Last week we took a look at the offseason needs for all of the teams in the AFC, and now it’s time to tackle the NFC. We’ll start by taking a look at the offseason needs of the four teams in the NFC East.
Dallas Cowboys – The Dallas defense is going to need a lot of work done this offseason. It starts along the defensive line, as Jason Hatcher and Anthony Spencer are likely to go elsewhere in free agency, which could force the Cowboys to add defensive linemen early and often during the NFL Draft. Dallas will need at least a couple of interior linemen, and if they get a chance, they’d be wise to add a defensive end that can play opposite DeMarcus Ware. Dallas definitely needs to add depth at linebacker, although if they can find an outside linebacker that can step in and start right away, that would be the best-case scenario. Once the defensive front-seven is addressed, Dallas can always look to add help along the offensive line to help protect Tony Romo, although the offensive line was much improved in 2013.
New York Giant – The Giants started remaking their offensive line last year when they drafted Justin Pugh in the first round, and that rebuilding effort will have to continue this offseason, preferably with a left tackle early in the draft. Elsewhere, New York needs to add at least one top-flight pass rusher, assuming they’re unable to re-sign Justin Tuck. But even if Tuck returns to New York the Giants could use another pass rusher, not to mention a serious upgrade a linebacker, although re-signing Jon Beason would be a good move. The Giants also have to figure things out at the running back position, and while they may be able to make up for the inevitable loss of wide receiver Hakeem Nicks to free agency with Reuben Randle, signing a pass-catching tight end to add to their offensive arsenal would be helpful after Brandon Myers was a huge disappointment in 2013.
Philadelphia Eagles – The Eagles will enter the offseason in good shape offensively, although both Riley Cooper and Jeremy Maclin are free agents, so if they can’t retain both Philadelphia will have to find a way to replace them. On defense, the secondary needs a lot of work after the Eagles had trouble holding onto big leads this past season. It would be great if the Eagles could find an impact player in free agency, if not they’ll have to use their early-round draft picks at either cornerback or safety. If Philadelphia can improve in the secondary through free agency or early in the draft, they should look to add help at linebacker, specifically an outside pass rusher that can put pressure on the quarterback and help protect a questionable secondary.
Washington Redskins – There’s not a whole lot Washington can do offensively in 2014 except hope that Robert Griffin III is healthy and clicks with new head coach Jay Gruden. However, there is a laundry list of areas that need to be addressed on defense. All four starters in the secondary are free agents, and while there are a couple of young players that may be ready to step into starting roles in 2014, that unit is going to need a lot of attention this offseason, and it wouldn’t hurt to find some veterans in free agency rather than rely on rookies coming out of the draft. Washington will also have a lot of vacancies at linebacker, most notably Brian Orakpo, who will be a highly-sought free agent this offseason and could be tough to re-sign. Re-signing Perry Riley should be a priority for them, as he will help solidify the middle linebacker spot, although they’ll have to add players around him if the Washington defense is going to show significant improvement in 2014.
NFL Black Monday: Cowboys, Redskins, Giants, Lions, Bucs, Vikings, Raiders and More to Fire Coaches?
Well, the NFL regular season is over, but before we can turn our focus to the playoffs, we must first endure Black Monday. There were eight new head coaches in the league this year, and there could be just as many teams looking to fill head coaching vacancies for next year. Gary Kubiak has already been let go by the Houston Texans, and there are several other coaches that could also be out of a job by the end of the day, possibly by the end of this sentence. Let’s run down the coaches on the hot seat and look at who will be fired and who deserves to stay:
Jason Garrett, Dallas – Garrett’s fate may have been sealed with Kyle Orton’s interception, although Jerry Jones has previously said that Garrett would be back next season, so there’s no telling what Jones is going to do. Garrett isn’t a bad coach, but the Cowboys have lost out on a chance to go to the playoffs to a division rival on the last week of the season three years in a row, which doesn’t sound like something Jones would be content with, and could push him over the edge towards firing Garrett. Don’t be surprised if Jones takes a few days to think about everything before making his decision regarding Garrett’s future, which is anything but certain right now.
Tom Coughlin, New York Giants – There’s a slight chance that Coughlin walks away willingly and a slight chance he gets fired, and it might be best for all parties if that happens, but the most likely scenario is Coughlin staying in New York and trying to turn things around in 2014. This season will be remembered for the Giants starting out 0-6, but despite inconsistent play from Eli Manning all season, the G-Men played well done the stretch and ended up with a 7-9 record, which isn’t bad at all considering how their season started and how poor their quarterback play was. The strong finish should inspire some confidence in Coughlin’s ability to get things turned around and get the Giants back into the playoffs next year.
Mike Shanahan, Washington – Shanahan may have a couple Super Bowl rings on his hand, and he may have a long history as an excellent head coach, but there’s no way he survives the kind of season the Redskins have had. Washington finished 3-13 and lost their final eight games of the season. More than that, they’ve been a complete mess on and off the field, making it obvious that Shanahan needs to go.
Jim Schwartz, Detroit – A month ago the Lions were a virtual lock to win the NFC North, but under Schwartz Detroit went winless in December and was already out of contention before the start of week 17, which means that now it’s a virtual lock that Schwartz will be fired. With the Lions having such an array of talent on offense and a powerful defensive line, there’s no excuse for not winning a division in which the other three teams were without their starting quarterbacks for a significant chunk of the season, much less finish 7-9. In five seasons, Schwartz led the Lions to a winning record once, with no division titles and no playoff wins; not to mention the Lions are 22 games under .500 over the last five seasons. There’s no way Schwartz will be employed this time tomorrow.
