3 Questions about: San Diego Chargers at Denver Broncos

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In the underwhelming AFC, there are an awful lot of teams still in the hunt for the second Wild Card.

At 6-7, you’d assume the San Diego Chargers weren’t one of them but here we are. Given that Baltimore and Miami both have games they can very well lose (against Detroit and against New England respectively) and with the other 6-7 team (the New York Jets) heading to Carolina, the Chargers have a great shot at getting a leg up for that spot.

They face a Denver Broncos team which, while it has secured a playoff berth, has its sights set on the division title and a bye week—and perhaps home field advantage.

In other words, this is no pushover for either team.

  • Can the Chargers protect Philip Rivers? Last time out, the Chargers offensive line allowed him to be sacked four times, hit five times total and pressured all day long. How will the Chargers avoid this? Will they go no-huddle and up-tempo early? Will they use a lot of short slants and quick passes to negate the rush by getting the ball out quickly? How they handle Von Miller and company will decide if they can keep up with Manning.
  • Without Wes Welker and with a Peyton Manning who is still wrestling with ankle issues, does the Broncos offense change at all? You can bet that the Chargers will try to hit Manning often and disrupt his timing but that’s a tough task. Manning can get the ball out quickly, so it’s a matter of keeping his receivers covered just long enough to get a hand on him. That hasn’t been easy and while Welker is a loss, Eric Decker has been on fire and the return of tight end Julius Thomas bolsters the offense up. Also, will the split between Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball continue?
  • How will the emergence of rookie Keenan Allen play into the Chargers offense? Back in Week 10, Allen wasn’t a big factor with just five targets and four catches for 41 yards. Truth be told, the entire offense played poorly once the Broncos built a 21-6 lead. But Allen was clearly not the playmaker he is now. This will be a tough test for him and the Chargers need him to perform. San Diego will want to try to get an early lead. To do that, they need to protect Rivers. But they’ll also need the rookie receiver to continue to step up.

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com, the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com and an NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

3 Questions about: Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars

While this may not be one of Thursday Night Football’s better matchups, there are still some interesting angles to it.

The Houston Texans may be a shocking 2-10 this season, but they have talent—talent enough to perhaps turn the team around quickly if they have the right quarterback and, perhaps, a new coach.

Meanwhile the Jacksonville Jaguars seem like they have a lot more ground to cover in order to compete in the AFC South, much less the NFL as a whole. At 3-9, they aren’t much better off than the Texans and they share a common need—quarterback—in a draft which appears to be heavy with talent.

This game may not seem like much on the surface, but the outcome could have a big impact on what each team’s offseason looks like.

  • Let’s be blunt—Texans head coach Gary Kubiak is coaching for his job. This season was a disaster from very early on and while he has had two straight successful seasons his 61-62 coaching record with the Texans points to a mediocre, at best, job. He hung onto quarterback Matt Schaub too long, has failed to make the most of talented players like Andre Johnson, J.J. Watt and Ben Tate and has not been able to find a way to make the 2013 Texans look less like the 2010 Texans and more like the 2011 or 2012 Texans. The Jaguars may not be the worst team in the NFL, but they represent what should be a win for the Texans. The team lost last time at home—losing to the Jaguars again could be the last straw.
  • What future is there for Maurice Jones-Drew on this team? There aren’t a lot of offensive building blocks here. A passable offensive line, Cecil Shorts and, if he can get back in the NFL, Justin Blackmon—but not much else. Is this a team which can afford to lose Jones-Drew even if the back is on the downside of a career? And would it have been wiser to trade him and get some value? If he walks now, the Jaguars just gain another offensive hole. Jones-Drew can make a case in a game like this for sticking around and the matchup lends itself to success for him tonight.

Is Case Keenum potentially a starting NFL quarterback? After some great early games he has slid backwards and struggled. Still, for an undrafted free agent, he has acquitted himself well overall and against some good teams. It’s likely he will never be more than a backup, but he could build a strong case for at least a chance if he can close the season on a high note.

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

3 Questions about: New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons

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This game was supposed to mean more.

Of course, every game in the NFL means a lot to the guys playing it, but we expected the Atlanta Falcons to be good and vying for—if not owning outright—first place in the NFC South.

That’s not how things worked out though, due to injuries and so this game has lost a bit of its luster.

That’s not to say we won’t be watching and that there isn’t a lot worth watching.

It’s just not the things we thought would be things we needed to watch.

image via Washington Post

  • What’s really going on with Matt Ryan? Sure, the Falcons lost a lot of their offensive weapons for stretches this season but Ryan himself has looked off. If you don’t watch a lot of Falcons football, you might be struck by how…un-Ryan-like he looks compared to the playoffs last year. Roddy White is starting to look better, as is Steven Jackson and Tony Gonzalez hasn’t lost any steam (statistics aside). Can Ryan start to look like he did in 2012?

