20-12 on the season and I face another one of those it-can-go-either-way-type of weeks. Another weekend where I can go 0-4 despite posting my second undefeated weekend prediction of the year last week. Four serious games on the menu, four games that can go either way. I’ll be happy just to get by with a 2-2 record this week but undefeated is always the goal of course. The good thing about this week is that it’s turkey week and if there was ever a weekend for family and friends to gang up around the flat screen, this is the week:
New England Patriots (7-3) vs. New Orleans Saints (10-0)
Jumping right into it. The Patriots may have the hardest schedule in the league. They had the undefeated Indianapolis Colts a couple of weeks ago on the road and get to play another blemish-free team when they face the Saints on Monday night in New Orleans. Drew Brees vs. Tom Brady. 2007’s undefeated team vs. a 2009 team threatening for that same title. The sparks should fly in the Superdome.
The Saints are on an absolute roll. New Orleans’ offense is as balanced as any team in the league, evidenced by the 183 rushing yards they rolled up last week against Tampa Bay. But the Saints aren’t without their flaws. They’re currently 17th in the league in defense and have been run on at will in recent weeks. While New England isn’t a predominant rushing team, head coach Bill Belichik has showed in the past that he will attack a team wherever their biggest flaw lies.
With Brady at the helm, New England is a threat to put up 40 points and over against any team in the league. New Orleans has been nursing a few injuries to some of their most important players on defense and expect Brady to let it fly down the field to Randy Moss and pepper New Orleans with intermediate routes to Wes Welker. The Patriots let one get away from them against the Colts, expect New England to push the ball down field and try to roll up as many points as possible so things won’t come down to any fourth quarter heroics.
But Brees won’t let things get out of hand on his own field. Brees is threatening Peyton Manning for the MVP award and trumping Brady would give him the same card that Manning holds already. It’s hard picking against Belichik and Brady but the Saints have made fools of anybody that’s picked against them this year. The Saints haven’t played the toughest of schedules this year but beating New England would give them the last bit of respect that they feel they’re not getting. But that’s easier said than done. Brady’s killer instinct and Belichick’s “who cares” attitude will cut down the Saints bid for an undefeated record. Patriots 37-30
Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4) vs. Baltimore Ravens (5-5)
Pittsburgh week usually heightens the urgency for the Baltimore Ravens leading up to the game but this week will bare a different type of pressure. Playoff pressure. With both teams suffering losses last week, Baltimore and Pittsburgh will square off Sunday in a battle for the sixth playoff spot in the AFC.
While the Ravens are only 2-5 in their last seven games, it isn’t due to any lack of competition. Baltimore’s five losses have all come by the hands of division leaders with their average margin of defeat sitting at only 4.6 points per game. The next two weeks will be critical for the Ravens who will go on the road after their game against Pittsburgh to take on the Green Bay Packers. But if the Ravens can’t beat Pittsburgh, the road game against the Packers may not matter.
Including the playoffs, the Ravens are 1-4 against the Steelers in their last five meetings and 0-4 against Pittsburgh over that span when starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has played. Roethlisberger may not be at full strength this week after suffering concussion-like symptoms last week after he took a blow to the head in the Steelers game against Kansas City.
Early reports indicate Roethlisberger will play but at what level? Concussions seem to be taken too lightly around the NFL and playing the Ravens in Baltimore after a concussion isn’t the ideal circumstance. Baltimore is still smarting after a 0-3 mark against the Steelers last year and with another game with Pittsburgh on the horizon the week before the season ends, the Ravens know they have to strike now while the iron is hot. No Troy Polamalu and a woozy Roethlisberger is blood in the water for the thirsty Ravens and they’ll be ready to drink on Sunday. Ravens 20-14
Arizona Cardinals (7-3) vs. Tennessee Titans (4-6)
You know me. Normally, below .500 teams don’t make their way into the five-star matchup games of the week but the Titans are no ordinary below .500 team anymore. The winners of four straight, Tennessee has been coming on strong in the last few weeks and could seriously make a push for the playoffs if they continue on their current pace.
Since taking over for Kerry Collins, fourth-year QB Vince Young has teamed up with sophomore runner Chris Johnson to give Tennessee a serious one-two punch. Both Young and Johnson might be the fastest at their positions and trying to game plan against those two isn’t a task defensive coordinators necessarily jump up to take. Since Young took over at QB in week eight, both he and Johnson have accounted for 1551 yards and 10 touchdowns. Good for 4-0 and good for one of the scariest teams to play right now.
But the Cardinals aren’t scared of anyone, especially on the road. Arizona is 5-0 away from home this year and may have the most dangerous sextet of skill players in the league. Receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin are legendary. Slot receiver Steve Breaston is threatening for his second consecutive 1000-yard season. Running back Tim Hightower is a goal line vulture with 15 touchdowns in the last two years. Rookie runner Chris “Beanie” Wells is averaging 4.7 yards a carry and is the franchise back the team has been searching for. And the walking Hall-of-Famer Kurt Warner is still one of the best signal callers in the game.
Warner was dinged up last week after he took a blow to the head and didn’t return for the second half of the Cards win against the St. Louis Rams. His status is vital if Arizona wants to reach a 6-0 road mark on Sunday. Regardless of their impressive collection of skill players, without Warner, this offense just doesn’t click. The Titans defense has been playing well during their win streak and would probably be able to handle Warner’s backup Matt Leinhart. Reports suggest Warner will be able to go but if he’s slowed, the Titans could pull the upset but I won’t pick against that group of skill guys if Warner is there to stir the drink. Cardinals 28-24.
Indianapolis Colts (10-0) vs. Houston Texans (5-5)
The Texans had it all in front of them last Monday night when they lost against the Titans 20-17. The ball club had never been 5-4 and hosting the sub-500 Titans on Monday night in a fierce rivalry would’ve been the perfect opportunity to collect another win. Houston has been hovering around the .500 mark for the majority of the last few years and need a win to stamp them as a serious contender.
Getting that win against the undefeated Colts won’t be an easy task. Indy has won games this year in every imaginable style. Defensive grudge matches and shootouts so they’ll come into Houston ready to play any type of game Houston is capable of. The Texans will be ready for this game after two near misses against the Colts. A last second missed field goal was a stinger in a 20-17 loss earlier this year in week nine but their 31-27 defeat last year was the things nightmares are made of. Leading 27-10 with eight minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Houston saw the Colts run off the next 21 points to give them the improbable victory on Oct. 5.
The Texans have lost four out of their last five meetings to the Colts by an average of 4.7 points so Houston recognizes its right there, but they just need to capitalize. Emotional wins over the Ravens and Patriots in the last couple of weeks could have Indy sleepwalking into this game and an emotional loss to the Texans last Monday could have Houston ready to throw blows at the hated Colts.
Peyton Manning has the Colts under a 19-game regular season winning streak right now and he would love nothing better than to tie Brady’s 20-game regular season winning streak of a few seasons ago. He has the Colts on schedule for home-field advantage but with Houston in the middle of the playoff hunt and ready to extract some payback, Indy will be in for another tough game. But tough games don’t scare Indy. Houston would normally be the trendy pick but until they can win a big time game, you won’t find me picking them. Colts 27-17