Sunday 1 PM EST
These are two very evenly matched teams and this game should be a treat for anyone that gets to watch it live. Both clubs are ranked in the top 5 in Total DVOA, so don't expect a blowout like last year's 31-3 Indianapolis win. The Colts most glaring weakness this season has been their run defense. They will have their hands full trying to stop Baltimore's Ray Rice, who is averaging 5.2 YPC. The Ravens have attempted to address their problems in the kicking game by releasing the struggling Steven Hauschka this week and bringing in veteran Billy Cundiff.
If Baltimore's shortcomings in the kicking game continue on Sunday, it will be an especially tough pill to swallow with longtime Raven kicker Matt Stover returning to his old stomping grounds for the first time after being let go in the offseason and signing with the Colts. I think both quarterbacks will have good games, which will result in a tough high scoring affair. It will be interesting to see if there is any let down for Indianapolis after last week's thrilling last second victory over the rival Patriots.
Despite a poor offensive showing and a loss last week in Green Bay, the Cowboys are still leading the NFC East while the Redskins are in the basement. But when it comes to a rivalry as heated as this one you can pretty much disregard all of the stats. Dallas' offense struggled against the Packers defense because they were not balanced in their play calling, dialing up 44 passes to only 14 runs. Even though Washington is ranked 8th in Rush Defense DVOA you can expect the Cowboys to get back to pounding the rock with their trio of running backs, especially at home.
Washington was able to halt a four game losing streak last week against the Broncos, but this week they're on the road and they are not playing against a team with Chris Simms at quarterback. Running back Clinton Portis will not play after suffering a concussion against Atlanta on November 8th. Last week backup Laddell Betts filled in admirably, rushing for 114 yards and a touchdown against the tough Denver defense. If Washington is going to have success on offense they will need Betts to have another strong game to slow down Dallas' pass rush. The Redskins have allowed the league's third most sacks (31), and OLB DeMarcus Ware has played well as of late.
This game is a regular clash of the Titans, and somebody is going to get their second win of the season. Since their Week 3 victory against Washington, the Lions have not been able to replicate the feat. Rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford has struggled with his accuracy, and consequently he has thrown twice as many interceptions as touchdowns. But Stafford still has plenty of upside, and he and wide receiver Calvin Johnson will have an opportunity to get on track against the league's worst defense according to total yardage. The same is true for second year running back Kevin Smith, who is only averaging 3.4 YPC after rushing for nearly 1,000 yards in his rookie season.
While it's true that the Browns defense has been among the worst in the league, their offense has been even worse. If Cleveland keeps this up they may be able to make a case for being one of the worst offenses in history by the end of the season. So far this year they are averaging 8.7 points per game. The return of Brady Quinn as the starting quarterback did not improve things last week against Baltimore. Quinn threw 2 interceptions and no touchdowns. In fact the Browns did not score a touchdown all game against the Ravens. If the offense cannot find a way to put together productive drives against Detroit, then I would expect the defense to continue to struggle.
This game features the league's number one (GB) and number two (SF) defenses according to Defense DVOA. Needless to say we shouldn't expect a lot of points to be scored. Green Bay excels in pass defense, and they are fourth in the league with 13 interceptions. It will be important for Alex Smith to make smart decisions with the football against the Packers' veteran cornerbacks.
His counterpart, Aaron Rodgers, has struggled with his own decision making at times this season. His inability to get rid of the ball and throw to checkdowns has led to an unnecessary amount of sacks and mistakes for Green Bay's offense. In a game like this I'll take the team with Frank Gore, who has scored 3 touchdowns in as many games.
Prediction: San Francisco
Perry Fewell will be making his head coaching debut against the Jaguars in this one. This game will be all about Maurice Jones-Drew and Jacksonville's running game. Not only is MJD fourth in the league with 860 rushing yards, he also has 12 touchdowns and 32 receptions. If he can get going against Buffalo's defense it could be tough for the Bills to win this one on the road.
Another big play from rookie safety Jarius Byrd would certainly improve their chances though. Byrd leads the league with eight interceptions, including one in each of his last five games. Considering how bad Buffalo's offense has been, he might be their best chance of scoring a touchdown in this game.
This game is a pretty big mismatch for the Chiefs. Despite losing against Cincinnati for the second time this season last week, Pittsburgh is still ranked 7th in Total DVOA while Kansas City is ranked 27th. Even on the road you have to like the Steelers chances of putting this one away early, as they are the superior team in pretty much every measurable category.
For their part the Chiefs are coming off a win last week against the Raiders, but their offense was dealt a huge blow when wide receiver Dwayne Bowe was suspended for four game after violating the league's performance enhancing drugs policy. Without Bowe I expect Kansas City to rely on running back Jamaal Charles to keep Rothlisberger and the Steelers' offense off the field. Charles ran for 103 yards in last weeks' win and it will be important for him to have another strong game.
