Bryan Altman, CBS Local Sports
The Jaguars and Titans put on a real… uh, well, they did some stuff with a football last night. Some of it was good, a lot it was bad, and that’s about all that needs to be said about last night’s game.
Anyway, now that that fiasco is firmly in our rear view mirror, we can move on to the weekend slate of Week 11 games. There are some real good ones to watch this week so let’s just dive right in and start with the marquee matchup of the week.
1. Green Bay Packers (6-3) @ Minnesota Vikings (7-2) – Sunday, 4:25 p.m. ET
I think the common perception of the Vikings going into this season was that they’d be much improved, maybe a Wild Card challenger, but not ready to battle the Green Bay Packers for NFC North supremacy. Six weeks in that seemed to be the case but my how things have changed since then.
The Packers are now 6-3 after dropping their last three games while the Vikings are riding high at 7-2 and are looking to grab a stranglehold of the NFC North with their sixth straight victory at home against the Pack.
The Packers’ offense has struggled mightily lately and Aaron Rodgers hasn’t look like himself over the last few weeks. The Packers’ offense currently ranks 21st in the league in total offense and they’re 21st in passing yards per game. Not only are the Packers short Jordy Nelson who was lost in the preseason due to a knee injury, but they’re also lacking a true No. 1 starting running back – not that you didn’t know that already if you drafted Eddie Lacy in fantasy this year.
On the other side of the ball, Adrian Peterson has picked up where he left off even though he’s had some down games. He’s averaging over 100 yards per game and nearly five yards per carry to go along with it.
Then there’s Vikings second-year quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who has been garnering effusive praise from highly-esteemed folks around the league. Former Buccaneers coach Greg Schiano even went as far as labeling the quarterback as a “young Joe Montana.” High praise to be sure, but Bridgewater is showing all the signs of growing into a great quarterback in this league.
Still, he faces his stiffest test of the season this weekend. The Packers need a win in the worst way and Rodgers is still one of the best in the business. If Bridgewater, Peterson and the Vikings can take this game from the Packers, they’ll have a two-game lead in the NFC North with just six games to play. Not bad for a team that nobody really expected to see here just yet.
2. Cincinnati Bengals (8-1) @ Arizona Cardinals (7-2) – Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET
No doubt about it, if this were a division showdown, or even a conference one, this would be the top game of the week. This one is rife with storylines. Andy Dalton coming off his first bad game of the season against the vaulted Cardinals defense. Carson Palmer squaring off against his old team, including at least one unnamed Bengal who was there when he left and hasn’t forgotten how that whole thing went down. Plus, both of these teams are actually really good.
Both offenses can rack up the points and both defenses are more than capable of shutting the other offense down. Palmer has already dispelled the ‘it’s just another game’ narrative and he was right to do so. This one isn’t just another game for personal reasons on either side, and it’s not from a standings perspective as both teams need to keep winning to keep their respective division leads intact.
3. Denver Broncos (7-2) @ Chicago Bears (4-5) – Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
Speaking of returning to old haunts, this isn’t quite that, but John Fox is still squaring off against the team that fired – sorry, ‘mutually parted ways’ with him after winning four consecutive division titles and falling short in the playoffs each time. It’s hard to visualize any ‘revenge’ factor for Jay Cutler here, but he was also cut loose by the Broncos at one point in time.
So sure, the Bears have some interesting plot lines going on, but let’s be real here, their drama pales in comparison to what the Broncos have going on at the moment. According to reports, Peyton Manning has handled Brock Osweiler’s stead at the quarterback position this week as well as a three-year-old handles being told ‘no’ in a toy store.
Peyton hasn’t been spotted at any meetings or practices to help the first-time starter out, which is basically his way of voicing his extreme displeasure at the current situation. Either way, Manning has been ineffective most of the year and seeing what Osweiler can do with Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Vernon Davis and Co. is going to be fascinating.
