I’ll take 3-1. I mean, I don’t really have a choice now do I? Another dull weekend in the playoffs but the Jets/Chargers game made up for an uncompetitive second round. 5-3 so far this postseason with a huge weekend coming up. Not trying to get ahead of myself but I have to. Three games last week ended in teams getting outscored 99-20, so calling the weekend noncompetitive is an understatement. In case you missed anything you didn’t miss much. Just read along and you’ll see what I mean.
Arizona Cardinals vs. New Orleans Saints
What I predicted …
What I said would happened …
“The Saints have had a couple of weeks to go over their gameplan and whip themselves back into shape. How well that preparation will hold up against a scary Cardinals team is a tricky question. New Orleans has proven they can’t stop the run but Arizona doesn’t really run the ball with any conviction. The Cardinals are at their best when Warner is sitting back flinging it. While New Orleans hasn’t won a game in over three weeks, they’ll be fired up over the fact that they’re only two games away from a Super Bowl. After seeing Arizona’s defense shredded to pieces against Green Bay, it’s impossible to pick them with any confidence.”
What actually happened…
The Saints won 45-14. Facing one of the better offenses in the NFL with a full cast of healthy defenders just a week ago, the Arizona Cardinals allowed 45 points in their own backyard to the Green Bay Packers. The Cardinals tried their luck again against the high-powered New Orleans Saints albeit minus two starting members of their secondary. Their absences proved to be costly and the Saints steamrolled the Cardinals 45-14 in front of a raucous Superdome crowd in New Orleans. Arizona QB Kurt Warner was banged up before halftime after taking a serious shot on an interception return but returned to start the second half.
My reactions …
Funny how far things can fall in just a year. Just last season, the Cardinals (11-7) were looked upon as one of the brightest up and coming teams with a roster stacked full of young talent. The talent is still in place but with whispers of Warner’s retirement growing louder and louder and the continuing gripe between the Cardinals’ front office and Anquan Boldin, Arizona could be without two megastars to begin next season. Allowing 90 points in two games is proof enough that defensive help is needed but with Warner’s likely departure and the club’s disbelief in backup Matt Leinhart, a shift in philosophy could occur next year.
And the band will march on for the Saints. Their demolishing of the Cardinals proves New Orleans (14-3) is indeed focused on the bigger picture for this season but it should be noted Arizona was missing several star players. Nevertheless, the Saints took care of business and will take themselves to the NFC Championship game with all the swagger and confidence that they possessed during their magical start to the season when they were just slaying teams.
Baltimore Ravens vs. Indianapolis Colts
What I predicted …
What I said would happen…
“This won’t be a slam dunk for the Colts and weeks’ worth of rest could have negative ramifications. Baltimore will enter Saturday’s game loose and full of confidence with the pressure resting solely on Manning and his crew. The Colts beat the Ravens 17-15 in a late November clash but ask any Raven fan and they’ll tell you that game was one Baltimore should’ve pocketed. The Ravens have already avenged one painful loss this postseason and could very well make up for another. But I can’t pick against Manning at home, although I want to.”
What actually happened…
The Colts won 20-3. The Ravens (10-8) turned the ball over four times, drew seven penalties and couldn’t convert in the red zone. Even when things went right for Baltimore, they went wrong. Ed Reed’s interception of Peyton Manning midway through the third quarter was returned 38 yards before he was stripped of the ball and Indianapolis (14-2) recovered. Reed would strike again five plays later with another interception but his 54-yard return was nullified after officials called pass interference on Corey Ivy.
The offseason plan is simple for Baltimore: Go get some playmakers. The Ravens (10-8) are solid on both lines but the lack of threats at the wide receiver and cornerback positions leave them vulnerable against some of the more explosive teams. Rumors should continue about the possibilities of landing Denver wideout Brandon Marshall or even the Cardinals Anquan Boldin. Either addition would greatly improve an up and coming offense and if Baltimore can land a solid starting corner, they’ll definitely be back in the playoff hunt next season.