Leslie Frazier, Minnesota – It’s tough to pin Minnesota’s season all on Frazier, considering all the issues at quarterback that the Vikings have had, but he’s had one playoff season sandwiched between two awful seasons, and in an impatient NFL, that’s probably going to be enough to cost him his job. The Vikings haven’t played as bad as their record indicates, and they were 4-3-1 the second half of the season, which could give Frazier some hope to keep his job, but more than likely by Tuesday morning Frazier will be looking for a job as a defensive coordinator and Minnesota will be looking for a new head coach.
Greg Schiano, Tampa Bay – Schiano’s job status could actually go either way, which didn’t seem possible at the midway point of the season when the Bucs were 0-8. However, Schiano has a lot of years and money left on his contract, which could force Tampa Bay to keep him for another season. The Bucs also played well for a stretch this season, winning three in a row and four out of five at one point, and rookie quarterback Mike Glennon did show some promise, so despite a 4-12 record there could be cause to bring Schiano back in 2014. That being said, the Bucs’ play was unacceptable for long stretches of the season, and for a guy with no NFL track record, it’s tough to feel too optimistic about the future in Tampa if Schiano is allowed to stay.
Mike Smith, Atlanta – Smith isn’t likely to be fired, but it wouldn’t be unheard of for someone in his position to be let go after one bad season. The Falcons had high hopes for 2013 after coming one game short of the Super Bowl last year, and obviously they fell well short of those expectations. Injuries did play a significant role in Atlanta’s poor season, but it wasn’t the only reason. Also, don’t forget that Atlanta is just 1-4 in the postseason under Smith and that their window for reaching a Super Bowl could be getting smaller, so it would be shocking but not impossible for Smith to get fired, although by no means did the Falcons roll over at the end of the season, so the locker room remains behind Smith, which is a positive sign.
Joe Philbin, Miami – Philbin is an interesting case. The scandal that rocked Miami through a large portion of the season is a black eye for the organization, and while he’s partly to blame for the situation, he also weathered the storm and put the Dolphins in a good position to make the playoffs heading down the stretch. Of course, Miami had a complete meltdown the final two weeks of the season and blew a golden opportunity to go to the playoffs. Philbin is two games under .500 in two seasons in Miami, which isn’t awful, but it’s not that good either. It helps that he has a young and promising quarterback in Ryan Tannehill, who is still maturing and improving as a player, and that will likely bring Philbin back next season, but the heat is definitely on, and if they wanted to, the Dolphins probably have enough to justify firing him.
Rex Ryan, New York Jets – Before the season, Rex Ryan looked like a lock to be fired with new general manager John Idzik coming aboard, and a month ago that still seemed to be the case, but now there have been rumblings that Ryan might have done enough this season to save his job. The Jets were expected to be one of the worst teams in the NFL this season, but Ryan led them to a respectable and overachieving 8-8 record, doing so with a rookie quarterback and a limited amount of offensive skill players. Ryan will still enter next season with a lot of pressure to win games and reach the postseason, but he will be back in New York next season, which is something nobody thought was possible at the start of the season.
Rob Chudzinski, Cleveland – Much to everyone’s surprise, rumors started leaking Sunday night that the Browns would fire Chudzinski after just one season. If Cleveland thought they had a franchise that could be turned around in one year, they are sadly mistaken. Things obviously didn’t go well, with the team losing 10 of its final 11 games, but Chudzinski inherited a futile situation at quarterback and the team traded away 2012 first round pick Trent Richardson the first month of the season, signaling that they were building for the future, presumably with Chudzinski as the head coach. Unless the Browns know something we don’t and have a big-name coach lined up to take the job, firing Chudzinski after one season is a puzzling move.
Mike Munchak, Tennessee – The Titans needed to see some progress this season, and because they haven’t Munchak will likely be fired. It may be a little unfair, because there’s no telling how the season would have been different had Jake Locker not been hurt after a promising start to the season. However, that excuse may not be enough to save Munchak, who’s had back-to-back losing seasons in a fairly mediocre division. It’s not a guarantee that Munchak will be fired, but all signs point to that being the case.
Dennis Allen, Oakland – It’ll be interesting to see what the Raiders do with Allen, because it’s unfair to have expected him to turn things around in Oakland in just two seasons. A pair of 4-12 seasons doesn’t look like a lot of progress has been made, but the AFC West is a lot better this season than it was last year with the other three teams all making the playoffs, so repeating the same win total from 2012 isn’t so bad, especially considering that the Raiders were using an undrafted rookie at quarterback for a big chunk of the season. Two seasons isn’t giving Allen a fair chance, although losing eight of their last nine games doesn’t leave a good lasting impression, and if Allen hasn’t done enough to make the Raiders think year three will be different, he’s likely to be fired.
