The NFC North was one of the most competitive divisions in football last year, putting pressure on teams this offseason to make the right moves that can move them to the top of the division. Let’s take a look at the offseason needs for the Bears, Packers, Vikings, and Lions.
Chicago Bears – With Jay Cutler being re-signed and wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery likely to be one of the top receiver duos in the NFL in 2014, the offense is in great shape, which means the Bears need to turn their full attention to the defense. The secondary was atrocious last season, and the Bears could benefit from four new starters there next year, although if that’s not realistic they need at least one new safety to replace free agent Major Wright and one new starter at cornerback to replace Charles Tillman. Chicago devoted much of last year’s draft to the linebacker position, so that may not be a priority this offseason, unless they can add an impact player. However, the same can’t be said about the defensive line. The interior of the line could use an impact player, while Julius Peppers could become a salary cap casualty, forcing the Bears to spend money or a high-round draft pick on a pass rusher, meaning the defensive line will require a lot of attention this offseason.
Detroit Lions – Despite its collapse at the end of the season that prompted a coaching change, Detroit isn’t far away from being competitive if they can have a successful offseason. The Lions have one of the most talented defensive fronts in the NFL, but they leave a lot to be desired in the secondary. Detroit would be wise to bring in re-sign veteran cornerback Rashean Mathis to help solidfy the unit, but they should also sign a younger cornerback that can step into the starting lineup. They were forced to cut safety Louis Delmas for cap reasons, so the Lions may need to use an early-round draft pick on a safety, while also adding depth at that position later in the draft if they can. Detroit could also consider using a high draft pick on a wide receiver, taking advantage of the depth at that position to give Matthew Stafford a talented number-two receiver to complement Calvin Johnson, but right now the Lion’s offense isn’t as much of a priority as the defense.
Green Bay Packers – If the Packers can re-sign Matt Flynn or one way or another bring in a backup quarterback that they trust, the offense should be in good shape heading into next season. However, the Green Bay defense needs a lot of work, as it pales in comparison to the defenses of the other top teams in the NFC. Outside of A.J. Hawk and Nick Perry, the Packers don’t have much at linebacker, and they’ll need an infusion of talent at that position this offseason. Up front, Green Bay won’t miss B.J. Raji that much, but they will need to add one or two defensive linemen, possibly using an early-round pick to do so. In the secondary, the Packers need to do what they can to re-sign Sam Shields, but they’ll also need to add talent at the safety position, as well as depth throughout their secondary.
Minnesota Vikings – The Vikings will likely look to draft a new quarterback this year, but the top three quarterbacks could all be off the board by the time Minnesota is on the clock with the 8th overall pick, so that could make their pursuit of a signal caller complicated. If they can find a suitable quarterback at some point, then the offense should be in good shape, which would allow Minnesota to spend the rest of the offseason focusing on their defense. After a lot of good seasons, Jared Allen appears to be on his way out of town, so the Vikings will need a pass-rushing defensive end, which could be their biggest priority in the draft outside of quarterback. Minnesota also leaves a lot to be desired at linebacker and they may need to make a splash at that position in free agency if their top draft picks are used on a quarterback and a pass rusher. It might also be beneficial for the Vikings to add a piece or two to their secondary, although the future appears to be bright for cornerback Xavier Rhodes, which gives some hope for the future of their secondary.
NFL Week 15 Preview: Redskins-Falcons, Bears-Browns, Patriots-Dolphins, Packers-Cowboys, Bengals-Steelers
We’re getting down to the nitty gritty with just three weeks left to play, and the playoff picture in both conferences is still far from decided. Things are bound to start taking shape after this weekend’s games, so let’s take a closer look at the week 15 schedule:
Washington at Atlanta – This game is meaningless playoffs wise, but it does have draft order significance, although the Redskins won’t have their first round pick anyway. Kirk Cousins is taking over at quarterback, so it’ll be interesting to see if he moves the ball any better than Robert Griffin III did. Of course, Cousins will have little affect on Washington’s defense, which will have to stop an Atlanta offense that is capable of scoring points against a weak defense.
Chicago at Cleveland – The Browns let one slip away last week, but they’ll have another chance to play spoiler this week, as the Bears can’t afford to lose another game the rest of the season. Chicago was lightning in a bottle offensively Monday night, but that won’t be so easy against a tough Cleveland defense. Despite winning one game in the past two months, the Browns have a solid defense, and with Jason Campbell at quarterback, Cleveland’s offense is capable of scoring points against a questionable Chicago defense, which means a win is far from a certainty for the Bears, whose defense needs to play with a sense of urgency on the road in order to win.
Houston at Indianapolis – The Colts have already locked up the division, but they need to start playing better down the stretch or their postseason will be brief and disappointing, and this is a game the Colts should be able to win in order to get back on track. As for the Texans, they are still riding an 11-game losing streak, but they’ve lost plenty of close games during that stretch and looked better with Matt Schaub back at quarterback last week, so this is a game they can steal if Indianapolis continues to struggle and doesn’t play a complete game.
