This week marks the last bye week of the season. Three of the eight division leaders (Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Seattle) along with Buffalo are off this week.
That means there’s a big opportunity for teams like the Ravens, Giants and Cowboys to make up ground in their respective divisions.
We saw proof Monday night that the Panthers are for real. Well, at least their defense is. Any defense that holds a Tom Brady-led offense to 20 points is legitimate.
Speaking of that game, it featured a couple of nice skirmishes between Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith and New England cornerback Aqib Talib.
After the game, Smith (who got the better of Talib on the field) delivered what had to be the line of the week.
As for this week, here are my top five teams, my choice for the game of the week and how the Ravens are still (yes, still) alive in the playoff race.
1. Broncos (9-1, 3-0)
The Chiefs played very good defense last Sunday night but it wasn’t good enough. Right now, the Broncos are too good. Their last two offensive performances makes it look like they’re slowing down, but they scored 28 and 27 points respectively in those games.
Who can beat them?
2. Seahawks (10-1, 3-0)
Maybe the Seahawks could beat the Broncos, but I hesitate to acknowledge that for two reasons. First, the disparity between quarterbacks is big. Second, the Buccaneers took it to the Seahawks in Seattle in Week 9.
As dominant as Peyton Manning has been for the Broncos, Marshawn Lynch has been almost as dominant for the Seahawks. After an inexplicable eight carries in Week 8 at Seattle, Lynch has since racked up 324 yards on 62 carries (5.2 yards per carry) and has scored four total touchdowns.
3. Panthers (7-3, 2-0)
Carolina is undoubtedly led by their defense; a defense that leads the league in points allowed per game (13.5). They lost three of their first four games, but have now won six straight. In those six wins, the Panthers’ turnover margin is +10.
4. Saints (8-2, 2-0)
They have as much of a home field advantage as any team in football. The key to locking up home field advantage will be winning at Seattle next week on Monday Night Football (December 2).
The last time the Saints played the Seahawks, the game was in Seattle. It was a playoff game and it was also the birth of “Beast Mode.”
5. Chiefs (9-1, 1-1)
Kansas City’s defense is for real, and if Jamaal Charles can get in the open field on a consistent basis, they can beat anyone. The key is having success against stacked boxes. The defense knows your limits. It’s up to the Chiefs to prove them wrong.
GAME OF THE WEEK
Dallas Cowboys (5-5, 3-0) at New York Giants (4-6, 1-2), Sunday November 24 at 4:25 P.M. on FOX
Of course the Broncos are playing the Patriots this week. But honestly, haven’t you seen that Manning versus Brady matchup enough? And besides, they aren’t even on the field at the same time.
Although that should be a very good game, I think the Cowboys/Giants game means more.
The Giants started the season losing six straight games but have won four in a row and host the Cowboys on Sunday. Dallas is coming out of their bye week, a week in which they got to sit and think about how they gave up 103 points in their last three games.
If the Giants win, they’ll be in 2nd place in the NFC East, one game behind the Eagles.
Dallas would also greatly benefit from a win this Sunday, as they would gain a stronghold of the NFC East by improving their division record to 4-0.
Ravens current playoff picture
The Ravens are currently the 11th seed in the AFC playoff race. Teams 8-10 (Oakland, Tennessee, Pittsburgh) also have a record of
The Jets are currently the 6th seed in the AFC playoffs with a record of 5-5. The Ravens host the Jets this Sunday. If the Ravens win, they’d have the same record as New York but would hold the all-important head-to-head tiebreaker.
A Ravens win would also put them two games behind the division leading Bengals (7-4) with five games left to play. Baltimore already beat Cincinnati once this season (23-20 in overtime in Week 10).