Indianapolis Colts @ Jacksonville Jaguars
When these two teams got together in Week 3 it was the Jaguars who won, but after gushing about how Andrew Luck played last week (and really all year) there is no way I am going to turn my back on him now. The Colts should be able to handle the Jags on the road this Thursday night.
The Jaguars have been bitten by the injury bug in the worst spot they could have imagined: running back. After his injury during their week 7 scuffle with the Raiders, Maurice Jones-Drew is yet to take the field again. It will not happen in this game either; he is already ruled out. This means another starting role for Rashad Jennings who hasn’t been super impressive up to this point. He has only been able to run for about 3.1 yards/carry so far this year and has scored just one TD. The Jaguars do not have the best offensive line, and the team is in a trailing position a lot so they have not had much of a chance to utilize their running game. I predict that the Jaguars will try to control the clock early in order to try and keep Andrew Luck and the Indy offense on the sidelines. Jennings may be able to have a nice game, especially if Jacksonville can manage to nab an early lead.
Chances are this will not happen. I do have a lot of confidence in what Andrew Luck can do when the ball is in his hands. If he is able to play anything like he did last week then this game could turn out to be laugher. Unless Blaine Gabbert can shoulder the load on offense, then I fully expect Indy to roll here. Justin Blackmon has not gotten the chance to blossom yet and outside of him and Marcedes Lewis, the Jaguars wide receiving corps. is a collection of no-namers that a lot of people have not heard of. The first time the Jags were graced with an 80 yard TD by Cecil Shorts. I don’t mean to sound cruel but that is the very definition of a fluke win. The Colts should redeem themselves here and make the jump to 6-3.
Indianapolis 31, Jacksonville 14
Oakland Raiders @ Baltimore Ravens
About a month ago there would have been no hesitation on my part to pick the Ravens in this one. Baltimore plays well at home and the Raiders are… the Raiders. A lot has changed in the past month though; the Raiders have played well on the road going 2-1 and the Ravens have not looked like themselves since the injury to Ray Lewis. This could be because of the fact that they have played two straight road games. Whatever the case, I do not expect this one to be a cakewalk for Baltimore. The Raiders will put up a fight, much like they did in Atlanta, but will still lose.
If Ray Rice does not get the ball in his belly at least 20 times in this game then there will be a problem. After seeing Doug Martin gash the Raiders’ defense last week Cam Cameron should make it a point to feed Ray Rice. I understand that Joe Flacco plays much better at home than on the road, but come on- this one should be easy pickings. Rice should chalk up a 100+ yard performance and score a couple of times in an important win for the Ravens. They need to play with a bit of motivation in this game because Pittsburgh is coming for them in the standings. A win for the birds this week will bump their record up to 7-2 and they will play the Steelers next week on the road for the division lead (since Mike Tomlin’s crew should stomp a mud-hole in the Chiefs on Monday night to improve to 6-3). I think the Ravens will pick up the important win here.
Baltimore 34, Oakland 20
Denver Broncos @ Carolina Panthers
John Fox returns to Carolina this week in what should be a pretty interesting game. The last time Peyton Manning played the Panthers, he guided his team to a 31-7 win which brought his team to 7-0. This time around he hopes to guide his team to their sixth win of the year vs. a Carolina team that picked up their first win since Week 2 last Sunday vs. Washington. Can Cam Newton and the Panthers make it two in a row, or will it be Peyton Manning marching out of Charlotte with his head high?
The Broncos found out that it was no easy task to travel into Cincinnati last week, but they did manage to skate by with a 31-23 win. Had it not been for a Trindon Holliday 105 yard kickoff return, that game could have been a nail-biter. The Panthers could present a bit of a challenge this week for the Broncos. While everybody has been asleep on the Carolina defense, they have been able to hold opposing passers to 1,792 yards this year which is good for 13th in the league. They have only allowed 9 passing touchdowns against them which is tied for sixth in the league. The Panthers were finally able to get their running game going (be it against a shoddy Redskins defense). They ran for 128 yards (4.8/carry) and 2 TDs. Steve Smith finally erased the goose egg that he had in the TD column with a score last week. Also, they probably should have won the week before in Chicago. Let’s face it: the Panthers are playing better football so far in the second half of this season. It was around this time last year when the Panthers were able to begin throwing up a bunch of W’s. They could be primed to do it again with their remaining schedule.
