Carolina Panthers @ Chicago Bears
Okay, if anyone thought that Cam Newton would regress this much after an amazing 2011 campaign, shout out at the top of your lungs “I’m a football genius!” Almost nobody should have to embarrass themselves like that. Honestly, I would never have expected Cam Newton to make that next big step into “elite” status right away, but I know I’m not alone in saying that his troubles so far this year were completely unexpected. I have heard of a sophomore slump before, but I never thought it would happen to the Super Man of the NFL. The good news for Cam is that he has just over half the season to turn his fortunes around. The Carolina Panthers are in the cellar in the NFC South at 1-5, while the Bears are just the opposite: coasting atop the NFC North with a brilliant 5-1 record. Is there any chance that the Panthers are able to turn their season around against DA BEARS in Chicago? No way.
I respect what Cam Newton has done for his franchise. He literally took the worst offense in the NFL (2010) and transformed it into a top-10 squad when he took over for Jimmy Clausen. Steve Smith’s career was resurrected completely last year, posting his best numbers since the 2008 season, when the Panthers last made the playoffs. However, much like Cam, Smith’s season has taken a turn for the worst; posting only 28 catches and scoring as many touchdowns as I have this season: zero. It is totally unfair to blame the Panthers fall back on two guys. This has been a collective effort (so to speak). The defense is not playing well, ranked 21st in the league. But it’s the offense that I’m concerned about. After ranking 7th in the league last year, they now rank 24th. The rushing attack has just not been there for them. I will cut them some slack however. They have faced some tough defenses this year, and actually did keep most of these contests close (outside of the Giants game). They lost 16-10 to Tampa Bay and Seattle, 19-14 against Dallas last week, and were almost able to knock off Atlanta in Week 5 (30-28 loss). The point here is that the Panthers are not getting crushed. They are actually a couple of TD’s away from being a 4-2/5-1 team. The quality of defenses that they have faced has been tough for them to overcome.
Given the information from that last section, this upcoming one should practically speak for itself. Chicago, as of right now, is playing better defense than anyone in the league. They have scored more defensive TD’s (4) than they have let up (3) over their past three games. They also came within 30 seconds of shutting out a pretty good offensive team in the Lions at home on Monday night. Simply put, the Panthers do not match up well against this great defense. Last year’s game between these two teams was very entertaining (Chicago- 34, Carolina 29). Jay Cutler being banged up keeps this game closer, and it’s the same tune for Cam and the Panthers this Sunday as it has been the rest of the season- a close loss to a good defensive unit.
Chicago 20, Carolina 16
San Diego Chargers @ Cleveland Browns
I’ll make this one short and sweet. San Diego has had an extra week to stew over the painful loss they suffered last Monday night against Peyton Manning and the Broncos. Meanwhile, Brandon Weeden and the Browns were perhaps a closed roof away from their second win of the year (I am of course referring to Joshua Gordon’s dropped TD pass from last week). That being said, these are two teams that not a lot of people thought would go too far this year. The Chargers started out hot behind a resurging defense, but have cooled off over the past few weeks while the Browns have been on ice pretty much all year. I’ll take the Lightning Bolts here. Philip Rivers needs a nice bounce-back game after self-destructing vs. Denver. Also, Trent Richardson may be riding the bench in this game to rest up his ribs. Step up Montario Hardesty? Ehhhh…
San Diego 28, Cleveland 13
Seattle Seahawks @ Detroit Lions
The 2-4 Lions… yes I said it, the 2-4 Lions take on the 4-3 Seahawks in the Motor City. At the beginning of the year I would have expected this game to be a matchup of two teams vying for their own divisions. I guess that statement is partially true, but for the Lions- their team is clawing (no pun intended) to keep their season alive this Sunday. Meanwhile, the Seahawks have shown that they can play well against good teams this year, or at least teams with good QBs (i.e. Carolina, Dallas, Green Bay, and New England- hey, their four wins). The Seahawks three losses have come within their own division, and they have not been blown out at all. Will the Seahawks defense hold down yet another good aerial attack this weekend in Detroit? You better believe it!
