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 a few surprising results during week 10 of the NFL season, and that has caused a significant shake up in the NFC power rankings. Let’s take a look the top 10:
1. New Orleans – The Saints sure know how to respond from a loss, as they just decimated the Cowboys Sunday night, putting up 625 yards and collecting 40 first downs, which reminded everyone why they’re the class of the NFC. New Orleans will play three of its next four games against the other top teams in the NFC, so they’ll have to fight to hang onto their top spot in the power rankings while also trying to solidify home field throughout the playoffs, but based on everything we’ve seen, the Saints should be up to the challenge.
2. Seattle – The Seahawks looked sketchy for a couple of weeks, but they responded to a pair of subpar efforts with a strong performance against the Falcons on Sunday. Although it was against the lowly Falcons, it was a dominating effort that reminded us why Seattle is one of the top teams in the NFC. If they can avoid a slip up this week against Minnesota, they’ll enter their bye week on a six-game winning streak, with their showdown against the Saints coming up after that.
3. Carolina – It’s officially time to buy into the Panthers, as they pulled out a win at San Francisco over the weekend thanks to their suffocating defense. They will need Cam Newton to play better against quality opponents, as their schedule is tough down the stretch, but they have the defense that will keep them in games. All the top teams in the NFC appear to have good defenses, and Carolina is definitely one of them.
4. San Francisco – A loss to Carolina is a small step back for the 49ers, but it is definitely a step back, as their offense should have been better prepared and more effective coming off a bye week. Colin Kaepernick has been unsteady this year, and not at all like the guy we saw the second half of last season, and as long as that’s the case, the 49ers are going to have trouble competing with the other top teams in the NFC, and that includes this week’s road trip to New Orleans.
5. Detroit – The Lions escaped Soldier Field with a win after a goal-line stand on a two-point conversion, and now they sit alone atop the NFC North. It may be just a one game lead in the division, but with a season sweep of the Bears and the Packers continuing to deal with injuries, Detroit has to feel good about where they stand and how they’re playing heading down the stretch.
6. Philadelphia – The Eagles make a big leap up in the power rankings in part because other teams are struggling, but also because Nick Foles played well and led the offense to a lot of points for the second week in a row, and that consistency is great to see. The Philadelphia defense has also played well over the past month, and the Eagles have a schedule that sets up well for them well down the stretch. However, the Eagles play their next three games and four of their final six games at home, where they have yet to win this season, and that’s a trend that they can’t allow to continue.
7. Chicago – The Bears don’t feel like the 7th best team in the NFC, as they have some serious problems, but they’re still in better shape than the teams below them. The Chicago defense is one of the worst in the NFL against the run, and with Charles Tillman done for the rest of the regular season, the secondary isn’t in good shape either. Even with a bad defense, the Bears do have an offense that can keep them in games, and Josh McCown has played well, but the uncertainty between him and Jay Cutler, who’s dealing with injuries, isn’t helping matters.
8. Green Bay – The Packers fall back several spots in the power rankings, as they are in real rough shape at the moment. Scott Tolzien is not the guy they need to get them back atop the NFC North; Seneca Wallace and Matt Flynn may not be the guy they need either. Even if Aaron Rodgers only misses a couple more games, Green Bay still has some tough games down the stretch and may not be able to climb back into contention. Somehow, the Packers have to find a way to win without Rodgers, but right now that looks like a tough task.
9. Arizona – The Cardinals continue to hang around on the periphery of the NFC wild card race, as for the most part they’ve taken care of business against weaker opponents this year. Arizona also has a convincing win over Carolina in week 5 that looks pretty impressive right now. If the Cardinals can keep it up this weekend in Jacksonville, they’ll continue to put pressure on the teams above them and remain a factor in the playoff hunt down the stretch.
10. Dallas – It’s like the Cowboys don’t want to be in the top-10 of the power rankings. There’s no excuse for their pitiful performance Sunday night in New Orleans, and now winning the NFC East looks like it’ll be a lot harder for them to do than it should be. Injuries are beginning to pile up on the defensive side of the ball, which was the biggest problem they had last year, and could become a major issue for them this year. The bye week comes at a good time for them, but they have a lot of work to do if they’re going to get back on track after that embarrassing loss to the Saints.
NFL Week 10 Preview: Seahawks-Falcons, Bills-Steelers, Lions-Bears, Bengals-Ravens, Eagles-Packers, Raiders-Giants and More
We’ve officially passed the midway point of the NFL season, and things are starting to take shape, with games getting increasingly important. Let’s take a look at the games on the week 10 schedule:
Seattle at Atlanta – The Seahawks are the top team in the NFC right now, record wise at least, but they’ve played with fire the past two weeks, and definitely have some flaws that can be exploited. However, Atlanta may not be the kind of team that can exploit those flaws, as the Falcons continue to spiral, losing five of their last six games. Matt Ryan is having a good season, even without getting a lot of help from his top two receivers, but this week he’ll face one of the stingiest pass defenses in the NFL. If Seattle’s offense gets going, this game could be over early, as Ryan will have trouble facing Seattle’s defense playing from behind, but if Atlanta’s defense can play well, the Falcons will have a chance to knock off the struggling Seahawks.
