Looking at the week-seven schedule last week, it was clear which matchup was the best. The best matchup, however, translated into anything but the best game, as the Houston Texans dismantled the Ray Lewis-less Ravens 43-13. Meanwhile, in the game I dubbed the “Bore Bowl,” Tennessee and Buffalo gave us one of the week’s most thrilling games: a 35-34 Tennessee shocker that went down to the wire and featured a 195-yard rushing performance from that Chris Johnson guy you might have forgotten about.
Otherwise, the week was highly predictable:
Prediction record last week: 11-2 (new personal record)
Prediction record overall: 63-41
Predictability in the NFL is a double-edged sword. I like it because it makes me look smart. I don’t like it because, well, who wants to know what’s going to happen? An upset is always nice to see, so maybe I’ll gamble a bit with my picks this week just to make things interesting.
Tampa Bay @ Minnesota
Tampa Bay’s 513-yard offensive explosion against the Saints marked the third week in a row that the Buccaneers offense looked sharp. Josh Freeman is beginning to click with all of his receivers, but especially Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. I am beginning to think that acquiring V-Jax was the best free agency move of the offseason. He set a franchise single-game record with 216 receiving yards against New Orleans, and has five touchdowns on the season. When you consider the additions of Jackson, Carl Nicks, Dallas Clark, and the rookie impacts of Doug Martin, Lavonte David, and Mark Barron, one could make a strong argument that the Bucs had the best offseason of any NFL franchise… then again, one could refute by simply citing their 2-4 record.
Minnesota is one of 2012’s biggest surprises. In 2011, the Vikings were the only NFC North team outside of pragmatic playoff contention before the midway point of the season. This season, they are 5-2 with the division’s two 2011 playoff teams looking up at them. Not a bad improvement.
NFL Network hit the bull’s-eye again on Thursday Night Football. What might have appeared to be a real snoozer before the season began is now one of the better week-eight matchups. Two small-market, non-playoff teams on primetime—yes, this is one of week eight’s finest. How’s that for predictability?
I said I would pick some upsets, so I will begin by doing just that: coming off of their supremely disappointing photo-finish against the Saints, the Buccaneers will win this game. Minnesota has the edge in every category except one: quarterbacking. Tampa’s advantage under center may prove to be the difference. It also helps that the pewter pirates (not the creamsicle swashbucklers again, thank goodness) have the third-best run defense in the league.
Washington @ Pittsburgh
Another intriguing week-seven matchup comes in the form of an interconference showdown between two of the most storied franchises in the NFL. Surprisingly, perhaps, Washington and Pittsburgh have never met in a Super Bowl, but seven weeks into 2012, both are still firmly in contention for a date to the big dance.
Of course neither of these teams ranks among the elite of either conference. It is important for these teams to win to maintain their positioning for a wild card berth, and who knows, maybe pull out a division championship. Any way you look at it, this is a big game for both squads.
The injury bug has plagued Pittsburgh early on (Troy Polamalu has already been ruled out for week eight), but it appears that Maurkice Pouncey will return to the starting lineup against Washington, and maybe, just maybe, Rashard Mendenhall will suit up as well.
The Skins are immensely talented. Their problem is inexperience and an occasional lapse of discipline. They are the third-most penalized team in the league and sport the worst pass defense as well. They can score with anyone, but I have yet to see them stop anyone. They have allowed at least 24 points in every game this season. That’s why I have to go with Pittsburgh in this one—it’s just a poor matchup for Washington. Because of the uncertainty of their ground game, the Steelers will come out throwing, and I don’t see Washington being able to stop it.
Seattle @ Detroit
Seattle’s Thursday night bruiser against the 49ers took us all back to the 1960s, when stout defense and running the ball ruled the game. It was a low-scoring affair for the right reason: good defense. Detroit’s yawner against Chicago on Monday night, was low-scoring for the wrong reason: bad offense.
Is it possible that teams have figured out how to stop Calvin Johnson? He has broken the century mark three times this season, and the Lions are second in the league in passing yards, but that has translated into only two wins. With Nate Burleson out for the season, things will only get worse, as Megatron will now be counting on Titus Young and Ryan Broyles to draw coverage, when Burleson and Young weren’t doing a great job of that in the first place. It would be helpful if the Lions had a viable ground attack, but Mikel LeShoure and Joique Bell are clearly not getting it done, and Jahvid Best will not be returning anytime soon.
The thing I like about this game is the clash of titans between Calvin Johnson and the Legion of Boom. This is a match made in football heaven.
Seattle’s offense is still showing no signs of life (with their one good outing being against New England’s horrible defense), while Detroit’s defense has actually looked not-terrible in their three most recent games. Another upset? That’s right. I’m taking Detroit.
