The Green Bay Packers seem to be hitting their stride as we head into the ladder half of the season. Aaron Rodgers has not thrown an interception since Week 5 in his team’s last loss. One thing that is chained to the ankles of them is the amount of injuries to key players. Let’s run down the list of inactives, and others listed on the Green Bay injury report as of this article (11/2/12):
Cedric Benson: Injured reserve for a foot injury
D.J. Smith: Injured reserve for a knee injury
Desmond Bishop: Injured reserve for a knee injury
Charles Woodson: Ruled out with a collarbone injury and is expected to miss 6 weeks
Greg Jennings: Ruled out with an abdominal injury and is out indefinitely
Jermichael Finley: Questionable with a shoulder injury
Jordy Nelson: Questionable with a hamstring injury
B.J. Raji: Questionable with an ankle injury
T.J. Lang: Questionable with an elbow injury
John Kuhn: Questionable with a calf injury
Sam Shields: Questionable with a shin injury
Aaron Rodgers: Probable with a calf injury
Holy cow! The Packers are dinged up. This will not prevent me from picking them though. The Arizona offense is just not good enough to stand up to Green Bay in Lambeau. Their offensive line is among the worst in the league. They have given up the most sacks by far (39). The next closest team is their opponent, Green Bay at 28. They are also dead last in yards per rush attempt at only 3.5 yards per carry and have opened the hole for only 632 yards (which is 28th worst in the league). Basically, this offensive line is the one blatant weakness in the Cardinals game, and it will mark the downfall of the during their trip to Green Bay despite all of their injuries.
Green Bay 32, Arizona 17
The first time these two teams hooked up was in Week 4 (which just so happened to be the first game played with the regular referees). The Browns played the Ravens tough in Baltimore, taking the game down to the final play. Brandon Weeden heaved the “Hail Mary” pass out of the back of the end zone, thus ending the Browns chance at a remarkable comeback. This time around, the game will be played in Cleveland where the Browns have won their only two games of the season so far. Will they be able to do what they came just short of doing to the Ravens the first time? Or will it be a Baltimore style slug-fest, propelling the Ravens to their third straight 6-2 start?
If history tells us anything, it is that the Ravens do not like to lose to the Browns. They hold a 20-7 all-time series lead and have won nine in a row against Cleveland. They have not lost in the “dog pound” since 2007 either (which was the last time the Browns even had a winning record… just saying). Ray Rice goes nuts whenever he sees the brown and orange uniforms. He has rushed for an average of 134.8 yards per game. To put that in perspective, the Cleveland Browns quarterbacks (since Ray Rice’s arrival) have averaged only 164.9 yards per game, and if you discount Brandon Weeden’s 320 yard game this year, that average dips to just 145.5 yards per game. The Browns do not typically put up a lot of points against the Ravens. The last time the Browns have been able to hang more than 20 points on the Ravens was in November of 2008 when they put up 27 and still lost. For this breakdown I decided to look at the history of this rivalry, and quite honestly I would have to say that this is enough for me to pick the Ravens in this one. I also realize that the Ravens are coming off of a BYE and since John Harbaugh has taken over the head coach position in 2008, Baltimore has gone 4-0 in this situation. Look for the Ravens to come out fired up, despite the losses of Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb.
Baltimore 23, Cleveland 12
While Denver has been on a hot streak as of late, Cincinnati is just the opposite; losing their last three and dropping from a stellar 3-1 start to an average 3-4. Peyton Manning is mimicking what he did in Indianapolis, boasting the highest quarterback rating in the league at 109.0. His Broncos lead the AFC West and look almost unchallenged from this point forward; playing host to the easiest schedule from this point forward. For Cincinnati, things will only get tougher. They still play Baltimore and Pittsburgh one more time along with Dallas, New York (Giants), Philadelphia, San Diego, and these Denver Broncos. Talk about rough! A win against a good team here could work wonders for the Bengals, however that is easier said than done. Peyton Manning will continue his incredible comeback year while making a case for his fifth MVP in a victory in Ohio this weekend.
