Wow, what a 1 p.m. Eastern slate. Just wow. #Giddy

Vikings @ Rams: Adrian Peterson vs Rams Run D

Adrian Peterson deserves MVP if you were awarding it right now. Christian Ponder is playing the quarterback position worse than any starter outside Arizona. So the Rams need to stop one thing, and the emergence of first-round DT Michael Brockers, revelation of OLB Jo-Lonn Dunbar and recent improvement of MLB James Laurinaitis present a pretty tough wall for AP’s convoy to ram through.

Panthers @ Chargers: DEs Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy vs Ts Michael Harris and Jeromey Clary/Whichever backups end up playing at offensive tackle

Carolina’s bookend rush boasts two top-fivers in Pro Football Focus’ pass-rush productivity stat, while LT Harris ranks last out of qualifying tackles and Clary is not far behind. Looks like another harassed day ahead for Philip Rivers.

Colts @ Texans: DE JJ Watt vs. G Mike McGlynn/T Winston Justice

The pair protecting the right edge got bullied around by the Titans’ line last week and this is no rarity. Meet J.J. Watt, the most dominant defensive lineman in the NFL.

Lions @ Cardinals: DT Ndamukong Suh/Nick Fairley vs. G Daryn Colledge/C Rich Ohrnberger/G Adam Snyder

Suh and Fairley ran roughshod through the Colts a couple weeks ago. Unfortunately they couldn’t get too much help on defense besides catching a couple of the shoulda-been five interceptions. This pairing inside is playing better than any other right now — and on the opposite side you’ve got the bizarro version of that.

Steelers @ Cowboys: Dez Bryant vs fractured finger

Hard to know what to expect from Dez here but he’s been the best receiver not named Megatron over the past month, and his ability to continue this could be the difference for desperate Dallas.

Giants @ Falcons: Julio and Roddy vs Banged-up Giants secondary

With CB Prince Amukamara and S Kenny Phillips out Big Blue will need S Stevie Brown to remain their sub of the season — perhaps the NFL’s sub of the season — rookie CB Jayron Hosley to ride the momentum of last week’s performance and vet CB Corey Webster to transform into ’08/’12 postseason mode.

Seahawks @ Bills: CJ Spiller vs Bobby Wagner

RB Fred Jackson is out, but I half-expect Chan Gailey to still find creative ways not to give C.J. Spiller the ball — but there is no way he’s getting fewer than the seven carries last week against St. Louis. Pro Football Focus has ‘Hawks rookie MLB Bobby Wagner as their third-ranked ILB and graded well both in pass and run defense, and he’ll need to do plenty of both to stop Spiller.

49ers @ Patriots: Run Os vs Run Ds

Pats ILB Brandon Spikes has been banged up and didn’t look quite right on Monday even with the dominant displays around him. Every bit of his downhill thumping will be needed against the 49ers trap run game and the many looks they use to run both zone and power schemes. New England’s run attack on offense has also been one of the league’s best and will face San Fran’s elite run stoppers without the ample blocking aid of TE Rob Gronkowski.

Redskins @ Browns: Josh Gordon vs Redskins secondary

Trent Richardson is the lifeblood fi the Cleveland offense but still needs support from the pass game for Cleveland to put a decent number of points on the board. Since Brandon Weeden isn’t developed (or good?) enough to make this pass attack a well-oiled machine right now, the Browns typically need to hit at least one downfield throw to Josh Gordon, who’s 31.6% deep passing catch rate (on 72 targets) sits just behind division foe A.J. Green (33.3%). And the Redskins secondary got burned by the ancient Anquan Boldin twice last week.

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Only three of the 14 games today feature road favorites, one oddly enough being the New York Jets — a team fresh off a collaboration with the Arizona Cardinals that cruelly displayed the most hideous quarterback play in the modern era.