NFL Week 17 Preview: Panthers-Falcons, Ravens-Bengals, Jets-Dolphins, Browns-Steelers, Eagles-Cowboys and More
Well, it all comes down to this. With one week left in the NFL season, there have already been eight teams that have clinched a playoff spot, but that means there are still four spots available, while all four divisions in the NFC are still undecided, as well as the home-field advantage in both conferences. Let’s take a closer look at the games on the week 17 schedule that have postseason post-season implications:
Carolina at Atlanta – With a win the Panthers can clinch the NFC South title, secure a first-round bye, and possibly get home-field advantage throughout the playoffs if Seattle loses. However, Atlanta has not been a pushover late in the season, especially at home, so despite the disparity in their records, it won’t be an automatic win for Carolina. The Falcons are the worst rushing team in the league, but if they can get Steven Jackson going, they’ll have a chance to keep the game close and put some pressure on Carolina, who is one of the best teams in the NFC, but they’re also a team that hasn’t had to handle success before this season, so it’ll be interesting to see how the Panthers play with a lot on the line.
Baltimore at Cincinnati – The Bengals have a chance to earn a first round bye with a win and a New England loss, which would give their postseason hopes a huge boost. They’d also like to avenge an earlier loss to the Ravens, and at home they should be expected to win. As for the Ravens, there are a lot of scenarios that will get them into the postseason, but most require them winning, and there’s no way they’ll win if they play like they did last week. The Baltimore offense needs to get its act together and not put the defense in a bad situation like they did last week, as it’ll be tough to keep the Cincinnati offense out of the end zone for four quarters.
Jacksonville at Indianapolis – A lot needs to happen for the Colts to get a first round bye, but after some unsavory play during the latter part of the season, it’d be nice to enter the playoffs on a three-game winning streak, so they need to secure a win even if there’s nothing to gain in the standings. The Jaguars have shown that they can stay competitive with good teams, so the Colts need to take them seriously or else they could struggle to come away with the win. Andrew Luck and the offense should be fine, but the key for Indy is their defense, which has only given up 10 points over the past two weeks, and needs to keep that going with the postseason approaching.
New York Jets at Miami – The Dolphins will need some help to get the playoffs, but they’ll also have to win, which isn’t a certainly after the way they played last week against the Bills. Miami dominated the Jets less than a month ago, but Gang Green has played better since that game and started to find their stride offensively, which could be a concern for a Miami defense that doesn’t exactly shut down opponents on a regular basis. This game could come down to Ryan Tannehill’s health and his effectiveness after a disastrous game last week. Look for Rex Ryan’s team to come out loose and excited to play spoiler, and if the Dolphins come out tight, they could be in trouble.
Cleveland at Pittsburgh – The Steelers will need a lot of help this week, but getting a win shouldn’t be much of an issue against a Cleveland team that has lost six in a row. Pittsburgh has looked the part of a playoff team down the stretch, and even if the Browns come to play and compete, the Steelers should be able to find a way to win at home.
Green Bay at Chicago – It’s as simply as it gets in the NFC North, the winner of this game goes to the playoffs and the loser stays home. The Packers have somehow held on long enough to get Aaron Rodgers back on the field. Rodgers may be a bit rusty, but he’ll be facing a Chicago defense that was humiliated last week against Philadelphia with a chance to clinch the division. Of course, the Chicago offense is capable of putting points on the board as well, so this game could come down to how sharp Rodgers is in his return and which offense can be more effective.
Denver at Oakland – Even with the loss of Von Miller and a slew of other injuries, the Broncos should be able to handle the Raiders and secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. It’s a rivalry game, so Oakland will be ready to play and hoping to play spoiler against Denver, but Peyton Manning won’t let his team lose focus this late in the season, especially since a loss could mean a return trip to New England, which is the last thing the Broncos want.
Buffalo at New England – The Bills almost pulled out the win when these teams met back in week 1, so perhaps they’re ready to surprise the Patriots on the road, especially after an impressive shutout of the Dolphins last week. Buffalo doesn’t have an offense that can keep up if the Patriots get rolling, but they have a defensive line that can put a lot of pressure on Tom Brady and slow down the New England offense, would could keep the game low scoring and give them a chance to win.
Tampa Bay at New Orleans – A win and the Saints are in the postseason; it’s as simple as that. However, New Orleans has lost three of their last four games, and the Bucs are just good enough to make things difficult for them, especially after the Saints barely survived a 16-14 game with Tampa in week 2. The Tampa offense has sputtered in recent weeks, which will make it tough to win on the road, but if they can put pressure on Drew Brees and slow down the New Orleans offense, they’ll give themselves a fighting chance.
San Francisco at Arizona – The defending NFC champs can rest easy knowing they’re in the playoffs, but there’ll be nothing easy about a trip to Arizona, especially with the Cardinals riding high from their win in Seattle last week and knowing that they need to win to give themselves a chance to reach the postseason. The Cardinals have the top rushing defense in the NFL, so if they can slow down the San Francisco running game it’ll put more pressure on Colin Kaepernick to move the ball with his arm, which isn’t necessarily what the 49ers want. Of course, Arizona will also have to move the ball and score points, while avoiding four turnovers like they had last week.
Kansas City at San Diego – The Chargers need a win and some help to get into the playoffs, but they should feel good after winning four of their last five games, including a road win over the Chiefs. Meanwhile, Kansas City knows they’ll be playing a road playoff game next week, and they also know that they need to get their act together, as the only teams they’ve beaten in the last six weeks and Washington and Oakland. The Chiefs are no longer dominant on defense, which will make it difficult to stop Phillip Rivers and win this game. This should be a good practice game for next week, but if the Chiefs can’t rediscover their incredible pass rush from earlier in the season, they’ll not only have trouble beating San Diego, but they’ll also enter the playoffs on a downward spiral and void of confidence.