Peyton Manning has never lost to the Cincinnati Bengals. He is 7-0 in his career against the cardiac cats. All time, Manning has posted an astounding 17 TDs against only 3 INTs in these games. His teams have averaged 33.5 points/game against the Bengals, and have scored at least 23 in all of the games. I know, I know, all of these stats were from when he was with the Indianapolis Colts and the Denver Broncos are a very different team. However, Peyton Manning has not shown much of a difference in his performance while wearing orange as opposed to the blue we have all become accustomed to seeing this man don on Sundays. At times this year he has looked almost identical to what he once did in Indy. For that, I have reason to believe that he will look the same as he always did in Cincinnati this Sunday as he picks apart the 16th ranked pass defense in the league.
Besides the Manning effect, there are other things that the Broncos have been doing well this year. For instance, they have been running the ball very well. Willis McGahee has shown that with age comes experience. The 31 year old tail-back is on pace to put up his best numbers since 2007 when he was with the Ravens. Ronnie Hillman does an excellent job spelling Willis as well. He is very young and has a lot of growing to do, but has rushed for 4.4 yards/attempt this season on his 31 carries. I expect to see some more from this youngster as the season moves forward. As for wide receivers, Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas are turning into the best 1-2 punch at their position in the league. Together they have combined for 77 catches, 1163 yards, and 9 TDs. Other guys such as Joel Dreessen, Jacob Tamme, and Brandon Stokley are helping out in the passing game for Denver. This team looks very good on offense and their defense is playing extremely well right now, as I pointed out my previous blog (the Saints & Broncos post game breakdown). The Broncos look like they are going to be tough to beat as we move into the second half of the season.
All I have done is praise the Broncos thus far, but I think that may be the only argument I need. Denver is playing very well on both sides of the ball. The Bengals are still struggling to get the running game going. AJ Green is having a spectacular year. Unfortunately it will not be enough this weekend against the Broncos. I like the Broncos to get back to pounding the ball on the ground and having Peyton Manning read the defense, which he is so great at doing.
Denver 31, Cincinnati 20
San Diego looked good Thursday night. Philip Rivers was on his game, save one red zone interception. San Diego ran the ball very well in this game, and the defense suffocated the listless Kansas City offense. This score is not at all indicative of what actually happened in the game. It actually reminds me of the Week 1 Monday-nighter between Cincinnati and Baltimore- a game that was close through the majority of three quarters, but was quickly blown out of the water with a couple of defensive touchdowns.
San Diego lead 10-6 early in the fourth quarter until Philip Rivers hooked up with his new go-to wide out in Malcolm Floyd. Then, on the very next series Shaun Phillips recovered a Matt Cassel fumble in the end zone for a TD. A little bit later, linebacker Demorrio Williams intercepted Cassel and took it 59 yards to the house. In a blink, the Chargers leaped out to a 31-6 lead. A garbage time TD gave the Chiefs the extra 7 at the end.
In my eyes, the Kansas City Chiefs did not deserve to win this game. They opened up the game by putting together a masterful 17 play, 66 yard drive that ate up 8:01. On this drive they were able to convert four third downs (three from eight yards or more). Why do I bring this up after I just stated that the team played poorly? Of course, another Kansas City turnover. Dwayne Bowe fumbled the ball as he was trying to fight for yardage, and the Chargers were able to recover. No points for Kansas City. Later in the third quarter, on the first Dustin Colquitt punt of the night, Eric Weddle put the ball on the ground. The Chiefs were able to recover, but did they cash in on gift-wrapped points courtesy of a generous special team blunder? Nope, not even a FG; Ryan Succop missed the 39 yarder. I know I only pointed out a potential six points they could have had. I understand that these missed opportunities were not directly responsible for the Chiefs losing, but I wanted to make one thing very clear: good teams cash in during these situations. Bad teams do not. The Kansas City Chiefs are a bad team and are the first one to hit 7 losses on the season.
