Lovie Smith and the 7-1 Chicago Bears host the 7-1 Houston Texans on Sunday night
The 8-0 Atlanta Falcons continue to surprise many of those who keep predicting on a weekly basis that this will be the game that costs the team a perfect season.
Well, the same can be said for this column, which has made a habit of forecasting the outlandish and has yet to be incorrect on any of its predictions.
You can go back and look it up. Hey, who are we to argue with those who want to look at those past pieces and give us a few more reads?
In all seriousness, it’s been a terrific first nine weeks of the 2012 season. You can’t make up some of the things we have seen to date.
Of course, we are willing to try.
It’s not easy being Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning.
The legendary signal-caller is admired by fans and fellow players alike. Seeing him perform so well in 2012 after sitting out last season is certainly a sight to behold.
When Manning and his 419 career touchdown passes take the field on Sunday at Carolina, he needs one scoring toss to tie Pro Football Hall of Famer Dan Marino (420) for second place on that all-time list.
Manning has also rushed for 17 scores in 216 regular-season games. But that’s one short of the 18 totaled by Panthers quarterback Cam Newton (18) in 24 career contests.
So the former Indianapolis Colts signal-caller will come up with a little one-stop shopping in the team’s 31-21 win at Carolina. Manning will throw for two scores, passing Marino, and will also run for a pair of touchdowns, surpassing Newton’s personal total.
For good measure, the Broncos quarterback will pass for 228 yards vs. the Panthers, giving him one more yard than Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck in 2012.
What a difference less than a year makes.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers lost their final 10 games in 2011 and were pretty offensive in the process.
These days, it’s Greg Schiano’s offensive attack that is opening some eyes.
For the most part, the Bucs haven’t been stopped this season. At 4-4, the team has already equaled its win total of a year ago. In their last four contests, Schiano’s club has scored an impressive 144 points, giving Tampa Bay 226 points in their first eight games.
Not bad considering this club totaled only 287 points in 2011.
While rookie running back Doug Martin has been red-hot as of late, and third-year receiver Mike Williams has been solid, the focus here is on former San Diego Chargers wideout Vincent Jackson.
The free-agent addition is in his first season in Tampa, and while he’s totaled only 31 receptions, that’s good enough to lead the Bucs in catches. More significantly, those grabs have been for a whopping 710 yards (22.9 average) and six touchdowns.
No doubt Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers misses his big-play target. But at least he’ll get the chance to say hello before Jackson goes on to torch the San Diego secondary for five receptions, good for 141 yards and a pair of scores as Tampa holds off the Bolts, 31-28.
It’s already been a season that the Tennessee Titans wouldn’t care to remember.
That’s because the team has won just three times in nine outings, surrendering a ridiculous 308 points in the process. Consider that this was a team that finished 9-7 and allowed 317 points in 2011.
Last week versus the Chicago Bears, Mike Munchak’s club gave up 28 first-quarter points via a blocked punt, a rushing and receiving touchdown, and an interception return for a score. It was the start of a long afternoon in what proved to be a 51-20 setback.
Munchak’s squad heads to Miami this week to face an improved Dolphins team that has become fairly resourceful when it comes to scoring points.
When it’s all said and done, Joe Philbin’s club will parlay a safety, a Reggie Bush touchdown run, a Davone Bess scoring reception, a fumble recovery by defensive end Cameron Wake, an interception return by cornerback Sean Smith, a punt return by Marcus Thigpen and a Dan Carpenter field goal into a 40-19 win over the stunned Titans.
Here’s what we’ve learned the last three times the Buffalo Bills and New England Patriots have squared off dating back to last season.
Don’t change that channel.
While those who enjoy the game of blackjack are in search of a 21, it’s a number these teams will try to avoid this Sunday in Foxborough.
Last season at Orchard Park, the Patriots jumped out to a 21-0 lead only to see the Bills rally for a 34-21 win.
Three months later at New England, Buffalo opened up a 21-0 lead and watched the Pats score 49 unanswered points in a 49-21 loss.
And six weeks ago at Buffalo, Chan Gailey’s squad opened up a 21-7 third-quarter advantage, then watched New England outscore them 45-7 the rest of the way, as the Patriots came away with a 52-28 win.
This one is simple. The Bills defense will unexpectedly come up big when it has to, and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s streak of 40 straight games with a touchdown pass will end. But Stephen Gostkowski will go on to kick seven field goals in a 21-10 win over Buffalo.
Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery…unless you’re getting flattened.
When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers chose running back Doug Martin with the 31st selection in April’s draft, the comparisons were almost immediate. The versatile performer from Boise State had to remind Greg Schiano of running back Ray Rice, who the newest head coach of the Bucs had utilized in fine fashion at Rutgers.
It’s been a productive four-plus seasons for Rice, who was the league leader in total yards from scrimmage in 2011 and enters Week 10 fourth in the NFL in the same category.