St. Louis at Seattle – The Seahawks need to shake off a home loss from last week and get ready for a St. Louis team that has proven they can go toe to toe with some top teams. Seattle is in fine shape on defense, but their offense has had some trouble in previous weeks, which could cause problems against a great Rams pass rush. St. Louis doesn’t have anything to play for except trying to finish the season at .500, but is the Seahawks lose it could cost them home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and possibly the division, which could take them from being the NFC favorite to a team that needs three road wins to get to the Super Bowl, so it’s imperative that Seattle finds a way to win this game.
Philadelphia at Dallas – The winner goes to the playoffs while the loser goes home, just the way it should be in the NFL regular season finale. All the focus has been on the health of Tony Romo, but ultimately this game will be decided by whether or not the Dallas defense can slow down the Philadelphia offense, which has looked close to unstoppable in recent weeks. The Cowboys have been deplorable on defense the second half of the season, and it won’t matter who’s playing quarterback or what their offense does if they can’t find a way to get stops, or at least force turnovers, which has been tough for any defense to do against Nick Foles this season. If Dallas expects to make the playoffs, their defense will have to make some kind of positive contribution, or else the Eagles and their high-powered offense will soar into the postseason.
There are two weeks left in the NFL season and yet the playoff picture remains unsettled. Let’s not waste our time with the meaningless games on this week’s schedule and take a closer look at all the games that have playoff implications.
Miami at Buffalo – The Dolphins need to win and get some help over the final two weeks in order to get to the playoffs, and a win over the Bills isn’t a guarantee, especially after Buffalo beat them earlier in the season. The Dolphins hurt themselves with turnovers when the teams met in week 7, and that’s not something that can repeat itself this time around, as Miami will have to do a better job of handling Buffalo’s defensive front, which can be disruptive against the Dolphin’s suspect offensive line. Thad Lewis will be Buffalo’s quarterback for the injured E.J. Manuel, but Lewis was the quarterback when the Bills beat the Dolphins in week 7, so that shouldn’t hold them back from trying to pull off a season sweep of the fish.
Minnesota at Cincinnati – Believe it or not, the Bengals still haven’t wrapped up the AFC North, nor have they assured themselves of a playoff spot yet. With a win and some help Cincinnati can lock up a postseason spot, but that may not be so easy against the Vikings, who have just one loss in their last four games. Matt Cassel has played great over the last three weeks, and even if Adrian Peterson doesn’t play, Cassel is capable of leading the offense and putting points on the board, which could put pressure on Andy Dalton to have a good game as well, and if Dalton doesn’t play well, the Bengals could be in trouble.
Indianapolis at Kansas City – If the Colts are going to be taken seriously in the postseason, this is a game they need to win. Indy hasn’t won two in a row since week 9, as their play since then has been erratic and inconsistent. If the Colts have another sluggish first half, they’re likely to be blown out, as the Chiefs have found a groove offensively in recent weeks, even though their defense has taken a step back. It all hinges on Andrew Luck, but if he’s sharp and the Chiefs can’t put pressure on him, Kansas City could find themselves in another shootout, which is something they’d like to stay away from.
Dallas at Washington – The Cowboys are sinking fast, but they may be catching a break by playing the Redskins this week. However, Kirk Cousins looked good in his first start of the season last week, and he’s certainly capable of carving up the Dallas defense, which has been downright terrible in recent weeks. If Cousins can get the Washington offense moving, it would put a lot of pressure on Tony Romo and the Dallas offense to win a shootout, which could lead to Romo forcing throws and making mistakes. As bad as the Redskins have been this year, all the pressure in this game is on Dallas, whose season will be over if they lose and the Eagles win, so all the problems the Cowboys have had the past two weeks need to be fixed in a hurry, because Washington would love to play spoiler against their division rivals.
New Orleans at Carolina – The winner of this game will win the NFC South and get a first round bye in the playoffs, although technically the Panthers would have to win in Atlanta next week to wrap everything up. Carolina has some adjustments to make after getting dominated by the Saints two weeks ago, but being at home should help, especially considering that the Saints have been a mediocre road team this season. New Orleans is most vulnerable when Drew Brees is put under pressure, so Carolina’s best chance to reverse the outcome of two weeks ago is to have an effective pass rush. Offensively, the Panthers will have to capitalize on red zone opportunities by getting into the end zone, something they’ve struggled to do. If Carolina can do those two things, they’ll have a chance to take down the Saints and win the division.
Denver at Houston – Despite last week’s loss, the Broncos are still in line to have home field throughout the playoffs if they win their final two games. On paper this looks like a mismatch, but if the Texans can run the ball effectively and control the clock the way San Diego did against the Broncos last week, Denver could have a problem. The Denver secondary also has to start playing better amidst all the injuries, as Houston has two quality wide receivers that have the potential to do some damage against a vulnerable secondary.
