As we approach Week 11 in the NFL, let's take a closer look at five intriguing matchups that will have a major impact on the outcomes of these games:
Patriots QB Tom Brady vs. Bills DE Aaron Schobel
Through nine games, Brady is playing as good as any quarterback I can ever remember -- but playing Sunday night in Buffalo will pose a problem for Brady on two fronts: Wind might be a factor in the passing game, and the crowd can make it tough. There's not much that Brady can do about the wind, but if he can get off to a fast start it would certainly help keep the crowd under control.
Of course, New England has gotten off to a fast start in almost every game it has played this season. For that reason, Schobel needs to be a factor early. Schobel has 11 career sacks against New England, the most he's had against any team. It wouldn't shock me at all to see the Bills win this game and hand the Patriots their first loss of the season, but the emotional Schobel needs to get off the line and either get to Brady or force him into errant throws. If the Patriots get off to a fast start, it will be hard for Buffalo to play from behind. But if the Bills can get ahead or keep it close, this game will be similar to the Dallas-Buffalo game from earlier in the season, and the crowd will be a factor.
Buccaneers QB Jeff Garcia vs. Falcons LB Keith Brooking
Tampa Bay ranks in middle of the pack on offense, and Garcia needs to continue to make plays with both his arm and his feet to keep the Bucs atop the NFC South. If the Falcons win this game, they are suddenly right in the thick of the division race. One reason the Falcons have been able to hang around is their ability to produce turnovers -- they are a plus-9 for the season.
Brooking had 18 tackles in his last game against Tampa Bay, and he always plays a big role in Atlanta's defense. He will be an even bigger factor here, because Garcia likes to make short drops and quick passes. If Brooking and his teammates can shut down the run and force more third-and-long situations, it will be that much harder for Garcia to have success.
Cardinals LB Karlos Dansby vs. Bengals QB Carson Palmer
Perhaps because he was injured earlier in the season, Dansby has been under the radar -- he's probably one of the better players in the NFL we haven't heard a lot about. He had two interceptions last week against Detroit, and he's playing at a Pro Bowl level against both the run and the pass. The key to Dansby's success is versatility, but he'll be focused on the passing game here. Still, that means he'll be splitting time between blitzing Palmer and covering RB Kenny Watson coming out of the backfield.
Palmer, of course, will keep him busy. Despite Cincinnati's disappointing record, Palmer is on pace for a career-best 4,375 yards.
Panthers CB Ken Lucas vs. Packers QB Brett Favre
Few teams have been able to slow down Favre, who leads the NFL in passing yards. Lucas, meanwhile, is the leader of a secondary that has allowed just eight TD passes on the season, third-fewest in the NFL.
Lucas and the rest of the Carolina defensive backs will have to be good in coverage, because the pass rush has produced just nine sacks in nine games. The Panthers have relied on tight coverage and the ability to confuse opposing quarterbacks. Of course, that will be hard to do against Favre. Carolina might want to study what the Bears did in Week 5, when they picked off Favre twice in the second half of a 27-20 victory.
Redskins defensive coordinator Gregg Williams vs. Cowboys QB Tony Romo
Romo is on pace to break just about every single-season passing record in Dallas history -- pretty impressive for a guy in just his second season as the starter. Defensive coordinators have tried to confuse him by showing different looks, but Romo has exhibited a tremendous learning curve. He has been very good in the third quarter of games, because he is able to adjust at halftime to what the defenses are doing.
That said, Williams is perhaps the best in the business at creating schemes that are very tough for quarterbacks both young and old. What he likely will do here is have two completely different game plans. I think the Redskins will start the game with some new schemes that Romo has not seen before, but look for them to do some completely different things in the second half. Washington is hurt somewhat with injuries to CB Carlos Rogers and S Sean Taylor, but I think Williams and his coach on the field, London Fletcher, can overcome this. It will interesting to see how quickly Romo adjusts.