After a Halloween shocker in Miami, week 9 passed without too many big bangs until the morning before Bonfire Night where Shea McLellin and the Bears delivered one of the biggest of the year, by dumping arguably the NFL’s best QB to the Lambeau turf in a painful heap.
Aaron Rodgers’ broken collarbone looks like putting the Pack in serious trouble and serves as a warning to the rest of the NFL (and the predictor too!) that the best laid plans are never set in stone. Let’s hope the foundations of Week 10’s predictions are more solid!
BYE WEEK: Browns, Chiefs, Jets, Patriots
Washington Redskins 34-24 Minnesota Vikings
At 3-5 and 1-7, you might think these teams would play out a bore-fest, but their records are deceptive. The Redskins are beginning to play at a pretty high level now, a level that was good enough to overcome the much-improved Chargers in OT last week, while the Vikings went toe to toe with the Cowboys until the last seconds of their matchup. Adrian Peterson went off last Sunday and Christian Ponder was good at QB, but the Vikings still lost, and that is the real worry, that no matter how good the offense performance is, the defense cannot help Minnesota to a win. RGIII is back towards the groove of what we saw last year, and Alfred Morris is running hard, so I’ll take the Skins on the road here.
Philadelphia Eagles 27-23 Green Bay Packers
It is difficult to articulate the scale of the loss of Aaron Rodgers to the Packers, and if they try to rely on Eddy Lacy pounding the ball 30 times a game, teams will quickly catch on. Suddenly their famously opportunistic defense has to become just a good defense, the pressure can no longer be taken off the unit by Rodgers and 5 minute drives. They face a real test this weekend: Nick Foles is coming off a 7TD, 400 yard, perfect QB rating. This is an offense that, even without LeSean McCoy rushing for even 50 yards, put up 49 points. In 3 quarters. And that Oakland defensive unit was not shoddy. Normally, you would give this as a slam dunk Green Bay victory at home, but this week, without their no. 12, I’m not so sure.
Jacksonville Jaguars 13-24 Tennessee Titans
The bye week can be a healer for some teams, but I can’t see it being enough for the Jags to suddenly morph into a team that will be able to overcome the impressive Titans in Tennessee. Their 4-4 record is the very least they deserve for turning around their franchise from a dodgy looking position at the end of last season. Their defense, led by Bernard Pollard, plays tough and with Chris Johnson back in form, they should have too much for struggling Jacksonville.
Buffalo Bills 20-23 Pittsburgh Steelers
Although they are 3-6, the Bills have hung in there in pretty much every game, despite QB troubles, RB injuries and defensive starters missing time, so I have to give Doug Marrone and co. a lot of credit for their coaching. The Steelers are 2-6, but you can’t make many hard luck stories for them, and just when you thought they were back on the right track, they give up 55 points to the previously ‘struggling’ New England offense. That’s a big wake up call for Pittsburgh, and I think they will heed it returning to Heinz Field. This could be a very close one, but not many 3-6 teams go into Pittsburgh and win.
Oakland Raiders 16-27 New York Giants
I was stunned by how easily the Raiders were rolled over by the Eagles in the Black Hole last week, I really expected so much better on both sides of the ball, especially from a defense that looked like it was on the up. It seems that teams are learning how to beat Terrelle Pryor too, which is a worrying sign for Raiders fans. If the Giants can come off their bye week reinvigorated and play mistake-free football, they have a big chance to put another W up on the board and stay in the race for the NFC East, even at 3-6. I just think this week will have allowed Eli Manning to have a fresh start, clean a pretty poor slate and go again.
St Louis Rams 14-34 Indianapolis Colts
Here’s a nice surprise: the Rams aren’t as bad as I thought they’d be without Sam Bradford. 5th round pick Zac Stacy has emerged as a good option at RB and their receivers are making plays for Kellen Clemens. That said, they won’t be beating the Colts in Indianapolis this weekend. Even when they play badly (1st half vs Texans), Indy can pull it out of the fire thanks to Andrew Luck, in my opinion, one of the best QB’s in the league. This week, they won’t have to: it looks to be a pretty comfy win at home.
Seattle Seahawks 27-23 Atlanta Falcons
While Seattle are 8-1, they cannot afford to have another 1st half like they did against the Bucs last week, even if you give Tampa credit for their performance, because against better teams, they won’t be able to fight back in the way they did. There has always been something about this Seattle offense that doesn’t convince me, and that is why I’m giving Atlanta a chance in this one, despite Matt Ryan’s 7 INTs in the last two weeks. Atlanta at 2-6 is a direct result of losing both of their top two receivers and an inability to pass protect long enough to allow Ryan to throw deep. They have to get Steven Jackson going on the ground and stay balanced to have a shot here, but as we saw last week, it’s possible against Seattle. But those Seahawks just keep winning, and although it could be closer than many would think, they do so again on the road.
