Last Week: 8-6
Denver vs. Cincinnati
Don't look now, but Peyton Manning is seriously "back." After putting on a clinic last week, admittedly against a pathetic Saints defense, Manning looks to keep things going against Mike Zimmer's group in Cincinnati. Andy Dalton is in the midst of a serious sophomore slump. While I think he'll start to play better, it won't be enough against the Broncos.
Baltimore vs. Cleveland
The bye week could not have come at a better time for the Ravens. They were already giving up around 200 yards on the ground every week. Then against the Texans, after injuries to Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb, the pass defense started hemorrhaging yards as well. The Browns have a ton of their own issues, not the least of which is an absurdly simplistic offensive scheme. The Ravens win on a last-second field goal.
Arizona vs Green Bay
The Packers have been weathering a serious rash of injuries. There's a good chance Jordy Nelson won't play again, and with Greg Jennings still sidelined, that could seriously throw off Aaron Rodgers' game the way the Jaguars did.
With that said, the Cardinals are a mess on the offensive side of the ball. Dom Capers and company will do enough to shut Arizona down and get the Packers their sixth win.
Chicago vs. Tennessee
The Bears are living dangerously, getting through games with (and often scoring with) defense while their offense continues to struggle to find an identity. But the Titans are the perfect team to face when you want to get your offense on track. The Titans aren't going to be able to find much success against the Bears' defense. The Bears win walking away.
Miami vs. Indianapolis
The Dolphins and Colts are surprisingly still in the playoff mix halfway through the season, after most observers, including yours truly, had them in the running for a Top Five draft pick before Week 1 even kicked off. The main reason both teams are surprising is due to the play of their quarterbacks. Ryan Tannehill makes one more play than Andrew Luck to give the Dolphins a big road win.
Carolina vs. Washington
RGIII and the Redskins had trouble against Dick LeBeau's 3-4 defense. They won't have the same issues against Sean McDermott's Panthers defense, though Carolina played much better on defense against Chicago than it had been prior to its bye week. Cam Newton and the Panthers' offense, however, are still a bit of a mess. The Redskins outlast the Panthers in a shootout.
Detroit vs. Jacksonville
The Lions finally found some offense against the Seahawks. The Jaguars actually moved the ball quite well against the Packers. The difference in this game will be the defense that is able to force a few punts and possibly create a turnover or two. My bet is Mel Tucker's guys get that job done, while Gunther Cuningham's guys struggle to do so.
Buffalo vs. Houston
The Texans and Bills are both coming off their bye week and should have a few un-scouted wrinkles for each other. Much of the lead-up to this game has centered on the return of Mario Williams to Houston, but the story of this game will be the Texans' offense being able to move at will against Dave Wannstedt's defense. Matt Schaub will find a bunch of open real estate downfield once Arian Foster starts ripping off a few big runs early in the game.
Tampa Bay vs. Oakland
The Buccaneers looked like a real playoff contender against the Vikings last Thursday night. The Raiders have looked like a team that's at least a couple of years away from competing. The Bucs have a couple of major issues, one being the inconsistent play of their quarterback, the other being their issues against the pass.
The Raiders, however, aren't exactly equipped to take advantage of either of those weaknesses. The Raiders will keep it close, but the Bucs pull away in the second half.
Minnesota vs. Seattle
The Vikings looked a bit exposed against the Bucs, especially their lack of a real passing game. If Percy Harvin doesn't create out of the slot, the outside receivers are simply not winning outside the hashmarks when defenses stack the box to stop Adrian Peterson. The Seahawks are a tough defense anywhere, but they are particularly tough at home. This could end up a 10-9 win for the home team.
Pittsburgh vs. New York Giants
The Steelers are in the midst of salvaging their season after everyone had written them off after losing to the Titans a few weeks ago. It's what they do. What the Giants do is play efficient football on both sides of the ball unless Eli Manning suddenly goes through one of his mystifying "Bad Eli" phases. While I think the Steelers can score on the Giants, the Giants' wide receivers will be the difference in this game.
Dallas vs. Atlanta
The Cowboys are a mediocre team, yet we are subjected to them on prime time. Again. I guess if they produce another thrilling finish, the NFL doesn't care, but NBC is aware there are other teams, right? Just wondering.
Anyway, the Falcons have found a downfield passing attack and Matt Ryan is having a great year (save for a few boneheaded interceptions). That said, I think the Cowboys match up well on defense and keep this close. Unfortunately, that's exactly the type of game Jason Garrett and Tony Romo have spent the last two years figuring out how to lose.
Philadelphia vs. New Orleans
After getting their buts kicked by the Falcons, the Eagles held a "players only" meeting. This usually ends one of two ways: The team uses the meeting as a major jump-start to an improved season, or the team completely falls apart. I'm sorry, Eagles fans, but I see this going the "falls apart" way.
The Saints are terrible, I mean straight-up terrible, on defense. It won't matter. Drew Brees and company get back on track after being embarrassed against the Broncos.