Minnesota Vikings @ Chicago Bears
Without Jay Cutler, the Bears are almost helpless. They looked rather pedestrian last week against the 49ers and there is no reason to believe that Jason Campbell will play much better this week. In his defense, there is not much anybody can do when their offensive line is not blocking for them (just ask Michael Vick). The problem with Jason Campbell is the fact that he holds on to the ball for too long while standing in the pocket. Mike Tice should design plays where the ball comes out quickly to his big bodied receivers on slants, screens, and hitches. With the return of Alshon Jeffrey last week and Brandon Marshall still split out wide, the Bears have a fighting chance to do this. This should be the game-plan even if Jay Cutler is in. As of right now, Cutler’s status for playing on Sunday is still up in the air. The same can be said for Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin. His ankle injury held him out of the team’s Week 10 match-up against Detroit and it could sideline him again. Look for Kyle Rudolph and rookie Jarius Wright to step up again as they did vs. the Lions. Since each team might be missing a key player, this game will actually be played on even grounds. In this situation it is easier to pick the team that is better all around. That is why the Chicago Bears should win this game. Things are made easier for them since they are playing at home and the Vikings are 1-3 on the road this year.
Chicago 20, Minnesota 16
Oakland Raiders @ Cincinnati Bengals
In Carson Palmer’s homecoming, there are a lot of things that point to the Bengals winning this game. First of all, Andy Dalton is playing very well as of late. Over the last two weeks he is 39-59 for 429 yards with six TDs and no picks. That is good for a 129.4 quarterback rating. AJ Green has scored a touchdown in nine straight games and looks unstoppable at times. With an Oakland Raider defense that is giving up better than 375 yards per game, this should be easy pickings for Dalton and Green. Expect the typical Carson Palmer game- one where he throws for a nice pile of yards, but the Raiders still lose by a couple of scores. Their defense simply isn’t stopping anybody and they play another hot offense this week. The Bengals should improve to 6-5 with a solid team win on Sunday.
Cincinnati 30, Oakland 13
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Cleveland Brown
This game reeks of an upset. Charlie Batch will be filling in for an injured Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich. Cleveland has been playing well in their games lately and really should have a better record than 2-8. Why does it seem like the Pittsburgh Steeler’s season resembles that of the Chicago Bears last year? We have a team that is rolling with a 6-3 record and then suffers an injury to their quarterback and then falls off the table of relevance. At least Big Ben should be back by the end of this year, and it couldn’t come at a better time. After this loss to Cleveland, Pittsburgh fans will be praying for Roethlisberger to get better because if not, the Steelers are going to miss the playoffs.
Cleveland 15, Pittsburgh 13
Buffalo Bills @ Indianapolis Colts
The Bills are well rested coming off of their narrow victory at home versus a reeling Dolphins team. Meanwhile, the Colts come limping back to Indy after being taken apart by the New England Patriots in Foxboro. With these facts in mind, one would side with Buffalo here, but Andrew Luck should have a field day against a porous Bills’ secondary. This game should be a shootout with the Bills trying to run all over the Colts with C.J. Spiller and Luck putting on an aerial display at home (yet again). If this game does turn out to be a track meet, it is going to come down to the quarterback position and which one can put up the better numbers. Andrew Luck at home vs. Ryan Fitzpatrick… anywhere? Come on, this one should be obvious.
Indianapolis 36, Buffalo 30
Tennessee Titans @ Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jags are coming off of a near-win in Houston last week with a strong performance from Chad Henne. The Titans were sitting at home watching that game last week since they had a BYE. Henne was able to do what he did against the Texans because they were not prepared for him to play. The Titans will be and they even have an entire game’s worth of film from this year to look at, plus footage from previous action in Oakland and at home vs. Indianapolis. The Jaguars will not have the element of surprise on their side this time around and it will show as Jake Locker puts up one of his better performances against a defense that ranks 31st against the pass. Jacksonville should also get a steady dose of Chris Johnson, who should go over 100 yards in this game, as he usually does against this team. Titans should win easily here.
Tennessee 37, Jacksonville 16
Denver Broncos @ Kansas City Chiefs
Will the Kansas City Chiefs be put up enough of a fight to give Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos a scare? Probably not, but this game is in Arrowhead so maybe they will have a home-field advantage. Oh yeah, that’s right- the Chiefs are 0-5 at home this season. So much for an advantage there. Although Kansas City did provide the NFL world with an upset of the year vs. Green Bay last season, so there will always be a chance. There really is no such thing as an upset in a division such as the AFC West, but it seems pretty crazy to think that the ice cold Chiefs can cool down the scorching Broncos. Look for Peyton Manning to hook up with three different receivers for scores (none of which will be Demarius Thomas). Ronnie Hillman should get a nice little opportunity to spin his wheels with the absence of Willis McGahee. He should score a touchdown along with 75+ yards rushing.
