Well, the weekend didn’t go quite like I expected but I’ll take a 2-2 split. Looking back at a few of the games, they were actually terrible. Luckily, the Packers/Cardinals game saved the day as the two teams played possibly the most entertaining game all season. A lot of lopsided games this weekend and you usually don’t get that in rematches. If you missed all the action, you didn’t miss much except for one game and if you didn’t catch that then read on.
New York Jets vs. Cincinnati Bengals
What I predicted…
What I said would happen…
“Regardless if Ochocinco plays or not, it’s a lose-lose scenario for the Bengals. If he does play, he’ll have Revis draped all over him. If he doesn’t play, Revis will just be draped all over the Bengals’ next best wideout, reducing Cincy quarterback Carson Palmer’s list of targets even more. The Bengals have lost three of their last four games and are backing their way into the playoffs without anything clicking. The once-stingy defense has allowed 26 points per game over the last four contests and Palmer has only passed for more than 200 yards in three of the last seven full games that he’s played. Things don’t look good for Cincy.”
What actually happened…
The Jets won 24-14. The rookie trio of Sanchez, Ryan and running back Shonn Greene helped extend Cincinnati’s 19-year playoff winless streak with a few big plays on offense and stifling defense. Greene’s 39-yard run at the top of the second quarter tied the game at 7-7 before Sanchez found tight end Dustin Keller for a 45-yard score to put the Jets (10-7) ahead for good.
The Bengals (10-7) will have to pack up and get ready for next year. A weak offensive line and lack of quality playmakers at receiver limited Cincinnati to one-and-done this season. What once used to be one of the top receiver trios in the league has been reduced to the power of one. Cincinnati lost both T.J. Houshmanzadeh and Chris Henry essentially in one year and will need to reload if they want to challenge for a title.
New York (10-7) has arguably the best defense left in the playoffs and it all revolves around lockdown cover corner Darrelle Revis. His ability to blanket receivers gives the Jets a huge advantage on defense while they punish foes on offense with a stout running game. How far they can go with the rookie Sanchez at QB is anybody’s guess. Stay tuned…
Philadelphia Eagles vs. Dallas Cowboys
What I predicted…
What I said would happen …
“The Eagles will need to force turnovers from Dallas if they want to pull the upset on the road in Big D but as long as the Cowboys stick to a run-heavy formula, turnovers will be hard to come across for the Eagles. Dallas has been known to force the passing game on certain occasions and could feel compelled to get into a shouting match with Philadelphia if the Eagles score early. It’s hard picking a team to lose its third game in a season to one opponent but if Dallas sticks to the formula, they should handle Philadelphia with ease.”
What actually happened…
The Cowboys won 34-14. The Cowboys exploded for 27 points in the second quarter, capitalizing on a slew of Eagles mistakes. A 40-yard pass interference call on Philadelphia set Dallas up for their first touchdown of the game on an one-yard score before consecutive fumbles by the Eagles late in the second quarter led to a 10-0 Cowboys run to end the half.
For the last few seasons, the Eagles (11-6) have had a reluctance to stick to their running game, electing to try to outshoot their opponents. Against Dallas however, they faced a defense that has every bit as much speed as they do offense. The Cowboys are now the kings of the NFC East and if the Eagles want to challenge then they’ll have to seriously consider the way they do their offensive business next year.
Just last year, the Eagles blasted the Cowboys (11-6) in the season finale 44-6. Ironically, that was the turning point for Dallas. They shed all their haywire clown acts over the summer and refocused things on football. Not only did they end their December woes but they annihilated Philadelphia to break their 13-year playoff drought and extract a little revenge in the process. The Cowboys are officially the hottest team in the NFC and they’ll be a tough out for any team remaining in the playoffs. Stay tuned…
Baltimore Ravens vs. New England Patriots
What I predicted…
What I said would happen …
“Road playoffs games aren’t anything new to Flacco, who went 2-1 on the road in last year’s postseason but Patriots coach Bill Belichick loves to turn up the heat on young signal callers in the postseason and he’ll make no exception for Flacco and Co. Both the Patriots and Ravens are evenly matched throughout their teams but the postseason is all about quarterback play. In a game between Flacco and Brady… well …. you can never go wrong with taking a three-time Super Bowl winning quarterback over a three-game postseason signal caller.”
What actually happened…
The Ravens won 33-14. Baltimore wasted no time in punching the Patriots in the mouth on the way to the franchise’s first ever win against the Pats. Baltimore jumped to a 24-0 first quarter lead behind second-year running back Ray Rice’s 83-yard run on the opening play of the game. The Ravens forced three first quarter turnovers that led to consecutive scores for Baltimore.
