Last Week: 8–4–1
Byes: Chicago, Washington, Arizona, Houston, Cincinnati, New England
The winning percentage keeps going up with another solid week! The Browns came oh-so-close last week in getting their first win, but were edged 31–28 by the Jets. The big upset of the week turned out to be the Monday nighter, where the Bears knocked off the Vikings in convincing fashion. The best game of the week was the shootout in Atlanta that saw the Falcons score late to beat the Packers in a 33–32 thriller. On to this week’s action.
Atlanta (5–3) at Tampa Bay (3–4), Thursday 5:25 p.m.
Tampa Bay opened the season with a road win at Atlanta. Since then the Bucs have been mediocre and the Falcons have played extremely well, with quality wins over the Raiders on the road and Packers at home. Look for Atlanta to take this one in a game with more turnovers than expected.
Prediction: Falcons 31 Buccaneers 24
Lions (4–4) at Vikings (5–2), Sunday 10 a.m.
Two weeks ago, I thought the Vikings were the NFC favourites with a team that was Super Bowl capable. After scoring only 10 points against a bad Bears defence, that no longer appears to be the case. The Vikings offensive line is struggling to protect Sam Bradford and the defence — which won games earlier in the year with turnovers and touchdowns — has not been as dynamic. I like the Lions in this contest because of how much their quarterback, Matthew Stafford, has decreased his propensity for turnovers. The Lions have more playmakers than the Vikings and if they are able to limit turnovers, they should win a low-scoring game.
Prediction: Lions 19 Vikings 14
Pittsburgh (4–3) at Baltimore (3–4), Sunday 10 a.m.
These arch rivals always play each other in tough, hard-hitting games decided by three points or less. Whenever I think of this matchup, Ray Lewis’ devastating tackle on Rashard Mendenhall, which shattered Mendenhall’s shoulder, comes to mind. This tilt has major playoff implications as the Ravens could pull into a tie for first in the AFC Central division with a win and a Bengals loss. The intrigue in this game also concerns the health of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger who looks like he will be able to come back earlier than expected from a knee injury. I like a rested Ravens team coming off a bye to edge the Steelers in an emotional slugfest.
Prediction: Ravens 16 Steelers 13
Jets (3–5) at Dolphins (3–4), Sunday 10 a.m.
These divisional rivals have played some very memorable games over the years, highlighted by Dan Marino’s fake spike game winning touchdown and the “Monday Night Miracle” where the Jets overcame a 30–7 fourth quarter deficit to win in overtime 40–37. That game is notable for Arnold Schwarzenegger’s halftime interview where he boldly declared, “Wayne Chrebet is going to pull it off. I think as usual the Jets are going to come from behind, you will see [. . .] I think the Dolphins have to be terminated.” True to form, Chrebet caught a touchdown to tie the game at 30 and later a key reception in overtime which set the Jets up for the game winning field. In this matchup, look for another huge game by Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi, who recently became the fourth player in NFL history with back-to-back 200-yard rushing games.
Prediction: Dolphins 34 Jets 21
Philadelphia (4–3) at New York Giants (4–3), Sunday 10 a.m.
These two divisional rivals also have a long history steeped in tradition. The most memorable moment in the matchup is undoubtedly “The Miracle at the Meadowlands.” When teams take a knee at the end of the game, there’s a player standing behind the offence just in case there is a fumble. This happens because the Giants fumbled in the final seconds of a game in 1978 which saw Eagles defensive Back Herman Edwards scoop up the ball and score the game-winning touchdown. This game will be a tight matchup where the Eagles strong defence will be tasked with stopping an explosive Giants team that is rested off of a bye week. I like the Giants and league number one diva Odell Beckham to prevail in this matchup.
Prediction: Giants 28 Eagles 20
Dallas (6–1) at Cleveland (0–8), Sunday 10 a.m.
This matchup has trap game written all over it. The Cowboys are flying high after a big divisional win last week against the Eagles and go on the road, on grass, to play the laughing stock of the league. The wrinkle is that the Browns have played good tough football this year for new coach Hue Jackson and almost knocked off the Jets last week. They also traded for talented linebacker Jamie Collins from the Patriots who will immediately improve their defence. I have boldly predicted Browns upsets on two occasions this year and cannot predict a third. I grudgingly will side with the favourites in this one.
Prediction: Cowboys 24 Browns 23
New Orleans (3–4) at San Francisco (1–6), Sunday 1:05 p.m.
I do not like the Saints on the road and I like them even less on the road on grass. That being said, the 49ers may be the least talented team in the league. I think the Saints will be a factor in the playoff picture late in the year which makes this game one they simply have to have.
Prediction: Saints 26 49ers 16
Carolina (2–5) at Los Angeles (3–4), Sunday 1:05 p.m.
The Panthers finally got it going last week with a convincing home win against the Cardinals. While I don’t like that they are travelling across the country against a rested Rams team, I do think Panthers quarterback Cam Newton will make enough plays to beat an opponent with serious offensive limitations.
Prediction: Panthers 21 Rams 17
Tennessee (4–4) at San Diego (3–5), Sunday 1:25 p.m.
The Chargers are a playoff-calibre team despite their 3–5 record. The Titans have a strong running game and a very capable quarterback in Marcus Mariota but will not be able to do enough on the road to crest the 500-mark. Rivers and company pull closer into the playoff picture.
Prediction: Chargers 38 Titans 33
Indianapolis (3–5) at Green Bay (4–3), Sunday 1:25 p.m.
My skepticism about Green Bay’s offence and Aaron Rodgers’ play are officially at an end. The Packers roll over a terrible Colts defence at home and make a charge for a division title.
Prediction: Green Bay 41 Indianapolis 29
Game of the Week
Denver (6–2) at Oakland (6–2), Sunday 5:30 p.m.
Two division rivals with equal records, with the winner gaining first place in the division in prime time — you’ve got to love sports! The Raiders won last week in overtime against Tampa Bay despite setting a league record for accepted penalties in a game. They are young, brash, have an excellent quarterback in Derek Carr, and playmakers on both sides of the ball. The Broncos are a veteran team with tons of playoff experience, including a victory in last year’s Super Bowl. They also have a dominant defence and are extremely well-coached and -disciplined, which makes up for their offensive limitations. I was all in on the Raiders until I wrote the above, and reflected upon my own football experiences both playing and coaching on how important discipline, coaching, and experience are to winning.
Prediction: The boring Broncos 27, the sexy Raiders 24
Buffalo (4–4) at Seattle (4–2–1), Monday 5:30 p.m.
I’m tempted to express order a Jim Kelly jersey and a pair of zubaz pants to represent Bills fans in Seattle on Monday. Even with the power of the zubaz nation behind them, the Bills will be travelling cross country to face a Seahawks team reeling from a tie and a loss in back-to-back road games. You better believe the Seahawks will be focused and ready to maintain their precarious divisional lead in the NFC West.
Prediction: Seahawks 34 Bills 28