New York Giants at Detroit – The Lions are now on the outside of the playoffs after losing four of their last five games, but a home game against the Giants could be just what they need. After a brief glimmer of hope, the Giants have been abysmal the last two weeks and appear to be just playing out the season. If Detroit can start fast and get an early lead, the Giants may not put up much of a fight, but if the Lions are sluggish and can’t get their pass rush going against a questionable offensive line, the Giants will be able to hang around and could be a tough team for the struggling Lions to beat.
Arizona at Seattle – The Cardinals are still in contention, but if they’re going to make the playoffs they have to beat the Seahawks, who are virtually unbeatable at home. The first time these two teams met, Arizona couldn’t run the ball at all, which put a lot of pressure on Carson Palmer. If the Cardinals expect to win this game, they’ll need to run the ball effectively and play great defense, as they’ll need just about everything to go their way if they’re going to win in Seattle.
Pittsburgh at Green Bay – With or without Aaron Rodgers, the Packers need to win this game. They’ve found a way to win each of their last two games by a single point, but the Steelers are far better than either of the teams they’ve played the last two weeks. Pittsburgh has slim odds to reach the postseason, but they’re playing quality football on both sides of the ball, and there is no team in the NFL that wants to play them right now. Green Bay may have to beat Pittsburgh at their own game, by grinding it out on the ground and trying to be more physical than the Steelers, which will be tough, but if the Packers don’t have Rodgers, they’re going to have a hard time beating the Steelers, even at home.
Oakland at San Diego – San Diego still has slim playoff hopes if they can win out, but beating the Raiders may not be a lock. Oakland has picked it up offensively behind Matt McGloin and they may be able to keep pace with San Diego. However, the Raiders will need to avoid turning the ball over if they hope to win, and that could be a problem.
New England at Baltimore – There may be no hotter team in the NFL right now than the Ravens, and a win in this game will set up a de facto AFC North championship game next week against the Bengals. Baltimore is coming on strong at the right time of year while the Patriots are beginning to sputter and are barely able to pull out wins against bad teams. New England will need their defense to step up and play well in this game in order to stay close and have a chance in the 4th quarter, because the offense could have a tough time against the Baltimore defense, especially if they have to come from behind late in the game.
Chicago at Philadelphia – All of a sudden, the Bears control their own destiny in the NFC North, but to keep it that way they need to win a night game in Philadelphia against an offense that can be tough to stop. Chicago does not have a strong defense, and that could be a problem against Philadelphia’s potent offense. If the Bears can’t slow down the Eagles, it’ll be up to Jay Cutler to not only put a lot of points on the board, but also avoid costly turnovers. We know that Nick Foles takes care of the football while helping the Eagles reach the end zone, and it’ll be up to Cutler to do the same if the Bears are going to pull off the win on the road.
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.
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 13 Power Rankings: Seahawks, Panthers, 49ers, Saints, Eagles, Lions, Cowboys, Cardinals and More
There are just four weeks left in the NFL season and things are starting heat up throughout the NFC. As we prepare for the final month of the season, let’s take a look at how every NFC team stacks up heading down the stretch.
1. Seattle – After what happened Monday night there is no doubt that the Seahawks are the best team in the NFC, and will be a difficult team to beat in the postseason, when they will certainly have home-field advantage. Seattle dominated the Saints on both sides of the ball, and look head and shoulders above nearly every other team in the NFL, especially at home.
2. Carolina – The Panthers just keep on rolling, even in what could have been a pair of trap games the last two weeks with a showdown with the Saints on the horizon. Carolina finally had a dominating outing on Sunday against Tampa Bay and that moves them up to the second spot in the power rankings with a trip to New Orleans coming up this week.
3. San Francisco – The 49es are definitely starting to peak, and while Colin Kaepernick is far from where he was this time last year, he is showing signs of breaking out of his slump. San Francisco is not far behind the two teams ahead of them in the power rankings, and they have a chance to prove that they should be on equal footing with everyone else when they host the Seahawks this week.
4. New Orleans – The Saints have been sputtering for a while, but they fall hard after being humiliated on Monday night. Not only is home-field advantage in the postseason all but lost, New Orleans is now tied in the NFC South with a red-hot Carolina team that they will see twice over the next three weeks, and if they don’t start to play better, the Saints may have to settle for a wildcard spot.
5. Philadelphia – The Eagles aren’t quite an elite team, but they’re definitely better than the pack in the NFC, as four straight wins displays a level of consistency that most teams in the NFL lack. Philadelphia seems to have an identity, as well as a formula for winning games: the offense gets a lead early and the defense does just enough to hang on. It’s not a flawless philosophy, but it’s certainly working for the Eagles, especially with the way Nick Foles is playing.
6. Detroit – The Lions jumped back in control of the NFC North with a convincing win on Thanksgiving. The defense came to play, albeit against an under-manned Green Bay offense, and their offense was spectacular. However, they also committed four turnovers in that win, which is a concern, as is their lack of consistency, which is what’s holding them back from being in the same category as the top-tier teams in the NFC.
7. Dallas – Once again, the Cowboys showed how good they’re capable of being on offense when they run the ball effectively. If Dallas can keep on running the ball the way they have the past couple of weeks, there aren’t too many defenses that can keep them contained on four quarters, but finding that consistency is still as issue for them. The Cowboy’s other problem is their pass defense, which struggles against mediocre teams, and could hold them back against several of the teams they’ll face down the stretch.
