It’s kind of hard to be dissatisfied when you’re sitting at a 25-15 prediction record but hey, what can I say? I’m striving for excellence over here. I’ll get a chance to up my prediction record this week with some pretty serious matchups. Lucky for me I don’t have to worry about any serious injuries this week which should only lead to a clear head and forecast. Five-star matchups everywhere on this list of contenders and the games should live up to their billing. The first two you’ll read were pretty clear for me but as usual, things got a little murky after that. Should be a great weekend nevertheless, enjoy:
Denver Broncos (8-4) vs. Indianapolis Colts (12-0) 1 p.m.
The Colts have to lose at some point right? Right? Well … who knows? The Broncos know the feeling of being undefeated after a 6-0 start earlier in the season had folks mentioning home field advantage and Denver in the same sentence. Denver has rebounded nicely from a four-game losing slide of a few weeks ago and appears to be making a final run for their bid to win the AFC West Division. Standing in their way on Sunday, just the Colts, winners of their last 21-straight regular season games.
No matter what you do to Indianapolis; hold them below 20, carve up their secondary, run the ball all over them, the Colts just don’t lose. Peyton Manning is the best quarterback in the league and his defense is tied for second in the least amount of points given up per game. The Colts aren’t as loaded as years past, but obviously, they’re still a top team and they have more than enough weapons to duke it out with Denver on Sunday.
Ironically, the team Indy is tied with in points allowed is none other than the Broncos and their defense has done a good job of corralling some of the league’s more explosive offenses this season. Denver prefers to play ball control and methodically work itself down the field while their defense comes up with stop after stop but playing against Manning could require Denver to take more shots down the field than usual. With Brandon Marshall lining up out wide for the Broncos, going deep shouldn’t be too much of a problem but incumbent QB Kyle Orton isn’t exactly the QB that’s going to beat you deep.
But Manning is. Luckily for the Broncos, Manning struggles with pressure 3-4 defenses such as the one Denver plays. If the Broncos can bring the heat on Manning, they’ll give themselves a fighting chance on the road and their defensive pressure has been relentless in their last two games. This game could very well turn out to be a low scoring affair with both defenses playing pretty well right now. Typically in a game when you have two stout defenses, the tossup is determined by the quarterbacks and in a comparison between Manning and Orton, Manning wins every time. Colts 21-13
Cincinnati Bengals (9-3) vs. Minnesota Vikings (10-2) 1 p.m.
Bengals wideout Chad Ocho Cinco was fined $30,000 last week for donning a sombrero and poncho after he scored on a 36-yard pass reception against the Detroit Lions. Ocho Cinco has already promised to blow on the Vikings fight horn if he scores again on Sunday and against a defense that ranks 21st against the pass, Chad could be ready to open his wallet yet again.
Cincinnati has remained committed to the run for much of this year and one of the biggest reasons that the Vikes are ranked so low against the pass is because they rank third against the run, giving up only 84.2 yards a weekend. The Bengals will find it tough sledding on the road against Minnesota where the men in purple usually play outstanding defense. Cincinnati’s best chance to win will rest solely on the arm of Carson Palmer and his ability to pick apart a suspect Viking secondary.
Maybe I shouldn’t say solely. Palmer will be backed by his own stingy defense, a unit that is only giving up 81.8 yards on the ground, a number that should come in handy when the Bengals square off against Adrian Peterson on Sunday. Peterson is having another solid season and while Cincy’s initial goal will be to slow him, Peterson’s running mate, Brett Favre, has been the real story for the Vikings this year. Favre is having one of his best seasons ever and ironically, the Vikings’ best chance may rest solely on his arm and his own clamp down defense.