There has been talk that this might be the last hurrah for the Patriots (10-7). Brady doesn’t have the time to just sit in the pocket anymore, Randy Moss’ play continues to reflect his beard (yuck) and their best offensive player, Wes Welker, just suffered two tears in his knee. The defense is shaky and the once brilliant Bill Belichick has been outcoached several times this season. So if rumors are spreading that this is New England’s last hurrah, well, maybe I believe them.
Baltimore (10-7) continues to pile up impressive playoff victories with sophomore QB Flacco under center. Although Flacco only passed for 34 yards, it was a total team effort that blitzed the Patriots this past Sunday. The Ravens are now the most scariest team in the AFC playoffs and a season of tough losses could help propel them to their second Super Bowl appearance since the 2000 season. Stay tuned…
Green Bay Packers vs. Arizona Cardinals
What I predicted…
What I said would happen…
“If it’s two teams in the NFC that I love, it’s Arizona and Green Bay. While neither team is the ideal picture of healthy right now, it’s hard to go against the grain of a hot Green Bay team. I think if Rodgers has time, he could put up 30 against any defense remaining in the playoffs and with the Cardinals’ best corner ailing, Rodgers will be ready for an encore.”
What actually happened…
The Cardinals won 51-45. Arizona linebacker Karlos Dansby returned a fumble 17 yards in overtime to end an offensive slugout. Arizona led 31-10 at the top of the third quarter before Green Bay outscored the Cardinals 35-14 over the next quarter and a half to tie the game 45-45 with just over ten seconds remaining in regulation.
If I’m a member of the Packers, I can’t wait until next season gets started. Green Bay (11-6) will have two key defenders in Aaron Kampman and Al Harris returning, the offensive line should get better and stud QB Aaron Rodgers will have another season and the sting of a tough playoff loss under his belt. With a solid front office and franchise QB in place, the Packers are a team on the rise. Usually a team that finishes as a Wild Card at 11-5 is in store for huge things the following season. Stay tuned…
The Cardinals (11-6) are the defending NFC champion and that makes them a team to be taken serious. Arizona will probably get starting receiver Anquan Boldin back for next week and when Kurt Warner plays at a high level, the Cardinals are one of the best teams in the league. Sunday’s shootout with Green Bay exposed a lot of their problems on defense but their offense proved even without Boldin, it can go toe-to-toe with the best of them. With Boldin scheduled for a return, keep the fireworks on standby. Stay tuned…
I know I’ve been absent for the last couple of weeks but you know how it is around the holidays. Family and friends absolutely don’t believe you work and if they do believe you work, well… they don’t think your job is all that important anyway but regardless, 30-18 on the regular season and I guess you could say I get a clean slate for the postseason.
Well at least I think I should. I returned just in time for the best weekend (in my opinion) of the playoffs. Wild Card weekend always packs a bunch of surprises and spectacular plays. Ironically, this weekend will feature four rematches from the regular season and three rematches from last week alone.
If your favorite team was on the winning side of last weekend’s matches then football follower beware. It’s typically difficult to beat a team in back-to-back weeks and teams can turn faces quick in the playoffs. Regular season powerhouses turn into first round exiters and mediocre teams turn into giants. Should be fun either way. Read along and enjoy the best weekend (in my opinion) of the playoffs.
New York Jets (9-7) vs. Cincinnati Bengals (10-6) 4:30 p.m. Sat
Say what you want, but 37-0 isn’t something that just happens. You don’t just get walloped 37-0 and expect to bounce back and beat the same team that smacked you 37-0 the very next week. As tough as it sounds, the Bengals will attempt to recover from a season finale shutout to the hands of quietly solid Jets.
New York has won five out of their last six games and will enter the playoffs on a defensive tear. Aside from finishing the season as the top overall unit, the Jets have allowed just 47 points in their last six games, good for a paltry 7.8 points per contest in the last month and a half of the year. Nobody, I repeat: NOBODY gets open when third-year coverman Darrelle Revis locks horns with them and head coach Rex Ryan has transformed his defensive troops into a lockdown unit.
The Jets have the league’s top running game and everything sets up perfectly to wheel rookie QB Mark Sanchez along slowly. New York will implement the same principles when they square off against the Bengals in the opening postseason game and that could spell trouble for the once-hyped Bengals. While the Jets don’t allow teams to score, the Bengals don’t score much at all anyway. Cincinnati has averaged just 15.7 points per game in their last nine contests and could be without the services of leading receiver Chad Ochocinco, who bruised his knee in warm-ups last week against the Jets.