Back to Martin, who followed up a terrific game at Minnesota with a spectacular performance against the Oakland Raiders, rushing for 251 yards and four touchdowns in the team’s 42-32 victory.
This week, Dennis Allen’s team travels east to Baltimore to face a 6-2 Ravens team that has some doubters these days, with most of those question marks surrounding their defensive unit.
But there’s no doubting the similarities between Martin and Rice, and Rice will run for 202 yards and three scores in his team’s 30-21 victory over the visiting Raiders.
For a lot of different reasons, it was an unprecedented offseason for the New Orleans Saints.
Eight games into 2012, we are also seeing numbers on the field that have us scratching our heads.
Who would have thought that when the Saints gave up 421 total yards and lost to the Green Bay Packers, 28-27, in Week 4 at Lambeau Field, that it would be the team’s best defensive performance of 2012?
Astoundingly, it’s been a difficult first season in the Big Easy for coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, whose unit has given up 3,770 total yards in eight contests (471.3 yards per game). By the way, the NFL record for total yards allowed in a season is 6,793 held by the 1981 Colts, who resided in Baltimore at the time.
But back to this week’s tilt with the Atlanta Falcons, who remain the league’s lone unbeaten club. Saints quarterback Drew Brees has made a habit out of beating this NFC South rival since he arrived in New Orleans in 2006, posting a filthy 10-2 mark against the “Dirty Birds.”
They say all good things must come to an end, and that is often true. But that goes for the bad as well.
Spagnuolo’s unit will clamp down and hold the Falcons to “only” 334 yards of total offense while the Saints roll up 440 of their own. But that won't prevent Brees from throwing three interceptions in a 23-21 loss at the Superdome that makes the Saints' run at a playoff berth that much tougher.
Interim head coach Joe Vitt will be left scratching his head following the team’s sixth loss in nine games.
It’s like clockwork.
For the third straight season and the sixth time in eight years, the New York Giants opened the first half of the season with a 6-2 record.
That’s when the real fun begins. Last Sunday, Tom Coughlin’s team was held to 182 total yards in a 24-20 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Obviously, there were a lot of circumstances away from the football field that may have affected the defending Super Bowl champions. Nonetheless, the talk soon turned to another recent trend by the franchise.
The second-half slump.
A year ago, the Giants' 6-2 start was followed by four straight losses and five setbacks in six games. Obviously, the team gathered itself in time to reach the playoffs and win the Super Bowl.
But it is one of those inexplicable facts that is obviously hard to figure.
Meanwhile, who can explain the Cincinnati Bengals, who have lost four straight after opening the season 3-1?
One explanation could be a disappointing defense that hasn’t looked like the unit that helped get the team to the playoffs in 2011. Another could be second-year quarterback Andy Dalton, who has thrown more touchdown passes (14) than interceptions (11) but has been picked off at least once in all eight games this season.
Dalton will play error-free football, BenJarvus Green-Ellis will run for 113 yards and two touchdowns, and the former Patriots running back will exact a little Super Bowl revenge vs. the G-Men. The Bengals win, 23-14.
We were just getting used to the Minnesota Vikings becoming a contender in the NFC North. And there’s nothing to say that they still aren't.
But we’re about to learn all we need to know about Leslie Frazier’s team. Beginning with this week’s rematch with the Detroit Lions, the Vikings face NFC North foes Chicago and Green Bay on the road, followed by a home game against the Bears.
The Vikings are struggling as they enter this crucial stretch. Once 4-1, they have dropped three of their last four games. In those losses, they have allowed at least 30 points in each setback.
Meanwhile, the Lions may have gotten a wake-up call after losing at home to Minnesota in Week 4, 20-13. Jim Schwartz’s club has won two straight and three of its last four, turning a 1-3 mark into 4-4.
So where are we headed here? You can expect the Vikings' woes to continue. It's more than second-year quarterback Christian Ponder throwing eight interceptions in his last five games. After giving up just 78.6 yards per game on the ground during their 4-1 start, the Vikings have allowed 120 or more yards rushing in four straight contests.
The Lions ran for a season-high 149 yards last Sunday at Jacksonville and will top that figure at the Metrodome. Mikel Leshoure will rush for 123 yards and a pair of scores in a 24-14 win.
Earlier this season, Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll welcomed one of his former employers to the Pacific Northwest and, thanks to some late heroics, pulled off a 24-23 win over the New England Patriots.
But before he led the Pats for three seasons (1997-1999), Carroll was the head coach of the New York Jets in 1994. It was over for Carroll almost before it started that season, as the Jets lost their last five games after opening 6-5. Jets fans will remember that year quite well.
Now Rex Ryan and his slumping 3-5 team, losers of two straight, will arrive in Seattle knowing the Seahawks are 4-0 at home.
