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NFL 2011 Season – Week 11 Preview

Tony Romo
Ronald Martinez, Getty Images

The best teams in the league are already eyeing first-round playoff byes as the NFL schedule moves into its stretch run. Here’s a preview of the games scheduled for Week 11:

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Green Bay Packers – 1:00 PM

Averaging 35.6 points per game, Green Bay (9-0) has the NFL’s highest scoring offense. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is the league’s top-rated passer with 28 touchdowns against only three interceptions on the season. Rodgers should excel against a Tampa Bay defense that gives up 401 total yards per game, second worst in the league. In addition to putting pressure on Rodgers, the Buccaneers (4-5) must contain Packers’ wide receivers Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, who have seven TD receptions each. For Tampa Bay to have a chance to win, quarterback Josh Freeman must make an impact against a Packers defense that is ranked 28th overall in the league, and second worst against the pass. Freeman should be cautious, though, because the Packers lead the league with 17 interceptions.

Carolina Panthers at Detroit Lions – 1:00 PM

Carolina (2-7) allows an average of 26.3 points per game, which ranks 30th in the league. The Panthers are more susceptible to the run than the pass, but they don’t defend either very well. Detroit (6-3) needs Matthew Stafford to forget about his four-interception day last week and concentrate on exploiting the mismatches he should have downfield. The Lions have not had a solid rushing attack since losing Jahvid Best in week 6. It looks as though Maurice Morris will start in his place again this week. Defenses have started to adjust to the athleticism of Panthers’ rookie quarterback Cam Newton, who had a meager 61.7 quarterback rating last week and was sacked five times. Carolina must protect Newton against a Lions pass rush that is tied for sixth in the league with 26 sacks.

Jacksonville Jaguars at Cleveland Browns – 1:00 PM

Cleveland (3-6), which has not scored a touchdown in the last 123 minutes played on its home field. needs to be better on offense, but that won’t be easy because running back Peyton Hillis will miss his fifth straight game with a hamstring injury. If Montario Hardesty can play, he may lift the league’s third-worst rushing offense, which will face a Jacksonville defense that gives up 296.4 total yards per game, fourth fewest in the NFL. The Jaguars (3-6) must count on their defense to be stingy, because their offense averages an AFC-leading 12.8 points per game and an NFL-best 243.6 yards per game. Maurice Jones-Drew is the Jaguars’ best hope. He’ll run on Cleveland’s 30th-ranked rushing defense. Jacksonville rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert figures to have little success against the Browns pass defense, which gives up only 163.3 passing yards per game, the best average in the NFL.

Oakland Raiders at Minnesota Vikings – 1:00 PM

Oakland (5-4) leads the AFC West largely due to the prowess of its running game, which ranks fourth in the NFL with 156.2 yards per game. Even if running back Darren McFadden misses his fourth straight game with a sprained foot, reigning AFC Offensive Player of the Week Michael Bush creates just as much concern for a Vikings defense that allows 27.1 points per game, the second-most in the league. Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer looked more comfortable running the offense last week, but he still has eight turnovers in two-and-a-half games. Minnesota (2-7), tied for third in the NFL in sacks with 27, will look to pressure Palmer. The Vikings offense revolves around Adrian Peterson, the NFL’s fifth-best rusher with 846 yards. Oakland’s defense gives up 25.9 points per game, fifth-highest in the league.

Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins – 1:00 PM

Buffalo (5-4) lost its last two games by a combined 53 points. The Bills defense gives up 386.9 yards a game, 29th in the league. The Bills need to contend with a rejuvenated Miami team with a balanced offense. The Dolphins (2-7) have won two games in a row, thanks in part to running back Reggie Bush, who has three touchdowns and 242 yards rushing over the past three weeks. If Miami protects quarterback Matt Moore, he can look to pick apart Buffalo’s vulnerable secondary. The Miami defense has to stop a Bills offense that is eighth in the league in scoring. Running back Fred Jackson, the NFL’s leading rusher with 917 yards, can create problems for any defense. Jackson may take the pressure off quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who had his worst two QB ratings over the past two weeks.

Dallas Cowboys at Washington Redskins – 1:00 PM

Dallas (5-4) is back in the NFC East race thanks to two home wins in two weeks. The Cowboys hope their offense stays as explosive as it was against the Bills, when it scored touchdowns in its first four drives. Rookie running back DeMarco Murray has 601 yards rushing in the last four games. The more attention a defense pays to Murray, the less it focuses on quarterback Tony Romo and receiver Dez Bryant. Washington (3-6) is tied for third in the league with 27 sacks, so it will look to pressure Romo into mistakes. The Redskins biggest challenge has been their offense, which scores just 15.1 points per game — 28th in the league. The Washington running game is the second-weakest in the NFL, but the criticism has been focused on the revolving quarterbacks, Rex Grossman and John Beck, who are each among the four lowest-rated passers in the league.

Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens – 1:00 PM

After a showdown game with Pittsburgh resulted in a loss, Cincinnati (6-3) plays another pivotal divisional game against the Ravens. Bengals rookie quarterback Andy Dalton had a difficult fourth quarter in the loss to the Steelers, throwing two interceptions. He’ll need to put that behind him when facing a Ravens defense that gives up the third-fewest points and yards in the NFL. Baltimore (6-3) is also tied for third in the league sacks with 27, so Dalton will need protection. Bengals running back Cedric Benson can help. The Cincinnati defense is solid. It only allows 18.2 points per game, good for fifth-best in the league. The Bengals are second-best against the run, so Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco may not get a lot of help from Ray Rice. Though he’s thrown for 2,306 yards this season, Flacco’s 12 turnovers have hurt the Baltimore offense.

Arizona Cardinals at San Francisco 49ers – 4:05 PM

If San Francisco (8-1) wins on Sunday and Seattle loses against St. Louis, the 49ers will have a six-game lead with six games left to play. The 49ers expect to have running back Frank Gore available after he hurt his knee early in last week’s victory against the Giants. Gore and quarterback Alex Smith will work against the Cardinals 27th-ranked defense. Arizona (3-6) may get starting quarterback Kevin Kolb back from a foot injury. If not, backup John Skelton will try to make it three wins in a row in place of Kolb. This week, he’ll be facing a 49ers defense that allows the fewest points per game, in the NFL with 15.3. San Francisco also has the league’s best run defense, so Cardinals running back Beanie Wells will need to bring his best game.

Seattle Seahawks at St. Louis Rams– 4:05 PM

Seattle (3-6) scores just 16 points per game and averages 299.6 yards of total offense, 29th in the league. Running back Marshawn Lynch is the Seahawks best weapon, averaging 91.5 yards over his last four games. He’ll look to take advantage of a Rams run defense that gives up 150.6 yards per game, the most in the NFL. St. Louis (2-7) hopes to use its own ground attack, led by a resurgent Steven Jackson. Jackson has averaged 139 yards per game over the past three weeks, two of which were Rams’ victories. St. Louis needs more than yardage; the team averages just 12.6 points per game, the lowest total in the league. When he’s not handing off to Jackson, Sam Bradford may have time to throw for potential scores, because Seattle has just 14 sacks, the third-fewest in the league.

Tennessee Titans at Atlanta Falcons – 4:15 PM

Tennessee (5-4) hopes that All-Pro running back Chris Johnson is out of his long slump after last week’s 130-yard rushing performance. The Titans need Johnson to take some pressure off quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and give balance to the offense. Atlanta (5-4) can shut down the run effectively, as it did against the Saints last week, holding New Orleans to 41 yards on the ground. The Falcons talented skill position players may create matchup issues for the Titans, whose defense has not fared well against other talented offensive teams like Pittsburgh, Houston and Cincinnati. Atlanta running back Michael Turner is key. If he can attract attention, it can open up passing lanes for quarterback Matt Ryan.

San Diego Chargers at Chicago Bears – 4:15 PM

Chicago (6-3) has won four games in a row and looks to extend that streak. All-purpose back Matt Forte leads the offense against a Chargers defense that gives up 25.3 points and 127.9 yards rushing per game. San Diego (4-5) looks to find a way to stop Forte and get to Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, who makes mistakes when pressured. The Chargers produce nearly 400 yards of total offense per game, thanks to the NFL’s fourth-best passing offense. Turnovers, including a league-leading 19 by quarterback Philip Rivers, have doomed the San Diego attack, though. The Bears defense gives up 269.7 passing yards per game, fourth-worst in the league, but it also has 13 takeaways this season.

Philadelphia Eagles at N.Y. Giants – 8:20 PM

Philadelphia (3-6) is suffering through a disappointing season. It may get worse if starting quarterback Michael Vick rests his broken ribs this week instead of facing the Giants fierce pass rush, which has an NFL-best 30 sacks. If backups Vince Young or Mike Kafka start, the Eagles may need a big day from running back LeSean McCoy, the NFL’s second-leading rusher. New York (6-3) relies on Eli Manning, the NFL’s fifth-rated passer, to lead its offense. Manning has helped receiver Victor Cruz blossom into a solid producer. Cruz is eighth in the league with 672 receiving yards. Cruz and Hakeem Nicks will challenge the Philadelphia secondary, as they did in the Giants week 3 win at Philadelphia.

Monday, Nov. 21

Kansas City Chiefs at New England Patriots – 8:30 PM

New England (6-3) struggles when opposing teams pressure quarterback Tom Brady and when its defense is stressed by a relentless offensive attack. Kansas City (4-5) may have a difficult time creating either of those situations. The Chiefs have just nine sacks, the NFL’s fewest. They need to find some other way to keep Brady from adding to his 23 touchdown passes. The New England defense still allows the most yards per game in the league, 412, but it has steadily improved. The Patriots are eighth in takeaways with 12. Kansas City backup quarterback Tyler Palko, who is starting for the injured Matt Cassel, must be cautious when he tries to guide the league’s 27th-ranked pass offense.

On Bye Week: Indianapolis, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Houston

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