Even though the Panthers could be on the right track I simply cannot pick them because of what the Broncos have: a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Peyton Manning, and the former Carolina head coach John Fox. He could have some inside information on what the Panthers will be trying to do in this one. There is just too much to like about this red-hot Denver team. Their defense is also shutting their opponents down as of late. The Broncos should have enough fire-power to win this one.
Denver 38, Carolina 16
New York Giants @ Cincinnati Bengals
After losing an emotional game at home against a tough AFC North opponent, the Giants draw another one in the Cincinnati Bengals. The Bengals have been known to play the Giants close, as evidenced by final scores of 26-23 (NYG), 23-22 (CIN), and 29-27 (NYG). Those are just the last three games these two teams have had together, and I have a feeling that this one will not be one-sided either. Things will be getting really tough for the Giants soon; they have the most difficult schedule to end the year in the entire league. They need this win to bring the team to 7-3 right before their BYE.
The key in this game is whether or not the Giants’ secondary can hold up. New York has given up the second most pass plays of over 20 yards this season (45 to New England’s 48). There is no doubt in my mind that Andy Dalton’s right arm will be on display in this one. It will be interesting to see how the Giants choose to cover AJ Green. I expect a lot of double coverage or one on one with safety help over the top. If they do decide to roll with single coverage they may need an invisible force-field to prevent Dalton from getting the ball into Green’s hands. Jermaine Gresham did impress last week and could also get quite a few looks this Sunday as Green draws coverage in this game. I am still waiting for Ben Jarvus Green-Ellis to have his breakout game in a Bengals uniform. Perhaps this will be the game he does; the Giants did struggle with Issac Redman who is the same type of back.
With all of the match-up problems the Bengals present on offense, the Giants match that with a nightmarish amount of play-makers on their team. The Bengals defense has struggled with routes that break in between the numbers this season. All of the Giants’ wide receivers love to run option routes towards that area of the field which could wreak havoc for Cincy on Sunday. Eli Manning has had time to scan the field this season. He is the least sacked QB in the NFL, and that is a direct reflection of how the offensive line has performed. There have been times this year where the line has given him enough time to tie his shoe. I do not expect it to be that way in this game. The Bengals have done a good job with pressuring the opposing QBs this season, racking up 23 sacks.
I am expecting this one to be a good game. Each of these teams have very different styles and methods to getting things done. The Bengals just got through with seeing one Manning at home and didn’t play too badly. Now they get the other one this week in a very important game. The Bengals need a win to keep pace in the AFC and the Giants need to build a little momentum after failing to deliver the “perfect ending” to the Super-storm Sandy tale against Pittsburgh last week. I wanted to take the Bengals in this one and came very close to doing so, but I will play it safe here and go with the Giants. Eli may need a fourth quarter comeback in what should be a very high scoring game.
New York 35, Cincinnati 31
Tennessee Titans @ Miami Dolphins
The Titans were beat badly by the Bears at home last week and are looking to right some wrongs against a pretty solid Miami squad. Is this a get right game for the Titans, or are the Dolphins yet another bad match-up for them? I think that Miami is the last team that they want to see after losing badly in Tennessee.
The Dolphins are about as fundamentally sound of a team as there is in the AFC. They make smart plays, the don’t turn the ball over too much, and they swarm to the ball on defense. I don’t see the Titans winning this game. They are much too inconsistent for my liking. Two weeks ago I picked them to beat the Colts. They were rolling at the time after big wins against the Steelers and the Bills. Then they came out and dropped two games to lower their record to 3-6. To me it seems like they are still trying to find their identity on offense. One week they are airing it out on offense and the next they are running the offense around Chris Johnson and his skill set. CK2K is inconsistent as well. One week he is running for 150 yards, the next he will do nothing. This is the kind of team that will really surprise you every week. They will either come out and play shockingly well or very bad. In this game, I think I will stick with a team like the Dolphins. They generally do what they have to do on the field. Joe Philbin has them coached up really well. I was impressed with what I saw from Ryan Tannehill last week. He can have spot on accuracy. I do have a gut feeling that Chris Johnson will have a nice game (even though the Dolphins are nearly impossible to run against), but Reggie Bush will do him one better. This one could be a low scoring affair. I’m going to go with the “Phins.