Still, this is a scrappy Jets team that will take the field on Sunday. Despite trailing 20-16, they will find themselves on the move in the fourth quarter. With a 1st-and-goal situation at the Seattle 3-yard line with 24 seconds to play, out will go starting quarterback Mark Sanchez, and in will come Tim Tebow as Ryan’s team will attempt to bull its way into the end zone.
After Tebow is stopped after a 1-yard gain, he and the offense will get up to the line quickly to kill the clock. But instead, Tebow will fake the spike and whip a pass to wideout Jeremy Kerley in the end zone with 12 seconds remaining as the Jets stun Carroll and company, 23-20.
Talk about two teams headed in the same direction...
One season after the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles both finished 8-8, each has dropped five of its first eight games. Quarterbacks Tony Romo and Michael Vick have had their issues holding onto the football, as both the Pokes and Birds have committed 19 turnovers, tied for next to last in the NFL.
Rushing the quarterback has been hit or miss for both teams. Cowboys outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware has more than half (9.0) of his team’s 16 sacks, while the Eagles have totaled only 11 sacks one season after tying for the league lead (50) in this department.
Both clubs have also been spotty against the run. But while the Cowboys' ground game has been in shambles due to injuries, Philadelphia is 10th in the NFL in rushing, thanks in large part to LeSean McCoy (623 yards) and in small part to Vick, who’s run for 200 yards but just one score.
Considering the presence of Ware (who sacked Vick six times in two games last season) and that the Eagles quarterback was sacked seven times on Monday night at the Superdome, Vick will opt to call his own number more often this week.
He will run for 103 yards and find the end zone twice with his legs in Philadelphia’s 17-9 win.
How 'bout that, Cowboys?
It’s probably been a long two weeks for the St. Louis Rams. They are showing improvement but were stomped in London by the New England Patriots, 45-7, when last they took the field.
Perhaps it’s also been a long few weeks for the San Francisco 49ers. Jim Harbaugh’s club is probably chomping at the bit, considering the way its defense has been playing of late.
Following a 24-13 loss to the Minnesota Vikings in Week 3 in which the Niners allowed a season-high 344 total yards and three offensive touchdowns, Harbaugh’s club has won four of five games, having given up a total of 38 points and two touchdowns, with 26 points and both of those touchdowns coming in the loss to the New York Giants.
While it’s been a fine bounce-back season for quarterback Sam Bradford, he and the St. Louis offense will wind up not knowing what hit them.
Last season at San Francisco, the 49ers blanked the Rams, 26-0. Thanks to running back Frank Gore and another efficient outing by quarterback Alex Smith, along with that defense, add one more touchdown to last year’s score and the Niners will emerge with a 33-0 win.
There’s only been one shutout in the league this season, and it came courtesy of Harbaugh’s club—a 34-0 victory over the Jets in Week 4.
Now you can make it two.
You don’t have to be defensive…although it certainly never hurts.
Forget that the Houston Texans and Chicago Bears are both 7-1 as they prepare to square off Sunday night at Soldier Field.
This prime-time tilt in the Windy City features a pair of performers who have garnered the most attention when it comes to capturing Defensive Player of the Year honors.
And neither of these players will disappoint in this possible Super Bowl XLVII preview. (There, I said it.)
Bears cornerback Charles Tillman can always be found around the football, forcing seven fumbles and returning a pair of interceptions for touchdowns this season. With the score tied 17-all in the fourth quarter, he will blitz Texans quarterback Matt Schaub, get the sack, strip and fumble recovery. That turnover will set up a Robbie Gould field goal that will give Chicago a 20-17 lead.
But with 3:24 to play and Bears quarterback Jay Cutler looking to convert 3rd-and-8 from his 11-yard line, Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, the league leader with 10.5 sacks, will deflect Cutler’s throw into his own hands and run in for what proves to be the game-winning score in Houston’s 24-20 victory.
Sometimes you have to expect the unexpected.
It’s been a miserable season for the 1-7 Kansas City Chiefs, who’ve won just once and have yet to lead a game in regulation. They have lost their last five games while committing a ghastly 29 turnovers.
This Monday night, they run into one of the league’s hotter teams in the Pittsburgh Steelers, who also appeared to be on their way to a long year before finding themselves and reeling off three straight victories after a 2-3 start.
These days, Mike Tomlin’s offensive coordinator is Todd Haley, who at this time last season was still the head coach of the Chiefs. He was fired following a 37-10 loss to the Jets in Week 14.
Since it did not end well in Kansas City, some forget that Haley led this team to a 10-6 record and the AFC West title in 2010. That season, the efficient Chiefs turned over the ball only 14 times in 16 regular-season games before imploding against the Ravens in the playoffs.
Somewhat inspired by the sight of the former coach, Kansas City will play turnover-free football for the first time this season—quite a feat considering it had given up the ball at least twice in each of its first eight games.
But zero mistakes is matched by a goose egg on the scoreboard, as Pittsburgh will blank Romeo Crennel’s team, 23-0.