(1) Where does Brady-Manning rank among the great QB rivalries in NFL history?
This Sunday’s matchup between New England and Indianapolis was originally slated for prime time on NBC. But with Peyton Manning out indefinitely and winless Indy freefalling through a miserable season, it got bumped to 1pm EST on CBS. The relative lack of interest in this game underscores just how central the Brady–Manning rivalry has been to the Patriots–Colts rivalry. Over the past decade, the two teams and their Hall of Fame QBs have produced a series of memorable contests, such as the goal-line-stand game, the snow game, the 18-point-comeback game, the fourth-and-two game, and the almost-comeback game. In 2006, Sports Illustrated included Brady–Manning on its list of the “top 10 QB rivalries of all time,” along with Stabler-Bradshaw, Unitas-Namath, Marino-Montana, Elway-Kosar, Young-Aikman, Graham-Layne, Kelly-Marino, Starr-Unitas, and Bradshaw-Staubach. (SI inexplicably omitted Montana-Elway.)
(2) Which team has the best chance to spoil Green Bay’s perfect regular season?
Could it be the struggling Giants, losers of three straight? If the undefeated Packers have a weakness, it’s their 31st-ranked pass defense. New York, meanwhile, has racked up more passing yards than all but three other teams (New Orleans, New England, and Green Bay). However, Big Blue’s pass defense is ranked 26th, and it got absolutely torched by Drew Brees and the Saints. “It seems unlikely that the Giants would be able to stop Green Bay’s offense, which features the league’s top-rated passer in Aaron Rodgers,” writes Alex Raskin. “But if the Giants can rediscover their pass rush — a unit that has been mostly dormant for two weeks but still ranks sixth in the NFL in sacks — the playing field levels considerably.” (Last night, the Eagles jumped ahead of New York in total sacks, dropping the G-Men to seventh overall.) After visiting the Meadowlands this weekend, Green Bay’s remaining schedule includes Oakland (home), Kansas City (away), Chicago (home), and Detroit (home).
(3) Will Tim Tebow continue to avoid turnovers?
When Tebow critics want to summon evidence that his much-ballyhooed run of success “just isn’t sustainable,” they typically point to his lousy completion percentage (45.5). “But completion percentage is only one small part of the story and not a very meaningful one at that,” notes NFL analyst Kerry Byrne, founder of Cold, Hard Football Facts (CHFF). According to the Real Quarterback Rating devised by CHFF, Tebow has outplayed the opposing QB in each of his five wins as a starter. Byrne explains that his consistently high rating can be attributed to two factors: Tebow scores touchdowns — either through the air or on the ground — at a relatively fast pace (relative, that is, to his aggregate number of pass attempts, rush attempts, and sacks), and he commits remarkably few turnovers. “Tebow has suffered just two turnovers all year, one interception and one fumble. Both of those turnovers came in the Detroit game, his lone loss this year.”
(4) How many teams will be sitting atop the AFC North on Monday morning?
If Baltimore loses at Cleveland and Cincinnati wins at Pittsburgh, there will be a three-way tie for first place in the Black and Blue division. The Ravens (8–3) are ranked No. 2 in the latest ESPN power rankings and are fresh off a suffocating defensive performance against San Francisco. Yet Joe Flacco & Co. have made a bad habit of losing trap games after big victories, and their record away from M&T Bank Stadium is 2–3. As for the Bengals (7–4) and the Steelers (8–3), Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger believes that his Cincinnati counterpart, Andy Dalton, has been the NFL’s rookie of the year. (“I think he’s that good of a quarterback,” Roethlisberger told reporters on Wednesday.) When Pittsburgh topped the Bengals 24–17 in Week 10, Dalton threw a pair of TD passes but also a pair of interceptions. Roethlisberger broke his throwing-hand thumb in that game, and he tweaked the injury during practice this week.
(5) Are the Falcons poised to make a late-season run?
Peter King’s preseason pick to win Super Bowl XLVI, Atlanta has slogged through an uneven 2011 campaign, boasting the NFL’s second-ranked run defense but also suffering from a mediocre pass defense (and one that has temporarily lost Pro Bowl cornerback Brent Grimes). Yet the 7–4 Falcons have won five of six (the lone defeat being an overtime loss to the 8–3 Saints), and they are entering a three-game stretch (at injury-plagued Houston, at last-place Carolina, home against lowly Jacksonville) that should leave them with a 10–4 record by the time they visit New Orleans for an NFC South showdown in Week 16. Whether they actually get to 10–4 will depend heavily on turnovers. Besides Atlanta, there are presently 16 NFL teams with a winning record. Twelve of them have a better turnover differential than the Falcons. The four that have a worse differential are the Steelers (whose giveaway numbers were inflated by their horrific seven-turnover performance in Week 1 at Baltimore), the Saints (who have committed just one turnover, while forcing three, during their current three-game winning streak), the Broncos (whose combined differential in their last six games — i.e., since Tim Tebow took over as starting QB — is plus-one), and the Jets (who are tied with Indianapolis for having the second-most lost fumbles in the league, behind only St. Louis). In their seven victories this season, the Falcons have a combined turnover differential of plus-five. In their four losses, they have a combined differential of minus-five.