The Denver Broncos suddenly are looking fragile. They need to end their November swoon quickly or even could face the possibility of not playing in January.
Peyton Manning and the defending AFC champions played their two worst games in the past three weeks, falling at New England at St. Louis.
On Sunday, they take on a Miami team that is 6-4, winning four of its past five, with the loss coming at Detroit in the final seconds.
Yes, the Dolphins’ resume of late is more impressive than the Broncos’.
“I think there definitely is a sense of urgency,” Manning says. I think when you lose a game, what we’ve talked about offensively this week is everybody focuses on doing their job better, and you hope that results in better offensive play.”
The Broncos (7-3) were held to seven points by the Rams; Manning usually can produce one touchdown in his sleep.
“We’re not happy about last week’s game by any means with the way we played offensively, and we certainly want to play better,” Manning adds. “Like I said, you can want a lot of things. You have to go and do it.”
And do it against a well-rested Dolphins team oozing with conviction that it can make a run to the playoffs.
“I feel confident in this team. I feel like we are a good team. I feel like we have all the pieces,” quarterback Ryan Tannehill says. “The defense is playing really well right now, offense is continuing to get better week in and week out.
“Obviously, we’re not perfect. We want to get better, but I feel like we are headed in the right direction coming up in the last six games of the year, the most critical part of the season. We are headed in the right direction and certainly have momentum.”
The weekend began with Oakland’s first victory of the season, a wet 24-20 decision over Kansas City. The Raiders (1-10) were the league’s last winless team, but they damaged the playoffs hopes of their archrival Chiefs (7-4) on Thursday night to end a 16-game slide dating back a calendar year.
On Monday night, Baltimore is at New Orleans.
Off during this final week with byes are Carolina (3-7-1) and Pittsburgh (7-4).
Detroit (7-3) at
New England (8-2)
It seems to happen every year: the weather gets cold and the Patriots turn torrid.
They’ve won six in a row and have the AFC’s best record. They easily disposed of two other conference contenders, Denver and Indianapolis, in recent weeks. New England’s defense has been reliable, the running game resurgent.
And there’s always Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman to deal with.
Into Foxborough comes the NFL’s stingiest defense; Detroit has allowed only 156 points.
“They’ve got a lot of guys up front that make big plays,” Patriots left guard Dan Connolly says. “They’re definitely disruptive.”
Arizona (9-1) at Seattle (6-4)
For every person who has challenged the Cardinals to keep proving themselves, here’s the absolute best chance for Arizona to silence the critics. A victory at the loudest and most intimidating NFL venue would stamp the Cardinals not only as the likely NFC West champion, but as the NFC’s No. 1 team.
And remember, Arizona won there last year, the Seahawks’ only home loss on their way to the league title.
The Seahawks already have more losses than in 2013. But Marshawn Lynch, fined $100,000 this week for not speaking with the media, has rushed for 140 and 124 yards in the past two games. Arizona has not allowed a 100-yard rusher in 20 straight games.
Washington (3-7) at San Francisco (6-4)
Lots of angst and turmoil coming out of the Redskins’ facility, and they come off perhaps their worst performance of the year in a 27-7 home loss to Tampa Bay. Getting things turned around against the Niners, who come off two close road victories, will be a difficult chore.
Washington might be best advised to stick to the ground game with Alfred Morris. The 49ers are holding opposing quarterbacks to an average passer rating of 74.3, second lowest in the league behind Cleveland, and come off a five-interception feast against the Giants.
Green Bay (7-3) at Minnesota (4-6)
Now that they know Adrian Peterson won’t be suiting up for them this year, the Vikings can concentrate on their spoiler role. Their defense, led by safety Harrison Smith and end Everson Griffen, is their best shot at surprising any contenders.
The Packers have struggled in the Metrodome through the years (15-16), but with the Vikings’ new stadium being built, this game will be at the University of Minnesota’s building. Outdoors — just like Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson and Clay Matthews like it.
Dallas (7-3) at New York Giants (3-7)
DeMarco Murray might be salivating all day Sunday for this night matchup against the league’s worst rushing defense. New York’s five-game losing streak includes being run over by several opponents, and Murray is the first back in NFL history with at least 100 yards rushing in nine of the first 10 games of a season. He leads the NFL with 1,233 yards on the ground.
