Even with the controversial ending, Monday night’s Patriots-Panthers game was one of the most exciting games of the season. And the Patriots are expected to put on another show in prime time again this Sunday.
Sunday will mark the 14th time that Tom Brady and Peyton Manning have squared off in the NFL, and this one carries just as much excitement as the previous 13. The Broncos will enter Foxboro on Sunday at 9-1 on the season and the AFC playoff picture running through Denver. Meanwhile, the Patriots, coming off their third loss of the season, don’t want to fall too far out of contention for a potential first-round bye.
This game has all sorts of intrigue even beyond Brady vs. Manning, including the potential return of All-Pro receiver Wes Welker to New England. Although, a concussion could hinder what would be an otherwise exciting return to his former stomping grounds.
As for the rest of the league, the postseason is creeping ever closer but there still isn’t much clarity in either playoff picture. The Seahawks essentially have the NFC West wrapped up, but every other division is still very much up for grabs. The NFC East and North are still wide open, where one of three teams in both divisions could take the crown, and Carolina continues to sneak up on New Orleans for the NFC South lead. The Broncos and Chiefs will continue to fight it out for tops in the AFC West, while Indianapolis, Cincinnati and New England continue to try and distance themselves from their divisional foes.
The parity continues to take hold around the league as well, as 17 teams are at or above .500 through Week 11. Ten of those teams are in the NFC, which won’t have a problem fielding a quality postseason group. Meanwhile, 14 teams are still hanging around in the AFC playoff race, six of whom are under the .500 mark.
The fog should settle a bit over the playoff picture this week, as at least four games should knock potential contenders all but mathematically out of the picture. Before that happens, though, let’s take the pulse of the league and see what hot storylines we can uncover from the week that was.
Editor’s Note: Each week, I’ll break down 10 thoughts from around the NFL in the NESN.com “First and 10.” That being said, here are 10 more thoughts from around the NFL after another week of football.
1. Brady > Manning — The Brady-Manning rivalry has been restored, if only for one week. Although, it really hasn’t been much of a rivalry. Tom Brady has nine wins over Peyton Manning in their 13 career meetings, including the playoffs, which is the most wins for any one quarterback over another since 1993. What’s more, Manning is 2-9 in games in Foxboro during his career and 2-6 against Brady at Gillette Stadium. Manning has also thrown an even 21 touchdowns and 21 interception in 11 career games in Foxboro, only adding to the notion of his struggles.
It’s needless to say that Brady has Manning’s number in their careers, but that dominance also extends beyond wins. Brady has actually had the better numbers overall in head-to-head matchups with Manning, producing more points, completing more passes and boasting a better touchdown-to-interception ratio.
Check out the stats for each quarterback in the rivalry below.
Wins: 4 9
Compl. %: 62.4 67.0
Passing YPG: 293.9 235.3
TD-INT: 27-19 23-12
2. Concussions are down, but concerns remain — It’s not by an overwhelming amount, but concussions are down so far this season over years past. There have been 140 recorded concussions in the NFL this season, according to the good folks at @NFLConcussions. That is down from 150 through 11 weeks last season, which shows that, while small, some progress is being made. However, there is clearly still work to be done to get that number even more under control as well as to make for failsafe protocol for sideline testing.
There have been at least five instances this season — with Jeremy Kerley, Isaac Redman, Terrelle Pryor, Josh Freeman and Wes Welker — where players have been allowed to re-enter a game after an exam but were retroactively diagnosed with a concussion afterward. That means team doctors and personnel need to do a better job of evaluating and stop listening to coaches quite so much. Safety needs to be the preeminent protocol, meaning there should be zero misdiagnoses nevermind five or more.
3. Learn the Name — Bobby Rainey more than doubled his career rushing output on Sunday, carrying the ball 30 times for 164 yards in the Buccaneers’ 41-28 win over the Falcons. He’ll have plenty of opportunities to add to that total over the next six weeks as well.
Rainey, who went undrafted out of Western Kentucky last year, is just the most recent example of a low-round or no-round running back making an impact in the NFL. The 5-foot-8 speedster may not have the durability to carry the rock 30 times a game for an entire season, but he has the skills and speed to be at least a Darren Sproles knock off for Tampa Bay.
4. Indy needs more Brown and less Richardson — Speaking of running backs to keep an eye on, Donald Brown has been a revelation for the Colts over the past few weeks. It’s as if trading for Trent Richardson finally lit a fire under the former first-round pick, sparking him to be the player that he was expected to be coming out of Connecticut five years ago.