Both running backs could be nullified by opposing defenses and we may get to see a Farve/Palmer shootout. The Bengals don’t usually start as fast as the Vikings do so it will be important for Cincy to handle the Vikes’ early wave. Cincinnati has been methodical in its take downs of big name opponents this year and will probably have to pull off a similar trick if it plans to earn the upset. One thing that gets lost in the Bengals nine wins this year is that they haven’t exactly played their best ball in their last three games. The offense hasn’t scored over 18 points since week seven and speaking of the Bengals last three games: the Oakland Raiders, Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions. If the Bengals can’t score points against those teams, I don’t see how they’ll score enough points to topple Minnesota on the road. Vikings 28-16
San Diego Chargers (9-3) vs. Dallas Cowboys (8-4) 4:15 p.m.
If you had to pick one game to watch all weekend, this would probably be it. Phillip Rivers against Tony Romo. DeMarcus Ware and Shawn Merriman. Surprise receivers Miles Austin and Vincent Jackson. This game will have it all. The backdrops are everywhere in this one. Current Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips was San Diego’s former defensive coordinator and helped make Merriman into a star before coming to Dallas. Merriman, who outperformed Ware in his first three years as a rush linebacker (thanks to Phillips), was drafted one spot behind Ware in the ’05 draft. Even current ‘Boys defensive end Igor Olshansky is a former Charger but enough about the story plot.
With their divisional brothers chomping at their heels, this is a game that neither club can afford to lose. A Cowboy loss will result in a fall from atop the NFC East and a Charger loss would erase the half game lead they have over the Broncos should Denver win against the Colts. San Diego is on a seven-game win streak and is beginning to look like a serious Super Bowl contender. The defense is playing light years ahead of the dismal displays they were putting on in the early part of the season and Rivers has catapulted himself into the second best quarterback in the AFC.
It’s a known fact that the Cowboys struggle in December but with an upcoming showdown with the New Orleans Saints creeping, Dallas should be looking at this game as a must win. Dallas was scheduled to be a dominant running team prior to the start of the season but it’s clear the ‘Boys have resorted back to their aerial assaulting ways. Ironically, San Diego thrives against the pass and with solid cover corners Antonio Cromartie and Quentin Jammer roaming deep, the Cowboys would be best served to attack on the ground.
But the Cowboys haven’t shown a commitment to attack on the ground and after seeing Romo air it out a career-high 55 times last week against the Giants, they probably won’t recommit this week either. Dallas’ defense is going to have to get some severe pressure against San Diego because Rivers loves to loft it out for his shooting guard-sized receivers to make plays on the ball. Dallas’ secondary isn’t too shabby but compared to the Chargers wideouts, it could be easy picking for San Diego’s group.
You could draw straws on this game as both offenses and defenses are very similar. The difference is that Dallas is at home and needs this game way more than San Diego does. I could see the Cowboys playing tight and the Chargers’ carefree vertical game dropping bombs all over Cowboys stadium but I think Dallas is a mature enough group to recognize what’s at stake and hold serve at home. Cowboys 27-24
Philadelphia Eagles (8-4) vs. New York Giants (7-5) 8:20 p.m.
40-17. That was the score the last time the Eagles met up with the Giants. Think the G-Men forgot about that? Think again. Remarkably, New York is at a good spot this late in the season after dropping four-straight games. After sweeping the Cowboys last week, the Giants have the chance to take back the division with a win against the Eagles and that aspect coupled with their last meeting should be enough motivation to have the Giants fired up on Sunday night.
But the Eagles won’t flinch in the face of a bully. This same Philadelphia team went on the road in last year’s playoffs and dropped the top ranked Giants in front of their home fans in a 23-11 Eagles win. Philadelphia has won three straight and will welcome back explosive wideout DeSean Jackson after the sophomore missed last week’s game with a concussion. New York’s weakness has been their pass defense all season and Philly QB Donovan McNabb and head coach Andy Reid just love to air it out.
New York’s forgotten pass rush will have to be on their P’s and Q’s for this one. The Giants secondary is obviously struggling right now and after allowing 392 yards and three scores to Tony Romo last week, New York can ill-afford to let McNabb sit back and wing it on them. Given time, McNabb will dismantle any secondary and for a depleted one such as New York’s, the Eagles could have a field day.
