Revisiting the Weekend

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Revisiting the Weekend

It’s funny how one game can change a whole prediction record. I finished 3-2 for this past weekend but a 4-1 record looks so much better than a mediocre 3-2 mark. But it’s cool. I’ll take another stab at things next week in another high-voltage weekend. Last weekend was pretty electric in its own right equipped with several headliners. In case you missed anything, here’s a recap:

 

Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles

What I predicted …

Cowboys 30-20

What I said would happen …

“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”

What actually happened …

The Cowboys won 20-16. Against a defense that thrives off turnovers, Dallas left Lincoln Financial Field with only one gaffe while picking off Donovan McNabb twice. The Cowboys defense put on an impressive display, limiting an explosive Philadelphia offense to only 16 points in their own backyard. ‘Boys’ QB Tony Romo held strong and avoided the mistakes that transpired the last time he played Philadelphia just a few months ago.

The ‘Boys took away the big plays from the Eagles and forced them to play methodical football. For a team that struggles to run the ball with consistency, Dallas laid out the blue print on how to successfully defeat Philadelphia, provided a team has the same speed on defense that Dallas does. Dallas cornerback Mike Jenkins (who I mentioned last week) came up with a big interception in the third period that led to a Cowboys field goal in the fourth quarter.

 

My reactions …

It’s hard to get excited over Dallas. Although the win was impressive, the Cowboys’ story the past few years has been about their struggles come crunch time in December and January. Fortunately, we’re not at the point of the season yet so the only thing we can grade Dallas (6-2) on is their work so far and so far, the ‘Boys have been pretty good. I’ve been mentioning Miles Austin for the past few weeks and I’ll continue again this week. Austin only had one catch Sunday but it went for 49 yards and a touchdown. His big play ability has restored the Dallas offense to its explosive ‘07 form and as long as Romo and the defense stay afloat, the ‘Boys will be around later in the year.

It’s hard to sour on Philadelphia (5-3) just because they lost a home game by four points while playing without their star running back and parts of the game without their starting left tackle. The defense kept Dallas under wraps until Austin’s late touchdown but the offense struggled all night. The Cowboys took away the long ball from McNabb and explosive receiver DeSean Jackson and Philly found things tough without getting that many turnovers from Romo and company. The Eagles find themselves in second place and probably wish they could get that Oakland game back but nevertheless, it’s a lot of football left to be played and the division is still up for the taking. Stay tuned

 

Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Denver Broncos

What I predicted …

Broncos 20-14

What I said would happen …

“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.”

What actually happened …

The Steelers won 28-10. Pittsburgh took it to Denver on its own turf and only allowed one touchdown which came off a fumble recovery. The Steelers (6-2) started out slowly with the offense getting blanked in the first half but they came out firing after half time. Sophomore running back Rashard Mendenhall fueled the Steelers’ offense with 164 total yards and Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger shook off two turnovers to toss three second half touchdowns.

The real story of the game was the Steelers’ defense. They dismantled Denver’s offense piece-by-piece and held the Broncos’ offense to three points on their home field. Broncos’ QB Kyle Orton had some success in the first half but a pick-six overshadowed a modest effort. Two more interceptions in the second half crippled Denver’s chances and Orton finished with a 43.9 quarterback rating.

My reactions …

Second year running back Rashard Mendenhall has done for the Steelers’ offense what Austin has done for the Cowboys’ offense: restore balance. With the oft-injured Willie Parker manning the position the last couple of seasons, Pittsburgh’s offense has never been this hot before. Since Mendenhall’s insertion into the lineup, the Steelers haven’t scored less than 27 points during that span and have gone 5-0. Although a few of those touchdowns have come courtesy of their defense, Mendenhall has made a huge difference. Compare his 5.7 yard per carry average to Parker’s 3.1 and the Steelers are a dangerous offense with Roethlisberger and Mendenhall in the backfield.

What was once a statement 6-0 start has become a second-guessing two-game losing streak for Denver. The Broncos (6-2) have been outscored 58-17 in their last two games and with the San Diego Chargers (5-3) breathing down their neck, things could turn around quickly. Their running game was practically non-existent against the Steelers, rushing for only 27 yards as a team. Baltimore and Pittsburgh forced Orton to beat them and the incumbent starter wasn’t up for the challenge. These last two games could be a blessing in disguise for the Broncos however. If Denver is seriously intent on making a strong playoff push, they can expect opponents to implement the same make-Orton-beat-you approach. If Orton continues to come up short, so will the Broncos. Stay tuned.

 

Baltimore Ravens vs. Cincinnati Bengals

What I predicted …

Bengals 24-16

What I said would happen …

“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. 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.”

