WHAT? Atlanta Falcons at New Orleans Saints
WHY? In any other year, this would be a big-time division matchup between teams that are jockeying for playoff position, but the Saints fell on hard times at the beginning of this season and still haven't figured out anything on defense. The Falcons are the 6th best offense by both yards and points scored, while the Saints have allowed 470 yards per game, which makes them one of the worst defenses ever. These teams have played each other close in high-scoring games, with the Saints going 6-2 since Matt Ryan came into the league but having an average score of 28-24 over those contests.
WHO? The Saints have the worst run defense in the league, so Falcons RB Michael Turner will be the player to watch. He's on pace for his fewest carries, yards, touchdowns, and yards-per-rush since he came to Atlanta with Ryan in 2008, but has a chance to redeem himself. The Saints are the worst run defense in the league, and Turner averaged 20 carries, 100 yards, and just under a touchdown per game in 2011 against teams that were in the bottom 10 in the league in run defense. He has faced no such defenses so far this season, and only in last week's game against the Cowboys did he reach all three of those values from last year.
HOW? Just sit back, relax, watch what will surely be an exciting game, and wait for GM's to call you and offer you absurd amounts to have you run their team. Oh, that's right, Sean Payton doesn't read this blog.
WHAT? New York Jets at Seattle Seahawks
WHY? It's the Braylon Edwards and Leon Washington Bowl, so you know these teams are hyped up. The 'Hawks have managed another surprising season with below average quarterback play (31st in the league in passing), thanks to a 4-0 home record and the 4th-ranked defense. The Jets' bye week came at just the right time after losing 4 of their last 5, including an overtime loss to the Patriots followed by a 30-9 drubbing at the hands of the Dolphins. They won't be as affected by the usual cross-country trip malaise, as they've had time to get there leisurely, but that doesn't mean that Mark Sanchez won't get rattled a bit.
WHO? This isn't really as much about a player that's likely to make a big impact, but one who hasn't really done anything of consequence -- Tim Tebow! Rex Ryan made all sorts of comments about giving defenses fits with Tebow, but the kneeling extraordinaire has attempted just three passes and 23 rushes in 8 games, and has scored no touchdowns. This after he had 6 rushing touchdowns in each of the last two years, and in 2010 that was on just 43 carries. Going on the road as an underdog in a raucous stadium, the Jets might need some creative plays to get out of there with a win, and Tebow could be the centerpiece of those plays.
HOW? Take your seat in the nosebleeds with a chocolate peanut butter smoothie in hand, put your arm around <insert accompanying party here>, and just give 'em the old eyebrows. The rest is history. You know what I'm talking about.
WHAT? Houston Texans at Chicago Bears
WHY? I'm not really sure why this is a question. This may be the best matchup of the year thus far, at least when you take into account team record and not just team reputation. Two one-loss teams in the top five in scoring and the top five in defense going head to head in primetime? Too easy. Granted, the Texans are going to run away with their division, so it's not critical that they win, but they can put themselves in an excellent position to run away with the AFC as well. Oh, and the Bears have an opportunistic defense you may have heard about.
WHO? Arian Foster is pretty good, I hear, but if you look past the fantasy value, he's actually having a somewhat down year. Yes, he's on pace for 1500 yards and 20 touchdowns rushing, but with an absurd 384 carries, which would be the 13th most all-time, after never having more than 327 previously. His yards-per-carry is almost a full yard lower than his breakout year in 2010, and he's on pace to cut his receiving output by about 75% from the previous two seasons. By Football Outsiders' Defense-Adjusted-Value-Over-Average (DVOA) statistic, which represents "value, per play, over an average running back in the same game situations" and accounts for opponents' defensive prowess, Foster is the 13th best running back this year. Last year, he was 24th. In 2010, he was 4th.
HOW? If you're feeling up to it, wake up, get a pancake breakfast at the Bongo Room before the game, grab a Chicago dog at the game, and top it off with some delicious ribs uptown at Twin Anchors. Or, you know, have something vegetarian. Good luck.