This is because the Jets visit a two-win Jacksonville squad missing its most consistent offensive weapon in Cecil Shorts, and because New York. But even this contest will have a head-to-head battle worth monitoring, along with the other dozen-plus slated.

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Jets at Jaguars: Muhammad Wilkerson vs Jags O-line

Wilkerson hasn’t captured as many headlines as his teammates but has been by far the team’s best player this year. It will be fun to catch him going against venerable LT Eugene Monroe, but he’ll probably also spend time feasting on the rest of this miserable Jags O-line.

Rams at Bills: Rams improving OL vs Bills improving DL

Both the peripheral playoff contenders have improved dramatically in recent weeks thanks to their lines gelling. For the Bills it’s been the defensive side with Mario Williams trying to meet the hype while the Rams seem to have slowed down their game of musical chairs in front of Sam Bradford, with Rodger Saffold holding his own at left tackle.

Cowboys at Bengals: Geno Atkins and Co. vs Cowboys’ struggling line

Last week Geno Atkins predictably brutalized the Chargers interior and Carlos Dunlap cleaned up. The Cowboys line isn’t quite as bad, but same goes here.

Chiefs at Browns: Derrick Johnson chasing down Trent Richardson

The Browns have only lost one game this season by more than ten points and suddenly ride a two-game win streak. I like The Cleve winning here, but if the Chiefs shut down T-Rich then I could definitely see this going the other way.

Titans at Colts: Andrew Luck vs Titans pass rush

Luck has done an incredible job of keeping plays alive and throwing under pressure for a rookie. However, he has thrown quite a few interceptions under said pressure and the Titans have excelled at eating up poor pass pro like the Colts’.

Bears at Vikings: Matt Forte vs Vikes run D

The Vikings run defense ain’t what it used to be and Michael Bush is hampered by an injury. Forte could show us what made him a legitimate Top 5 MVP candidate through the first half of last season.

Chargers at Steelers: Philip Rivers vs Troy Polamalu

Philip Rivers has turned the ball over more times than any player since 2011. Troy Polamalu’s mere presence on the field boosts the likelihood of turnovers.

Eagles at Bucs: Vincent Jackson vs coverage breakdowns

Even when there aren’t coverage breakdowns, the safety help on long passes by Kurt Coleman can be downright comical. V-Jax has been the most dangerous deep threat in the league this side of Calvin Johnson.

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Ravens at Redskins: Backfield action vs Lewis/Suggs-less front seven

Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs hadn’t played anywhere close to last year’s standard but their leadership, instincts and communication in the LB corps might be necessary to slow down the ‘Skins read option and other backfield shenanigans.

Falcons at Panthers: Steve Smith vs Asante Samuel

With William Moore out, an Atlanta secondary already susceptible to the big play becomes even more of a danger with Steve Smith on the field. Asante Samuel is playing through injury and will likely see plenty of Steve L.

Dolphins at 49ers: 49ers trap blocking vs Dolphins front seven

My Twitter plug:

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Saints at Giants: Darren Sproles vs Michael Boley

The Saints have absolutely annihilated the Giants in recent meetings and the difficult matchups they possess are a huge part of that, like your Sproles or your Jimmy Graham.

Cardinals at Seahawks: Larry Fitzgerald vs Richard Sherman

While Brandon Browner begins serving his suspension its up to Richard Sherman (and certainly some help) to neutralize the Cards’ only beacon of offensive hope.

Lions at Packers: Calvin Johnson vs Casey Hayward/Tramon Williams

Casey Hayward is getting some love as Rookie DPOY candidate and it’s well-deserved, but I’d like to see him battle straight up against the league’s elite a little more.

Andrew Luck and Philip Rivers will have trouble stepping up today, in the pocket at least. If they can maneuver around the destructive interior rush brought on by major mismatches facing them up front, then perhaps they can overcome the heat and prevail victors.

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In a quick prep for a Week 13 while you chomp down eggs and toast (/while I do it) here are a few of the greatest positional mismatches heading into the Sunday NFL slate.

