A Baker's Dozen Bold Predictions for NFL Week 6
Five weeks down and a dozen to go.
Thirty teams down and a pair still around to achieve perfection.
We continue to look in our crystal ball and try to deliver the boldest of predictions on a weekly basis.
Have we swung and missed a few times? Sure. Who hasn’t?
But we keep trying. Isn’t that the most important thing?
While we’re at it, there’s a ton of the season remaining, but could either Atlanta or Houston actually make a run at 19-0?
Falcons general manager Thomas Dimitroff knows a little something about that task. He was the director of college scouting for the Patriots in 2007 when they went 16-0 in the regular season before falling to the Giants in Super Bowl XLII.
And Texans head coach Gary Kubiak was the Broncos’ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in 1998 when Denver opened 13-0, but was derailed from perfection by...the Giants.
Hey, just throwing it out there early. But here’s what we do know. You face some giant obstacles in trying to win every game in a season.
It’s back to the Ouija board...
Seeing Matt and Julio
Let’s start right away with one of those undefeated teams, shall we?
A week ago, Mike Smith’s club was challenged by the host Redskins, who owned a 17-14 lead early in the fourth quarter before Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan led his team to 10 unanswered points and a 24-17 win.
It was the second time in eight days that Atlanta had to rally in the fourth quarter to stay unblemished. And now the Falcons are back at home hosting the well-rested Raiders.
Those would be the same Raiders who have already allowed nine touchdown passes in four games, this after giving up 31 scores through the air in 2011 (second most in the NFL).
Last week at Washington, Julio Jones caught 10 passes, including an 18-yard score. The second-year wideout has scored 10 touchdowns in his last nine regular-season games.
Make it 13 scores in his last 10 contests, as Ryan will find the end zone four times in a 31-13 win.
Who will catch that fourth TD pass?
OK, perhaps it’s not the most outlandish of forecasts, but it’s still worth a mention.
Veteran tight end Tony Gonzalez remains incredibly productive. Five weeks into his 16th NFL season, he leads the league with 39 receptions. His four scores in 2012 bring his career touchdown total to 99, eight of those coming against the Silver and Black thanks to his days with the Chiefs.
On Sunday, the sure-handed target will haul in an 8-yard TD pass from quarterback Matt Ryan to make it a C-note. Gonzalez will become the eighth player in NFL history to catch at least 100 touchdown passes and the 21st player to reach triple digits in terms of overall touchdowns.
Simply put, congratulations (whenever it happens).
How Mighty Is Quinn?
The long year that has been the last five weeks continues in Kansas City.
Off a frustrating 9-6 home loss to the Ravens, Romeo Crennel’s team suffered another setback when quarterback Matt Cassel went down with a concussion—but not before the much-maligned starter committed three more turnovers in the loss.
In five games this season, the Chiefs have given up the football a league-high 19 times, and Cassel has been responsible for 13 of those miscues. Hence the controversial “ovation” he unfairly received from some at Arrowhead Stadium last Sunday.
Now it’s up to Brady Quinn, who completed all three of his pass attempts last week in taking over for Cassel. But what can we expect from Quinn this week against the Buccaneers as he makes his first start since 2009 when he was with the Browns?
That would be a win, with a big assist from running back Jamaal Charles and a few deep throws to Dwayne Bowe against the league’s worst pass defense.
For the third time in three weeks, Rex Ryan’s team will be in its own backyard at MetLife Stadium.
Not that it has worked out so well to date.
Eight days after being swamped in the swamp by the Niners (34-0), the Jets were game, but still came up short in a 23-17 Monday night loss to the unbeaten Texans.
Now rookie Andrew Luck and the Colts ride into town off a thrilling comeback win over the Packers, a game in which Indianapolis trailed 21-3 before winning 30-27.
One of the big reasons for New York’s struggles has been a defense that has allowed 172.4 yards per game on the ground, a large part of that coming against San Francisco and Houston. But the Indianapolis ground attack has been mediocre at best.
Meanwhile, it’s been a very so-so start for the Jets’ Shonn Greene and the ground attack in general. But that’s going to change in a big way. Tony Sparano’s running attack will take advantage of a Colts unit ranked in the bottom fourth of the league in rushing defense for a decisive win.
And Jets playoff fever will begin.
Losing Their Stripes
While the Pro Bowl-rookie passing tandem of quarterback Andy Dalton and wide receiver A.J. Green got the "tiger’s share" of the credit for last season’s playoff appearance, it was far from a two-man show in the Queen City.
That’s because the Cincinnati defense, led by one of the better pass rushes in the league, did its share to lock up the team’s second postseason berth in three years. Mike Zimmer’s unit was ranked in the top 10 against both the run and pass, as the Bengals finished ninth in the NFL in points allowed.
But it’s been a different story in 2012, despite a winning record for Marvin Lewis’ squad. Even in a few of the games they’ve won, the Bengals “enjoyed” shootouts with the Browns (34-27) and Redskins (38-31). And this team did give up 44 points in their opening Monday night loss at Baltimore.