Brown is on pace to have his fewest carries since his rookie season (88), but he’s also on pace to gain the second-most rushing yards (517) and highest yards per carry (5.9) of his career. Richardson, meanwhile, has done next to nothing since coming to Indy. He’s carried the ball 96 times for 272 yards (2.8 yards per carry) since joining the Colts in Week 3. If the Colts were smart, they would cut Richardson’s workload a bit and give the extra touches to Brown. Right now, he’s just far more productive.
5. Giants defense is key to turnaround — the return of running back Andre Brown and Eli Manning‘s improved decision making (just two interceptions in four weeks) seem like pretty big reasons behind the Giants’ four-game winning streak. But the biggest reason for the turnaround is actually on defense.
The Giants have forced 11 turnovers during the current four-game streak, with the team running at a plus-five turnover ratio (minus-11 on the season) during the stretch. Their run defense has also been much better, allowing just 60 yards per game and 3.0 yards per carry. Meanwhile, the pass defense might have made the largest improvement, as they’ve made seven interceptions and haven’t allowed a touchdown pass in the four wins.
6. The real McCoy is for real — The LeSean McCoy we watched struggle through last season wasn’t the real McCoy we all know, and he’s proving that this season. McCoy was the first running back to cross the 1,000-yard plateau this season, leading the NFL with 1,009 heading into the Eagles’ bye week, reaching the mark for the third time in his career.
Even beyond leading the league in rushing yards, though, McCoy is far and away the NFL leader in yards from scrimmage this season. He has 1,408 yards from scrimmage on the years, which is 222 more than the next closest contender, Jamaal Charles, who has 1,186 through 10 games. McCoy has been the most valuable player on the Eagles this season, and the biggest key to their unexpected playoff push (6-5). A few more wins and McCoy may push Peyton Manning and Russell Wilson for the NFL MVP.
7. Stick with Geno — Geno Smith was an abomination for the Jets on Sunday, throwing three interceptions and fumbling the football once as well, helping the Bills pull off the eventual 37-14 rout in Buffalo. While Smith continues to have turnover problems — ranks second in the NFL (Eli Manning) with 20 this season — he still gives the Jets their best chance at winning and potentially making the playoffs.
It hasn’t been a pretty or even comforting season with Geno under center, but he is their best hope for this season as well as the future. The Jets saw first-hand how easily a quarterback’s confidence can be killed, and they can’t risk ruining yet another of their high-round prospects.
8. Keenum needs to be the guy in Houston — In another case of quarterback controversy, the Houston Texans need to make a firm decision on their immediate future at the position. Maybe Case Keenum won’t turn out to be their quarterback for the next decade, but he at least needs the time and confidence to develop and prove what he’s capable of.
Replacing Keenum with Matt Schaub against the Raiders on Sunday proved fruitful at the time, as Schaub led a couple scoring drives, but it is actually detrimental to the franchise. The Texans are not going to pick up the $14 million tab for Schaub next season, meaning they’ll need another quarterback to run the show. Keenum may not be that guy, but he at least needs the next six weeks to show if he can. At 2-8, it’s not like the Texans are going to make any sort of Super Bowl push. So why not throw in the towel, give the kid a chance and see what you might have.
9. Nobody’s afraid of the 49ers passing game — Oh where, oh where has Colin Kaepernick gone? The same quarterback who was thought to be taking the league by storm at the end of last season has been almost non-existent this year. He’s thrown touchdowns to just two different receivers this season — all 31 other teams have at least four receivers with touchdowns — and he doesn’t seem to have the same poise or accuracy throwing from the pocket.
Since his Week 1 412-yard outburst against the Packers, Kaepernick has thrown for more than 20 yards just once and is averaging a NFL-worst 154 yards per game among qualified quarterbacks. Michael Crabtree’s imminent return to the field should help boost those numbers at least a little bit, but I’m not sure he’ll be able to give Kaepernick the full 180 he needs if the 49ers expect to repeat their postseason success this season.
10. Kenbrell Thompkins making major strides — Tom Brady may finally be back on track, but his connection with rookie Kenbrell Thompkins still needs some work. The quarterback-receiver duo actually ranks worst (93rd) in the NFL among tandems with at least 40 attempts this season, with Brady completing just 43.1 percent of his targets to Thompkins. However, the two did seem to be more in sync on Monday night.
Thompkins caught both passes thrown his way in Carolina, racking up 60 yards and a near touchdown on the night. That’s a promising sign after sitting out of the Steelers’ game as a healthy scratch. The biggest improvement seemed to be in Thompkins’ approach. He was making conscious efforts to catch the ball more with his hands against the Panthers rather than relying on his body as he did for the first half of the year.
Photo via Twitter/@Broncos