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Week 11 Countdown

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John Czarnecki

John Czarnecki has been the editorial consultant for "FOX NFL Sunday" since its 1994 inception. This season marks Czarnecki's 32nd year covering the NFL. He is one of 44 selectors to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

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After the 28-24 loss in Lambeau four weeks ago, his coach, Brad Childress, pretty much blamed Favre’s three interceptions for the loss. After owning a three-point halftime lead, Minnesota surrendered a touchdown to Greg Jennings and then immediately Favre was intercepted by Desmond Bishop, who returned it 32 yards for a touchdown.

The Packers actually are three-point favorites in the Metrodome today, and although they haven’t said much this week you can bet Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers, the quarterback he elevated over Brett Favre, would like nothing better than to even their record against No. 4.

In last year’s magical season for Favre and the arch-rival Minnesota Vikings, he swept the Packers and didn’t throw an interception in either game. Although Rodgers had a fine season and won praise from Green Bay fans, Favre won on the scoreboard, where it counts the most.

With Favre looking beaten and battered this season, and definitely playing like a 41-year-old grandfather, the public-relations tide has turned totally against him as he seems to have a weekly injury excuse for every defeat. After last week’s four-turnover performance against the Bears, Favre revealed he had a sore throwing shoulder. A couple days later, he admitted the shoulder was good — well, good enough to be playing today.

In Rodgers’ rookie season, when Packers general manager Ted Thompson shocked the world by picking the falling quarterback in the first round of the draft, he and Favre were definitely not friends. However, their relationship got better through the years and was good in Favre’s final season in Green Bay.

But once Favre announced his retirement after the Super Bowl, Rodgers immediately began busting his butt to prove to his teammates that he would be an excellent replacement. By the time Favre changed his mind about retirement, Rodgers had control of the locker room. Not even Donald Driver, a good friend of Favre’s, spoke out in defense of his old quarterback. Long-time offensive linemen like Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton also were silent. Everybody had turned their backs on Favre.

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Remember, in Favre’s final season in Green Bay, his team’s season ended in an overtime loss to the Giants in the NFC championship game. Favre threw the fateful interception that turned the game.

Many suspected that McCarthy became disillusioned with Favre during that game, one that was played in sub-zero weather. As long as Favre was around, the Packers would never really be McCarthy’s team. McCarthy surely didn’t want to be the first Packers coach to bench the team’s living legend.

This is why McCarthy held firm when Favre wanted to play again in July 2008. The coach was comfortable with Rodgers and knew his young team, especially the skilled players, liked the younger QB. It was a no-brainer to then tell Favre no, then trade him to the New York Jets.

Beating Favre doesn’t really make the two sides equal. Favre has ruined his legacy in Green Bay. But by winning today, McCarthy and Rodgers can say they finally evened the score. But more importantly, the Packers can move closer to a potential NFC North title and January playoff berth. A Green Bay win also would be another feather in McCarthy’s cap, considering how many injuries his team has overcome this season.

NFL ON FOX GAMES: Green Bay at Minnesota, 1 p.m. ET

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: In the first game between these two, the Packers gave up 196 yards rushing against the Vikings, which was the highest total (by 40 yards) since Dom Capers became the team’s defensive coordinator. Adrian Peterson had 131 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries and Green Bay can expect more of the same today. The Vikings’ wild card is how effective WR Sidney Rice (hip surgery) will be in his first action of the season. Rice was Brett Favre’s go-to receiver last season, and he is anxious to play. How long Rice lasts could go a long way toward deciding the outcome of this game. With the defensive line healthier, the Packers feel good about stopping the run, but they also will be inclined to keep attacking Favre to prevent him from getting into a passing rhythm. Clay Mathews leads the NFL with 10.5 sacks, and he can come from any alignment. After nine games this season, the Packers are the No. 1-rated scoring defense, having allowed just 143 points.

The Packers may scrub some running plays in order to control the game with Aaron Rodgers throwing shorter pass routes. Rodgers has been protected very well lately while the Minnesota pass rush has been non-existent except for a fourth-quarter rally against the inept Cardinals.

