Hello everyone and welcome to this week's NFL preview. Please feel free to discuss the early games in this thread. Fooch will be posting a game day thread for San Francisco's 4:05 PM EST kickoff.
Sunday 1 PM EST
Tampa Bay Buccaneers v Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta almost pulled off a season changing comeback last week against the Giants, but instead they are still searching for the spark that led them to a playoff appearance last year. When these two teams last played it was running back Michael Turner who led the Falcons to a 13-10 overtime win, but Turner has been limited in practice due to an ankle injury. If he is not able to play on Sunday it could be trouble for Atlanta's playoff hopes.
Tampa Bay's season is over as far as the playoffs are concerned, but they have shown some life the last three weeks with rookie quarterback Josh Freeman at the helm. Freeman struggled against the Saint's blitzing defense his last time out, but he should have an easier time getting comfortable against Atlanta's defense. The Falcons are ranked 27th in pass defense DVOA, and if they are not careful they could face a similar fate to the Packers in Week 9 when they were upset by the Buccaneers at home.
Prediction: Tampa Bay 14 Atlanta 21
Miami Dolphins v Buffalo Bills
Despite only being 5-5, the Dolphins come into the game just two games back of division leading New England. This week they have a great opportunity to gain some ground on the Patriots if they can get a win against a Bills team they've already blown out once this year. Miami emphasized the run in their last meeting and managed to score 38 points even though quarterback Chad Henne only had 115 passing yards in the game. Look for the Dolphins to employ a similar game plan against Buffalo this time around. The Bills are ranked 29th in rush defense DVOA, and there is no reason for Miami to do anything different until they prove they can stop Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown.
The Bills dropped to 3-7 in their first game since firing head coach Dick Jauron. While they continue to slide down the conference standings, one bright spot has been the improved play of Terrell Owens in recent weeks. Number 81 seems to be finding his niche in Buffalo's offense and has 282 receiving yards and a touchdown in his last two games. Owens could be in for a big game against the Dolphins inexperienced secondary on Sunday. Quarterback Trent Edwards has been much maligned for his inability to throw the ball effectively down the field, and this will be a good opportunity for him to show the front office that he has the tools to become a franchise quarterback in Buffalo.
Prediction: Miami 28 Buffalo 14
The rest of the games are coming after the j ump...
Washington Redskins v Philadelphia Eagles
Washington's biggest problem this season has been their inability to score on offense. The Redskins have only scored more than 20 points once this season, and unless they can eclipse the 20 point barrier this week they will have a tough time winning at Philadelphia. Rock Cartwright will get the start at running back, with both Clinton Portis and backup Ladell Betts out with injuries. Now that Washington is down to their third string running back, it will be up to Jason Campbell to lead the offense. Without a strong showing by Campbell, who is 2-0 all-time in Philadelphia, the Redskins could be in for a very long day.
For the Eagles, this game is important if they want to keep pace with the 8-3 Cowboys. Philadelphia is solid in all three phases of the game, and this is a match up they should win handily. The formula for their success has been to stop the run on defense and get big plays from their passing game and special teams. The Eagles defense is ranked 2nd in rush defense DVOA, while their special teams are ranked 4th in special teams DVOA. Most of their big plays have come from wide receiver DeSean Jackson, who has scored five touchdowns this season, all of them over 40 yards. Rookie running back LeSean McCoy is coming off his best game of his career after piling up 99 rushing yards and a score against Chicago. Look for the Eagles to continue to establish the run with McCoy as the weather gets colder in December.
Prediction: Washington 10 Philadelphia 28
Seattle Seahawks v St. Louis Rams
This game is all about pride as both teams are all but eliminated from the playoffs at this point. For me this game is going to come down to Matt Hasselbeck and Steven Jackson. One of these guys is going to carry his team to victory, and that will be the difference in the game.
Jackson has missed three days of practice this week with lower back spasms, and he's listed as probable. Starting quarterback Marc Bulger is already out with a broken shin, so if Jackson is unable to go for St. Louis they will be forced to rely on an all backup backfield of Kyle Boller, Kenneth Darby, and Samkon Gado.
The Seahawks have dominated the series recently, winning the last eight games between these two teams. However they have been horrible on the road this year going 0-5, and losing the last four by double digits.
Prediction: Seattle 14 St. Louis 17
Carolina Panthers v New York Jets
If these teams want to keep pace with the wildcard leaders they need a win in this game. Since his strong start at the beginning of the season rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez has struggled mightily on his last six. The Jets have gone 1-5 in those games and fallen from playoff contender to the AFC East basement. Sanchez has looked lost at times during this difficult stretch, but he will need to find a way to take better care of the football if New York has any chance of turning their season around.
Both of these teams are going to try and run the football. Carolina ranks 11th in rush offense DVOA, while the Jets are right behind them at number 12. When you consider the struggles that they've had at the quarterback position, I think you can expect to see a lot of Thomas Jones and DeAngelo Williams running the football on Sunday. While this should be an old fashioned, physical style of game, the quarterbacks will still decide the winner of this game. Whichever signal caller continues to turn the ball over will end up on the losing end of this one.
