Matt Schaub (left) and Gary Kubiak have the Houston Texans atop the AFC with an 11-1 record
Four weeks to go in the regular season, and all we know for sure is that the Atlanta Falcons, Denver Broncos and New England Patriots have won division titles and that the Houston Texans are playoff bound...
And, of course, we remain pretty much perfect with our bold predictions this season.
So who do we think will emerge as the remaining playoff participants? We’ll get some more answers this week, as the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers can wrap up playoff berths this coming week.
Rest assured, by the time Week 17 concludes, we will have accurately provided you will all 12 teams that will make the charge to Super Bowl XLVII.
Hey, don’t thank us. It comes with the job.
When the Baltimore Ravens and Washington Redskins take the FedExField on Sunday, we could possibly be seeing two teams headed in opposite directions.
That statement may be bold enough. But John Harbaugh’s team is coming off an unexpected 23-20 loss to the Ben Roethlisberger-less Steelers. And with the Redskins, Broncos, Giants and Bengals still left on the schedule, the road ahead appears to be tough.
That journey is made more difficult with a defense that remains shorthanded. On Sunday, the Ravens have to deal with the league’s top ground game, led by rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III (714) and rookie running back Alfred Morris (1,106), who have combined for 1,820 yards on the ground and 12 of their team’s 13 rushing touchdowns.
On Sunday, you can make that 14 of the team’s 15 rushing touchdowns, as the Redskins will roll up 251 yards on the ground—the most ever allowed by the Ravens. Mike Shanahan’s team will stay hot with a 29-20 victory.
Last week, the Kansas City Chiefs put a pretty awful Saturday behind them and won a game for the first time since mid-September.
Perhaps lost in the team’s 27-21 triumph over the Carolina Panthers (and understandably so) was the performance of quarterback Brady Quinn, who completed 19-of-23 passes for 201 yards and two touchdowns in the six-point win.
Now, the former Notre Dame signal-caller returns to Cleveland and to where it all began in 2007, when the franchise made him the 22nd overall pick in the draft. But things never worked out for Quinn, who was eventually dealt to the Denver Broncos and is now with the Chiefs.
This past April, the Browns once again used the 22nd pick in the draft to grab a quarterback: Brandon Weeden. Weeden, who turned 29 years old in October, has the Browns in position to win their third game in a row after a 2-8 start.
As for the 28-year-old Quinn, look for him and his team to struggle against a Cleveland defense that has been pretty steady all season. And too much Trent Richardson (173 yards rushing, to be exact) will add up to a 24-13 loss for the visiting Chiefs.
The window for a championship may be starting to close more quickly for the San Diego Chargers.
Following four straight AFC West titles, the Bolts were a non-playoff team in 2010 and 2011, winning nine and eight games, respectively.
At 4-8, losers of four straight games and with the Denver Broncos already crowned AFC West champions, the end may be near for the current regime in San Diego.
Something the Chargers would love to end themselves is the franchise’s frustrations in the city of Pittsburgh. Despite playoff wins at the since-demolished Three Rivers Stadium in 1982 and 1994, the Bolts are 0-14 lifetime in the regular season in the Steel City.
Four years ago, the Steelers edged the Chargers 11-10 at Heinz Field. And this week, in the spirit of odd final scores, Mike Tomlin’s team will get a safety, two more field goals and a Ben Roethlisberger touchdown pass in a 15-0 victory—leaving the Chargers (you guessed it) 0-15 in the regular season at Pittsburgh.
The Indianapolis Colts have given up 41 more points than they’ve scored, their defense is ranked 21st overall in terms of yards allowed, and their rookie quarterback has turned over the ball 21 times.
So, of course, they’re 8-4 and right in the thick of the AFC playoff race.
Led by Andrew Luck and a spirit for their courageous head coach Chuck Pagano, the Colts have a chance to write one of the greatest stories ever—one made even better if last season’s 2-14 disaster turns into a Cinderella-like invitation to postseason ball.
Luck’s 21 miscues have been offset by his 17 touchdown tosses and five scoring runs. But that Indianapolis defense remains an issue, both against the run and the pass.
Enter Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson, on the verge of another 1,000-yard season after running for a combined 45 yards in his first three games.
The former Pro Bowler is indeed the workhorse in this tilt, and by afternoon’s end, he will have run for 223 yards and a pair of scores. But as has been the case with Mike Munchak’s team during most of 2012, it will simply add up to a 28-23 loss to Luck and the scrappy Colts.
Safe to say that the headline above could describe not only the New York Jets' travel plans for the weekend, but the team’s recent performance as well.
Unsurprisingly, a lot of the blame these days for the team’s 2-4 record in its last six games has fallen upon fourth-year quarterback Mark Sanchez, who took a seat last week after throwing three interceptions vs. the Arizona Cardinals and watched third-stringer Greg McElroy lead the Jets to a 7-6 victory.