CZAR’S SCOOP: McCarthy built his reputation in Green Bay by winning eight of his first 11 road games as an underdog. Then the tide turned and the Packers lost seven of their next eight road games, plus that only road win came in Week 16 last year against Arizona, who didn’t even try because of the inevitable playoff rematch. But this year, the Packers are much better on the road, posting the season’s first shutout in a 9-0 win over the highly-touted Jets.

Since 1992, the Vikings are 15-9 against the spread as the underdog, and they are plus-3 today. As a home underdog during that stretch, they have won four of six games outright against the Packers. There has been a lot of talk that CB Charles Woodson isn’t the same great cover cornerback that he was last season when he was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. But any talk of him switching to safety won’t happen until next season.

With the Vikings making an all-out push for a new stadium next season, it is difficult to believe that coach Brad Childress will remain the face of the franchise. Minnesota has such key performers like Rice, linebackers Chad Greenway and Ben Leber and kicker Ryan Longwell as pending free agents, plus the organization has promised Peterson that they will re-work his contract in 2011. QB Tarvaris Jackson is also a potential free agent.

Washington at Tennessee, 1 p.m. ET

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Washington’s best defensive player, safety LaRon Landry, didn’t even make the trip because of an Achilles strain, which should be great news for Titans QB Vince Young. It means that a slower Reed Doughty will start. Also, Phillip Buchanon will start for injured RCB Carlos Rogers, the team’s best cover cornerback. This will be the first test for Washington’s defense against Titans RB Chris Johnson, a true home-run hitter. They obviously struggled Monday night, surrendering 592 yards and 59 points to the Michael Vick-led Eagles. The 'Skins will need DT Albert Haynesworth to clog the middle against Johnson. With Kerry Collins hurting, rookie Rusty Smith will be Young’s backup today.

The Redskins plan to start RB Clinton Portis and need to run consistently in order to keep the Titans’ constant pass rush off Donovan McNabb. If Portis can’t sustain it, rookie free agent Keiland Williams, who leads the Redskins with five touchdowns, will replace him. Will Montgomery also starts for injured Redskins RG Artis Hicks. The Titans have struggled defending tight ends this season, so look for McNabb to feature Chris Cooley and Fred Davis. Conversely, in order to get some production out of Randy Moss, the Titans could be in a three wide-receiver look much of the time, taking advantage of a porous and beat-up Washington secondary.

CZAR’S SCOOP: The word is that owner Daniel Snyder and Redskins GM Bruce Allen had a few chuckles over the erroneous ESPN report that they signed McNabb to a contract with $40 million in guaranteed money. The only way McNabb sees some of that money is if the Redskins decide to keep him on their roster for next season, and right now the chances of that are probably 50-50. In the final analysis, it was a fair deal for both parties. The Redskins must pay McNabb $3.5 million if they decide to release him and part ways. It’s definitely good walking away money for the quarterback, who would then have the chance to find his own team, which could be Minnesota, Arizona or even San Francisco. If McNabb is on the opening-day roster in 2011, the Redskins owe him $10 million in bonus money.

The Titans are saying Moss has fit right into their locker room and has been working hard to adjust to another new offense. They plan to use him as much as possible in the red zone today. In such a run-heavy offense, the Titans aren’t sure what plays will work the best for Moss.

Detroit at Dallas, 1 p.m. ET

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: One big reason why the Lions have lost a record 25 consecutive road games is because they remain a very sloppy football team. They have committed 88 penalties, second most in the league. They also have committed 19 false starts and dropped 27 passes, tops in the NFL. Look for the Cowboys to come after Lions QB Shaun Hill, knowing he’s reluctant to run because of a broken left forearm. Also, Lions rookie RB Jahvid Best simply hasn’t been that quick since suffering a turf toe injury. There’s a chance Cowboys CB Terence Newman won’t play, meaning Mike Jenkins and rookie Bryan McCann, who had the 101-yard INT return against the Giants, will have to do the job against Lions WR Calvin Johnson. The Cowboys played a lot more zone defense with Paul Pasqualoni running the defense after Wade Phillips’ firing and figure to continue that approach until a consistent pass rush emerges.

The Dallas offense must block the Lions’ defensive tackle duo of Corey Williams and rookie Ndamukong Suh in order to run and keep Jon Kitna standing. If they can do that, Dallas should be able to throw plenty of corner routes and run wide with Felix Jones and Marion Barber. Kitna is coming off his best throwing game since replacing an injured Tony Romo, who may be back in mid-December.