The Browns also have been hurting, losing 12 straight games within the division and 11 overall. But both of those skids will come to an end Sunday thanks to rookie runner Trent Richardson, who once again will score touchdowns rushing and receiving (as he did in his first meeting with the Bengals) in a 31-21 Cleveland win.
Raise Your Hand If You’re Leshoure
After rallying for a victory against the improved Rams on their opener, Jim Schwartz’s Detroit Lions are still searching for win No. 2.
That’s because the Men from the Motor City have been finding new and interesting ways to lose. In their last two losses—an overtime setback at Tennessee and a home loss to the Vikings—Detroit’s defense has allowed only two touchdowns, while the offense and special teams have surrendered five scores. And all seven of those touchdowns covered 60 or more yards.
With quarterback Matthew Stafford limited to three touchdown passes in four games, there’s a need for a little balance. The answer may have arrived in running back Mikel Leshoure, who we didn’t see at all in 2011 but did see run for 100 yards and a score in that loss to the Titans back in Week 3.
So against an Eagles defense that can be had on the ground, the Lions RB will roll up 128 yards rushing against the Birds. And with Ndamukong Suh and friends keeping Michael Vick and company in check, Schwartz’s club will take a 20-7 lead into the final quarter.
Isn’t That Special?
A closer look at those last seven touchdowns allowed by the Lions in their last two games reads as follows.
Touchdown receptions of 61 and 71 yards.
A pair of 105-yard kickoff returns.
Punt returns of 65 and 77 yards.
And a 72-yard fumble return.
There are no such worries this day in Philadelphia, as Detroit will open up a 20-7 fourth-quarter advantage with veteran Jason Hanson lining up for a 35-yard field goal with just over four minutes to play.
But not only will the Birds manage to block the kick, but linebacker Casey Matthews will scoop up the ball and return it 62 yards to narrow the gap to 20-14.
Minutes later, Michael Vick and company will take over at their own 20-yard line, still trailing by six points. Geared to stop the pass, the aggressive Lions defensive line will find itself in the Philadelphia backfield.
Unfortunately, that's not where running back LeSean McCoy will be. He will be racing to the end zone via an 80-yard run on a draw play, and Andy Reid’s team will squeeze out yet another one-point win, 21-20.
You can’t make this stuff up.
Actually, yes you can.
What’s in a (Long) Name?
After a pair of frustrating overtime losses to the Jets and Cardinals, the Dolphins' skid was expected to stretch to three games as Joe Philbin’s club headed to Cincinnati.
However, a funny thing happened on the way to a surprising 17-13 victory, and now the ‘Fins head home with a chance to get back to .500 as the improved Rams come to town.
Both of these clubs have gotten to opposing quarterbacks 15 times, those numbers bolstered by the fact that each team faced Arizona in recent weeks. Miami and St. Louis combined for 17 sacks of quarterback Kevin Kolb.
This week, Pro Bowl left tackle Jake Long will be successful in keeping defensive end Robert Quinn, who had three sacks in the win over the Cardinals, away from quarterback Ryan Tannehill. On the other side, rookie right tackle Jonathan Martin will hold off Rams defender Chris Long, and the Dolphins will escape with a 19-17 win.
Of course, it would be so much easier for everyone involved if Jeff Fisher would just let his talented defensive ends switch sides this week.
That way, it would be a “Long” afternoon for either Chris or Jake, depending on who got the worst of their mano-a-mano encounter.
Big Win for Big De(s)
It’s been a few weeks since we’ve seen the Cowboys and quarterback Tony Romo, who served up five interceptions to the Bears on a Monday night in Dallas when he last took the field.
But whatever happened to the Dallas running game? Back in the season opener vs. the Giants, second-year back DeMarco Murray ran for 131 yards in a 24-17 win. That performance included a 48-yard burst as Jason Garrett’s team surprised the defending Super Bowl champs.
The problem is Murray hasn’t had as many as 48 yards rushing in a game since.
But that’s about to change, as the potentially explosive runner takes advantage of a Baltimore defense that has been not so Raven-like. Just look at what Jamaal Charles did to Ray Lewis and company last week.
It will be back to basics for the Pokes, as Murray will rumble for 151 yards and the Cowboys will hang on for a 23-21 win, ensured when DeMarcus Ware blindsides Joe Flacco late in the game and teammate Sean Lee falls on the fumble.
This is less about X's and O's and more about the natural progression.
Or is it digression?
If we’re talking about keeping Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb safe these days, it’s more the latter.
Despite the team’s 4-1 record, Arizona has given up a league-high 23 sacks in five games. And it’s actually worse than that.
That’s because in Week 4, the Dolphins dropped Kolb eight times in Arizona's 24-21 overtime win. Four days later, the Cardinals signal-caller was sacked nine times at St. Louis as Ken Whisenhunt’ team suffered its first loss.
Now enter the Bills 10 days later, who have 10 sacks this season. Nine of those came in their two wins, while they managed only one in a 52-28 loss to the Patriots and none in losses to the Jets (48-28) and 49ers (45-3).
So numerical logic says Buffalo will get 10 sacks of Kolb, and its defense will be pitching a shutout after three quarters.