8. Arizona – We may have jumped the gun on the Cardinals just a little, although they only lost to the Eagles by a field goal on the road, and that was with a -3 turnover ratio. Arizona is definitely on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoff picture, but they’re still alive and good enough to make a strong push during the final month of the season.
9. New York Giants – It may be too little too late for the postseason, but the Giants have won five of their last six games and are playing better than nearly half the teams in the NFC. At the moment, they’re almost on a level playing field with Detroit, Dallas, and Arizona, but their 0-6 start is too much to overcome, even though they’re playing like a team that should be in contention.
10. St. Louis – For a team that’s played with Kellen Clemens at quarterback for much of the season, the Rams are hanging in there. They held San Francisco’s running game to less than three yards per carry on Sunday and are doing what they can on offense, despite being limited at quarterback. They won’t sniff the postseason, but they’ll be a hard team to play the final four weeks of the season.
11. Chicago – It’s a shame Jim Mora isn’t the coach of the Bears, because the phrase “playoffs? I just hope we can win a game” is starting to come to mind. They’ve only been blown out once while losing three of their last four games, but a team with such great weapons on offense needs to be able to find a way to win close games, and they haven’t done that over the past month, even though they had plenty of opportunities to take control of the NFC North.
12. Green Bay – Five straight weeks without a win and Aaron Rodgers still questionable to come back with four games left to play puts the Packers toward the bottom of the power rankings. Without Rodgers they may not be able to win another game the rest of the season and could plummet further in the power rankings by season’s end.
13. Minnesota – The Vikings are tougher to play than people think, and they showed that on Sunday against the Bears. Minnesota has just one loss in their last four games, and they’re going to enjoy playing the role of spoiler down the stretch, as Leslie Frazier fights to keep his job.
14. Tampa Bay – It was a nice three-week winning streak for the Bucs, but they’re back to being a terrible team that needs to make a coaching change after getting completely dominated by a division rival.
15. Washington – The Redskins have only held an opponent to less than 24 points once this season; even with a healthy quarterback that’s not going to give you a winning record. Things are really bad in Washington right now.
16. Atlanta – Don’t get too excited about the Falcons ending their five-game losing streak because they did not deserve to win that game; the Bills gave the game away with two late fumbles. Atlanta is still a bad team, and probably the worst in the NFC right now.
Thanksgiving Day isn’t all about food; football is also a tradition on the final Thursday in November. Let’s take a closer look at the three games we’ll be watching while we stuff our faces.
GREEN BAY AT DETROIT
No team in the NFC North won last week, and not only has that made the divisional race tight, but it has also made it unlikely that the division will send more than one team to the postseason, making this a critical game for a pair of NFC North teams jockeying for position. Green Bay is winless in November without Aaron Rodgers, but somehow they are tied in the loss column with Chicago and Detroit and are still alive in the division. Meanwhile, the Lions had a golden opportunity to take control over the division after beating the Bears a few weeks ago, but instead they’ve lost two in a row, which has kept the division close and given this game massive importance, especially considering Detroit’s loss to Green Bay earlier this year.
The Packers got a glimmer of hope in the second half last week with the play of Matt Flynn, who should give Green Bay competent play at the quarterback position if Rodgers isn’t ready to return from his injury. Another key for the Packers will be running back Eddie Lacy, who’s rushed for at least 70 yards on seven occasions this year. The Lions have lost the last two weeks despite stopping their opponents rushing attack completely, so a viable ground attack would make things real tough for Detroit’s defense and give Flynn the support he needs to have success throwing the ball.
Of course, there could be a lot of pressure on Flynn if Green Bay’s defense can’t keep Matthew Stafford and the Detroit offense contained. The Packers only allowed nine points against the Lions back in Week 5, but they haven’t played all that well over the past month, as they’ve dealt with injuries, and in a dome stadium it could be tough for them to stop all the weapons the Lions have on offense. Expect this game to stay close into the 4th quarter, and expect the score line to get into the 20’s, but if it creeps into the 30’s, the Packers could be in trouble on the road without Rodgers in a game that both teams desperately need.
OAKLAND AT DALLAS
The Cowboys got their season back on track with a last-second field goal against the Giants, but they’re going to be in a dogfight with the Philadelphia Eagles down the stretch, as they hope to secure the NFC East, and losing to the Raiders at home is not something that can happen. Meanwhile, Oakland suffered a last-second loss to Tennessee last week and now they need to win out to have a chance at making the postseason, so this game has plenty of significant for both teams.
Due in part (but not completely) to injuries, Dallas has one of the worst defenses in the NFL against both the run and the pass. Of course, the Raiders may not have the kind of offense that can take advantage of that. Matt McGloin has been solid the past couple of weeks, but he’s not necessarily going to take a lot of shots downfield against a vulnerable Dallas secondary. However, Rashad Jennings could be a threat against the Cowboy’s rush defense, as Jennings has come on strong over the past month and is averaging five yards per carry on the season. If Jennings has success running the ball and McGloin isn’t asked to do too much, the Raiders are good enough to stay competitive with the Cowboys in a low-scoring game.
It’ll be up to the Dallas offense to overwhelm the Raiders early and crush any hope Oakland has of springing the upset. Dallas is best when they’re running the ball effectively, or at least when they’re trying to run the ball and have a balanced offensive approach. Even if the Cowboys think they can score points through the air, they have to give running the ball a chance, even against an Oakland defense that’s top-10 in the league against the run. If the Raiders can force Dallas to abandon their running game completely they could keep the one-dimensional Cowboys from running away with the game early and give themselves a chance in the second half, which is all they can ask for against a more talented team.
