Monday Night – Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans
Once again, it feels as if we’ve angered the NFL scheduling gods. Whenever you’re forced to watch two AFC South teams battle it out, you know it’s not going to be pretty. Rather than wallowing in our own self-pity, let’s take a stab at figuring out which of these teams will come out on top. The winner will likely earn themselves an early division lead and an undeserved playoff spot. But that’s a story for another time. On the bright side, we get a glimpse at two of the league’s best young QBs in Andrew Luck and Marcus Mariota.
Keys to the Game
As usual, Indy will need to focus on protecting Andrew Luck. The reason being that he’s their best option for putting points on the board, which will be very necessary against one of the league’s more underrated offenses. We know that the Colts’ defense won’t be doing a whole lot to slow down Mariota and company, so Luck will need to dial up a few touchdowns of his own. Keeping T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief fed all night is a great way for Indy to put crooked numbers on the board and chalk up another one in the win column.
The biggest key for Tennessee will be to limit the damage the Colts’ offense can do. They can do that by playing solid defense and controlling the ball on offense. Between Mariota and RB DeMarco Murray, controlling the ball should be no issue whatsoever for the Titans against a weak Colts D. Establishing the run early will chew up clock and help build an early lead that the Titans can ride all the way to victory.
Sunday Night – New York Giants at Denver Broncos
A year or two ago, this had Super Bowl preview written all over it. These days, not so much. The Giants are still a legitimate contender with Eli Manning at the helm and OBJ dazzling on a weekly basis. However, the Broncos aren’t looking quite as formidable anymore. It’s that whole “lacking a decent quarterback” thing. Nonetheless, Denver still has one of the league’s best defensive units and they’ll certainly put Manning and company to the test on Sunday night.
Keys to the Game
The Giants have one very important key to this game: protect the football. If they want to win in Denver, they cannot afford to turn the ball over. Yes, Eli, I’m looking at you. Eli has a propensity for letting things get out of hand and giving the ball away when things go wrong. He’s one of the best in the league when he’s good and he’s one of the worst when he’s not. The Giants cannot win this game with Bad Eli. I can’t stress that enough. If they protect the ball, it will give playmakers like OBJ and Sterling Shepard plenty of opportunities to put points on the board and run the Broncos out of the building.
The game plan for Denver will be the exact opposite — they need to bring out Bad Eli and they have just the defense to do it. Aqib Talib and Chris Harris Jr. will frustrate Beckham Jr. and Shepard all night long while the pass rush puts Eli in tough situations. That’s the exact formula for making Eli throw an interception or three. As talented as the Giants may be, they’re going to have an extremely difficult time beating the Broncos if they turn the ball over multiple times. If Denver gets to Eli, they’ll win this game easily.
Sunday Afternoon – Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings
There’s not a better way to spend this Sunday afternoon than watching the two NFC North juggernauts battle it out. These two have combined to win 6 straight NFC North titles (5 going to Green Bay), 9 of the last 10 and 13 of 16. Talk about dominance. The race for the division title always makes their head to head matchups that much more meaningful, too. Whoever loses typically finds themselves playing catch-up the remainder of the season. Time to see how their first matchup in 2017 will shake out.
Keys to the Game
The key for Green Bay is going to have to be their defense. They’ve got to find a way to limit Minnesota’s production and force turnovers. That will give Aaron Rodgers more opportunities to score against the stingy Minnesota defense. As good as Rodgers and Jordy Nelson are, you can never have too many opportunities when you’re playing a defense this good. Getting 30 points on the board is the way to seal this one up and get a nice win on the road.
Obviously, having Sam Bradford go shot for shot with Aaron Rodgers probably won’t go well for Minnesota, so they’re going to need their defense to come up big this Sunday. Xavier Rhodes will need to slow down Jordy Nelson while the rest of the squad gets pressure on Rodgers and forces Green Bay to try and run the ball — something they’ve struggled with mightily. Toss in a solid running game to eat up some clock and keep the ball out of Rodgers’ hands and you’ve got yourself a Vikings win.
Thursday Night – Philadelphia Eagles at Carolina Panthers
This matchup has all the makings of one of the best Thursday Night Football games we’ll see all year. We’ve got two teams looking to prove themselves with mobile quarterbacks at the helm. While the Eagles are trying to earn back some respect from the rest of the league as they finish their rebuilding process, the Panthers are looking to get back into that elite echelon and compete for a Super Bowl again. Thursday night in prime time is as good a time as any to make your mark on the league and neither time will want to pass this opportunity up.
Keys to the Game
Philly is going to need to pass the ball effectively to win this one. We all know how ferocious that Carolina front seven can be, but their secondary is every bit as bad as the front seven is good. Wentz and the Eagles will need to capitalize on that without turning the ball over. This game has all the makings of a potential shootout, so Wentz will need to be on his game. The Eagles won’t be in this game without him. If they get a few hundred yards and a couple scores out of Wentz, they’ll be in good position to get a road win in this one.
Carolina is going to need a good game out of Cam Newton. The Panthers’ secondary is going to give up points, so Cam will have to put the team on his back and go get some points of his own. Whether it’s through the air or on the ground, Carolina is going to need Cam to take over. The other key here would be if their defense could force a couple turnovers. As good as Wentz has looked, he’s still young and prone to mistakes. Forcing a turnover or two would take the heat off the secondary a bit more and give Cam a little more breathing room on offense.