6-3) @ Patriots (7-2), 4:15PM ET
One of the best rivalries of the past decade gets renewed this Sunday in Foxboro. The Colts are incredibly banged up and are coming off a rare victory in which Peyton Manning didn’t throw a single touchdown pass. The Patriots, on the other hand, blew out the Steelers in Pittsburgh and are looking to make a statement that they’re the team to beat now in the AFC. Last year, the Patriots led by 13 with 2:30 remaining but the Colts came back to win 35-34 amidst Bill Belichick’s decision to go for it on 4th and 2 from his own 28-yard line. The call backfired and for roughly 97 days following that play, the media discussed whether or not it was a good decision. How will this year’s chapter of Manning vs. Brady end?

3. Packers (6-3) @ Vikings (3-6), 1:00PM ET
This game has lost some luster this season thanks to the Vikings’ poor play, which includes Brett Favre’s penchant for turnovers. The only thing interesting about Minnesota these days is watching the circus act that is Brad Childress and his decision-making. That said, this could be Brett’s last chance to stick it to his former team and you know Lord Favre will make the most of the opportunity. With the Bears’ win over the Dolphins’ practice squad on Thursday night, the Packers need a win in order to keep pace with Chicago in the NFC North. Battling an assortment of injuries, Green Bay has managed to win three in a row and is fresh coming off its bye. Can the Pack get one more and hand their former quarterback another loss? Or will it be Favre’s last moment to shine?

4. Raiders (5-4) @ Steelers (6-3), 1:00PM ET
Who would have thought that this would be a top-5 game of any week, nevertheless Week 11? Even though they’re tied for first in the AFC West, the Raiders still have a lot to prove. For starters, only one of their five wins this year came on the road and only two of their wins (Chiefs and Seahawks) came against winning teams. That said, they’re finding ways to win and in the NFL, that’s the only thing that matters. They’re also 3-0 against the AFC West this year, which includes wins over the Chargers and Chiefs – two teams they’ll be competing with down the stretch. For the Steelers, they were soundly beaten by the Patriots last week and now have to play a team that has given them all kinds of trouble over the years. Oakland marched into Pittsburgh last year and beat the Steelers, so you know the Raiders won’t have any fears playing at Heinz Field. This game will be interesting to watch unfold. Even if the Raiders lose, as long as they can hang with the Steelers they’ll have confidence heading down the stretch.

5. Seahawks (5-4) @ Saints (6-3), 4:05PM ET
There were a couple of games that could have been used for this spot, most notably the Falcons-Rams contest in St. Louis. But this is a matchup between a) two teams with winning records and b) two teams that are still in a state of flux. The Saints are getting healthy again, which should make NFC teams queasy, while the Seahawks own sole possession of the NFC West but nobody quite knows what to make of Pete Carroll’s squad yet. This game may not tell us a whole lot because New Orleans could roll. But if Seattle hangs tough or – gasp! – actually beats the Saints, then the NFC playoff picture will get more muddled than it already is.

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NFL Week 11 Primer

John HarbaughSunday’s Best: Ravens (6-3) at Giants (8-1), 1:00 PM ET
Who would have thought this game would be the best matchup of the week with the Chargers playing the Steelers and Cowboys taking on the Redskins in the same weekend. The job first-year head coach John Harbaugh and his staff has done with rookie quarterback Joe Flacco has been amazing and the rest of the Baltimore players have really bought into the new regime’s system. They’ll get their biggest challenge this season on Sunday, however, as no team outside of the Titans is playing better than the Giants right now. There are a couple of great matchups within this game, but none bigger than New York’s power running game vs. the stingy Baltimore run defense. One advantage the Giants have is that this will be the Ravens’ fifth road game in six weeks and they might start to wear down. Flacco will face a ton of pressure from a quick Giants’ front seven, but getting Willis McGahee, Ray Rice and Le’Ron McClain going will help neutralize what New York does best defensively. This will be the most physical matchup of the weekend.

Upset Watch: Rams (2-7) at 49ers (2-7), 4:05 PM ET
Everyone is scrambling to be the first to predict the Jaguars to upset the Titans this weekend, but people have been waiting for Tennessee to fall for weeks and still they remain unbeaten. It’s hardly a huge upset to predict one 2-7 team will beat another, but after their strong showing on Monday night, football pundits might assume this game will be an easy victory for the Niners. While there’s nothing to like about the Rams following their abysmal performance last week against the Jets, this is a better team than what they’ve shown and San Fran is a bit dysfunctional right now after their debacle on Monday Night Football. Jim Haslett is still fighting for a head coaching job (as is Mike Singletary) and there’s no doubt he’ll have his team more prepared than they were last week in New York. Of course, a win for the Rams would mean that Marc Bulger has to get his head out of his ass and someone has to find Torry Holt. But as usual with my “Upset Watch”, I won’t predict an outright win for St. Louis, but I say they at least cover the 5.5-point spread.

Tony RomIntriguing Matchup: Cowboys (5-4) at Redskins (6-3), 8:15 PM ET
Tony Romo will be back in action this week, but will he need a game or two to shake off the rust? Unfortunately for him, Dallas can’t afford to lose any more ground in a stacked NFC East. The Redskins are also fighting to keep pace in the division and will look to avenge their ugly loss to the Steelers on Monday Night Football two weeks ago. They’ll have to do it without Clinton Portis, however, as he currently is sidelined with a MCL injury. Jason Campbell has been solid this season, but he’ll need to make plays without Portis in the backfield. If the Cowboys are going to walk away with a win, they’ll do so because of a strong defensive effort – not the play of Romo.

Other Notable Games:
Titans (9-0) at Jaguars (4-5), 4:15 PM ET
As previously noted, everyone is waiting for the Titans to slip and this very well could be the weekend they do. But they don’t seem like the team that gets ahead of themselves and every one of their wins has been a dogfight. The Jaguars rebounded with an impressive win over the Lions last week, but let’s not forget that they lost to the Bengals and Browns in two games prior to that.

Bears (5-4) at Packers (4-5), 1:00 PM ET
This is a must win for both teams because the Vikings are right back in the division hunt again. If the Packers lose, they might be able to kiss the playoffs goodbye. Kyle Orton is expected to play for the Bears.

Vikings (5-4) at Bucs (6-3), 1:00 PM ET
We’ll find out a lot about Minnesota this Sunday and whether or not they’ve returned from the grave. A win over a solid Tampa team would go a long way in proving they’ve rebounded from earlier seasons struggles.

Broncos (5-4) at Falcons (6-3), 1:00 PM ET
The legend of Matt Ryan continues this week in the Georgia Dome. Ryan is 4-0 at home this year and will have plenty of opportunities to make big plays against a horrible Denver defense. But Jay Cutler as lit opposing defenses up this year and there could be a wild finish to this game in the making.

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