Miami Dolphins @ Buffalo Bills
I’m calling this game the chocolate game. Why? Because the teams playing in it are like a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get… Yes we all know how this is going to end. Miami is a team that can look so good one week, and then come back the next and lay an egg. The Bills are not excluded from this discussion either; they may be the epitome of a “wait and see” team. I will use their two games against division rival New England Patriots as an example. They came out and looked good in Week 4 during the first half and jumped out to a 21-7 lead. At one moment all of America thought the Bills would pull off the upset for the second consecutive year in Buffalo, then you blink and discover that the Pats threw up 45 points in the second half and turned the game into a blowout, 52-28. Fast forward to last week where the Bills looked like they had New England on the ropes (until Fitzpatrick threw a costly interception). Even though they lost this game, they looked like a halfway decent team in the process. You can never know what Buffalo Bill team will show up from week to week. As that thriller in Foxboro was going on, the Dolphins were getting pummeled at home by the Titans 37-3. This was the same team that came out and embarrassed the Jets 30-9 and played a playoff-bound Indianapolis Colt team close the next week. I am having a lot of trouble trying to decide who will win this game. Each team can look very good at times and not so great at others. The game will be played in Buffalo, but I am going to go with the Dolphins in this situation only because I think they will win the turnover battle. I do not have much faith in Ryan Fitzpatrick to be smart with the ball and I think the Dolphins force a key turnover late to seal a close victory for Joe Philbin and bring the team back up to a .500 record.
Miami 16, Buffalo 13
Arizona Cardinals @ Atlanta Falcons
Can the Falcons bounce back after suffering their first loss of the season? Well they are playing the Cardinals at home so this one shouldn’t be hard to figure, right? Not so fast, the Falcons have played in some nail-biters at home versus teams who were heavy underdogs (i.e. Oakland and Carolina). In fact, they have not won a home game by more than six points this season. Arizona is 1-3 on the road, but that one win came in New England. Defense is the trademark of this team and they do have the kind of strategy that could drive an offense nuts. They have the #2 ranked pass defense in the league and could possibly shut down the electric passing attack presented by this Falcon team. Also, they have a MLB in Daryl Washington who gets after the quarterback just as well as any other in the game. The Atlanta offensive line does not always fare so well against the blitz. This game has all of the elements of a trap game for the Falcons. Well here is a 180: I’m picking the Falcons to win despite all of this. The Cardinals just do not have the same amount of firepower on offense that will match up with Atlanta’s play-makers. Both #11’s (Larry Fitzgerald and Julio Jones) should have nice games for their respective teams. I predict a touchdown from each of them.
Atlanta 27, Arizona 24
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Carolina Panthers
For a moment let’s journey back in time and look at what happened when these two teams faced off in Week 1 this season. The Buccaneers dominated this game with their defense; holding the Panthers to a franchise low 10 rushing yards in a game and picking off Cam Newton twice. At the time nobody knew how good the Bucs run defense would be and how much Cam Newton would struggle this year. I expect this game to go the same way (minus a lightning storm at halftime). The Buccaneers should be able to control this game with their defense and keep the ball away from Carolina by running the ball on offense. The Panther defense has exceeded expectations in almost every way imaginable this season, and they actually had one of their better games last week. The Panthers really could be a four or five win team if their offense wasn’t so ineffective. I place the blame on their run game. In order to get back to the way they were last year on offense, the Panthers really need to be able to run the ball well. Things do not look like they will get better this week since Tampa Bay will probably play close to the line of scrimmage trying to cut down on the option plays that Carolina ran so well against them last season. It will be up to Cam at home to get the win because I don’t know if the Panthers’ defense will be able to bail them out again this week (Josh Freeman and Doug Martin are on fire right now- good luck shutting them both down). Because the Buccaneers are rolling on all cylinders on offense, I probably should give them the “W” here, but I am not going to. Cam Newton will break out for the first time this season and have a great game becoming yet another quarterback who can have their way with this sub-par Tampa Bay pass defense.
