I would like to begin this week by taking a moment to commemorate Alex Karras.
Karras was a defensive tackle for the Detroit Lions from 1958 to 1970. He was a three-time all-pro and was named to the NFL’s all-decade team in the 1960s. He, like Jerry Kramer, whom I mentioned last week, is another former player whose omission from the hallowed ranks of the Pro Football Hall of Fame has stirred controversy among football historians who remember his domination on the field. Some people say it is because he incurred a year-long suspension from football for gambling—but so did Paul Hornung, and Hornung’s got a bust in Canton.
Karras’ career transcended football. He was also an actor (most memorably in Mel Brooks’ hilarious and politically incorrect comedy Blazing Saddles), professional wrestler, and Monday Night Football Announcer.
Karras died at the age of 77 on Wednesday. He was a star on and off the field, and it is important that he is remembered accordingly.
Now, my analyses:
Prediction record last week: 10-4
Prediction record overall: 47-30
Steelers @ Titans
I know the starting quarterback, Jake Locker, is out, but the Titans’ performance against Minnesota on Sunday was beyond ugly, it was shameful. By the end of Sunday’s game, Matt Hasselbeck, whom we thought would be a reliable backup, was benched. Whether he was benched for precautionary measures or because of his performance, I don’t know. Either way, the outlook is bleak for Tennessee, who finished their game against Minnesota with Rusty Smith under center, and a 23-point blowout loss.
The Steelers rebounded from their embarrassing loss to Oakland by claiming the Pennsylvania title against a team with strikingly similar inconsistent characteristics (the Eagles). Rashard Mendenhall made a triumphant return to the field from 2011’s knee injury, compiling 101 all-purpose yards and a touchdown. All-pro defenders James Harrison and Troy Polamalu also made returns from injuries, but had minimal impacts. Polamalu re-injured his calf and has already been declared out for Thursday Night Football against Tennessee. Good news for the Titans because of Polamalu’s recent history (two links) against Tennessee.
With or without Polamalu, Pittsburgh is by far the superior team here. Tennessee’s defense is one of the worst in the league to go along with their anemic offense, which may or not be lead by Rusty Smith next week. It’s not going to make much of a difference one way or the other. Pittsburgh should roll.
Raiders @ Falcons
Oakland stumbled into their bye last week by enduring a trouncing at the hands of Peyton Manning. They will look to return to the win column against the only team who has really figured Manning out this season, Atlanta.
Atlanta came out on top in a hotly contested offensive bout with the Washington Redskins in week five. Matt Ryan still has my vote for MVP through the first part of the season. His receivers continue to make plays (well, except for part-time tight end and full-time guard, Joe Hawley, who is no Jumbo Elliott). The defense was led by Sean Weatherspoon, who recorded a sack and 11 tackles, while Thomas DeCoud reeled in another interception—his league-leading fourth.
The Raiders will welcome Darrius Heyward-Bey back to the starting lineup on Sunday after his scary head injury against Pittsburgh in week three, but that will hardly improve Oakland’s chances against the Millennium Falcons (trust me, this nickname will catch on soon; just wait).
The Falcons continue to make a strong case for the NFC Super Bowl bid, and although it’s only week six, you have got to wonder who is going to beat them. It won’t be Oakland.
Cowboys @ Ravens
It’s disconcerting for Ravens fans that this team only managed nine points against Kansas City this past Sunday. Baltimore was three-of-eleven on third down conversions, and on defense, they allowed Jamaal Charles to rack up 140 rushing yards. Baltimore was clearly the better team throughout the contest, but as they did with Cleveland in week four, they could never really put their inferior opponent away. Sooner or later, one bad team is going to get momentum right at the very end of the game and get the better of the Ravens. Baltimore has been known to inexplicably lose to sub-par teams every now and then. Dallas may be that team this weekend.
The Cowboys have no manner of luck at all. After Tony Romo’s Monday night interception extravaganza against the Bears, Dallas gets an early bye and now a trip to Baltimore, where yet another ball-hawking defense, led by future hall-of-famer Ed Reed, awaits.
Dallas hasn’t played a good game since week one. Considering that at least two of their opponents since then have been highly beatable, this is bad news for the always-underachieving Cowboys. But like any inconsistent team, they are bound to rebound at any moment. I just wouldn’t expect that rebound this weekend. Baltimore will be out to prove that they are a better team than their underwhelming victory over the Chiefs indicates.
Bengals @ Browns
Before either team meets Pittsburgh, these in-state, AFC North rivals will battle each other for the second time this season in week six. Cincy took the first meeting in shootout fashion, as Andy Dalton and Brandon Weeden both eclipsed 300 passing yards.