CZAR’S SCOOP: Based on one victory, Jason Garrett’s stock has risen quite a bit within the Jones family. There was a lot of unhappiness with some of his offensive game plans earlier in the season, but he had a very solid one in last week’s upset of the Giants in New Jersey. There has been speculation that if the Cowboys continue to do well in their remaining seven games, Garrett could be elevated to full-time head coach. Jones would still have to interview a minority candidate to satisfy the NFL’s Rooney Rule, but the league once allowed the Cowboys owner to interview Denny Green over the phone and said that satisfied the requirements of the rule. One name not to rule out in the coaching search is Stanford’s Jim Harbaugh, whose team is 10-1 and in BCS bowl consideration. However, there’s a good chance that Harbaugh would demand as much as $5 million a season, which may be too much for the Cowboys. Harbaugh also has quarterback Andrew Luck, who could be the first pick in next April’s draft if he declares.

Lions coach Jim Schwartz has been taking heat for poor time management and sticking with the running game for too long in last week’s bad loss to Buffalo. When the Lions last won a road game — Oct. 28, 2007 — Kitna was their quarterback and the Cowboys’ Roy Williams was one of his receivers. Williams caught eight passes for 77 yards in the Lions’ victory over the Bears, and Kitna was 24-of-35 for 268 yards.

Arizona at Kansas City, 1 p.m. ET

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Arizona’s current four-game losing streak is the longest in coach Ken Whisenhunt’s short tenure with the Cardinals, and much of the problem has been an inability to stop the deep pass. The Chiefs love to run the football, so maybe safety Adrian Wilson won’t be beaten deep for a touchdown a third straight week. Look for the Cardinals to crowd the line of scrimmage, hoping to stop Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones. Besides, Kansas City’s running game has lost a little punch with the high ankle injury to rookie Dexter McCluster, who will miss another game. Cardinals RCB Greg Toler has also been benched in favor of Trumaine McBride and Michael Adams. Without TE Tony Moeaki, Chiefs QB Matt Cassel will have to zero in on WR Dwayne Bowe, who will be double-covered.

The Chiefs were burned consistently by the Broncos’ play-action attack last Sunday, and it will be critical to see if defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel has figured out a way to stop the bleeding. The Cardinals are minus-9 in turnover ratio with their quarterbacks leading the NFL with 23 interceptions. QB Derek Anderson has to play error-free ball and Arizona has to sustain a running game, something it has been unable to do during the losing streak. The Cardinals may try rookie Andre Roberts on punt returns with LaRod Stephens-Howling out.

CZAR’S SCOOP: Arizona head coach Ken Whisenhunt has kept in touch with Chiefs coach Todd Haley, who used to be his offensive coordinator. Whisenhunt said that when the two were assistant coaches with the Jets that he and Haley often played hoops together. “We used to play one-on-one basketball and we had to drive over in a car because it was a little ways away,” Whisenhunt said.” It wasn’t too far, but it was more comfortable riding over in the car. But there were a few times when we would get into arguments on the court and maybe throw the ball at each other and one of us would end up walking back rather than riding the car back with the other.”

Haley also apologized this week for not shaking the hand of Broncos coach Josh McDaniels after his team lost 49-29. Haley was caught on Denver television pointing his finger at McDaniels and saying, “There’s a lot of (expletive) being talked about you,” before walking away. “I do believe in doing what’s right, and that was not right,” Haley said on Monday. “I probably let the emotions of the situation get me too much. I apologize to the fans and to Denver and to Josh.” However, Haley still hasn’t telephoned McDaniels to apologize. The Chiefs’ Moeaki suffered a concussion on an onsides kick attempt last week and won’t play today.

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Seattle at New Orleans, 4:05 p.m. ET

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The Saints are saying it will be a game-time decision, but it’s looking like RB Reggie Bush will miss an eighth straight game and also an opportunity to play against his former USC coach Pete Carroll. Defensively, the Seahawks likely will try to pressure Saints quarterback Drew Brees into some mistakes. Brees has 18 TD passes on the season, but he also has thrown 12 picks. But Brees has been more consistent in his last two games and Seattle is allowing 272.2 yards a game, while the Saints are fifth in passing with 276.2 yards per game. Saints TE Jeremy Shockey is also out, but New Orleans has two decent backups at the position.