Buffalo at Pittsburgh – E.J. Manuel returns this week, hoping to provide a second-half spark for the Bills, who had inconsistent quarterback play during his absence that kept them from staying in contention in the AFC East. If Manuel can move the ball, Buffalo should like its chances of getting a road win, as their defensive line should have no trouble having its way with a weak Pittsburgh offensive line, which will make it hard for Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh offense to score points. However, if Manuel shows some rust, this could turn into a low-scoring field goal game.
Detroit at Chicago – With the Packers in trouble without Aaron Rodgers, the winner of this game will be in control of the NFC North, making it of vital importance, especially for the Bears, who lost to Detroit earlier in the season. Jay Cutler is expected to return, which should help the Bears, but the real key to this game will be Chicago’s defense, which allowed the Lions to score 30 points in the first half alone back in week 4. Playing at home with Cutler returning, the Bears could have a slight edge, but only if they don’t put themselves in a hole early in the game. Of course, the Lions have had an extra week to prepare, while Chicago has had a short week, so Detroit could have an edge there. Expect this to be a 4th quarter game with the last team to have the ball having a chance to win late.
Cincinnati at Baltimore – It’s now or never for the defending champs. If the Ravens don’t win this game, the road back to the playoffs will be too difficult to traverse. Baltimore still can’t run the ball, and if that continues, the Cincinnati defensive line will be able to put a lot of pressure on Joe Flacco and cause all sorts of problems for the Raven’s quarterback, who isn’t getting enough support. The Bengals should be able to bounce back quickly from their overtime loss in Miami last week, and unless Andy Dalton struggles again, Cincinnati should be able to score points against Baltimore’s defense, which will make it difficult for Flacco and company to keep up, even at home.
Philadelphia at Green Bay – This should be an interesting matchup; Seneca Wallace will have a full week to practice, but he still doesn’t have a full stable of receivers to throw to. Instead, the Packers will try to pound the ball on the ground with rookie Eddie Lacy, and how the Eagles fair stopping the run could go a long way to determining which team has the advantage. Philadelphia’s offense was firing on all cylinders last week, and if that carries over it’ll pose a stiff challenge for the Green Bay defense, who needs to do its best to keep the game low scoring in support of a backup quarterback.
Jacksonville at Tennessee – Despite winning last week against the Rams, Jake Locker didn’t look sharp in his return from injury, throwing two interceptions. However, things should be easier for Locker this week against Jacksonville’s defense, as this is a good opportunity for Locker to get back on track and play the way he was early in the season.
St. Louis at Indianapolis – The Colts came out sluggish last week, which is a trend they’d like to avoid, beginning this week against the Rams. St. Louis is in the midst of their second three-game losing streak of the season, but they may have found something in the running game with Zac Stacy, who will be key for them this week against a weak Indianapolis run defense. On the other side of the ball, the Colts are hoping that T.Y. Hilton can continue to step up in the absence of Reggie Wayne. If the Colts struggle throwing the ball the way they did in the first half last week, St. Louis has a pass rush that can really make things difficult for them, and make this game closer than most think it’s going to be.
Oakland at New York Giants – If there’s any hope for the Giants to make a move in the NFC East, they need to win this game. They’d also like to play well and get their offense going after settling for five field goals in their last game, but a win anyway they can get it keeps them in contention. Oakland quarterback Terrelle Pryor won’t threaten New York’s secondary much, but he could give the front-seven headaches if they can’t contain him. The Giants have played well on defense the past two games, and that needs to continue, as they won’t want to put their offense in a tough position against a Raider’s defense that has hung tough this year.
Carolina at San Francisco – This could be the game of the week, as the Panthers try to prove that they’re a contender in the NFC. The Panthers have won four in a row, but all five of their wins this year are against teams with three or fewer wins. Cam Newton has made incredible strides over the past month, but he hasn’t faced a defense this good season week 1 when Carolina scored just seven points against the Seahawks. Of course, Carolina’s defense has been a big reason for the team’s success, and unless Colin Kaepernick can become a bigger threat throwing the ball, the Panther’s defense should be able to keep the game close and at least give Newton and the offense a chance.
Denver at San Diego – The Chargers need a win in order to stay in contention and they also need to make a statement following last week’s disappointing loss in Washington. San Diego’s defense has been able to contain some quality offenses this season, holding the Colts to just nine points and Dallas to a mere 21 points, but Peyton Manning and the Denver offense are in a league of their own, and could prove to be too much for San Diego to handle. The Chargers are going to need a big game from Phillip Rivers if they’re going to have a chance to take down the Broncos, and Rivers will undoubtedly be looking to redeem himself after his poor performances he had against the Broncos last season, turning the ball over nine times in two games: a performance that can’t be repeated.
Houston at Arizona – The Texans are reeling after a terrible collapse last week on the heels of their coach going down with a serious health issue, and they really need a win to lift their spirits, even if making the postseason is a stretch at this point. Meanwhile, the Cardinals are holding out hope for a postseason run with a strong second half, and this is not a game they can afford to lose if that’s going to happen. There are two key matchups to watch in this game. First, Arizona has good skill players on the outside that can move the ball through the air, but the Texans possess the top pass defense in the NFL and a pass rush that can get after Carson Palmer. Second, the Cardinals have a stout run defense while Houston relies on their running backs to ignite their offense. Whichever team can get the better of these two matchups will win the game.
