A quarter of the way through the season, and a few teams are beginning to separate themselves from the crowd. What’s more? Santonio Holmes and Brian Cushing make their highly anticipated season debut’s this weekend, with Roethlisberger returning just in time for a bye.
While each of their team’s have had early success, the arrival of these All-Pro caliber players should improve these three AFC contenders.
According to Las Vegas odds makers, both the Texans and Jets are home favorites against their NFC competition, but only one of them will win.
Which division leader will fall? Which favorites are destined to lose? Who will cover the spread? Read on as we examine the ten most likely upsets come Sunday.
Why Chicago Could Win: Even if Jay Cutler sits, the Bears sport an elite defense led by Brian Urlacher and Julius Peppers, who should be able to rattle rookie quarterback Jimmy Clausen. The Panthers average the fewest points in the NFL and the third fewest yards.
Why Carolina Could Win: Carolina almost knocked off the Saints last weekend and take on a Bears offense that has struggled at times under the direction of offensive coordinator Mike Martz. With Caleb Hanie likely lining up behind center for Chicago, this should be a low-scoring game.
If the two-headed running back monster of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart can wear out the Bears, Carolina will have a good shot of winning this game at home.
Final Score: 17-13 Chicago. With two inexperienced quarterbacks, expect a lot of running and a low scoring affair. Carolina may have home field advantage, but I would never bet on an offense that completes under fifty perfect of its passes.
Why Green Bay Could Win: With Aaron Rodgers at the helm and terrific targets in Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, and Jermichael Finley, it’s no surprise that the Packers are tied for fifth in scoring with 26.5 points per game. Against a Redskin team that allows over 300 passing yards per game, Green Bay should have no problem moving the ball
Why Washington Could Win: Three words: Home Field Advantage. Donovan McNabb struggled against his former team last weekend and the running game has question marks with Clinton Portis showing his age, but the Redskin faithful should help Washington keep this game close.
Final Score: 28-17 Green Bay. After seeing what Matt Schaub did against this Washington defense, it should be exciting to see what type of numbers Rodgers can post. Running back Brandon Jacksons has struggled (3.0 yards per carry) since replacing the injured Ryan Grant, so if Rodgers drops back to pass forty to times I would not be surprised.
Why Tennessee Could Win: It’s strength versus strength as Chris Johnson and the Titans offense take on the Cowboys and their eighth-ranked rushing defense. While Johnson has struggled (comparatively that is), the Titans offense has been better than ever.
It’s only four weeks in, but with the seventh-best scoring offense and the eighth-best scoring defense, the Titans have a well-rounded team and a good chance to beat a reeling Dallas team.
Why Dallas Could Win: After a shaky start and a 1-2 record, the Cowboys bye may have come at the perfect time. In what seems like an early season must-win game, expect the Cowboys potent offense to come up big. And with the eighth-best rushing defense in the NFL, Dallas may just be able to hold CJ under the century mark.
Final Score: 27-17 Dallas. The ‘Boys came into this season with title aspirations, but thus far have been entirely disappointing. With three NFC East sitting at 2-2, the division is filled with parity and a 1-3 opening may prove to be a tough obstacle to overcome. Expect Tony Romo to pass for nearly 300 yards against a middle of the road secondary.
Why Denver Could Win: Kyle Orton. With Knowshon Moreno injured, and the back-up running backs struggling to gain positive yardage Orton has been forced to throw the ball a lot.
The results? Better than anybody could have expected. Through four games, Orton leads the league in passing yards and has established himself as one of the early MVP favorites. The Broncos may be unable to run the ball with any regularity, but their passing attack could lead them to victory.
Why Baltimore Could Win: While Denver sports the best aerial attack in the league, Baltimore currently possesses the best pass defense. With a solid secondary and a phenomenal pass rush, the Ravens have held opponents to a paltry 119 yards per game.
The defense may have only recorded seven sacks on the year, but with Terrell Suggs on the outside and Haloti Ngata dominating the line, Orton may find himself on the turf often come Sunday.
Final Score: 21-17 Baltimore: Anquan Boldin has been everything Baltimore could have hope for and more. With Champ Bailey in coverage, Flacco may have to look elsewhere come Sunday.
Although Ray Rice has been struggling so far (3.8 yards per carry), he may be counted on against a Denver defense that allow 101 rushing yards per game.
Why Minnesota Could Win: The rumored trade of Randy Moss to Minnesota has Vikings fans excited and Patriots fans scratching their heads. Even with his poor track record against Revis Island, the Vikings could use Moss for Monday night’s tilt against the Jets.
Believe it or not, the Jets actually rank higher against the run than they do against the pass and Favre may be forced to throw often against his former team (doesn’t that sound to strange to hear). Adrian Peterson will get his 80-100 yards, but it’s Favre who will have to improve on his 199 pass yards per game if the Vikings hope to steal this tough road game.
Why New York Could Win: So far this season, Minnesota has been outstanding against the pass, allowing only 185 yards per game (good for eighth in the league). Against the run? They’ve been equally effective.
So what should you expect? I’d bank on another 30+ carries from the Tomlinson/Greene tandem who rushed for over a hundred yards a piece last week. The Jets smash mouth philosophy should result in a low scoring, defensive struggle.
Final Score: 17-13 Jets. Favre has struggled this season just a year removed from arguably the best year of his prolific career. With Moss on his way, that should improve, but expect the Vikings to struggle moving this ball against an exceptional Jets defense.
