The 5-4 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, winners of 3 straight games, have already surpassed last season's win total
For those who are weekly readers of this column, let’s give us some credit where credit is due. Last week, we stated that the New Orleans Saints would gain 440 yards in their showdown with the Atlanta Falcons, and by gum, they did.
And we’re almost certain that every other prediction we made last week was spot-on.
Or was it spotty?
In any case, we’re back to enlighten, entertain and maintain our 1.000 batting average.
We have to admit that the games are becoming tougher and the stakes are getting higher, but we feel we're up to the task and we’ll never stop trying.
And we can’t tell you how many times we’ve been referred to as trying...
It seemed to be inevitable.
Following the preseason, when we saw Philadelphia Eagles rookie quarterback Nick Foles complete 63.5 percent of his passes and throw for six touchdowns (two interceptions), there were those out there who felt he deserved a shot at the starting job.
Last Sunday, in relief of Vick, the third-round pick from Arizona completed 22 of 32 passes for 219 yards and a score in the 38-23 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Foles also committed two turnovers that were each returned for touchdowns.
Now, Andy Reid’s team looks to end a five-game losing streak and somehow remain alive in the playoff chase.
But Mike Shanahan’s team did a little tweaking during its off week. The Redskins defense will return one of Foles’ three interceptions 45 yards for a touchdown as the Birds' plummet continues via a 20-12 setback.
The good news for the Detroit Lions is that they get to face Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers this Sunday.
The better news for Jim Schwartz’s team is that Rodgers’ backup from a season ago is no longer with team.
You may recall last season’s regular-season finale between these clubs—a 45-41 Green Bay win at Lambeau Field when Packers backup quarterback Matt Flynn threw six touchdown passes. That performance opened the door for him when free agency came calling, and he signed with the Seahawks, though he’s been start-less in Seattle to date.
Back to Rodgers, who in seven meetings with the Lions is 6-1, throwing 16 touchdown passes while being intercepted only four times. Now, consider that the reigning NFL MVP is on a tear these days, throwing for 15 scores and only one interception during Green Bay’s current four-game winning streak.
Five weeks ago at Houston, Rodgers threw a half-dozen touchdown passes, handing the Houston Texans their only loss of 2012. The Packers quarterback will equal that number on Sunday en route to a 49-35 Green Bay win over a Lions team that will do some damage against the Packers' injury-riddled defensive unit.
Say it ain’t so.
Save for an injury-shortened campaign in 2009 (when he still managed to run for 871 yards and 10 touchdowns in 11 games), Atlanta Falcons running back Michael Turner has managed 300-plus carries, 1,300 or more yards rushing and a minimum of 11 touchdowns in his previous three seasons with the team.
But it’s been a different story in 2012, although the transformation began late last season. Led by quarterback Matt Ryan, his triple-threat group of wideouts (Roddy White, Julio Jones) and all-time tight end Tony Gonzalez, the Falcons prefer to throw it these days and have done so very well.
What they haven’t done very well this season is run the football, ranking 26th in the NFL in rushing yards per game. Mike Smith’s club is also 25th in the league in run defense—bad news no matter how you slice it.
You’ll see the Falcons cure all those ills on Sunday with Turner, who will carry 31 times for 163 yards and three touchdowns in Atlanta’s 31-16 win over the visiting Arizona Cardinals.
It’s amazing to see the transformation of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from not only a season ago, but from earlier in 2012.
At this time a year ago, the Bucs were in the midst of a season-ending 10-game losing streak that turned a 4-2 start into a 4-12 nightmare.
These days, it’s actually Greg Schiano’s team and not the equally hot New Orleans Saints in second place in the NFC South. And who knows what will happen the rest of the way, although the Bucs do still have two games to play with the first-place Atlanta Falcons.
Back to this week, as Tampa faces Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers. Schiano’s club set the tone for both teams in Week 1 in a 16-10 win over Ron Rivera’s team, in which Carolina managed a mere 10 yards rushing.
Although he was held under 100 yards rushing last Sunday, Buccaneers running back Doug Martin has enjoyed a terrific November.
Despite a 16-tackle afternoon by Panthers rookie linebacker Luke Kuechly on Sunday, Tampa’s standout rookie will end the month on a high note thanks to a 72-yard touchdown run on the team’s first play from scrimmage—part of a 143-yard afternoon as Schiano’s club gets the sweep, 26-17.
How ‘bout...holding onto the football?