Miami 17, Tennessee 10
Detroit Lions @ Minnesota Vikings
We have here two teams that are headed in opposite directions. The Lions started off 1-3 in the first quarter of the season. During the second half they went 3-1 with their one loss coming to the Bears. Meanwhile the Vikings started off 3-1 and have since gone 2-3. The winner of this game will be in good shape for the remainder of the season, and I predict that the loser will tail off. I have to go with Detroit here. They are heating up and looking more like the team that wen 5-0 to start last season.
Luckily for all fans of the NFL, Adrian Peterson did not lose anything with his ACL injury. It is just as entertaining to see him run this year as it has been any other. He still has that remarkable vision and the will-power to get first downs to help his team win games. The offense has run through him and Percy Harvin to this point. The only problem with that is the fact that Harvin is banged up with an ankle injury. Injuries to that area of the body tend to linger throughout the year, and we may see a drop off in his production. Not many teams are able to win games with a solid running game and no other offensive talent. The Vikes may be in trouble, unless someone else is able to step up.
Detroit has injuries too. Calvin Johnson has had problems with his knee this season that has limited him in practice. The difference with the Lions is the fact that if Johnson went down, I would expect someone else to step up at wide receiver. They have a quarterback in Matthew Stafford who can get the ball down field to anybody who decides they can get open. I have more trust in a Lion’s offense that has proven that they can play at an elite level at points this season.
Even though this high-powered attack that the Lions bring to the table has been snuffed out at times this season, I think that this time around the Lions will have the edge. Last season the Vikings (who finished 2-14) played the Lions very tough and could have won both of these divisional games. I don’t expect Minnesota to lie down in this one, but I do think that Detroit will try to attack the Vikings through the air and bust this game open from the start. If the game turns out to be a track meet, I don’t think the Vikings will be able to keep up.
Detroit 31, Minnesota 19
Buffalo Bills @ New England Patriots
The first time these two teams met this season, the Pats put up a record 45 points in the second half and ran wild on a Bills’ defense that didn’t show a whole lot of resistance. Bill Belichick and his team have had an extra week to mull this one over and I expect them to pick up where they left off in Week 4.
New England 42, Buffalo 23
Atlanta Falcons @ New Orleans Saints
This was one of the games that I had difficulty trying to break down. I will give it a shot though. The 8-0 Falcons are obviously sitting atop the entire NFL with their perfect record and have won all types of games this year against many different types of teams. The Saints game against the Broncos proved to be a minor hiccup when they went out and laid out the Eagles last Monday night. New Orleans has played pretty well since Week 4 and since this is a divisional game, anything can happen. These two teams almost always play entertaining games and I am looking forward to seeing these two teams lay it on the line this Sunday.
Expect the ball to be in the air in this game. I have a feeling that each team will try to establish a running game early and fail simply because the two defenses may be stacking the box early in order to put the opposing offense in 2nd and 3rd and long situations. I can expect that both of these teams will be able to climb out of that type of hole, therefore I will have to tip my cap to the team that can sustain their drives the longest in this game. The Falcons are great at drawing up 10+ play 6 minute+ drives that result in touchdowns. The Falcons do a good job at finishing what they started. Last week against Dallas was a little bit different. They were unable to punch it in until the fourth quarter, but their defense held them afloat for a majority of that game. The Saints at this point could not count on their defense to help them out if their offense is slowed down. Take the Denver game for example. New Orleans did not move the ball very well in that game. A good team should be able to rely on its defense to stop the opponent, but that was not the case. Granted, it was against a Peyton Manning led offense but there is no convincing me that this type of thing would not happen again if Drew Brees was off during a given week. At this point the Falcons are doing whatever it takes to win. The Saints are doing the only thing they can to win. My trust in this game lies within Matt Ryan. Atlanta has shown me something this year; I have picked against them in consecutive weeks and they won both times. It is time for me to jump back on the bandwagon. I like what is going on in Atlanta. This just might be their year.