Indianapolis (15-2) didn’t do anything different against Baltimore except what they’ve done for most of the season which is find a way to win. The offense wasn’t overly explosive but the defense put some serious clamps on the Raven offense. This may be the best defense that Manning has ever had during his tenure in Indy and that’s saying a lot considering Bob Sanders and a few other defenders are out for the season. The Colts and the Vikings are the only two teams remaining in the postseason now that can beat you with either offense or defense. What a sight it would be to see those two in the Super Bowl. Stay tuned…
Dallas Cowboys vs. Minnesota Vikings
What I predicted…
What I said would happen…
“These might be the two most complete teams left in the postseason as both Minnesota and Dallas can beat you in a number of ways. Both are strong rushing teams and both can beat you with the aerial assault. If you’re looking for any edge breaker, it’s worth noting that Favre is 0-3 all-time against Dallas in the playoffs but then again, Romo didn’t win his first playoff game until four days ago. If there was a tossup game for the week, then this is definitely it. Both teams are eerily similar with the only advantage being the Vikings opening at home fresh from a week off. Similar feeling like the Colts/Ravens and I’ll take Favre at home, although I probably shouldn’t.”
What actually happened…
The Vikings won 34-3. Smothering defense and big plays in the passing game has been the formula for success for the Vikings this season and they stuck to that plan in sacking Dallas quarterback Tony Romo six times while receiving four touchdown passes from the reinvigorated Brett Favre. Favre hooked up with third-year receiver Sidney Rice for three touchdowns before finding Morgan State alum Visanthe Shiancoe for the final score of the game.
Though the season didn’t end in spectacular fashion, it has to be viewed as a positive for the Dallas Cowboys (12-6). They finished off December strong after seasons of fading and they won their first playoff game since 1996. The Cowboys will need to retool the offensive line and a grab another wideout or two to fortify their offense. Their defense played poorly against the Vikings but their offense didn’t help them out at all. The defense remains strong and will benefit from another year under Wade Phillips’ tutelage. Dallas remains a talented team, just a few patch jobs will do the team wonders.
The Vikings (13-4) flexed the kind of muscle they had demonstrated earlier in the season when they appeared to be unstoppable. Their defeat of the Cowboys was probably the most impressive victory of the weekend considering the strength of their opponent. Dallas came into the game relatively healthy and the Vikings took it to them. Minnesota was sound on both sides of the ball and they’ll definitely be tuned in for the NFC title game and a chance to send Favre to his third and probably last Super Bowl. Stay tuned…
New York Jets vs. San Diego Chargers
What I predicted…
What I said would happen…
“With Sanchez at pilot, the Jets have no chance trying to outscore the high-flying Chargers. Their best bet would be to make Sunday’s game an all-out defensive slugfest but that’ll be hard to do against an offense that averaged 30 points an outing over the course of their 11 game win streak. It’s the ultimate David vs. Goliath matchup but David might be too small in this one. Revis is a fantastic corner but with the Chargers’ ability to spread the ball around and Rivers’ penchant for getting the ball to the best-suited target, New York will have trouble keeping up.”
What actually happened …
The Jets won 17-14. New York limited an explosive Charger offense to just 14 points while forcing two turnovers and benefitting from three critical missed field goals by Chargers All-Pro kicker Nate Kaeding. Kaeding missed from 36, 57 and 40 yards, making him the first kicker to miss all three of his field goal attempts in a playoff game since 1995. New York received a strong performance from rookie running back Shonn Greene for the second consecutive week. Greene’s 23 carries for 128 yards featured a 53-yard run, the longest rush in team playoff history and his five-yard run in the closing minutes set the Jets up for a manageable fourth-and-one that New York converted easily to seal the game.
The Chargers (13-4) have suffered some tough post season losses over the past few years and this may have been the most disappointing of them all. Aside from San Diego’s 14-2 season in ’06 when they loss to the New Patriots, losing to a rookie quarterback and first year head coach has to sting. San Diego was garnering serious consideration as a Super Bowl favorite and with so many key players scheduled for free agency, this may have been their last shot at a Super Bowl with their core group. Rivers is still the franchise quarterback and San Diego will obviously build around him but they’re destined to lose a lot once free agency hits.