Ball control will be critical for the Giants, who received some big plays from burly runner Brandon Jacobs last week. New York isn’t the same pounding team they used to be and their reluctance to grind it out could spell trouble for the G-Men. Signal caller Eli Manning has emerged into a dangerous QB but he doesn’t have the weapons or confidence to match McNabb throw for throw. Against the Eagles’ ball-hawks and due to his own inconsistent defense, Manning could be put into a position to try to accomplish more than he’s built for.
Even with that being said, the Giants showed a lot of heart last week after being down 10-0 to the Cowboys. A mini tussle between Giants pass rusher Justin Tuck andDallas offensive tackle Flozell Adams sparked the fight in New York and put the toughness back into their team. When it comes to toughness, there isn’t a more physical team in the NFC East besides New York and that should go a long way as the G-Men make their bid to reclaim the NFC East. Giants 24-20
16-12 on the year but I feel good about this week though. This weeked isn’t as appetizing as the recent weeks have been but nevertheless; it’s still a good one. It’s rivalry week around the league with some old friends reacquainting themselves with one another. Rivalry games is what football is made out of and teams get to flex their muscle this week. Rivalry games are usually close so viewers should be treated to some competitive games. But of course, anything can happen but when it comes to what I think… here goes nothing.
Washington Redskins (3-6) vs. Dallas Cowboys (6-3)
Normally I don’t highlight games featuring a below .500 team but the Redskins/Cowboys rivalry is a game where you wipe the records off the plate. The Redskins have struggled all season but showed some signs of life last week in their 27-17 win over the Denver Broncos. Dallas was hot before last Sunday’s 17-7 loss at Green Bay but both teams will be refocused when they resume their long time rivalry this week.
Washington will enter the game with Ladell Betts starting over the injured Clinton Portis at running back. Betts led the team with 114 rushing yards last week and added a touchdown late in the fourth quarter. He gives the Redskins some fresh legs and returns the spunk the Washington running game. Betts’ performance will be critical against Dallas because Washington still hasn’t found a consistent passing attack. If Betts gets going, maligned quarterback Jason Campbell won’t be forced to carry the load which is a recipe for disaster for the Redskins.
Establishing Betts will be hard to do against the Cowboys however. Dallas hasn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher all season and will undoubtedly stack the line and dare Campbell to beat them. The Dallas defense has been playing extremely well over the last few weeks and will pose a major problem for Washington with their speed and quickness. Washington already doesn’t pass protect well and that’s exciting news for guys like DeMarcus Ware and Bradie James.
Tony Romo and the Dallas offense will try to bounce back from last week’s one touchdown performance and Washington could be the perfect opponent. In their last three games, Washington has allowed scores of 40, 75, 30, 58, 67 and 57 yards. For big-play specialists like Felix Jones and Miles Austin, a rebound could definitely be in the cards. Dallas is a team known for two things: big plays and pressuring the passer. In the last few weeks, Washington has been known for several things but mostly: allowing big plays and failing to protect the passer. Washington will be up for the game but with so many gaps in their play the last few weeks, Dallas will bounce back and chop down the Skins. Cowboys 27-17
Atlanta Falcons (5-4) vs. New York Giants (5-4)
The Giants’ backs are against the wall. They’ve lost four straight and Minnesota and New Orleans continue to pile up victories, making winning the NFC East or at least finishing strong a must if they want to get into the playoffs. Their bye week couldn’t have come at a better time. They had a week off to clear their heads and refocus on how they want to attack their remaining seven games.
They could start with the run game. New York has gotten away from their bread and butter this year and has let QB Eli Manning air it out. With Manning nursing a foot injury and a group of inconsistent wideouts, getting back to the ground would probably be best for all parties involved. The collapse of the once feared Giant defense has been the most troubling throughout their skid but they’ll get an Atlanta team coming to town that’s been struggling offensively as of late.
While the Falcons have been running the ball with some serious authority in the last few weeks, QB Matt Ryan has slumped considerably. Ryan has thrown three touchdowns and six interceptions in his last three games as Atlanta has dropped to 1-3 in its last four. While his running mate Michael Turner has been on a tear recently, he’ll miss Sunday’s game with a sprained ankle, putting even more pressure on the sophomore signal caller.