Atlanta 30, New Orleans 26
San Diego Chargers @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I am not a big believer in the Chargers at this point. They have yet to beat a team that has more than one win (at the time when the two played). Philip Rivers can still be considered as an upper-echelon quarterback but what he has around him isn’t exactly the A-Team. I think that he is trying to develop a chemistry with all of his new receivers while still favoring his old targets, which is usually a sign of disaster. Back in 2009, he was able to stand in the pocket and scan the field for an open target. Nowadays it almost seems like he is hesitant to deliver the ball to some of his new targets and he is opting to squeeze the ball in to his more “established” receivers. Also, after seeing what Doug Martin has done the past couple of weeks and what Josh Freeman has been doing most of this season, it seems almost criminal for me to pick against the Bucs. Well, you can lock me up because I am picking the Chargers here.
Rivers may be in a perfect position to get his game right against the suspect Buccaneers pass defense which ranks 32nd in the league. It may be hard for San Diego to get their running game going but they may not need it in this one. Tampa Bay will probably jump out to an early lead, but Philip Rivers will take advantage of their defense and throw for a nice pile of yardage in a come-from-behind effort. I am putting the Bucs on upset alert because their pass defense will not be able to hold back the Chargers aerial attack. This may give a few San Diego fans feeling very nostalgic as they may get a reminder as to what the offense used to be like when Rivers was in good rhythm with all of his receivers Just a side note here: I bet Rivers is going to be telling Vincent Jackson just how much he misses his big-play ability at the conclusion of this game.
San Diego 26, Tampa Bay 21
New York Jets @ Seattle Seahawks
Russel Wilson leads all rookie QBs with 13 passing TDs, with 9 coming at home vs. only 1 pick. The Jets have only won once on the road this year, and it was an overtime game that they could have just as easily lost. We are still waiting to see some more of Tim Tebow, who has not had a huge impact on the season yet. If the Jets score a TD, maybe Rex Ryan should do what he said he was going to do in August- go for the two point conversion. That may be the only thing that could spark this offense in a game where points could be at a premium. The Seahawks are undefeated at home, and I do not expect the Jets to change anything. The ‘Hawks will soar higher than the Jets in this one.
Seattle 17, New York 8
Dallas Cowboys @ Philadelphia Eagles
Where to begin with this one… well lets start with the fact that the last time that either of these two teams won a game was back in Week 7. When was the last time that either of these team was to score over 30 points? We have to turn the calendars back to January 1st when the Eagles totaled 34 points against the Redskins. Both of these teams have shared similar fates this season- failing to live up to expectations and committing a handful of turnovers. Both Dallas and Philly are in must-win mode this week because the loser of this game may be looking forward to next year where they may see a new head coach.
The Eagles’ offensive line needs to shape up in a hurry. If they play another game like they did on Monday night, then they will have to scrape Michael Vick up off the turf with a spatula. I would be willing to bet that DeMarcus Ware is licking his chops right now because he knows he may have a couple of free shots at Philly’s QB on Sunday. Rob Ryan will probably have Ware lined up at right defensive end more than usual so that way he can attack Vick from his blindside. I expect the Cowboys front seven to put a lot of pressure on the Eagles by blitzing early and often in this one. Andy Reid and Marty Mornhinwig should have a game plan ready for this though. If he is smart, he will design a lot of quick passes, screens, and draws early in order to slow down the pass rush. What I don’t understand is why the Eagles don’t have Vick doing some hard play-action passes into big roll outs to his left. Unless the opposing defense decides to bring a dog blitz, then this should work. Last week he delivered a 77-yard TD pass to Jackson on this type of a play. If the offensive line is not holding up, then why not get Vick out on the perimeter where he can make more plays and use his athletic ability to dupe the defense into missing tackles on his scrambles. If all else fails, give the ball to “Shady” McCoy. He went bonkers on the Cowboys defense last season. Plus they already have an airtight pass defense as it is so LeSean should get his fair share of carries if the Eagles want to win.