New England at Miami – The Patriots are lucky to have won the last two weeks, and they won’t have much margin for error this week down in Miami against a team that needs to win to stay in the playoff hunt. Despite some deficiencies, the Dolphins are playing good football and always put themselves in position to win in the 4th quarter; Ryan Tannehill and company need to make sure they’re the ones making the game-winning plays late, especially against a team that has a history of making key plays when it matters the most. Miami is tied with Baltimore for the last playoff spot, but the Ravens own the tiebreaker between the two teams, so there is no margin for error down the stretch for the Dolphins, as they have to finish ahead of Baltimore to make the postseason, and that’ll be tough to do if they lose this game.
Philadelphia at Minnesota – The Eagles are really rolling right now, and their offense should be tough to stop inside a dome, where there’s no chance of the weather becoming a factor. The Vikings are a little better than their record indicates, and they’ll put up a fight against a contending team, but if Adrian Peterson doesn’t play, or isn’t 100%, it’ll be difficult to keep up with Philadelphia’s offense.
Seattle at New York Giants – The Giants put up a fight after starting the season 0-6, but after their performance last week in San Diego it looks like their season is over. Meanwhile, the Seahawks are comfortably in first place, but they won’t be happy about last week’s loss, which means they’ll be motivated to play on the road, whereas the Giants may have resigned themselves to just playing out the season.
San Francisco at Tampa Bay – The 49ers made a statement by beating Seattle last week, but their playoff spot is not yet secure, so they need to bring that same intensity with them to Tampa Bay. We know the Bucs are going to play hard, and they’re just good enough to take advantage of teams that aren’t at the top of their game, especially on defense. The San Francisco offense needs to do a better job of finishing drives in the end zone than they did last week, because if they don’t the Bucs will hang around and have a chance to pull off the upset.
Buffalo at Jacksonville – Nothing much to see here, although the recent resurgence by Jacksonville is a pleasant surprise for a team that some had pegged as a one or two win team this season. The Bills embarrassed themselves last week in Tampa, and they need to avoid repeating that this week and at least play with some pride.
Kansas City at Oakland – There’s nothing like a good old-fashioned AFC West rivalry. The Raiders are out of contention, but they’re going to play hard and look to knock off the Chiefs on their way to the postseason. If the Oakland offense can get it going like they have the past couple of weeks, this game could get interesting, although the Chiefs can lock in a postseason birth with a win, so they won’t be taking the Raiders lightly, while also hoping that their recent offensive surge will continue.
New York Jets at Carolina – The Panthers had a rough time last Sunday night and they need to respond well this week or speculation will start to grow that they peaked too early. Of course, the Jets may be the best team for them to play right now. New York had a nice game offensively last week against Oakland, but that’ll be tough to repeat against Carolina’s defense. As long as the Panther’s defense gets back on track, winning shouldn’t be an issue and they can go back to setting their sights on the postseason.
Green Bay at Dallas – It doesn’t look like Aaron Rodgers will play in this one, but that doesn’t mean the Packers won’t be able to score against the Dallas defense, which was atrocious Monday night and now has a short week to prepare for the Packers. If Green Bay can establish their running game early, it could soften up the Cowboy’s back-seven and create some space in the secondary for Matt Flynn to get the ball downfield. If the Packers are anywhere close to as efficient on offense against Dallas as the Bears were Monday night, once again all the pressure will be on Tony Romo and the offense, which is not where Dallas wants to be. The Cowboys can score on offense, but it won’t matter unless their defense can get some stops.
Arizona at Tennessee – This could be a tricky game for the Cardinals, but with Seattle and San Francisco on the schedule the final two weeks, it’s a game they need to win. Arizona has built up a lot of momentum over the past month and a half, and they need to keep that going into the final three weeks. In this game, the Cardinals need to start fast and take an early lead. The Titans would like to win and play spoiler, but if Arizona gets up early, it’ll be easier to take care of business against a team that’s just 2-4 at home this season.
New Orleans at St. Louis – The Saints were quite impressive last week at home against the Panthers, but now it’s time to show everybody that they can just as impressive on the road. The Rams haven’t looked all that threatening the past couple of weeks, but they’re capable of pulling of a surprise, so the Saints need to make sure they’re crisp and efficient on offense by controlling the St. Louis pass rush, which could pose some problems for the Saints. For now, New Orleans has a strong hold on the NFC South, but a loss in St. Louis could cause some problems for them heading into their road trip to Carolina next week.
Cincinnati at Pittsburgh – A couple of close losses the past two weeks have all but ended Pittsburgh’s postseason hopes, but they’ve playing much better than they were early in the season, and they’ll have a chance to knock off the Bengals at home Sunday night. The Steelers are going to have to clamp down defensively and force Andy Dalton into making bad decisions and bad throws because playing from behind against the Cincinnati defense will be a difficult task for them. If the game stays low scoring, the Steelers will have a good chance of winning, but if Dalton plays mistake free football the Bengals should score plenty of points, making it hard for the Steelers to keep up.
Against all logic and reason, the Chicago Bears are still alive for a postseason berth. Although the Bears would lose the tiebreaker with the Detroit Lions, they are tied with the Lions atop the NFC North Division with a record of 7-6 and have a legitimate chance to sneak ahead of Detroit and claim the division, which is likely their only means of getting to the playoffs. But whom will the Bears turn to at quarterback to take them to the playoffs? When Jay Cutler is pronounced healthy, which could happen any day now, Chicago will have to make a choice between going back to him or staying with Josh McCown, who has been a more than adequate fill in for Cutler. Head coach Marc Trestman and the team’s leaders insist that it will be Cutler’s job when he’s ready, but is the decision really that easy?