Despite speculation that Sanchez (with 12 touchdown passes and 18 turnovers this season) was ready to take a seat on the bench for a spell, head coach Rex Ryan opted to give his former first-round pick another chance this week as the team faces the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Mike Mularkey’s team has been better as of late in putting points on the board, but Jacksonville’s defense has been a major disappointment.
Enter Sanchez, who will throw for 257 yards and three scores, add two rushing touchdowns and won't commit a turnover in a 35-20 win in sunny Florida.
Is it possible that one loss could affect a team that much?
Let’s go back to Week 10 on a Sunday evening at Soldier Field, where the 7-1 Chicago Bears, winners of six straight games, hosted the equally formidable 7-1 Houston Texans on a misty night in the Windy City.
A turnover fest turned into a slugfest, and by night’s end, the Texans were 13-6 winners. Lovie Smith’s team also lost quarterback Jay Cutler during the game, and the strong-armed passer was unavailable a week later vs. the 49ers.
In any case, the Bears have followed up that loss to Houston with two more setbacks in three games and, at 8-4, are once again tied with the Green Bay Packers atop the NFC North.
But no more.
In Chicago’s 28-10 win over the Minnesota Vikings two weeks ago, running back Adrian Peterson managed to rush for 108 yards on 18 carries. You can add 10 more attempts and 50 more yards to those totals this Sunday.
Lovie Smith and company will start to get a little nervous after a 27-24 loss at the Metrodome in which quarterback Jay Cutler throws three touchdown passes and just as many interceptions.
The Atlanta Falcons have won 11-of-12 games this season, making them one of the league’s most consistent teams in 2012.
The Falcons have also been incredibly consistent when it comes to beating the Carolina Panthers. Mike Smith’s team has knocked off its divisional foe five straight times dating back to 2010. Amazingly, the Falcons have scored 30-plus points in each of those victories.
For the most part, it’s been a very disappointing season for second-year quarterback Cam Newton. But last season’s Offensive Rookie of the Year has looked better as of late, despite the team’s lack of success win-wise. The Panthers leader has thrown six touchdown passes and zero interceptions in his last three games, also running for two scores.
You can look for Newton to get his yards and points this week against the suspect Falcons defense, which had problems stopping the Panthers in this season’s first meeting—a 30-28 Atlanta victory.
But despite a big day from the Carolina quarterback, look for Mike Smith’s team to get back in its groove when it comes away with a 31-30 victory.
Apparently, the Bryce is right. And wrong.
OK, enough with the word play.
Over the last two games, Philadelphia Eagles rookie running back Bryce Brown has been electrifying and excruciating.
He rushed for 178 and 169 yards vs. the Panthers and Cowboys, respectively, also scoring twice in each contest. However, the seventh-round pick from Kansas State has also fumbled three times and lost the ball each time, making him very hit-or-miss.
But while Brown has opened some eyes in recent weeks, Buccaneers rookie Doug Martin has been doing it all season. The former Boise State product is tied for third in the NFL with 1,106 yards rushing, and his 10 total touchdowns have him tied for second in the league.
Add in the fact that the Buccaneers defense is the best in the NFL against the run, and Brown will find that out the hard way, limited to 43 yards on a dozen carries, while Martin cruises for 153 yards and three scores in Tampa Bay’s 31-16 win over the plummeting Eagles.
Five wins in the first 12 games of the season can mean two totally different things depending on your perspective.
For the new-look St. Louis Rams, it means more than double their 2011 total of two wins.
For the Buffalo Bills, it’s the reality of knowing they have to run the table to secure their first winning seasons since 2004.
And with Jeff Fisher on the opposing sidelines, it’s also a reminder that the last time the Bills played in a postseason game, it was Fisher’s Tennessee Titans that gave us the “Music City Miracle” in the 1999 playoffs.
Still, despite the improvement shown by Fisher and his Rams, the team is just 1-6 outside its own division, including 0-3 vs. AFC East foes.
But after a three-yard touchdown run by running back Steven Jackson with six seconds left, St. Louis will appear to be on its way to a win.
However, on the ensuing kickoff, the Bills will utilize a lateral or two, and Leodis McKelvin (already with two punt returns for touchdowns this season) will wind up with the ball in his hands and be on his way to the end zone.
One touchdown and one PAT later, Chan Gailey’s club will escape with a miraculous 22-16 victory.
Yep, we’re going with this scenario until it finally works.
In 2003, Bill Parcells began his head coaching stint with the Dallas Cowboys. With the fifth overall pick that April, he selected Kansas State cornerback Terence Newman.
Nine seasons and 32 interceptions later (three returned for touchdowns), he proved to be a pretty solid pick for the Pokes.
But time marches on, and with the Cowboys pass defense needing a lot of help at the corners, the team decided to part ways with Newman in 2012 and instead added Brandon Carr via free agency and Morris Claiborne via the draft.
Newman is currently with the Cincinnati Bengals and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer. The duo previously spent some time together in Dallas.
Sunday at Cincinnati will prove to be a bittersweet reunion for Newman, who will pick off former teammate Tony Romo three times and take one back for a 73-yard score.