Offensively, the Seahawks are facing the best pass defense in the league, led by blitz-happy New Orleans defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, so look for Seattle to try and establish the run with Marshawn Lynch now that their best run blocker, rookie offensive tackle Russell Okung, is back in the lineup. The Seahawks had their best two-game stretch of the season running the ball with No. 1 pick Okung on the field, rushing for a total of 111 yards at Chicago and 144 yards at home the next week against Arizona. The Saints are also getting back cornerbacks Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter. The only downside is that safeties Darren Sharper and Malcolm Jenkins could be out, meaning Usuma Young will start at free safety. The Saints also better be careful about Leon Washington’s return game for Seattle.

CZAR’S SCOOP: Seahawks QB Matt Hasselbeck is playing with two broken bones in his left wrist, one near his pinkie finger and the other closer to his thumb. The trainers taped him during halftime of last week’s win in Arizona and he was given an oral painkiller. He will wear a more elaborate brace for this game and a glove on his left hand. He will probably take a similar painkiller. Hasselbeck is having a very good season compared to recent ones and he will be a free agent after 2010. It looks like the Seahawks will have to pay to keep him because there isn’t much confidence in the organization that backup Charlie Whitehurst is the answer based on his limited playing time this season.

Friends of Mike Ornstein with the Saints said that the marketing guru was stunned that he was given an eight-month sentence on Friday after pleading guilty to Super Bowl ticket scalping and other charges. Ornstein, who was heavily involved with the Saints during last year’s push to the Super Bowl, wasn’t expecting jail time after paying a $350,000 fine.

Tampa Bay at San Francisco, 4:05 p.m. ET

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WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The forecast predicts a chance of heavy rain, which could turn Candlestick Park into a mud bowl, and probably tip the scales to the 49ers considering Frank Gore knows how to and where to run on such a soggy field. The Bucs have allowed a 100-yard rusher in virtually every game this season. The Bucs need to get pressure on 49ers QB Troy Smith and keep him from rolling to his right. Smith makes a lot of throws on the run. The Bucs are considering sticking veteran CB Ronde Barber on 49ers TE Vernon Davis, who leads the team with 513 receiving yards.

Seven rookies, not including leading rusher LeGarrette Blount, started in a win over Carolina last week. But for all the contributions from first-year players like receivers Mike Williams and Arrelious Benn, fullback Erik Lorig, guard Ted Larsen and Blount, the Bucs wouldn’t be winning without QB Josh Freeman, who is making fewer mistakes with the football. He’s no longer throwing silly interceptions and he can take off and run when flushed out of the pocket. Look for the Bucs to continue using QB Josh Johnson in the Wildcat formation. Johnson had a 14-yard run on first down during his only appearance in Carolina last Sunday.

CZAR’S SCOOP: After a meeting of the team captains and coach Raheem Morris, the Bucs decided that rookie Mike Williams should be allowed to start despite his arrest on a DUI charge. Apparently, there are questions regarding his DUI — he wasn’t actually over Florida’s legal limit — and he also voluntarily agreed to urine test, believing he would pass. Morris and the players have decided to accept the rookie’s version of events until proven otherwise.

Even with a reduced playbook, Troy Smith has been performing admirably in the offense and the offensive players apparently have more confidence in him than injured starter Alex Smith. There’s a good chance that coach Mike Singletary will stick with Troy at quarterback even if they lose today.

Shane Andrus will do the kicking for San Francisco with Joe Nedney missing the game after straining a knee ligament on the opening kickoff last Sunday against the Rams. Nedney's injury is not considered long-term. The 49ers lead the series, 15-3, but the Bucs arguably won the most important game between the two teams, a 31-6 romp in the second round of the 2002 playoffs. 49ers head coach Steve Mariucci was fired after that loss.

Atlanta at St. Louis, 4:05 p.m. ET

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The Rams will need to be at their best against a balanced Falcons offense that presents numerous challenges to any defense. Thirteen of the Rams’ 15 takeaways have come in their five home games, but Atlanta has just 10 turnovers all season. The Falcons, who could open in a no-huddle offense, have gotten back to their fast-starting ways under head coach Mike Smith. They have a 22-6 record in games where they score first and own a 22-1 mark in games where they hold the lead at the start of the fourth quarter.