Carolina @ Chicago
Cam Newton summed it up best in his postgame presser when he stated, “Something’s going to have to change.” The change came swiftly. Longtime general manager Marty Hurney was fired on Monday. He probably will not be the last to go. Ron Rivera, in his second season as head coach, is already on the hot seat, as are both coordinators. The defense ranks 21st in the league, while the offense, more inexplicably, ranks 24th. There is no excuse for this. Carolina has all the firepower in the world behind one of the most talented offensive lines in football and they cannot effectively move the ball. On defense, Carolina has, in recent weeks, gone from terrible to somewhat mediocre, but that’s not going to win games.
Chicago, on the other hand, looks like one of the league’s best teams. The offense is not all that great, but they do enough to let the defense pull them through. It will not take much from Lance Briggs, Charles “Peanut” Tillman, and co. to put down the struggling Panthers.
One thing to remember, however, is that Carolina began 2011 with the same 1-5 record they have now. After their inauspicious beginning, they rattled off five wins in their last ten games to finish the season in respectable fashion. Maybe Carolina can pull it together again this season, but I don’t see it happening against the mighty Chicago Bears.
Atlanta @ Philadelphia
The Panthers were not the first team this season to make a change in personnel. The Eagles promptly fired much-maligned defensive coordinator Juan Castillo after the fourth-quarter debacle against Detroit in week six before heading into their bye week. Since then, they have had a week off to digest Castillo’s departure and study up for one of the league’s most potent offenses—the Atlanta “Millennium” Falcons.
The Falcons, too, are emerging from a well-placed bye week. Atlanta flirted with losses to inferior teams like Oakland and Carolina before the bye week arrived most opportunely. Now, they are fully rested and ready for a showdown with Philadelphia that will undoubtedly have playoff implications. With Washington and New York playing so well in the NFC East, the Eagles cannot afford to lose pace, while Atlanta would love to hold on to home-field advantage to avoid having to play in Chicago in January.
Asante Samuel will play a pivotal role in this game. Coming off his clutch pick-six against Oakland, he will look to give Atlanta insight into Philadelphia’s offensive game, having spent his past few seasons as an Eagle.
I cannot trust Philadelphia. They are the antithesis of Atlanta’s consistency in the power running game and on defense (does John Abraham ever age?). And even with Nnamdi Asomugha in the secondary, I don’t know how Philadelphia will account for all of Atlanta’s downfield weapons. I like Atlanta to stay unbeaten.
New England @ St. Louis
The Patriots escaped with a win in an overtime thriller against their hated New York rivals this past Sunday; though many have taken the Patriots’ sluggish performance as a cause for concern and perhaps a sign that there has been or will be a changing of the guards in the AFC. It’s a valid assessment. After all, the Patriots offense was outperformed by that of the Jets. We all knew the New England defense was bad, but when the offense is underperforming too, it’s rather disconcerting.
The Rams, despite losing to the Packers, have a very strong defense, typical of their division. Tom Brady will get hit in this one. With Robert Quinn and Chris Long continuing their domination up front, Brady will be looking for his tight ends early and often. Rob Gronkowski looks as unstoppable as ever coming off his two-touchdown game against New York, but Aaron Hernandez still looks slow and gimpy from his week-one leg injury.
The Patriots have made it no secret where the chink in their armor lies. If a team has any viable passing game whatsoever, New England suddenly becomes rather fallible. St. Louis, however, has no viable passing game. If they are going to beat the Pats, it’ll have to be some other way; I don’t see the receiving tandem of Brandon Gibson and Chris Givens bringing down New England, the Pats’ horrendous secondary notwithstanding.
Indianapolis @ Tennessee
The Titans suddenly have new life with their 37-year-old backup quarterback, Matt Hasselbeck. Hasselbeck’s appearance in week four against Houston was anything but relief for the Titans and their quarterback woes, but after a 30-7 beatdown loss in Minnesota, the Titans have righted the ship and won two straight. All the sudden, they are half a game out of second place in the AFC South with the second-place Colts coming to Nashville this weekend.
In week seven, the Colts gave their ill head coach Chuck Pagano a welcome-home present in the form of a win against Cleveland, in which Andrew Luck showed off his inner-RGIII by rushing for both of Indianapolis’ touchdowns. Vick Ballard accumulated over 100 all-purpose yards out of the backfield, and the old standby Reggie Wayne reeled in 6 receptions for 73 yards. The Colts offense looks primed for a big day against the Titans’ 30th-ranked defense.
The Titans didn’t have too bad of an offensive day either in their game against Buffalo. Chris Johnson, as mentioned earlier, had 185 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the 35-point effort, while Hasselbeck hit ten different receivers and put the Titans up for good with less than two minutes to play.