13-12-NO-Brees-Neck

  • Aside from wondering whether Drew Brees’ neck is stretched like a giraffes’ after the hit from Ahmad Brooks* last week, the Saints themselves have been pretty consistent. The defense has been outstanding and the offense—even with Jimmy Graham’s injury issues—has been solid, albeit not as high-flying as in years past. Their only blemishes have taken place on the road—a loss to the New England Patriots and one to the New York Jets. This is the first of two road games. Can they keep focused?

image via CBS Atlanta

  • Are we watching a changing of the guard in Atlanta’s receiving corps? Roddy White has definitely been slowed by age while Harry Douglas has routinely performed at a high level despite little help against opposing secondaries. This will be another tough test but a good game and we may have witnessed a baton being passed.

*Special note of thanks to Footballguys boss Joe Bryant for the Brees gif—he had it in his “Random Shots” column this week.

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com and the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

3 Questions about: Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans

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Both of these teams are going to want to load up on the mouthwash to get rid of the bitter aftertaste of last Sunday’s losses.

The Colts didn’t expect to get manhandled by the St. Louis Rams for sure. And one can imagine when the Titans woke up Sunday morning, a loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars wasn’t on their to-do list.

Yet here they are, hoping to get right on Thursday night.

Both teams are still in the playoff hunt and both had a rough Week 10.

Here are three things to watch for tonight’s game.

image via StampedeBlue.com

  • The Colts’ defense was beat up by Kellen Clemens and Tavon Austin last week—two guys who haven’t really given teams the willies when lining up across from them. Not only did they allow Austin 138 yards and a pair of touchdowns on just  three targets, they had just two sacks and two quarterback hits. The Colts defense isn’t as bad against the pass as the No. 19 ranking indicates. They’ve accrued 24 sacks and eight interceptions so far. It’s a good run defense (No. 7 overall). They seem to be able to hold the bad teams down but the good teams kill them. How will they do against a middle-of-the-road team?

image via FantasyBuzzer.com

  • We continue to watch the emergence of Kendall Wright with great interest. If you haven’t heard—and unless you’re a Tennessee Titans fan or writer, you probably haven’t—Wright has been very consistent no matter who his quarterback is and unlike Richardson, is becoming a player worthy of his selection spot (20th overall in 2012). He can gain separation, is dangerous after the catch and willing to go across the middle. The offense around him isn’t all that great, and Ryan Fitzpatrick at the helm doesn’t spell great things for it, but Wright is becoming a bright spot in a somewhat disappointing season. Can he keep it up against a decent Colts defense?

image via Washington Post

  • Andrew Luck has been a bit up and down this season—providing great moments such as when he outplayed Peyton Manning in Week 7 as well as brutal moments, such as the three interceptions he tossed last week against St. Louis. It almost seems as if he is following a two-good-one-bad pattern right now. He just finished the cycle with a poor outing last week after two solid games prior to that. Will he bounce back with a good game against a Titans defense ranked eight in the NFL against the pass with more interceptions generated (8) than touchdowns allowed (7) and which has totaled 25 sacks so far this year?

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com, the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com and an NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.

3 Questions about: Washington at Minnesota

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It’s safe to wonder if the Minnesota Vikings are a bit deflated after the collapse which cost them the win against the Dallas Cowboys last week.

At the same point Robert Griffin III and the whole Washington team seems to be on the upswing and, in a division which is a tire fire (even the New York Giants are technically in it) that momentum could well propel them into the playoffs after a start which looked disastrous.

Here are three things to watch tonight in the game.

  • Is it possible for Minnesota offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave to get less creative? We already have a situation where the plays seem to be so bland that armchair linebackers across the NFL fanbase can call them out. Rookie Cordarrelle Patterson is admittedly raw, but tremendously dangerous with the ball in his hands. Yet the team can’t seem to find ways to get him involved more than two or three snaps. They don’t seem to be able to do much than the most basic plays across the board. That’s on Musgrave and if he wants to keep his job, he should try to show us more than we’ve seen so far.
  • Can Washington’s defense hold onto a lead? Last week they let San Diego back into a game that should have been sewn up. The week before that, they beat on Denver for three quarters only to collapse in the fourth. They’ll lead Thursday night against Minnesota—perhaps from the very first quarter. But it;s not how you start, it’s how you finish and the last few weeks, the defense hasn’t been finishing strong.
  • Both quarterbacks come into the game with questions circling them. For Robert Griffin III, it’s the continued concern he came back too soon and still plays in such a way as to beg to end up hurt again. Can he start playing a bit more safely, get out of bounds and avoid the big hits? Meanwhile Christian Ponder has not really improved since taking over for Donovan McNabb in 2012. He still makes one read and pulls the ball down far too often. Perhaps the microscopic improvement is, in part, due to Musgrave’s lackluster playcalling but all too often Ponder gets impatient and pulls the ball down when he shouldn’t. Thought that’s better than when he forces the ball into excellent coverage.

Andrew Garda is a member of the Pro Football Writers Association. He is also a member of the fantasy football staff at FootballGuys.com, the NFL writer at CheeseheadTV.com and an NFL Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. You can follow him at @andrew_garda on Twitter.