I had made the bold proclamation that my early season struggles were due, in large part, to the replacement referees and not my murky crystal ball. After going 6-8 last week, I am starting to wonder…
One thing is certain regardless of whether or not the officiating was on point or not; there is a distinct sense of parity this season that has been missing from most pro sports leagues. Despite my bad weeks, I’m going at the same clip as most other Yahoo! Users (which is 52-39). For the first time in years, I don’t have a clue who’ll be in the Super bowl.
And I’m not worried about it right now. Right now, I’m focused on navigating this brave new NFL.
Seahawks at Niners
Both of these teams were involved in late game stunners albeit in significantly different ways. The Seattle defense (and their 12thman) gave Brady and the Patriots fits all day, Russell Wilson had a career defining moment and the Seahawks validated their fast start. The 49ers were supposed to be the best team in the NFL this year, the team that could not be beat and instead they were touched up at home by the defending champs in a game they were expected to exact their vengeance. Now these two divisional rivals tangle in primetime and we’re in for a low scoring, defensive clinic treat. Is it Halloween yet? Scary linebackers are going to be running amuck all night long. The Seahawks are built much like the Niners with Marshawn Lynch the engine of an offense that is provided opportunities by their killer defense. But can they beat the incumbent on the road? Coming off a beatdown, I expect the Niners to bounce back with Harbaugh’s fire very visible on both sides of the ball and win at home.
Ravens at Texans
Like the Seahawks/Niners tilt, this matchup’s going to be reduced to a defensive struggle. How much will the loss of Lardarius Webb and Ray Lewis affect the defense? Nevermind what Ray’s non-football influence offers the Ravens, his on-field presence makes all the difference in the run game. A run game, mind you, that Arian Foster and the Texans can’t wait to get back on track in a big way. Coming off a disastrous showing at home in primetime, the Texans will be looking to establish the run and take advantage of Baltimore’s dinged up secondary. It’ll be interesting to see how Baltimore exploits Brian Cushing’s absence and whether or not that really was the difference for the Texans against Green Bay last week. Baltimore is notorious for being tough to beat in the face of adversity and the odds and might be in the perfect position to win on the road with a Texans team that might be feeling human for the first time this year. Not in my estimation, though.
Packers at Rams
This has trap game tattooed across its face. The Rams have a tough defense, have been very well coached and are getting just enough production offensively to overachieve and get to .500 in a very tough division. Will it be adequate at home against a Packer team coming off an explosive offensive performance? My guess is not. While Packer fans I know are all concerned about it, I’m not. The Pack should continue the momentum and win on the road.
Titans at Bills
I hate to admit it but I really did flip a coin on this one. On one hand, the Titans look a bit better managed with Hasselbeck under center and CJ2k is due for another big game which is not a stretch against this awful Bills defense. On the other hand, the Bills have explosive potential on offense especially with both Spiller and Jackson available and involved. Fitzpatrick is much better under center when they are. Awful when they’re not. This will be a barn burner much like the Titans/Lions tilt was. My coin flip went with the home team and I’m sticking to that story.
Browns at Colts
I’m happy for the Browns getting their first win of the season (and having called it! Hehe) but there’ll be a letdown this week when they travel to Indy. The two areas where the Browns can give the Colts trouble especially on the road is in their run game (Indy is awful against the run, just look at what Shonn Greene did to them last week) and in their secondary where they can limit Andrew Luck’s effectiveness in the air. It just won’t be that much of a limitation. I think in the end, Luck will find a way to take this winnable game at home. The Browns won one at home; I just don’t trust them on the road just yet.
Saints at Buccaneers
The Saints finally got their first notch in the win column but it does not get them out of the woods. They still only outscored a team in the Chargers that we now know is not as good as advertised (at least defensively) and otherwise have been unable to stop ANYONE to help Brees out. The Bucs have been surprisingly solid this year after stinking up the joint last season, having a nice running game from rookie Doug Martin and a much improved passing game from Josh Freeman and his new weapons. Their defense plays tougher at home than on the road… and they always play the Saints tough. I know a lot of folks will disagree with me but I think the Bucs are going to bring the Saints back down to Earth. Brees was having a special night when they got their first win of the season; coach Payton was in the house, the cameras were all on Brees as he broke the record and the Chargers expectedly choked away the game. The Saints’ problems (many of which surround their defense and lack of middle linebacker presence and passrush) will not have gone away in a week. The Bucs will not provide the Saints with those comforting circumstances.
