Last Week 11–2
Byes: Buffalo, Detroit, Indianapolis, Oakland
The 11–2 last week even picking games straight up was very encouraging. My only slip-ups were the Colts surprising Green Bay and Oakland taking care of business against Denver. Speaking of the Raiders, they are now 7–2 and get a bye week to rest and plot what looks like a trip to the playoffs for the first time since the 2002 season. The only team with a longer drought is the Buffalo Bills who last made the playoffs in the 1999 season. The Bills got hosed by the referees in a close loss to the Seahawks last week and at 4–5 look like they are on their way to another losing season. This week has some very competitive matchups with several tough calls for your Peak prognosticator.
Cleveland (0–9) at Baltimore (4–4), Thursday 5:25 p.m.
Baltimore’s defence looked fantastic last week in absolutely dominating the Steelers. Look for them to punish the Browns at home and start the Browns into the 0–16 discussion.
Prediction: Ravens 24 Browns 10
Atlanta (6–3) at Philadelphia (4–4), Sunday 10 a.m.
The Eagles started the season 3–1 but have gone 1–3 since, whereas the Falcons are riding high in first place in the NFC South. This is a homecoming for Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan who played his high school football at William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia. The play of Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz has really tailed in recent weeks as opposing coordinators have increasing game film of his tendencies. Ryan has a big game back home and the Falcons win the battle of the predatory bird species.
Prediction: Falcons 34 Eagles 27
Denver (6–3) at New Orleans (4–4), Sunday 10 a.m.
Another fascinating matchup sees the Broncos on the road for the second consecutive week against a Saints team that has won four out of five since their 0–3 start. The Broncos gave up 30 points last week and 218 rushing yards to the Raiders while the Saints racked up a whopping 248 yards on the ground against San Francisco. I’ll take the Saints at home led by their running back tandem of Mark Ingram and Tim Hightower over the Broncos’ suddenly vulnerable run defence and anemic offence.
Prediction: Saints 31 Broncos 21
Houston (5–3) at Jacksonville (2–6), Sunday 10 a.m.
It is the policy of this columnist not to provide analysis on AFC South divisional games until the division fields a member that is an actual playoff team.
Prediction: Jaguars 24 Texans 23
Minnesota (5–3) at Washington (4–3–1), Sunday 10 a.m.
The Minnesota Vikings have now lost three consecutive games after absolutely blowing their matchup last week against Detroit with poor clock management. The team is reeling and in need of a big road victory against a quality opponent. They won’t get it, as Washington is rested after their bye week and will be bolstered by the return of their playmaking tight end, Jordan Reed.
Prediction: Washington 23 Minnesota 20
Chicago (2–6) at Tampa Bay (3–5), Sunday 10 a.m.
Both teams are well-rested with the Bears coming off the bye and the Buccaneers playing last Thursday. The Bucs have major injury problems with their top four running backs injured and star receiver Mike Evans in the concussion protocol. I’ve always rooted for Jay Cutler and see his long-standing chemistry with receiver Alshon Jeffery being the difference in this one. Bears win their second straight over a game Tampa squad.
Prediction: Bears 26 Bucs 19
Kansas City (6–2) at Carolina (3–5), Sunday 10 a.m.
The Panthers have won two straight games after a terrible 1–5 start, but managed only 13 points against a stout Rams defence last week. The Chiefs also have a good defence and are quite capable of holding the Panthers under 25 points on the road. Their offence will be buoyed by the return from injury of underrated quarterback Alex Smith. Smith is a gamer who will lead his team to victory in a big road win that will also launch the Chiefs into contender status in the AFC.
Prediction: Chiefs 27 Panthers 24
Green Bay (4–4) at Tennessee (4–5), Sunday 10 a.m.
I do not know what to make of the Packers this year and apparently neither do their coach and quarterback. Last week both Mike McCarthy and Aaron Rodgers called out the team after their lacklustre performance against the Colts. The Titans meanwhile looked impressive, on offence at least, losing a barnburner 43–35 on the road to the Chargers. Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota put up 313 yards passing and had three touchdowns in the contest but was undone by three turnovers. The Packers are a team that prides itself on developing its own talent and eschewing free agency. It looks like their drafting and player development program has hit a wall this season because this team just isn’t very good. I am not buying that the Packers bounce back and have enough talent to win on the road against a Titans team with a good offence.
Prediction: Titans 33 Packers 30
Los Angeles (3–5) at New York Jets (3–6), Sunday 10 a.m.