McCown has given the Bears so much more than they could have expected from a backup, especially one that didn’t throw a single pass all last season. He has thrown 13 touchdowns and just one interception this season, while totaling over 1,800 yards in five starts and two relief appearances. In games that McCown has started, the Bears are 3-2, which has kept Chicago in contention by taking care of the football and getting the ball in the hands of Chicago’s talented cast of playmakers. Despite an unreliable defense, the Bears have a good thing going on the offensive side of the ball, so why make a change if they don’t have to?
Although McCown has been a great backup, he’s just that: a backup. There’s something to be said about going with the hot hand at quarterback, and McCown could fit that description right now, but he’s nowhere near as talented as Cutler. How long do the Bears want to push things with an aging backup? Moreover, McCown does not have the arm strength that Cutler has, and with weather becoming a factor in most NFL games, especially in the windy city, McCown would be more limited than Cutler in less than ideal weather conditions.
Not only is Cutler a more talented quarterback and better suited for imperfect weather conditions, but he could be a part of their future plans, while the 34-year old McCown shouldn’t be considered as a possible starter beyond this season. The new coaching staff hasn’t had a full season to evaluate Cutler because of his injuries, so even if the team doesn’t make the playoffs, playing Cutler down the stretch would be the smart move for the organization in the long run, as they need to decide whether or not they’d like to re-sign him after the season.
Of course, an argument can be made that the short term is more important, and that Cutler has a long enough track record to make a decision on without playing him in the final weeks of the season. Cutler is bound have plenty of rust to shake off after not playing a full game in more than two months, and that could hinder Chicago’s chances of making the playoffs, especially since they have little margin for error. Putting a rusty Cutler back on the field for the most pivotal games of the season could be asking for trouble, especially considering the issues he’s had in the past with turnovers, which is something that hasn’t been an issue with McCown as the starter.
With strong arguments that can be made for both quarterbacks, what’s the best choice for the Bears? It’s Cutler; if he’s healthy, he should play. McCown has done well to hold down the fort, and by doing so he’s played his role on the team perfectly, but Cutler should be the one playing with the season on the line. It’s a high risk-high reward scenario for the Bears, and taking a chance on a rusty Cutler that hasn’t been on the field much over the past two months is a risk Chicago needs to take to give themselves a shot at the playoffs. McCown has taken the Bears as far as he can and given them a shot, but if Cutler is healthy and available, it’s his job to taken them to the playoffs, and he needs to be given the chance to do that.
The Cowboys playing the Bears isn’t the most glamorous game on the week 14 schedule, as both teams have their issues. But with the game having serious playoff implications for both teams, it requires a closer look.
WHAT’S AT STAKE
Few teams in the NFL need a win as badly as the Chicago Bears need a win. Chicago has lost two in a row on the road, and three of their last four, as their once promising playoff hopes have grown increasingly bleak. Last week’s overtime loss to Minnesota was like a dagger to their playoff hopes, as a wildcard spot is unlikely, which means they’ll have to win the NFC North in order to get to the postseason. Detroit lost on Sunday, and that opens the door for the Bears to make up some ground, which is essential considering the Lions own the tiebreaker between the two teams. As for the Cowboys, they have some hope to snag the second wildcard spot, but their main focus right now is beating out the Philadelphia Eagles for the NFC East title. The Eagles won in a snowstorm on Sunday, so the Cowboys need to keep pace, even though the division could be decided when the two teams meet in week 17.
DALLAS OFFENSE VS. CHICAGO DEFENSE
Dallas has won their last two games, in part because they’ve made a commitment to running the ball, and have actually done so effectively. Any kind of consistent production from the running game takes pressure off Tony Romo and can make him all the more dangerous, considering the weapons he has at his disposal in the passing game. Chicago has the worst rush defense in the NFL, so as long as the Cowboys make it a point to run the ball, they should have success moving the ball on the ground, which should set up Dallas to use play-action and put a lot of pressure on the Chicago secondary. Unless the Bears can put pressure on Romo with their pass rush and force him into making mistakes, they could have trouble stopping the Dallas offense on a consistent basis.
CHICAGO OFFENSE VS. DALLAS DEFENSE
Josh McCown has done a fine job of filling in for Jay Cutler, but it hasn’t translated into wins for the Bears. Even with McCown, Chicago has one of the top passing attacks in the league with Brandon Marshall and the emergence of Alshon Jeffery, and they’ve received consistent production in the running game from Matt Forte, so the Bears should have success moving the ball and scoring points against a Dallas defense that’s ranked among the worst in the NFL. The Cowboys continue to deal with injuries to key defensive players, which should make it even more difficult for them to stop the Chicago offense, which has a handful of capable skill players that can take advantage of a porous secondary, especially if the Cowboys can’t put consistent pressure on McCown with their pass rush.
With both defenses being below average and both offenses having a wealth of skill players, it’s safe to assume that plenty of points will be scored in this game, and that both teams will have a chance to win in the 4th quarter, even if they face a double-digit deficit, as points could be scored in bunches and in a short period of time. The Bears will have the home-field advantage, as well as more of a sense of urgency to win, but they are struggling to win games, while the Cowboys have played better in recent weeks, showcasing more balance on offense. The Bears need this game more, but the Cowboys are the better team: Dallas 27, Chicago 20.