Was this a win that Chargers fans should enjoy? Absolutely. A win is a win. However, this win dis not showcase how good San Diego is. It showcased how bad Kansas City is and has been. The Chiefs turned the ball over to the Chargers 10 times this season. The also surrendered a total of 68 points to their rivals from the west (while forwarding only 33 for themselves). The Chargers do dominate the Chiefs on Thursday Night Football, but I still see some problems for San Diego moving forward. They are seriously lacking at wide receiver, they too have not been clear of turnovers, and you can still ask the question “who have they beaten?”. Three of their four wins have come within the division, with two of those against this abysmal Chiefs squad. I will end on a positive note for San Diego: with Rivers hitting on 18-20 of his passes, that places him in fifth place tie all time (Steve Young) for completion percentage in a game (with a minimum of 20 attempts). Good job Rivers!
These two teams squared off last year on Halloween night in Kansas City. The game turned out a very scary outcome for Philip Rivers and the Chargers. For the loser this year (coincidentally the night after Halloween) the whole season can become spooky in a hurry. As a matter of a fact, the entire year for Kansas City has been a disaster. They still have not lead in regulation this year, which is unheard of. Very rarely does a team go halfway through a season without leading in a game once. As for San Diego, their season took a nosedive starting with a Week 5 loss in New Orleans. They have lost three straight and have held a lead in all three games. That fact can be misleading because over the past six quarters of football, the Lightning Bolts have failed to light up the scoreboard, scoring only six points and turning the ball over six times during this span. Talk about ugly! It seems like every year these two teams play, there is something quite gruesome going on. Just recently, in Week 14 during the 2010 season, the Chiefs were held to only 67 yards of total offense. Of course the very next year, the Chiefs extracted their revenge in overtime on Monday night when Philip Rivers fumbled a snap at the end of regulation- handing the Chiefs the victory (Week 8). Who will get punked Thursday night? The Chargers lost to a 1-6 team already, and it will happen again.
Kansas City usually plays the Chargers really tough. The all-time series is tied up at 52-52-1. These two teams split the season series last year, which is something that the two have done in five of the past seven years. The Chargers have already taken one from the Chiefs this season in a 38-20 thumping during Week 4. Of course, Kansas City did put the ball on the ground three times, and Matt Cassel threw three picks during a horrendous six-turnover loss. The Chargers will come limping home at 3-4 to a very angry home crowd. If San Diego comes in limping, then Kansas City will come in crawling. We’ve got jobs on the line tonight. Romeo Crennel and Norv Turner could be coaching for their lives on Thursday. Another stinker from Matt Cassel could create a ton of controversy at QB; I mean Brady Quinn worked so well with Crennel during his tenure with the Browns. Each team needs to stop turning the ball over like they have been prone to doing this season. Kansas City has played very poorly at times this year. Many people would argue that they are the worst team in the league. So after all of this, why am I going to pick the Chiefs to beat the Chargers in San Diego? I don’t know, you can call it a gut feeling.
There can never really be an upset with a division game in my eyes. You can’t go into this game and say “oh Philip Rivers, the Chargers… yeah they got this over the 1-6 Chiefs”. I don’t think that anybody will be surprised if the Chiefs won Thursday night. The Chargers’ last win came in that Week 4 game against Kansas City. Somebody has got to win this one. We’ve got jobs on the line, teams fighting for their lives tonight, a heated rivalry. Sure, these teams may not make the playoffs this year, but for a football fan such as myself, what’s not to like about this game? I think it will be a good one, and I will give the Chiefs the narrow win, simply because the two teams usually split the season series and the Chiefs gotta hold a lead at some point this year… right?
Kansas City 24, San Diego 19
Were the Bears’ struggles in this game a call for concern, or was this narrow come-from-behind victory the mark of a champion? Has Carolina screwed their wheels back on, or are they simply finding ways to lose against good teams? At one point, this game was 19-7 in favor of the Panthers. Is it fair to place the blame on their defense for letting the Bears come back? All I can say is that this was some very intriguing stuff.