Lions interior DL of Nick Fairley, Ndamukong Suh and Sammie Hill vs. Colts interior OL of Matt McGlynn, Sam Satele and Joe Reitz: The Lions trio has made life miserable the last couple weeks for Aaron Rodgers and Matt Schaub while the Colts inside protection has been up and down this year — very much down against the Bills last week. Nick Fairley is no longer a punch-line for bad Lions draft picks, far from it in fact

Geno Atkins vs. Chargers’ sorry excuse for an offensive line: It’s a shame to watch someone with as much talent I believe Ryan Mathews has just find nowhere to go. It’s only a surprise when there is not major backfield penetration by the team Mathews takes a step forward.

And the same goes for Philip Rivers once he hits the back of his drop. Rivers was regarded as the toughest quarterback under pressure by Greg Cosell prior to this season and with good reason — for which Rivers has repaid him by crumbling under it this year in a severe regression for the quarterback that has seen some of the ugliest shot-puts in NFL or Olympic history.

Meet Geno Atkins, who is having, as PFF is lauding, the best season by a defensive tackle they have ever recorded.

Peyton Manning/Broncos receivers vs. Buccaneers secondary: Peyton Manning is Peyton Manning, Demaryius Thomas is terrifying with the football in his hands and Eric Decker is doing his best Reggie Wayne impression (albeit with less reliable hands). Then there’s the Bucs secondary, well on pace to shatter the record for worst total pass defense in a season in NFL history.

First-rounder Mark Barron hasn’t progressed in pass defense quite like the Bucs have probably hoped at this point, Ronde Barber is a cagy yet limited vet. The top two corners are gone in Eric Wright (suspension) and Aqib Talib (trade). Boom! Points.

Adrian Peterson vs. Packers Run D: We all saw the ease with which the Giants and Ahmad Bradshaw rumbled through the Packers deplete LB corps, and the inhuman manner in which AP has recovered from ripping up his knee late last season. The Rodgers-Ponder differential has me picking Packers outright, but this mismatch on the ground could keep it close.

49ers Pass Rush vs. Rams Pass Pro: The Rams held off the Niners’ siege in a game that frankly didn’t make sense. On paper, Aldon Smith + Ahmad Brooks + Justin Smith + Ray McDonald makes a horrible mismatch for Rodger Saffold and Barry Richardson, no matter how pleasantly surprising they might be sometimes.

Since that strange overtime game, the Niners’ pass rush has beaten the living daylights out of Chicago and New Orleans, and I expect them to file the first Rams’ matchup under “anomaly” today.

I’ll start off by saying I was rooting hard for Nate Silver’s election forecast. This was unrelated to red or blue reasons but because I like his style and viewed it as a victory for intelligent journalism. So I typically click.

I took some issue with this one and found it a bit of a letdown following his Election Day Domination Part Deux — but I suppose anything is.

Had 15 minutes to kill after reading it, so here’s my open letter:

I can definitely see your central point being correct but I question the experimental methods re: compiling Google search result totals for “college football” per geographic region.

Silver critiques the B1G conference expanding east and not south or west:

One issue skews results further in favor of your thesis the other sort of confounds them: 1) People in the Midwest and South are typically less Web-obsessed/savvy than those in the DC-NY corridor, so are probably making Google searches about sports less per fan. 2) Typing “college football” into Google seems like an action someone on the more casual end of the fan spectrum would do.

Typing something specific about your team (or just the name) or having bookmarked a preferred destination would fall somewhere between average to diehard IMO, which of course will have significantly more value than the broad “Google, tell me ‘college football'” crowd.

As will — and please don’t anyone take this as coastal-metro snobbery or anything other than logic based on demographic data — tech-savvy areas of the country more likely to have high-speed + ease with which to watch the more obscure games via TV alternatives + smartphone with which to monitor their team (which I think is could be a boon for fandom in cities like NYC/PHI/BAL/DC) + disposable income with which to spend on their team.