The Seahawks are third in the league in points allowed, and undefeated outside of their division. Richard Sherman, a second year corner out of Stanford, is shutting down the opponents best wide-receiving threats this year. His big-bodied bump and run skills make him a very tough guy to get by. He’s going up against his biggest challenge to date in Calvin Johnson. I am sure that Sherman will not be one on one with him the whole way through. He should be afforded help over the top with Cam Chancellor and Earl Thomas. The Seahawks should be able to follow the blueprint that Chicago laid down on how to defend this beast last Monday night. I think Seattle’s defensive scheme follows closely with the Bears in the sense that it is a lot of basic coverage and they both can rely on a stellar front four to pressure the opposing quarterback. So far this year, Detroit has struggled against these types of teams (outside of their fourth quarter comeback in Philadelphia). Mathew Stafford needs to right the ship in a hurry if the Lions are going to even try to make a miraculous 2nd half run. Sloppy football in the red zone cost the Lions heavily last week and I can guarantee that Pete Caroll and defensive coordinator Gus Bradley have taken a long look at what Chicago put on tape. I look for the Seahawks to get after Stafford and pound the rock throughout the game.
This should be a hard hitting game when it’s all said and done. In games like these it usually comes down to who can run the ball and who can deal out the bigger blows on defense. That type of game is right up the alley for Marshawn Lynch and this tough defensive unit. Plus, the loss of Nate Burleson for the Lions is huge. Outside of Calvin Johnson, he was probably the next guy you would clue in on out wide. Good luck Lions, you are going to need it.
Seattle 19, Detroit 13
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Green Bay Packers
No Maurice Jones-Drew, no chance. Aaron Rodgers has finally returned to his 2011 form. Sorry Jags, it’s going to be a long day for you guys out in Lambeau. Enough said.
Green Bay 38, Jacksonville 14
Miami Dolphins @ New York Jets
Will this be the week that Tim Tebow finally gets a big chunk of action? I don’t think so. If he wasn’t utilized all that much against New England, then he will almost definitely play a fairly reserved role this week against Miami. Then again, it would be just like Rex Ryan to shock the world and give him a lot of playing time in a “must-win” game for the Jets. This is the second time this season that the Jets and Dolphins face off and in the first game it was a Nick Folk overtime field goal that propelled the Jets to a 23-20 win (Week 3). How will this game go the second time around? More likely than not in a very similar fashion.
I like the Jets to get back to what they do best here, and that is play the sticks. Pound the ball with Shonn Greene and maybe dink and dunk it down the field with Mark Sanchez. Despite coughing up the ball in overtime against the Patriots, I think that Mark Sanchez has earned more trust from the Jets. He made big throws in crucial moments against New England by standing tall and the pocket and flinging it. I would like to point out however that Sanchez does have a tendency to get a little greedy with the ball. For instance, on his only interception last week, he had Shonn Greene wide open underneath. His man Stephen Hill was open, but a poorly under-thrown ball killed that play. My point is there are a lot of yards to be had in the NFL if the quarterback is willing to look for them. The Jets offensive coordinator, former Dolphins head coach, Tony Sparano should tailor Sanchez’s game to his skill sets. I believe that if Mark can become a game managing quarterback (such as Alex Smith) he should be able to do good things with the ball.
Miami’s defense has been the hallmark of their team so far this year. They are 7th in the league in points allowed and save their Week 1 match-up against Houston; they have not allowed more than 24 points in a game. Rookie Ryan Tannehill has played exceptionally well for his age and is perhaps the second best 1st year QB. He may not have the big deep threats that some other QBs have, but he does have some good route runners who get enough yards consistently to move the chains. Having already played the Jets this year should give them a lot of insight to what Rex Ryan and Mike Pettine have up their sleeves for this time around.
Neither one of these teams have a clear advantage over the other. This game was a difficult one for me to predict, but in the end I narrowed it down to two things: Mark Sanchez showed me he can play well at times (last week), and I trust Rex Ryan more than Joe Philbin at this point in the season. I look for another close game between the two rivals (much like Week 3) with the Jets winning by a nose hair.
New York 22, Miami 21
Atlanta Falcons @ Philadelphia Eagles
Is this a make or break game for the Philadelphia Eagles? I don’t think so. Is this a game that they need to win? Absolutely. The only undefeated team left in football travels to the Linc to take on Michael Vick and the Eagles. Will the Falcons continue their reign of perfection after this match-up, or will Vick, Reid, and the Eagles finally turn things around and play the way that everybody thinks they should. I am going to go with the ladder here.
I will start by crediting what the Falcons have done so far this season. I admire their offense because of the fact that you cannot truly clue in on one guy. Everybody knows that if you double Roddy White then Matt Ryan is going to go to Julio Jones, and if you decide to take a chance with double covering the both of them, Tony Gonzalez will get his looks in the middle of the field. Not to mention their underrated slot receiver Harry Douglas. What the Falcons have been able to do on offense this year can be compared to what the Packers were able to do last year (to a much milder extent). As for their defense, they are the epitome of a bend but don’t break unit. The Falcons have given up some yards this year, but they have not given up an astronomical amount of points. Ever since I have watched the Falcons, this is the way their defense has played. It is a good enough compliment to a solid offense.
