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NFL 2011 Season – Week 10 Preview

Matt Forte
Scott Cunningham, Getty Images

Key intra-divisional games scheduled for this week will provide teams a measure of exactly how close, or far away, they are from contending this year. Here’s a look at the Week 10 slate:

NFL Schedule for Sunday, Nov. 13:

Arizona Cardinals at Philadelphia Eagles – 1:00 PM

Arizona (2-6) looks to keep momentum after winning its second game of the season last week when rookie Patrick Peterson returned a punt for a touchdown in overtime to beat St. Louis. The spotlight will be on Cardinals’ quarterback Kevin Kolb. A former Eagles’ starter traded to Arizona prior to the season, Kolb is still dealing with a turf toe injury and may not play. John Skelton will start, if Kolb cannot. Arizona needs Beanie Wells, who is fighting a knee injury, to test the sometimes shaky Eagles’ run defense. Philadelphia (3-5) must cut down on penalties that extend opponents’ drives and reduce its turnovers. The Eagles have committed seven more turnovers than they have taken away. The pressure is on quarterback Michael Vick to have a big day against a Cardinals pass defense that is ranked 29th in the league.

Tennessee Titans at Carolina Panthers – 1:00 PM

After blowing a 10-point halftime lead to Cincinnati last week, Tennessee (4-4) hopes to put together two solid halves of football, while Titans running back Chris Johnson tries to break out of his season-long slump. He’ll face a Panthers defense that allows 25.9 points per game and is ranked 27th in the NFL against the run. With a passer rating of 90, Tennessee quarterback Matt Hasselbeck is 11th best in the league. Right behind him in 12th is Cam Newton, the rookie quarterback for Carolina (2-6). Newton should have time to create havoc against the Titans defense; Tennessee has just 14 sacks on the season, which ranks them 28th in the league.  If Newton makes plays and gets tight ends Jeremy Shockey and Greg Olsen involved in the offense, the Panthers can create offense.

Houston Texans at Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 1:00 PM

Despite injuries to key players and difficult early season losses, Houston (6-3) is among the best teams in the AFC. The Texans’ defense allows the fewest yards per game in the league (274.0) and just 17.4 points per game, the third-fewest in the NFL. With Arian Foster and Ben Tate in the same backfield, the Houston offense averages an AFC-best 155.1 rushing yards per game. If wide receiver Andre Johnson can overcome the hamstring injury that has sidelined him for five weeks, the Texans could add another weapon for quarterback Matt Schaub. None of that is good news for Tampa Bay (4-4), whose defense has an NFC-worst 12 sacks. New acquisition Albert Haynesworth may help, if he’s ready in time. The Buccaneers will need to establish the run to avoid relying on quarterback Josh Freeman. Freeman has 10 interceptions and just eight touchdowns. He’ll need to limit his errors for Tampa Bay to win.

Washington Redskins at Miami Dolphins – 1:00 PM

Miami was able to record its first win of the season last week as it dominated Kansas City in a 31-3 pounding. In recent weeks, the Dolphins (1-7) have balanced their offense between a passing attack from quarterback Matt Moore and a solid running game from Reggie Bush. Miami will have to continue that trend against a Washington defense that is stingy, yielding just 19.8 points per game, seventh-best in the NFL. The Redskins (3-5) are led by a relentless pass rush that has recorded 25 sacks, third-best in the league. Washington will look to pressure Moore into mistakes. Offensively, the Redskins are not very good. They average just 15.9 points per game. Last week, Washington ran for just 52 total yards as a team in the loss to San Francisco. The Redskins need someone at a skill position to step up and become a true playmaker.

Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts – 1:00 PM

These two, struggling AFC South teams will meet with little hope of salvaging their 2011 seasons. Indianapolis (0-9) averages just 14.2 points while gaining 282.8 yards per game. While Colts quarterback Curtis Painter has not been dreadful, he isn’t Peyton Manning. Painter faces a Jacksonville defense ranked fifth overall in yardage allowed per game. Unless the Colts can get contributions from the backfield, Painter may find himself having to throw many times for the Colts to win. Jacksonville (2-6) is not getting much production from rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert, who threw for fewer than 100 yards in the Jaguars’ last two games prior to their bye week. With only running back Maurice Jones-Drew as an offensive threat, Jacksonville ranks last in the NFL with an average of 12.3 points scored per game. The Colts defense wants to keep Drew, the NFL’s sixth-leading rusher, in check and allow Painter to play with a lead.

Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs – 1:00 PM

Denver (3-5) is still very much alive in the AFC West race. A win over division rival Kansas City (4-4) would get the Broncos even with the Chiefs and whichever team loses Thursday night’s Oakland-San Diego game. Last week, Denver’s Tim Tebow became the first AFC quarterback since Pittsburgh’s Kordell Stewart in 1998 to run and pass for more than 100 yards in a game. The Broncos have won two of three games with Tebow starting, even though his passing game remains suspect. He’ll work against a Kansas City defense that gives up 25.1 points per game, 26th in the league. The Chiefs will try to build on offensive continuity between quarterback Matt Cassel and his receivers, especially Dwayne Bowe. They’ll get to work against a Broncos defense yielding 28.0 points per game, the second-most in the NFL.

Buffalo Bills at Dallas Cowboys – 1:00 PM

Former Cowboys head coach Chan Gailey leads Buffalo (5-3) into Dallas to try to keep pace atop the AFC East with the victor of the Patriots-Jets game. The Bills need Ryan Fitzpatrick to return to the form he showcased earlier in the season. The Buffalo quarterback has six interceptions in his last four games, and the offense sputtered badly in the loss to the Jets last week. Fred Jackson, who is the leading rusher in the AFC at 100.4 yards per game, should help, but he’ll be facing a Cowboys defense that is 10th in the league against the run. Dallas (4-4) hopes to get its pass rush  — with DeMarcus Ware, the NFL’s second-leading sacker — after Fitzpatrick. The Cowboys offense should be able to throw on the Bills’ 25th-ranked pass defense that gives up 260.4 yards per game. Dallas also wants to continue to use rookie running back DeMarco Murray, who has 466 rushing yards in the last three games.

New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons – 1:00 PM

New Orleans (6-3) comes into this game just a half-game ahead of Atlanta (5-3) in the NFC South. The Saints offense is led by Drew Brees, whose 3,004 passing yards makes him the fastest to 3,000 in NFL history. Brees gets plenty of help from a New Orleans rushing attack that averages 126 yards per game, good for 10th in the NFL. As a result, the Saints are tops in the NFL in total offense at 445.1 yards per game and second in scoring average with 31.9 points per game. The Falcons have the seventh-best run defense, but that may not be enough to slow down New Orleans. Atlanta hopes to get running back Michael Turner involved early. His runs can help the Falcons’ drives eat up the clock, and keep Brees off the field. Atlanta receiver Julio Jones is a budding star whom the Saints must cover.

St. Louis Rams at Cleveland Browns – 1:00 PM

St. Louis (1-7) nearly got its second win last week before falling in overtime to Arizona. Rams quarterback Sam Bradford and running back Steven Jackson are the team’s only healthy offensive weapons. Jackson will be counted on more this week, as Cleveland (3-5) has the NFL’s top-ranked pass defense, but gives up 144.0 yards per game on the ground. The Browns will need to find offense from quarterback Colt McCoy because running backs Peyton Hillis (hamstring) and Montario Hardesty (calf) are both injured and likely out of action. That’s unfortunate, since the Rams have the league’s worst run defense, allowing 153.6 yards per game.

Pittsburgh Steelers at Cincinnati Bengals – 1:00 PM

Cincinnati (6-2) enters this contest as the surprise team of the AFC. This battle with perennial power Pittsburgh (6-3) will be seen as a test of the Bengals’ true abilities. Cincinnati’s rookie quarterback Andy Dalton guides his team to wins and hasn’t made costly mistakes. He’ll need to continue to do that against a Pittsburgh defense still in shock over being beaten in the final seconds by Baltimore last week. The vaunted Steelers defense has only four takeaways all season, tied with Miami for last in the NFL. It will want to pressure Dalton. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger keys the Steelers attack. He’ll have to find a way over a Cincinnati defense that is second-best in the league against the run at 84.5 yards allowed per game.

