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With just two weeks left in the NFL season many teams are out of the running for the playoffs, others have all but clinched a berth, while a few face critical games in week 16.  There are not as many huge matchups in week 16 as there was last weekend, but there are still some very important battles that feature teams fighting for playoff positioning. 

New York Jets at Chicago Bears
Sunday, 1:00 pm

Both of these teams grabbed impressive road wins last week.  The Bears have a chance to earn the #2 seed in the NFC and the bye and home-field advantage that comes with it.

Key to the game: Chicago’s pass-blocking, which ranks as the worst in the NFL, against the 10th ranked Jets pass rush.

Who do I like: I think last week’s win at Pittsburgh reinvigorated the confidence of the Jets.  Mark Sanchez also proved he can win a game in the elements.  I’m going with the Jets because I don’t believe the Bears will be able to generate enough offense.  Look out for the special teams play in this one.

Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum

Raider Nation will be ready to terrorize Peyton Manning and the Colts on Sunday

Indianapolis Colts at Oakland Raiders
Sunday, 4:05 pm

The Colts fended off the Jaguars last Sunday to take back control of the AFC South, but they need to continue to win to keep that control.  Oakland lost at Jacksonville two weeks ago in a barn-burner.

Key to the game: The Raiders second ranked rushing attack versus the Colts run D, which ranks 28th in the NFL.  Indianapolis did an excellent job of bottling up the Jaguars running backs last week.  They’ll have to bring that same intensity on Sunday.

Who do I like: I’m going out on a limb here and picking the Raiders.  There was a clear difference in the Colts passing game last week after Austin Collie went out.  And I don’t think that the Colts will find the yards on the ground like they did against Jacksonville.  Indianapolis will also not have the same defensive advantage they had last week when they played on their home turf and instead will be playing on Oakland’s grass.  As a result, the Raiders should be able to run the ball with success.

New York Giants at Green Bay Packers
Sunday, 4:15 pm

It’s kill or be killed in this game.  After last week’s crushing loss to the Eagles the Giants can still clinch a playoff berth by beating the Packers on Sunday.  Green Bay can earn a playoff spot by winning their last two games.

Key to the game: The ability of Aaron Rodgers to advance the ball through the air against the Giants’ second ranked passing defense.

Who do I like: This is really a must win for both teams.  You can expect the Lambeau crowd to be electric.  With a healthy Rodgers the Packers have lost only four games – each one by three points and two of them were overtime defeats.  I’ve got to go with Green Bay at home here.

New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons
Monday, 8:30 pm

The Falcons can clinch homefield advantage in the NFC with a win.  The Saints will earn a playoff spot with a win on enemy turf.  Atlanta won in New Orleans during week three.

Key to the game: Turnovers – the Saints turned the ball over 13 times in their four losses.

Who do I like: New Orleans may have been caught looking forward to this game while losing last Sunday in Baltimore.  I think the Saints have really had their eye on getting back at the Falcons since they lost in week three.  They have the perfect opportunity to do so in week 16.  I think New Orleans will come out very focused on Monday night and beat Atlanta.  It will only delay the inevitable division championship for the Falcons, but it will send a message heading into the playoffs where they may meet for a third time.

Who do you think will win these four big games?  Share your predictions by posting a comment below.

Photo source: leduardo

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With only four weeks left in the 2010 NFL season it’s time for the cream to rise to the top.  Last week it was the Steelers and Patriots making statements with huge wins over division rivals.  Who will step up in week 14?  Let’s take a look at the big matchups.

New York Giants at Minnesota Vikings
Sunday, 1:00 pm

Left for dead, the Vikings have gotten a couple of nice wins since the firing of Brad Childress.  The Giants need the victory to stay in contention for the NFC East and maintain playoff positioning.

Key to the game: New York’s sixth ranked rushing offense against Minnesota’s fourth ranked rushing defense.

Who do I like: With Hakeem Nicks and Steve Smith back in the mix and Eli Manning protected by the controlled confines of a dome, I’m going with the Giants

Eli Manning discussing alignments

Eli and the Giants need a big W in Minnesota

Oakland Raiders at Jacksonville Jaguars
Sunday, 1:00 pm

Yes, this is a big game.  The Jaguars currently lead the AFC South while the Raiders are two games behind the Chiefs, have a game remaining against them and have already beaten them once.