Atlanta will need to attack New York’s secondary if they want to win. New York has allowed eleven touchdown passes over the course of their four game losing streak. Without Turner though, Atlanta loses the threat of play-action and the Giants will be allowed to tee off on Ryan. Atlanta isn’t the strongest defense but they aren’t the worse. Against New York however, the Falcons will have to be prepared to stop the run because the Giants will be sure to reinforce the run coming off four consecutive losses and a bye. This is a game New York has to win and a team in desperation mode coming off a bye week shouldn’t be picked against. Giants 34-16
Indianapolis Colts (9-0) vs. Baltimore Ravens (5-4)
Bill Belichik personally let the Colts off the hook last week by going for it on fourth-and-2 within his own 30. New England was inches away from handing Indy their first loss of the season but Baltimore will try to be the first opponent to break the Colts’ 18-game regular season winning streak. Peyton Manning is having another MVP-type season and is carrying an offense with no running game. The Colts’ defense has been losing bodies but packaged together a nice game plan late in the game to overtake the Patriots last week.
Baltimore is entering a rough patch in their schedule. Over the next three weeks the Ravens will see Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and Green Bay. Beating Indy would be a huge confidence booster for a team that’s somewhat unsure of themselves at this point. Baltimore’s 5-4 record has several around the league questioning if Baltimore is a serious contender this year but upending Manning would restore a lot of confidence.
The Ravens will have to turn the heat up on Manning to get him out of his comfort zone but that’s easier said than done. Baltimore loss premier pass rusher Terrell Suggs last Monday to an errant block from Cleveland QB Brady Quinn. With Haloti Ngata nursing an ankle injury and his status questionable, the Ravens could be without two key members from their front seven.
Baltimore’s best chance to win may come down to a shootout between Manning and sophomore QB Joe Flacco. The Ravens’ offense has been struggling recently, averaging 11.5 points per game in the last two weeks. The Colts’ secondary is depleted however, and behind the backing of a raucous crowd that despises everything associated with Indianapolis, the Baltimore offense could undergo a revival. But even if they do get into a shootout, Manning has the moxie and weapons to win that battle. Regardless of how depleted Indianapolis’ secondary is, Manning is going to keep them in the game and just like he’s shown all season, if you keep him around enough, he’ll get you in the end. Colts 28-24
San Diego Charges (6-3) vs. Denver Broncos (6-3)
San Diego has to be going into this game ready to punch Denver square in the mouth. The Broncos handed San Diego an embarrassing Monday night loss a few weeks ago when Eddie Royal returned two kicks in a 34-23 win that left the Chargers reeling at 2-3. San Diego has won four straight since then while the Broncos have lost three straight.
With both teams 6-3 the division is on the line. Denver’s QB Kyle Orton sustained an ankle injury last week against the Redskins and his status is up in the air for this week’s game. If Orton is unable to play, it would be a huge blow for Denver. His backup, Chris Simms, has proven that he’s no more than an adequate player in the league and he’ll struggle to match Chargers’ QB Philip Rivers throw for throw.
This game will be on the Broncos defense to win and if the last three weeks has been any indication, they’ll struggle to contain San Diego’s high-profile passing attack. Teams have averaged 28.3 points per game against Denver’s vaunted defense over the last few weeks and San Diego scores four touchdowns in a game on a bad day. Regardless if Orton plays or not, Denver’s offense is going to be hampered with either a healthy Simms or a hobbled Orton. The Broncos will have to hold San Diego below 20 points if they expect to win.