One can make the case that this game unveiled a weakness for the Chicago Bears: their offensive line. Well, that has been a problem for them virtually every year since Cutler took over. Their struggles have been well documented and Jay has not been shy on bringing it up (i.e. the Green Bay game). The Bears surrendered 6 sacks for a loss of 55 yards during the game. Carolina dominated in terms of total yardage (416 to only 210) and in time of possession (36:38-23:22). How did Chicago manage to win this game? Is it fair to say that there was a defensive collapse on the Panthers’ side of the ball? No. Blame punter Brad Nortman, who gave hope to the Chicago Bears after shanking a punt for only 6 yards. This allowed the Bears to claw their way back into the game as Jay Cutler hooked up with Kellen Davis for a 12 yard score. Not to mention the Bears tallied another defensive score on the Tim Jennings 25 yard interception for a touchdown. So much like any other Carolina game this year, they played a good three quarters of football. Would they allow this game to slip away much like they did to many others? It didn’t seem that way when Justin Medlock booted a 45 yard FG with 2:32 left in regulation. However, Jay Cutler was able to lead his team down the field and set up a game winning FG from Robbie Gould (who I think is the most underrated kicker in all of football). His 41-yarder was good just as time expired leaving the score 23-22 Chicago.
In my eyes, Carolina played well enough to win. They were simply facing the wrong defense on the wrong day. Steve Smith finally had another good game (7-118) but he still did not find the end zone. Was this game one that the Bears had no business winning? Perhaps it was. You can give a big assist to the shanked punt and the pick-six, but after watching so many Philadelphia Eagles games, I understand that it is tough to win when you are not on your “A” game and your opponent is. Many teams will lose these types of games, but the Bears were able to tough it out. They took a shot to the gut in this one, but still found a way to come out on top. This game reminds me a lot of the Oakland/Atlanta game. The underdog performs so well and are almost able to come out victorious, but in the end, the superior team finds a way to win. I think that is the sign of a good team; a team that is able to pull it together and forget all of the misfortune that occurred earlier in the game. That is what Chicago did today. You don’t always have to dismantle an inferior opponent *ahem, New England, ahem*. At the end of the day, the good teams find a way to win. Both teams deserved a win, but there could only be one victor. Today, it was the Chicago Bears.
The 49ers once again proved why they are indeed the class of the NFC West. They make the leap to 6-2 after crushing the Cardinals in the “Big Toaster” by three touchdowns.
The game did start off promising for Arizona. The fans were rowdy, causing the 49ers to burn a couple of timeouts and forcing some penalties. We saw right off the bat what Arizona’s game plan was on their very first drive- quick sticks, screens, and overall some very high percentage passes. Much to the despair of John Skelton and his team, the 49ers were on their game this night. Alex Smith dissected the Cards completing 18-19 (95%) of his passes for 232 yards with 3 scores. No quarterback has been this accurate since Kurt Warner’s historic day against Jacksonville in 2009 (when he hit on 24-26 of his passes for a stellar 243 yards and 3 scores). Actually the only Smith incompletion on the night was a Delanie Walker drop, but I digress. Circling back to the game, I saw a lot of good things on both sides of the ball for San Fran. Their defense held Arizona to only 69 yards of offense in the first half, while they tallied up 212 yards.
Michael Crabtree made Patrick Peterson look bad in this game. On his first TD reception, he plucked a perfect Smith pass right over the top of Peterson’s helmet. On his second TD catch and run, he spun the second year corner around and sprinted right into the end zone. He also blew a coverage that allowed Delanie Walker to eat up 23 yards. Before you start thinking that I am picking on Peterson, I feel inclined to mention that I am simply pointing out one of the poor performances that the Cardinals turned in. It is easiest to see in a star player like Patrick. The Arizona offensive line also played very poorly, but at this point that is almost to be expected. They blocked well enough for only 7 yards rushing, and surrendered four sacks. Skelton did miss Fitzgerald running deep in the end zone late. All and all, this was just a very poor performance turned in by Arizona.
As was pointed out on the telecast, this is the fourth game in five played that the 49ers have held their opponents without a TD. You can make the argument that those four teams did not have great offenses, but I would tell you it does not matter. It is hard to dominate NFL teams the way the Niners have been doing this year. After their crushing defeat to the Giants, and Alex Smith’s poor play over the past two games, fans of this team may have been a little worried, but Smith redeemed himself tonight. The Cardinals will head to Green Bay this weekend as the 49ers enjoy a BYE week next week. So the impressive win for San Francisco unearths many more problems for the Cardinals.