Each week, we break down some of the underlying mismatches in the NFL, hoping to give you an inside edge when handicapping the schedule. Here are the four biggest betting mismatches for Week 11:
Atlanta Falcons at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+1, 43.5)
Atlanta's decrepit running game vs. Tampa Bay's stout defensive line
The Falcons have said they'd like to see marquee free-agent acquisition Steven Jackson get more work in the coming weeks. They won't be doing Jackson any favors this week as he goes head-to-head with one of the league's most formidable run defenses. Atlanta comes into the NFC South matchup with the fewest rushing yards in the league (579) and just three touchdowns on the ground. Part of the problem is that Jackson has missed most of the season due to injury, and the Falcons have spent so much time trailing that Matt Ryan has been forced to air it out more than he or his coaches would like.
Featuring Jackson prominently in Week 11 could be a major mistake if the Buccaneers' defense continues to play at a high level. Despite having just one win past the halfway mark of the season, Tampa Bay is allowing the fifth-fewest yards on the ground in the NFL while surrendering only four rushing touchdowns. The Falcons managed a crowd-pleasing 18 rushing yards on 18 carries in their Week 7 matchup in Atlanta - and Jackson or no Jackson this time around, Sunday's result should be similar.
Kansas City Broncos at Denver Broncos (-9.5, 49)
Kansas City's pass rush vs. Peyton Manning's wonky ankle(s)
Rare is the week when the Broncos aren't one half of the biggest totals of the week - but then, this marks the Broncos' first of two meetings with a Chiefs defense that has humiliated opponents en route to the only unbeaten record in the league through 10 weeks. Manning injured both ankles a few weeks back, then aggravated his right ankle sprain in last week's victory over San Diego. He'll be good to go for Sunday despite being limited in practice this week, and should fare better than other Kansas City foes thanks to his quick instincts and impressive receiving corps.
And yet, Manning hasn't had to contend with such a voracious pass rush than the one employed by the Chiefs. Linebackers Justin Houston (11 sacks) and Tamba Hali (nine) have laid waste to opposing quarterbacks, guiding a Kansas City defense that is allowing a paltry 11.3 points per game while ranking first in the NFL in turnover differential at plus-15. Manning is the best at picking apart opposing secondaries, but he and his ankles could be in serious trouble against a blitz-happy Kansas City attack.
Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles (-3.5, 53)
Washington's Griffin-to-Garcon connection vs. Philadelphia's battered secondary
Here is the biggest total of the week, and with good reason - both teams possess dynamic offensive attacks and anemic pass defenses. A Chip Kelly-run offense facing the Redskins' overwhelmed secondary would normally be favored by more than 3 1/2 points, but the Eagles' benefit on offense is negated by their ineptitude on the other side of that ball. And that trouble area will be put to the test Sunday against a vastly improving Washington pass game highlighted by quarterback Robert Griffin III and wideout Pierre Garcon.
RGIII has spread the ball around in his second season, but Garcon remains his favorite target. After missing most of last season with a nagging foot injury, Garcon has remained healthy in 2013 and has racked up the third most targets in the NFL as a result. He has been particularly explosive the past two weeks, racking up 14 catches for 291 yards and a touchdown. With nobody in the Philadelphia secondary capable of matching up with him either over the middle or down the sideline, Garcon should be in for another 100-yard day.
Minnesota Vikings at Seattle Seahawks (-12, 45)
Minnesota's starting quarterback vs. Seattle's home-field advantage
No team in the league enjoys more of an edge in its own stadium than the Seahawks, who have turned CenturyLink Field into a house of horrors for opposing offenses. Seattle has outscored opponents by more than 60 points in its four home wins - and while Tampa Bay nearly pulled off a major upset two weeks ago, the fact that it didn't - after leading 21-0 with 2:16 remaining in the first half - speaks to how dominant the Seahawks can be when they pull it altogether. None of that bodes well for whichever poor soul stands under center for Minnesota on Sunday.
That the starter remains unnamed may be a problem in itself - no team likes going into such a pivotal game without having a sense of who will be throwing the passes. But whether it's Matt Cassel, Josh Freeman or the injured Christian Ponder, the lucky winner will be up against a Seattle defense surrendering fewer than 16 points per game while allowing the third-fewest yards in the NFL. Add in the fact that opposing quarterbacks are averaging just over 175 yards in Seattle so far in 2013, and things aren't looking good for Minnesota's mystery QB.