Prediction record last week: 11-4 (best week yet).
Prediction record overall: 37-26.
That’s more like it!
In addition to some good old-fashioned predictability, week four brought about some sobering news: Colts Head Coach Chuck Pagano has been diagnosed with leukemia and will probably miss the rest of the season undergoing treatment. As the players begin the annual tradition of garnering pink accessories in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, let’s also remember Coach Pagano and wish him the best in his own fight against cancer.
But, as we did last week, let’s now turn to the brighter side of football. For one, the Jets offense is about the funniest thing I’ve seen on a football field since that monkey rode the dog across the field last season. Regardless, the good news for Jets fans is that any week now, Tim Tebow is going to take the reins!
Oh, wait, that doesn’t help, does it?
Sorry… let’s just get to this weekend’s slate of games, beginning as always with Thursday Night Football, or, what I like to call, “the greatest thing since Monday Night Football.”
Cardinals @ Rams
Again, in their fourth win of the season, it was the Cardinals defense that prevailed. The game-saver was Daryl Washington’s clutch strip-sack on Ryan Tannehill as the Dolphins were driving with the lead to put the game away with three minutes remaining. Vonnie Holliday (whom I had no idea was still in the league at the age of 36) recovered the fumble and the offense did the rest, tying the game and sending it to overtime, in which Kerry Rhodes snatched the interception that essentially put kicker Jay Feely in position for the game-winning field goal.
This Cardinals defense is phenomenal. If you haven’t had a chance to watch them, you need to. The secondary is fast and opportunistic; the linebackers are some of the best second-level blitzers in the league, racking up three sacks as a unit against Miami.
The Rams withstood Seattle in a predictably defensive struggle that consisted mainly of field goals (rookie Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein hit from 58 and 60 yards out). In the only instance of a Rams touchdown, Johnny Hekker connected with Danny Amendola on a sly fake field goal.
In week five, the Cardinals return to St. Louis. Both of these teams have played good defense so far—especially Arizona. I am still not entirely sure how I feel about Kevin Kolb, but his game-tying drive and fourth-down conversion in the waning seconds of the Miami game are definitely reasons for optimism. That said, there’s no reason St. Louis cannot win this game. I like them to do so in an upset.
Ravens @ Chiefs
To make a long story short, the Chiefs lost. Again. By a decisive margin. Again. For you misled Chiefs fans who thought a comeback win against New Orleans in week three would spark some sort of sudden realization of potential, you must be disappointed. Again.
Kansas City continues to bumble about as one of the NFL’s most mistake-prone and inefficient squads. The fans and media are, again, beginning to speculate whether or not Matt Cassel will retain his job. At this rate, he will not, and neither will Romeo Crennel.
The Ravens, on the other hand, are everything they were advertised to be at the beginning of the season. Besides one fluke loss to Philadelphia in week two, Baltimore has been dominant. Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin are both on rolls, and Joe Flacco is looking as good as ever. It’s not too early to start thinking AFC title game for this team (again).
Kansas City is coming off a six-turnover game. They will probably shore up their ball security in practice this week, but it’s hard not to forfeit a turnover or two to this pernicious Ravens defense. Baltimore has every opportunity to completely dominate this game—and I think they will.
Dolphins @ Bengals
After two heartbreaking defeats decided in overtime, the Dolphins will visit the jungle looking for their second win of the season—and there’s reason to be optimistic. The Dolphins offense—which looked nothing short of horrible on paper before the season started—has proven that it can score points. In the last two weeks they have more than held their own against two very tough defenses in the Jets and Cardinals. For this, I owe an apology to Joe Philbin and his team for my relentless criticism of them during the offseason and preseason. Philbin has proven that there’s more to running an offense than simply stockpiling talented players (something the Cowboys have yet to figure out).
