With two AFC North teams on a bye this week, we take a look around the NFL for the biggest storylines heading into Week 11.
Tonight's thursday night game between the Titans and Jaguars at first glance looks like a "who cares" matchup. But, this could be a significant game as far as the playoffs go. It's no secret that the AFC South has been a dumpster fire. Even with Houston's upset of Cincinnati, they still only sit at 4-5 tied for the division lead with the Colts (4-5), and without Andrew Luck, that division is up for grabs. If the Titans win they become 3-7, and will be in striking distance if the Colts and Texans drop a few games. If the Jaguars win they'll sit at 4-6, and then it becomes a three horse race for what will undoubtedly be the fourth seed.
Greg Hardy skipped practice last Thursday before the Cowboys' game against the Buccaneers. This incident gets added to a mile long list of issues Hardy has had. All of them self inflicted, and pretty much completely avoidable. The Cowboys knew there would be some backlash for signing Hardy, but I don't think anyone thought they'd have to deal with all of this. He reportedly missed practice a day after the Cowboys talked to him about his behavior on social media. So mark this up as his second temper tantrum that he has had in a Cowboys uniform. Yet Jerry Jones still lays his reputation on the line time for this guy. How much longer can Jones continue to do this? Especially since they haven't even been winning with him? It's hard to imagine Dallas resigning Hardy this offseason, but then again who would've thought they'd stick with him through all of this?
Aldon Smith had a chance to be an elite pass rusher in the NFL. His first two years in the league, he accumulated 33.5 sacks with the 49ers, but after repeated run ins with the law and struggles with the NFL's substance abuse policy, Smith has earned a year-long ban from the NFL, effective immediately. Smith, who will be 27 by the time his suspension is over, seems to be in a good situation with the Raiders who are committed to bringing him back. The suspension comes after the Raiders already took a gut check to their playoff hopes in a loss to the Vikings at home. It's hard to deny, that when Smith returns, teaming him up with Khalil Mack will create one heck of a pass rushing tandem.
Cam Newton danced in the endzone after scoring a touchdown, a Titans defender took offense to it, and Newton decided to dance in his face some more. Why do people have outrage about this? Did Newton have to dance in the linebacker's face after he confronted Newton? No, but why was the linebacker even trying to say anything to Newton? So many fans get outraged by anything the NFL does to limit celebration, even if it prolongs a game every so often, but this somehow crosses a line? It wasn't like Newton sought out the Titans player and danced in his face. It all sounds like sour grapes from a team that lost and fans who don't like Newton.
The Cowboys dropped the ball, but it didn't happen when Tony Romo went down. It happened when they didn't take their backup quarterback spot seriously. They decided Brandon Weeden would be an acceptable option to win them games in the event Romo went down. Even before that, it happened when they decided DeMarco Murray wasn't worth his price tag. Now their run game has been a revolving door or disappointment. Romo is finally set to return after seven weeks of losses without him, and while it is conceivable that they could win out, they haven't left themselves much room. The Giants (5-5), who lead the division, have looked good enough to at least finish 8-8 by splitting their last six games. However, it is the Giants, and they are as unpredictable as the weather in Ohio. The Cowboys might not be buried yet, but they've dug their hole already.
Sunday we will all get a glimpse into the future of the Denver Broncos, maybe. It was instantly obvious that Peyton Manning was not suited to run Gary Kubiak's offense. Brock Osweiler is far more athletic than Manning though. This is Osweiler's opportunity to prove he is the heir to this offense, and team, when Manning retires. He has had the opportunity to sit back and learn from Manning his entire NFL career, and while it is impossible to replicate what Manning does, he should have learned quite a bit in that time. When Osweiler was drafted many draft experts praised his arm strength, and no one knows that better than the head coach who brought him in, John Fox, who is now coaching the Bears. Fox knows quite a bit about this Denver team coming in, but he has no idea how Osweiler will operate in Gary Kubiack's offense. If Osweiler does perform well it would be hard to rule him out of taking over for a few more weeks to allow Manning time to get right for the playoffs.