Key to the game: Jacksonville’s second ranked rushing offense against Oakland’s 23rd ranked rushing defense.  All of the Jaguars offensive success starts with the running game.

Who do I like: I’ve got to go with Jacksonville and the East Coast 1:00 advantage.

Kansas City Chiefs at San Diego Chargers
Sunday, 4:15 pm

A rematch from week one and unfortunately it looks very likely that the Chiefs will be without Matt Cassel.  Brodie Croyle has started nine games in his NFL career and has zero wins.

Key to the game: San Diego’s second ranked passing game against the 21st ranked passing defense of Kansas City.  The Chiefs have to stop Philip Rivers.  They’ll have no chance in a scoring battle.

Who do I like: Without Cassel, picking the Chargers is a no-brainer.

New England Patriots at Chicago Bears
Sunday, 4:15 pm

The Patriots put their four game winning streak on the line in Chicago against the Bears’ five game winning streak.

Key to the game: Chicago’s pass rush against New England’s offensive line.  To win the game the Bears must not allow Tom Brady to have time to throw.

Who do I like: I can see the Bears winning this game, but I’m not going to make that pick.  The Patriots are rolling.  I’m going with them to get the victory.

Philadelphia Eagles at Dallas Cowboys
Sunday, 8:20 pm

A few weeks ago this wasn’t a game.  It is now.  The Cowboys have won three of four in impressive fashion since Jason Garrett became coach.

Key to the game: The Eagles stopping the suddenly hot Dallas running game.  The Cowboys have 134, 144 and 217 yards rushing in their last three games.

Who do I like: Despite the solid play by Dallas recently I’m still going with Philadelphia.  I think Michael Vick will be the difference maker through the air.

Who do you like in these games?  Let me know your thoughts by posting a comment below.

Photo source: AJ Guel Photography

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So far in NFL Week 13 we’ve seen the Falcons and Jaguars step up to take control of their divisions, strong efforts by playoff contenders (Eagles, Packers, Giants and Chiefs) and the resurgence of two expected powers (Vikings and Cowboys).  As interesting as it has all been, it’s now time for the heavyweights to battle and determine what the major storylines of the first weekend in December will be.

But before that happens, here are the Average Guy NFL Week 13 Awards:

Most Impressive Win

Atlanta Falcons – 28-24 at Tampa Bay

Most Important Win

Jacksonville Jaguars – 17-6 at division rival Tennessee

Worst Loss

Indianapolis Colts – 35-38 to the Dallas Cowboys at home

Biggest Surprise

Oakland Raiders

Biggest Disappointment

Miami Dolphins

Offensive MVP

Maurice Jones-Drew, Jacksonville Jaguars – 31 carries 186 yards 1 reception 4 yards

Defensive MVP

Sean Lee, Dallas Cowboys – 2 interceptions (one returned 31 yards for a TD) 4 tackles

Special Teams MVP

Eric Weems, Atlanta Falcons – 102-yard kickoff return TD 4 kick returns 163 yards 1 punt return 10 yards

Most Surprising Performance

Benjamin Watson, Cleveland Browns – 10 receptions 100 yards 1 TD

Most Disappointing Performance

Kerry Collins, Tennessee Titans – 14 completions 32 attempts 169 yards 2 interceptions 34.5 QB rating

Offensive Rookie

Chris Ivory, New Orleans Saints – 15 carries 117 yards 2 TDs

Defensive Rookie

(beyond Sean Lee) Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants – 2 sacks, 3 tackles

Most Impressive Performance in a Loss

Knowshon Moreno, Denver Broncos – 23 carries 161 yards 1 reception 14 yards

Quick Takes

  • I expected Jacksonville to win but I am surprised at the way they dominated Tennessee on both sides of the ball.  It’s looking more and more like the Jags have a legitimate shot to win the AFC South.
  • Drew Stanton played much better than I expected against the Bears.  He was 16 of 24 for 178 yards and a touchdown for a 102.4 QB rating.  He also had a rushing touchdown.
  • Because his team lost he doesn’t qualify for my Defensive MVP but Cliff Avril was tremendous today with three sacks.
  • Looks like the Chiefs did an incredible job against the usually potent Broncos passing game.  They held Kyle Orton to just 117 yards passing and nine completions on 28 attempts.  Wow!
  • Not often you see a team lose four fumbles – but today two teams, the Bills and Redskins, each lost four fumbles.
  • I’m shocked that the Raiders handled the Chargers the way they did.  With both teams heading in opposite directions and the Chargers at home it seemed clear that they would handle their business.  But Oakland came in and ran all over the San Diego defense.
  • We had the privilege of viewing the mostly irrelevant Panthers-Seahawks game so I could not watch the Falcons-Buccaneers matchup.  I’ve got to say I’m impressed with the run Tampa Bay gave Atlanta.  I expected the Falcons to handle them by a couple of scores.