Denver 33, Kansas City 12
Seattle Seahawks @ Miami Dolphins
This game will feature another helping of rookie QB vs. rookie QB. The Seahawks are 2-0 against the AFC East this season while the Dolphins are 1-1. Russell Wilson is not the same on the road so that will keep this game interesting. Eventually it will become hard for the suddenly ineffective Reggie Bush to run against this rock solid Seattle “D” and Tannehill will have to put the ball in the air. This plays right into the Seahawks strength and without a big-name receiver Seattle’s corners will be able to play a lot of one on one coverage while having Cam Chancellor play close to the line of scrimmage and Earl Thomas hawks over the top. This cover-1 type look should be enough to give the Miami quarterback fits and force a few errant passes. Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner will be looking for interceptions, as will Thomas. The Seahawks seem to be the better choice here since their defense will probably do more to confuse Ryan Tannehill than the Dolphins’ defense will to Russell Wilson.
Seattle 24, Miami 14
Atlanta Falcons @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Falcons are by no means on auto-pilot. At one point this season it looked like they would sleepwalk into the playoffs with a division crown but since Week 5 the Buccaneers have taken off on the legs of Doug Martin and the right arm of Josh Freeman. If Atlanta is not careful they could be surrendering a lot of ground to Tampa Bay with a loss on Sunday. Matt Ryan is not in the dome this weekend and he is notably not as strong outdoors as he is indoors. Last year the Bucs downed Atlanta on this very field in a hard-nosed 16-13 win. Do not expect this game to be as low scoring since it features two teams with high-octane offenses which are much different than those presented last season. While Josh Freeman could put up some dazzling stats, Matt Ryan will have the last laugh with a last minute touchdown in yet another close call for the Falcons. Right now Atlanta is finding ways to win, no matter how ugly the game may be. That is very admirable in a National Football League team, and that is why they get the tip of the cap.
Atlanta 33, Tampa Bay 31
Baltimore Ravens @ San Diego Chargers
Baltimore could feel like they are playing with a chip on their shoulder after being run out of Qualcomm last season in an ugly 34-14 loss. They could come out all fired up and ready to return the favor for this season, but they will not. In fact, there is a good chance that the Chargers will spring another upset again this year. Phillip Rivers is having another down year and has been in serious need for a go-to wide receiver. He may have found one in Danario Alexander, who has already put up stats comparable to Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal in half the amount of games. He also has a nose for the end zone with three touchdowns in four games this year. He could have a big game against a Ravens’ defense that is a shadow of its old self at this point in the season. Rivers should be able to compile some decent numbers en route to a shocker over Baltimore in sunny San Diego.
San Diego 26, Baltimore 24
St Louis Rams @ Arizona Cardinals
There is not much to like about the Cardinals anymore (besides their defense). They could not win a game last week that the Falcons practically handed to them and their quarterback tandem of John Skelton and Ryan Lindley is about as fearsome as Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn or Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow. Yes, it is that bad. It also doesn’t help that they are facing the Rams this week, a team that ate their offensive line alive in Week 5 to the tune of nine sacks. St Louis should be able to get the same amount of pressure on whoever the Cardinals have under center in this game. This will be a low scoring battle, and the Rams generally thrive in these types of games. Not to mention they have played all of their NFC West rivals tough this season. On paper the Cardinals have the better defense, but overall the Rams are the better team and that is why they are going to win this game.
St Louis 17, Arizona 9
San Francisco 49ers @ New Orleans Saints
Without a doubt, this is a very intriguing game to watch. The Saints are making a huge push for the playoffs as the 49ers bring in a talented group of players headed by a quarterback who will be making his second career start in Collin Kaepernick. The 49ers defense is as solid of a unit as there is in this league, but if any offense can figure them out it is the Saints’. Last year in the NFC Divisional game, New Orleans tallied 472 yards of offense against them. The San Fran defense is looking about the same as it did last year, and it is easy to say that they are not looking strides better than they were about a year ago. With that being said, there is no reason to believe the Saints will struggle mightily against them, especially at home. If the 49ers defense does not hold the key to this game, then what does? Of course it is their offense. If San Francisco can get to playing the type of game they want to play, then they should win this game. This game is going to be keep-away. They will try running the ball frequently in order to keep the ball out of Drew Brees’ hands. Let’s face it, this New Orleans defense is not stopping anybody and it should be quite easy for the 49ers to impose their will on them. Time of possession in this game will heavily favor San Francisco, and because of that they will be able to win.
San Francisco 29, New Orleans 25
Green Bay Packers @ New York Giants
These two teams have been having completely opposite luck over the past month. The Packers are 4-0 in the last four games and the Giants are 2-2. The other story is the fact that Eli Manning has thrown only one touchdown to six interceptions while Aaron Rodgers has thrown 11 touchdowns to only two picks (this is all in these last four games). Also, since Super-storm Sandy hit the Giants are 0-2 and have looked mediocre on offense. Eli should be able to turn his fortunes around in a nice game against a middle-of-the-pack (no pun intended) defense. Rodgers may be frolicking in a field of flowers when he sees this tattered New York Giants’ secondary. If Andy Dalton can pick them apart, just imagine what #12 can do in the Meadowlands. The Giants should be able to give the Pack a game, but in the end Green Bay should be able to pull this one out because of their ability to attack through the air. It is a major strength vs. a major weakness. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this means bad things for the G-Men.
Green Bay 35, New York 28
The Pre-Game Breakdown of the Panthers/Eagles game will be coming soon. Stay tuned!