By Dan Levine
There are plenty of big NFL games on tap for Sunday.
Lets’s take a look at the slate and rank the matchups to watch in order of importance/excitement. Your differing opinions are more than welcome in the comments.
1. Cincinnati at Baltimore, 1pm, CBS: Cincy (6-3) still needs to prove it can hang with the big boys of the division, and they will get another shot with a game in Baltimore (6-3) on Sunday. Andy Dalton and the Bengals came into last week’s game with Pittsburgh (7-3) as the AFC’s No. 1 seed, but struggled against the perennial contenders. The Ravens lost a shocker to Seattle last week, and this game will see one of the two teams fall farther behind in the AFC North race.
2. Philadelphia at New York Giants, 8:20pm, NBC: Philadelphia (3-6) is simply looking to survive at this point, while the Giants (6-3) are looking to hold off Dallas (5-4) in the NFC East race. For Philly, Michael Vick’s playing status is up in the air, and the team can’t seem to gell despite plenty of talent. A loss here would end any chance they have of making the playoffs, while a win would be a glimmer of hope. New York, meanwhile, has a brutal schedule on the horizon and really needs to win on Sunday night, at a time when the charging Cowboys face several of the league’s weaker squads.
3. Tennessee at Atlanta, 4:15pm, CBS: The Falcons (5-4) have taken a step back this season and lost a heartbreaker to New Orleans (7-3) last week. Still, they have a chance in the NFC South but the team needs to step up this Sunday against the 5-4 Titans. Tennessee has also been hit-or-miss this year, and sits second in the AFC South, 1.5 games behind Houston. But with the Texans starting Matt Leinart at QB for the foreseeable future, there is certainly an opportunity to make up ground, especially if Chris Johnson can get back on track. Johnson played well against Carolina last week, but he’s had a largely disappointing season. For Atlanta, it will be interesting to see if Roddy White can have a breakout game against the Tennessee secondary. White led the NFL in receptions last season (115), but he’s only caught 47 balls for 3 TDs in 2011, while racking up both penalties and drops. That needs to change for Atlanta to be a true contender down the stretch.
4. San Diego at Chicago, 4:15pm, CBS: The Chargers (4-5) are falling apart, while the Bears (6-3) are rising fast. In fact, San Diego has lost 4 straight games and Chicago has won 4 in a row. Still, it’s a big game, because both teams remain in the thick of their respective races, while San Diego probably has a better chance at winning their division. That’s because Chicago is stuck behind the undefeated Packers, while the Chargers sit just one game behind both Oakland and Denver (5-4) in the AFC West. We know Philip Rivers has the talent to win games, and he’ll need to step up in this one as the Chargers struggle with injuries. Chicago, meanwhile, beat Philly last week and continues to rely on the steady and speedy Matt Forte as their all-purpose back. As long as Jay Cutler continues to make good decisions, the Bears and their stingy defence should continue to win games. Will their streak continue, or will Rivers and the Chargers right the ship just in time?
5. Tampa Bay at Green Bay, 1pm, Fox: The underachieving Bucs (4-5) face off with the perfect Packers (9-0) in this one, needing a win to stay alive in the NFC South race. Tampa Bay entered 2011 with high hopes and started strong before losing the past 3 games. It won’t be easy to get back on track against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers, who look virtually unstoppable so far. Rodgers in on track to break several passing records, while the defence seemed to rebound from early struggles in last week’s win over Minnesota. Can Tampa Bay get back to .500? Can the Packers make a serious run at an undefeated season and a repeat Super Bowl title? We get the next chapter on Sunday.
6. Oakland at Minnesota, 1pm, CBS: Raiders looking to remain atop AFC West.
7. Carolina at Detroit, 1pm, Fox: Two young teams, two young quarterbacks, Lions in mix for playoff spot.
8. Dallas at Washington, 1pm, Fox: Cowboys charging hard, Skins falling fast. NFC East rivalry.
9. Buffalo at Miami, 1pm, CBS: Bills still alive in the AFC East, Dolphins have won 2 straight.
10. Jacksonville at Cleveland, 1pm, CBS: Two 3-6 teams, Jaguars technically alive in AFC South race.
11. Arizona at San Francisco, 4:05pm, Fox: San Fran has NFC West locked up, Arizona surprised Philly last week for second straight win.
12. Seattle at St. Louis, 4:05pm, Fox: Two more NFC West teams. Wow, this division is really, really bad.
What are you looking forward to on Sunday? Which games are more/less exciting than I think? Have a great weekend.