A Baker's Dozen Bold Predictions for NFL Week 8
The unpredictability of the National Football League never ceases to be anything short of amazing. And one of the major reasons for that is simple: The ball isn’t round.
Hence, it makes for some very interesting moments, and we’ve done our best in trying to anticipate those in advance.
Once again, we’re forecasting some big performances and some from a few unlikely sources. And we’re having some fun in making picks that will make some scratch their heads and cause them to post some serious question marks about the validity of this weekly piece.
That’s all well and good. If you keep swinging for the fences, eventually you’ll hit a few home runs.
Unfortunately, we’ve shown little more than warning-track power to date.
Here we go again…
Yes He Cam
In stark contrast to a season ago, it’s almost depressing watching Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton.
And it has nothing to do with what’s happening on the field (although he and the team have certainly struggled).
A year ago, and with sometimes gaudy numbers to boot, the rookie signal-caller was a bit more upbeat and very retrospective when it came to the bottom line…winning.
Now a team that won four of its last six games last season is off to a 1-5 start, and Newton and Co. have scored 14 points or less in four of six contests. The team’s 12 offensive touchdowns have been offset by 13 turnovers.
But Newton will be at his best against Chicago’s rugged defense. Look for 300-plus passing yards and three touchdown passes, two to former Bears tight end Greg Olsen. And more importantly, no turnovers for the Panthers quarterback as Carolina takes advantage of a short week for Chicago.
Nuts and Bolts
Simply put, the numbers are astounding.
Last season, the 8-8 San Diego Chargers committed a somewhat respectable 28 turnovers, but 25 of those came via Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers.
This season, it has been deja miscue all over again. Norv Turner’s club has given up the football 14 times in six games, and a dozen of those came via Rivers. He had all six of the team’s turnovers in that forgettable 35-24 loss vs. the Broncos two weeks ago in which they blew a 24-0 halftime advantage.
Are we ready to put the star quarterback on the bench? No, but he and the passing attack will take a backseat to Ryan Mathews and the entire San Diego ground attack, one that should exploit the Browns' 24th-ranked rushing defense.
A mere 45 rushing attempts for 171 yards for Mathews, Jackie Battle, Ronnie Brown, etc., and with Rivers hitting on 14-of-19 passes for a pair of scores, the Chargers' get-back-to-basics approach yields a 27-19 road win.
Pete Carroll’s Pro Bowl-laden secondary is pretty imposing.
And thanks in part to their steady play, the Seattle Seahawks defense has emerged as one of the league’s best, ranking in the Top 10 in the NFL in yards allowed against the run and the pass.
That’s bad news for Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, who is off to a forgettable start following a season in which he set numerous team records.
The prolific passer has thrown just five touchdown passes in six games. That is amazing when you consider he equaled that total in last season’s regular-season finale at Lambeau Field.
This week, he’ll be spreading the wealth, but not in a positive way. Look for Brandon Browner, Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor each to have an interception at Ford Field.
Unfortunately for Carroll, those picks will all be for naught after Lions return artist Stefan Logan returns a punt 78 yards for a touchdown in the closing minutes in Detroit’s 23-20 win over the visiting Seahawks.
Aaron It Out?
Don’t look now, but Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is on a roll once again.
The 2011 NFL MVP was incredible last season, throwing 45 touchdown passes compared to only a half-dozen interceptions in 15 regular-season games.
This year, it had been quite the ordinary start for the productive signal-caller. He threw for only three scores and two interceptions during the team’s 1-2 start.
But Rodgers has really warmed up ever since. He's thrown at least three touchdown passes in each of his last four games—a total of 16 end-zone tosses over that span and only two picks.
In fact, the prolific one has thrown nine touchdown passes without an interception in his last two games. The Jaguars offense has scored eight touchdowns in six outings this season. Enough said.
But while Rodgers should put up some solid numbers against Jacksonville’s disappointing defense, look for the mobile quarterback to not only burn the Jaguars secondary for two scores but actually to run for three touchdowns in Green Bay’s 35-10 rout of Mike Mularkey’s club.
The Hills Are Alive
Not so bad after all.
Of course, we’re referring to the Miami Dolphins. They were almost dismissed before the season began and were certainly discarded after a humbling 30-10 loss to the Houston Texans in Week 1.