Dallas at New Orleans – On paper, this game looks like it could have some offensive fireworks. New Orleans struggled on offense last week against a Jets front-seven that was putting pressure on Drew Brees, but that shouldn’t be much of an issue against the Cowboys, even if DeMarcus Ware returns to the lineup. If that’s the case, this game should come down to the Dallas offense scoring points against the New Orleans defense and winning in a shootout. But if the Cowboys can’t find more balance in their offense and look at least somewhat threatening running the ball, they could have a tough time against Rob Ryan’s defense.
Miami at Tampa Bay – Distractions are rampant on both sidelines, as the Dolphins are the center of attention in the league for all the wrong reasons, while the Bucs continue to deal with being winless and head coach Greg Schiano being on the hot seat. Whichever team can do a better job of shutting out the distractions and focusing on the game will have the advantage, although the game has a lot more importance for the Dolphins if they’re going to stay in the playoff hunt, as a loss to the Bucs amidst this scandal could spell doom for their season.
NFL Week 9 Predictions: Packers-Bears, Vikings-Cowboys, Saints-Jets, Eagles-Raiders, Patriots-Steelers and More
Will the Chiefs keep a direct course for home field advantage? Will Rex Ryan get the better of Rob Ryan? Will the Bucs even be close in Seattle? Get our predictions below:
(Bryan Zarpentine 61-35 overall)
(Cole Stevenson 60-36 overall)
Bryan Zarpentine: Carolina 27, Atlanta 13 – Cam Newton keeps it going and the Falcons continue to spiral out of control.
Cole Stevenson: Carolina 30, Atlanta 16 – Tough to see the Panthers losing right now and even tougher to see the Falcons winning.
Bryan Zarpentine: Buffalo 20, Kansas City 17 – Upset alert! Buffalo’s pass rush causes problems for Alex Smith, who turns the ball over a couple times, allowing the Bills’ offense to do just enough in the 4th quarter to steal a win at home.
Cole Stevenson: Kansas City 21, Buffalo 16 – I know the Chiefs are going to lose eventually, but to Jeff Tuel or Thad Lewis? I don’t buy it.
Bryan Zarpentine: Dallas 21, Minnesota 13 – The Cowboys are unimpressive, but not even Adrian Peterson can carry this Viking’s team to a win on the road against a halfway decent team.
Cole Stevenson: Dallas 24, Minnesota 16 – Cowboys have to win this game.
Bryan Zarpentine: Tennessee 19, St. Louis 10 – Jake Locker and the Titans have trouble in the red zone, but it doesn’t matter against an offense led by Kellen Clemens.
Cole Stevenson: St. Louis 18, Tennessee 15 – I don’t have a lot of faith in this pick, but if the St. Louis defense from Monday night shows up, they have a good chance.
Bryan Zarpentine: New Orleans 45, New York Jets 21 – This isn’t as ugly as last week for the Jets, but they have no chance of slowing down the New Orleans offense.
Cole Stevenson: New Orleans 30, New York Jets 20 – I like Rex Ryan more than Rob, but not in this game.
Bryan Zarpentine: Washington 34, San Diego 24 – The Redskins need this game a little bit more, as we see one turnover too many from Phillip Rivers.
Cole Stevenson: Washington 30, San Diego 21 – This is a coin flip for me, but Washington has more playmakers.
Bryan Zarpentine: Oakland 20, Philadelphia 13 – The Raiders look stout on defense and at home they find a way to put some points on the board against the Eagles.
Cole Stevenson: Oakland 21, Philadelphia 16 – Tough to see the Eagles beating anybody right now.
Bryan Zarpentine: Seattle 24, Tampa Bay 6 – Not the prettiest game, but there’s no way the Bucs can beat the Seahawks in Seattle.
Cole Stevenson: Seattle 28, Tampa Bay 3 – Seahawks will be looking to make a statement after a ‘disappointing’ win last week.
Bryan Zarpentine: Cleveland 24, Baltimore 13 – The Browns get the job done on defense and Jason Campbell provides the little spark they need on offense to get the win.
Cole Stevenson: Cleveland 22, Baltimore 18 – I repeat, I will pick against Joe Flacco for the rest of the year.
Bryan Zarpentine: New England 28, Pittsburgh 17 – There’s no way the Patriots fall at home to this year’s Steelers.
Cole Stevenson: New England 31, Pittsburgh 20 – Look for Gronkowski to finally find the end zone.
Bryan Zarpentine: Indianapolis 21, Houston 13 – It’s not as easy as it looks for the Colts without Reggie Wayne, but the Texans are a mess and they won’t be able to stop Andrew Luck in the 4th quarter.
Cole Stevenson: Indianapolis 23, Houston 17 – I want to pick the Texans in an upset here so badly, but I can’t just yet.
Bryan Zarpentine: Green Bay 38, Chicago 21 – The Bears will score some points with Josh McCown, but they won’t be able to stop Aaron Rodgers.
Cole Stevenson: Green Bay 31, Chicago 22 – The Packers offense seems locked in right now.