The winners of four straight, San Diego is on the up and up. Motivation from an earlier loss will be extra motivation for the Chargers, knowing the game is on the line. San Diego is catching the Broncos at the perfect time with Orton’s status questionable and their defense second guessing what they’re doing. Trying to contain the Chargers’ offense is close to impossible right now, especially with LaDainian Tomlinson starting to come on. Rivers and a running game is the recipe for the victory and San Diego will be ready to take advantage of now suspect Bronco team. Chargers 28-16
OK I have to admit something: my math was a little bit off when I falsely claimed I had a 10-7 prediction record. After further review my record stands at 10-5, qualifying me as a bad mathematician but a respectable NFL predictor. If you need proof, check for yourself. I’ve been predicting for the last three…er four weeks and I’ve cumulated records of 3-1, 3-1, 4-0 and 0-3. Add ’em up and you get 10-5.
So yes, I am a genius but I’m approaching dangerous waters this week though. Four five-star matchups on the table and I’m only certain about one of them. The rest are toss ups but for a genius like me, I’m sure I’ll come away with another flawless record. And even if I don’t, I’ll just lie to you all and say I got them all right since none of you checked me on my bad math before. Read and enjoy:
Denver Broncos (6-0) vs. Baltimore Ravens (3-3)
I really need to stop picking against the Broncos. I’ve picked against Denver the last three times they’ve been on this board and I’m 0-3 in doing so. They’re fresh off a bye and have their minds set on home field advantage in the playoffs. The Ravens have lost three straight and are falling further behind the curve as the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals continue to win.
Although Baltimore QB Joe Flacco has played well throughout the year, the Ravens desperately need to get back to the running game and reestablish their identity. It’s not that Flacco can’t lead the team but their secondary has been allowing opponents to abuse them for the last several weeks. Keeping opponents off the field is probably Baltimore’s best defense nowadays. The days of the Ravens being comfortable to send out a ferocious defensive unit is over and time of possession will now be the deciding factor if Baltimore wants to go far this year.
The Broncos showed two weeks ago that they’re capable of beating a team through all three phases: offense, defense or special teams. Return man Eddie Royal killed the San Diego Chargers with two big return touchdowns that solidified a crucial division win on Monday night. If Royal can provide his team with good field position on Sunday, it would go a long way in the Broncos winning. Everything is flowing for Denver right now. The defense is stout and the offense might not be New Orleansesque, but they don’t make mistakes.
Baltimore starting left tackle Jared Gaither announced through his Twitter page that he would be playing this week and that would be a definite boost to the Ravens. Broncos’ outside linebacker Elvis Dumerville leads the NFL in sacks and held his unofficial coming out party against the Chargers in prime time television. Rookie offensive tackle Michael Oher could probably handle Dumerville on his own but the Broncos move him around so much, he could line up on either side on any given play. Gaither’s return would give Baltimore two solid pass protectors on both sides to counter Dumerville’s movements.
The Broncos front seven demolished the likes of the Cowboys, Patriots and Chargers’ offensive lines but they haven’t faced a protection unit as stout as the one they’ll see when they face the Ravens. Baltimore’s defense is no longer elite but given two weeks to scheme around what isn’t working, they should be up for the challenge against a non-imposing offense in Denver’s. The Broncos have had two weeks to prepare also which makes this game a toss up. A fourth straight loss would be devastating for the Ravens while a loss for Denver would still equal first place in the AFC West. Expect Baltimore to play their best game of the season. Ravens 24-21.
NY Giants (5-2) vs. Philadelphia Eagles (4-2)
Reality set in for the Giants over the last couple of weeks as they were beaten by some pretty solid clubs, ruining a 5-0 start. New York recognizes a loss to the Eagles would not only propel Philly into the driver seat of the NFC East but also mark their third straight defeat. After a brain lapse against the Oakland Raiders a couple of weeks ago, Philadelphia bounced back with their destruction of a reeling Washington Redskin team but paid the price for it.
Starting running back Brian Westbrook left the game and didn’t return after sustaining a concussion in the first half. It’s not known whether Westbrook will play against the Giants but after laying motionless on the ground against the Redskins for a few minutes, it’s probably wise the Eagles keep him out of this contest. Philadelphia will have to rely on a few backups along their offensive line and rookie runner LeSean McCoy if they want to get past an upset Giants team on Sunday. The Eagles knocked New York out of the playoffs last season with a stunning victory in the Giants’ own backyard. New York has had to wait all summer to play the Eagles again and could be catching Philly at the right time.