With their surprising win, New York just became the official Cinderella of the NFL playoffs. Similar to a team in March Madness, the Jets continue to string together victories with gritty play. Revis and the defense keeps them in every game and the running game and Sanchez make just enough plays to squeak by. While their style isn’t pretty, it’s been enough to keep advancing them through the playoffs. The task of winning an AFC Championship as a rookie quarterback is one that Sanchez’s predecessors have failed at. Both Joe Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger’s clubs were constructed similarly with power running games and stingy defenses but when they were matched up against Super Bowl winning quarterbacks (Flacco vs. Roethlisberger in ’08 and Roethlisberger vs. Brady in ’04), they came up short. Who will Sanchez get in the AFC title game? Just Peyton Manning. Not the easiest matchup but there’s no turning back now. Stay tuned…
First I would like to pay respect to Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chris Henry and his family. The league lost another valuable member to the organization with his death on Thursday and regardless of what things Henry may have done in the past, death is never deserving for anybody. The season is almost over but the league is far from playing games. The playoff picture is becoming clearer and clearer and teams will have a chance to inch closer to home field and playoff spots after the week is done. Two big headliners for this week that could decide a lot. ‘Boys/Saints and Bengals/Bolts will be the biggest games of the week.
Should be another exciting week and expect teams across the league to have a moment of silence for Henry as they take timeout to remember what was a maturing young man. It should be another week to remember as well, let’s get started:
Indianapolis Colts (13-0) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (7-6) 8:20 p.m.
Kind of strange game right here. The Colts are finished playing for anything serious for the remainder of the regular season. The Jaguars however, are fighting for their playoff lives. The Colts could just buckle up and aim for an undefeated season and quarterback Peyton Manning has already bested long time rival Tom Brady’s regular season win streak with his 22nd consecutive win last week.
Tying Brady’s undefeated 2007 season would further push the debate of who’s been the better signal caller over the past decade. The Colts have been in this position a few times before: at season’s end and nothing to play for. A few seasons ago, Indianapolis rested its players down the stretch after jumping out to a 13-1 record, which only led to an out of synch performance in the club’s opening round loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2005’s playoffs.
The Colts might not need to do much against a struggling Jaguar team though. The Jaguars have dropped two of their last three and have struggled mightily on offense since breakout receiver Mike Sims-Walker has been nursing calf and knee injuries. Teams have focused on slowing focal point runner Maurice Jones-Drew, who hasn’t recorded an 100 yard game since week 10. Starting quarterback David Garrard has been forced to carry more of a load and things have been sort of rough let’s say the past few weeks.
Sims-Walker’s status will spell key for the Jaguars on Thursday night. Indianapolis’ secondary has been shredded over the past few weeks and they’ll definitely come out with a plan to make Garrard beat them. The Colts have the league’s second best defense in terms of points allowed so Manning and the offense may not need to do much to dispose of Jacksonville and keep their undefeated season alive. Jacksonville hasn’t beaten many teams with a winning record this season and they won’t on Thursday either. Colts 24-16
Dallas Cowboys (8-5) vs. New Orleans Saints (13-0) 8:20 p.m.
The Cowboys are tiptoeing dangerous grounds. After last week’s loss to the San Diego Chargers gave the ‘Boys their third loss in the last five games, a road game against the Saints could determine their playoff fate. But Dallas could be catching the perfect Saints at the perfect time however. New Orleans has been anything but flawless in their last two games, knocking off the lowly Washington Redskins and banged up Atlanta Falcons by field goals in each contest.
The Saints have showed major problems in their secondary, allowing a slew of big plays over the last couple of weeks. Dallas starting quarterback Tony Romo could exploit New Orleans with a few strikes to big play receiver Miles Austin. Maligned wideout Roy Williams has come on in recent weeks and has given the passing game the possession receiver it was lacking in the early parts of the season.
Dallas pass rusher DeMarcus Ware is expected to play on Saturday and his presence would be key in trying to slow down Drew Brees and the rest of the Saints offense. The Cowboys secondary is pretty formidable but Brees is out of this world. New Orleans is never out of game with Brees, who gets the ball to everybody on his offense from the third string running back to the guy in the nose bleed seats. Dallas hasn’t seen an offense like this all season and in the Saints last “major” game of the season, at home, they’ll be more than ready to take it to the Cowboys.
