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The Pro Football Notebook


December 3, 2010 7:44 AM

A Division Rivalry Six-Pack

RedskinsGiants.jpgIt's Division Rivalry Sunday, as nine of the sixteen games on the schedule are division grudge matches. The three biggest are Atlanta-Tampa Bay, Baltimore-Pittsburgh and--I don't know if you've heard this--but there's a "heavyweight fight" on Monday night when New England hosts the NY Jets. But before this big-game feast, fans can warm up with a rivalry six-pack. Let's look at the other six games, all with playoff implications...

Washington-NY Giants: Philadelphia's win over Houston last night heightens the urgency for the Giants. The Redskins need no such heightening, and this game is their final stand for keeping in contention. Washington simply must stop the run better than they did last week against Minnesota and they have to find a way to get Chris Cooley open over the middle. Donovan McNabb can't count on having too much time, not with Justin Tuck coming off the edge and he needs a place to go with the ball fast. The 'Skins offense isn't going to match up with the Giant D, and their only hope to win is to force interceptions from Eli Manning. While that's a realistic hope, it becomes less so when the other team's offense establishes the run and takes the pressure off the quarterback. Speaking as a Redskins fan, I'm just not optimistic about the chances of doing that. NYG wins this one.

Chicago-Detroit: This is a big test for Lovie Smith's team. They're rolling along in first place at 8-3, they just beat Philadelphia and now they need to show they can keep it going on the road against a team that plays competitively. Chicago has started the running ball again of late with Matt Forte and that's resulted in reduced mistakes by Jay Cutler. The Lions can cause problems up the middle with defensive tackle Ndamakong Suh and if Shaun Hill is healthy, he can move the ball. The Bears bring a big edge in special teams, with Devin Hester's return ability and Detroit is a heavily penalized team. It's this last reason that I won't pick the Lions to step up and win a game like this. They make it close, but it's another clutch win for Chicago and another frustrating loss for Detroit.

St. Louis-Arizona: The Cardinals melted down on Monday night and then Derek Anderson melted down in the press conference afterward. The Cards couldn't stop the run at all against San Francisco and they won't have any better luck against Stephen Jackson and the Rams. I also expect Chris Long and James Hall to make life miserable for Anderson or Max Hall, whomever goes at quarterback for Arizona. The Rams win this one decisively and get to .500.

Jacksonville-Tennessee: Whether Kerry Collins can play or not is the biggest question about this game. If Collins is healthy, Tennessee will establish the run, have a manageable passing game and force Jacksonville into turnovers. Without Collins and playing with Rusty Smith, the Titans will still run the ball, but do none of the other things and the Jags will pull out a road win. Right now though, it looks like Collins will play, so the Titans get a win they absolutely must have to stay in contention.

And we conclude with both AFC West games...

Denver-Kansas City: Denver is in complete turmoil, after the latest in the Spygate controversy surrounding Josh McDaniel. This is added to the fact they aren't very good to begin with. They can't defend the run, nor they can run the ball. They've played one good game this year and that was against Kansas City. The Chiefs, at home and with revenge on their minds, get the running game going and then drive the hammer in with Matt Cassell hitting Dwayne Bowe. KC wins a blowout.

Oakland-San Diego: The Chargers also have revenge on their minds, having lost at Oakland in September. You need to beat San Diego on special teams to have a chance and Raider speedster Jacoby Ford has the ability to do that. But even if that happens, you have to at least fight them to a draw in the conventional offense-defense wars. Oakland isn't going to stop Philip Rivers and they don't have the firepower to keep up. This one's another AFC West blowout.

Image from davidbergman.net

Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily commentary in college football ,game analysis in the NFL. and coverage of college basketball. 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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