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The Pro Football Notebook


December 16, 2010 7:46 AM

Sunday's Rivalry Games Looking For Life

RedskinsCowboys.jpgThere aren't many rivalries in the NFL better than Washington-Dallas or Oakland-Denver...at least when those four teams are good. But when those rivalries renew on Sunday it will be absent any playoff implications for anyone. They lead up four divisional showdowns that carry juice for the local fans, but little for a national audience...

Washington-Dallas: The Redskins have become adept at manufacturing ways to lose, tormenting those of us who are proud to be members of Redskin Nation. It doesn't look like they'll need to manufacture a way in Dallas. Both teams can run the ball well, and I would expect good games from Ryan Torain and Tashard Choice. The biggest difference between these two teams is the ability to apply pressure. Washington's pass protection is terrible and keeping Chris Cooley in for protection denies Donovan McNabb a key target. With Demarcus Ware on the other side of the ball, it won't get any easier this week. The Redskins are also unable to generate any heat themselves, save for Brian Orapko. There's not much reason for confidence they can win on the road.

Oakland-Denver: Last week's tough loss in Jacksonville doused whatever flickering playoff hopes the Raiders may have had. How fired up will they be for a road game in Denver? The mental state of the visitors is the only real variable, because all things being equal, Oakland runs the ball too well and Denver is too dysfunctional for homefield advantage to matter.

Cleveland-Cincinnati: From a strategy standpoint, this is an intriguing matchup. The Bengals will want to open the game up and get the ball downfield to Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco, thus forcing Cleveland out of their comfort zone of running the ball behind Peyton Hillis. The Browns status as an up-and-comer took a hit last week when they lost to Buffalo. Cleveland likely gets Colt McCoy back this week, as the rookie quarterback is practicing with the first string. If he's ready to go, I like the Browns to win. Come to think of it, if he's not ready, I still like the Browns to win, although Jake Delhomme can make anyone a little nervous.

Buffalo-Miami: It's a real longshot for the Dolphins to make the playoffs, as they would have to win out and still get all kinds of help. But a strong finish and a 9-10 win season would be a nice achievement for Tony Sparano's team. The rubber hits the road in this game when it comes to the Dolphin running game. Buffalo is terrible at stopping the run, but has no choice but to stack the box and force Miami to beat them through the air. I think the Fish find a way to either run the ball anyway or at least get some efficiency with the pass. Playing at home, it's enough to chisel out a win.

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Tonight's game is San Francisco-San Diego (8:20 ET, NFL) and both teams are a game out of first place, facing must-win spots. The 49ers, at 5-8, keep plugging along in the NFC West that no one wants to win. Alex Smith played very well last week in a win over Seattle, but faces a sterner test tonight on the road. Smith has struggled with the blitz, and he'll see a generous dose of pressure from Shaun Phillips and Antwan Barnes tonight. San Diego corner Quentin Jammer is more than capable of taking away Michael Crabtree as a deep threat, giving defensive coordinator Ron Rivera the comfort level to dial up the blitz packages. It's just going to be tough for Frisco to make any big plays and regardless of how well the defense plays, eventually you need to put up some points to win a battle with Philip Rivers on his homefield. San Diego wins this one decisively, 34-17.

Image from knowyourdallascowboys.com

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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