To touch on how I began this post, your reasons outside of the Google search method about Maryland and Rutgers football fandom seem to make sense; they ostensibly don’t touch the rabid nature of the B1G schools for the gridiron.

The Silver article in case you missed it hyperlinked up top: http://fivethirtyeight.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/20/expanding-eastward-could-dilute-big-ten-brand/

In breaking down Bears-49ers for my Week 11 predictions I found a kaleidoscope of factors that really made it tough to get a feel for this one.

Not only do you have the uncertain post-concussion states of Jay Cutler and Alex Smith but also two teams coming off lackluster home performances. Since this is a battle of ostensibly playoff-destined teams and we do have a nine-game sample size for each, I figured to also run their records against teams that currently possess winning records.

Then I went ahead and did it for the whole NFL:

ARI – 2-3
ATL – 1-1
BAL – 1-1
BUF – 0-4
CAR – 0-6
CHI – 1-2
CIN – 1-3
CLE – 0-4
DAL – 2-5
DEN – 1-3
DET – 1-4
GB – 2-3
HOU – 3-1
IND – 2-1
JAX – 1-5
KC – 0-4
MIA – 0-2
MIN – 1-2
NE – 1-2
NO – 2-2
NYG – 2-1
NYJ – 1-5
OAK – 1-4
PHI – 2-2
PIT – 2-1
SD – 0-3
SEA – 3-1
SF – 2-2
STL – 1-3-1
TB – 1-1
TEN – 1-5
WAS – 2-3

Draw what you will from this, but it does align with my feeling that some teams have been punching above their weight. The Miami Dolphins, Tennessee Titans, San Diego Chargers and Detroit Lions have all amassed four wins on the season but are each teams I would confidently predict to fall short of the playoffs.

Same goes for the Cardinals, though their 2-3 record against currently above-.500 squads actually places them in the upper half of the league in that regard. Funny thing is the two wins were compiled in games Kevin Kolb finished and the three losses in contests finished under John Skelton. Not calling Kolb a world-beater and there are other factors at play, but he did protect the ball better as Skelton has thrown an interception in every game he’s taken the field.

It’s also interesting to see who’s been brutalized by the schedule-makers thus far, and whether this means the closing stretch provides good opportunities to gain ground.

The Cowboys hold sole possession of first in the NFL in total games played against teams that boast winning records as of now, yet only sit 1.5 games behind New York for first in the NFC East. Dallas (4-5, 2-5) now gets to close out with the bizarro version of their early schedule: vs. Cle, vs. Was, vs. Phi, at Cin, vs. Pit, at NO, at Was.

So 1 out of 7 for Dallas — compared to the 7 out of 9 through Week 10 — and that one game is at home, and the Steelers could fall sub-.500 while starting Byron Leftwich by then. And while Dallas loses Sean Lee on his way to an All-Pro year, Bruce Carter has really stepped up at the other ILB spot to help mitigate that loss. Such is life for every team that makes a run.

It is important to note that the Saints and Bengals could very well be in the playoff hunt with the momentum they have right now. Regardless, an ostensibly much easier Cowboys schedule down the stretch.

On any given Sunday it’s tough to count out Indy (2-1), New York Giants (2-1), Washington (2-3), Philly (2-2), New Orleans (2-2) and Pittsburgh if Big Ben returns (2-1) — even though there are valid concerns for picking each of them in difficult matchups.

Like the Giants, Colts and Steelers, the Chicago Bears only possess a three-game sample size, which makes it tough to laud a team for 2-1 much more than you would bash them for 1-2, or where the Bears stand. We’ve seen some dominant performances, but Chicago would inspire a lot more confidence if their sole win in this apartment wasn’t at home against a rookie quarterback in Week 1, even if that rookie is Andrew Luck.