I see no reason why round two should be all that different. After all, it’s only been four weeks. Since then, Cincinnati had played well until they hit a wall against Miami last week, while Cleveland has extended their winless record to 0-5.
Against the Giants this past Sunday, Cleveland got all our hopes up as they jumped out to a 14-point lead early on in the first quarter. Then they did the typical Cleveland Browns thing, and allowed 20 second-quarter points and three Victor Cruz touchdowns in an eventual 41-27 beatdown. Brandon Weeden’s early bomb to Josh Norwood was very, very pretty though—if you’re looking for a silver lining.
Even as a playoff team in 2011, I never really bought the Bengals as a playoff-caliber team. They benefitted from an easy schedule last season, and the same can be said of their start to 2012, as their three wins have come against average-at-best teams like Washington, Jacksonville, and, of course, Cleveland.
As much as I love picking upsets, I am not feeling this one. Even with all-star cornerback Joe Haden returning from suspension, I don’t see the Browns secondary being able to stop this young, athletic Bengals receiving corps. It might be a close one, but I like Cincinnati to sweep.
Rams @ Dolphins
The Rams defense had their coming-out party against Arizona last week, proving (as I have suspected since week one, might I add) that they, too, are an NFC West defense to be reckoned with. Chris Long and Robert Quinn had field days against the tattered Arizona offensive line, leading St. Louis in a nine-sack effort.
It was not all good news for the Rams, however, as Danny Amendola injured his clavicle and will miss a number of weeks with what was initially feared to be a break, then diagnosed as a dislocation, then re-diagnosed with a “sternoclavicular joint separation”—meaning that, as reported by Jay Glazer on Sunday, Amendola’s injury was potentially life-threatening (graphic details available here). Chris Givens, a fourth-round rookie out of Wake Forest will now assume the starting wideout spot opposite Brandon Gibson. It makes you wonder whatever happened to second-rounder Brian Quick, who only has one reception on the season. Regardless, it was the loss of Amendola last season that did this team in offensively, as Bradford lost his most reliable target; the rest of this inexperienced and underachieving (Steve Smith has already been stripped of his starting job) receiving corps will have to cowboy up and compensate for Amendola’s absence.
The Dolphins look better every week. For the first time, I am starting to think that Ryan Tannehill might be a franchise quarterback in time. He still isn’t blowing anybody away with his stat lines, but he managed Sunday’s victory over Cincinnati quite well, and as long as Brian Hartline continues to wreak havoc on secondaries throughout the NFL, Tannehill’s development is headed in a good direction.
The Dolphins defense also stepped up in a big way against the Bengals, coming up with two crucial picks and allowing only one touchdown to a Cincy offense that had averaged four per game entering the contest.
I like the Rams in this one because of the way the defense is performing.
Jets @ Colts
Surprisingly, the Jets managed to manufacture some offense against Houston, but for the most part, they were probably reliving the immortal sentiments of the great Vince Lombardi who once famously asked/yelled “Watt the hell is going on out here?!”
Of course, “Watt” assumed an alternative meaning on Monday night as Houston’s wonderboy defensive lineman literally swatted away the Jets’ hopes of an upset. Nonetheless, I think—and so does Rex Ryan—that Mark Sanchez did enough to retain his starting job—for now.
Two weeks ago, I would have said that Sanchez had a favorable matchup this weekend against Indianapolis, but after the Colts secondary’s “Chuckstrong” performance against Aaron Rodgers this past weekend—which was nothing short of amazing—I see no repose for Sanchez. This could be another tough one. At least the pressure of primetime is not a factor this time around.
The Colts have some major mojo after their emotional conquest of Green Bay. They simply could not be stopped. The Colts’ second half was just one of those moments in sports that cannot be gauged by stats; it was an effort that had its origin somewhere in the depth of a team’s soul—not on the field or the locker room, but in a hospital bed somewhere in Indianapolis. It was an inspiring game to watch.
Even without the intangible advantage and motivation that the Colts have developed in the wake of Chuck Pagano’s cancer diagnosis, I think the Colts are tangibly the better team in this game. I have no faith in the New York offense without Santonio Holmes, and the defense got shredded last week by Arian Foster.
Lions @ Eagles
“Hard times are over,” I said of the Lions in my first article.
Well… sorry Lions faithful, I was wrong; hard times are back. The Lions have one win through four games, that coming in a lucky finish against St. Louis in the very first week of the season. Since then, Detroit has allowed 91 points in three losses and managed fewer than twenty points in two of them. You may say, “well, they put up 41 against Tennessee,” to which I will give you the option: what’s worse, allowing 44 points to the Titans, or an offense with the firepower of Detroit’s scoring only 41 against the worst defense in the league in four and a half quarters? Detroit has no business being 1-3 right now. The loss to San Francisco I can understand, but this is not the same team we saw win 10 games last season on their way to a playoff berth; this looks more like the Matt Millen Lions of yore, I daresay.