Regardless if Ochocinco plays or not, it’s a lose-lose scenario for the Bengals. If he does play, he’ll have Revis draped all over him. If he doesn’t play, Revis will just be draped all over the Bengals’ next best wideout, reducing Cincy quarterback Carson Palmer’s list of targets even more. The Bengals have lost three of their last four games and are backing their way into the playoffs without anything clicking. The once-stingy defense has allowed 26 points per game over the last four contests and Palmer has only passed for more than 200 yards in three of the last seven full games that he’s played. Things don’t look good for Cincy. Jets 23-16
Philadelphia Eagles (11-5) vs. Dallas Cowboys (11-5) 8 p.m. Sat
Say what you want, but 24-0 isn’t something that just happens. You don’t just get walloped 24-0 and expect to bounce back and beat the same team that smacked you 24-0 the very next week. Although you’ve read it before, last Sunday’s loss against the Cowboys pointed out the obvious for the Eagles: they don’t match up well with the ‘Boys.
Philly built an 11-5 record this season on big plays and an opportunistic defense. The last two meetings that they’ve encountered the ‘Boys, Dallas has used a ball control offense and paid close attention to the Eagles’ aerial attack to take their big-play offense out of the game. The Cowboys have tried to bait Philly into transforming into a running team by focusing heavily on defending their passing attack.
Because of the Eagles’ plethora of playmakers at the receiver position, it’s worked perfectly for Dallas in both games as the Eagles became too bored to stick with a grind-it-out gameplan. Expect Dallas to stick to the same strategy this weekend as they go for the always tough three-game sweep of the Eagles. Philadelphia head coach Andy Reid is never going to be a pound and ground coach as long as he has Donovan McNabb at the quarterback controls and DeSean Jackson at the wing but he’ll need to counter this week.
The Eagles will need to force turnovers from Dallas if they want to pull the upset on the road in Big D but as long as the Cowboys stick to a run-heavy formula, turnovers will be hard to come across for the Eagles. Dallas has been known to force the passing game on certain occasions and could feel compelled to get into a shouting match with Philadelphia if the Eagles score early. It’s hard picking a team to lose its third game in a season to one opponent but if Dallas sticks to the formula, they should handle Philadelphia with ease. Cowboys 27-17
Baltimore Ravens (9-7) vs. New England Patriots (10-6) 1 p.m. Sun
Playoff rematches of regular season matches are always so intriguing, especially when you get two dominant teams like the Patriots and Ravens. New England will have to adjust after they lost the NFL’s leading receiver Wes Welker to a blown knee in their season finale against the Houston Texans.
While the loss of Welker is a definite blow, his replacement, rookie receiver Julian Edelman, has posted 21 catches and 221 yards in the three games that Welker has missed this season, proving that he is more than capable of picking up the slack. The Patriots Tom Brady and Randy Moss will also attempt to pick up the slack in Welker’s absence and that’s never a bad pair of helping hands but Brady may need a helping hand himself after showing up on the injury report in the past few weeks with broken ribs and a finger injury on his throwing hand.
Playing against the Ravens is never an ideal scenario for a banged up QB but Baltimore hasn’t been the same ferocious unit of years’ past. The Ravens ranked 18th in sacks this season and New England’s recent reemphasis on the running game could help nullify Brady’s lingering injuries. Baltimore’s sophomore backfield of Ray Rice and Joe Flacco has been pretty special all season and they’ll be expected to once again lead the Ravens in a tough game.
Road playoffs games aren’t anything new to Flacco, who went 2-1 on the road in last year’s postseason but Patriots coach Bill Belichick loves to turn up the heat on young signal callers in the postseason and he’ll make no exception for Flacco and Co. Both the Patriots and Ravens are evenly matched throughout their teams but the postseason is all about quarterback play. In a game between Flacco and Brady… well …. you can never go wrong with taking a three-time Super Bowl winning quarterback over a three-game postseason signal caller. Patriots 24-21
Green Bay Packers (11-5) vs. Arizona Cardinals (10-6) 4:40 p.m. Sun
Wow! Well… when we last left the Cardinals they were getting blasted to the tune of 33-7 in their season finale to hot Packers BUT that was on a 4-for-6 performance from starting QB Kurt Warner who was pulled from the game early. Nevertheless, the Packers never let up as they went ahead by as much as 33-0 at one point in the game.
The Cardinals may face a consecutive postseason with a hobbled Anquan Boldin, who left the game with an ankle injury. While Boldin’s loss would be huge, the Cardinals were dealt a triple blow when starting corner Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and starting defensive lineman Calais Campbell were forced out of the game with serious-looking injuries. If all three are forced to miss any time, Arizona’s chances at a repeat Super Bowl appearance would take a significant dent.