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After all the excitement last week, it’s going to be a tough follow for the week 9 slate of games in the NFL. But even with some top-notch teams getting the week off, there are still plenty of interesting matchups on tap for this weekend. Let’s take a closer look at all the games on the week 9 schedule.
Kansas City at Buffalo – The Bills’ 3-5 record is a bit deceiving, as they’ve stayed competitive a beat a couple solid teams, but they have a tough task in front of them if they expect to knock off the lone undefeated team left in the NFL. Buffalo has the kind of pass rush that can bother Alex Smith and make it difficult for the Chiefs to score points. Of course, it’ll also be difficult for the Bills to score points, as they are still relying on Thad Lewis at quarterback and don’t have their full complement of skill players available. If Lewis can avoid turnovers and the Buffalo defense can force Smith into making some mistakes, the Bills will be able to make it a 4th quarter game and have a chance to pull the upset at home; but if not, the Chiefs should roll to another win.
Minnesota at Dallas – The Cowboys will need to shake off their disappointing loss to Detroit last week and find a way to beat the Vikings at home. Minnesota showed some offensive firepower last week, scoring 31 points against the Packers, and if they can get good play out of the quarterback position they may be able to keep up with the Cowboys, as Dallas shouldn’t have much trouble scoring points, so it’ll be up to Minnesota’s offense to keep up. With an unfortunate loss last week and a trip to New Orleans next week, the Cowboys really need to win this game, or else they could lose their hold on the NFC East.
Tennessee at St. Louis – The Rams came close but fell a little short against the Seahawks Monday night, which showed they’re capable of competing with an elite team, although they’re going to need a lot more than Zac Stacy on the offensive side of the ball. Stacy should have another good game, but St. Louis could have trouble in the passing game with Kellen Clements at quarterback against a strong Tennessee defense. As for the Titans, they’ve had a week off to prepare after losing to San Francisco in Jake Locker’s return. Still riding a three-game losing streak, Tennessee needs to get a win here or they risk falling far behind the Colts in the AFC South and falling behind the pack in the wildcard race. Locker and the Titans need to regain the form they had in September, because if not, the Rams are a team that can beat them.
New Orleans at New York Jets – If the Jets thought the Bengals had an explosive offense; well, just wait until they see the Saints. New Orleans could also hang 50 points on Rex Ryan’s defense if they don’t show considerable improvement from last week. Even if Geno Smith has a good game, it may not be enough to keep up with the Saints if New York’s defense doesn’t provide some support. A loss here could cause the Jets to spiral and put Ryan under fire, just as he was at the start of the season.
San Diego at Washington – The Redskins still cling to hope in a bad NFC East, but a home game against the Chargers isn’t one they can afford to lose if they want to stay in contention. San Diego has had an extra week to prepare, and they’ve actually played well on the east coast this season, which means Phillip Rivers and company should be ready to play and pose a big challenge for Washington’s defense. Once again, all the pressure will be on Robert Griffin III to lead Washington’s offense to a lot of points, although he should have a little easier time staying on his feet than he did against Denver’s pass rush last week, which will at least give the Redskins a fighting chance, even if their defense struggles yet again.
Atlanta at Carolina – The Panthers have a tough schedule in November, as they try to prove that they’re for real, and a home game against Atlanta is probably as easy as it gets the entire month, so they need to make sure they take care of business at home. Despite a great season from Matt Ryan, the Falcons are on the verge of completely falling apart, and they’ll hope to salvage something against the Panthers, but the Carolina defense may be too much to handle with so many key offensive players missing or playing hurt. Against Atlanta’s porous defense, Cam Newton should be able to continue his much-improved play as of late and lead the Panthers to a fourth straight win.
Philadelphia at Oakland – The Raiders surprised everybody with a win last week, while the Eagles continue to disappoint. Oakland’s defense has been solid this season, and while they could be challenged by Chip Kelly’s offense, they won’t have to worry about a mobile quarterback, as Nick Foles returns to the lineup for the Eagles. Meanwhile, Philadelphia’s defense has been surprisingly good the past couple of weeks, so this could be a low-scoring slugfest, especially if the Eagles can keep Terrelle Pryor from doing damage with his legs. The Eagles are 3-1 on the road this year, while the Raiders are 3-1 at home, so something has to give this weekend between two teams clinging to slim postseason hopes.
Tampa Bay at Seattle – On paper, this game looks like a mismatch, but the Seahawks really struggled offensively on Monday night against the Rams, and Tampa Bay has enough talent on defense to cause problems for them this week as well. Of course, the same can be said on the other side of the ball, where the outlook is bleak for Tampa’s offense going up against Seattle’s defense. The Bucs would appear to have very little chance of winning this game, but it could end up being a lot closer than the Seahawks would prefer if the offense doesn’t improve
Baltimore at Cleveland – Neither team has looked good this year, and both are on the verge of falling completely out of contention in the NFC North and in the wildcard, so this is a must-win for both sides. Jason Campbell gave the Browns a little life at quarterback last week, but they still don’t have much of a running game to help balance out their offense. On the other side, Baltimore has failed to score more than 20 points in four of their seven games this year, including a week 2 win over the Browns. If the Ravens can’t get their running game going and give Joe Flacco a little more support, they’re going to have a hard time scoring against a stout Cleveland defense. Don’t expect too many points in this game, but the advantage will go to whichever team can get its running game going.