One BIG Question

Which 6-6 team is more disappointing – Colts, Chargers or Dolphins?

What are your thoughts on Week 13?  Let me know by posting a comment below.

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The Sunday portion of NFL week 12 has been thrilling.  Through the first 11 games of the day (with Chargers-Colts being played), eight games have ended with a score differential of a touchdown or less.  Five of the six early games are included in that total.  This is what the NFL is all about.  I guess it makes up for a rather ho-hum Thanksgiving slate.

With the Sunday and Monday night games still to be played, here are the Average Guy NFL Week 12 Awards:

Most Impressive Win

Chicago Bears – 31-26 over the Philadelphia Eagles

Eli Manning Warming Up

Eli Manning and the Giants rallied for a critical win on Sunday

Most Important Win

New York Giants – 24-20 over the Jacksonville Jaguars

Worst Loss

Tennessee Titans – 20-0 at the Houston Texans

Biggest Surprise

St. Louis Rams

Biggest Disappointment

Oakland Raiders

Offensive MVP

Jay Cutler, Chicago Bears – 14 completions 21 attempts 247 yards 4 TDs 146.2 QB rating 7 carries 17 yards

Defensive MVP

Terrell Thomas, New York Giants – 1 interception 1 sack 6 tackles

Special Teams MVP

Brad Smith, New York Jets – 89-yard kickoff return TD

Most Surprising Performance

Chad Henne, Miami Dolphins – 17 completions 30 attempts 307 yards 2 TDs 1 interception 100.3 QB rating

Most Disappointing Performance

Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans – 7 carries 5 yards 2 receptions 2 yards

Offensive Rookie

Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams – 22 completions 37 attempts 308 yards 3 TDs 113.3 QB rating

Defensive Rookie

Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants – 2 sacks, 8 tackles

Most Impressive Performance in a Loss

Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers – 26 completions 35 attempts 344 yards 1 TD 114.5 QB rating 12 carries 51 yards 1 TD

Quick Takes

  • The local FOX affiliate had to show the Panthers-Browns game so there was no watching the Packers-Falcons matchup.  So instead I tuned in for the whole Jaguars-Giants game and it was a good one.
  • Jacksonville had complete control in the first half.  David Garrard excelled and the Jaguars O-line opened up hole after hole for the backs while the New York defense seemed to have missed their wake up call.  Jacksonville piled up 145 yards on the ground through the first two quarters.
  • The second half was a different story.  The Giants defense caught a lucky break early with the Terrell Thomas interception and showed a much greater sense of urgency.  They blitzed quite a bit and it was particularly successful in the last few minutes of the game as they repeatedly hit Garrard.
  • One Jacksonville player I was really impressed with who doesn’t get much PT was the running back Rashad Jennings.  He has the patience to let the blocking develop and then explode.  That is a skill that is not often seen at that level in such a young ball carrier.
  • The absolute key to the Giants win? Zero turnovers.
  • Of course I’m very excited that the Rams beat the Broncos in Denver, but boy it was nerve racking. I was following the game online as the Rams let the Broncos get closer and closer and closer.  I was sure they were going to fold like they did in San Francisco.  Then FOX switched to live coverage after the Eagles-Bears game was over.  I was thrilled to see the defense finally get the stop they needed.  Now the Rams are back in first place in the NFC West.
  • Miami really stopped Oakland’s running game.  If you take away Jacoby Ford’s 13-yard run the Dolphins held the Raiders to just three yards on 11 carries…hard to believe.
  • I predicted the Chiefs would fall in Seattle.  I was clearly wrong.  What a game for Matt Cassel, Jamaal Charles and Dwayne Bowe.

One BIG Question

Which game is bigger next week – Steelers at Ravens on Sunday night or Jets at Patriots on Monday night?  Let me know which one you are looking forward to more.