Cowboys at Panthers
Upset alert. Most folks are taking the Cowboys in this one and with good reason. They barely lost to the Ravens (they shot themselves in the foot is more like it) and have had the potential of being a contender this season (like so many before it) and can turn it around at any moment. However, here are a couple things to consider: with Murray out, an already ineffective running game (due to an offensive offensive line) will be even more so with the grossly underachieving Felix Jones taking over. Romo is volatile when forced to throw and the Panthers, for all their defensive issues, can pick people off in bunches. Consider also that Cam Newton had an absolutely awful outing his last time out when Seattle’s elite defensive front made life miserable for a team that is predicated on running the ball from both the half back and quarterback position. After an extra week to prepare for the Cowboys and with a concerted effort to right the ship on what has so far been a disastrous sophomore effort, I expect Cam to have a monster day. At home.
Cardinals at Vikings
A few weeks ago, we were talking about the surprising Arizona Cardinals. They were winning with stifling, aggressive front seven defense and just enough offense. Then that offense became less than enough and just got even more so when Kevin Kolb was added to the laundry list of injured players that has already claimed Arizona’s entire running game, it seems. This is no good against the Vikes who, despite coming down to earth last week in D.C., will bounce back at home to stifle an already stifled offense. Ponder was uncharacteristically mistake prone en route to an ineffective day for the offense. Expect a bounce back effort by the whole squad and multiple sacks for Jared Allen on Skelton behind that nonexistent Arizona offensive line.
Redskins at Giants
What to make of the Giants? They have played exactly as you would expect of them. They’ve lost both divisional games this year. Beaten everyone else. Struggled with Cleveland and Tampa at home… but smashed the Niners in San Francisco. Maybe trends mean nothing to Eli Manning (and as a result to us armchair football analysts) but everything points to a loss at home for the G men. RGIII seems like he can run against just anyone (as long as he slides and keeps his head from getting rung) and Pierre-Paul can dish all the warning he’d like but RGIII and Alfred Morris will kill the Giants on the ground, an area of weakness for them. Then again, they didn’t seem too phased by San Francisco’s run game a week ago. At any rate, they’re the favorites in this game and as a result are most likely going to lose. I’m counting on the Redskins’ rushing attack to set the tone early and often.
Jets at Patriots
The dynamic here is so simple, it jumps off the screen like a mike blitz. The Jets ran shod on Indy’s awful run defense and it set the tone for them to win. The Patriots lost a very tough game against one of the best defenses in the league that not only shut down their run game but gave Brady nowhere to pass the ball on most downs. This is a bad situation for the Jets to be in coming off their win, lined up behind the cue ball with Belichick staring them down. These bad beans will eventually spell doom for them in Foxborough. I don’t envy Sanchez this weekend.
Jaguars at Raiders
When I picked against the Raiders last week, they nearly pulled off the monumental upset of the Falcons in Atlanta, picking off Matty Ice three times in the first half after not having picked anyone off all season! So by that logic, I ought to pick against them every week, no? No. The Jaguars are probably the only team where it might be safe (emphasis on the might) to say the Raiders are a lock to win. The Raiders haven’t been nearly as bad as their record or their blowouts have indicated. They’ve lead or been tied or trailed by a few points at halftime in every game this year before blowing it in the 3rd quarter. The Jags have been even worse coming out of halftime and the Raider running game behind McFadden should get the job done in closing this one out. It’s possible that the Raider defense is turning the corner finally in getting pressure on the QB as evidenced by their impressive performance on the road last week against Atlanta’s explosive offense. The Jags defense isn’t much of a test for the Raider offense even if it does go off but it’ll be an opportunity to gauge them anyway. Then there’s the possibility the Raiders blow it anyway.
Steelers at Bengals
The Steelers are having a very pedestrian year. Their defense is not nearly as good as they’ve been in past years and their running game is dinged up and ineffective. This has drastically altered the team’s identity, turning it into a passing offense that looks to outscore their opponents rather than grind it out. Lucky for them they draw a date with the Bengals who are looking very streaky at this point… they win three straight and look like they’ve turned the corner, then lose back to back games to Miami at home and the previously winless Browns in Cleveland. Which Bengals team shows up? The Steelers hope the recent trend continues. However, I’m convinced that playing at home against division rival and previously anointed monkey-on-the-back Steelers, the Bengals come out strong running the ball well and Dalton making smart, big throws.
Lions at Bears
You never know with these Monday Night NFC North games but how can you bet against the Bears at this point? They were embarrassed in a similar spot earlier this season by the Packers but that was in Green Bay and that was, well, the Packers. The Lions come in being one of the bigger underachievers this season (although they beat a very uninspiring Eagles team in dramatic fashion) due largely to not having an effective running game, porous defense and not many receiving weapons outside of Megatron (and sometimes Burleson) for frustrated stud QB Matthew Stafford. The Bears feast on QBs with limited options and no running game to back them up. On the other side of the ball, I just can’t figure out who the Lions will use to stop Brandon Marshall. And if Matt Forte is on point, this game is a wrap. Which I think it will be.