Ryan Tannehill threw two picks (including a costly one in overtime) and relinquished a game-altering fumble late in the fourth quarter against Arizona, but as far as passing efficiency goes, it was Tannehill’s best outing yet as he completed 26 of 41 attempts for 431 yards and a touchdown. Brian Hartline meanwhile reeled in 12 of those passes for a franchise single-game record 253 yards. Reggie Bush had a quiet game, but is still a major part of the offense, and, against Cincinnati’s 24th-ranked run defense, he will be counted upon to produce more than the meager 67 yards he accumulated this past Sunday.
The Bengals offense continues to play well. Against Jacksonville, Andy Dalton amassed 244 yards through the air (117 to A.J. Green), and BenJarvus Green-Ellis spearheaded a 138-yard rushing effort. Up front, the offensive line did not allow a sack. This kind of offensive efficiency will be more than enough to overpower the weak Dolphins defense.
There might be a lot of points scored in this game if Miami’s offense continues to grow, but overall, I think Cincinnati has the stronger team and will prevail this weekend.
Browns @ Giants
I promise Cleveland is not as bad as their winless record indicates. The good news for Cleveland is that all four of their games have been lost in the fourth quarter—that is, they have not been blown out. The bad news—aside from the obvious lack of wins—is that Cleveland seems to be digressing. Trent Richardson is the lone bright spot on the offense as Brandon Weeden continues to struggle. The defense, that looked so good against Philadelphia in week one, has gotten progressively worse.
Although the Giants destroyed Carolina’s defense with a patchwork starting lineup—making heroes out of Ramses Barden and Andre Brown in the process—their luck ran out against Philadelphia; even Eli Manning, the comeback kid, could not get the Giants within range (literally) of squeaking one out against their division rivals.
Sunday night’s loss puts the G-Men at 2-2—hardly what is expected of a team defending a title. Yeah, the injuries are troublesome, but that is no excuse.
If the Giants give Cleveland their first win of 2012, they are in serious trouble. I don’t see this happening though.
Packers @ Colts
“Snot bubbles and tears. They don’t beat anybody.”
Thank you for that wonderful imagery, Bruce Arians.
He’s right though. The recent diagnosis of Chuck Pagano with leukemia is terribly unfortunate to say the least, but the fact remains, the Colts have a game to play on Sunday against the Packers. Indianapolis has been stuck with the bad taste of their last-minute loss to Jacksonville for two weeks. Now, as they emerge from their early bye week, the best they can do is use it as motivation.
For the first time in 2012, the Packers defense looked like the thin unit they were last season as Drew Brees carved them up for over 400 yards this past Sunday. They fell into their zone scheme, leaving the middle of the field open on third-and-long situations, which Brees, aided by his number-one target Marques Colston, repeatedly exploited.
In spite of the defense’s shortcomings, the Packers managed a win under the coolness of Aaron Rodgers and his first MVP-worthy performance of the season. With Greg Jennings downed by a nagging groin injury (perhaps caused by an unsafe mixture of business and pleasure), both James Jones and Randall Cobb especially have stepped up big-time, providing Aaron Rodgers with the receiving reliability he is missing in Jennings’ absence.
Once Rodgers hits his stride, he is very, very difficult to stop. We’ve seen him start a season slowly before… Oh that’s right! It was the 2010 Super Bowl season when the Packers started the season 3-3. History repeats itself? Perhaps. The defense might still be bad after all, but the Pack will win this one.
Steelers @ Eagles
Somehow, the Eagles continue to win. If they cannot stop themselves with the turnovers and mistakes they have committed, I don’t know who will. The Steelers certainly don’t seem up to the task considering the way they played defense against the Raiders in their most recent game. But then again, Pittsburgh is hoping to welcome all-pros Troy Polamalu and James Harrison back to the starting lineup in week five.
The matchup between Philadelphia’s passing attack and Pittsburgh’s secondary will be the one to watch. I imagine that among DeSean Jackson, Brent Celek, and a gimpy but recovering Jeremy Maclin, someone will be open more often than not. Let’s not forget that LeSean McCoy, too, is an excellent pass-catcher, and now he has an excellent fullback paving the way for him out of the backfield in Stanley Havili.
