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So last night we had one close and one not so close game. The Patriots eked out a 35-31 win despite being down by fourteen points twice, but the defence stiffened at the right times and managed to get two crucial interceptions from their safeties when Joe Flacco was throwing to Torrey Smith. In the second game the Panthers managed to keep it close for three quarters, but two interceptions were too much from Cam Newton who threw a pick six in the fourth quarter that sealed the game for the Seahawks.

So we know that the Patriots and Seahawks will be playing at home next week, so let’s have a look at who might be visiting them.

Cowboys @ Packers

DVOA:                       Cowboys                     Packers

Overall                        8th                                3rd
Offensive                    5th                                1st
Defensive                    21st                              18th
Special Teams             13th                              21st

The Sunday games open with probably the most iconic match up of the weekend as the self-proclaimed America’s team, the Dallas Cowboys, visit the Green Bay Packers.

In what has been something of a theme for the home teams this week, the Packers got off to a rocky 1-2 start to the season, with Aaron Rodgers telling Packers fans to, “R-E-L-A-X,” after their loss to the Lions. It would however prove to be sound advice, as they would only lose two more games over the rest of the season.

The Packers offence has at times been a thing of beauty this year, with their offensive line coming together in a way that has allowed everyone to shine. Aaron Rodgers put himself firmly in the discussion for the league MVP and is probably playing quarterback better than anyone else in the league right now. It was good to see Jordy Nelson finally get rewarded with a Pro Bowl berth given how well he has played over the last couple of season, and the Packers finally have a run game in the shape of Eddie Lacy. However, the big question in this game is the calf injury that Aaron Rodgers suffered in their final game against the Lions. He is promising that he will play this weekend, and he was effective throwing quick passes when he went back into the game against the Lions, but there is talk of a slight tear along with the significant strain. Rodgers has missed a lot of practice, but we won’t truly know what effect this will have until we seem him on the filed Sunday.

The Packers offence has been as good as anybody’s for several season, but the question has frequently been whether the defence can be good enough for them to go all the way. This was again the question for this unit earlier in the season, but moving Clay Matthews inside on early downs, and then returning him to the edge in passing downs seems to have solidified their run defence. The free agent addition of Julius Peppers at outside linebacker has also worked as he has looked as good as he’s done for years. They may only be ranked eighteenth by DVOA, but when your offence is ranked number one in the league then that could well be good enough.

The Cowboys have a tough task this week. They stuck to their guns in the only close game of last week, and managed to get the comeback amidst odd officiating whilst facing one of the best defensive units in the game. Assuming that Rodgers is effective, the problem for them this is that whilst they will have a much easier time running the ball, I don’t think they can rely on DeMarco Murray to grind out the game for them. The Packers offence is too explosive, and likely to put up too many points at home where Rodgers has been peerless, for the Cowboys to keep running the ball as I think this could allow the Packers to get away from them.

This all comes down to how Rodgers plays and whether the Cowboys can generate enough offence, as although their defences are not ranked that dissimilarly by DVOA, I have more faith in the Packers than I do in the Cowboys’ opportunistic unit.

Colts @ Broncos

DVOA:                       Colts                            Broncos

Overall                        13th                              4th
Offensive                    21st                              6th
Defensive                    10th                              5th
Special Teams             8th                                27th

The final game of the weekend is also one of the most intriguing as Peyton Manning welcomes his former team to Denver.

All the talk about the Broncos in recent weeks has been the health of Peyton Manning. He has not looked right for a number of weeks, and whilst the sight of Manning throwing wobbly balls is nothing new, there appears to be a lack of velocity that is finally causing issues. There is no doubting his mental ability, but the question is whether he body will allow him to do enough for the Broncos to the win. The good news is that the team are better prepared to deal with this now than they were last season. In recent weeks they have been relying on CJ Anderson in the run game, which has been effective behind a line that seems to have found a good line up in the secondary.

The Broncos defence was banged up last year going into the Super Bowl, but not only are they healthier right now, but their retooled secondary has been effective and the addition of DeMarcus Ware along with a healthy Von Miller has given them a fearsome pass rush. This has resulted in a unit that has leapt eleven places in defensive DVOA when you compare the 2013 regular season to this year, and you would think that they will be able to generate the pressure on Andrew Luck that the Bengals so singularly failed to get last week.

The Colts really took care of the Bengals, and looked good in patches, but I’m still not convinced by this team. Andrew Luck played a much cleaner game, cutting out the costly turnovers that has been plaguing him this season, and his numbers would have been even more impressive if his receivers hadn’t dropped very catchable balls. However, the Bengals offence was missing too many players to pose a credible long passing game so whilst the Colts looked good stopping the run, they could stack the box. They may not be scared of the long ball given how Manning is playing at the moment, but we are talking about one of the great quarterbacks to ever play the game and you would think he can find a way.

I would love to see Manning get a second Super Bowl Win, just to shut down the conversations surrounding how good he is. Success in the playoffs is such a matter of match ups, and there is so much variance in the standard NFL game, that whilst it is important I think too much is taken away from one of the great players in NFL history. That said, whilst he has often not had enough talent round him, it might be the case that he now has the team round him a season too late. It will be interesting to see how Andrew Luck goes, as he appears to be in a very similar situation as Manning in the early years, a great quarterback that possibly doesn’t have the team around him that he deserves, but this should be a fascinating end to the weekend’s games.

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