A Dozen Bold Predictions for NFL Week 7
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We’re back again with another attempt to inform and entertain, hopefully all at the same time.
But staying in-the-know in today’s NFL is pretty difficult, at least when it comes to figuring out who is the league’s best team.
The Falcons (off this week) are the lone undefeated squad, while the Ravens, Texans and Bears have lost only once. But we have a slew of 3-3 teams, four of those in the suddenly stalemated AFC East.
One thing we can predict is that it will be a much less stressful weekend in the AFC West, as the Raiders are the only team in action. We say less stressful because it was a rough Week 6 for all of the division’s four quarterbacks, even though Peyton Manning and the Broncos rallied from a 24-0 halftime deficit for an improbable win at San Diego.
Speaking of picks…
1. Buffalo's Battling Bills
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To say it has already been an interesting season for the Buffalo Bills would be an understatement.
So far, Chan Gailey’s team has been rolled by the Jets, blown a 21-7 lead at home on the way to a 24-point loss to the Patriots and then given up 621 yards in a forgettable 45-3 setback at San Francisco.
All that, and the team is tied for first place in the AFC East.
Of course, so are the Dolphins, Patriots and Jets.
By why quibble over details? You have to be in it to win it, and the Bills certainly are. Now they must hope their run defense, ranked dead last in the league, can contain the unpredictable Chris Johnson, who ran for 153 yards and two touchdowns a year ago at Orchard Park.
The former Pro Bowler will be back on his game again on Sunday, running 23 yards for the go-ahead score with three seconds left to give Tennessee a 19-14 lead.
But on the ensuing kickoff, the Bills will utilize seven well-executed laterals before Brad Smith winds up with the ball in his hands on his way to the end zone. One touchdown and one PAT later, Gailey’s club escapes with a 21-19 win.
When all else fails, you just have to “wing” it.
2. Giants on a Run
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It’s one of the most intriguing matchups of the weekend.
Last season’s eventual Super Bowl champions were just 9-7 in the regular season a year ago and lost a pair of games to the Redskins.
Now here comes Mike Shanahan’s club once again, with a new arm and a pretty productive pair of legs in rookie Robert Griffin III. The former Heisman winner has thrown for five touchdowns, completing 70.2 percent of his passes, and rushed for six.
While the Redskins quarterback ranks in the top 20 in the league with 379 rushing yards, Eli Manning, the two-time Super Bowl MVP, has pulled a “Blutarsky.” He has yet to gain a yard in 10 rushing attempts.
Yes, Manning has zippity-do-da when it comes to yards on the ground. But that will change this weekend.
With the Giants trailing 20-17 and facing a 3rd-and-long at the Redskins’ 25-yard line in the closing minute, Manning will fake a handoff on a reverse to Victor Cruz and cruise around left end against the flabbergasted Washington defense for the game-winning touchdown in a 24-20 victory.
3. How ‘Bout Them Panthers?
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It’s never over until it’s over, but time is certainly wasting.
There were thoughts that with a healthier defense and a talented quarterback entering his second season, nothing could be finer than a playoff appearance for Carolina.
Instead, Ron Rivera’s team has stumbled to a 1-4 record. A team that finished 2011 tied for fifth in the league in scoring has managed 12 or fewer points in three of those games.
But here come the Cowboys, who for some reason make every game interesting. Last Sunday at Baltimore, Jason Garrett’s team rolled up 227 yards rushing, the most ever allowed by a Ravens team, and still found a way to lose.
Carolina, which piled up 219 rushing yards against the Saints and 199 against the Falcons, figures to have similar success against the Cowboys. Despite the presence of talented running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart, quarterback Cam Newton is the team’s top rusher with 209 yards.
This week, Rob Ryan’s defense will look hopeless as Newton and company roll up 309 yards on the ground, the most ever surrendered by the Cowboys in their proud history. But the mistake-prone Panthers will also commit eight turnovers, and Dallas will escape with an 8-7 win, thanks to a pair of Dan Bailey 55-yard field goals and a safety courtesy of a DeMarcus Ware sack.
What a strange game this is.
4. Beat Me in St. Louis?
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Remember when the Packers were in the midst of one of the longest winning streaks in NFL history?
Now Mike McCarthy’s team can’t win two games in a row.
Aaron Rodgers and company have alternated losses and wins during the first six weeks of the season, so common sense says that the Packers will fall in the Gateway City against an improved Rams team that somehow outgained the Dolphins by 270 yards last week and still managed to lose.