NFL Week 11 Predictions: Bills-Jets, Bears-Ravens, Bengals-Browns, Lions-Steelers, Texans-Raiders and More
With the Broncos-Chiefs, Pats-Panthers, Saints-49ers, etc on the schedule, this week is full of exciting matchups. Here are the teams we like to come out on top:
Bryan Zarpentine: Tampa Bay 23, Atlanta 21 – The Bucs keep up some forward momentum while the Falcons continue to spiral out of control.
Cole Stevenson: Atlanta 23, Tampa Bay 21
Bryan Zarpentine: Buffalo 20, New York Jets 10 – The Bills respond to Doug Marrone’s fiery comments last week and play a complete game.
Cole Stevenson: New York Jets 21, Buffalo 13
Bryan Zarpentine: Chicago 27, Baltimore 13 – The Baltimore defense can’t put together two straight weeks quality performances, especially against a talented Chicago offense.
Cole Stevenson: Chicago 24, Baltimore 19
Bryan Zarpentine: Cincinnati 20, Cleveland 17 – It isn’t pretty, but while at home the Bengals find a way to edge out the Browns.
Cole Stevenson: Cincinnati 23, Cleveland 18
Bryan Zarpentine: Detroit 30, Pittsburgh 17 – The Lions get their running game going and become too much for the Steelers to handle.
Cole Stevenson: Detroit 27, Pittsburgh 20
Bryan Zarpentine: Houston 21, Oakland 10 – The Raiders can’t do much on offense against Houston’s defense, giving the Texans a much-needed win.
Cole Stevenson: Houston 24, Oakland 16
Bryan Zarpentine: Philadelphia 38, Washington 28 – The Redskins can’t stop Philadelphia’s offense and RG3 can’t keep up.
Cole Stevenson: Philadelphia 31, Washington 24
Bryan Zarpentine: Arizona 31, Jacksonville 10 – The Cardinals win going away in a rout.
Cole Stevenson: Arizona 27, Jacksonville 17
Bryan Zarpentine: San Diego 27, Miami 21 – The Chargers have played well on the east coast this year, and take advantage of a team that’s still going through turmoil.
Cole Stevenson: San Diego 24, Miami 20
Bryan Zarpentine: New York Giants 24, Green Bay 14 – The Giants continue to make incremental progress, and they have just enough to beat a depleted Packer’s team.
Cole Stevenson: Giants 25, Green Bay 20
Bryan Zarpentine: Seattle 24, Minnesota 7 – The Seahawks are sluggish offensively at first, but ultimately they’re too good for the Vikings.
Cole Stevenson: Seattle 23, Minnesota 10
Bryan Zarpentine: New Orleans 34, San Francisco 17 – The 49ers don’t put up much of a fight in the second half against a much better team.
Cole Stevenson: New Orleans 30, San Francisco 19
Bryan Zarpentine: Denver 31, Kansas City 20 – The Chiefs keep Peyton Manning under wraps in the first half, but the Broncos blitz them with big plays in the 3rd quarter and pull away.
Cole Stevenson: Denver 28, Kansas City 19
Bryan Zarpentine: Carolina 20, New England 16 – The Carolina defense keeps Tom Brady under wraps just enough to pull out another impressive win.
Cole Stevenson: New England 24, Carolina 20
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NFL Week 11 Preview: Jets-Bills, Ravens-Bears, Redskins-Eagles, Raiders-Texans, Chiefs-Broncos and More
Things are heating up in the NFL, with a slew of important intra-divisional matchups on tap for this weekend. With so much at stake, let’s take a closer look at the week 11 schedule:
New York Jets at Buffalo – The Bills are coming off their worst performance of the season, as they looked pitiful last week against the Steelers. That game was followed by a frustrated yet passionate postgame press conference by Doug Marrone, so expect Buffalo to play with a lot more purpose this week, especially after they failed to capitalize on opportunities to beat the Jets the first time they met. As for Rex Ryan’s team, they were impressive in their win over the Saints two weeks ago heading into their bye week, but they’ve yet to win two straight games this season, so that’s a hump they’ll try to get over this week. If the playoffs are a realistic possibility for the Jets, they can’t afford to lose to a team like Buffalo, and Geno Smith will need to be sharp to ensure that doesn’t happen.
Baltimore at Chicago – The Ravens kept their slim playoff hopes alive with a win over the Bengals last week, and a win this week would get them back to .500 on the heels of a three-game home stand. Outside of a lucky Hail Mary, the Baltimore defense clamped down on Cincinnati last week, forcing three turnovers, and they’ll have to do the same this week against another offense that’s loaded with playmakers. Josh McCown will start at quarterback for the Bears, but he’s exceeded expectations for a backup quarterback and should put Chicago in good hands. The Chicago offense could be too much for the Ravens to stop for four quarters, but Chicago’s defense may not be able to keep Joe Flacco and company out of the end zone either, so expect this to be a competitive game that both teams need to win.
Cleveland at Cincinnati – The Bengals have lost in overtime the last two weeks, and now they take on a team that beat them earlier in the season, so the pressure is mounting, especially since the Browns can pull within a game of first place if they can get a season sweep of Cincinnati. Andy Dalton has thrown three interceptions in each of the past two games, and if that trend continues, the Bengals could be in danger of losing their third game in a row. Jason Campbell has provided a spark for Cleveland’s offense, and if he plays well again the Browns will be competitive on the road and have a chance to win.