After a rout of the Oakland Raiders, Joe Philbin’s team dropped back-to-back overtime games against the Jets and Cardinals. At 1-3, the criticism started to trickle in.
But victories over the Cincinnati Bengals and St. Louis Rams have the Dolphins back at .500. One reason for that has been the unspectacular but steady play of rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who will finish his afternoon at MetLife Stadium with 232 yards through the air and a pair of scores.
But it won’t be enough against a Jets team that appears to have regained their confidence. Mark Sanchez will throw three touchdown passes to another rookie in wideout Stephen Hill, and New York is en route to a 30-21 victory.
The Real McCoy
Say what you will about the Philadelphia Eagles. It’s never boring.
With two weeks to think about another fourth-quarter collapse—an issue dating back to last season—Andy Reid’s club is hoping to put that setback to the Lions well behind them as they host the league’s lone unbeaten team.
Of course, the main target of criticism has been mistake-prone quarterback Michael Vick, who has thrown eight interceptions, lost five fumbles and been sacked 17 times. But there’s plenty of blame to go around when you’re 3-3 after six games and a combined 11-11 dating back to the start of 2011.
As for the Falcons, Mike Smith’s perfect club has been far from that despite the win-loss record. Atlanta has a major weakness when it comes to stopping the run, as it ranks 28th in the league in this department in terms of rushing yards per game allowed. Mike Nolan’s opportunistic unit has allowed 110-plus yards on the ground in every contest this season.
And Eagles running back LeSean McCoy will get that by himself and more, running for 155 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries as Reid’s club plucks the Falcons from the ranks of the unbeaten.
I’ve Seen Dwyer and I’ve Seen Rainey
Seven weeks into the 2012 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers have yet to win two games in a row.
Mike Tomlin’s team has also had trouble keeping his team healthy, most notably at running back, where both Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman have been limited.
Last week at Cincinnati, Tomlin’s club rolled up season-highs in carries (29) and rushing yards (167) in rallying for a 24-17 victory over the Bengals. Third-year runner Jonathan Dwyer rolled up 122 yards, while rookie Chris Rainey’s 11-yard touchdown run gave Pittsburgh the lead for good.
With Mendenhall out and Redman listed as questionable, the young duo will be called on again. And the Steelers could find some running room inside, especially if Redskins linebacker London Fletcher is unable to play.
This time, it’s Rainey who does the most damage and Dwyer who gets the glory, the former rushing for 91 yards and the latter scoring twice in a workmanlike 24-12 victory.
Lloyd of London
For the second time in four years, it’s New England at Old England.
Bill Belichick and Co. make their way overseas in what should be an interesting game with the improving St. Louis Rams.
Head coach Jeff Fisher has certainly changed the recent culture in the Gateway City. Like the rest of their NFC West brethren, the Rams play a little defense and know how to get after the quarterback.
Led by defensive ends Robert Quinn and Chris Long, Fisher’s club has totaled 21 sacks this season (although nine of those came at the expense of the Cardinals).
Still, the Rams front four can get the job done. But they figure to have their hands full against a former teammate in wide receiver Brandon Lloyd, tied for second on the team with 35 receptions but reaching the end zone just once in 2012.
Make it three times on Sunday as Tom Brady takes aim at one of the most physical cornerbacks in the league in Cortland Finnegan and gets the best of the one-time Titans Pro Bowler in the Patriots' 24-20 win.
By the way, think of the fun we could have had this week if London Fletcher was still playing for the Rams.
Johnson Plus Johnson
Will the real Chris Johnson refrain from standing up and just continue to run?
In all seriousness, we know what the former Pro Bowler is capable of. But for what has now been nearly one and a half seasons, Johnson has been incredibly up and down.
Last week, the Titans running back was certainly on the upswing, rushing for 195 yards and a pair of touchdowns on only 18 carries in a 35-34 win at Buffalo. Of course, given the Bills run defense, a cynic would certainly take issue with the performance.
But the facts are the facts, and a closer look shows that in three of his last four games, Johnson has run for 90-plus yards, hitting the century mark vs. Houston and Buffalo. That’s quite a bounce back considering his 45 yards rushing on 33 carries in the first three games in 2012.
