Where to begin? So many five-star games this weekend in the NFL and it’d be a crime to not mention them all. Entering the weekend with a 12-7 record, the goal is still the same: a clean sweep in my predictions. Easier said than done. This week includes several games against equally-matched opponents where a coin toss could easily decide the winner. Don’t believe me? Check for yourself.
Dallas Cowboys (5-2) vs. Philadelphia Eagles (5-2)
This should be a simple prediction right? The Cowboys lost to the New York Giants earlier in the season. The Eagles just smacked those same Giants 40-17 last week so… well… things aren’t that simple. The Cowboys aren’t the same team they were six weeks ago and the Eagles have shown they can lay an egg at any time as evidenced by their loss to the Oakland Raiders. But Philadelphia will be all ears for this divisional rivalry on Sunday.
The Eagles are never out of a game with QB Donovan McNabb pulling the strings and he loves sticking it to Dallas. The last time Philadelphia met Dallas in a big game in Philly, they dismantled the ‘Boys 44-6 in demoralizing fashion and knocked Dallas out of the playoff hunt. The ‘Boys have had all summer to stew over that last game and should come out swinging against the Eagles on Sunday night.
Dallas has turned in their most complete performances of the season in their last two games, outscoring Atlanta and Seattle 75-38. Things have been clicking on all cylinders for the ‘Boys ever since third-year receiver Miles Austin started making big plays. Austin has restored the big play ability back in Dallas and the ‘Boys have been reaping the rewards ever since. His speed backs opposing safeties away from the line and with a few of the ‘Boys’ offensive stars getting healthy again, Dallas is becoming a scary team.
There isn’t a better receiver in the NFC East right now than Eagles’ wideout DeSean Jackson, and McNabb loves finding him. The play of Jackson and McNabb have compensated for injuries along the Eagles’ offensive line and backfield. Philadelphia may be without the services of explosive running back Brian Westbrook but rookie LeSean McCoy has played well in absence of the All-Pro. Between DeSean and LeSean, the future is bright in Philadelphia.
The Cowboys will arrive in Philadelphia as the healthier bunch between the two teams but the Eagles never lack for confidence. Both teams know each other well and the contest surely won’t play out like last week’s demolition of the Giants. Philadelphia fed off turnovers and a depleted secondary against New York but the ‘Boys have been playing turnover-free football the last few weeks while getting excellent play from their secondary and sophomore cover man Mike Jenkins, who has been extremely impressive. If Dallas refrains from turning the ball over, they have the weapons and too many healthy bodies for the Eagles to handle. Cowboys 30-20
Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2) vs. Denver Broncos (6-1)
Denver’s Invesco Field will be roaring for a home game against the defending champion Steelers on Monday night. The Steelers have had a week off to rest and have recovered nicely since a 1-2 start. Their pressure defense is legendary and it doesn’t help that the Broncos were exposed against a similar defensive scheme last week against Baltimore.
Denver endured their first loss of the year when Baltimore limited them to just 200 yards total offense in a 30-7 exposure. A second loss to an AFC North opponent wouldn’t completely cripple Denver’s 6-0 start but with the San Diego Chargers coming on, the heat would certainly be on Denver to finish strong. The Broncos need to rebound against the Steelers, who may come into the game shorthanded. Starting free safety Ryan Clark may not play for preventative measures after nearly dying in Denver a couple of seasons ago. His absence would be huge for a vulnerable secondary.
With divisional teams picking up steam, this is a game that both the Steelers and Broncos need to fend off their division brothers. The Steelers have lost the last two contests against the Broncos but have altered their appearance this year. The defense is still one of the league’s best but the offense has shifted to a passing-based scheme with a light emphasis on running the ball. Denver’s defense excels at stopping both the run and pass and their 3-4 setup could be problematic for the Steelers’ shaky offensive line.
Denver’s short passing game is designed to counter against Pittsburgh’s zone coverage scheme but the running game is what fuels the Broncos and no one has a better run defense than Pittsburgh. Denver’s special teams and defense will go a long way in deciding the winner. The Broncos will need a few nice returns from the dangerous Eddie Royal and a couple of turnovers to ensure a victory. The Steelers’ special teams have allowed kickoff return touchdowns in their last two games and their dependence on the passing game will lead to a couple of turnovers and a Denver win. Broncos 20-14
Baltimore Ravens (4-3) vs. Cincinnati Bengals (5-2)
The Bengals escaped with a last second victory in Baltimore a few weeks ago and the Ravens have been stewing ever since. Baltimore will get its chance at redemption Sunday when they travel to Ohio to battle a hot Bengal team. Cincinnati may have the most balanced offense in the division. Cedric Benson is the fourth leading rusher in the league and the entertaining Chad Ochocinco is a top ten wideout again.