The Rams will return RCB Bradley Fletcher to the starting lineup after Kevin Dockery was burned by the 49ers. The Rams need to put plenty of pressure on Falcons QB Matt Ryan, who is coming off a big game against Baltimore. Ryan tends to focus on TE Tony Gonzalez, who has caught 41 passes for 402 yards and three touchdowns, and WR Roddy White, who leads the NFL with 70 receptions for 934 yards. He caught 12 passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns, including a 33-yard game winner in the final seconds against the Ravens.

On offense, the Rams will look to control the ball with RB Steven Jackson and hope that Sam Bradford can hit some plays against a pass defense that has allowed 245.3 yards per game and a 67.3 percent completion rate.

CZAR’S SCOOP: No Ram is playing with more confidence than DE Chris Long, who has excelled the past month with a sack in every game. Plus he’s tied with Dwight Freeney of the Colts with a league-high 12.5 quarterback pressures. Long has 5.5 sacks, and the Rams are tied with the Packers for the NFL lead (28). The big reason for Long’s success is that he’s more comfortable playing left defensive end.

A big reason why the Falcons are only three-point favorites is because St. Louis has won four straight at home, where its scoring defense is tops in the NFL. With all the new talk about a potential downtown stadium in Los Angeles, St. Louis fans should remember that the city's lease runs out with the Rams in 2014. The two teams that could be the most attractive to Los Angeles developers are the Rams and Chargers because both teams have franchise quarterbacks. The Rams are always looking for receiver help, but will pass on ex-Eagles receiver Kevin Curtis, who has been trying out for teams after coming back from testicular cancer.

Other Sunday games

Indianapolis at New England, 4:15 p.m. ET: This is the eighth consecutive year these two AFC powerhouses have met in the regular season. Their last five encounters, including playoffs, have been decided by seven points or less. Peyton Manning figures to attack a young New England secondary that is allowing 277 yards a game. Tom Brady is coming off a great game against the Steelers and figures to stick with the short, underneath passing game. The Colts won last year's encounter by one point. Brady has won 24 consecutive home games during the regular season, one shy of Brett Favre’s NFL record.

N.Y. Giants at Philadelphia, 8:20 p.m. ET: Well, Michael Vick is coming off the greatest game a quarterback has ever had in the NFL. Two others, Bill Kenney and Eric Hipple, also passed for over 300 yards, threw for four touchdowns and ran for two more in a single game, but neither of them was able to also run for 80 yards. Granted, the Giants have a lot better and quicker defense than the Redskins. The sky’s the limit for Philadelphia’s offense now that Vick has become an all-around quarterback, studying like a Tom Brady.

Tagged: Falcons, Bills, Bengals, Browns, Cowboys, Lions, Packers, Titans, Colts, Chiefs, Raiders, Rams, Vikings, Patriots, Saints, Eagles, 49ers, Seahawks, Buccaneers, Redskins, Panthers, Jaguars, Cardinals, Texans, Michael Vick, Jon Kitna, Chad Johnson, Mark Tauscher, Chad Clifton, Brett Favre, Ryan Longwell, Tony Gonzalez, Randy Moss, Donovan McNabb, Thomas Jones, Drew Brees, Matt Hasselbeck, Mike Williams, Roy Williams, Ben Leber, Shaun Hill, Chris Johnson, Brian St. Pierre, Tony Romo, Matt Schaub, Tank Johnson, Roy Williams, Steven Jackson, Chris Cooley, Corey Williams, Aaron Rodgers, Alex Smith, Alex Smith, Mike Williams, Matt Cassel, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Dan Orlovsky, Tarvaris Jackson, Vince Young, Matt Leinart, Chad Greenway, Greg Jennings, Will Montgomery, Leon Washington, Fred Jackson, Troy Smith, Calvin Johnson, Adrian Peterson, Leon Hall, Sidney Rice, Michael Adams, Felix Jones, Chris Johnson, Mike Jenkins, Fred Davis, Chris Long, Matt Ryan, Greg Toler, Tony Pike, Jahvid Best, Tony Moeaki, Colt McCoy, Rusty Smith, Sam Bradford, Keiland Williams

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