Washington at Philadelphia – The Eagles may have found something with Nick Foles at quarterback, as he’s played well the past two weeks, and that shouldn’t be too hard to keep up against the Washington defense. The Philadelphia defense has also played better the past couple of weeks; however, this week they’ll go up against a much healthier and more dangerous Robert Griffin III than the guy they faced in week 1, so we should expect plenty of points to be scored in this game. The Redskins have a killer schedule down the stretch, so even in a weak NFC East this is a must-win game for Washington if they’re going to make a move late in the season. Meanwhile, the Eagles are tied with Dallas atop the division, and if they can find a way to win at home for the first time this year, they’ll be alone in first place.
Detroit at Pittsburgh – The Lions got into first place with last week’s win, and now they need to find a way to stay there. When Detroit gets its running game going, their offense goes to another level, which should be the case this week, as the Steelers are one of the worst teams in the league at defending the run. Pittsburgh will try to counter with Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, but if Detroit’s pass rush can be effective, it’ll be hard for Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh offense to keep up with the Lions.
Atlanta at Tampa Bay – Both teams are out of the playoff race, but the Bucs have a chance to pull themselves even with the Falcons in the standings with a win. Both quarterbacks played well when the two teams met in week 7, so even if this isn’t a meeting between two good teams, we should at least see plenty of offense.
Arizona at Jacksonville – The Cardinals can put themselves into the thick of the wildcard race with a win, but they can’t afford to overlook the Jaguars on the road after Jacksonville is riding high from their first win of the season last week. Of course, even in their win, the Jaguars were barely able to eclipse 200 total yards, so if Arizona can avoid turning the ball over and play solid defense against the run, which they’ve done all year, the Cardinals should be able to win.
Oakland at Houston – The Texans hope that the return of Gary Kubiak gives them enough of a lift to end their seven-game losing streak. Houston has lost its last three games by a combined seven points, so they’ve been competitive, but just haven’t had enough to get over the hump. The matchup to watch in this game is Oakland quarterback Terrelle Pryor going up against the top pass defense in the NFL, which is a matchup that favors the Texans and could give rookie Case Keenum a little less pressure to rally the team late in the 4th quarter, which is the position he’s been in the last three weeks.
San Diego at Miami – The turmoil in Miami continues both off and on the field, as the Dolphins have lost five of their last six games and are in danger of completely falling out of contention. The schedule gets real tough for the Dolphins for the next four weeks following this game, so if they can’t get a win here, the season will be all but over for them. Look for the Chargers to go all out with their pass rush to expose a weak Miami offensive line. Unless the Dolphins can counter with an effective running game, they could be in trouble, especially after rushing for two yards against Tampa Bay Monday night. San Diego is also in a must-win position, as they make their fourth trip to the east coast of the season. However, the Chargers have played well on the east coast this season, and if Phillip Rivers can avoid turning the ball over, they’ll be in good shape to win.
San Francisco at New Orleans – The last thing the 49ers need right now is a trip to New Orleans, as a loss would make San Francisco’s playoff chances a lot less certain than we thought they would be heading into the season. Colin Kaepernick is struggling and the team doesn’t seem to trust him, which means they’ll be relying on Frank Gore and their running game to move the ball and help keep Drew Brees off the field. San Francisco can’t afford to get into a shootout, so they’ll need their defense to step up. If the San Francisco pass rush is effective, it should prevent the Saints from running away with the game, and at least give Kaepernick and the offense a chance to win.
Green Bay at New York Giants – These are two teams moving in opposite directions: the Packers are struggling to hold on after two straight losses and an injury to their quarterback, while the Giants are slowly building momentum with a three-game winning streak. Regardless of who’s playing quarterback, the Packers still pose a threat with their running game and will be a challenge for the Giants, who need to cut down on the mistakes they’re still making despite their recent winning streak. If New York can continue the recent improvement in their pass rush and put consistent pressure on Scott Tolzien, the offense should be able to muster up enough points to win, but if Tolzien has time in the pocket he should be able to move the ball enough to keep the Packers close.
Minnesota at Seattle – The Vikings got a nice win last week, but they could be in a little over their head with a trip to Seattle this week. The Seahawks finally put together a complete game last week after two questionable performances, and they need to keep that going. Seattle’s biggest problem this week could be complacency with their bye week coming up next week. The Seahawks face a tough schedule coming out of the bye and can’t afford to slip up against a weaker opponent heading into their off week.
Kansas City at Denver – This game is the highlight of the weekend, and one that we’ve been waiting to see. Obviously, the player to watch is Peyton Manning; he’s a little banged up and the depleted offensive line in front of him is going to have its hands full with one of the best pass rushes in the NFL. Look for the Broncos to get the ball out of Manning’s hands as quickly as possible, even if it means taking less shots deep. On the other side of the ball, Alex Smith and the Kansas City offense have been steady this year, but are in no way prepared for a shootout against Manning and the Denver defense. If the Chiefs have to score more than 20 points to win the game, they could be in trouble, as Denver’s pass rush could get after Smith if he has to throw the ball downfield in order to keep up with Manning. This game will come down to whether the Kansas City defense can get after Manning and keep the Broncos out of the end zone, as the Chiefs will feel good about their chances in a low scoring game.