Prediction: Carolina 10 New York 13
Cleveland Browns v Cincinnati Bengals
Cincinnati has shown flashes of greatness this season, but last week's loss to the Raiders showed some immaturity. While they have the talent to win this game outright, they'll need to play a much cleaner game if they want to get back on track against Cleveland. The Browns are coming off two heartbreaking defeats, but the Bengals could be in for a surprise for the second week in a row if they are not careful.
Prediction: Cleveland 14 Cincinnati 17
Indianapolis Colts v Houston Texans
The Colts come into this game having won 19 consecutive regular season games, that's the second longest streak in NFL history. However their streak has been under constant duress for the last month. Last week against Baltimore, they became the first team in NFL history to win four consecutive games after trailing during the fourth quarter in each of them.
They will have another tough test against Houston on the road. In their last meeting the Texans fell just short of pulling off the upset when place kicker Kris Brown missed a field goal that would have tied the game at 20. If Houston is going to stay in the playoff picture they will need to rattle off a string of victories, and I like their chances this week against Indianapolis.
Prediction: Indianapolis 24 Houston 31
Sunday 4:05-4:15 PM EST
Kansas City Chiefs v San Diego Chargers
The Chargers are on a roll after getting off to a rough start. This is a game they should win handily, especially at home.
Prediction: Kansas City 13 San Diego 30
Jacksonville Jaguars v San Francisco 49ers
Both of these teams are similar in that they are physical run first offenses. I'm expecting a very close hard fought game with a lot of contact. I think San Francisco has a slight advantage playing at home.
Prediction: Jacksonville 20 San Francisco 21
Chicago Bears v Minnesota Vikings
Chicago's offense was supposed to be much improved with the addition of Jay Cutler in the off-season. Instead the Bears have regressed on both sides of the ball, and if they can't turn their season around soon their coach could be in trouble. Due to the amount of money left on his contract Lovie Smith is still fairly secure, but his team has been a disappointment and they need to improve in their remaining games or face the consequences.
Cutler could help the situation by making better decisions with the football. He leads the league with 18 interceptions, while his counterpart Brett Favre has only thrown three all year. Favre is playing some of the best football of his career this year in Minnesota, and he and the Vikings should be able to get a win at home against Chicago. Look for Jarod Allen and their defensive line to get pressure on Cutler, and force him to make at least one crucial turnover.
Prediction: Chicago 14 Minnesota 28
Arizona Cardinals v Tennessee Titans
Both of these teams have been playing very good football as of late, but somebody's winning streak is going to end on Sunday. The Cardinals in particular have been excellent on the road this year, having gone 5-0 for the first time since 1948. Offensively there is a lot to like about what Arizona brings to the table, and they have amassed over 400 yards of total offense in each of their last three games. Running back Tim Hightower had a career best 110 yards rushing last week, and if he can continue to produce on the ground the Cardinals offense could become nearly impossible to stop. It will be important to note how Kurt Warner reacts to the concussion he suffered last week. If he is not able to play the entire game, Arizona could be in trouble with Matt Leinart at quarterback.
The Titans on the other hand have had no problem at all running the football. Last week Chris Johnson became the second player in NFL history to rush for at least 125 yards with an average of 5 yards per carry in five consecutive games. The only other player to match that feat was Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown in 1958. The Titans have gone 4-0 since Vince Young has taken over as the starting quarterback. His ability to run the football has allowed Tennessee to incorporate option plays into their offense and produced more explosive plays in the running game.
Prediction: Arizona 21 Tennessee 24
Sunday 8:20 PM EST
Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens
These two clubs have dominated the AFC North in recent years, but the mantle seems to have passed to Cincinnati this season. Both teams have been up and down this season, but they still have enough talent to beat anyone in the league. Baltimore nearly pulled off the upset against Indianapolis last week, and I think they will be able to finish the job this week against the defending champions.
Prediction: Pittsburgh 17 Baltimore 21
Monday 8:30 PM EST
New England Patriots v New Orleans Saints
When asked about the New Orleans Saints, Patriots coach Bill Belichick responded, "I don't think there's any better football team than the New Orleans Saints. They have no weaknesses as far as I can see." Certainly lavish praise coming from Belichick, and the Saints will get a chance to prove him correct on national television Monday night. The Superdome is going to be electric, so it will be important for New England to silence the crowd early. A costly turnover or a big play by New Orleans could quickly snowball into a big deficit if the Patriots do not play within themselves.
This game will feature two of the league's top quarterbacks, with both Tom Brady and Drew Brees ranking in the top 5 in DVOA. They are very accurate; having completed over 66% of their attempts so far this year and their teams will be relying on them to make smart decisions with the football.
Despite all of the attention that these quarterbacks will get leading up to the game, I think the winner of this game will be the team that can establish the run. With these two offenses both ranked in the top three in pass offense DVOA, I expect a lot of explosive plays and quick scores. The defenses are going to need all the help they can get slowing down the opponents' offense, and a strong rushing performance from either team will help them control the clock and keep their defense rested.
Prediction: New England 31 New Orleans 34