Photo source: Marianne O’Leary

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Week nine brought a number of surprising individual performances in the NFL.  An old, grizzled veteran showed flashes of his former self in leading his team to victory (Brett Favre).  A pounding back earned his team a shocking win over a team that had turned into a good run defender (Peyton Hillis).  Two rookie receivers came out of nowhere to help their teams score critical W’s (Seyi Ajirotutu and Jacoby Ford).  These types of stories are one of the many reasons why we love football.

Here are the Average Guy’s NFL Week Nine Awards:

Cleveland Browns Stadium

The site of a huge upset in week nine

Most Impressive Win

Cleveland Browns – 34-14 over the New England Patriots

Most Important Win

Oakland Raiders – 23-20 over the Kansas City Chiefs

Worst Loss

Houston Texans – 23-29 at home to the San Diego Chargers

Biggest Surprise

Cleveland Browns

Biggest Disappointment

Dallas Cowboys

They Are Who We Thought They Were

Baltimore Ravens

Offensive MVP

Peyton Hillis, Cleveland Browns – 29 carries 184 yards 2 TDs 3 receptions 36 yards

Defensive MVP

Jared Allen, Minnesota Vikings – 2.5 sacks 4 tackles 6 QB Hits

Special Teams MVP

Jacoby Ford, Oakland Raiders – 94-yard kickoff return for touchdown

Most Surprising Performance

Seyi Ajirotutu, San Diego Chargers – 4 receptions 111 yards 2 TDs

Most Disappointing Performance

Thomas Jones, Kansas City Chiefs – 19 carries 32 yards

Offensive Rookie

Colt McCoy, Cleveland Browns – 14 completions 19 attempts 174 yards 0 interceptions 101.6 QB rating

Defensive Rookie

Eric Berry, Kansas City Chiefs – 2 sacks 4 tackles 3 QB Hits

Most Impressive Performance in a Loss

Arian Foster, Houston Texans – 27 carries 127 yards 2 TDs 4 receptions 70 yards

Welcome Back Mike Williams

Mike Williams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 4 receptions 89 yards 1 TD

Quick Takes

  • The Dolphins-Ravens matchup was my game to watch.   Earlier in the season I saw the Ravens beat the Steelers and the Steelers beat the Dolphins so I was looking forward to closing the loop by watching Miami visit Baltimore.
  • The Dolphins offensive line is stellar.  They forced the Ravens to load up on the blitz to get to Chad Henne.  Henne officially threw three interceptions but the first (after Brian Hartline slipped and fell) and the second (a bad Brandon Marshall drop) are kind of unfair to count against him. 
  • Miami’s tackling was pretty bad. 
  • I’ve said this before – Cameron Wake is a beast.
  • Ray Rice looked like he was completely back from early season injuries.  Joe Flacco was really bailed out when Sean Smith dropped a sure interception and touchdown.
  • The Ravens defense did a good job of taking away Brandon Marshall.
  • I was able to catch the end of the Chargers-Texans game and I’ve got to say I was really shocked at the very bad drop that Andre Johnson had.  A superstar wide receiver has to make that catch.
  • I’m really impressed with Oakland’s efforts to stop Kansas City’s running game.  They held the Chiefs to 104 yards on 34 carries.  Jamaal Charles did get 53 yards on 10 carries, but most importantly they held him to a long run of 13.  I didn’t buy into the Raiders run defense before this game, but I do now.

One BIG Question

Will all of the Colts injuries result in them missing the playoffs?

What performances did you think were Sunday’s best?  Let me know by posting a comment below.

Photo source: zoonabar

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The 2nd most important game of the NFL’s week nine is:

Kansas City Chiefs at Oakland Raiders
Sunday, 4:15 pm

I don’t think anybody predicted before the season that this matchup in week nine would be so important to the AFC West.  The Chiefs have shot out of the gates with an outstanding 5-2 start.  Their only two losses were respectable efforts at Indianapolis and at Houston.  The two things they’ve excelled at is running the ball and stopping the run.  They have one of the most dynamic backs in the game in Jamaal Charles who’s piled up 666 yards while averaging 6.5 yards per carry.

Oakland Raiders gravel

Can the Raiders maintain their momentum?

An argument could be made that the Raiders are the hottest team in the NFL.  They’ve piled up more than 500 yards in each of the last two games while scoring 92 points in blowing out the Broncos and Seahawks.  Darren McFadden is finally starting to reach the potential that made him the fourth pick in the 2008 draft.  He’s run for 668 yards and caught 20 passes for an additional 217.