There were certainly some unexpected occurrences during week 10 of the NFL schedule. Let’s try to recap everything and wrap up the week that was with the good, the bad, and the ugly:
Tavon Austin – We’ve impatiently waited for the 8th overall pick in this year’s draft to show us something and Austin finally delivered. He caught just two passes, but they totaled 138 yards and both finished with him running into the end zone. Austin also ran a punt back 98 yards for a touchdown, as he finally showed off his explosiveness and was the primary catalyst for the Ram’s blowout win over the Colts. The key is now for Austin to repeat that type of performance in the weeks to come, as St. Louis still doesn’t have much of a passing attack, even with his dynamic playmaking ability.
Seattle’s offense – The Seahawks have had some really poor performances in recent weeks and nearly lost their last two games, but they had a real nice bounce back effort against the Falcons on Sunday. Quarterback Russell Wilson flirted with 300 yards passing, running back Marshawn Lynch went for 145 yards on the ground, and Golden Tate topped the 100-yard mark receiving. Of course, it did come against Atlanta’s defense, so take it with a grain of salt, but Seattle gained nearly 500 yards, had great balance, and didn’t turn the ball over, which is a huge step in the right direction for their offense.
Antonio Brown – Brown was a one-man wrecking crew against the Bills. He had 104 yards receiving and broke off a 50-yard punt return, as he was Pittsburgh’s best player in two phases of the game. Brown has been the only reliable receiver Ben Roethlisberger has had this season, and when he has games like this the Steelers have a chance to win, which they did quite easily on Sunday.
Carolina’s defense – The Panthers were unbelievably impressive on defense against San Francisco. Granted, the 49ers haven’t been the most impressive offensive team in the NFL this year, but holding them under 100 yards throwing the ball and 151 total yards is a great accomplishment. Even against a quality offensive line, the Panthers were able to get pressure on Colin Kaepernick all game long and sacked him six times, holding San Francisco to just three field goals and giving their offense opportunities to put enough points on the board to win.
New York Giant’s turnovers – The good news is that the Giants won and kept their slim playoff hopes alive, but they certainly didn’t make it easy on themselves by turning the ball over three times. The Giants fumbled the ball away twice and Eli Manning continued his unsteady play by throwing a pick six. Ultimately, they were able to hang on for the win, but they won’t be able to get away with mistakes like that against tougher teams moving forward.
E.J. Manuel’s return – The Bills were glad to welcome back their starting quarterback, especially after last week’s failure with Jeff Tuel at quarterback, but Manuel definitely had some rust to shake off and didn’t play the way Buffalo was hoping he would. Manuel had trouble with his accuracy, and even when he did make accurate throws, his receivers didn’t do him any favors, as the Buffalo offense was stagnant for much of the game. For a rookie to miss a month with an injury, we should have expected him to struggle, but if Manuel had been sharper the Bills would have had a chance to win a game they needed to have to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Jay Cutler’s return – There was a lot of excitement in Chicago about Cutler’s return for the big divisional matchup against the Lions, but things did not go according to plan for the Bears. Cutler looked a little off for much of the game, and despite plenty of good throws, he completed just 21 of his 40 pass attempts. By the end of the game, Cutler was back on the sidelines with another injury, as Josh McCown nearly led the Bears to a game-tying score. McCown played well while Cutler was out, and who knows if things would have gone differently had Cutler taken another week off to recover and McCown had played the entire game.
Injury to Sean Lee – Lee left the Cowboy’s game against the Saints in the first half with a hamstring injury, and it completely changed the complexion of the game. Dallas was missing the leader of their defense, and it showed. The Cowboy’s defense looked like last year’s defense, as they got torched against Drew Brees and the New Orleans passing game without Lee’s intelligence and coverage skills.
Jake Locker’s injury – This week was supposed to be an opportunity for Locker to get back on track, but instead Locker threw just nine passes, including an interception, before having to leave with an injury that appears to be season ending. Back up Ryan Fitzpatrick played well, but the Titans still lost to Jacksonville, and despite still being in the middle of the wild card race, they can’t feel good about their chances with Fitzpatrick as their quarterback for the rest of the season.
Andy Dalton – For most of their game against the Ravens, Dalton did more harm than good for the Bengals, and reminded us that he may actually be the biggest thing that’s standing in the way of Cincinnati being able to make a deep playoff run. Dalton threw three interceptions and completed less than 50% of his passes, as a subpar performance by him played a big role in a Cincinnati loss for the second straight week.
Indianapolis Colts – The Colts had the advantage in several statistical categories, except for the ones that really mattered: they had just 18 rushing yards, they turned the ball over five times, and they converted just two of their 12 third down opportunities. Andrew Luck had perhaps his worst game as a pro, throwing three interceptions and fumbling a ball that got returned for a touchdown. Indianapolis followed up last week’s close call against Houston with a truly pitiful effort, as they are a far cry from the team that beat Denver a couple weeks ago.
Green Bay’s quarterback situation – If losing Aaron Rodgers wasn’t bad enough, back up Seneca Wallace couldn’t even get through his first series without going down with an injury as well. Wallace actually completed his first five passes and looked to have good command of the offense, but when the Packers had to go to third string quarterback Scott Tolzien they didn’t have much of a chance, especially after the Eagles took a commanding lead early in the 3rd quarter. Not only did Green Bay lose at home, but they are also in real bad shape at quarterback moving forward, and could have trouble staying in contention until Rodgers gets back.