And then there’s one more thing: the multidimensionality of Mike Vick. Make no mistake, the Steelers will have their hands full this week with Philly’s offense. Their only chance to slow it down is through the pass rush, where the Eagles are certainly vulnerable. That’s where James Harrison, in particular, comes in.
I can’t get my mind around a team who can seemingly do everything they shouldn’t and still win 75 percent of their games. That team is the Eagles, and the pieces are coming together—bad news for Pittsburgh and anyone else with Philly on the schedule. Hence, I’m picking the Eagles.
Falcons @ Redskins
For anyone with an affinity for offense, this game will be immensely entertaining. These two offenses appear to be the NFC’s best through four games. The major difference between the two though is experience—the Falcons have plenty of it; the Redskins have very little. But I will say this: Robert Griffin, III became a man in last week’s victory over Tampa Bay. His final, game-winning drive was the work of a true professional, and for that reason, I am now officially nice ‘n’ comfy on the RGIII bandwagon. Atlanta struggled with Cam Newton’s athleticism last week. Things will not get any easier against Griffin.
As far as defense goes, the edge goes to Atlanta. They have a couple of tackling machines in Stephen Nicholas and Sean Weatherspoon and a pair of ballhawking safeties in William Moore and Thomas DeCoud. Meow. Although Washington stifled Tampa’s featherweight run game last week, they got seared through the air, allowing both Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams 100-yard performances. This bodes well for the team entering the game with perhaps the most daunting receiving corps in football, featuring Roddy White, Julio Jones, the best tight end of all time in Tony Gonzalez, and overlooked third-down specialist Harry Douglas. Additionally, Atlanta has a certified two-headed monster in the backfield now with the emergence of Jacquizz Rodgers as a satisfactory speller for Michael Turner. Hybrid back Jason Snelling is no pushover either.
It’s going to be up to Washington’s offense to try and keep up with Matt Ryan and the “Millenium Falcons” (as of now, I am coining this nickname for this offense). I think Atlanta’s defense is decent enough to get a few stops and turnovers. And one more thing to keep an eye on: Atlanta is the least-penalized team in the NFL; Washington, with 9.2 penalties per game ranks a dubious fourth. The Falcons will be the NFC’s last undefeated team after week five.
Bears @ Jaguars
Jacksonville’s offense is pitiful; improved from last season, but pitiful. It stands little to no chance against a Bears defense that has been nothing short of phenomenal through four weeks. They thrive on the turnover. So far, Blaine Gabbert has thrown only one pick in 2012. I would be very surprised if that stat lasted the weekend. Consider that the only viable weapon Jacksonville has on offense is, of course, Maurice Jones-Drew (especially now that Laurent Robinson is probably out with a concussion), but Chicago’s 3rd-ranked run-defense allows only 67.3 yards per game. This means that Jacksonville will have to turn to the air.
This could get ugly, Jags fans.
We still haven’t seen Blaine Gabbert really air it out this season (or, ever, for that matter, that I can remember). Mike Mularkey doesn’t seem to trust him with the game in his hands, and neither do I.
As for the Bears, I have concluded via observation that Jay Cutler may in fact be a whiney little ten-year-old girl disguised as a temperamental professional football player with a big arm (he and Cam Newton should get along). Regardless, as long as Jay Cutler has a defense on his side scoring multiple touchdowns a game, his inconsistency (and bad attitude) shouldn’t be that much of an issue.
I like the Bears in a blowout.
Seahawks @ Panthers
Technically, the Seahawks defense did not allow a touchdown against the Rams. Two monster field goals from St. Louis’ rookie kicker proved to be the difference in an NFC West defensive struggle. Concerning the unproductive offense, however, it’s time that other options were considered.
Put Matt Flynn in the game, coach. Russell Wilson is a nice story and all, but he just ain’t cuttin’ it. Matt Flynn was brought in to start, now let him do it. It can’t get much worse than Wilson’s average of 130.8 passing yards per game. All in all, this fantastic defense needs help from the other side of the ball, as opponents are keying in on Marshawn Lynch, entirely aware that he is this offense’s only legitimate threat.