Why Kansas City Could Win: Through the draft, the Chiefs have done an exceptional job adding dynamic young play-makers. Add that to an improving defense and innovative offensive play calling and you can understand why the Chiefs are the only remaining undefeated team.
As always, the Colts struggle against the run, so expect a healthy dose of Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles. If the Chiefs can control the clock and effectively run the football, they could shock a lot of people this weekend.
Why Indianapolis Could Win: I’ll be honest, I’m not really drinking the KC kool-aid. Despite an exciting young core, this team has a lot of holes. They lack receiver depth, and Matt Cassel has proven to be one of the league’s most overpaid players during his time in KC.
Peyton Manning will lead the league’s second best passing attack against the eighth-worst pass defense, and should be able to top the 300 yard mark for his fourth time in five weeks.
Final Score: 31-27 Indianapolis. Although the Chiefs sport some unbelievably fast and exciting players (i.e. Dexter McCluster), ultimately this Colts team will prove themselves the better team. The Chiefs will need to score on big plays, and ultimately may have to delve into their bag of tricks to upend the Colts in Indy.
The Chiefs are coming off a bye week and have had a week to prepare for the Colts. A win on Sunday would be a testament to their well constructed coaching staff.
Why Jacksonville Could Win: Just a week removed from a shocking and exhilarating win over the Colts, it’s a surprise to see Jacksonville as the underdog against a struggling Bills team. The Jags have great young talent in MJD, Mike Thomas and Mike Sims-Walker, and should have no problem scoring against a Bills defense that allows a league worst 31.3 points per game.
Why Buffalo Could Win: The trade of Marshawn Lynch should come as no surprise, but is a welcome sign to Bills fans who want to see C.J. Spiller’s role in offense expand. Alas, it’s not the running game but the passing game that could win Buffalo this home game.
The Jaguars sport the league’s third worst pass defense, allowing over 300 yards per game through the air. Ryan Fitzpatrick hasn’t looked great in two starts, but could be in for a career game come Sunday.
Final Score: 24-14 Jacksonville. I feel very confident about one thing…the ineptitude of the Bills. They have a questionable offensive line and a starting QB that wouldn’t be a number two on many teams in the league. Usually when I’m extremely certain, it’s a smart bet to do the exact opposite. But this one, you can take to the bank.
Why Philadelphia Could Win: With Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy sitting due to injury, the burden will fall on the shoulders of opening day starter Kevin Kolb. Kolb was tentative in last week’s loss to the Redskins and will need to take more shots downfield to capitalize against an underachieving Niners defense.
Why San Francisco Could Win: After being picked by many experts to compete for the NFC championship, the 49ers have come out flat. Their highly touted defense has been a massive let down, allowing 25.8 points per game (sixth-worst in the NFL).
This week they take on a banged-up offense, the perfect opportunity to rebound. With Nate Clements and Patrick Willis, there is no shortage of elite playmakers. They’ll need the defense to step up if they hope to win Sunday night.
Final Score: 20-13 Eagles. Alex Smith does not look like the answer at quarterback, and until they address the problem, the Niners will struggle getting the ball to spark plugs like Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis.
I know Philly fans aren’t fond of Kolb, but he is accurate and looked to gain confidence by the play in last week’s game. At 0-4, it’s surprising to see the 49ers favored, but it makes sense. The Eagles have a huge question mark at the running back position, but have the big play receivers that can put points on the board.
Why St. Louis Could Win: For years, Stephen Jackson has been suffering. On a losing team with poor QB play, defenses have been loading up against the run by stuffing the box.
Four games into the Sam Bradford era and things are changing. This season’s top overall pick hasn’t looked like a rookie, throwing for 944 yards and leading his team to a 2-2 mark. The Rams should be able to move the ball against a porous Lions defense.
Why Detroit Could Win: This Lions team has some terrific young players on offense. Jahvid Best. Calvin Johnson. Both a threat to take it to the house on any given play. I expect a shootout between these two young and improving teams, and a big game from CJ could go a long way.
Final Score: 31-24 St. Louis. It’s really too bad the Lions will be without Matthew Stafford this week. The opportunity to see the top overall picks from the past two years squaring off would be a sight to behold. Nonetheless, these are two teams with exciting offensive weapons and inexperienced defenses. Behind 100 rushing yards from Stephen Jackson and 250 from Bradford, I expect the Rams to go on the road to upset the Lions.
Why New York Could Win: After tallying ten sacks against the Bears, we know what the Giants pass rush is capable of. They’re going to need to apply all the pressure they can to Matt Schaub, who has been tremendous thus far. Schaub is used to sitting in the pocket and calmly making his reads. If New York can hurry that process, they’ll have a great chance at pulling the road upset.
Why Houston Could Win: Last week without Andre Johnson, the Texans were still able to take the win and stay atop their division. Even if AJ plays this week, he will play a less significant role as the Texans will look to run the ball with Arian Foster. Foster has been this season’s most pleasant surprise, so don’t be shocked to see the big fella carry the rock 20+ times.
Final Score: 21-17 New York. The Texans currently rank last in the NFL in pass defense, and I fully expect Eli Manning and his young receivers to capitalize. The Texans will be strengthened by the return of “over-trained athlete” Brian Cushing, but he won’t be able to stop Manning for approaching the 300 yard mark passing. The Giants pass rush should be able to keep Schaub in check.