The Packers aren’t without their own significant injury concerns as do-it-all- defensive back Charles Woodson suffered a shoulder injury that left him wrapped up on the sidelines during the game’s closing moments. Woodson is expected to play and against Arizona’s remaining healthy receivers such as Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston, Green Bay can ill-afford for Woodson to miss any time. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers is well-equipped to handle the duties of carrying Green Bay regardless of who misses time for the Packers but keep in mind, it’s a team sport.
And nobody knows the team sport better than the Packers’ Rodgers. Rodgers has found nine different receivers in his 30 touchdown mark and his reluctance to key on one receiver forces defenses to account for every member of the Packers offense. The Cardinals have a formidable secondary when Rodgers-Cromartie plays but with DRC’s status in question, Rodgers could be open for a field day.
If it’s two teams in the NFC that I love, it’s Arizona and Green Bay. While neither team is the ideal picture of healthy right now, it’s hard to go against the grain of a hot Green Bay team. I think if Rodgers has time, he could put up 30 against any defense remaining in the playoffs and with the Cardinals’ best corner ailing, Rodgers will be ready for an encore. Packers 28-23
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
15-9 on the season I am. Somewhat satisfied I am. Going undefeated this week I will. Another NFL weekend doozy coming up. Although the season is already dwindling, the matchups continue to heat up. It’s a shame football can’t be played all year long but while it’s here, we got to enjoy every drop of it. And the flavor couldn’t be better for this week with four huge games on the menu.
Typically, I’m pretty sure about my picks but I could easily see me going winless this week.All four major matchups this week contain teams that can easily beat one another but even though I’m not completely sure, something had to be done:
Cincinnati Bengals (6-2) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2)
There’s no better matchup than a slate between two good division teams. It also helps when both teams absolutely hate each other and Bengals’ QB Carson Palmer has already gone on record in recent years saying he hates the Steelers. After clobbering two pretty good teams last week both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati will enter Sunday with the division on the line.
A Bengals win would give them a stranglehold over the division with a 5-0 divisional record. Pittsburgh sits at 1-1 in the AFC North with that one loss coming in their second half meltdown in Cincinnati earlier this year. The Steelers had a firm grip on that game before a dropped touchdown pass and a pick-six led to their 23-20 loss. But things are a little different this time around for both squads.
Sophomore running back Rashard Mendenhall gets his crack at the Bengals after being benched for disciplinary reasons in the first meeting. The Steelers have gone 5-0 with Mendenhall in the lineup and the youngster is averaging 5.7 yards a carry. He has singlehandedly restored the Pittsburgh running game and the Steelers offense is benefiting from it. Pittsburgh safety Troy Polamalu will also get his first start against Cincinnati this season after missing the first meeting with a knee injury. Polamalu is the center piece to the Steelers’ puzzling defense and has two interceptions in three games since his return.
The outlook isn’t so bright for the Bengals. Although they’ve been playing extremely well, the personnel losses have been starting to mount for Cincinnati. They lost wide receiver and notorious “Steeler-Killer” Chris Henry last week to a broken arm but that was before leading sack man Antawn Odom went down with a ruptured Achilles.
Cincinnati is the most balanced team in the AFC but the Steelers are known to wipe balance away from opposing teams. The Bengals have fed off running back Cedric Benson and their running game all season but Pittsburgh leads the league in run defense, giving up just 70.4 yards a game. Pittsburgh had Cincinnati on the ropes in their first contest but couldn’t finish them off because of a lackluster running game. Mendenhall has beefed up that phase of the Steeler attack and expect Pittsburgh to be the more balanced of the two teams this weekend. Whichever teams fails to establish the run will lose and all signs point to Cincy struggling in that category. Steelers 27-17
Dallas Cowboys (6-2) vs. Green Bay Packers (4-4)
I want to like the Packers because they’re a historic team with a top tier QB but they have too many problems. They don’t run the ball consistently well and they don’t protect their quarterback at all. They’re defense can only shut down inferior teams and their secondary (which is supposed to be the strength of their defense) gets shredded too often. Nevertheless they’re a difficult team to beat at home and will be ready to play after an embarrassing loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week.
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers is putting up outstanding numbers this year and would be a MVP candidate if the Packers had a better record. He has a live arm, strong confidence and is deceptively mobile. He has some pretty nice weapons to work with on his side of the ball and the Green Bay offense means that they’re always in the game.