Carolina 31, Tampa Bay 23
Cleveland Browns @ Dallas Cowboys
After playing one of their best games of the season on the road in Philly, the Dallas Cowboys come home to take on the Cleveland Browns. Since it is November I have to go with the Cowboys here, but Cleveland might give them a run for their money. To start, the Browns have not been playing too badly as of late. In their last four games the team is 2-2. They played well enough to win in Indianapolis and gave the Ravens a scare in Week 9. Also, the Browns really have not gotten blown out this season. Their worst loss was by 14 points on the road against the Super Bowl champs. Even though their record reads 2-7, Cleveland has been playing better than most people realize. Their defense has had its fair share of struggles so far this season, but it has played well, especially when Joe Haden has been in the lineup. When he has been in the Browns have only allowed an average of 17 points per game. The offense has averaged scoring 15 points per game during that stretch so simple arithmetic will tell you that the Browns have been losing most of their games simply because they have not scored a lot of points. Scoring points has also been a problem for the Dallas Cowboys this year, averaging 20.9 points per game. This is odd considering that their offense ranks #9 overall. So in a game that features two teams that have not scored a ton of points this year it may be easy to figure out what will happen in this game. I do have a radical idea though: the team that scores the most will win the game. This will be Dallas in Jerry’s Palace; but I expect a fight from the Browns.
Dallas 22, Cleveland 17
Green Bay Packers @ Detroit Lions
Just when you think the Lions have gotten it figured out and are ready to make a run for a Wild Card spot, they fall on their face in a loss to Minnesota. The Packers are just the opposite: they are on a hot streak and Aaron Rodgers is playing like himself again despite the plethora of injuries to skill position players. Although the Pack hasn’t exactly been dominating at home against inferior teams (check Jacksonville and Arizona) they have been winning nevertheless. They also own the Lions, going 17-3 against them in their last 20 match-ups. Even though the Lions will be desperate for a win, there is too much to like here about the Packers. They are coming off of a BYE so they have extra time to prepare. Plus a win here would be a nice little sendoff to the Medowlands as they will take on the Giants next Sunday night. Look for Aaron Rodgers to air it out against a Lion team that has to be devastated after a critical loss to Minnesota last Sunday.
Green Bay 34, Detroit 21
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Houston Texans
I expect the Texans to ride the momentum from their big win in Chicago out through this game. The Jaguars are a team that is having major problems on offense. Maurice Jones-Drew is not expected back this week either. To make matters even worse, they will take this mediocre offense and play the #2 ranked Texans defense. I seriously doubt that the Jags will be able to gain any success on the road in Houston. In the NFL this is as close as you are going to get to a sure bet for a team to win. The Texans should handle Blaine Gabbert’s crew this Sunday.
Houston 34, Jacksonville 10
Cincinnati Bengals @ Kansas City Chiefs
This game for me is like picking between the lesser of two evils. Don’t get me wrong, the Bengals looked impressive when they blew out the Giants last week and I am not knocking them down a peg. I am simply acknowledging the fact that Arrowhead can be a really tough place to play. If there was ever a game where the Chiefs were primed for an upset it was last week against Pittsburgh when Ben Roethlisberger left with a shoulder injury. They did hold their first lead of the season and even when Big Ben was in the game they were playing well. How on earth they found out a way to lose that game against Byron Leftwich is beyond me. When a team only has one win this late in the season it seems like nothing can go right. I simply cannot pick the Chiefs to win right now with the way things have been going. It is very possible that by the end of the game Matt Cassel will be on the receiving end of more boos than the Bengals are if he fails to have any success. Also the Bengals may have a little bit of an added incentive now knowing that the Steelers could be without Roethlisberger for an extended amount of time. This means the race for the Wild Card has gotten a whole lot more interesting. Look for the Bengals to capitalize here.
Cincinnati 30, Kansas City 9
New York Jets @ St Louis Rams
Believe it or not I did have some trouble picking this game. Every couple of weeks the Jets do come out and play some watchable football and this seems to be a game where they could get something done. But let’s face it, the Rams’ punter John Hekker has a better quarterback rating than Mark Sanchez. Sadly it is actually more than double: 158.3 vs. 70.4. The Rams were also able to do the unthinkable and that is run the ball on the San Francisco 49ers. They could have won that game had it not been for an illegal formation penalty eliminating the 80-yard pass hookup with Amendola in overtime. I think St Louis gives the Jets all they can handle in this contest. Hey, at least I’m spotting the Jets an offensive touchdown in this game.