If Seattle is going to have a chance against the Vikings they are going to need a big day for their quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. He completed over 60% of his passes in the Seahawks' three wins. Minnesota's pass defense is ranked 24th in DVOA, and Seattle will need to exploit this matchup if they want to keep up with the Vikings offense.
Adrian Peterson is having another fantastic season, leading the NFC with 917 rushing yards. This week will be a good test for Peterson, as the Seahawks rank 10th in Rush Defense DVOA. Minnesota may have more success throwing against Seattle's 22nd ranked pass defense. Wide receiver Sidney Rice is in the midst of a breakout season, and is currently leading the NFC with 786 receiving yards. He has become one of the league's top deep threats, and another big play by Rice could be the difference in the game.
The Giants come into this game having lost their last four. If they're going to get a win this week they'll need Eli Manning to return to championship form. Manning has struggled during New Yorks four game skid throwing only five touchdowns to six interceptions. Coach Tom Coughlin gave his team some extra time off during the bye week, with the hope that a break from the NFL grind would leave the team rejuvenated and ready to make a run at the playoffs. Since 1981, the home team is 0-12 in this series. The Giants will need to pull out all the stops to reverse that trend, or risk losing ground on division leading Dallas.
Atlanta is also struggling with its own inconsistencies. Quarterback Matt Ryan has struggled to duplicate his breakout rookie season, and he will need to improve his play if the Falcon's are going to win on the road. Wide receiver Roddy White and tight end Tony Gonzalez give Ryan plenty of weapons to move the ball through the air, but his return to form will be complicated by the swirling winds of the Meadowlands. Atlanta has only won once on the road this season, and it is likely that they will be without running back Michael Turner who injured his ankle last week. But Ryan is not the only Falcon trying to regain the magic of one year ago. Defense end John Abraham had a career high 16.5 sacks in 2008, but has only mustered 3.5 this season. If Abraham and the rest of Atlanta's defense can figure out a way to pressure Manning into making a mistake, it could be enough to get their offense back on track.
Prediction: New York
The Saints have shown some chinks in the armor in recent weeks, but I think they'll be able to get to 10-0 against Tampa Bay. While they have been vulnerable to the run since losing Sedrick Ellis, the Buccaneers are only averaging 98 rushing yards per game. If Tampa Bay is unable to get their running game going, I don't think they'll be able to win on the strength of Josh Freeman's arm alone. He has been impressive throwing four touchdowns in his first two starts, but New Orleans leads the league with 17 interceptions and their pressure could fluster the rookie quarterback. Drew Brees is one of the league's best, but he has thrown seven interceptions in his last four game so I'm expecting the Saints to take advantage of Tampa Bays' 31st ranked run defense and keep the ball on the ground.
Prediction: New Orleans
Check out the rest of the game after the break...
Sunday 4:05-4:15 PM EST
I picked St. Louis to upset New Orleans last week and they almost made me look smart, almost. I think this game is actually a tougher matchup for them because the Cardinals are ranked 8th against the run and should at least be able to slow down Stephen Jackson. Wide receiver Donnie Avery had a huge game with two touchdown catches last week, and another strong outing from Avery could make this one interesting.
Kurt Warner always plays well when he returns to St. Louis to face off against his former team, and he should have no problem carving up the league's 25th ranked pass defense. The Rams best chance of slowing down Warner is to get pressure on him and force him into mistakes. He has shown that he will try and fit the ball into a tight window and that could lead to a big play for St. Louis. Defensive end Chris Long is beginning to fulfill some of the potential that made him such a 1st round draft pick a year ago. Long has two sacks in his last two games and he will need to have another strong outing if the Rams are going to pull off the upset.
If you're like me, when the Denver Broncos' defense was shutting everyone down at the start of the season and Mike Nolan was being praised left and right for his defensive genius, you were probably thinking to yourself, "Since when does Nolan know how to put together a defense?" Well the Broncos defense has fallen off slightly in recent weeks, giving up an average of 28 points per game since their Week 7 bye. While it is unclear if the defense can get things turned around in time to face the Chargers, Denver has bigger concerns at the quarterback position. Kyle Orton has not practiced all week after spraining his ankle against the Redskins last week, so we could see backup Chris Simms get his first start since 2006. It will be an emotional day for Simms if he is forced to start, but will he be able to make enough plays to keep the Broncos in first place?
The Chargers on the other hand have no problems with their quarterback situation. Phillip Rivers and company have the league's second highest Pass Offense DVOA. They even managed to get some production out of LaDainian Tomlinson last week against the Eagles when he rushed for 96 yards and two scores. If San Diego can put together a consistent running game their offense could be truly special. That's a good thing because they've had trouble stopping people on defense. The Chargers are ranked near the bottom of the league in Defense DVOA and they have only held three teams below 20 points this season, the Dolphins, Chiefs, and Raiders.