Baltimore Ravens at Seattle Seahawks – 4:05 PM

Baltimore (6-2) enters the game on a high, having beaten the rival Steelers in the waning seconds last week. The Ravens aggressive defense allows just 16.3 points per game on average, second-lowest in the league. Baltimore also allows the second-fewest total yards per game at 279.4. When pitting Baltimore’s defense against a Seattle offense ranked 29th in total yards, which averages just 15.3 points per game, it’s hard not to envision a mismatch. Worse, Seattle (2-6) has 12 turnovers in its last five games. The Ravens hope that quarterback Joe Flacco continues to find the consistent rhythm with his receivers he’s displayed the last two games when he’s passed for 636 passing yards. Baltimore running back Ray Rice can add balance to the offense.

N.Y. Giants at San Francisco 49ers – 4:15 PM

This game between NFC division leaders is arguably the most notable matchup of Week 10. New York (6-2), which has found a way to play to the level of its competition this season, looks to get quarterback Eli Manning going against a tough San Francisco defense. The 49ers (7-1) are the league’s best against the run, averaging just 70.8 yards per game allowed. The 49ers hope to get the running attack going behind Frank Gore, the NFL’s fifth-leading rusher. He’s averaging 97.8 yards a game. The more Gore does to advance drives, the less San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith has to do. Smith will be the target of a Giants pass rush that leads the NFL with 28 sacks.

Detroit Lions at Chicago Bears – 4:15 PM

After an inspired few weeks of play from its offensive line — both blocking for Matt Forte and protecting Jay Cutler — Chicago (5-3) is very much back in the playoff picture. The Bears will take on a Detroit team that has lost twice since the teams Week 5 Monday night showdown won by the then-undefeated Lions. Detroit (6-2) will test the Bears’ line with a defense that is ranked fourth in the league in sacks with 24.  Chicago’s Forte is the key to its offense. He has 686 yards rushing in his last five games. Detroit ranks 28th in the league in run defense. Defensively, the Bears will likely not have to stop Lions running back Jahvid Best, who had 163 yards against them in Week 5 and is out with a concussion. Chicago does need to account for Lions receiver Calvin Johnson.

New England Patriots at N.Y. Jets – 8:20 PM

Two teams with stated animosity toward each other play in primetime for the AFC East lead. With a fourth-best 27.8 points per game average, the Patriots (5-3) have no trouble scoring. And, New England’s offense gains 437.3 yards per game, second in the NFL. But, when quarterback Tom Brady is pressured, as he was in last week’s loss to the New York Giants, the team is without additional stars that can help the offense. With the seventh-best pass defense in the league, New York (5-3) will create problems for Brady and his receivers. The greater concern for the Patriots is that their defense gives up 416.3 yards per game, most in the NFL. Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez, who has 12 turnovers this season, must avoid game-changing mistakes and find ways to turn yardage gained into points. Jets’ running back Shonn Greene has averaged 84.6 yards per game over the past four games. He can help New York keep the ball, and keep Brady off the field.

Monday, Nov. 14

Minnesota Vikings at Green Bay Packers – 8:30 PM

With an offense that averages a league-best 34.4 points per game, Green Bay (8-0) looks to extend its undefeated streak to nine against the division rival it defeated in Week 7. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is the top-ranked passer in the league by nearly 30 rating points. He has a gaudy 24 touchdown passes and just three interceptions through eight games. Rodgers has also been sacked 20 times. If the Vikings defense has a chance to slow the Packers offense, it’s by pressuring Rodgers. On offense, Minnesota (2-6) figures to use Adrian Peterson, the NFL’s fourth-leading rusher, against a Green Bay defense ranked 30th in the NFL with 399.6 yards allowed per game. Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder must play within himself and limit his mistakes.

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