You know when you looked at that Thanksgiving spread yesterday, you had some favorites already in mind.
Be real, if you had to narrow down all that grub to three choices, you could easily do it. I’d take my mom’s cheesy potatoes, mushrooms, and some honey ham. Yeah, I said ham over turkey. Sue me.
Every week, my co-hosts and I at The Big Three look at the NFL schedule the same way. We could talk about all of them for any length of time, but there’s a few we really really want to break down. With no show this week, I figured I’d share three games that oughta fill your appetite as well as what momma provided on the holiday.
Arizona at Philadelphia
I’m so tempted to make another Thanksgiving reference with a battle of birds here, but I’ll refrain. This is the most intriguing game of the weekend to me, simply because of one thing: we want to know which of these teams is legitimate.
The Eagles came into this season with plenty of hype behind Chip Kelly’s lightning fast regime, and it seems like they’re hitting a stride. Michael Vick no longer holds the keys to the offense anymore, and frankly, that’s been a welcome change in the city of brotherly love. Nick Foles doesn’t look to be a fluke.
Foles, according to Pro Football Focus, has a higher overall grade as a quarterback than Tom Brady, Cam Newton, and Carson Palmer to name a few. Granted, he’s had fewer starts on the year as a whole, but the guy is simply balling out. He’s thrown 16 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, and is completing 64% of his passes while averaging about 10 yards per attempt. Slice that up anyway you want, but it’s pretty impressive.
He’ll have his work cut out for him though, as he’s facing one of the most impressive defensive units in the league. The Cardinals’ defense is fully stocked in the playmaking department, starting up front with Calais Campbell and Darnell Dockett. Campbell is finally starting to be recognized for his stellar play, and is riding a hot streak for pressuring the quarterback. Over the last three games, 13 of his overall 29 QB hurries have occurred.
But go to the next level and it doesn’t get any easier for Foles. A mixture of youth and age holds down the fort for Arizona inside, as Daryl Washington and Karlos Dansby have proved to be quite the duo, particularly in pass coverage. Washington is simply one of the better coverage linebackers in the game. He’s forced quarterbacks into the fourth worst QB rating when throwing his direction, while nabbing two interceptions. Not to be outdone by much, Dansby has forced them into the seventh worst QB rating when throwing his way, while leading 3-4 inside linebackers with 7 passes defended.
I’ve gone all this way and haven’t even talked about my two favorite players on this unit: Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu. Both are ballhawking freaks filled with limitless athletic ability, and defensive coordinator Todd Bowles has taken full advantage. Mathieu leads all cornerbacks with 8 QB hurries and 60 tackles, becoming one of the largest steals of this past year’s draft. Patrick Peterson hasn’t let up too many completions, allowing quarterbacks to only complete about 51% of passes thrown towards him. But he has given up 6 touchdowns. I expect him and DeSean Jackson to have quite the battle.
PREDICTION: I think this is a great statement opportunity for Arizona. Going on the road to shut down this offense is a tall task, but I think they’re fully up for it. Philadelphia’s defense has played better as of late, but Carson Palmer should be able to find enough holes in the secondary to give the Cards a win to push them to 8-4. Foles and Shady McCoy struggle a little bit against a straight up scary defensive unit. 24-14 Arizona.
Denver at Kansas City
I think I can already hear Arrowhead rocking. Quite simply, this is the biggest game of the season for the Chiefs. It’s an opportunity to snap a two-game skid, and get the division lead. The lead is up for grabs for Denver too, but this is still bigger for Kansas City due to one thing they think they’re not getting enough of: respect.
What’s been the issue with the Chiefs these past two games? Take a look at their 3rd down efficiency. They’ve gone 7-22 on 3rd down, amounting to a 32% conversion rate. That’s not allowing the offense to extend drives and give a great defense enough rest against two great quarterbacks: Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning. Now that they’re facing Manning again, this stat will be key again, as the best defense against the legend is keeping him off the field as much as possible.
You also can’t start slow if you’re the Chiefs. They were down 10-0 by the end of the first quarter in Denver, and had to battle back to make it 17-10 at halftime. That was resilient until they let Denver get another two-score lead in the third quarter. This team is not built to play catchup, especially with a team as offensively dangerous as the Broncos.
It’ll also be interesting to see if Tamba Hali and Justin Houston are fully effective after being injured last week. If these guys aren’t their usual menacing selves, it’s not good news for the Kansas City pass rush. They’ve combined for 20 of the team’s 37 sacks, as well as 5 of the team’s 9 forced fumbles. Needless to say, they’re the gamechangers on this defense. They need to bring it to bother Manning.
Denver isn’t riding into Arrowhead very happily though. They battled New England in arguably the best game of the season last week, only to lose thanks to Wes Welker’s inability to call off Tony Carter on a punt in overtime. So expect the Broncos to be fully ready to take out some rage after such a disappointing loss.