Despite a 4-5 record and more drama than an old episode of Dallas, “them” Dallas Cowboys are now just one game out of the loss column in the NFC East. This is an important stretch coming up for Jerry...uh, Jason’s Garrett’s team, as the Pokes play three straight home games and finish their season with five of their last seven at Cowboys Stadium.
Home may be where the heart is, but it’s also been less than an advantage for Garrett and company. In three games in front of their fans this season, the Cowboys are just 1-2 and have committed an astounding 14 turnovers in those contests, 12 of those turnovers caused by quarterback Tony Romo. That includes 10 interceptions, three of which were returned for touchdowns.
This week, Dallas picks up where it left off last week in Philadelphia. That means the Pokes will not commit a turnover for the third straight week, but will return an interception by Cleveland Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden 22 yards for a score in a 36-7 victory.
It also means that the Cowboys will win two straight games for the first time in nearly a year.
How ‘bout that?
Remember not so long ago when the New York Jets were beating up on the rebuilding Indianapolis Colts?
Back in Week 6, Rex Ryan’s club rolled up 252 yards rushing in a 35-9 win.
But that seems like ages ago. The Jets haven’t won a game since, losing by a combined score of 87-42 to the Patriots, Dolphins and Seahawks.
It hasn’t been much better for Jeff Fisher’s St. Louis Rams. Talk of this team being the league’s most improved squad (after a 3-2 start) has died down after the club went winless in its last four games, including a frustrating 24-24 tie with the San Francisco 49ers last Sunday.
It’s pretty safe to say that a loss here by either team would dash any slim postseason hopes the Jets or Rams may have.
Let’s just cut to the chase: After committing two turnovers in each of his last three games, Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez will complete 18 of 19 passes for 203 yards—including a pair of touchdown tosses to tight end Dustin Keller—and not cough up the football in a 23-21 win.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have won just once in nine games this season.
The Houston Texans have lost just once in nine games this season.
It doesn’t exactly make for a clash of the titans (with apologies to Tennessee).
Keep in mind that Mike Mularkey’s Jaguars have scored only 12 offensive touchdowns this season, while Gary Kubiak’s Texans have allowed only 13 offensive touchdowns.
Jacksonville has scored 127 points in nine games this season. Houston has totaled 149 points...in the first half in 2012.
Yes, we realize that we make bold predictions here, but if you’re looking for a major upset, you’re going to be disappointed.
Here’s the best we can do: The Jaguars will wind up with more quarterbacks (both Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne will again see action) than points, and Houston will get two more touchdowns from NFL leader Arian Foster and five field goals from Shayne Graham in a 29-0 victory.
What’s in a number?
Four was the magic figure in the Queen City last Sunday afternoon.
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton threw four touchdown passes. Marvin Lewis’ team also forced four turnovers and sacked New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning four times in a 31-13 win over the defending Super Bowl champions, snapping a 4-game losing streak in the process.
One has been a lonely number for the 1-8 Kansas City Chiefs, who have lost six consecutive games following their lone victory of the season in Week 3 at New Orleans.
One was also the number of turnovers that Romeo Crennel’s team committed last Monday night at Pittsburgh—a season low. But that lone miscue came in overtime and set up the Steelers' game-winning field goal in overtime.
The next number on Lewis’ list is 500—as in getting back to that mark if they can win Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.
Unfortunately, it will be No. 25 that hurts the Bengals the most that day in the form of Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles, who will total 25 carries for 148 yards and three scores as Crennel’s club gets win No. 1 at home this season, 24-20.
Nothing “to” it (see what we did there?).
It seems like a long time ago that current New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees was facing the Oakland Raiders on a regular basis.
Indeed, Brees’ days with the San Diego Chargers are sometimes forgotten given the enormous success he’s enjoyed in his seven seasons in the Big Easy.
Speaking of easy, it’s been anything but for veteran quarterback Carson Palmer. In his second year with the Silver and Black, Palmer has enjoyed his ups and downs. The latter includes a penchant for turnovers. In just 19 games with the Raiders dating back to last season, Palmer has committed 29 turnovers—25 of those interceptions.
Despite a 3-6 record in 2012, it’s been a productive season for the former Bengals signal-caller. Palmer has thrown 15 touchdown passes compared to nine picks, and his 2,723 passing yards rank third in the NFL.
The leader? Drew Brees.
So, what could we see on Sunday at Oakland, especially given the current state of both the Saints and Raiders defenses?
Anything is possible, so we’ll say Palmer throws for 402 yards. But the 4-5 Cajuns will get back to .500 thanks to an NFL-record 561 passing yards by Brees in a 45-36 victory by Joe Vitt’s team.