Indianapolis isn’t exactly a defensive powerhouse, but they will have more to offer against Tennessee than Buffalo did. This should be a tight one. It’s a tough choice, but I like how the Titans have looked recently, so the Titans it is.
San Diego @ Cleveland
Can the Browns stop anybody? Can the Browns beat anybody except Cincinnati? Cleveland did not look as bad as their record early on, but against Indianapolis, they looked more like the sloppy product you would expect from a 1-5 (soon thereafter to be 1-6) franchise. Punter Reggie Hodges dropped a snap on an extra point (at least that means they scored). Josh Gordon dropped what might have been a game-winning touchdown. You can’t say Cleveland didn’t have their chances against the Colts.
The Chargers have to be one of the most frustrating franchises in the NFL. I don’t consider myself a Chargers fan, but watching their 24-point halftime lead dissipate against Denver a couple weeks ago was unbearable. That team gave up. With the talent they have (especially on offense), there’s no reason for that sort of performance. I might finally have turned my back on Norv Turner. The Chargers had a chance to take a demanding lead in their division; all they had to do was be efficient for one half. One half! They were absolutely pathetic against Denver’s mediocre defense.
If they are going to rebound, they will rebound in week eight. The game against Cleveland is like a second bye week. If somehow they lose, I would not be surprised to see Turner lose his job midseason.
Luckily, I see no way that the San Diego Super Chargers could lose to the Browns.
Miami @ New York Jets
Nobody plays the game for moral victories. Just ask former Jets coach, Herm Edwards. “You play to win the game!” Whether they have any value or not, I think it would be fair to call the Jets’ loss to New England a moral victory of sorts. They went into Foxboro, and really outplayed the top dog in their division. Then again, New York did not particularly play well; they just manufactured some offense for once… and who doesn’t against New England? Regardless of the wherefores and the whys, the Jets put another one in the “L” column when all was said and done. Now, they find themselves at an uncomfortable 3-4 mark.
Speaking of uncomfortable marks, Mark Sanchez was sacked four times against New England, including the game-ending strip-sack. Despite the duress, however, Sanchez had a respectable day, throwing for 328 yards and a touchdown. It seems as though he’s developing trust in his receivers for the first time this season, as Dustin Keller has returned to the lineup and Jeremy Kerley has stepped up to fill the shoes of Santonio Holmes.
The Dolphins have had a bye week to study up on the Jets’ inconsistent-at-best offense. The offense continues to improve as Ryan Tannehill gets a firmer grip on his job and the running game grows. Joe Philbin and Mike Sherman are making a little something out of nothing down in Miami.
Both of these teams looked better than I expected them to at the beginning of the season. The AFC East is still wide open, so this game is huge to both combatants. Mainly because of the advantage of playing at home under the watchful eyes of Fireman Ed and the rest of the Jets faithful, I’m picking New York.
Jacksonville @ Green Bay
Even after two decisive wins, the media found a way to panic over the Packers. This time, it’s Charles Woodson’s broken clavicle. Charles Woodson, much like Ray Lewis, is a huge part of his team’s defense in terms of leadership, but Woodson has taken a step back in on-field production this season. It has been the youth of the Packers secondary that has been making the plays recently—M.D. Jennings, Jerron McMillian, Casey Heyward, Davon House (who looks just like Al Harris wearing 31 and sporting the dreadlocks). It seems to be an unshakable tradition for Green Bay to give up a ton of passing yards, but as long as they are forcing turnovers, they are in good shape.
The Jaguars, however, could be in very, very bad shape. Blaine Gabbert, and more unfortunately, Maurice Jones-Drew both exited Sunday’s overtime loss to Oakland with injuries. Gabbert is expected to be back for the game at Lambeau; Jones-Drew, not so much. It is not a lisfranc injury. Still, Mojo will be out for “multiple games.“
Even with their star running back, the Jaguars had little to no shot of winning in Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers recently shredded the Texans—perhaps the best defense in the league. What do you expect him to do against the 28th-ranked defensive unit in the NFL? This could get ugly. I like the Pack big in this one.
Oakland @ Kansas City
Picking this game is about as interesting picking out my socks in the morning. Both of these teams are pretty pitiful, particularly on offense. Six games in, and Kansas City still has not led a game during regulation. Oakland, at least, has made their two most recent games interesting, coming back from a 14-point deficit to take Jacksonville to overtime, and almost knocking off the undefeated Falcons the weekend before that.
Carson Palmer doesn’t look like the same guy who enjoyed limited success in Cincinnati earlier in his career. Of course, he doesn’t have the best receivers to work with, but only so much blame can be placed on Darrius Heyward-Bey, Denarius Moore, and Rod Streater. Darren McFadden is all Oakland has, and he is all Oakland will need against Kansas City.