Then there’s Green Bay at 2-3, which doesn’t seem right given their 6-3 overall record including winning five of their past six. Then there’s the year’s single-most impressive win in the NFL this season, on Sunday night in Houston. And there’s the Golden Tate catch, which in a just world flips their mark to 3-2.

This quick study wasn’t done just to say that Green Bay looks like they’re on the up-and-up, as the naked eye can come up with that quite all right. But the Packers’ numbers are just one of many factors in why a team’s performance against good competition thus far can help visualize who are the contenders and pretenders as December nears.

Weeks ago I wrote that Seattle had fallen behind the 49ers as my NFC West title pick largely because of the offensive limitations presented by Seattle’s quarterback position in contrast to the improved play of Alex Smith. On Sunday, Christian Ponder’s struggles and Russell Wilson’s ability to move the chains in rhythm illuminated the division title prospects of both Minnesota and Seattle, and the new trajectories of their quarterbacks.

Russell Wilson seemed to scramble for his life more often than confidently dropping into the pocket and finding a receiver 10 yards downfield. It was shot play, check-down or bust. That is when they weren’t feeding Marshawn Lynch and Robert Turbin.

After Week 5, I wrote the following here on Insert Sports Word:

“But for crying out loud Wilson’s 29th in yards, yards per pass and quarterback rating, and the Seahawks fellow skill position players certainly aren’t the league’s worst.”

Well, since then Wilson has only played better each week and his underrated slew of receiving options — particularly Sidney Rice and Golden Tate — are helping him open up the pass game, finally getting the blessing of Pete Carroll and Darrell Bevell to do so.

Eliminating the ground-and-pound defensive battle at San Francisco where Wilson was brutalized by dropped passes to boot, since Week 5 Wilson has compiled a 7-2 TD-INT ratio and three of his four highest yards-per-attempt marks of the season.

Wilson’s turnaround has coincided with Ponder’s decline. The second-year starter kicked 2012 off in vastly improved form before cooling down the past three weeks. Ponder followed a 352-yard afternoon in Washington with 58, 251 and 63-yard games. Yes, that’s double-digits.

This is somewhat a product of attempts but not enough to make this even close to excusable with QB ratings of 35.5, 74.8 and 37.3 and yards-per-attempt of 3.4, 7.2 and 2.9 in the past three games. Glack.

Some of this may be due to defenses smarting up to the Vikings approach with Ponder, as Minnesota has babied the second-year starter even by rookie standards. Of quarterbacks who have started each of their team’s games, only Robert Griffin III and Alex Smith have attempted fewer passes over 20 yards according to Pro Football Focus. Ponder is supported by neither the legs nor the defense for this strategy to be sustainably effective.

Two young quarterbacks in run-first offenses hit the field in Seattle on Sunday. One has launched a long-dormant pass offense while the other may have hit rock bottom.

“Sophomore slump” an NFL quarterback phenomenon or does it just sound good?

Andy Dalton and Cam Newton are going through sophomore slumps but that doesn’t mean “sophomore slump” is an actual thing. It really sounds like one of those snappy phrases that morning television programs use a topical springboard from presumed truth.

But “sophomore slump” is an interesting idea, especially after briefly thinking about the regression of Dalton and Newton in year two, how Matt Leinart actually looked promising at times during his rookie season, along with the two-win drop-off suffered by Baltimore (Flacco) and Atlanta (Ryan) in 2009.

It’s hard not to think: Is there anything to this?

A quick Google query found a helpful piece by Cold Hard Football Facts that — while I would make some significant tweaks to the parameters of their study that I will detail — draws some insightful conclusions. The gist of it is basically that the trend of rookie quarterbacks playing worse in year two after getting significant starting experience in year one stopped being true decades ago, in a completely different NFL era.

They gather their information back to 1950 which provides good research for their investigation, but I think it’s more useful to exclude everything before the tipping point in the proliferation of passing, which differentiates today’s game from the past: 2004 marks the year of both the QB Draft of the Millennium and critical pro-passing rules changes, two major factors in why trying to evaluate NFL QBs today compared to the 90s, 80s, etc etc Terry Bradshaw etc etc Sid Luckman….and it just starts to get wildly subjective.