That’s not to sell short what the Bears are doing, of course. Cutler has been cool, calm and remarkably clutch in back-to-back wins for the Bears who are one win away from reaching .500 for the first time this season and being considered real playoff contenders.
Beating the Broncos would throw them right back into the conversation. On the other hand, if the Broncos hand the Bears a loss and Osweiler thrives while doing it, next week will be filled with conversations that Manning might not want any part of. This is a good one all around.
4. Buffalo Bills (5-4) @ New England Patriots (9-0) – Monday, 8:30 p.m. ET
Let’s be real here – if Rex Ryan weren’t the coach of the Bills we wouldn’t even be talking about this game. That’s a testament to Ryan’s stature in this league. He’s bold, boisterous and he’s the guy we all love or love to hate. He draws exasperated signs and ire, but most importantly eyeballs. Then of course there’s Ryan’s strange rapport – if you’d like to call it that – with Belichick.
Ryan’s like a bad guy in a Bond movie and (bear with me here) Belichick is James Bond. You know, the bad guy thinks he’s got it all figured out and talks tough about how he’s going to kill Mr. Bond and inherit the Earth (and whatnot) and sometimes you actually believe him. Meanwhile, Bond is sipping Martini’s and getting down with Halle Berry knowing all the while that his adversary’s got no chance. And then before you know it, the bad guy (Ryan) dies a gruesome death and we wonder why we ever doubted Bond (Belichick).
Anyway, the most drama there will be in this game is probably taking place right now. So bask in it, because once kickoff is underway it’ll likely be the same old song and dance for Ryan. Belichick… Bill, Belichick, will reign supreme.
5. Indianapolis Colts (4-5) @ Atlanta Falcons (6-3) – Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
I would say these are two teams trending in opposite directions, but frankly I still have no idea what to make of the Colts’ victory over the Broncos two weeks ago. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and say they’re on to something. I mean, their three losses in a row before the Broncos game were all by one score or less, so maybe they’re not that bad. Let’s roll with that theory for a second.
Meanwhile, the Falcons are treading water to say the least. We know they’re not catching the Panthers, and worse than that even is that they’re one 10-7 win over the abysmal Tennessee Titans away from being on a four-game losing streak. Matt Ryan and the Falcons’ offense has gone ice cold and not even the mystery fantasy hero Devonta Freeman has been enough to stop their skid.
This game is truly a make or break one for both of these teams. Atlanta has to stop the bleeding at two-straight losses while the Colts equally as badly need to win and prove their Denver victory wasn’t a fluke. Whatever the result, one team’s season will be changed forever (cue dramatic music).
Honorable Mention – Washington Redskins (4-5) @ Carolina Panthers (9-0) – Sunday, 1:00 p.m. ET
As much as our media agenda may seem like it’s to ensure the universal hatred of the Redskins and all things Daniel Snyder, I’m here to admit that the Redskins most definitely do not suck. Actually, Kirk Cousins is fun to watch and Jay Gruden has done a pretty spectacular job with a team many left for dead at 1-3. Now, against all odds, they’re in the division hunt thanks to the ineptitude of every other team in the NFC East.
Unfortunately for them, they have to face Cam Newton and the scorching hot, pelvic thrusting, super-manning Carolina Panthers. It’s not always pretty with the Panthers, but they’re 9-0 and they have beaten better teams than the Redskins en route to that record. Perhaps Washington gets it because they need it more. Perhaps Carolina falls asleep at the wheel while driving through the bore that is the NFC South this year. This one will be better than most think.
That concludes our weekly breakdown of the games you don’t want to miss this weekend. So hit your local bar, or call up your friend with DirecTV Sunday Ticket and make sure you catch all the action. This weekend will surely be a fun one.
Bryan Altman is, for some reason, an unabashed fan of the Rangers, Jets and Mets. If he absolutely had to pick a basketball team it would be the Knicks, but he’d gladly trade them for just one championship for either of his other three teams.