Cincinnati Bengals 30-17 Baltimore Ravens
Both of these teams come into this divisional game off the back of disappointing losses, especially the Bengals, who not only lost in Miami, but lost their best defensive player, Geno Atkins. His season ending injury is huge for this team, and it will be interesting to see how it affects them against one of the league’s worst rushing offenses in Baltimore. My guess is not too much, as it will be through the air, as usual, that Baltimore will attack. At 3-5, I really do not rate Baltimore this year. Their best player, Ray Rice is almost anonymous and the front office doesn’t seem to be doing anything about it. Joe Flacco cannot carry this team, as he will prove this Sunday. The Bengals cause him all kinds of discomfort in a road win.
Detroit Lions 31-27 Chicago Bears
The Bears went into Lambeau and put up some numbers on offense to beat the Pack at home, and even though Aaron Rodgers went down early, that’s not easy. But the win does not cloud the problems that the Bears’ D is having: Eddie Lacy ran for over 100 yards even after the passing threat had greatly diminished. The Lions, fresh off a bye week, will have a field day in yardage terms against Chicago, but this one is all about points: if Detroit can convert yards into touchdowns, they could steal this at Soldier Field, but if they are held to field goals, their defense is not good enough to stop Forte, Marshall and co. from racking up points. I actually think this Lions team is underrated by a lot of people, and this Sunday could be the big demonstration of how good they are.
Carolina Panthers 13-20 San Francisco 49’ers
Now this is a game that could be a case of two teams equalling each other out. Both teams are very similar: stingy defenses, mobile QB’s and good running games. So it is difficult to pick exactly the factor that will be key in San Francisco, but I have a sneaking feeling that it will be Cam Newton… but not in a good way. His two interceptions last week were a blot on an excellent copybook so far this season, but no matter how confident a player he is (VERY), they will be swimming around his head, adding an element of doubt. If the Niners can get to him early and often, I think they can win the game through his mistakes: it’s a tough assignment for the much improved Panthers on the road, but I can’t help but think although it will be close, they won’t have enough.
Houston Texans 20-23 Arizona Cardinals
Somehow, the Texans jumped out to a big lead over the Colts with Case Keenum throwing for 350 yards and 3TD’s, and they still failed to win at home (obviously Gary Kubiak’s collapse may have had an effect). One of the AFC’s pre-season contenders find themselves at 2-6 despite having the no.1 defense and the no.8 total ranked offense: and it’s not going to get any easier as they travel to a Cardinals team whose defense is really stepping up. Although Keenum has been impressive, it’s hard to believe that he won’t succumb to some early mistakes faced with pressure like the Cards will put on him while Tyrann Mathieu and Patrick Peterson will pick up any pieces the young QB offers. Carson Palmer needs to take care of the football better though, he seems to throw picks with regularity, although Arizona’s offense is good enough at home to play a more conservative game and win. If Andre Ellington runs as hard as he did in the Cards’ last game, they can put another nail in the Texans’ coffin this Sunday.
Denver Broncos 34-24 San Diego Chargers
Fresh off a bye week, the Broncos will be taking the long trip to the West Coast confident that after the Redskins put up some nice numbers against San Diego’s struggling defense, they will be able to blow away Philip Rivers and company. However, the very same Chargers QB will be relishing this one, as the Denver D hasn’t exactly been solid this year either. This could be yet another shootout, but as is the usual with Denver, their weapons and experience will always give them the edge in that type of game, even on the road.
Dallas Cowboys 21-37 New Orleans Saints
While the Cowboys were making hard work of a visit to Minnesota, the Saints were being manhandled by the Jets’ D in New York, so there are questions to answer for both sides this week. For the Saints, it is a simple question of putting together a better offensive performance against a significantly weaker defense than the one they faced last week. Dallas must step up on that side of the ball to be in with a shot, but they also have to use DeMarco Murray more on the ground. He has rushed well this season, and the Cowboys will have to try and control the clock to win this one, as I can’t see their defense holding Drew Brees and his offense under 4 TD’s without running the ball 30+ times. The Saints’ D also had an off day in NY, so expect them to give a better showing, and for a standard Tony Romo interception to be important.
Miami Dolphins 23-16 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
From a promising start to the season, the Dolphins seem to have imploded in the dressing room, even though they are keeping themselves in the race for the playoffs on the field. The Jonathan Martin situation is strange, and it will be difficult for the players to keep their heads on the game ahead, which they will have to do after Tampa’s impressive but unlucky showing in Seattle. Mike Glennon and Mike James took no notice of the intimidating atmosphere as the Bucs jumped out to a 21-0 lead, only to let the ‘Hawks back to win in OT. They will be on a high despite the loss, and the Dolphins will have to be very careful of an upset here. Miami has to come out with the same intensity that they had in their ‘TNF’ win over the Bengals in OT, and use their front seven of their defense to cause havoc. Also, don’t look now, but Ryan Tannehill, Mike Wallace and Lamar Miller are beginning to come together as an offense: it looks good.