Pittsburgh at New England – Their 4th quarter comeback aside, the Steelers really laid an egg last week in Oakland, and now they have to travel to another place where it’s difficult to win. The Pittsburgh defense has played well against the pass this year, so they may have a chance to slow down Tom Brady, but that doesn’t mean the Pittsburgh offense will be able to score enough points to win. Like a lot of teams, the Steelers are in must-win mode, and if they’re going to win in New England, their defense is going to have to force some turnovers against Brady because their offense has been too unreliable this year, even in their wins.
Indianapolis at Houston – This will be Indy’s first game since losing Reggie Wayne, so it’ll be interesting how Andrew Luck and the rest of the offense adjust to such a big loss. Houston’s defense should be a tough test for the Wayne-less Colts, who may need to lean more on Trent Richardson and their running game without their go-to receiver in big spots. As for the Texans, they carried a five-game losing streak into their bye last week, and they still don’t know who will play quarterback this week. While Houston may have an advantage on offense with their running game, Arian Foster may not be available, which would hurt and put more pressure on whichever quarterback ends up playing. Unless the Houston defense to keep the game low scoring, this could be a tough game for the Texans to win, even at home.
There were a few less games on the schedule in week 8, but the games that were played did not disappoint. Let’s try to wrap our heads around everything that happened with the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Calvin Johnson – There was just no stopping this man at all on Sunday. Johnson had an immortal performance against the Cowboys, with 14 catches for 329 yards. What Johnson did against Dallas could end up being the best performance by a single player all season long.
Matthew Stafford’s leap – All of Johnson’s efforts would have been for naught had Stafford not made an incredibly heady play to leap into the end zone when the defense was expecting him to spike the football. Despite a pair of interceptions, Stafford owned the Cowboys, with nearly 500 yards passing, and the final dagger was his leap over the pile in the closing seconds, which was a huge step forward for both Detroit’s season and Stafford’s career.
Drew Brees – Brees got knocked around a bit by the Buffalo defensive line, but he would eventually get it going against the Bills and ended up with five touchdown passes and well over 300 yards, doing so against his former offensive coordinator Doug Marrone. Perhaps most impressive about Brees’ performance is that he connected with 10 different receivers, and not one of his receivers had more than four catches. The combination of a quarterback as talented as Brees and that many viable receiving options is simply unstoppable over four quarters.
Andy Dalton – Dalton matched Brees with five touchdown passes of his own, as the Bengals crushed what was supposed to be a good Jets defense. Of all people, Marvin Jones became Dalton’s go-to guy, making eight receptions, four of which went for touchdowns. Both Jones and A.J. Green were over 100 yards receiving, with Dalton throwing for 325 yards, as Cincinnati made a huge statement and continue to asset themselves as one of the top teams in the AFC.
Tony Romo – He may have thrown for three touchdowns, but Romo had an off day, as some of his passes sailed on him, and he missed on some throws that he usually makes with ease. He barely reached the 200-yard mark and completed fewer than 50% of his passes. Romo’s numbers were pitiful compared to his counterpart, and considering the fact that he didn’t get sacked and wasn’t facing a particularly good defense Romo should have been far better than he was on Sunday.
Dallas’ ability to close – The Lions did everything they could to give the game away to the Cowboys, committing four critical turnovers, but Dallas would just not allow themselves to win. The Cowboys ran for just 62 yards, averaging 2.4 yards per rush, and they failed to run out the clock when they had a 4th quarter lead with time running out and the Lions out of timeouts, giving Detroit one too many opportunities to win the game. The Dallas defense didn’t help either, completing folding on the final drive of the game when all they had to do was keep the ball in front of them.
The Giants in the red zone – The Giants aren’t in any position to be picky about how they win, but they were dreadful any time they got in or close to the red zone. Josh Brown was a perfect five for five on field goal tries, providing the only scoring the Giants were able to muster, and luckily for them, it was enough to win, but it wasn’t pretty. For a team with such a talented group of receivers and an accomplished quarterback, they have been truly terrible at executing on offense this season.
Detroit’s turnovers – The Lion’s dramatic win aside, there is no excuse for committing four turnovers. Detroit was a minute away from a devastating loss that would have changed the entire shape of their season, and all because they had trouble holding onto the football. The Lions should have run the Cowboys out of the building, gaining nearly three times as many yards, but instead they played with fire with those careless turnovers, which is unacceptable, whether they won the game or not.
Philadelphia’s offense – With Philadelphia’s special teams providing the only touchdown of the game, the Eagles were held without an offensive touchdown for the second straight week. Michael Vick was ineffective and then left the game with an injury, and then Matt Barkley was also ineffective, as was Philadelphia’s running game. Three total points scored by the offense the last two weeks, especially at home, is as ugly as it gets for an offense that was supposed to run up and down the field against everybody this season.
Thad Lewis’ ball security – Lewis has become a suitable replacement for the injured E.J. Manuel, and he’s done some good things to keep the Bills competitive the past few weeks, but he has some serious issues with ball security. Lewis fumbled the ball three times against the Saints, losing two of them, and Buffalo is not the kind of team that can lose the turnover battle and still hope to win games. If not for Lewis’ fumbles, the Bills could have been within striking distance of the Saints in the 4th quarter and had a better chance to pull off the upset.