Only once this season has Johnson carried the ball at least 25 times, but that will change Sunday against the Colts. And after scoring his first two touchdowns of the season last week, he’ll reach the end zone four times on 163 yards rushing in Tennessee’s 28-16 win.
Bowe Knows Football
It’s been an incredibly disappointing season to date for the Kansas City Chiefs.
Owners of a 1-5 record and losers of three straight games, Romeo Crennel’s club can hardly get out of its own way thanks to a league-high 21 turnovers in only six contests.
One somewhat bright spot has been the play of wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, at least in terms of production.
Before getting hurt and now subsequently taking a seat in favor of Brady Quinn, quarterback Matt Cassel threw five touchdown passes, and three were to Bowe. His 427 receiving yards are over 200 more than any other player on the team.
Enter the Oakland Raiders off an overtime victory over the Jaguars and winners of five straight games at Arrowhead Stadium.
Until Sunday, that is. Outscored 51-6 in the first quarter this season, the Chiefs make matters worse by giving up 10 quick points via another Quinn interception return for a score. But Bowe catches a pair of touchdown passes by the end of the wild first quarter, on his way to three scores by afternoon's end, and Crennel's club is finally back on the winning track.
Worked Once, It’ll Work Again
A golden opportunity awaits the Dallas Cowboys.
In the midst of their latest erratic season, Jason Garrett’s club is now back at the .500 mark off a 19-14 win at Carolina.
Now the Pokes return to Dallas, where home-field advantage has yet to materialize in their newest digs for Jerry Jones’ squad. And that’s especially true against Eli Manning and the New York Giants, who are a perfect 3-0 at Cowboys Stadium since the building opened in 2009.
But while Dallas has been up and down this season, they were certainly up in Week 1 at the Meadowlands, when Tony Romo overcame an early interception and threw for three scores in a 24-17 win. Of course, he got some help from running back DeMarco Murray, who ran for 131 yards that evening but won’t be available on Sunday.
But it won’t matter, especially if Felix Jones is healthy enough to make an appearance. With tight end Jason Witten starting to look like his old self, Romo and the Cowboys attack takes advantage of an overly-aggressive New York defense for a 27-21 win, completing the season sweep. And don’t be surprised if we hear from wide receiver Kevin Ogletree in this game (just a hunch).
Mr. Porter’s School
We’re going to assume that Denver Broncos cornerback Tracy Porter, listed as questionable on Friday’s injury report, will be ready to face his former New Orleans Saints teammates on Sunday night.
When last we saw quarterback Drew Brees in prime time, he was rallying his team from a 10-point third-quarter deficit to beat the Chargers.
And the last time Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning took the field, he was bringing his club all the way back from 24 down to beat those same Chargers, 35-24, on Monday Night Football.
That Sunday night vs. San Diego was the game in which Brees set the new league record for touchdown passes in consecutive games, which is now 49 and counting. And if or when he throws for a score at Denver, he would become only the seventh player in NFL history to reach 300 touchdown passes, a club that Manning and Broncos executive John Elway both belong to.
Somehow it’s only fitting that this is the first meeting between the quarterbacks since Super Bowl XLIV, when Manning’s Colts lost to Brees’ Saints. And this game will be dripping with even more irony when Porter steps in front of a pass from his former teammate and takes the Brees miscue 80 yards for a score, wrapping up Denver’s 31-21 victory.
Let’s Talk About Sacks
We’ll just throw it out there.
The NFL record for sacks in a game is 12, last accomplished by the New York Giants in 2007 against the Philadelphia Eagles and quarterback Donovan McNabb on a Sunday night at the Meadowlands.
Back in Week 3 in Seattle, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers was sacked eight times in the first half. But the Seahawks never got to him again—end of pursuit of record.
Fast forward five weeks to this Monday night at Arizona, and the Cardinals have not only allowed a league-high 35 sacks, but 29 of those have come in the last four games.
So here comes another shot at that record, but not from where you’re expecting. It will be the Arizona pass rush, with 22 sacks in seven games this season, harassing San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith all evening. And while asking for a dozen may be a little much, we see Smith going down 10 times in a rough loss to the Cardinals.