Cold Hard Football Facts concludes that for awhile, including this 2004-present interval, that the whole sophomore slump theory is a fallacy. To me, it doesn’t make sense logically either. Why would a position that relies so much on learning, seasoning and experience in a pro-style offense see a trend of decline after getting that crucial first pro year under the belt?

Looking at it extrinsically, you could start to rationalize Newton’s slump and reframe the entire discussion. Defensive coordinators adjust and this doesn’t apply only to “sophomores” but to any quarterback coming off his first season of significant work as starter. It’s not going from age 22 to age 23, year one to year two — it’s giving all that pro game-film to the schemers on your schedule for an entire offseason. It’s how rounded a quarterback’s skill set currently is, and how they team with coach and coordinator to avoid their passing offense from getting effectively game-planned or even “blueprinted” in their second season under center, and struggling despite improving over the offseason.

When “sophomore slump” applies to second-year starters and not just second-year pros at the quarterback position, then the discussion at least becomes somewhat more intuitive. But does it have legs?

Parameters: QBs eligible for second-year slump dating from 2004-present must have started at least 5 games the previous year and entered the following season as opening-day starter.

YES for qualified as significant regression in year two, NO for did not, HAH for very much the opposite my friend. You can find stats on all these quarterbacks at ProFootballReference.com

Rookie starters to sophomore year since 2004. Significant regression?:

Bradford YES
Ryan NO
Roethlisberger — NO
Flacco — HAH
Leinart — YES
Young — YES
Cutler — HAH
Edwards — NO
McCoy — YES
Manning — NO
Sanchez — NO
Freeman — HAH

First seasons weren’t exactly ….promising, but was there a regression in year two?:

Gabbert — NO
Ponder — NO
Russell — YES
Smith — NO

IN PROGRESS:

Newton — YES
Dalton — YES

Non-rookie second-year starters:

Henne — NO
Boller — NO
Losman — NO
Fitzpatrick — YES (but also did change teams)
Palmer — HAH
Anderson — YES
Romo — NO
Stafford — HAH (actually, has slumped from his first full-season of action in 2011 to the current in here in 2012, though that Seattle game might change the path. Either way, hard to mark him down as a second-year slump.)
Rodgers — NO
Schaub — HAH
Garrard — NO
Croyle — ??(hardly played due to injury in year two as starter)
Cassel — NO (stat regression hard
Campbell — NO

Takeaways? Well, the non-rookie second-year starters appear more likely to make a jump in year two than the sophomore second-year starters.

Meanwhile, the sophomore slump really only hit Derek Anderson among second-year starters, while with rookies you have significant sophomore regression Sam Bradford, Matt Leinart, Vince Young, Colt McCoy, Jamarcus Russell and — in progress — Cam Newtown and Andy Dalton. Matt Ryan could qualify here but his rookie year was such an all-time great and his sophomore year marred by injury to both him and an in-his-prime Michael Turner — not too mention that he didn’t play dramatically worse than his rookie year — that the statistical regression doesn’t quite qualify as a “slump.”

However, since 2004 no quarterback that has gone on to any success (or any “good” quarterback) has regressed dramatically in their second year as starter — sophomore or no.

Now, that does not mean you can expect huge leap in year two for either classification with only Aaron Rodgers, Matt Schaub, Carson Palmer, Josh Freeman and Joe Flacco improving by a large margin in year two as starter. From non-busts, you see almost entirely moderate gains or losses in the battle between sophomore quarterbacks and intrepid defensive coordinators.

This makes what is happening to Dalton and Newton not just part of a trend or the normal sophomore growing pains. Panthers and Bengals fans should be very concerned that these young signal callers at least hit close to their rookie form over the second half of 2012.