Dallas at Philadelphia
It’s usually an intense game between these two rivals, but the battle for the NFC East will be a closely won affair this season. As bad as it’s been for the Eagles, they’ve only lost one divisional game, which could be the most important tie-breaker in 2011. The Cowboys, on the other hand, have only played one divisional game (a win over the Redskins). This is an mid-season game that could have a huge impact later when that tie-breaker is factored in.
Washington at Buffalo
The Redskins can use every win they can get, but a game against an AFC opponent doesn’t give them any extra credit with the tie-breakers. This is a game they can afford to lose. But the Bills have to keep winning if they want to stay ahead for the wild card. The top three teams (six in total) in the AFC East and AFC North all have legitimate post-season dreams, and there’s, at most, only four spots available. If the Bills can’t win at home, against a team with a quarterback controversy and a two-game losing streak, how can they keep up the playoff pace in the competitive AFC?
San Diego at Kansas City
After the Chargers beat the Chiefs back on September 25th, and the Chiefs fell to 0-3 for the season, this game seemed unimportant. But the Chargers haven’t looked like the team that led the NFL in total offense and total defense last season, and the Chiefs have responded to that earlier loss with a three game winning streak. A Chiefs victory could turn the top of the AFC West into a three-way tie (with Denver as little as one game back, if they can upset Detroit).
With apologizes to the other teams mentioned above, this is the best game of the week. Their game last season was a high scoring affair, and it looks to be once again in 2011. The Patriots have been struggling on defense, and releasing defensive backs all season long, while the Steelers are playing through a lot of defensive injuries. Both offenses are just as dominant as ever (excepting a forgettable Steelers collapse in Week 1 against the Ravens). With both teams leading the AFC with 5 wins each, it looks like this game could decide who has home field advantage throughout the playoffs. Although, the Patriots have had two home playoff losses in the last two seasons, so maybe that isn’t much of an advantage for them.
In final review, while the Patriots and Steelers are playing in the highest profile matchup this weekend and the Cowboys/Eagles and Chargers/Chiefs are the two most important games because they could determine divisional tie-breakers. But maybe those games shouldn’t be as important as AFC home field advantage. What do you think?