The Chiefs will be starting Brady Quinn at quarterback this weekend. If you think he’s going to be any better than Matt Cassel was, think again. This team is falling apart. Dwayne Bowe wants out; the fans are restless; Jamaal Charles can’t do it alone. Changes are forthcoming in Kansas City, I predict.
As for my game prediction: The autumn wind is a Raider, pillaging just for fun; he’ll knock you around and upside-down, and laugh when he’s conquered and won.
New York Giants @ Dallas
A lot has changed since the season opener, when Dallas defeated the defending champs on the strength of Kevin Ogletree’s surprise two-touchdown performance. Since then, Ogletree has pretty much disappeared from Dallas’ offense and the Cowboys have resumed their typical inconsistency without him.
The Giants, meanwhile, have looked more like the team that won the Super Bowl a season ago. They have had two impressive victories in a row—a 26-3 demolishing of the 49ers, and a 27-23 thriller against the rival ‘Skins. Eli Manning continues to prove that there is nobody better in the fourth quarter and the defense is coming around after giving up an embarrassing 27 points to Cleveland.
Dallas has struggled with teams like Carolina and Tampa Bay (their only wins aside from the aforementioned season opener). The offense has really failed to get anything going (except against Baltimore, ironically), and now the defense will finish the season without their standout inside ‘backer Sean Lee, who will be replaced by Dan Connor. This game will be far different tale than the one told back in September. Giants win.
New Orleans @ Denver
What a quarterback matchup this is! I am glad it’s Sunday Night Football and not Monday night, because if the quarterback-crazy Jon Gruden were calling this game, he’d be liable to fall out of the booth with a matchup like this. And I cannot deny—this should be epic: Drew Brees vs. Peyton Manning. Fantasy points galore!
Both teams are coming off of thrilling wins. Manning, as we know, rode a sudden rush of athleticism to an improbable record-breaking comeback victory over San Diego, while Brees got just enough from Jon Vilma and the Saints defense to pull off an electrifying divisional win over Tampa.
Simply put, this game will go to he who throws the most touchdown passes. Let’s just say it how it is. I would not be surprised if we saw ten touchdowns in this game. Brees is the better quarterback right now in my opinion, but the Broncos have a considerably better defense than the Saints, even with Jon Vilma back in the mix.
This one will be an airborne battle; a World War I dogfight between two of the greatest quarterbacks in the game. I hate to have to choose a loser, but in a close one, I’m taking the Saints.
San Francisco @ Arizona
Early on, everybody thought they were far and away the league’s best team, but in their last two games, the 49ers have looked terrible on offense. Is it time to start Colin Kaepernick? I think it’s getting there. I think Alex Smith needs to be traded very soon while he still has value. A midseason trade, of course, is unlikely, but I would be surprised if San Francisco kept Smith for another year with Kaepernick ready and waiting, clipboard in hand.
Arizona has also slumped in their two most recent games. Remember when this team was one of the last three undefeated squads? Those days are long gone, the Cards have dropped three straight—all to opponents they probably could have, and maybe should have, beaten.
The 49ers are in for another defensive struggle against a division rival this Monday night. I give San Francisco the edge because Arizona will be starting John Skelton at quarterback. Skelton has played well at times, but not against defenses as tenacious as the Niners’. Yards and points will be at a premium in this one. I like the 49ers to take down another division foe, especially if Frank Gore goes for 131 rushing yards again—unlikely, but not entirely out of the question; the Cardinals had some trouble with Buffalo’s ground game, and could not stop Adrian Peterson to save their lives.
(My boldest-yet) Thought of the week:
So at some point or another—it’s inevitable—somebody’s going to Los Angeles, and it’s not likely to be an expansion team. In other words, some unhappy fan base is going to lose their team. I don’t claim to know which franchise will be making the move, but I can tell you what, in my opinion, would make the most sense.
One, San Diego could very easily be an L.A. relocation candidate. Their fan base is lackadaisical and their stadium is a fossil. Not to mention, they originated in L.A. back in the AFL days and have not strayed too far.
St. Louis is a town much more dedicated to baseball than football (and who can blame it with the way the Rams have represented them these past ten years), and they, too, are in need of a new stadium. The Rams’ most recent St. Louis stadium proposal was rejected. They also have (more recent) historical ties to L.A.
Oakland—same story: lackadaisical fan base; undesirable stadium situation (sharing with the A’s, in a rundown facility as it is); ties to L.A. I think it would make complete sense for all three teams to move—just not all to L.A.
So here’s my bold thought of the week: move the Rams and the Raiders back to L.A., where a huge, state-of-the-art facility awaits, and move the Chargers to Portland (kind of an old and poorly edited article, but, hey, he has a case if a suitable facility can be built).