The Eagles are just as hapless. They are beyond lucky to have a winning record right now. Averaging three turnovers per game, they are a mere seven points away from being 0-5. Furthermore, their turnover habit seems to be most apparent in the worst of places—the red zone.
There are two primary differences between these two underachieving teams. One, the Eagles seem to have luck on their side; two, Philadelphia can at least boast a suitable defense, and that is why the Eagles will win this game.
Chiefs @ Buccaneers
Well, whether they were cheering or not when Matt Cassel’s concussion occurred, the Chiefs fans will be getting what many (including the one who rented the plane ad) have been clamoring for: Brady Quinn will start at quarterback for Kansas City this weekend against Tampa Bay. This is similar to the Sanchez/Tebow situation in New York. Do these fans really believe that the backup quarterback is going to increase their team’s chances of winning? Backups are backups for good reason, and in his short professional career, Brady Quinn has shown me no reason why he should ever take first-team reps. That said, Matt Cassel has been pretty terrible. With five touchdowns and nine picks, he has a cumulative QBR of 44.7.
The Buccaneers lost a heartbreaker to Washington two weeks ago before entering their bye with a disappointing three-loss streak. Their chances to rebound are excellent this week when they welcome Kansas City to Raymond James Stadium.
Both Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams are coming off of 100-yard games, and it looks like LeGarrette Blount is working his way back into the Bucs offense, as Doug Martin has failed to seal up the starting role.
With two weeks of preparation behind them, Tampa Bay should boost their morale with a victory over the Chiefs.
Bills @ Cardinals
The problem with Arizona is not their defense. I think that is pretty clear. The problem with the Cardinals is that they only have one consistently good player on offense (Larry Fitzgerald). Others are either inconsistent or oft-injured. Case in point: the Arizona running backs. Both Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams have been placed on injured reserve, while La’Rod Stephens-Howling (probably one of the league’s better third options, at least) has been limited in practice and “believes” he will play. If he doesn’t, we might see William Powell starting at tailback for the Cards, where he will probably get battered—because this offensive line is beyond atrocious; just ask Kevin Kolb after his night as the Rams’ chew toy. Kolb was sacked nine times, hit, and harassed countless others. Arizona attempted 17 running plays for a laughable total of 45 yards—an average of fewer than three yards.
If Buffalo’s high-priced and much-lauded defensive front is ever going to fulfill expectations, it is now. With Marcell Dareus, Kyle Williams, and Mario Williams bringing the pressure, Kolb will probably find himself running for his life again—which Kolb seems to have a bad habit of doing anyway, even when circumstances do not require it.
Even if Buffalo gets a few sacks though, it’s probably not going to matter in the long run. I think now is good time to mention that Buffalo relented 621 yards of offense in the process of rolling over for San Francisco. Even an offense like Arizona’s can put up good numbers against a defense like this.
Furthermore, I have no idea how Buffalo intends to score against the feisty Arizona D. This could be another ugly one for the Biffalo Buffs (another nickname I am coining, with due credit to Dr. Seuss).
Patriots @ Seahawks
A road win against the Panthers’ clueless defense was just enough for Russell Wilson to keep Matt Flynn at bay for another week. Nonetheless, I still think that when you only score 16 points against a unit as bad as Carolina, it’s time for some offensive changes, and I think the time has arrived for Matt Flynn to be given the chance he is due. Pete Carroll is using the “if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it” tactic to defend his rookie starter.
On defense, Seattle continues to look great. The secondary, also known as “The Legion of Boom,” is the strength of the unit, and they will need to show up in a big way against Tom Terrific and his very own “legion of zoom.”
Should the Legion of Boom prevail, the Patriots have a secret weapon in their brand new two-headed backfield monster, which features Stevan Ridley and more peculiarly, undrafted free agent sensation Brandon Bolden. Together, they have amassed almost 700 yards in rushing yards this season. Throw Danny Woodhead in there and the Seahawks suddenly have a lot of preparing to do for New England’s ground game—in addition to studying Brady’s highly complex aerial assault.
New England is just too much for Seattle. The Pats won’t be embarrassed like they were against Arizona twice in a season. From here out, they will win the games they are expected to, and count this as one of them.
Giants @ 49ers
Week six’s marquee matchup is a rematch of the most recent NFC championship game. You know—the game in which Kyle Williams unintentionally starred as the “What-Not-To-Do” in the “ball security on special teams” instructional video. I wonder who will handle return duties for San Francisco this time around.