This week, Jeff Fisher’s club will manage to sack Rodgers five times. But each of those plays will be offset by a touchdown pass from the reigning league MVP. While an improving Sam Bradford will have a solid afternoon, the Rams simply won't be able match the firepower of the Pack en route to 35-20 loss.
So after throwing “just” 10 touchdown passes in his first five outings this season amid whispers of “what’s wrong with the Packers,” Rodgers will make it 11 in two weeks.
And all is right in “Titletown,” for the time being.
5. The Saints Keep Marching
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After failing to get a victory in their first four games, the Saints have had two weeks to savor win No. 1.
But there’s no rest for the defending NFC South champions, who hope to match a little history by going on a long winning streak. Remember, only the 1992 San Diego Chargers managed to reach the playoffs after a 0-4 start.
Up next is a date with the Buccaneers, whose last victory of 2011 saw them intercept Drew Brees three times in a 26-20 win in Tampa. That team turned a 4-2 start into a 4-12 disaster.
While this is an improved Buccaneers team under first-year head coach Greg Schiano, it’s also not ready for one of those Brees-type games. Tampa Bay’s lack of a pass rush will cost it dearly, as New Orleans will jump out to a 21-0 first-quarter lead. A couple of hours later, Brees will connect on his fifth score of the afternoon and the 300th touchdown pass of his career in the team’s 41-23 victory.
Two down, 10 to go.
6. There’s No Place Like ‘Dome
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Apparently, no matter how you add it up, Minneapolis is not a Cardinals town.
Thanks to the fine people at Baseball-Reference.com, we found that the St. Louis Cardinals may be on the verge of reaching the 2012 World Series but are not fond of the Metrodome as well. Along with their four road losses in the ’87 Series loss to the Twins, the Cards have been dealt eight defeats in 10 trips to that building.
That’s nothing compared to the futility suffered by their football brethren (or is it bird-thren?). These Cardinals have made seven visits to the Metrodome, including a playoff appearance in 1998, and have come up short in each trip by a combined score of 239-119. That includes a 34-10 loss last season to a Vikings team that entered the game 0-4.
It is back to John Skelton for Ken Whisenhunt’s team, as quarterback Kevin Kolb was injured in the overtime loss to Buffalo. Of course, he was also sacked 22 times in his last three games, and you can bet the Vikings are counting, especially Jared Allen, who has a sack in four straight games.
The Vikings defender will do his share of damage. But when it’s all said and done, the teams will be tied at 20-all and headed to extra innings (uh…overtime). Retribution will be sweet for Cardinals kicker Jay Feely, whose three-run blast (uh…field goal) will lift Arizona to an important win.
7. Off the Matt
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Have the doubters returned?
In front of a prime-time audience last Sunday night at Reliant Stadium, Gary Kubiak’s team not only lost to the Packers, but Aaron Rodgers humbled Wade Phillips’ highly regarded defensive unit.
Maybe the Texans' start was too good to be true, as the lone undefeated team in the AFC, which had allowed six offensive touchdowns during its 5-0 start, gave up that many to Rodgers and company.
Now the Texans will attempt to right the ship before a pinhole becomes a crack. Right before their eyes are the Ravens, perhaps battered and bruised but co-owners with Houston of a 5-1 record and a 6-0 mark in this series, including a regular-season and playoff win a season ago.
In that Divisional Round setback at Baltimore, the Texans' Arian Foster ran for 132 yards and a touchdown. Look for the talented runner to top that mark by 18 yards and another score.
However, the tone of the game will be set by the Houston special teams, which will force former teammate Jacoby Jones to fumble the opening kickoff, setting up the first of Foster’s scoring runs in a 30-20 win for Kubiak and his team.
8. Indy .500
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While a lot of the attention will focus on the rookie quarterback battle between Cleveland’s Brandon Weeden and Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, it’s the teams’ defenses that deserve a little more attention.
While the Colts’ inability to stop the run remains a liability, that the Browns have been unable to stop just about anything should be more of a concern. Dick Jauron’s unit has surrendered 400-plus yards of total offense in three straight games and four of six, quite a falloff considering only two opponents managed to reach that figure in 16 games in 2011.
Two weeks ago against the Giants, Cleveland gave up 502 yards at MetLife Stadium. Indianapolis will victimize the Browns defense the same way, reaching the 500-yard mark in a resounding 38-14 win.