Philadelphia is really banged up. Even though they beat Washington 27-17, their offensive front was taken to school all night by the Redskins front seven. The Giants may not have a defensive lineman as dominant as the Skins’ Albert Haynesworth, but their defensive front is definitely deeper and more imposing than Washington’s. The Giants defense could probably win this game singlehandedly as long as Eli Manning doesn’t turn the ball over and keeps the offense flowing. Philadelphia gets the game at home which will give them a boost but after watching their offensive line get destroyed by the Raiders and Redskins, it’s hard to pick them against what they’ll see against New York. Giants 26-17
Minnesota Vikings (6-1) vs. Green Bay Packers (4-2)
Game of the week right here. The Packers have bounced back nicely with two straight wins after dropping an emotional contest to Minnesota just a few weeks ago. Green Bay has outscored opponents 57-3 in the last two weeks and will be ready to extend that margin against the Vikings. Minnesota will have one eye on their bye week when they visit Green Bay on Sunday but they’ll have to be extremely careful. Lambeau Field will be insane as former Packer legend Brett Favre returns for the first time and the Pack will be playing with heavy hearts.
Green Bay QB Aaron Rodgers threw for 384 yards the last time he saw the Vikings secondary and that was with Minnesota standout corner Antoine Winfield in the lineup. Wearing his home jersey with the Green Bay fans fully behind him, Rodgers could go off Sunday against the Vikings and expose their depleted secondary. But then again he might not.
Minnesota played pretty well against last week’s NFL passing yards leader in Ben Roethlisberger, limiting him to 175 yards. But Roethlisberger doesn’t let it fly down the field consistently like Rodgers does and the Vikes’ secondary will have to be on their P’s and Q’s without Winfield. I couldn’t go another line without mentioning Minnesota’s explosive offense and it is just that.
Although they only accounted for 10 points last week against the Steelers, the Vikings offensive unit remains a problem. You can be sure the Vikings will put up more than two scores this week against a Packer defense that has feasted on some of the more ineffective units in the league the past couple of games. Third-year wideout Sidney Rice is a bonafide playmaker and couple him with Adrian Peterson and Favre pulling the trigger and you have a dangerous combination.
Sunday’s game could be a shootout and believe that Rodgers or Favre would love nothing better than to go toe-to-toe with one another. Green Bay’s offensive line was terrorized by the Vikes’ front seven the last time the two teams met, sacking Rodgers eight times. Green Bay’s left tackle Chad Clifton could return after sitting out the past few games but his status remains unclear. Regardless if he returns or not, Green Bay should have a better system in place to protect Rodgers after the disaster against Minnesota a few weeks ago. If the Packers can keep Rodgers upright, Minnesota will be in trouble. Packers 28-24
Atlanta Falcons (4-2) vs. New Orleans Saints (5-0)
After a thriller last week against the Miami Dolphins, New Orleans will return to what should be an ecstatic Superdome for a Monday night game against a divisional opponent. The Saints came back from a 24-3 deficit on the road to beat the Dolphins 46-34. What was even more impressive about the Saints comeback is that they probably played their worse game of the season and still scored 46 points on the road.
New Orleans can’t be stopped right now and the Falcons will be fresh off a loss and 311 yards put up against them by Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys. The Falcons allowed little known receiver Miles Austin to explode for 171 yards and two touchdowns so Marques Colston and Drew Brees have to be licking their chops just thinking about this game.
Atlanta can score with the best of teams but their secondary is their biggest Achilles heel. For a team as talented through the air as the Saints are, that could spell disaster for the Falcons and their chances to pull off the upset. The Saints defense got blitzed last week when the Dolphins showed them just how effective the Wildcat offense could be but they tightened up in the second half and limited Miami to only 10 points. If Atlanta wants to win this game, they’ll have to put the ball into running back Michael Turner’s hands and keep the Saints off the field. Anything less than 25 carries from Turner and Falcons’ defense will get exposed for a second straight week. Saints 40-24
Big Games, big games and more big games. If you were looking for the ultimate do-all-your-work-on-Saturday-so-you-won’t-be-bothered-on-Sunday-weekend then here it is. The NFL will have several five-star matchups on tap for the weekend that should even have teams on their bye week kicking back to catch. Last weekend I went O-for-three in my pickings but I plan to bounce back in a big way this week though. You’re only as smart as the last weekend that you picked so here’s my shot at intellectual redemption.