The Cowboys however, have been on top of their game in recent weeks and are currently riding a four-game win streak. Rodgers, Drew Brees and Brett Favre are probably the only few QBs in the NFC playing better ball than the Cowboys’ Tony Romo right now, who has responded with a successful season so far after a disastrous ’08. Romo’s finding his receivers, protecting the ball and leading his team the way upper echelon signal callers are supposed to. Dallas has been getting strong play out of both their offense and defense and even the ‘Boys’ special teams have scored in two of the last three weeks.
At 4-4, Green Bay’s back is slightly against the wall. They’ve lost two straight, haven’t beaten a team with a winning record all season and just lost to the last remaining winless team. Another loss this week and Packer fans could be ready to storm the field. Green Bay desperately wants to prove it can win without Favre but until they can play consistent defense and protect Rodgers, that won’t happen. The ‘Boys excel at pressing the passer and their offense has been pretty hot for the past few weeks. If the ‘Boys aren’t too full over their big win against the Eagles, they’ll handle the Packers on Sunday. Cowboys 34-26
Philadelphia Eagles (5-3) vs. San Diego Chargers (5-3)
The last time Philadelphia flew across country to play a California team, they loss an embarrassing game to the dismal Oakland Raiders. It’s safe to say the San Diego Chargers are a better team than the Raiders so Philly will want to pay extra attention in the film room this week. San Diego has renewed confidence after winning three-straight and seeing the division-leading Denver Broncos drop two in a row.
This will be the Eagles toughest road test to date and things could get scary if top corner Asante Samuels is slowed by a neck injury he sustained last week against Dallas. The Chargers love to launch the ball downfield and have all kinds of weapons to make that happen. Star receiver Vincent Jackson and tight end Antonio Gates are huge targets and Chargers’ QB Phillip Rivers just tosses the ball up for them to grab.
By taking away the deep ball, the Cowboys laid out the blueprint on how to beat the Eagles last week and San Diego has the personnel to get the job done. Philadelphia specializes in the long ball but San Diego may have the best pair of corners in the AFC. Antonio Cromartie and Quentin Jammer are well equipped to limit Donovan McNabb’s looks downfield and Cromartie has the length and speed to stay near speedy Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson.
It’s not known whether Eagles running back Brian Westbrook will play and his status would be a big boost or big loss for Philadelphia. San Diego is somewhat iffy in their ability to stop the run but fortunately for them, the Eagles don’t run the ball well. If Westbrook is unable to play, the Chargers could just run away with this game. Philadelphia is going to bring their exotic blitzes against the Chargers but Rivers is experienced enough to handle that with ease. Once the Eagles do sell out with their blitz schemes, Rivers will be allowed to take advantage of Philly’s smallish cornerbacks and launch the ball downfield to the biggest set of receivers in the league. Chargers 30-23
New England Patriots (6-2) vs. Indianapolis Colts (8-0)
After struggling with average teams the past couple of weeks, the Colts get their first major test of the season when they host the Patriots at Lucas Oil Stadium this weekend. If this is the game that will decide home field advantage in the AFC then Indy is probably wishing they could’ve played the Pats earlier in the year. The Colts will be without three starters in their secondary against New England and for Tom Brady and Randy Moss, that equals big trouble.
New England’s offense has been clicking after struggling earlier in the year with consistency. Brady has 12 touchdown strikes in the last four weeks and Moss has benefitted from Brady’s hot streak with four TDs in three weeks. While the Patriot offense is catching fire, Peyton Manning and the Indy attack has been tapering off. Manning has just one touchdown pass in the last two weeks. The Patriots haven’t seen a QB quite like Manning all season however, and could be on their heels if Manning gets hot.
Manning will have to be at his best on Sunday to compensate for the Colts’ depleted secondary. If he tries to force anything, New England’s defense has been opportunistic over the last few weeks and could make Manning pay.
Indianapolis will be at home which will give them a huge boost on Sunday but that will probably be their only advantage against a stronger Patriot team. Indy is too banged up to run with the Patriots’ band of receivers and unless Colts defensive coordinator Larry Coyer comes up with a fantastic scheme between Monday and Saturday, New England could put up a lot of points. It’s no coincidence that New England’s two losses so far this year have come against teams featuring outstanding cover men. The Jets’ Darrelle Revis limited Moss to four catches for 24 yards and Denver’s Champ Bailey allowed Moss only one catch in an October clash. With their fourth and fifth string corners playing, Indy may be in a world of trouble. This would be the ideal game for the Colts to kill the clock with a punishing run game but Indianapolis is only averaging 85 rushing yards per game as a team. Patriots 31-20