The numbers are downright perplexing.
San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has been one of the game’s better performers since becoming the team’s full-time starter in 2006. Only the New York Giants' Eli Manning has currently started more consecutive games at quarterback than Rivers.
But the only thing consistent about the Chargers' signal-caller these days is his erratic play.
Dating back to last season, San Diego has turned the ball over 47 times in 25 games, and Rivers has committed 40 of them. And as most will remember, six of those miscues came against the Denver Broncos on a Monday night six weeks ago, when the Bolts squandered a 24-0 halftime lead on the way to a stinging 35-24 loss.
Then there’s consistency in the form of Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, currently the league’s top-rated passer. The prolific passer has thrown two or more touchdown passes in all but two games and totaled 300 or more yards through the air in all but three contests this season.
But here’s a surprise: Rivers and the Chargers will play turnover-free football this day in Denver, and it’s Manning who will serve up a pair of interceptions. But it’s also the Broncos quarterback who will rally his team from a 24-10 third-quarter deficit to a 27-24 victory.
For the most part, we’ve gotten used to meetings between the Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots meaning something.
With both teams sitting at 6-3 and riding their own respective winning streaks, this encounter will be no different.
While veteran quarterback Tom Brady is having his usual stellar season, the same could be said for rookie signal-caller Andrew Luck, who has helped guide his team to its current four-game winning streak.
We say "helped" because it’s been far from a one-man show. Give a little credit to an Indianapolis defensive unit that has allowed only 288 yards rushing in its last four games after being pounded by the New York Jets for 252 yards on the ground.
While most will focus on the clash between Brady and Luck, the key to a Colts upset would be how well they may contain New England running back Stevan Ridley.
As it turns out, it won’t be so well, as the Patriots second-year runner will go off for 132 yards and a pair of scores.
Elsewhere, Andrew Luck will run out of luck, fumbling twice on sacks by the New England defense as Bill Belichick’s squad cools off the Colts, 31-10.
So nice, you get to type it twice (sort of).
In 2010, the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers finished with identical 12-4 records. The Steelers went on to win the AFC North, and the Ravens reached the playoffs as a wild card.
In 2011, the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers finished with identical 12-4 records. The Ravens went on to win the AFC North, and the Steelers reached the playoffs as a wild card.
Dating back to 2008, these AFC North adversaries have faced each other 10 times, including a pair of postseason encounters. And while the Black and Gold hold a 6-4 edge in those contests, Baltimore swept last season’s series.
Unfortunately for the Ravens, they’ve been without the defense we’ve come to know and fear for more than a decade. A number of factors have combined to reduce this unit to one of the league’s more porous groups.
Byron Leftwich will take over for Roethlisberger. Look for the veteran to respond in a big way. He will complete only 12 of 26 passes, but for 236 yards and two touchdowns, finding speedy receiver Mike Wallace on a couple of very deep throws.
More importantly, it will be another productive outing by the Pittsburgh ground game, which will roll up 161 yards against the once-formidable Baltimore defense in a fairly convincing 30-17 win by the Steelers.
That victory will leave these rivals with identical 7-3 records.
Then the real fun begins...
It was a rough day for two of the power teams in the league last Sunday.
Both the Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers, leaders in the NFC North and NFC West, respectively, failed to win home games last week, losing their starting quarterbacks in the process.
Although we’re not sure at this time about the status of San Francisco’s Alex Smith, veteran Jason Campbell gets the nod for Lovie Smith’s team.
The one-time Redskins and Raiders signal-caller completed 11 of 19 passes for 94 yards in relief of starter Jay Cutler last week in the Bears' 13-6 loss to the Houston Texans.
With the Chicago offense stuck in neutral last week, the Texans running game amassed a tidy 127 yards rushing on 35 carries, including 102 yards by Arian Foster.
Look for something similar in this contest. Only two teams in the league have given up fewer yards than San Francisco, and Jim Harbaugh’s team boasts the NFL’s top-ranked ground attack, led by Frank Gore.
While it will be a good evening for Bears running Matt Forte, it will be even better for Gore, who will rumble for 142 yards and a score in a hard-earned 17-9 win for the Niners.
Meanwhile, Smith’s team will fail to score a touchdown for the second consecutive week, and by Tuesday morning will be tied atop the NFC North at 7-3 with the Green Bay Packers.
Yep (stop us if you’ve heard this before), then the real fun begins...