PITTSBURGH AT BALTIMORE
For a game between two sub-.500 teams, this one is quite intriguing. Both teams are trying to make a late-season playoff push and find themselves in a six-way tie for the final wildcard spot in the AFC with a record of 5-6. Both teams have a difficult schedule the final month of the season, with Pittsburgh’s being slightly more manageable, and the loser of this game will have a tough time crawling back into the mix, while the winner stays alive in the playoff race and will have a temporary lead over the rest of the teams competing for that final playoff spot.
These two teams met back in Week 7, with the Steelers winning an ugly game 19-16 on a last-second field goal, so this should be a fairly even matchup. Ordinarily these two teams would play a tough and physical brand of football between the tackles, but neither team has been particularly effective running the ball this year. Of course, both quarterbacks are capable or airing it out, but neither has a great collection of playmakers, and both defenses have defended the pass well this season, which could make for a game between two painfully inept offenses.
Knowing how important this game is, both teams should play it tight to the vest, which means the game could be decided by whichever team takes a risk and makes a big play at the right time, or which team makes a mistake at the wrong time. Either way, it’ll be an ugly but interesting way to cap off Thanksgiving night.
NFL Week 12 Predictions: Steelers-Browns, Redskins-49ers, Chargers-Chiefs, Patriots-Broncos, Cowboys-Giants and More
In a weekend headlined by Manning vs. Brady and RG3 vs. Colin Kaepernick find out who else we like to come out on top in week 12:
(Bryan Zarpentine 86- 49 overall)
(Cole Stevenson 84-47 overall)
Bryan Zarpentine: St. Louis 27, Chicago 24 – I don’t trust the Bears on the road, as they lose the Howie Long Bowl.
Cole Stevenson: Chicago 24, St. Louis 21 – I am picking Chicago only because almost all of my other picks match Bryan’s.
Bryan Zarpentine: Pittsburgh 23, Cleveland 13 – This game could go either way, but Jason Campbell’s turnovers last week are a huge concern.
Cole Stevenson: Pittsburgh 21, Cleveland 18 – Pittsburgh finally seems to have righted the ship and should win this crucial game.
Bryan Zarpentine: Detroit 24, Tampa Bay 20 – This one stays close, but the Lions will find a way to scratch this one out.
Cole Stevenson: Detroit 27, Tampa Bay 24 – Detroit MUST rebound from one of the worst losses of the year.
Bryan Zarpentine: Green Bay 23, Minnesota 10 – The Packers step up on defense and come out on top in a must-win game.
Cole Stevenson: Green Bay 25, Minnesota 17 – I have very little faith in Green Bay, but even less in Minnesota.
Bryan Zarpentine: Kansas City 24, San Diego 21 – Phillip Rivers and company come close, but they can’t pull out the win at Arrowhead Stadium.
Cole Stevenson: Kansas City 24, San Diego 23 – I really want to pick San Diego in this one, but at Arrowhead is too much.
Bryan Zarpentine: Carolina 23, Miami 20 – The Panthers make the plays on defense when the game is on the line, and that gives them seven straight wins.
Cole Stevenson: Carolina 25, Miami 17 – Carolina defense is too good for a depleted Miami offensive line.
Bryan Zarpentine: New York Jets 15, Baltimore 7 – The Jets have alternated wins and losses all season, and this week is a win, but no one’s saying it’s going to be pretty.
Cole Stevenson: New York Jets 17, Baltimore 13 – Still not picking Joe Flacco the rest of the year.
Bryan Zarpentine: Houston 21, Jacksonville 7 – It’s temping to pick the Jaguars, but Houston is more talented and will get the job done.
Cole Stevenson: Houston 24, Jacksonville 13 – Gary Kubiak might lose his job if the Texans lose this game.
Bryan Zarpentine: Tennessee 20, Oakland 13 – Ryan Fitzpatrick builds off last week and finally leads the Titans to a win.
Cole Stevenson: Tennessee 23, Oakland 18 – Not a huge believer in either of these teams, but Tennessee is more fundamentally sound.
Bryan Zarpentine: Arizona 31, Indianapolis 27 – The Colts start slow again, but their comeback falls short against the Cardinals.
Cole Stevenson: Arizona 29, Indianapolis 24 – I become less and less sold on the Colts every week.
Bryan Zarpentine: New York Giants 28, Dallas 21 – The Giants won’t be giving Dallas six turnovers this time around; instead, Eli Manning and company torch a Cowboy’s defense that’s in rough shape.
Cole Stevenson: Dallas 30, New York Giants 27 – Everyone seems to be picking the Giants, which is why I am going Cowboys.
Bryan Zarpentine: Denver 38, New England 24 – The Patriots hang around for a while, but their not stopping Denver’s offense.
Cole Stevenson: Denver 27, New England 24 – My head says Denver, but my heart says New England. If the weather is bad, the Pats will win on a late game winning drive by Brady.
Bryan Zarpentine: San Francisco 27, Washington 21 – Another late comeback by the Redskins falls short, while the 49ers get back on track.