Davone Bess’ fumble – They don’t get any worse than the fumble by Bess on a punt return. If he could have held onto the football, he would have set up the Browns in great field position to potentially take the lead, or at least tie the game against the only undefeated team left in the NFL. Cleveland fought hard and had a chance to win the game, but Bess ended up committing the only turnover of the game, and it ended up being the biggest difference maker between winning and losing.
More Ryan Tannehill Turnovers – Tannehill committing critical turnovers at inopportune times has become a trend during Miami’s four-game losing streak. The Dolphins led by two touchdowns at the half, but Tannehill fumbled the ball deep in his own territory, allowing the Patriots to tie the game midway through the 3rd quarter. Tannehill then threw two 4th quarter interceptions, ending any chance of Miami winning. It was a complete second half meltdown by the Dolphins, and Tannehill was right in the middle of it.
Shaun Suisham – Few people had a worse day than Suisham. Pittsburgh can’t pin their loss to the Raiders entirely on him, but missing two field goals in a game that was ultimately decided by three points is something that just can’t happen. The Steelers had built up a lot of momentum over the past two weeks, but losing to the Raiders has put a stop to it, and Suisham missing those two field goals is a big reason why.
It was a crazy week 6 in the NFL, but that shouldn’t be surprising to hear. Let’s see if we can make sense of everything with the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Buffalo’s comeback – The Bills couldn’t pull out an overtime win against the Bengals, but to comeback from a 14-point deficit in the 4th quarter with Thad Lewis at quarterback says a lot about the entire team: the offense, defense, and coaching staff. The record doesn’t show it, but the Bills have been competitive this season and made their opponents work hard for the victory, which wasn’t always the case in the past. Buffalo’s schedule doesn’t get any easier, but it’d be surprising to see them role over, even against better teams.
Cam Newton – He was in the ugly category last week, but now we have give Newton some credit for playing well. He completed 20 of his 26 passes and threw for three touchdowns, running the ball into the end zone for another. Doing so on the road was a great pick me up for the Panthers, especially with a few more winnable games on Carolina’s schedule in the weeks to come.
Tom Brady’s comeback – That’s why he’s Tom Brady, and that’s what he does. As long as there’s time on the clock and the ball is in Brady’s hands, the Patriots are going to have a chance. He continues to get by with a lackluster group of receivers, and his last-minute comeback against the Saints was nothing short of remarkable.
Nick Foles – Philadelphia’s offense didn’t miss a beat with Foles taking over for Michael Vick. Even without an athletic quarterback, the Eagles scored 31 points against a defense that had only given up more than 20 points once this season. Foles connected on 22 of 31 passes for nearly 300 yards and three touchdowns, proving that you don’t need a running quarterback to have success in Chip Kelly’s offense.
Denver Broncos – We all expected Denver and Jacksonville to be the blowout of the century, but the Broncos were quite sluggish, at least for a team that ended up with 35 points. Peyton Manning looked uncomfortable and rather impatient, and outside of a fake punt and a few short touchdown runs by Knowshon Moreno, Denver didn’t do much in the running game either. The Broncos better be able to refocus for Manning’s return to Indianapolis next week.
Cleveland’s second half – The Browns had Detroit right where they wanted them, but they completely fell apart in the second half and lost a game they had a chance to win. Even against a good team like Detroit, getting outscored 24-0 at home in the second half is unacceptable for a team that has a legitimate chance to win its division.
Terrelle Pryor – The ups and downs continue for Pryor, who started fast but ended up throwing three interceptions. A poor performance against Kansas City’s defense is understandable, but the Raiders had a chance to win in the 4th quarter and Pryor couldn’t seem to get anything going, despite plenty of opportunities to make a game of it and lead Oakland to victory.
New England’s injury list – The Patriots may have won the game, but their roster got a little thinner in the process. Aqib Talib was playing a brilliant game, completing shutting down Jimmy Graham, before leaving with an injury. The injury-prone Danny Amendola also left after taking a crushing blow to the head. Jerod Mayo also left the game with an injury. This is all in addition to the loss of Vince Wilfork and the continued absence of Rob Gronkowski, as New England’s roster is crumbling before out eyes, especially if Talib or Mayo has to miss significant time.
Minnesota’s defense – Coming into their game against Carolina, the Panthers were one of the worst passing teams in the league, but Minnesota allowed Cam Newton to throw for 242 yards and three touchdowns. The Vikings have been torched in the passing game week after week this season, which has made it difficult for them to win games, no matter who they decide to play at quarterback.
Houston Texans – Playing the Rams at home was supposed to get things back on track for the Texans, but now they have completely derailed. Houston nearly doubled St. Louis in total yards, but with four turnovers and a quarterback change forced because of an injury to Matt Schaub, the Texans got embarrassed on their home field. They now have to go to Kansas City next week, which isn’t the place they want to go in order to break their four-game losing streak.