NFL Week 10 Predictions: Falcons-Seahawks, Bills-Steelers, Bears-Lions, Bengals-Ravens, 49ers-Panthers, Broncos-Chargers and More
Will the Jaguars or Buccaneers get their first win? Will Packers be able to bounce back without their star QB? Find out our picks/predictions below:
(Bryan Zarpentine 69-39 overall)
(Cole Stevenson 68-40 overall)
Bryan Zarpentine: Atlanta 23, Seattle 14 – The Seahawks are due for a loss after the last two weeks. Matt Ryan will do just enough to lift the Falcons to victory.
Cole Stevenson: Seattle 24, Atlanta 18
Bryan Zarpentine: Buffalo 20, Pittsburgh 17 – E.J. Manuel’s return sparks the Bills, who find a way to win a close game for once.
Cole Stevenson: Buffalo 24, Pittsburgh 21
Bryan Zarpentine: Chicago 34, Detroit 28 – The Bears are riding high after their Monday night win, and with Jay Cutler’s return, they pull out a close win in the 4th quarter.
Cole Stevenson: Detroit 31, Chicago 27
Bryan Zarpentine: Cincinnati 31, Baltimore 13 – Things get even worse for the Ravens, who simply can’t slow down the Cincinnati offense.
Cole Stevenson: Cincinnati 28, Baltimore 17
Bryan Zarpentine: Philadelphia 27, Green Bay 16 – Nick Foles doesn’t throw seven touchdowns the way he did last week, but he can certainly out-duel Seneca Wallace.
Cole Stevenson: Philadelphia 24, Green Bay 18
Bryan Zarpentine: Tennessee 31, Jacksonville 17 – Jake Locker gets back on track and looks like the guy we saw the first few weeks of the season before his injury.
Cole Stevenson: Tennessee 30, Jacksonville 13
Bryan Zarpentine: Indianapolis 28, St. Louis 24 – The Rams make it close, but in the end, they can’t stop Andrew Luck in the 4th quarter.
Cole Stevenson: Indianapolis 23, St Louis 16
Bryan Zarpentine: New York Giants 17, Oakland 10 – Baby steps for the Giants, who win ugly, but do find a way to win their third in a row.
Cole Stevenson: Giants 23, Oakland 17
Bryan Zarpentine: San Francisco 21, Carolina 16 – Cam Newton can’t quite get the job done in the red zone, and the Panthers have to settle for too many field goals to knock off the 49ers.
Cole Stevenson: San Francisco 24, Carolina 19
Bryan Zarpentine: Denver 42, San Diego 24 – Nothing can slow down Peyton Manning, and Phillip Rivers can’t quite keep up.
Cole Stevenson: Denver 38, San Diego 28
Bryan Zarpentine: Arizona 27, Houston 21 – The Texans are reeling, and they won’t be able to get their running game going against Arizona’s defense, which makes it hard to beat the Cardinals on the road.
Cole Stevenson: Arizona 22, Houston 21
Bryan Zarpentine: New Orleans 38, Dallas 31 – Tony Romo does well to keep up with Drew Brees, until a typical Romo mistake in the 4th quarter proves costly for the Cowboys.
Cole Stevenson: New Orleans 31, Dallas 28
Bryan Zarpentine: Tampa Bay 17, Miami 13 – It has to happen sometime, and the Bucs defense proves disruptive for a distracted Miami team, which is enough to give Tampa the win.
Cole Stevenson: Miami 20, Tampa Bay 17
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We’re moving into the second half of the NFL season, but there are still plenty of changes being made in the weekly power rankings. Let’s check out the top-10 in the NFC following week 9:
1. New Orleans – Despite a loss to the Jets, there still aren’t enough reasons to remove the Saints from the top spot. The team obviously isn’t perfect, as the Jets managed to put a lot of pressure on Drew Brees, the Saint’s rush defense was exposed a bit, and Jimmy Graham isn’t fully healthy, but as long as they bounce back at home next week against Dallas, there’s no reason to worry too much about New Orleans, as they still look like the top team in the NFC.
2. San Francisco – The bye week was good to the 49ers, as not only do they move up in the power rankings, but they also look to be getting healthier with cornerback Eric Wright coming off the PUP list and wide receiver Michael Crabtree getting closer to returning to the field. They have a tough game against Carolina this week, but they ride a five-game winning streak and had an extra week to prepare coming off their trip to London, so the 49ers should be in good shape, especially after looking better every week throughout the month of October.
3. Seattle – The Seahawks may not have lost to Tampa Bay, but they drop in the power rankings because their issues nearly caught up with them, doing so at home and against a winless team, which should not have been the case. The comeback was impressive, but they got gashed on the ground and were -3 in the turnover ratio, and that’s not going to fly against playoff-caliber teams. After the way Seattle has played the last two weeks, they definitely deserve to be knocked down from the number 2 spot in the NFC, and they definitely have issues that need to be resolved.
4. Green Bay – For now the Packers stay at number four following their loss to the Bears Monday night. However, if Aaron Rodgers has to miss significant time, it could cause Green Bay to plummet in the power rankings. The Packers have been able to survive a slew of other injuries because they still had Rodgers running the show, but without him it’s a whole different story.