Baltimore Ravens (3-2) vs. Minnesota Vikings (5-0)
Talk about your heavyweight matchup. The Ravens will stroll to town, losers of two-straight, to try to get back on track against the undefeated Vikings. Not the ideal place or team to try to break your losing streak against, but if you’re going to reclaim some respect, you might as well knock out one of the biggest teams out there. The Vikings can’t be stopped right now and they’ve handled their last couple of opponents with relative ease.
The Ravens have cooled a bit since their blazing hot 3-0 start and need to get back to Raven football and start running the ball. Backup running back Willis McGahee is the team’s leading scorer but only received one carry in last week’s loss to Cincinnati. It’s good that Baltimore believes strongly in sophomore hero Joe Flacco but let’s not get carried away here. A balanced attack is what made Baltimore so mean-looking in the opening weeks and with 78 passing attempts in the last two weeks for the Ravens, maybe it’s time to rediscover that balance.
Viking defensive end Jared Allen is the scariest pass rusher in the league right now and Baltimore will probably be without left tackle Jared Gaither for a second straight game. Gaither was still having trouble turning his head when he was evaluated in Wednesday’s practice and starting him in the Metrodome against Allen could have disastrous results. Expect for rookie tackle Michael Oher to continue to man Gaither’s spot until he returns and if the rookie doesn’t get help on Allen, it could be a long day for Flacco. Baltimore is one of the better teams at protecting their quarterback so expect head coach John Harbaugh to make keeping Flacco upright a priority.
The Ravens aren’t the same hardnosed stout defense that they used to be and teams have been having success against them through the air. Ironically, Minnesota is slowly shifting the focus from a strong running team to a very balanced attack that can beat you through land or air. Brett Favre has looked young again in the last three wins for Minnesota and expect for Baltimore to force Favre to beat them.
Baltimore gave up 120 yards to Cedric Benson last week and will have to maintain their gap control when they face Adrian Peterson on Sunday. Baltimore really needs to get back to running the ball but Minnesota is one of the best run defenses in the league. Flacco has struggled in consecutive weeks and there might be too many things going against the Ravens for them to pull off the upset this week. On the road, no starting left tackle and playing one of the stronger teams in football could be too much for a young QB to handle. Vikings 30-20
New York Giants (5-0) vs. New Orleans Saints (4-0)
The Giants are coming off a beat down that they dealt to the Oakland Raiders. The injured Eli Manning didn’t have to play in the second half but he’ll definitely have to play in this one. The Saints will be fresh off their bye and ready to roll and viewers can expect to see the Superdome to be at its loudest that’s it been all season. The Saints are restoring the pride in New Orleans and the city is rallying around their team and showing major support.
And why wouldn’t they? Quarterback Drew Brees is one of the top signal callers in the game. The offense is the best unit in the league and the defense has been stingy and fierce. Pierre Thomas, New Orleans’ top running back, is back in the lineup and things couldn’t be better right now. New York will come to the Big Easy on Sunday with Manning hobbling and may be forced to lean on the ground game to ensure Manning doesn’t try to do too much. The Giants haven’t exactly played top competition this season with their marquee win coming against Dallas on a Sunday night in which quarterback Tony Romo turned the ball over left and right.
New Orleans has gone on the road and blasted a Donovan McNabless Philly team and scored two defensive touchdowns against the at-the-time undefeated New York Jets in a 24-10 win. The Saints are clicking right now and may come out even fresher from their bye. New York usually doesn’t flinch in the eye of big-time matchups like these but the health of Manning is a serious concern.
