I’ve got a funny feeling about this one. After both teams exceeded expectations last week (notice how the Jaguars still lost), the two will meet down in Florida, a state where the Lions are just 15-20 all-time. Jacksonville did not let Green Bay walk all over them last week, and will not allow Detroit to do it either. However the Jaguars are 0-3 against the NFC North this year and 5-14 against the NFC since 2008. The numbers just don’t add up. I do think Detroit will be able to pick this one up and fight their way back to .500, but it will not be as easy as most people think.
Detroit 27, Jacksonville 24
As I eluded to in my post game breakdown of the Dolphins @ Jets game, this is a game I am looking forward to since the winning team will almost certainly be headed for the playoffs. I will be watching this one on Sunday and I am excited to see two of the hottest rookie quarterbacks squaring off in a very intriguing contest. Ryan Tannehill is currently listed as questionable for this game due to a knee injury. If he is a late scratch, look for Matt Moore to start in his place. I am going to operate under the assumption that Tannehill will play for the benefit of my analysis. My prediction will not be affected by whoever plays in this one because it is not the offense that I am focusing on for Miami. I am going to tell you why their defense should be enough to carry them to a narrow victory in this contest.
The Colts strength is the passing game, even with rookie Andrew Luck. He spreads the ball around as well as any quarterback in the league and typically makes the right reads as he scans the field. His knowledge of the game is at a level that is unprecedented for someone at such a tender age of 23. He already has three game winning drives under his belt, and has helped the Colts win twice as many games this season as they did all of last year. However, Luck has only played one defense that ranks in the top-15 and did not fare so well in that game. It was against Chicago during Week 1 and Luck threw three picks and completed only 51% of his passes (although he was able to throw for 307 yards). Indianapolis has done a nice job getting off to quick starts this season. In the first half of their games, they have scored 71 points, versus 65 points in the second half. Indy has held a lead in every game this season and have been highly competitive in most of their contests. For this, I have reason to believe that this will be yet another game that is very close and may come down to the final possession.
Two of the Dolphins’ three losses came in overtime (against New York and Arizona). Outside of the Houston game during Week 1, this team has looked very good. They are riding a three game winning streak which could possibly be extended to six if a couple of plays would have gone their way in their two overtime games. In my eyes, Miami is a very underrated team. Joe Philbin has his guys playing at a level that nobody expected coming into this season. Their defense swarms to the ball and makes sure-handed tackles. When Tannehill is smart with the ball, the team’s win/loss record reflects it. The Dolphins have not lost in a game when he does not throw an interception. Likewise, when he does the team has not won a game. Three of his six came during the Week 1 debacle in Houston. Also, in their wins Tannehill is completing 64% of all of his passes, and only 55% in their losses. As you can see, there is a direct correlation from games won to quarterback efficiency down in Miami. Why do I bring this up? Well the Colts defense has allowed 13 passing TDs to only 2 INTs. They have surrendered a 103.4 QBR to opposing passers and teams have completed 64.6% of all of their passes against this defense. In terms of yards allowed, the Colts are not all that bad because they do rank 7th in the league; allowing only 213 yards/game. However, Tannehill has proven that it isn’t the amount of yards that wins you the game. In his three losses he has passed for 846 yards and 626 in his four wins. I understand that he only attempted five passes last week against the Jets because of an injury, but to be honest these stats that I have just given you would not have been affected very much if I did not included them. In this game I look for whoever the Dolphins decide to send out at QB to be smart with the ball and rely heavily on Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas to pick up a victory.
In my eyes, the Dolphins are the more complete team. They run the ball well on offense, they have a smart guy calling the signals, and they have a fast defense that is nearly impossible to run against and can cause fits in the passing game. The Colts don’t run the ball well as it is, and I think Luck makes one mistake in this game that will ultimately cost his team. As I said before, I will give the winning team two to one odds of making the playoffs. In this situation, I believe Miami picks up the win… barley. After all, Luck does play much better at home.
Miami 20, Indianapolis 19
The Texans own the best record in the entire American Football Conference at 6-1. Their defense is #3 in the league, 5th against the pass and third against the run. They are the only team in the NFL to hold top 5 status in both categories. Houston’s offense is second in the league in points per game at 30.9. Buffalo on the other hand owns one of the worst defenses in the NFL, despite stealing former Texan Mario Williams away from free agency. They have allowed an average of 32.4 points per game. What is ironic about that stat is the fact that in three of their seven games, they have held their opponent to under 17 points. They are second worst in the league in terms of yards allowed per game at 424.1. All of this adds up to a big win for Houston. Look for a clean game out of Schaub and a nice game for Foster on the ground. Anybody who owns the Houston Texans D/ST in fantasy land should earn a nice chunk of points. I’m predicting at least 1 defensive score off of at least 3 turnovers forced.
Houston 41, Buffalo 19
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
The first game on the slate for Week 8 here in 2012 is a game that I think will be a good one (much like the contest these two teams had Week 2 last year). The Tampa Bay Buccaneers travel to Mall of America Field to take on the Minnesota Vikings. The Buccaneers have won the last five match-ups in this series, and the last two in Minnesota. I believe that they will make it six in a row on Thursday night.
To start, I want to point out the quarterback comparison. Josh Freeman is easily playing his best ball since his breakout 2010 season. But I am going to focus on his numbers since his team’s Week 5 BYE. Since that time Freeman has played very well. He has passed for 720 yards, 6 TDs, and only 1 INT. As a matter of a fact, if you include his game against the Redskins, he has passed for 1047 yards, 7 TD’s and 2 INTs. Over the past three games he has posted an astounding 16.6 yards/completion and a 105.9 QB rating. My point is that Freeman is at the top of his game and has shown a lot of growth in his fourth year in the NFL.
Speaking of showing growth, how about Christian Ponder? He has played phenomenally in his sophomore season. His numbers over the past three games have offset his fast start, but his team is currently 5-2 and sits in second place in the NFC North. His numbers have been better at home than on the road in his career, but not anything like Matt Ryan or Joe Flacco. He’s got two of the premiere players in the league at their respective positions in Percy Harvin and Adrian Peterson. Harvin has been playing at an all-pro level posting 53 catches, which is good for second in the league (Wes Welker), and 7 of those have gone for 20+ yards. He creates a match-up problem for a Tampa Bay defense that struggles badly in pass defense (31st in the league). However, their run defense fairs much better, ranking third in the league, allowing only 76 yards per game on the ground. What does this mean for Adrian Peterson? Well, I don’t think it will be any trip to the country club for him. The Tampa Bay front four does a good job at clogging the holes, and that will force Adrian Peterson to bounce it to the outside. This can be countered with the short pass, and I’m sure Percy Harvin and Kyle Rudolph will have nice games. Perhaps if the Vikings have a lead in the second half, Peterson will find some room to run.
I may have fed you a lot of information, but what I have said can be boiled down to this: Josh Freeman has been playing well (granted it has been against poor defenses), but he is hot right now. I believe he brings the momentum from last Sunday’s contest against the Saints with him to Minnesota on Thursday night. And Minnesota may find trouble trying to run the ball against Tampa’s defense. I do not think this will be a blowout by any stretch of the imagination. It may even take a fourth quarter comeback from Tampa Bay, but I will take them in this game because they have the hotter quarterback and are the most desperate team of the two (currently 2-4 and in a tie for second in the NFC South). Not to mention, it’s hard for me to imagine Minnesota getting off to a 6-2 start.
Tampa Bay 27, Minnesota 23