That number should make the Colts organization smile for another reason, as the victory will elevate the team's record to .500 for the season. With a 3-3 mark, the club will have already exceeded last year’s win total.
9. Believe the Hyphe(n)
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After what looked like a preseason of promise, it’s been another tough season for the Jacksonville offense.
The last time we saw Mike Mularkey’s team two weeks ago, the Bears defense was enjoying itself, running back a pair of Blake Gabbert interceptions for scores as the Jaguars were crushed at home, 41-3.
In 2011, reaching the end zone was also difficult for Gabbert and company. The team’s offense scored only 21 touchdowns, and more than half were courtesy of talented runner Maurice Jones-Drew, who would tie for the team lead with three touchdown receptions. Ouch.
It hasn’t gotten any better to date. The Jaguars offense has reached the end zone just six times in five games, including a pair of TDs by Jones-Drew. You can look for him to roll up a couple more scores against the Oakland defense.
But Mularkey’s team still will come up short to the Silver and Black thanks to a big day for Darren McFadden, who runs for 140-plus yards against Jacksonville’s 30th-ranked rushing defense. That inability to slow down the Raiders on the ground will lead to three touchdown passes from Carson Palmer to Darrius Heyward-Bey in a 27-14 win for Dennis Allen’s club.
10. Ridley, Believe It or Not
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Last Sunday in Seattle, the New England Patriots ran 85 plays totaling 475 yards…and scored only 23 points in a one-point loss.
Perhaps even more surprising than the result was the lack of balance by Bill Belichick’s team. True, the Patriots were facing one of the best defenses in the league, but 26 rushing attempts compared to 59 passing plays seemed a little strange for a club that had run the ball a combined 94 times the previous two weeks.
Hence, second-year running back Steven Ridley, he of the back-to-back better than 100-yard rushing performances against the Bills and Broncos, totaled only 34 yards on 16 carries.
Meanwhile, the Jets’ dormant ground attack produced 252 yards in a win over the Colts last Sunday, meaning Indianapolis’ offense was off the field for the majority of the game.
You can look for the script to be flipped in New England. Ridley will rebound with 125 yards and a pair of scores, much of that coming in the second half as the Patriots play "kill the clock" in a 30-16 win.
11. Andy, Did You Hear About…
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If the Bengals are to make a second straight playoff appearance, now would be a good time to rise up and beat one of the big boys.
A year ago, Marvin Lewis’ team surprised many with a 9-7 record and a wild-card berth. But four of those seven regular-season losses were to the division rival Ravens and Steelers.
Simply flash back to the first Monday night game of the season, when the team’s latest trip to Baltimore resulted in a 44-13 loss to the defending AFC North champions.
Into town comes Pittsburgh, hurting and struggling at 2-3. But including a playoff win in 2005, the Steelers are proud owners of a 10-1 mark in their last 11 trips to the Queen City.
However, the Andy Dalton to A.J. Green connection has been a constant this year for the Bengals. In fact, anyone (Mohamed Sanu) throwing to Green has been a good thing, the second-year wideout having scored at least one touchdown in five straight games.
That streak will easily reach six as the Steelers secondary continues to miss safety Troy Polamalu. Speaking of six, look for Ben Roethlisberger to be sacked at least that many times in Cincinnati’s 24-10 win.
12. The Lions Won’t Sleep Tonight
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In recent years, some considered the play of quarterback Jay Cutler and the Bears’ erratic offense to be somewhat offensive.
But that has changed with the addition of wideout Brandon Marshall, rookie receiver Alshon Jeffery and free-agent runner Michael Bush this offseason.
Now the performance of Lovie Smith’s defensive unit has been very offensive.
And it’s all good.
In their last three games, Bears defenders have returned five interceptions for touchdowns, including a pair each in their last two contests thanks to cornerback Charles Tillman and linebacker Lance Briggs.
Enter Matthew Stafford, who knows a little something about Tillman and the Chicago defense. In last year’s loss in the Windy City, the Lions signal-caller was picked off four times and saw a pair run back for touchdowns, one of those by Tillman.
Now the Lions look to snap a four-game losing streak in Chicago and will get the job done.
With the Bears trailing at home, 23-20, Cutler will drop back from the Lions' 10-yard line, and his hope-to-be game-winning touchdown pass will be taken back the other way by safety Louis Delmas for a 95-yard score. And Jim Schwartz’s team will party until it's 2013 via a 30-20 road win.
Hey, we never said why the Lions would be up all night…