Cincinnati QB Carson Palmer is coming off a five touchdown effort against the Bears but will find the going tough against the always scary Raven defense. Baltimore’s secondary has been maligned this season but they were extremely impressive in their handling of the Broncos last week. As great as the Ravens played on defense last week, Cincinnati has been better all season at stopping teams. Baltimore’s normally productive signal caller Joe Flacco was limited to one touchdown in a 17-14 loss against the Bengals last month.
The Bengals have had two weeks to prepare for this huge matchup and don’t be surprised if they stray away from their commitment to the ground game and come out throwing strikes against the Ravens’ secondary. Benson rushed for over 100 yards in the last meeting but it was Palmer who won the game for Cincinnati on a last minute drive.
A win would mean everything to the Bengals. It would keep them tied for first in the division and give them a sweep over the hated Ravens. More importantly, it would knock Baltimore back to .500 and put the Ravens in serious jeopardy of missing the playoffs. However, the Ravens know all of that and will come into this road contest focused on leaving with a win. But that’s easier said than done. Palmer and Ochocinco have no fear playing against the Ravens and wins against the Steelers and Baltimore give Cincinnati all kinds of confidence. If the Ravens resort back to their defensive struggles of a few weeks ago, it could be a long day in Ohio. Bengals 24-16
Houston Texans (5-3) vs. Indianapolis Colts (7-0)
The Texans are approaching a status they’ve never encountered before: respectability. Houston will enter their last game before their bye week as a strong 5-3 team but the Colts are the last undefeated squad in the AFC. Houston was dealt a huge blow last week when tight end Owen Daniels was lost for the season with a knee injury. Daniels was outperforming every tight end in the AFC, including the likes of Antonio Gates and Dallas Clark.
His loss will allow Indianapolis to focus more on slowing the explosive Andre Johnson and corralling a suspect Texan run game. Starting running back Steve Slaton fumbled his way to the bench last week against Buffalo before reserve runner Ryan Moats saved the day. Even with a change at head coach, the Colts have continued their annual pace of getting off to fast starts. Super signal caller Peyton Manning is in a league of his own and poses a major problem to Houston’s improved defense. The Texans have done a much better job on the defensive side of the ball since their early season struggles but haven’t played an offense as lethal as the Colts.
Indianapolis was challenged last week by a scrappy 49er team but a narrow win should refocus them for a pivotal divisional game this week. With the collapse of Tennessee and the struggles of Jacksonville, Houston stands as the only serious challenger in the AFC South, making Sunday’s game overly important.
It’s really shame Daniels was lost for the season. His play made Houston a very potent offense with pass receiving weapons everywhere. His injury brings Houston back down to normalcy but the Texans are still a very capable team. Whether they’re capable of winning on the road in Indianapolis remains to be seen. It’s hard picking against Manning in his own stadium, especially in crucial divisional games. The Colts are now gunning for home field in the AFC and games like these are ones Indianapolis can ill-afford to let slip away and they won’t. Colts 28-20
San Diego Chargers (4-3) vs. New York Giants (5-3)
What has happened to the Giants? A few weeks ago they were flying high and calling matchups against teams “scrimmage” games. Since then, they’ve been slapped around pretty good and are on the verge of looking at the back door as a way into the playoffs. The Chargers started off slowly but games against Oakland and Kansas City have put them back over .500.
Injuries in New York’s secondary have made them vulnerable to high octane passing games and the Chargers fit perfectly into that description. QB Phillip Rivers isn’t afraid to let the ball fly to any of his basketball-height receivers. The problem with San Diego is that they can’t beat any team of substance. The Chargers are 0-3 against teams with winning records but the Giants aren’t that far off. They’re 1-3 against .500-plus teams and seriously need to end their three-game losing streak.
Expect New York to lean more on the ground game with QB Eli Manning still suffering from plantar fasciitis. Manning’s play has fallen off dramatically since he injured his foot against the Chiefs and the Chargers have been vulnerable to the run this year. San Diego excels at tossing the ball around so it will be important for the Giants to keep Rivers off the field as much as possible. As long as New York plays to its matchups in the running game, the Giants should pull away. If New York tries to throw 30-plus times and play out of character, they’ll be ran right out of Giants Stadium. Giants 27-23