The Cowboy’s problems do not happen at the line of scrimmage, but rather deep down the field with interceptions, mis-communications, and dropped passes. Tony Romo currently leads the NFL in interceptions with 13, but much like how I believe Vick cannot be held responsible for all of his turnovers I think that Romo receives the short end of the stick a majority of the time as well. A couple of his picks happened when he was just trying to make a play, and others have come on those mis-communications with wide receivers. They Cowboys are a couple of plays away from being 2-0 in the division and 5-3 in the standings. The defense has done its best to keep the opponent from scoring this year, but there is not much anybody can do when the offense is turning the ball over and giving them a short field. Turnovers have plagued both of these teams this year. There is no doubt in my mind that the team that turns the ball over the least will win this game.
I do think the Eagles can work around their problems better than the Cowboys can. If a team knows their offensive line will not hold together throughout a game, then they can game-plan for that. Nobody can game-plan for poor execution, and that is what has hurt the Dallas the most all year. The Eagles should win in a squeaker if they can manage the Cowboy’s pass rush better than they did against New Orleans.
Philadelphia 20, Dallas 17
St. Louis Rams @ San Francisco 49ers
If the Rams could not score any more than 7 points against the New England Patriots last week, then they will be hung out to dry this week in the Golden State. I don’t say this much but the Rams might get pummeled by the Niners if they do not sustain drives.
San Francisco 27, St Louis 6
Houston Texans @ Chicago Bears
This is arguably the most intriguing game on the slate for the weekend. It is a match-up between two teams with top 10 defenses that sit atop their respective divisions at 7-1. For a majority of the week it was looking like Charles Tillman was not going to play in this game because he and his wife were expecting their fourth child on Sunday, but the delivery day was pushed back to Monday so he should be good to go. In games like this with two teams that know how to get after the ball on defense, one must ask: which team is better suited to win in these conditions? The Bears are playing at home in this one and do have the strength of their fans on their side. The Texans are undefeated on the road this season and can air it out against a team if they have to, or pound the rock with their explosive young back in Arian Foster. Because of their adaptability, I am leaning towards Houston in this one.
This one could be one of those in-your-face, bruising games with a lot of hard hitting and trash talking involved. Punches will certainly be thrown (via Tillman trying to force his eight fumble this year). JJ Watt will be looking for some more tipped passes and his 11th sack of the season. The ball will probably be on the ground a lot because of incompletions. The Bears and Texans really do match up well on paper. For every star offensive player on one side, there is another to counter. For instance we have Arian Foster vs. Matt Forte, Andre Johnson vs. Brandon Marshall, Jay Cutler vs. Matt Schaub; this one is going to be good.
My key to the game is going to be the Houston pass rush. If they can put a lot of pressure on Cutler, then I can almost guarantee that the Texans will win. Case in point, the Packers brought down Cutler eight times in the Bears’ only loss of the season. Carolina nearly pulled off an amazing upset victory when they threw Cutler around and sacked him six times. Wade Phillips should consider sending a couple of exotic blitzes at the Bears Sunday night. I don’t think their offensive line will be able to handle them all that well. We may see more quarterback knockdowns than points in this one. I am going to stick with the Texans, but it will not surprise me at all if the Bears win this game.
Houston 23, Chicago 13
Kansas City Chiefs @ Pittsburgh Steelers
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that the Steelers are going to win this game. The Chiefs can’t seem to get out of their own way with turnovers and poor play on the field. I thought that they may be able to play a little better last week against the Chargers but that did not happen. This game could be even uglier than last week’s debacle in San Diego. Matt Cassel will need to play a turnover-free game if the Chiefs have any hope of pulling off the upset in this one. I will revert back to what I said for the Jets @ Seahawks game: the Steelers are 3-0 at home this season. I would not believe that they could hand Pittsburgh their first loss at Heinz Field on Monday night. Then again, the Chiefs did almost pull off an upset against Pittsburgh last year with Tyler Palko at QB and I suppose anything is possible. Like the old saying goes: “On any given Sunday…” or Monday in this case. For this one I am going to go with “any given Thursday”, Thursday being draft night next April. The Chiefs could be giving guys like Matt Barkley or Geno Smith a call in the very near future. I have to go with the Steelers in this one.
Pittsburgh 28, Kansas City 10
Please check back later this week as I reflect on every single one of these games, right after they happen. Thank you for reading!