But the Cowboys quarterback will also have his old friend seeing a bit of red late in the game. Look for Miles Austin to take a short pass and, at Newman's expense, turn it into a 65-yard touchdown. The score will prove to be the difference in Dallas’ crucial 20-16 victory over the Bengals.
So much for the obligatory “it’s great to see you guys.”
If you’re tuning in on Sunday to see one of the league’s premier pass-rushers when the Miami Dolphins face the San Francisco 49ers, you won’t be disappointed.
Just make sure you’re looking for the right guy.
While second-year outside linebacker Aldon Smith leads the league with an imposing 17.5 sacks, it is Dolphins defensive end Cameron Wake who will make the bigger impression on Sunday.
Although both Smith and Wake—the latter with 11.0 sacks this season—will be taking aim at a pair of relatively inexperienced quarterbacks, it should be noted that Dolphins rookie Ryan Tannehill will be making his 13th start, while second-year pro Colin Kaepernick will be making his fourth for the Niners.
The latter will have a tough time avoiding Wake, who will total five sacks by day’s end.
But it’s Smith and the 49ers who will have the last laugh on Sunday, as the second-year defender will bat a ball near the goal line that's picked off and returned for a touchdown by teammate NaVorro Bowman. San Francisco will go on to win 13-10.
You have to give credit where credit is due.
In 2001, the San Diego Chargers used the first pick in the second round of the NFL draft on quarterback Drew Brees.
Three years later, the Chargers used the first overall selection in the draft on quarterback Eli Manning.
These star signal-callers have combined to lead their teams to three of the last five Super Bowl titles.
Those teams would be the New Orleans Saints and New York Giants.
In any case, it’s the latter that is the defending champion these days. But at 7-5, Tom Coughlin’s club owns just a one-game lead in the NFC East ahead of both the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys.
For the Saints, a five-interception outing by Brees a week-and-a-half ago at Atlanta dropped the Cajuns' record to 5-7. And with the NFC South already wrapped up, the playoffs are a fleeting thought.
But it’s Eli’s turn for one of those days, and he will be picked off five times by a team with just eight interceptions this season. And thanks to a pair of returns for scores, the Giants will fall at home to the Saints 35-23.
That will leave these two champions with something else in common.
We’ve come an awfully long way since Week 1 at Arizona.
That was the regular-season debut for Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, who completed 18-of-34 passes for 153 yards and a touchdown in the team’s 20-16 loss to the Cardinals.
The rookie signal-caller also threw an interception, lost a fumble and was sacked three times in the setback. That lone interception came courtesy of veteran safety Adrian Wilson.
This Sunday in Seattle, you will see something tremendous come to an end. But more importantly, you will also see something remain status quo this season.
In five home games this season, all wins, Russell Wilson has thrown 11 touchdown passes without an interception. This week, the other Wilson will strike again, this time returning a pick 33 yards for a score.
Unfortunately for Ken Whisenhunt’s team, it will be the lone touchdown of the afternoon for his club. Wilson will throw for a pair of scores in a 23-7 victory, keeping the Seahawks unscathed at home.
Does anyone recognize the picture accompanying this slide?
It’s obviously not Matthew Stafford. And you can also rule out Joey Harrington, Scott Mitchell and even Bobby Layne.
All kidding aside, it is a photo of Detroit Lions quarterback Erik Kramer circa 1991.
What’s with the old pictures? Well, we thought you’d like to see who was the last Lions starting quarterback to beat the Green Bay Packers on the road.
Yep, that was not only 21 years ago, it was also 21 straight losses to the Packers ago. That would be 17 regular-season setbacks at Lambeau Field dating back to 1995, another playoff loss there in 1994 and, prior to that, three straight defeats at Milwaukee from 1992-1994, when the Pack somewhat split their time between the two venues.
These days, the Lions have lost four straight. That includes a 24-20 setback three weeks ago at Ford Field.
But we said 21 and over, and that’s true—because Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will light up the Detroit secondary, still reeling from last Sunday’s home loss to the Indianapolis Colts, for 341 yards and five touchdowns in Green Bay’s 41-21 win.
Despite being tied with the Atlanta Falcons for the league’s best record at 11-1, there seems to be a shadow of doubt cast over the Houston Texans.
Perhaps it’s because in that lone loss of the season, Gary Kubiak’s team was taken apart in its own building by one of the league’s best quarterbacks, as Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers threw six touchdown passes in the Packers’ 42-24 win.
Since then, the Texans have reeled off six straight wins. And while their formidable defense has shown some cracks as of late, it's also coming off a six-sack, six-takeaway afternoon against the Tennessee Titans.
Of course, this is New England and quarterback Tom Brady, he of 25 touchdown passes and just four interceptions in 2012.
In this prime-time showdown between AFC powers, both the Texans and Patriots are riding six-game winning streaks. Some may not realize that the former is also the lone unbeaten team on the road this season at 6-0.
Speaking of six (baby), that will be the number of touchdown passes thrown by Brady this night in a 42-24 win by the home team.
And let the chase for the conference’s best record commence.