Prediction: San Diego
This game has all the drama you could ask for: division rivals, coaches who don't like each other, crying, spying, and trash talk. The whole spectrum of pregame hype is covered in this matchup. These teams really don't like each other so you know things are going to get heated come Sunday. New York treated their Week 2 victory against the Patriots like it was the Super Bowl, and since then it's been all downhill. Sanchez is playing like a rookie, Kris Jenkins is out for the season, and they've gone 1-5 since their 3-0 start. The offense is going to try to limit the mistakes and control the clock with their top rated rushing attack (170 YPG). It will be up to the defense to win this game for the Jets. If they can pressure Tom Brady and get him flustered they have a chance to pull off the sweep, but it will be an uphill battle for New York on both sides of the ball.
New England comes into this game still reeling from blowing a 17 point lead last week in Indianapolis. Coach Bellichick made a rare mistake deciding to go for it on 4th and 2 at his own 28, and it cost the Patriots the game. I expect he and his team will be looking to make a statement against the Jets, especially after already losing to them once this year. New England has not been swept by a division rival since Bellichick's first year with the team. In their last meeting, the Patriots were without Wes Welker and Brady was still knocking off the rust from his knee injury. The offense looks completely different know and I think it's a given that they will score a lot more than seven points. While a lot of the media focus has been on the Randy Moss - Darrell Revis matchup, I think a healthy Brady and the return of Welker will make a bigger difference in this game. Also, look for Laurence Maroney to continue to have an impact in the red zone, he has scored a touchdown in each of the last four games.
Prediction: New England
An emotional letdown is the only thing standing in between Cincinnati and another victory. After last week's thrilling victory against rival Pittsburgh, it seems quite plausible that they might overlook the Raiders in this game. Oakland will be starting Bruce Gradkowski at quarterback and while he may be an upgrade of JaMarcus Russell at that position, he's not going to help the receivers catch the ball any better.
Dropped passes and missed opportunities kept the Raiders from a win against Kansas City last week and there's no reason to believe that Gradkowski will be able to fix all those problems in a week, especially when he'll be going against a tough cornerback tandem in Leon Hall and Jonathan Joseph. Bengals running back Cedric Benson is listed as doubtful for the Bengals, and without him I have a feeling this is going to be a close game.
Sunday 8:20 PM EST
Philadelphia and Chicago have both stumbled in recent weeks. After losing their last two games, they're fighting to keep their playoff hopes alive. The Eagles offense has struggled in those losses, and it has become clear that they miss Bryan Westbrook in the running game. Without any semblance of a running game they have struggled to put up points, especially in the red zone. Andy Reid will need to trust rookie LeSean McCoy to carry the load if Philadelphia is going to be able to score from inside the twenties. The Eagles have thrived on big plays this season, and they will need DeSean Jackson to provide an explosive score or a turnover on defense to get the win in Chicago.
The Bears are just hoping that Jay Cutler can hold it together in primetime. In three games this season he has thrown 11 interceptions. Cutler's inconsistency and running back Matt Forte's sophomore slump have kept Chicago's offense from being successful this year. Things won't get any easier against Philadelphia's defense which is ranked 3rd in Defense DVOA. They will need to avoid obvious run or pass situations, because those are the times when Philadelphia's defense shines the brightest. Unfortunately for the Bears, their defense has not been able to make up for the offenses' shortcomings like they have in past years. Tommie Harris' regression and the loss of Brian Urlacher seem to have taken a toll on Chicago's once proud defense.
Monday 8:30 PM EST
Titans' owner Bud Adams comes into this game $250,000 poorer after flipping off the Buffalo Bills last week, but his team is on a three game winning streak. Since Vince Young took over the offense in Week 8, Tennessee has been averaging 35 points a game. Young's mobility in the pocket has made the Titans' offense more dynamic than they were with Kerry Collins at the helm, and they'll need that added explosiveness against the Texans this week. Like every game they have left on the schedule, this one is a must win for Tennessee.
Houston also comes into this game needing a win to keep pace with Jacksonville and division leading Indianapolis in the AFC South. The Texans will go as far as Matt Schaub's right arm takes them, and he should prey on Tennessee's 31st ranked pass defense. Houston has the league's third highest Passing Offense DVOA and they lit up the Titans secondary for 357 passing yards in their last meeting. Tennessee's Pro Bowl cornerback Cortland Finnegan has played better as of late and he will need to improve upon his Week 2 performance if the Titans are going to slow down WR Andre Johnson. Johnson dominated Finnegan in that game, catching 10 passes for 149 yards and two touchdowns. Another big game by him could be the difference in this match up.