This past week saw 11 of the 14 home teams winning their games. Home field advantage will become more and more important when we get closer to the postseason. Let’s look back and see what we learned in Week 11.

 

5 Things We Learned in Week 11

 

1. The Denver Broncos win Round 1. The long awaited showdown between the Chiefs and the Broncos resulted in a 10 point Broncos win at home. Peyton Manning set a record for most touchdown passes in a season by someone 37 or older. The Chiefs were successful at running the ball, accumulating a total of 144 yards on the ground. The Chiefs under Andy Reid have been successful at forcing turnovers and recording sacks. However, this Sunday the Chiefs did not record a single sack. They will need to pressure Manning more when the two teams meet again in Kansas City in two weeks.

 

2. Carolina proves they are a contender. Up until last week, Carolina had not beaten a quality team in their winning streak. Last week, they went to San Francisco and picked up a rare victory. This week, in a rematch of Super Bowl 38, the Panthers got the best of the New England Patriots. Cam Newton was what the Panthers needed him to be. He picked up key first downs with both his arm and his legs and did not turn the ball over. Carolina’s top 5 defense held Tom Brady under 300 yards passing and forced a key interception in the game’s final seconds. The Panthers get a bit of a break these next few weeks facing Miami and Tampa before their showdown with the Saints.

 

3. Our weekly NFC East update is still murky (So maybe this should go under “Things we Didn’t Learn”). The Cowboys have lost 2 out of their last 3 and now find themselves in 2nd place in the NFC East. Not a good sign for a team that traditionally gets worse as the year goes on. The Eagles have won 3 in a row and now sit on top of the NFC East at 6-5. And don’t look now but the Giants have won 4 in a row after losing their first 6 games. The Eagles’ season may have just been a matter of finally grasping Chip Kelly’s new offensive system. LeSean McCoy, who leads the league in rushing by 84 yards, will be the X-factor to the NFC East crown down the stretch.

 

4. Quarterbacks in the league don’t need a high pedigree anymore. The way the rules are set up in the NFL, you don’t need Peyton Manning or Tom Brady to win. Sure, it doesn’t hurt to have those guys but you can be successful with other guys under center. On Sunday, there were guys named Matt McGloin and Mike Glennon who won football games as their team’s quarterback. Last season the two quarterbacks in the Super Bowl (Kaepernick and Flacco) weren’t exactly world beaters. No, I’m not saying you shouldn’t invest in a franchise quarterback. I am saying that a good game manager who doesn’t turn the ball over is valuable as well (see Alex Smith in Kansas City).

 

5. Does anyone want the 2nd wild card spot in the AFC? Currently, the 5-5 Jets are in the 6th and final spot in the AFC playoff race as the 2nd wild card team. Including the Jets, there are 8 teams in the AFC either at 5-5 or 4-6. The Jets, Dolphins, Raiders, Titans, Steelers, Ravens, Browns, and Chargers are all in good position to make the final playoff spot. If I had to list all the tie breaker scenarios in this column, there wouldn’t be room for anything else. Pay especially close attention to the games (3 this week) where these teams play each other (see below).

 

Week 12 Meaningless Power Rankings

1. Denver Broncos

2. Seattle Seahawks

3. New Orleans Saints

4. Kansas City Chiefs

5. Carolina Panthers

6. Indianapolis Colts

7. New England Patriots

8. Cincinnati Bengals

9. Detroit Lions

10. Philadelphia Eagles

 

5 games to watch in Week 12

Last week’s record (4-1) Season record (32-22)

 

Sunday, November 24th: Pittsburgh Steelers (4-6) at Cleveland Browns (4-6)

After the Steelers started 0-4, it seemed all was lost for the 2013 season. After winning 4 out of their last 6, the Steelers are now in the thick of things for the last wild card spot in the AFC along with the Cleveland Browns. The Browns are favorites, a rare feat in this historic rivalry (at least recently). This series has been especially one sided since Ben Roethlisberger entered the league. In 2013, we see Pittsburgh ranked 14th defensively overall giving up 340.8 yards per game while the Browns are ranked 5th (allowing 306.5 yards per game). One of the keys to this game will be whether or not Ben will be able to stay on his feet. The Browns are ranked 9th in the NFL overall with 31 sacks while the Steelers offensive line ranks 30th in the NFL after giving up 37 sacks so far. The Steelers’ offense has started clicking these last few weeks and should be able to score enough points to beat Cleveland.

