- Can the Chargers fix the problems their defense encountered against the Ravens rushing attack when the two played three weeks ago? The stars are there in L.A. That’s not the question. Joey Bosa, Melvin Ingram, and Derwin James (and that secondary) are designed to disrupt the quarterback and make plays on the ball — they are not built to clog lanes and stop the run. Even if the Chargers know what they need to do to stop Lamar and the run game, the question becomes “do they have the personnel to actually do it?”.
- Is Phillip Rivers going to look more like the MVP candidate we all talked about for the first 15 weeks of the season or the guy we saw against the Ravens and Broncos the last two weeks? Melvin Gordon’s return should be helpful, and Rivers has played enough football over the course of his career to be able to make adjustments to a defense he saw just three weeks ago. But Baltimore’s defensive front embarrassed those pass blockers in Week 16.
- Who out-“ballsys” the other, Matt Nagy or Doug Pederson? Of course, we all watched in awe as Pederson went against the traditional grain in last year’s Super Bowl against the Patriots with his playcalling. Matt Nagy comes from the same Andy Reid tree and understands the importance of making bold decisions in this era of football. In a close game, I’d expect one (or maybe more one) decision to swing the outcome.
- Will Mitchell Trubisky be given the time he needs to pick apart the Eagles’ secondary? Philadelphia’s defense is predicated on its pass rush — and it has to be because that secondary has been through the ringer this season. Fletcher Cox, Tim Jurnigan, Derek Bennett, and Michael Bennett will have to make Mitchell Trubisky feel pressured and rushed. The Bears coaching staff has to understand if Trubisky isn’t given enough time to get the ball out, he can easily be forced into some big mistakes. However, if given time, the second-year QB should be able to move the ball down field.
- How big of an impact will Khalil Mack have going up against Lane Johnson and/Jason Peters? The versatile edge rusher is better than either of Philly’s two tackles, but Johnson and Peters only need to combine to outplay Mack on Sunday night. Bears’ DC Vic Fangio has moved Mack to the right, to the left, dropped him into coverage, and pretty much played him all over the field, and this has freed up other Bears’ defenders to make plays all year long. Mack doesn’t need a handful of sacks to have a meaningful impact on this game.
- Who do you trust more: Jason Garrett and Dad Prescott or Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson? Silly question, I know, but I had to ask it. This game might just be that simple.
- Can Seattle’s defense get off the field and limit Dallas’ T.O.P.? Seattle has a top-5 defense on stopping third-down conversions while the Dallas offense converted in those situations at over a 45% rate — top 10 in the NFL. Strength on strength. If Jason Garrett could have it his way, Dallas would grind this win out on the back of Ezekiel Elliott — and that’d be the smart way to go. But Seattle’s defense, you better believe, is going to ask Dak Prescott to make some big plays in the passing game or with his legs. Third down success rate will be a telling stat in the game.
- Is the Dallas defense good enough to stop the explosive plays from the Seahawks passing game? We talk about how the Seahawks have transformed their offense into a ground-and-pound attack on the ground, but yards on the ground do not necessarily translate into wins — red zone efficiency and chunks plays are two more predictive indicators of wins and losses. And it just so happens the Seahawks have a Super Bowl-winning QB, who can throw a magnificent deep ball, and has two exceptional weapons on the outside who can get open deep down the field.
- If not DeAndre Hopkins, then who? Ummm. I wish I had an answer here, but Houston doesn’t have much in the way of offensive weapons. You’d have to imagine Houston would like to establish the run game with Lamar Miller.
- Can the Texans generate an effective pass rush with just JJ Watt and Jadeveon Clowney? Disrupting Andrew Luck will be a key to Houston’s gameplan. And the Texans have the pass rushers, however of their 43 sacks only 18 have come from players not named Watt or Clowney. That’s about a sack a game. If Indy’s very much improved offensive line can limit Watt and Clowney, Houston might have a tough time getting to the QB.
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