The brunt of that rage may come from one of the best defensive players in football, Von Miller. Miller started off the New England game furiously, immediately making his presence known with a strip-sack of Tom Brady. But Kansas City actually did a great job of keeping him quiet in the first matchup. I’d look for Miller to possibly line up over Eric Fisher more often this time around, as Fisher gave one of the worst performances of the year for a right tackle in the first game, according to Pro Football Focus. That wouldn’t be the best matchup for Fisher to rebound.
The Broncos will certainly want to try and take advantage of the Chiefs’ defense through the air. The pass defense has been less than stellar for Kansas City these past few weeks, culminating in being carved up by Philip Rivers last week. Manning will particularly look to pick on Marcus Cooper again, as he completed 13 passes for 128 yards against him two weeks ago. Rivers also took advantage of him last week, so Cooper will want to revert to his form before these last two weeks.
Photo Courtesy: Pro Football Focus
PREDICTION: I know the Chiefs really need this one, but I don’t like their two biggest playmakers on defense coming into this game off of injuries. It’s even worse when you haven’t been your usual self defending the pass. I like Manning and the boys to make it a season sweep. 31-20, Denver.
New Orleans at Seattle
Wait, what? This game is on Monday Night Football? WE HAVE OUR 2ND MEANINGFUL MONDAY NIGHT GAME IN THREE WEEKS. WAKE UP HANK WILLIAMS JR.
In all seriousness, this is a showdown. Seattle holds the best record in the NFC at 10-1, with the Saints one game behind at 9-2. In terms of playoff implications, it’s meaningful for homefield advantage. The Superdome and CenturyLink Field are two of the most raucous environments in football. No visitor wants to make a trip to either venue come playoff time. Both of these teams also have division mates waiting for an opening to snatch in San Francisco and Carolina.
Seattle’s offense is reliant on being able to shift into Beast Mode. Marshawn Lynch has rushed for 925 yards this season while averaging 4.4 yards per carry. He’s busted 6 runs for longer than 20 yards, and scored 9 touchdowns. Simply put, the dude has been getting his Skittles.
So can New Orleans stop that? The Saints are middle of the pack when it comes to rushing yards allowed per game, coming in 15th with about 112 yards allowed. On the ends, Cameron Jordan has been solid against the run, grading out as the 18th best 3-4 defensive end in that department. Akiem Hicks has actually been better, grading out as the 9th best. But inside on the line is where an issue may arise. John Jenkins, the nose tackle, only grades out as the 42nd best run stopping tackle.
Staying inside, David Hawthorne and Curtis Lofton both grade negatively against the run for inside linebackers. This doesn’t seem to bode well against Lynch, who is one of the most physical running backs in the game. It’s relevant to say the Seahawks’ guards have not performed well as run blockers, but that hasn’t seemed to slow down Lynch. Look for him to go up the gut to challenge the Saints’ interior run defense.
When the Saints have lost this season, they’ve been gashed by guys like Chris Ivory and Stevan Ridley, bruising backs in their own right. They need to step up the physicality here if they want to win this one.
Offensively for New Orleans, I’d normally suspect Drew Brees to have his work cut out for him against the Legion of Boom. But that Legion doesn’t have as much bang for this matchup. Brandon Browner will miss out, as well as Walter Thurmond. Both of those guys grade positively in pass coverage, while only allowing 2 touchdowns on the year. That leaves Richard Sherman with a lot of work to do against one of the top five quarterbacks in the league.
The biggest weapon for Brees is obviously Jimmy Graham, but Seattle has only allowed 2 touchdowns to tight ends this season. He’s simply been beating any type of coverage thrown at him, so it’ll be interesting to see how the Seahawks try to slow him down. Kam Chancellor is certainly a big enough body and good enough safety to keep up with Graham, and I’d expect Seattle to try and match him up with the playmaking tight end. I’d be surprised to see them throw a corner on him with their second and third best corners out.
The number one guy to watch on defense for New Orleans? The aforementioned Cameron Jordan. He’s been an absolute beast this season as a 3-4 defensive end, registering 9 sacks, 10 QB hits, and 36 QB hurries. The Seahawks’ tackles have been abysmal in terms of pass blocking this season, as all of them have graded negatively. They definitely miss Russell Okung, but they’re lucky to have an elusive QB like Russell Wilson. He’ll have to keep his eyes and feet ready for the challenge Jordan presents if he wants a shot at winning this game.
Jordan also plays a majority of his snaps at the right defensive end position, which is particularly relevant for Wilson. While being able to throw the ball well in any direction, the former 3rd round pick has been most effective throwing passes to his left for passes 10-19 yards or 20+ yards long.
Photo Courtesy: Pro Football Focus
Jordan will be rushing from Wilson’s left, so he could be a disruption if the quarterback looks this way often.
PREDICTION: I don’t like a defense that’s not at full strength for a guy like Drew Brees. If the Seattle secondary was at full strength, I’d possibly feel differently. The Seahawks’ pass rush, while unrelenting, faces one of the better pass-protecting units in the league in New Orleans. This will be close, with Lynch getting his yards and Wilson making big plays. But ultimately, Brees takes advantage of the missing Seahawks. 28-24, New Orleans.