The Panthers, despite three losses are a volatile offense. They came within one Haruki Nakamura of pulling a major upset in Atlanta last week. They kept up with the Falcons the entire game and probably should have won. The only things standing between them and consistent success are intangibles—mental mistakes, a lack of effective leadership, and immaturity. That and maybe the league’s ugliest defense. At least Charles Johnson, for one, finally had a game worthy of his exorbitant salary against Atlanta, tallying 3.5 sacks.
I have a lot of faith in Carolina. I know this offense can do great things. They have hitherto been largely underwhelming, but I’m going to give them another chance at home on Sunday. Carolina’s worst enemy is their own defense, but they probably won’t have to worry much about Seattle’s passing game. If they can stop Marshawn Lynch and steal a touchdown or two from the Seahawks defense, this game is theirs.
Titans @ Vikings
I have to admit, I am a bit surprised by Minnesota’s 3-1 start. In their most recent pair of games, they have defeated playoff teams from a year ago in the 49ers and Lions, but I’m not ready to give them the “for real” designation. San Francisco played maybe their worst game in the past two seasons against the Vikes, and though the defense played very well against Detroit a week ago, they still would have lost the game had it not been for two special teams touchdowns.
But what’s to stop this Vikings teams from going 4-1? The Titans? Ha! Minnesota is no offensive powerhouse, but Tennessee is second-worst in the league in terms of yards allowed (over 400 a game!). And just when it looked like Jake Locker was making strides in his development as a pro, he gets broken on a nasty safety blitz from the Texans’ Glover Quin. The good news: it doesn’t look like Locker’s shoulder injury will require surgery; the bad news: Locker is out indefinitely, meaning Matt Hasselbeck will make his first start of 2012.
Hasselbeck looked like his old self against Houston when he first entered the game, leading the Titans on a scoring drive that put them within seven points of their divisional foes. Then he began throwing picks—two that went for six the other way.
Minnesota’s defense is not as strong as the unit Hasselbeck found himself against last week. But, all the same, it’s been a good, long while since Hasselbeck started (and finished) a game. We cannot know what to expect. Meanwhile, Adrian Peterson continues to look healthier and healthier and Jerome Simpson has returned from suspension, giving Christian Ponder a much-needed new option in the passing game. The Vikings may not be the prettiest 3-1 team out there, but they are finding ways to win. I think they’ll find a way to improve to 4-1 against Tennessee.
Broncos @ Patriots
The media are playing this up to be another Brady/Manning bout for the ages, but the fact is, neither of these quarterbacks has been playing their best football this season. On the bright side, they both had stellar games a week ago, so maybe we’ve caught them at a good time.
New England started off slowly against Buffalo last week, but took flight in the fourth quarter, rattling off 31 points in a 52-point effort. Both Brandon Bolden and Stevan Ridley rushed for over 100 yards as Tom Brady was content to sit back and throw for 340 yards and three touchdowns. The defense managed six turnovers, but still allowed 480 yards—much of this can be attributed to the efficiency of the Patriots offense, however, as New England was kicking off a lot in this game.
The Broncos also enjoyed a dominant week-five performance; in their case, against division rival Oakland. Peyton Manning threw for 338 yards and three touchdowns, while the Denver defense embarrassed Oakland.
This might be the worst New England defense that Manning has ever faced. For the Patriots, it’s pick your poison—Manning could be in line for a 400-yard game, while Willis McGahee has to be the league’s best running back this side of 30 years of age. And although I truly have no clue how they are going to do it, I think the Pats will find a way to stop Denver’s offense. I just don’t see the dynamic duo of Brady and Belichick starting the season 2-3.
Bills @ 49ers
With two fairly experienced backups on his heels in the lineup, Ryan Fitzpatrick has been inconsistent at best as the starter for the Bills. It might be time to give Tyler Thigpen or Tarvaris Jackson a chance. Fitzpatrick makes some great throws every once in a while, but for each of the four touchdowns he tossed against New England’s woeful secondary, there was also a pick. Even if Fitzpatrick lasts the season as Buffalo’s starter, I have to believe that Buffalo will, at least, be seeking some competition for him over the offseason either through the draft, trade, or free agency.