 

My pick: Pittsburgh Steelers

 

Sunday, November 24th: New York Jets (5-5) at Baltimore Ravens (4-6)

This is an interesting matchup between two teams who are both trying to get back to their winning ways of years before. The last 5 AFC title games have seen either the Jets or Ravens compete to go to the Super Bowl. Rex Ryan returns to Baltimore where the Jets are due for a win after losing last week (if they keep on pace with their win-loss-win-loss trend this season). Last week saw struggling Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith get benched as he went 8 for 23 for 103 yards and 3 interceptions. As the Jets have been going through their win-loss-win-loss mode all season, the Ravens have lost 4 out of their last 5. However, at home the Ravens are 3-1 while the Jets are 1-4 on the road. I think home field advantage will be big in this game especially with Geno Smith struggling.

 

My pick: Baltimore Ravens

 

Sunday, November 24th: Tennessee Titans (4-6) at Oakland Raiders (4-6)

This doesn’t really come across as a ‘game to watch’ yet both of these teams sit only a game out of the final wild card slot. The Raiders are coming off a win while the Titans are on a two game losing streak, which includes an ugly loss at home to the lowly Jaguars. Oakland is 4th overall in the NFL in rushing offense (145.4 yards per game) and is 6th in the NFL at stopping the run (allowing 97.6 yards per game). Both teams have forced nearly the same amount of turnovers (Raiders: 16, Titans: 17) but the Titans have turned it over less (Raiders: 16, Titans: 14). The Raiders have 3 of their 4 wins at home and will run Rashad Jennings, who gained 150 yards on 22 carries last week, as much as they can. If the Titans can’t stop Jennings, they will have a long day.

 

My pick: Oakland Raiders

 

Sunday, November 24th: Dallas Cowboys (5-5) at New York Giants (4-6)

These teams met in the opening week of the season as the Cowboys prevailed at home. That seems like a whole other season ago for the Giants who have improved significantly in the last month winning 4 in a row. Dallas’ defense is at the bottom of the league, ranked 32nd, giving up 439.8 yards per game. Their ability to force turnovers is the reason their defense isn’t nearly as bad as it could be. Dallas has forced 22 turnovers (2nd in the NFC) with a +11 turnover margin (tied for 1st in NFC). The Giants turnover margin is dead last in the NFC (-11) as Eli Manning leads the league in interceptions (17). However 15 of those 17 interceptions came during the Giants’ 6 game losing streak to open the season. Eli has only thrown 2 picks in the last 4 games. The Giants are trending upward while the Cowboys are trending downward.

My pick: New York Giants

 

Sunday, November 24th: Denver Broncos (9-1) at New England Patriots (7-3)

This matchup is the only game of the week between two teams with a winning record. This is the first game since 2005 that the Patriots are not favored at home. The rivalry between Peyton Manning and Tom Brady is well documented. They have been inarguably the 2 best quarterbacks in the NFL over the last decade and a half. Both will go into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot without question. It’s hard to say how many matchups between these two quarterbacks remain in their illustrious careers. This season, Peyton Manning has been lights out. Brady hasn’t been terrible but has not had the best year under his career standard. The key to this game will be how each defense fares. This season the Patriots have had the better defense (20th) compared to Denver (23rd). The Patriots have also forced more turnovers (19) than the Broncos (17). Brady has won 9 out of 13 games against Manning and I believe still holds the mental edge in this rivalry. And let’s not act like Belichick won’t use the Patriots being the underdog as motivation and inspiration going into this game.

 

My pick: New England Patriots

 

Turkey week is upon us. A lot of contending teams will have 2 games in 5 days this coming week. What happens this week will be crucial to how the playoff picture turns out. Have fun traveling and hunting!

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