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The Pro Football Notebook


November 7, 2010 6:31 AM

Sunday's Unlikely Big Games

AtlantavsTampaBayleadsupunlikelybigNFLgames.jpgIt's safe to say that no one thought the two biggest NFL games on November 7 would be Tampa Bay-Atlanta and Kansas City-Oakland. Yet here we are, with first place in the NFC South on the line in the Georgia Dome, and the Raiders looking to close within a half-game of the frontrunning Chiefs in the AFC West.

Tampa Bay has gotten here through consistency and taking care of the teams they are supposed to beat. Their wins are over Cleveland, Cincinnati, Carolina, St. Louis, and Arizona and four of them were by a field goal or less. The losses have come at home to Pittsburgh and New Orleans, and have been decisive. There's not much on this resume to suggest they are ready to win a game in Atlanta. The Falcons have the running game with Michael Turner. They can throw to the tight end in Tony Gonzalez and they can open it up to Roddy White. They can defend the run and rush the passer, with Justin Babineaux and John Abraham up front. It's all about avoiding mistakes. The Buccaneers don't blitz very often on defense, so if form holds, they'll drop back and hope Matt Ryan forces things or at least keep it close and see if Josh Freeman can pull a rabbit out of his hat at the end. At home this might work. Not on the road. Atlanta in a rout, 34-10.

Oakland's offensive line has been hitting stride during their recent win streak that's seen them pile up the points and Darren McFadden pile up the yardage. That makes them a good matchup for the Kansas City defense, which relies on its outside linebackers, Mike Vrabel and Tamba Hali. If McFadden can keep them at home, particularly Hali who can be a disruptive force rushing the passer, Oakland will be in position to have another good offensive day. This also presumes Jason Campbell continuing to keep his poise and to show the consistency he never quite found in Washington. Kansas City's offense is also built on the ground game, with Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones and they should be able to run it in Oakland. Enough so that Matt Cassell will have a good enough game for the Chiefs to pull out a 27-20 win.

CBS has the doubleheader showcase this week and the 4 ET game that most of the country will see is Indianapolis-Philly. The Eagles have made some secondary changes, sitting down Ellis Hobbs at corner and replacing him with Dmitri Patterson. Matching up against Peyton Manning's a heckuva way to be welcomed to the lineup. But after Hobbs was torched a couple weeks ago by Tennessee's Kenny Britt, his days as a starter were numbered. Whomever is back there, defensive end Trent Cole better find a way to be in Peyton Manning's face. The guess here is that Manning gets enough time to manage the game effectively on the road and churn out a hard-fought 24-21 win.

Sunday night's game on NBC is Dallas-Green Bay, and this was supposed to be a marquee game before Cowboy incompetence got in the way. The Dallas season is a lost cause, but Green Bay is looking to move to 6-3 and keep themselves up with the other top teams in the NFC. They'll be missing veteran receiver Donald Driver, invaluable on short crossing routes over the middle. But James Jones played well against Minnesota in this same Sunday Night showcase two weeks ago and can do so again here. Green Bay corner Tramon Williams may be bringing some stability to Al Harris' old spot, as he wins praise from the coaching staff. The Packers just aren't going to lose at home to a collapsing Romo-less Cowboy team and this one ends up 41-21.

Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network,  offering daily commentary in college football and game analysis in the NFL. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.

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