As for the Eagles, Michael Vick’s turnovers have been well documented. The firing of Juan Castillo could light a fire under the team’s defense as people are fighting for their jobs in Philly. Do I think this is Reid’s last season with the Eagles? Honestly, no I think he may be able to turn things around and have the Eagles in a spot to do something later this year. For a short term look at the Eagles, let’s fast forward to Sunday. The Eagles are 13-0 after a BYE week since Andy Reid took over. On the flip side of the coin, Matt Ryan has never won in Philadelphia (which is near his hometown of Exton, PA). All trends point towards the Eagles winning this game. For Philly, we have seen in years past that when they come out of BYE, they have things clicking on all cylinders. While I do not think this will be a perfect game from their standpoint, I do believe that they may play their best game of the year on Sunday.
I think that new defensive coordinator Todd Bowles holds the key to victory. The offensive line for Atlanta is one weakness that the team has, and I look for the Eagles to devise some schemes that will put a lot of pressure on Matt Ryan and force him into some dangerous throws and/or cause him to take sacks. With the press coverage that Philly uses on defense, I look for Nnamdi and Rodgers-Cromartie to jam both Jones and White at the line of scrimmage and disrupt their timing. Last year the Eagles got burnt by Tony Gonzalez and I think that they may consider putting nickel corner Brandon Boykin on him for a majority of the game. I look for the Eagles defense to do enough to give them another tight victory and help Andy Reid improve to 14-0 after the BYE.
Philadelphia 28, Atlanta 24
Washington Redskins @ Pittsburgh Steelers
RGIII vs. Dick LeBeau’s defense; who will win? Expect great things from the Steelers in this one.
Turn back the clocks to the 1920’s. The Steelers will be wearing their throwback uniforms that are probably so old that most fans will not even recognize them. That is not very important in deciding the outcome of this game. Whoever wins this game will have the better defense. Even with their group aging, I think the Steelers have the better defense of the two by far. The Steelers have the #2 ranked defense and are 9th against the run. Pretty solid if you ask me. They are going to need that run defense to stop the electrifying rookie tandem of Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris. If the Shanahans choose to have RGIII air it out against the Steelers on Sunday… good luck. They are ranked #2 in the league on pass defense and allow 59.3% completions against them. Even though the pass defense for the Steelers may look good on paper, they are middle of the pack with regards to opposing QB rating (at 88.3). I do see Griffin having some success against the Steeler’s defense but not enough to give him the win.
Ben Roethlisberger is playing well this season. He has only thrown one interception and has a 98.6 QB rating through his first 6 games. The Redskins pass defense is mediocre at best, ranked dead last in the league. I could not believe that they gave up that 77 yard Manning to Cruz TD pass with less than two minutes left to go in their game against the Giants last Sunday. It’s not just QBs either. I saw Armon Binns, a rookie wide receiver, embarrass the secondary by lobbing a 73 yard TD pass to AJ Green in Week 3. It’s not like they have been blowing teams out and forcing their opponents to pass. They have just been getting beat consistently by the other team’s top targets. Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and the Steelers could have a field day against this porous defense.
This game actually could have the potential to be a shootout, but I don’t think it will quite make it there. I think the Steelers defense plays ok, and Big Ben picks apart the Washington secondary helping the Steelers remain undefeated at home.
Pittsburgh 31, Washington 17
New England Patriots vs. St Louis Rams (London)
I like what the Rams have done on defense this year and they are making great strides back to relevance under Jeff Fisher. However, Bill Belichick and the Patriots will have a superior game plan in this one and Tom Brady will pick this Rams’ secondary apart across the pond.
New England 33, St Louis 20
Indianapolis Colts @ Tennessee Titans
Heeee’s baaaaaack! Chris Johnson had a monster game last week against Buffalo, almost eclipsing the 200 yard mark. I knew it was only a matter of time before he would break out. The question is, will he do it again this week?
The Titans are suddenly on a little bit of a hot streak ever since Matt Hasselbeck took over for Jake Locker in Week 5. They have posted two comeback wins against two good teams in two straight weeks. Even though Chris Johnson had a great game against the Bills, I think it is Hasselbeck that will help the Titans the most in this game. This season, the Titans are 2-1 when Hasselbeck is the starter and 1-3 when Locker is the ringleader. Furthermore, Matt has thrown one more TD pass in one fewer game this year. The stats don’t lie: for right now the Titans are a better team with Hasselbeck under center.