The perfect game plan against the Saints: ball control and short passes. The motto of the ‘Boys’ offense under Jason Garrett: quick strike and heavy emphasis on throwing. Something’s got to give and if offensive coordinator Jason Garrett wants any chance of solidifying his return for next year then a game against his normal grain would be ideal for Saturday. New Orleans is going to score, that’s a given, how soon Garrett gives up on the run will determine Dallas’ fate. In a game against the top offense in the league, Garrett will probably be inclined to match wits with Saints head coach and former Cowboy coordinator Sean Payton. As has been shown for the last few seasons, Payton’s clearly a step ahead of Garrett. Saints 34-24
Cincinnati Bengals (9-4) vs. San Diego Chargers (10-3) 4:15 p.m.
With the recent death of receiver Chris Henry fresh on the minds of the Bengals, Cincinnati will be hard-pressed to go on the road and take on a hot Charger team. San Diego has won eight straight and with second place in the AFC up for grabs, the Bolts won’t take it easy on an emotional Bengals team. San Diego has won every way possible during their current win streak; close, come from behind and blowout style.
The Bengals have been a methodical grind-it-out team all season but clashing against San Diego’s fast break style approach could be recipe for disaster for the men from Ohio. Cincinnati’s emphasis on the run game has been something they’ve stuck to all year but their approach will be tested against a high-scoring San Diego team. The Chargers run defense has been better over the past few weeks but Cincinnati has shown they can run against anybody.
The departure of some of his key wideouts from a few seasons ago have clearly hurt Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer and the passing game and against San Diego’s ballhawking cover corners, Cincinnati running backs Larry Johnson and Cedric Benson will play vital roles in the battle for the AFC’s second seed. The Bengals have dealt with saddening situations already this season when defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer’s wife passed in early October. Henry’s recent passing could inspire the club or go the opposite way but it will definitely be on the minds of the Bengals when they board the plane to travel out west.
The Chargers are hot and Cincinnati has been struggling, that’s pretty much the gist of things. The Bengals are going to have to do more than the 94 passing yards they put up against the Minnesota Vikings in last week’s loss but don’t hold your breath. Palmer hasn’t thrown for more than 271 yards in any game this year and has passed for under 200 yards five times this season. The Chargers have scored over 24 points nine times this year and don’t expect things to change on Sunday against the struggling Bengals. Chargers 28-13
Green Bay Packers (9-4) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-7) 4:15 p.m.
While the Steelers might be out of the playoff running, they have the chance to play spoiler in the next three weeks against teams in the postseason hunt. When Pittsburgh squares off against the Packers on Sunday, it’ll be a matchup of two of the most storied franchises in NFL history. There was talk that injured Steelers safety Troy Polamalu would return for the matchup against Green Bay but he was scratched earlier in the week and his absence will indeed leave a vulnerable Pittsburgh secondary at the mercy of the Packers’ red hot QB, Aaron Rodgers.
Rodgers has had a terrific season but the notorious sloppy conditions at Heinz Field could hamper his receivers’ traction somewhat. Pittsburgh loves to make teams one-dimensional but Rodgers is the type of signal caller that can carry a team by himself if needed. Green Bay’s defense has been the real story of their season and with the Steelers struggling on offense, it could be a low-scoring affair on Sunday.
Pittsburgh has lost five straight games and to make matters worse: Green Bay has the best record of any opponent the Steelers have played during their slide. The Steelers are playing for pride this week and after last Thursday’s embarrassing loss to the Cleveland Browns, expect Pittsburgh to throw the kitchen sink at the visiting Packers despite missing some valuable members from their team.
Green Bay is only a few steps closer to securing a playoff spot and a win over the Steelers would make life extremely easy over the next few weeks. The Packers have won five straight and are catching their stride as they wind down their regular season. Rodgers has weapons everywhere on offense and his defense is suffocating. Against a weak Steeler Oline Green Bay should be able to corral Pittsburgh’s offense with no problem. But it’s hard betting against the champs though. The loss to Cleveland was a definite kick in the rear and if pride is all that Pittsburgh has to play for, expect them to show a lot on Sunday in front of their home fans. Steelers 26-21
2-2 mark over the weekend, not great but not bad. The New England Patriots were my last chance at a winning record but jeez … the Saints really took it to them on Monday night and killed that aspiration. Another exciting weekend in the books; last second scores, heroic efforts and comeback performances. This weekend had it all, just in case you missed anything:
New England Patriots vs. New Orleans Saints
What I predicted …
What I said would happen …
“Brees won’t let things get out of hand on his own field. Brees is threatening Peyton Manning for the MVP award and trumping Brady would give him the same card that Manning holds already. It’s hard picking against Belichick and Brady but the Saints have made fools out of anybody that’s picked against them this year. The Saints haven’t played the toughest of schedules this year but beating New England would give them the last bit of respect that they feel they’re not getting. But that’s easier said than done. Brady’s killer instinct and Belichick’s “who cares” attitude will cut down the Saints bid for an undefeated record.”