St Louis 20, New York 10
Philadelphia Eagles @ St Louis Rams
Let the Nick Foles era begin. He will indeed get the start this week following a serious concussion to Michael Vick who will more likely than not be heading off to a team like Buffalo next season. If this is indeed a glimpse into the future then a good performance from this talented young rookie would be much desired for Philadelphia fans. If you want to speak of talented young rookies, let’s talk about RGIII. He has been causing headaches for a lot of defenses in the early goings of his career. The dual threat resembles Michael Vick very much so, only his team’s fan-base actually believes in him. Another promising young rookie in Alfred Morris looks to run for over 100 yards against the Eagles defense, which has not allowed an individual back to do this since the last time these two teams played back in Week 17 last season (Evan Royster). I don’t expect the Redskins to run a ton of option plays until they establish a quick passing game. It will be tough to fool the defensive ends who play in the wide-9, as well as the fact that the Eagles do not blitz a lot so they will be able to read this a little bit better than a more aggressive defense would. Todd Bowles really turned things around last week when his defense played great against the Cowboys. The Eagles have not played against a team that has a scrambling quarterback yet this season so this will present a challenge in and of itself. The Redskins will probably confuse the Eagles with a lot of standing blitzes (much like what the Saints did). Why wouldn’t you with a rookie QB behind a bad offensive line? That could create a couple of turnovers. The Eagles will drop their sixth straight, but finally score over 24 points against the second worst defense in the league.
Washington 34, Philadelphia 27
New Orleans Saints @ Oakland Raiders
The Raiders have given up an average of 47.5 points over their last two games. Now Drew Brees comes to town, and has to be licking his chops after playing well against the division rival Atlanta Falcons. If both teams don’t score over 30 points against each other I will be surprised seeing as how two of the top three passers (in terms of yardage) will be playing in this game. Both teams are in a groove when they have the ball and it is games like these that make me forget that a pass defense even exists. The winner of this game will be the team that can run the ball the best. Chris Ivory has been playing very well with the absence of Darren Sproles. His 56-yard TD run was nothing short of amazing last week. Pierre Thomas and Mark Ingram will also be getting the ball in a system that is as close to the 2008 version of the Giants “earth, fire, and wind” combination as you are going to see nowadays. If the Saints can establish a ground game against a not so good Raiders’ run defense, then they will be golden. Without Darren McFadden the Raiders will not be able to run the ball. They will probably be playing from behind for a majority of the game as well. The Saints should dominate this game on offense in a track-meet.
New Orleans 45, Oakland 34
San Diego Chargers @ Denver Broncos
The last time these two hooked horns was a moment that will cause Peyton Manning will smile while Philip Rivers cringes about the mere thought of it. A comedy of errors in the second half lead to a monster Denver comeback (from down 24-0). This time around it is the Chargers who are looking to redeem themselves with a strong performance in the Mile High air where they have won three straight. This is a case where if the Chargers can win against a strong division opponent then that could provide a huge boost of confidence for them as they vie for a playoff spot. Philip Rivers said he was excited about matching up with Manning twice every season. I wonder what he is thinking now after basically going all in and showing up with nothing but a high card. A great game from him against a solid defense would spark his team and himself, but the likelihood of that happening is very slim. Drew Brees struggled to get things going against the Broncos a couple of weeks ago, as did Ben Roethlisberger in Week 1. The teams that were able to beat Denver have gotten a running game going against them. If the Broncos can shut down Ryan Mathews and Ronnie Brown (plus whoever else the Chargers try to throw at them) then they will be in good shape for the rest of the game. Peyton Manning should have another good afternoon against a team that is struggling to close out games this year. The Broncos do not have that problem; they scored 19 points in the second half last week. This one could be close early, but the Broncos will pull away late and make it look elementary.