As for Indianapolis, Andrew Luck is doing some good things. Unfortunately for the Colts this is not a home game, and they have not won on the road this season. Andrew Luck’s numbers on the road are not nearly as good as they are at home. In only two games on the road, Luck has thrown 1 TD on and 5 picks. At home, he is much better (6 TDs and 2 INTs). The Colts simply do not play well away from home this year, and this plays directly into the Titans advantage.
All signs point to the Titans being able to take this game and second place away from the Colts. I like the Titans to feed off of their home crowd and win this one by a margin.
Tennessee 27, Indianapolis 12
Oakland Raiders @ Kansas City Chiefs
Call me crazy, but I actually enjoy watching these two teams play. More times than not their games are exciting with tons of funky plays and over the top trickery. This one has a chance to fit that category perfectly as the Raiders travel to Arrowhead where the Chiefs seek their first win at home since Week 15 last year when they trumped the previously unbeaten Green Bay Packers. I’m looking forward to this one and it should be an intense division battle.
The Chiefs have not led at all this year. In fact their only win was a come from behind effort against New Orleans in OT (in which they took the lead as the clock stopped signaling that the game was over). Playing from behind all year is one tall order. Matt Cassel simply was not getting it done this year, but it wasn’t all his fault. I feel like the offensive line was not holding up as well as it did a year ago, and Cassel has been flushed more often than he would have liked to have been. He has made a lot of mistakes and has turned the ball over way too much. Well, it is not going to be Cassel playing Sunday, but rather Brady Quinn. Quinn did not show me much against the Buccaneers, although it was his first game starting since 2010. Romeo Crennel has opted to bench Cassel this week even though he may be healthy enough to play.
Where has Run DMC been? Last week, his stats were not very good- 19 carries for 53 yards (he did fumble once, but was able to recover it). Ugly stats for McFadden have not been helpful to the Raiders. The inability to run the ball has hurt them a lot this year. Carson Palmer has had to drop back a lot this year, and who knows how well he will be able to play for the rest of his career- he is 32. The Raiders defense did show me something last week, albeit against a second string running back and quarterback. Nonetheless, they held Jacksonville to only 2 first downs the entire second half plus overtime. I don’t care who you are playing, that is hard to do. The Raiders dug deep and were able to come back from 14 down to win last week at home.
In the end I simply do not think the Chiefs will have enough firepower on offense to get it done this week. Jamaal Charles is playing very well, but he is being spelled much too often for my liking. I think the Raiders get just enough done on the ground to set up the play action for Palmer. I like Oakland to roll here and inch even closer in the standings to San Diego and Denver.
Oakland 24, Kansas City 12
New York Giants @ Dallas Cowboys
The G-Men travel to Jerry’s palace this weekend to take on their hated rival: the Cowboys. Fun fact: this will be the first time the Cowboys and Giants game has been shown on FOX since 2010 (if you’re into interesting little nuggets like I am). The Giants have never lost in the new Cowboy’s stadium. Actually, since it opened in 2009 the Cowboys have only posted a record of 14-12. The home field advantage just has not been there for them. I do not think it will be this week either as Eli Manning gets his revenge from their Week 1 match up.
First of all, it took a masterful game for Tony Romo to beat the Giants the first time around. Kevin Ogletree had a breakout game and has not really been heard from since. The ‘Boys defense did play well against Eli, and the Cowboys did enough to win 24-17. Eli Manning is playing very well, and maybe better than he did last year (during the regular season of course). Victor Cruz is proving that he is more than a one hit wonder, tied for the league lead in TDs with 7. Eli Manning leads the NFL in yards passing and his team leads the NFC in scoring. I think the Giants are moving the ball well this year, and even though the Cowboys’ defense is ranked fourth overall, I just don’t know if it will be enough to slow down the hot offense of the Giants.
Martellus Bennett returns to Dallas where I believe he will have a fine game against his old team. With DeMarco Murray out with a foot injury, Tony Romo probably will not be afforded a running game (much like the first game these two played- after all most of Murray’s yardage came on one run). On top of that, I just do not see the Cowboys beating the Giants twice in one year. Heck, I barley believe they did it once!
New York 30, Dallas 20
I will be back later with a breakdown of the Sunday Night game between the Saints and the Broncos!