What actually happened …
The Saints demolished New England 38-17. Demolish is a light word considering what actually took place inside the Superdome on Monday night. Brees passed for five touchdowns and a perfect passer rating of 158.3. New Orleans jumped the Patriots in the second quarter, outscoring New England 21-3 in the period. Probably more impressive than Brees’ performance, the Saints held Brady without a touchdown pass and picked him off twice on their way to a rout. Brees found five different receivers on each of his scoring strikes and New England had no answer for New Orleans’ explosive offense.
My Reactions …
Wow. New Orleans (11-0) ran circles around one of the best teams in the AFC and looked fabulous doing so. New Orleans isn’t strong at stopping the run, which teams try to exploit, but because the Saints can score in a matter of seconds, it makes it nearly impossible for teams to commit to the ground game. New England came out running the ball with some success in the game’s early moments. After the Saints ripped apart New England’s secondary in the second quarter, the Patriots had to abandon the run game and play catch up. Even with flaws on defense, New Orleans manages to cover them up with a potent offense. They’re obviously the best team in the league right now and seemed destined for a NFC title game appearance.
New England (7-4) looked really really really old last Monday night. Their defense couldn’t stop anything and even their offense looked slow. The Patriots aren’t giving Brady the same time he was afforded in 2007 and maybe it’s the beard but Randy Moss looks like a washed up wideout who can only run deep. New England running back Laurence Maroney is only 24 but runs like he’s 34. This might be the ultimate testament to how good the Saints are though. New England is one of the best teams in the league but the Saints made them look like a .500 team on its last leg. Not sure where New England is headed but Brady is going to have to mask a lot of New England’s deficiencies. With Brady fresh off a ripped up knee, I’m not really sure how much Brady can hide. Stay tuned…
Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Baltimore Ravens
What I predicted …
What I said would happen …
“Baltimore is still smarting after a 0-3 mark against the Steelers last year and with another game with Pittsburgh on the horizon the week before the season ends, the Ravens know they have to strike now while the iron is hot. No Troy Polamalu and a woozy Roethlisberger is blood in the water for the thirsty Ravens and they’ll be ready to drink on Sunday.”
What actually happened …
The Ravens beat the Steelers 20-17 in overtime. It was a valiant effort by third string quarterback Dennis Dixon and the rest of the Steelers but Baltimore came away with more plays in the fourth quarter and knocked off their hated rival. Sophomore runner Ray Rice totaled 155 yards against the Steelers and his 44-yard reception in the fourth quarter led Baltimore to the tying field goal after the Ravens trailed 17-14 in the fourth quarter. Rookie pass rusher Paul Kruger then intercepted Dixon’s third down pass in overtime and raced 26 yards to set Baltimore up for the game winning field goal.
My reactions …
It wasn’t pretty, but the Ravens (6-5) got it done against a shorthanded Steeler team. It was a must win for Baltimore who will travel next week to Green Bay to take on the sizzling Packers. The Ravens are in good hands with Rice and sophomore signal caller Joe Flacco. Both are light years ahead of average second year men and with their defense rounding back into form, Baltimore could make a late season push for a playoff spot with three of their final four games coming against below .500 teams.