Denver 38, San Diego 24
Indianapolis Colts @ New England Patriots
The more things change, the more they stay the same. The Patriots and Colts were always known for playing in big games. This year the two will not disappoint; going in with identical 6-3 records in front of a raucous New England crowd. Of course the same quarterback duel we have all come to know and love is not going to be featured in this late-window contest. Instead we may witness the birth of a new one between a guy named Andrew Luck and one Tom Brady. Luck will have to be on the ball this Sunday if he expects to win. Going into the game with the expectation that you are going to have to score every time you have the ball may not be all that unrealistic. If there was any year where a rookie quarterback could beat a Tom Brady/Bill Belichick team then this would be it. We have already seen it happen once in Seattle and the Pats sometimes do not look as sharp on the field as they have in years past. I guess they are not as flashy with the passing statistics as we are used to with the emergence of a very good running game, but there is only so far an offense can go to cover up a bad defense. Perhaps the acquisition of Aquib Talib will work wonders for a team that has been yearning for a top CB for a few years. He will probably be handcuffed to Reggie Wayne for a majority of the game, giving other receivers such as TY Hilton or Donnie Avery a chance to catch more balls. Luck also has the benefit of two great young tight ends in Colby Fleener and Dwayne Allen so there will be no excuses for any poor play on the offense for Indy. Last year the Colts almost came back from something like 24 down in New England. I am expecting a close game with back and forth action, just like the good ole days between Manning and Brady. Much like many of those contests, Brady will come out on top after a late fourth quarter comeback.
New England 32, Indianapolis 29
Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers
With Roethlisberger out this Sunday, this game would seem as if it would be one-sided. This is not the case for 2012. In year’s past this has always been a defensive battle; one where each heavyweight dishes out punishment for a round and then waits in the corner and plans what they are going to do to the opponent next. Nothing should change here despite the fact that the Baltimore defense is not a fearsome as it once was with the loss of a couple of key players. Even when they are giving up a lot of yards in a game they are typically holding the opponent to a field goals, which causes the opposing score to be lower. Pittsburgh’s defense is, once again, at the top of the league (as it has been for so many years). They have the uncanny ability to take a good offense and shut them down (take a look at all four of their games with NFC East opponents). There ain’t no way the Ravens will drop 55 on the Steelers. With this in mind you should know that it will be a close game despite Byron Leftwich filling in. That said, I am still taking the Ravens in this game to win their third straight against their hated rivals, and third of their last four at Heinz Field. While I do believe this will still be a close game it is not mind-boggling to say that Baltimore is the clear favorite to win. For the Steelers. losing Roethlisberger is like losing vision in one eye; you will still come out swinging, but a few shots might miss and will ultimately cost you the fight. (It does take a couple of boxing metaphors to describe this heavyweight fight). The Ravens will stack the box in order to stop the run and force Leftwich to beat their secondary- that’s just not going to happen. My vote goes to the road dogs here.
Baltimore 24, Pittsburgh 13
Chicago Bears @ San Francisco 49ers
When the Bears stumble into San Fran, we can only hope the lights will stay on for this affair (remember Week 15 last season vs. Pittsburgh?). I don’t care if we see two backup quarterbacks dueling on Monday Night, the main headline in this game was going to be defense. The 49ers strength lies in the fact that they do not typically beat themselves with costly turnovers. On the reverse side of the coin the Bears’ defense counts on their opponents to put the ball on the ground and make mistakes. Of course the Niners have a great defense in their own right and will absolutely suffocate its opponents at times. The Bears offense was missing some pizzazz once Cutler left with a concussion last week. This is partially because Mike Tice dialed back the play-calling quite a bit with Jason Campbell in the game. If Jay turns out to be a scratch it will be easy for the Bears to improvise. I am sure they have prepared a game plan for both situations. The 49ers plan will remain the same with or without Alex Smith on Monday night. They want to run the football down their opponent’s throat. The Texans had some moderate success with this last week and ultimately won the game because they could pound the rock. For that same reason I am going to side with the 49ers at home here. I think that San Francisco is able to run the ball (like always) and restrict the types of passes made from either Smith or Kaepernick since the Bears thrive with creating turnovers. The 49ers are not exempt from making mistakes though. I think Chicago still forces at least one turnover to keep this game close. In the end it will be San Fran in the four minute offense draining the clock down. If you missed the Bears and Texans game last Sunday night, this one is bound to be a repeat. It is going to be a low scoring, hard hitting slug-fest that reminds us old-school football fans of what life was like in the ’80’s.
San Francisco 15, Chicago 9
One quick note here: from this point forward I will be labeling all of the games I actually see live with the title “Post Game Breakdown” and those I do not get a chance to see will be recognized as “Post Game Thoughts”. I will be doing this hoping to eliminate any confusion in the future. Thank you for reading and be sure to check back Friday for my Thursday Night Football recap and after Sunday to read my thoughts and analyses on all of the other 13 games from Week 11!