Cole Stevenson: San Francisco 28, Washington 17 – After being ripped off last week, the 49ers will be playing with an extra chip on their shoulder.
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NFL Week 12 Preview: Steelers-Browns, Vikings-Packers, Chargers-Chiefs, Panthers-Dolphins, Cowboys-Giants and More
The playoff race is heating up in the NFL, and with six weeks left to play almost every team is still alive, but many face must-win situations this week in order to keep their hopes alive. Let’s take a closer look at every game on the week 12 schedule:
Pittsburgh at Cleveland – Both teams need this game, as the winner will be in the midst of the wild card chase while the loser will be a long shot to get there. The Steelers have come on strong as of late, winning four of their last six and looking real good the past two weeks. Meanwhile, the Browns shot themselves in the foot last week with turnovers, and that’s a problem they’ll have to get under control this week against a Pittsburgh defense that will be looking to force turnovers. If Jason Campbell can take better care of the ball Cleveland will have a chance to get back on track; if not, expect the Steelers to keep their momentum going.
Tampa Bay at Detroit – The Bucs look like a real NFL team after winning their last two games, and they have a real chance to make it three in a row this week. Look for Tampa to continue feeding the ball to running back Bobby Rainey, although the Lions are one of the best teams at stopping the run, and if they force Mike Glennon to beat them they should be in good shape. On the other side of the ball, the prolific Detroit passing attack that got shut out in the second half last week by Pittsburgh will be challenged again this week by Tampa’s talented secondary. Expect this game to be a lot closer than the team’s records on paper would indicate.
Minnesota at Green Bay – Aaron Rodgers still isn’t back, but with or without him this is a game the Packers need to win after losing three straight. Green Bay’s defense has allowed 27 points each of the last three weeks, and despite some key injuries on that side of the ball, they can’t afford to allow that many against Minnesota, a team that scored 31 points against them a month ago. Scott Tolzien has been decent, but he’s not going to be able to climb out of a hole if he faces a double-digit deficit, so this game will come down to the Packers keeping Adrian Peterson contained and keeping the Vikings out of the end zone.
San Diego at Kansas City – If the Chargers are going to make the playoffs, they’ll need to find a way to beat either Kansas City or Denver down the stretch, and while winning in Arrowhead is difficult, it’s certainly possible for Phillip Rivers and company, despite three straight losses. San Diego has had some success this season with a short, quick passing attack, which could help them take Kansas City’s pass rush out of the game. If the Chargers can control the clock and avoid turning the ball over, they should be able to keep the game close and give themselves a chance to win in the 4th quarter.
Chicago at St. Louis – The Bears enter this game tied atop the NFC North, but beginning a stretch of four road games in five weeks, although the Rams have struggled to win at home this year. Last time out, St. Louis hung 38 points on the Colts and if the Bears don’t play better on defense, there’s a chance something like that can happen again this week. In a battle of backup quarterbacks, Chicago should have the advantage with Josh McCown, but they can’t ask him to do too much on the road, which means their defense better come to play, or their playoff hopes could start to slip.
Carolina at Miami – By now, just about everybody should be convinced that the Panthers are for real, and now they’ll put their six game winning streak on the line down in Miami. Ryan Tannehill has played well the past few weeks, but he’ll have his work cut out for him against Carolina’s defense, and the Dolphins shouldn’t count on scoring too many points. If Cam Newton and the offense can get it going and find the end zone a few times, the Panthers should feel good about getting their seventh straight win.
New York Jets at Baltimore – Based on their pattern of alternating wins and losses this year, the Jets are slated to win this week, but that won’t be a given against the Ravens. Baltimore ran the ball better last week, and their defense has also played better of late, so it’ll be tough for Geno Smith to find a groove and get back on track this week. Of course, the Jets boast the top rushing defense in the NFL, and they’ll be looking to bounce back after last week’s embarrassment against the Bills. If you like stout defenses and futile offenses, this is the game for you, as the first team to reach 20 points should win, assuming either team is even able to score that much.
Jacksonville at Houston – There’s not much at stake here except for positioning in next year’s draft. If the Texans lose at home to Jacksonville, things will get real ugly for Gary Kubiak, although the Texans have been a lot more competitive this year than the Jaguars, as Houston has lost its last four games by less than a touchdown, so the Texans should be clear favorites despite having just two wins on the season.
Tennessee at Oakland – Both teams need to win this game if they expect to remain in contention in the AFC wildcard race. Ryan Fitzpatrick was solid last week against the Colts, but the Titans have yet to win a game that he’s started. On the other sideline, the Raiders will start Matt McGloin for the second straight week after he helped lead Oakland to a win last week. Both teams are desperate for a win and forced to go with a backup quarterback, so whichever defense does a better job of making things difficult for the opposing quarterback will have the advantage.
Indianapolis at Arizona – The Colts have survived a slow start in two of the last three weeks, but they’ll be playing with fire if they start out sluggish again this week, as the Cardinals are a team that can run them out of the building if they start slow, as Arizona comes in with a three-game winning streak. Arizona has a stout run defense that should be able to slow down Indy’s inconsistent running game and put all the pressure on Andrew Luck, who will at least need to get some help from his defense, with Carson Palmer is coming off a game in which he threw for over 400 yards. If the Colts allow him to do that again they could be in trouble. There’s a good chance that this game turns into a shootout between Luck and Palmer, and it could go either way.