Things got a little bit testy over quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s early Saturday scratch. The Steelers (6-5) went the majority of the week under the belief that their star quarterback would be ready to roll and his late week decision to sit out caused some stir in the locker room. Pittsburgh has now lost three straight games and adding a possible locker room rift won’t help things in western Pennsylvania. The Steelers will catch a bit of a break when they host the Oakland Raiders next week but after a loss to the Kansas City Chiefs a few weeks ago, that might not be such a sure thing. Stay tuned…
Arizona Cardinals vs. Tennessee Titans
What I predicted …
What I said would happen …
“Warner was dinged up last week after he took a blow to the head and didn’t return for the second half of the Cards’ win against the St. Louis Rams. His status is vital if Arizona wants to reach a 6-0 road mark on Sunday. Regardless of their impressive collection of skill players, without Warner, this offense just doesn’t click. The Titans defense has been playing well during their win streak and would probably be able to handle Warner’s backup Matt Leinhart. Reports suggest Warner will be able to go but if he’s slowed, the Titans could pull the upset but I won’t pick against that group of skill guys if Warner is there to stir the drink.”
What actually happened …
The Titans narrowly dodged Arizona 20-17. Trailing 17-13 with 2:37 left in the fourth quarter, Vince Young marched the Titans 99 yards in 18 plays and capped it off with a last second strike to rookie wideout Kenny Britt with no time remaining on the clock. It was Tennessee’s fifth-straight win and the Cardinals first road loss of the season. Kurt Warner was forced to sit out with a concussion and Matt Leinhart took over but couldn’t will Arizona to a victory. In the matchup of 2005’s Rose Bowl starting QBs, Leinhart failed to throw a touchdown pass and Young passed for a career-high 387 yards, trumping Leinhart once again after Young one upped him in a memorable college game.
My reactions …
Tennessee is on fire. The Titans (5-6) have won five straight and Chris Johnson and Young have been killing teams with their two-man tag team. The defense has been revitalized after their week seven bye. After a 0-6 start, it’s become a real possibility that the Titans could push for a playoff spot but a road trip against the undefeated Indianapolis Colts looms. But the Titans will be game for a chance to get even at .500. If Tennessee can get past the Colts, home games against the St. Louis Rams and Miami Dolphins could have the Titans where they want to be but there’s a team they still have to take care of first. Stay tuned…
Arizona (7-4) is a strong team and shouldn’t be devastated by their last second collapse. Leinhart didn’t know he would play until the later stages of last week and a full week or preparation would go a long way should Warner be forced to miss anymore time. The Cardinals will get the Minnesota Vikings (10-1) at home on Sunday night but Leinhart will probably have to play the best game of his career if the Cards are to cut down the Vikings. Stay tuned…
Indianapolis Colts vs. Houston Texans
What I predicted …
What I said would happen …
“Peyton Manning has the Colts under a 19-game regular season winning streak right now and he would love nothing better than to tie Brady’s 20-game regular season winning streak of a few seasons ago. He has the Colts on schedule for home-field advantage but with Houston in the middle of the playoff hunt and ready to extract some payback, Indy will be in for another tough game. But tough games don’t scare Indy. Houston would normally be the trendy pick but until they can win a big time game, you won’t find me picking them.”
What actually happened …
The Colts beat the Texans 35-27. Similar to last year’s game, the Texans were leading 20-7 before Indy started another comeback. The Colts outscored Houston 28-7 in the second half and Manning threw for three touchdowns. Indy ran off 28 consecutive points before Houston’s Matt Schaub threw a late touchdown pass with 18 seconds left in the game. Indianapolis ran their win streak to 20 games and Manning will have the opportunity to break Tom Brady’s 20-game regular season win streak with a victory next week.
My reactions …
The Colts (11-0) just keep chugging along and you have to be impressed. This might be the weakest Colts team in the last six or seven years but Manning has them at the top of the AFC and tied for the best record in the league. It’s not all Manning’s doing as the Colts are getting solid efforts out of their banged up defense but Manning is still the driving force. He just doesn’t lose and even when the Colts got down 14-0 early in the game, no one sitting in Reliant Stadium in Houston thought the game was getting away from Indy. The Colts will get a stiff test next week against the resurgent Titans but there’s no doubt Manning will be up for the task.
Houston (5-6) continues to show their not ready to take that next step into the league’s elite teams. The Texans had Indy down 20-7 at the half and then got shutout for most of the second half until Schaub’s late strike. It’s obvious Houston can compete with some of the league’s better teams but there’s still something missing. Until they figure out what’s lacking, the Texans will be stuck in neutral until they can start matching opposing teams’ intensity level.
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