Monday Night – Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs
Hooray for divisional matchups on Monday Night Football. Last week was the NFC East and now we head back across the country a bit for the AFC West. The opposite of Sunday night’s contest, this matchup brings us two of the best defensive units in the NFL. The biggest difference between these two will be the poise and experience under center. Denver will have an inexperienced signal caller once again while the Chiefs have the wily veteran who’s seen just about everything at this point in his career.
Keys to the Game
Denver can’t afford to fall behind in Kansas City because they don’t want to have to rely on the passing game to win. It’s just not going to work against such a talented defense in such a hostile environment. Maybe at home, but not here. To do that, they’ll need a good start from the running game and they’ll need the defense to come out ready to play. KC showed flashes of brilliance on offense last year, so the Broncos need their defense to step up and get stops in the first quarter. There won’t be much margin for error here. If they fall behind early, it’s going to be a long night.
KC would do best to get the ball into the hands of their playmakers. Guys like Tyreek Hill and Spencer Ware can bust this game wide open — even against a top tier defense like Denver. Throwing the ball on the outside will be difficult against Denver’s corners, so the running game and quick hitters over the middle to Hill will be crucial. If they can establish those two things, it will open up more passing lanes to get the ball to Jeremy Maclin, too. At that point, it will be game on for the Chiefs because Denver won’t be able to keep up.
Sunday Night – Pittsburgh Steelers at Detroit Lions
This game is going to be an offense-lover’s dream. These two teams are just going to sling it all night until the final whistle blows. May the team who scores last win. Big Ben and Matt Stafford will go toe to toe at Ford Field as they each try to light up the other team’s secondary. Honestly, it shouldn’t be too difficult for either to find success. It’s going to be a new school, shootout type of game in Detroit and it really may come down to whoever has the ball last. RIP to both of these defenses.
Keys to the Game
The Steelers hold the clear advantage here because they have a great run game and Detroit doesn’t. That could easily be the deciding factor here if the Steelers can build themselves a lead. If they can get in front by double digits, you can guarantee they’re going to pound the rock with Le’Veon Bell and they’ll have success doing it. Not only will they be able to take large chunks of time off the clock, but you can bet that Bell will find his way into the endzone at least once, if not more. The Lions will have a hard time keeping up with that.
It’s going to be crucial for Detroit to have success and get out in front early. They can’t afford to fall behind and let Pittsburgh bulldoze them to death with Bell. They need to keep old Big Ben dropping back and throwing down field and they need to capitalize when he makes a mistake. He’s not exactly Eli Manning, but Roethlisberger has thrown double digit interceptions in 3 of the last 4 seasons. Make him throw enough while chasing points and he’s bound to make a mistake. If the Lions can go up by 2+ scores, they should be able to keep their foot on the gas and cruise to victory.
Sunday Afternoon – Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This NFC South matchup might not appear too tantalizing on the surface, but it will surely be a good one. Both teams will be battling for the division crown once again and these head to head matchups always have a major impact on the divisional race. You simply can’t afford to lose your home games to opponents within the division. Carolina will be trying to steal one on the road to get a leg up on the competition as they try to get back to the top of the league.
Keys to the Game
The best thing for Carolina to do on Sunday afternoon is to keep the ball out of Jameis WInston’s hands. He’s a proven winner and while he may be young, he’s more than good enough to cut that Carolina secondary to shreds. The best way to counteract that is to keep the ball in Cam Newton’s hands and let him wear out the Tampa Bay defense. Slow and steady will win this race for the Panthers, but a deep strike or two to Ted Ginn wouldn’t hurt, either. They just can’t let Winston control this one or they’ll be playing catch-up all afternoon.
Sling the rock. The Panthers were exposed through the air big time in 2016 without Josh Norman to hold things down. Not much changed over the offseason. The Bucs should let Winston do his thing and spread the ball around through the air on a quest to drop 50 points on the Panthers. I don’t think the Carolina offense will be able to keep up with the likes of Winston and superhuman receiver Mike Evans, but they’re welcome to try.
Thursday Night – Miami Dolphins at Baltimore Ravens
Thursday Night Football is back and brings us a matchup between two of the more overrated quarterbacks in the league: Ryan Tannehill and Joe Flacco. Each has had their moments, Flacco did have one epic playoff run to a Super Bowl, but neither has been a consistently good signal caller during their careers. Agree or disagree, it is what it is. Ironically enough, quarterback play is what will likely decide this Thursday night AFC clash, so let’s see who can get the job done.
Keys to the Game
Miami needs to make life easy on Ryan Tannehill by establishing the running game early. That’s a tall task against a Ravens defense that’s looking to return to elite status, but it’s an absolute must if the Dolphins want to get a road win here. The effectiveness of Jay Ajayi on the ground will determine the amount of success Tannehill will have slinging the ball down field. If they can get Baltimore to respect and bring 8 men into the box, Tannehill can push the ball down field and put points on the board. If not, it’s going to be a long night for the Dolphins and their QB.
The Baltimore defense will factor heavily into the kind of game QB Joe Flacco has in this one. If they get shredded and Flacco has to drop back 50 times, things probably won’t end well for the Ravens. Flacco just isn’t Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers. If the Baltimore D can stifle the Dolphins and let Flacco move at a relaxed pace, things will look much better. A good performance out of WR Breshad Perriman wouldn’t hurt, either.