What actually happened …

The Bengals won 17-7. The score board may not say it but Cincinnati dominated Baltimore this past Sunday. The Bengals limited the Ravens to 215 total yards while running back Cedric Benson torched Baltimore again, rushing for 117 yards and a score. Palmer passed for 39 yards on the opening series but Benson still managed to rush for 34 yards. The Bengals’ balance kept Baltimore on its heels for the first half as Cincy ran to a 17-0 lead.

By the time Baltimore scored its first touchdown at the top of the fourth quarter, Cincinnati had done enough damage to secure a sweep over the Ravens. Considering Baltimore’s other tough losses on the year, Sunday may have been the Ravens’ worse team performance to date; at least on the offensive end.

My reactions …

Holding the home team to 17 points is generally a good day for a defense. Although the Ravens’ defense allowed 17 in the first half, they came back to blank the Bengals in the second. The offense is what killed Baltimore against Cincy and although that theme has been often repeated over the years, seeing the Ravens struggle on offense this year is a rare sight. Scoring over 17 points should’ve been an obtainable goal for Baltimore but playing against a Bengals’ defense that has limited them to 14 points in two games, that goal may have been too high.

The Bengals are rounding into form at the just the right time. After slapping around the Chicago Bears a few weeks ago, beating Baltimore 17-7 serves notice that the Bengals are a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Cincinnati is the most balanced offense in the AFC and the strength of their defense makes them a complete team. Maybe the best in the AFC but that remains to be seen after next week when they travel to Pittsburgh. Stay tuned.

 

Houston Texans vs. Indianapolis Colts

What I predicted …

Colts 28-20

What I said would happen …

“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”

 

What actually happened …

The Colts won 20-17. Indianapolis escaped in a game where Manning was forced to throw 50 times to compensate for a lack of a running game. The Texans were leading 17-13 in the fourth quarter before Colts running back Joseph Addai scored a two-yard touchdown to put the Colts (8-0) up for good. A missed field goal at the end of regulation from Houston kicker Kris Brown gave Indianapolis their 17th consecutive regular season win.

Houston (5-4) struggled mightily to run the ball with their leading rusher only accounting for 38 yards. Breakthrough QB Matt Schaub threw for 311 yards but still couldn’t find much success. Schaub threw for a touchdown but his two interceptions led to a Colts’ field goal in the first half and killed a possible scoring drive in the second half.

 

My reactions …

The loss of tight end Owen Daniels is going to sting Houston’s season because they can’t run the ball with any consistency. Daniels gave them a two-man combo with him and miraculous receiver Andre Johnson that teams just couldn’t stop. With Daniels on the IR, the Texans are going to run into a lot of the same troubles that they had with Indianapolis as far as teams giving Johnson everything short but nothing deep. If Houston wants to go on and challenge this year then banished running back Steve Slaton or pedestrian runner Ryan Moats is going to have to spark the Texan running game. Stay tuned.

After 17-straight regular season wins, it’s hard to find anything wrong with the Colts but the holes are there. Indianapolis doesn’t run the ball well at all and will find the going tough as they get deeper into the season. Manning is having a MVP season and may actually have to up his play if Indy is to go anywhere. Indianapolis will play the next month of their season without three members of their secondary, two of which are out for the season. The Colts are moving along as of right now but struggles against San Francisco and the Texans show signs of weakness.

 

San Diego Chargers vs. New York Giants

What I predicted …

Giants 27-23

What I said would happen …

“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.”

What actually happened …

The Chargers won 21-20. Manning threw the ball 30-plus times and the Giants (5-4) got away from their running game. Although they ran the ball as a team 28 times, burly runner Brandon Jacobs only received 11 carries. The Giants had the ball within the Chargers’ own five-yard line with around three minutes left to play and up 17-14 but they had to settle for a field goal. Rivers then directed San Diego (5-3) on an eight-play, 80-yard drive to seal the win with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Vincent Jackson.

My reactions …

The Giants lost the game flat out. New York had the Chargers on the ropes after a Rivers’ interception gave them the ball at the San Diego four-yard line but a holding penalty and a run play on third and long destroyed their chances. New York can’t seem to do much of anything well anymore. The Giants used to be a power running team but now they’re giving their most powerful runner only a handful of carries. The Giants used to be a low attempt, high-percentage passing team but now they’re relying on an injured Manning to carry the load. The Giants used to be a stifling, attacking defense but now they’re allowing 80-yard touchdown drives when the game’s on the line to beat them. The losers of four-straight, the chances of New York getting into the post season is growing dimmer by the week.

Just when people counted them out, the Chargers are back in the thick of things. San Diego has won their past three games to up their record to 5-3 and with the once undefeated Broncos losing two-straight, the Chargers’ chances of winning the division is back in full swing. A road game with the Broncos will be arriving in two weeks. If San Diego can escape with a win, games against Kansas City and Cleveland could propel them to first place and a chance at home field advantage in the playoffs. Stay tuned.

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