This year just about every quarterback drafted has seen action other than Rams first overall pick Jared Goff. Goff continues to sit as rumours swirl whether he just isn’t very good or whether coach Jeff Fisher doesn’t want to look bad for sitting him this long if he is indeed an upgrade over the uninspiring Case Keenum. The Jets, meanwhile, have seen a promising season undone by the abysmal play of veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick is dealing with an injury and may or may not play this Sunday with talented second-year man, Bryce Petty, waiting in the wings. The Rams have a very stout defence and will undoubtedly force turnovers against Fitzpatrick and/or an untested Petty. The Jets are at home and boast the league’s fourth best run defence. Since the Rams cannot mount a passing attack, that should be enough to secure the victory despite the possibility of more Fitzpatrick gaffes.
Prediction: Jets 17 Rams 13
Miami (4–4) at San Diego (4–5), Sunday 1:05 p.m.
Flashback to the January 2, 1982, wildcard matchup between these opponents. The Chargers — led by future Hall of Famer, Dan Fouts — racked up a 24-point lead and looked like they would cruise to an easy victory. The Dolphins responded with a 17–0 advantage in the second quarter, which ended with a touchdown on a spectacular hook and ladder play. The comeback set the stage for one of the most dramatic games in NFL history. The see-saw second half saw both teams score improbable touchdowns with the Dolphins in position for the win with a potential game-winning field goal at the end of the game. Chargers tight end Kellen Winslow checked in on defence and extended his 6’5” frame to deflect the kick and send the game to overtime. With both teams exhausted, the overtime seemed to last forever, as both teams agonizingly missing three more potential game-winning field goals. Finally, with over 13 minutes of overtime expired, Fouts led the Chargers deep into Dolphins territory, where kicker Rolf Benirschke finally connected for the game-winning field goal and the win. This matchup has the potential to be the most exciting game of the week, as both teams are playing good football and are led by excellent ground attacks. I like the Chargers to have the edge here, because Miami has the 30th ranked run defence. As a result, look for a big game from the Chargers lead back Melvin Gordon and his fullback Derek Watt. Gordon has attributed his success this year to the Chargers moving to an old school running game with a fullback leading the way.
Prediction: Chargers 39 Dolphins 37
Game of the Week
Dallas (7–1) at Pittsburgh (4–4), Sunday 1:25 p.m.
These two venerable franchises have competed in three Super Bowls with the Steelers holding a 2–1 edge. The rivalry in the 1970s polarized America, with the Steelers representing a hard-nosed blue collar image while the Cowboys were the epitome of glamour, flash, and glitz. These characterizations are still present today. Led by the strong play of rookie quarterback Dak Prescott, The Cowboys have looked like the best team in the NFC, while the Steelers are reeling with three straight losses to the Dolphins, Patriots, and Ravens. Last week, the Steelers could not have played worse on offence against the Ravens but put forth a spirited defensive effort. The Steelers Triple Bs need to show up big time this week, and I think they will. Look for Big Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, and Antonio Brown to hand the Cowboys a road loss which may open the door for the return of long-time starter Tony Romo to the helm of the Cowboys offence.
Prediction: Steelers 29 Cowboys 26
San Francisco (1–7) at Arizona (3–4–1), Sunday 1:25 p.m.
The Cardinals are rested coming off their bye week and are facing, with all due respect to 49ers legend Joe Montana, the NFC’s version of the Cleveland Browns. Cardinals win big and right their troubled ship.
Prediction: Cardinals 42 49ers 21
Seattle (5–2–1) at New England (7–1), Sunday 5:30 p.m.
Seattle needs to call Cleveland and offer them a high draft pick right now for the services of All-Pro left tackle Joe Thomas. Their poor offensive line play showed up once again last week where the team rushed for a total of 32 yards on 17 carries. The Seahawks also have a short week and travel across the country to take on the Tom Brady-led New England Patriots. Brady has been lights out since returning from suspension with 12 touchdowns and 1,319 passing yards in three games. To make matters worse, the Patriots are coming off their bye and have had two weeks to prepare for this Super Bowl 49 matchup.
Prediction: Patriots 38 Seahawks 16
Cincinnati (3–4–1) at New York Giants (5–3), Monday 5:30 p.m.
These two high-scoring offences meet in what should be an exciting Monday nighter. The Giants have won three straight coming into this matchup, including a big divisional victory over Philadelphia last week. The Bengals are coming off their bye week and hoping to get a big win to right what has been a disappointing season. While both teams have strong passing attacks, the Giants have been unable to run the football with much success. This lack of offensive dimension will give the rested Bengals defence an edge as they secure the win and keep pace in the narrow AFC Central race.
Prediction: Bengals 35 Giants 32