But these resilient Cardinals will get three field goals by Jay Feely and rally for a 9-7 win.
For Pete’s Sake
Before Bill Belichick turned the New England Patriots into a dynasty, there was another head coach who took that franchise to the postseason more than once.
Sometimes it’s forgotten that Pete Carroll led the Pats for three seasons and took them to the playoffs in 1997 and ’98.
This week, Carroll’s current team hosts one of his former employers in an intriguing interconference clash. No team in the league is averaging more yards and points per game than the Patriots. And no team has allowed fewer yards per outing than the Seahawks, who are second in the NFL in fewest points allowed per game.
Seattle has allowed 70 points in five games. The Pats are two weeks removed from scoring 52 in a win over the Bills.
So are the ‘Hawks capable of frustrating quarterback Tom Brady, who plays his first game in Seattle on Sunday?
It says here, yes. Unfortunately, they may not be able to contain a New England ground game that’s coming into its own these days.
Speaking of which, Marshawn Lynch will prove to be a little too much for a Patriots defense that still has some issues.
Too much, but not enough to prevent an 18-14 Patriots win.
San Francisco 100, New York 20
Two weeks ago, we saw a determined bunch of 49ers bounce back from a surprising loss to Minnesota and whitewash the Jets, 34-0.
Last Sunday, Jim Harbaugh’s team rolled up a franchise-record 621 total yards in a 45-3 demolition of the Bills.
That’s eight quarters of football and a combined 79-3 score.
Now a third team from the state of New York (work with me) takes a crack at the Niners in this rematch of last season’s conference championship game, as the Giants visit San Francisco—and we all know how that turned out this past January.
Here’s what you can book. Look for young wideout/kick returner Kyle Williams (who gave up the ball twice on punt returns in that playoff loss to the Giants) to have a positive impact in this game, scoring at least one touchdown.
And more importantly, look for the 49ers to avenge that NFC title-game loss with a 21-17 victory, completing a clean sweep of the Empire State.
Returning to the Scene
Last week, we predicted 200-plus yards rushing for Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, as he and his teammates faced the defensively challenged Titans.
The star runner fell 112 yards short of our prognostication, but Leslie Frazier’s team got more than enough from Percy Harvin in a convincing 30-7 victory.
Still, Peterson ran for 88 yards and has rushed for 420 yards and a pair of scores in five games. It’s been quite a productive start for a player coming off a serious knee injury at Washington last December.
Speak of the devil. Peterson and his teammates return to FedEx Field this week looking to extend their three-game winning streak in which they’ve held opponents to 13 or fewer points in each victory.
Not only will Frazier’s team make it four straight wins, but Peterson will play a major role, scoring three touchdowns in a 24-21 win. And while we won’t predict another 200-yard outing for the Vikings standout, those three scores will make him feel a whole lot better than the last time he left this field.
Green Bay, We Have a Problem
Today’s National Football League is full of ups and downs.
No team has epitomized this more than Mike McCarthy’s Green Bay Packers, who have alternated losses and wins through the first five games of the season. And the last two defeats have been helmet-scratchers, to say the least.
We all remember that sleepless night in Seattle for Aaron Rodgers and company, when the Seahawks scored (we think) on a Russell Wilson-Golden Tate “Hail Mary” touchdown pass on the final play of the game. And let’s not forget last week’s 30-27 setback at Indianapolis in which McCarthy’s club let a 21-3 lead slip away.
At 2-3, the Packers already find themselves two games behind the Bears and Vikings in the NFC North, with the latter arguably the surprise team in the league. To make matters worse for the Pack, running back Cedric Benson is out.
Facing that Houston defense is challenging enough, and Rodgers will be without not only Benson, but wideout Greg Jennings and possibly tight end Jermichael Finley.
A year after throwing 45 touchdown passes and just a half-dozen interceptions, the reigning league MVP has thrown for 10 scores and four picks. But look for that latter total to double in prime time against Wade Phillips’ defense, as Green Bay will find itself on the short end of a 27-21 score.
Just Another Manning Monday
The season’s sixth week will conclude in San Diego, and it will mark the second time Peyton Manning and the Broncos will play in front of the Monday night cameras.
When last Mike Tirico and coach Jon Gruden saw the Men from Mile High, Manning was throwing three first-quarter interceptions at the Georgia Dome, and Denver found itself in a 20-0 hole before falling to the Falcons, 27-21.
The digging of early holes has been a theme for the team this season and, unfortunately, a late rally always seems to come up short. Last week the Broncos dug themselves a 31-7 hole before falling by 10 points.
That earlier loss to Atlanta dropped Manning’s record on Monday Night Football to 11-4, but all bad things must come to an end.
Yes, we know of the former Colt's issues with the Chargers and that Sunday night when he threw six interceptions against the Bolts. But just as Philip Rivers was out-dueled by Drew Brees last Sunday night, Rivers and his team will lose another prime-time shootout, 45-34, as Manning gets his revenge from five years earlier by throwing six touchdown passes.
Of course, it’s not like he hasn’t done this before.