Although he comes off that five-interception debacle against San Francisco, Eli Manning has a 104.1 rating with nine touchdowns and three interceptions in his past three meetings with Dallas.
Tennessee (2-8) at Philadelphia (7-3)
The Titans have won the past four meetings after the Eagles won the first six when the Titans were the Houston Oilers. To add to that string will be difficult because the Eagles have won nine in a row at home, have forced 16 fumbles to lead the league, and are 3-0 against the AFC South this year.
Neither team has its starting quarterback from the beginning of the season. With Nick Foles sidelined, Philly’s Mark Sanchez has thrown for 678 yards in two starts, the highest two-game total of his career. Zach Mettenberger has replaced ineffective Jake Locker and has the highest passer rating among rookies at 86.2.
Baltimore (6-4) at New Orleans (4-6), Monday night
Despite their records, the Saints are in a first-place tie in their division (the awful NFC South) and the Ravens are in a tie with Cleveland for last place in their sector (AFC North).
Baltimore has fond memories of its last meaningful trip to the Big Easy, a Super Bowl victory over San Francisco in February 2013. The Saints don’t have fond feeling for New Orleans lately, having dropped two in a row at home.
Cleveland (6-4) at Atlanta (4-6)
Similar circumstance to Ravens-Saints.
Browns receiver Josh Gordon returns after serving 10-game suspension for violating the NFL’s drug policy. Gordon led the league with 1,646 yards receiving in just 14 games last season.
“It’s great to be back,” he says. “I’m very ready. I’ve had a long time to get ready for it.”
The Falcons are playing their first home game in six weeks. They did “host” the Lions in a loss at Wembley Stadium in London on Oct. 26
Cincinnati (6-3-1) at Houston (5-5)
Not a favorite place for the Bengals, who lost playoff games during the 2011 and 2012 seasons in Houston. With Gio Bernard out, they have gotten solid contributions on the ground from Jeremy Hill. The second-round pick had 152 yards rushing in a win last week at New Orleans and leads rookies with 556 yards rushing.
Ryan Mallett performed nicely in his first pro start in a win at Cleveland, but the key for any Houston opponent is keeping star defensive end J.J. Watt at bay. Watt became the first player since 1982 with a sack, forced fumble, fumble recovery and touchdown reception in a single game against Browns.
Jacksonville (1-9) at Indianapolis (6-4)
The Colts’ mastery of the AFC South can be explained in, well, their mastery of the AFC South.
Indianapolis has won 10 straight division games, including four in a row against Jacksonville. Andrew Luck can tie Drew Brees’ NFL record for consecutive 300-yard passing games (nine) and break Peyton Manning’s single-season franchise record for 300-yard games (10). T.Y. Hilton needs 39 yards for a second straight 1,000-yard receiving season.
One Jaguars bright spot: former Michigan QB Denard Robinson, now a running back needs one 100-yard game to become their first player since Maurice Jones-Drew in 2011 with three 100-yard games in a season.
St. Louis (4-6) at San Diego (6-4)
Philip Rivers has been struggling since the Chargers started off 5-1, and here come the Rams with their revitalized pass rush. St. Louis has 13 sacks in the past three games, and despite being last in the potent NFC West, it has impressive wins over the Seahawks, Broncos and 49ers.
San Diego snapped a three-game slide last week, but that was against Oakland.
New York Jets (2-8) at Buffalo (5-5)
It looks as if the Bills have gotten it into fifth gear in their charge toward a 15th consecutive non-playoff season. They’ve dropped two straight and the weather in western New York plagued their preparation.
Of course, they might be able to handle the woeful Jets without bothering to practice at all. Still, New York comes off an upset of Pittsburgh to end an eight-game slide, and then a bye.
Tampa Bay (2-8) at Chicago (4-6)
Lovie Smith, who led the Bears to a Super Bowl berth and was fired after going 10-6 in 2012, brings his current team to Soldier Field.
“Being my first head coaching job, all of my philosophies and things that I thought I believed in, I got a chance to see,” he says. “Every imaginable situation you can be in as a head football coach, I feel like I had a chance to be in there.”
Not much else worth mentioning for this one.