The Titans with Ryan Fitzpatrick – The fast start to the season by Tennessee has completely disintegrated with Fitzpatrick taking over for the injured Jake Locker. In fairness to Fitzpatrick, beating the defenses of Kansas City and Seattle was a tall order, but the rest of the team played well enough to win the last two weeks, but he didn’t, and that cost the Titans, who would have liked to win at least one of those two games. It’s going to take more than close losses for Fitzpatrick to hold down the fort until Locker can get back on the field.
In week 5 of the NFL, two unbeaten teams went down and two winless teams remained empty in the win column. Let’s try to make sense of everything with the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Drew Brees – Talk about efficient, Brees connected on 29 of his 35 passes with two more touchdown passes to give him 12 for the season. Brees was smart and didn’t force things, doing a lot of damage with running back Pierre Thomas and tight end Jimmy Graham. His overall numbers weren’t as flashy as the numbers his counterpart Jay Cutler put up, but Brees was more efficient and didn’t turn the ball over, which is why the Saints were able to move to 5-0.
Indianapolis in the 4th quarter – The Colts pulled off the most impressive win of the weekend, and they did so by dominating the Seahawks in the 4th quarter. Andrew Luck was brilliant throughout the final quarter, leading the Colts to the go-ahead score and then helping Indianapolis kill a lot of time, putting the Seahawks in a tough spot when they finally got the ball back. The rest was the Indianapolis defense being able to close out the game once they got the lead.
Green Bay’s defense – Holding the Detroit Lions to just nine points and fewer than 300 yards of offense is impressive and deserves recognition. Calvin Johnson being absent helped, but the Lions were averaging over 30 points per game over the first four weeks of the season, and even Johnson isn’t worth 21 points per game. Green Bay sacked Matthew Stafford four times and held Reggie Bush to just 69 total yards, which took a lot of pressure off Aaron Rodgers and the Packer’s offense, which was a welcome change from the first month of the season.
The Peyton Manning/Tony Romo shootout – It was a lot like we expected, only better. Manning and Romo went back and forth all game, especially in the second half, ultimately combining for over 900 yards passing and nine touchdowns. It was one of the most entertaining games of the season and displayed what both teams are capable of doing offensively, and had both head coaches smiling after the game. Of course, the same can’t be said for the defensive coordinators.
E.J. Manuel’s injury – The Bills caught a tough break when Manuel went down with an injury Thursday night. Not only did it ruin any chance of coming back to beat the Browns, but he’s supposed to out a few weeks, which is going to make things very difficult for them with Cincinnati, Miami, and New Orleans on the schedule the next three Sundays. As long as Manuel is out, Buffalo’s options are either undrafted rookie Jeff Tuel or someone they pull in off the street, which doesn’t bode well for a team that has been competitive, despite being just 2-3 this season.
Tom Brady’s streak ends at 52 – Brady’s streak of 52 consecutive games with a touchdown was quite impressive, but it’s no more after the Patriots managed just two field goals in Cincinnati on Sunday. Even with Danny Amendola back, Brady continued to struggle with the lackluster group of receivers around him, as he completed only 18 of his 38 passes for fewer than 200 yards. The Bengal’s pass rush didn’t help Brady either, as he was under a lot of pressure and had one of his worst performances in a long time.
Luke Joeckel’s injury – Jacksonville’s top draft pick wasn’t exactly having a good rookie season, but he’s a talented player and it’s a shame to see his first year in the NFL end so quickly. The Jaguars aren’t going to win many games this year, if any, but there’s a lot that Joeckel could have learned from playing out the season, which is something he won’t be able to do after breaking his ankle.
Tom Coughlin wasting 2 timeouts on one challenge – It may not have changed the outcome of the game, but Coughlin threw away two timeouts on a challenge that he lost on a play that wasn’t exactly game changing. It was a move that reeked of desperation by a coach searching for answers, but in the end trying to win that challenge did more harm than good
Michael Vick’s passing skills – Vick is a good fit for Chip Kelly’s offense because of his legs, but his arm still leaves a lot to be desired. He didn’t complete a pass the entire 1st quarter against the Giants and was just 6-14 for the game. Vick, as always, relied on his legs too much, and that may have been a factor in the hamstring injury that sent him to the sidelines and forced Nick Foles to finish the game for Philadelphia. With his inaccuracy throwing the ball combined with the efficiency of Foles, Vick may have to worry about his job, even if he’s healthy enough to play.
The New York Giants – It’s not just one thing or another, the entire Giant’s team is playing ugly football, and a team that actually has a lot of talent can’t seem to find any answers. Against the Eagles, they couldn’t run the ball, they couldn’t stop Vick from running the ball, they couldn’t stop Foles throwing the ball, they committed 12 penalties for over 100 yards, and they turned the ball over four times. It seems to get more ugly every week, as the Giants have now fallen to an unthinkable 0-5 on the season.
Miami’s dropped passes – In a close game, the Dolphins hurt themselves by dropping too many passes. Mike Wallace caught seven passes for over 105 yards, but he also dropped a few passes, as he’s been known to do throughout his career. Wallace wasn’t the only offender, but if you’re going to gripe about how often the ball gets thrown your way, you have to haul it in when the ball does come to you, which Wallace and the Dolphins didn’t do, and in a three-point game, it made a difference in the outcome of the game.