The Raiders were no threat to Manning and the Giants cruised. The Saints have been harassing passers all year and have had two weeks to scheme for what will undoubtedly be the biggest game of the year so far. If Manning was healthy, the Giants would be a logical and safe pick but Manning’s status could be an issue. Saints 28-25
Chicago Bears (3-1) vs. Atlanta Falcons (3-1)
The Bears have won three straight and the Falcons just smacked the 3-1 Niners in their home 45-10. Both squads have upper echelon QBs in Chicago’s Jay Cutler and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan. Both teams have top shelf running back between the Bears’ Matt Forte and the Falcons’ Michael Turner. With the game being held at the Georgia Dome, there won’t be any weather restraints to hold either quarterback from letting it fly.
We were treated to a wash out in last week’s Sunday night game between an undefeated team and a winless squad but this Sunday’s night game should be the best all season. Last year’s Bear/Falcon game was a classic that saw two field goals kicked in the span of 11 seconds in the fourth quarter in a game which the Falcons won 22-20. Cutler’s team last year, the Denver Broncos, faced off with Ryan last season in a matchup at the Georgia Dome in another highly competitive game that saw Cutler one up Ryan in a 24-20 contest. With Cutler at the controls for Chicago this season, this might be the most entertaining game of the weekend.
The Falcons dropped 45 in their last contest and the Bears put up 48 the last time they took the field. It could be a high scoring game and with both teams relatively healthy and serious implications on the line, the game should come down to the wire. Both the Falcons and Bears are in second place and behind undefeated teams in their respected divisions. Chicago’s behind the 5-0 Vikings and the Falcons are runner up to the 4-0 Saints. Both Minnesota and New Orleans will host some serious competition this Sunday and should either lose, the winner of Sunday night’s contest could be right back in the division driver seat.
Cutler won’t be fazed by the raucous Atlanta crowd and his poise will definitely inject the fight into his Chicago teammates. Atlanta is ranked 24th in run defense so Forte should be able to run late in the game against the Falcons if the game is still close, but that’s a big if. I have no doubt the final score should be close but that doesn’t mean Atlanta won’t jump out to a big lead. They certainly have the offensive talent and the crowd will be fired up to see their first home game in over three weeks. The Falcons offense will definitely feed off the crowd’s energy so expect Atlanta to run sharper routes, hold longer blocks and run faster than they have in close to a month. If Chicago can hold off the wave that they will undoubtedly encounter then they should be fine. If they flinch just the slightest bit then the Falcons will cruise to the finish. Falcons 34-24
Denver Broncos (5-0) vs. San Diego Chargers (2-2)
The Broncos will finally leave the comfort of their home field to play a big game on the road. Monday night in San Diego against the struggling Chargers couldn’t be any bigger. San Diego has been an enigma for the past few seasons. They’re definitely talented but they continue to be snake bitten with key injuries. Shawne Merriman’s hobbled, LaDainian Tomlinson’s limping and the Chargers have some serious injuries in the middle of both lines. If San Diego could ever stay healthy, they would have a great chance at a Super Bowl but for now, they’ll just have to play with what they have and that’s still plenty more than what other teams possess.
Denver went down to the wire against the Patriots and Cowboys in back-to-back classics and could be somewhat exhausted from two emotional games. The Chargers took it to Denver last year with the division and a playoff birth on the line in a 52-21 slaughter so San Diego will be plenty confident going into this game. San Diego is coming off a strange game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in which they got down 28-0 but made a furious comeback only to fall short 35-28. They’ve had a bye week to get their things together and should know the importance of this game.
This will be Denver’s first big time game on the road and it will be interesting to see how they respond. Although the Broncos have a stout defense San Diego quarterback Phillip Rivers knows he can shred any secondary put in front of him. This will be San Diego’s biggest game all season and if there was any time for the Chargers to play their best ball, it would be Monday night at home against the division leader. The Chargers really can’t afford to leave Monday night 2-3 with Denver 6-0. They won’t and Rivers will make enough big throws to give them the edge. Chargers 24-17