Where is this multi-million dollar defensive line the Bills assembled? The Bills as a defensive unit have only ten sacks through four games. Green Bay’s Clay Matthews has seven by himself. The hefty investments that Buffalo has made in players like Marcell Dareus and Mario Williams are not paying off as of yet.
The 49ers defense, on the other hand, is a model of efficiency. They are coming off a brutal 34-0 shutout of the Jets. On offense, I still have questions about Alex Smith as a passer, but the 49ers running game is very intimidating, especially now that Brandon Jacobs is being added to the mix for short-yardage situations.
Buffalo has not played well for an entire game in I-don’t-know-how-long. They might be able to keep up with the Niners for a quarter or a half, but eventually, the San Francisco defense will put the Bills away for good.
Chargers @ Saints
And the sad, sad song plays on for New Orleans. The defense in the bayou was no good to begin with, but recently the offense has also appeared confused without its CO, Sean Payton. Drew Brees finally had a good game against Green Bay, but the defense could not stop Aaron Rodgers as another game ended up in the ‘L’ column. Astoundingly, the Saints are 0-4.
San Diego appears to be giving up on the run game it never had in Ryan Mathews, and the defense is mediocre. This team’s success is more dependent upon the success of its quarterback perhaps more than any other franchise.
I think these teams are very similar on the field. It’s on the sideline where they are different. Norv Turner has remained cool upon his hot seat, directing his team to three wins to begin the season. As for the Saints, does anyone even know who the interim head coach is? I could Google it, but I won’t in order to prove my point: the Saints lack leadership.
Talent, however, the Saints still have plenty of, and eventually, they are going to win a game. They have to. They’ve got Drew Brees!
I like “eventually” to happen this weekend as the Saints get their first victory against the team that let Brees get away.
Texans @ Jets
It’s sink-or-swim time for Mark Sanchez. He can either play well and silence his critics, who are multiplying both in number, volume, and importance as the weeks pass, or he can continue to score no points, turn the ball over, complete less than half of his passes, and be benched. On the Monday Night Football stage, his fate will be decided—because if he has another bad game—in front of the entire country—he will be shredded by the media—much like the Cowboys this past week—and the hour will toll…
Enjoy Tebow-less football while you can folks. The “Time” draws near.
Houston is much more fun to write about. This team currently looks primed for a championship run. On top of having Andre Johnson and Arian Foster, who are arguably the best at what they do, the Texans, as mentioned above, boast the league’s best defense, and more subtly, an excellent coaching staff and special teams game. Other than Atlanta, I think they are the best team in the league.
If the Jets cannot produce offensively against San Francisco with Santonio Holmes (yes, I know he left the game early, but he was ineffective even before his exit), how are they going to move the ball against Houston without their only offensive weapon? I guess they’ll just lean on the newly signed Jason Hill.
Yeah… good plan. Let’s see how that one works. Texans all the way.
Thought of the week: The nominees for enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame were announced last week. (Morten Andersen? Keenan McCardell? Seriously?) Another year and former all-pro Packers guard Jerry Kramer has been omitted; thus, another year and my belief that the NFL Hall of Fame is a joke is further confirmed. I once gave a speech on why Kramer should be in the Hall of Fame. I’ll summarize:
1. The famous Packers Sweep that won Green Bay so many championships/Super Bowls in the ‘60s hinged on Kramer’s incredible pulling ability.
2. He’s the only member of the NFL’s 50th Anniversary Team to not be in the Hall of Fame.
3. He doubled as the team’s kicker for a few seasons and his three field goals proved to be the difference in the Packers victory over the New York Giants in the 1962 NFL Championship.
There’s way more to Kramer’s career than what I’ve listed, and it at least warrants hall-of-fame consideration.