Cam Newton – Yes, the 308 yards passing looks impressive, but not the three interceptions, seven sacks, or the fact that his team failed to score a touchdown. It was a typical game from Newton, as he put up some good numbers, but didn’t do a whole lot to actually help his team win. Going on the road is tough, but Newton needs to find a way to put more than six points on the board, as now the Panthers are 1-3 with their only win coming against the winless Giants.
Heading into the season, the NFC East was the hardest division in the NFL to forecast, and if nothing else looked to be the most evenly matched group of teams in football. With that in mind no doubt, the NFL was kind enough to schedule two intra-division matchups in that division for week 1, giving us two compelling games to help shed some light on what to expect from the that division in 2013. After watching those two games, let’s try to make some sense of things in the NFC East.
Oddly enough, the team that was penciled in by many as the worst team in the division, the Philadelphia Eagles, may have been the most impressive in week 1. The Eagles took their foot off the gas in the 4th quarter and let Washington crawl back into the game and have a chance to win at the end, but they dominated Philadelphia for much of the game and were in complete control for the first three quarters. Whether or not the Eagles can keep up the pace they did in the first half Monday night remains to be seen, especially after teams get enough tape on them to make adjustments, but they’ll definitely pose a stiff challenge to teams, and if nothing else they should be able to get off to a fast start. Whether or not Michael Vick can continue to avoid turnovers throughout the entire season is also an issue we’ll have to watch as it continues to play out, but on first impression, the Eagles certainly look like a team that’s going to be relevant in the NFC east this year.
With the Redskins, it’s tough to know whether they’re going to end up being the team that got dominated by the Eagles in the first half Monday night or the team that made a strong comeback in the second half. It could have been a result of facing a new style of offense, but the Washington defense did not look like the same unit as last year. As for Robert Griffin III, he definitely didn’t look the same as last season. He looked tentative, didn’t step into his throws, and wasn’t nearly the running threat he was last year, and Alfred Morris having an off night didn’t help either. Griffin and the Redskins may get there eventually, but right now they’re far from being the playoff team they were last season.
The Giants were one of the biggest disappointments in the NFL last season, and they were also one of the biggest disappointments in week 1 after turning the ball three times in the 1st quarter and six times total. On the positive side, even with a lackluster running game, which will have to be improved, when the Giants weren’t turning the ball over their offense was tough to stop. With the emergence of Rueben Randle and the addition of tight end Brandon Myers, Eli Manning could be close to unstoppable if the offensive line gives him enough time to operate. Although if the defense doesn’t shape up they’ll once again be reliant on Manning to put up a lot of points this season, a formula that failed to get them to playoffs last season and might not be able to get them there this season either.
As for the Cowboys, they may be the best team in the NFC East on paper, but they needed all six turnovers they got in order to end their home losing streak to the Giants. Despite a wealth of talent, the lack of offensive execution is a concern, as the Dallas defense scored as many touchdowns on Sunday as the offense. Although credit goes to the defense for forcing six turnovers, that’s not the kind of thing they should count on happening every week, which means despite a lot of potential on both sides of the ball, the Cowboys look like a team with a lot of work to do, and a team that needs to be more consistent if they’re going to become the stand out team in the NFC East.
So, what exactly did we learn about the NFC East from week 1? Well, we learned that all four teams are very much a work in progress, and even the team that was the most impressive, the Eagles, has serious questions about how it will fair over a 16-game season. All four teams look capable of winning 10 games and getting to the playoffs, while they all look almost equally capable of losing 10 games and having disappointing seasons. We don’t know too much more than we knew before the season started, but we know a little bit more, and now there’s little doubt that the NFC East will be a hotly contested division this season, even if it’s a profoundly mediocre division.
If you want to be picky, there are quite a few things one could be critical of when examining Chip Kelly’s debut with the Philadelphia Eagles. Yes, they beat the Washington Redskins 33-27 on Monday night. Yes, they ran 53 plays in the first half. Yes, they were up 26-7 at one point. And if the game ended at halftime, that would have all been great.
But it didn’t.
Despite Robert Griffin III looking like someone coming off a very serious injury who hadn’t played football in a really long time, Kelly’s Eagles nearly choked that lead away – giving up 20 points in the second half. More importantly, though, they only scored seven after that initial burst. You can sell yourself as a great offensive team and thus dismiss defensive failings, but in order to do that, you have to first establish yourself as a great offensive team. One half of football doesn’t do that.
When asked by the media to diagnose his team’s second half woes, Kelly made this observation:
Chip Kelly on his team's pace last night: "I felt like it was slow to be honest w/ you."
— Aditi Kinkhabwala (@AKinkhabwala) September 10, 2013
Obviously the Eagles offense slowed down a bit in the second half because of their big lead. That being said, it was also sped up in the first half by RGIII’s inability to do, well, anything. So that sort of cancels it out. Couple that with the fact that Washington will likely have one of the league’s less impressive defenses this year. And the fact that, presumably, there was a certain element of surprise at work in Kelly’s first NFL. And the fact that Michael Vick, who looked really fragile on Monday night, will only slow down from here. And the fact that a ton of players looked gassed in the second half.
What do you get when you mix all of that together? A whole lot of uncertainty as to what the future holds.
Will Kelly be successful at this level? Maybe. Probably. But folks should hold off on crowning him after one half of one game.