The Chiefs win if:  They can hold the Raiders running backs to short gains on first down.  The Raiders are second in the NFL in rushing yardage per game and if Jason Campbell is going to be successful in the passing game they are going to need to have the run be a threat on every down.  With third and longs that won’t be the case.

The Raiders win if:  They can contain Charles.  Not to sound like a broken record, but clearly both teams rely on their running game a lot.  That’s obvious in that they are the top two running teams in the NFL.  Charles is an absolute gamebreaker who is a threat to get to the end zone on every carry.

Who do I like:  Chiefs 24-10

Why:  The Raiders have played the run well in the last two games.  It’s important to note that those games were against the worst rushing team in the NFL (Denver) and the 27th rushing team in the NFL (Seattle).  They won’t be able to do it against the Chiefs.  I think Charles and Thomas Jones will be able to run for big gains against Oakland’s front seven while the Chiefs defense slows down the Raiders running game. 

Photo source: allaboutgeorge

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Halloween was all treats and no tricks for me as I got to watch the Rams beat the Panthers.  It was the first time I’ve watched them since they beat the Redskins.  I saw a lot of positives and will share my observations below in the Quick Takes.

Let’s get right to the Average Guy’s NFL Week Eight Awards:

Waving the Packers flag

The Packers got a huge win on Sunday

Most Impressive Win

Green Bay Packers – 9-0 over the New York Jets

Most Important Win

San Diego Chargers – 33-25 over the Tennessee Titans

Worst Loss

Dallas Cowboys – 17-35 to the Jacksonville Jaguars in Dallas

Biggest Surprise

Oakland Raiders

Biggest Disappointment

Washington Redskins

They Are Who We Thought They Were

Arizona Cardinals

Offensive MVP

Calvin Johnson, Detroit Lions – 9 receptions 101 yards 3 TDs

Defensive MVP

Aqib Talib, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 45-yard interception return for TD 2 interceptions 5 tackles

Special Teams MVP

Dan Carpenter, Miami Dolphins – 5 field goals

Most Surprising Performance

Jason Campbell, Oakland Raiders – 15 completions 27 attempts 310 yards 2 TDs 120.9 QB rating

Most Disappointing Performance

Seattle Seahawks offensive line

Offensive Rookie

Sam Bradford, St. Louis Rams – 25 completions 32 attempts 191 yards  TDs 112.4 QB rating

Defensive Rookie

Ndamukong Suh, Detroit Lions – 17-yard fumble recovery return for TD 2 sacks 5 tackles

Most Impressive Performance in a Loss

Brandon Lloyd, Denver Broncos – 7 receptions 169 yards 1 TD

Welcome Back Mike Williams

Mike Williams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 4 receptions 105 yards 1 TD

Quick Takes

  • From watching the Rams I can tell you that when he gets some more talented receivers around him, Sam Bradford is going to be unbelievable.  He makes good decisions, puts the ball where it needs to be, buys time by scrambling and exhibits strong leadership.
  • I was really impressed with the Rams defense.  It has improved quite a bit just in the weeks since the win over the Redskins.  Chris Long and James Hall are getting good pressure, the linebackers are reading plays quickly and the secondary showed some good one-on-one skill and an eye for the ball.  The only concerning thing was their two-minute defense, which gave up some big plays.
  • The tackling from both the Rams and Panthers was excellent.
  • Today was Isaac Bruce day in St. Louis.  It was great to a see a player who was one of my favorites for about a decade back on the Rams’ sideline.
  • This is now almost a weekly thing – I have to give big props to Steven Jackson for being out on the field and turning in an inspired performance just four days after having surgery on his left ring finger.
  • The two games that shocked me the most – Green Bay shutting out the Jets and Oakland blowing out Seattle.
  • I think the third down conversion statistic is one of the most important stats in the game.  Consider: Buffalo converted 11 of 23 third downs and almost beat Kansas City; San Diego converted on 12 of 18 third downs and beat Tennessee; and Seattle was one of 16 on third downs and lost to Oakland.

One BIG Question

Can Mark Sanchez find the form that helped him lead the Jets to wins over the Patriots and Dolphins?

What performances did you think were Sunday’s best?  Let me know by posting a comment below.

Photo source: Paul Kehrer

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