5. Detroit – The Lions stay at number 5 during their bye week, but things are about to get interesting for them with road trips to Chicago and Pittsburgh the next two weeks. Detroit is talented, but they haven’t been the most consistent team this season, and in the NFC North this year, there could be a thin line between being the division champion and being out of the playoffs, so it’ll be interesting to see if they can start showing more consistency, especially on defense.
6. Carolina – A convincing win over the mediocre and under-manned Falcons isn’t enough to push the Panthers any higher in the power rankings, but a win in San Francisco this weekend would almost assuredly move them up. Carolina has won four straight games against sub-.500 teams, and now it’s time for Cam Newton and company to prove that they can compete against on the NFC’s top teams.
7. Chicago – The Bears got a little lucky against the Packers, as the injury to Aaron Rodgers helped them pull off the upset in Lambeau Field. But regardless of who played and who didn’t play, Chicago played an impressive game Monday night, showcasing great balance on offense and a solid defensive effort. Josh McCown did a fine job in relief, but now it looks like Jay Cutler will be back on the field this week against Detroit, and could provide a spark for the Bears moving forward.
8. Arizona – The 4-4 Cardinals enjoyed their bye this past weekend, and now opportunity is knocking for them with games against Houston and Jacksonville the next two weeks, giving them a chance to put themselves into the heat of the wild card race. Their schedule during the second half of December is brutal, so they really need to get hot in November if they’re going to make the playoffs.
9. Dallas – The Cowboys are lucky to be anywhere in the top-10, just as they should feel lucky that they were able to squeak out a home win against the Vikings. Finishing a game with nine total rushing attempts is not a formula that’s going to work late in the season and in the playoffs, if they can get there. Dallas now has a trip to New Orleans this week, and they play three of their next four games on the road, giving them a tough schedule head, meaning it’s time for them to prove themselves.
10. Philadelphia – The inconsistencies are maddening, but every time we try to write off the Eagles, they come storming back with an absurd offensive effort. Oakland isn’t the hapless team they were last year, so putting up 49 points against them on the road is nothing to scoff at, especially with another change at the quarterback position. Of course, winning in Oakland is much different from winning in Green Bay, which is the task the Eagles take on this week, as they’re still searching for more week-to-week consistency on both sides of the ball.
Week 9 concludes with a division matchup of old and bitter rivals on Monday night, and with plenty to be gained and lost in the game, lets’ take a closer look at the Packers and Bears.
WHAT’S AT STAKE
At stake in this game is first place in the NFC North. With a win, the Packers can remain atop the division, while a win by the Bears would mean a three-way tie for first place along with the Lions. The Bears probably need this game a little more after losing three of their last four games, and while they have a fairly manageable schedule the rest of the season, falling to 4-4 will make it hard for them to win the division and give them an uphill battle in the wildcard race. Meanwhile, the Packers want to keep up the momentum they’ve built during their current four-game winning streak, while maintaining their lead in the division, with both the Bears and Lions close behind.
CHICAGO OFFENSE VS. GREEN BAY DEFENSE
The Bears have had a well-balanced offense that’s had no trouble scoring points all season long, but with Jay Cutler out of the lineup, things may not run as smoothly. Josh McCown played well in relief of Cutler two weeks ago, but that was against Washington’s defense, and Green Bay’s defense will be a big step up in competition. The Bears will have to establish their running game in order to take some pressure off McCown. If they can do that, McCown should be competent enough to get the ball to Chicago’s talented receiving corps of Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, and Martellus Bennett. However, the Packers have been great at stopping the run this season, as they are huge across the defensive line, and McCown could struggle if Chiago becomes one dimensional. The x-factor in this matchup could be the health of the Packer’s linebackers, as Clay Matthews is expected to miss the game, while a couple other guys are banged up. If Green Bay’s linebackers struggle it’ll be easier for the Bears to run the ball, and tougher for the Packers to bother with McCown with their pass rush, which would make it easier for the Bears to replace Cutler without skipping a beat.
GREEN BAY OFFENSE VS. CHICAGO DEFENSE
Aaron Rodgers appears largely unaffected by the loss of several key skill players, as he’s still throwing for roughly 300 yards per game, and consistent production from rookie Eddie Lacy has made things easier for him, as the Packers have a more balanced offense than in year’s past. Jordy Nelson is also stepping his game up with so many injuries around him, as he’s gone for over 100 yards receiving in two of the last three weeks. The Chicago defense has been dreadful for most of the season, and even against a depleted Green bay offense, they should have their hands full. The Bears have the fewest sacks this year of any defense in the NFL, and being unable to put pressure on the quarterback can be troublesome against a quarterback like Rodgers. However, the Chicago defense has been good at forcing turnovers, and that could be their only hope against the Green Bay offense. Without forcing a couple turnovers, it could be a long night for the Chicago defense.
The Bears have had two weeks to prepare for this game, and they need to win a little more than the Packers do, but unless they’ve made monumental strides on the defensive side of the ball, it’s hard to imagine them beating the Packers at Lambeau Field. With plenty of preparation and good players around him McCown will be fine, but he won’t outplay Rodgers, and the Chicago defense won’t provide much support. Green Bay 38, Chicago 21.