I really like what San Francisco has been doing with Colin Kaepernick in their offense. In two games, Kaepernick has rushed nine times for 89 yards (yeah, that almost 10 yards per carry) and scored a touchdown in both games.
In other 49ers news, Brandon Jacobs expressed displeasure earlier in the week concerning his playing time in San Francisco. We’ll see if his touches increase against his former team.
The Giants got off to a slow start against Cleveland last week, but thanks to a whole bunch of salsa dancing from Victor Cruz, the G-Men mounted a comeback, eventually winning decisively.
If New York gets down early against San Fran, they could be in trouble. The Niners defense is almost impenetrable. The Giants offense will have to make the most out of every possible opportunity—convert third downs and maintain a good run/pass balance—while the defense cannot let San Francisco steal any easy points. The offense needs as much of a cushion as possible.
Hakeem Nicks is listed as questionable for the game. His presence (or absence) will go a long way in determining the amount of success New York will have offensively on Sunday. Whether Nicks plays or not, I think I have to go with San Francisco in this one.
Vikings @ Redskins
Luckily for the Redskins, it appears that Robert Griffin, III will start this weekend despite sustaining a concussion in a loss to Atlanta in week five. Griffin has single-handedly turned Washington’s offenses into one of the league’s finest, and this week’s matchup with Minnesota’s surprisingly impressive defense should be a good one. The Vikings have not allowed more than 20 points since a 26-23 overtime victory over Jacksonville in week one. In their past three games, they have permitted only one touchdown apiece.
That should change against the Redskins who average 31 points per game. Despite a loss this past weekend to the soaring Falcons, Washington looks sharp both on the ground and through the air. Mike Shanahan has proven that he still has the magic touch with running backs, as Alfred Morris rushed for 100-plus yards for a second week in a row.
Minnesota’s offense was clicking on Sunday as Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin combined for 219 all-purpose yards. Christian Ponder is but a game manager at this point, but as long as the defense, Harvin, and Peterson continue to contribute at such high levels, that’s all that will be asked of him.
Minnesota has played very well to open the season, but I am not ready to buy them just yet. I will rethink that should they beat Washington—but they won’t. As long as RGIII plays, I am taking the Skins in this one.
Packers @ Texans
Green Bay caught Indianapolis at a bad time. Any other week, they might have closed the game out with a win—like they should have. Instead, they were overcome by Indianapolis’ spirited second-half resurgence and left Lucas Oil Stadium not only with a loss, but injuries to some key players—B.J. Raji, Jermichael Finley, and perhaps most distressingly, Cedric Benson, who suffered a lisfranc injury and has been placed on injured reserve.
The last thing the Packers need is a matchup against the most savage defense in football, but much to their misfortune, that is what they will get in primetime fashion on Sunday night as J.J. Watt leads a Brian Cushing-less defense against the underperforming Packers offense, who are still without their top wideout in Greg Jennings.
A little interesting sidenote: a stat correction has stripped J.J. Watt of one of his would-be league-leading 8.5 sacks, leaving him with 7.5—second only to the Packers’ Clay Matthews. This should be a good one for those who enjoy a good pass rush. Somebody from this game could come away with a double-digit season sack total on Sunday night.
I have every reason in the world to pick Houston to win this game. The Packers are reeling; they are on the ropes—but that is precisely when they play their best football.
Yeah, that’s right, folks, I’m picking Green Bay.
Broncos @ Chargers
I don’t expect a defensive struggle in this one. Peyton Manning appears to be back on top of his game, and Philip Rivers is making the best of his subpar receiving corps in San Diego.
I think Rivers deserves a lot of credit for what he’s done in his time in San Diego, considering that in all that time, the only receivers of note he has had are Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson. This year he’s thrown multiple touchdowns to no-names like Dante Rosario and Robert Meachem. Imagine what Rivers could do with a receiving corps like New England’s.
Peyton Manning doesn’t exactly have an elite group of pass-catchers either, but he does have Demaryius Thomas, who put up 180 yards against New England this past Sunday. Thomas has 505 yards on the season, an average of 101 per game.
This game should give us a good idea of who will be the top dog in the AFC West this season. It clearly won’t be Oakland, and definitely will not be Kansas City.
I think these teams are very similar, with Denver claiming a slight edge defensively, but my gut is telling me to go with San Diego; thus, I like the Bolts to jump into the AFC West driver’s seat.
Thought of the week: In a week that includes a potential Super Bowl preview in primetime between Green Bay and Houston, and a rematch of last season’s NFC Championship, it’s ironically Miami’s bout with St. Louis, and Minnesota’s contest with Washington that intrigue me the most. There will be at least one surprise playoff team in those two games, I guarantee it.