Cleveland Browns Running Back Peyton Hillis
We are now at the point in the NFL season where every team has played at least eight games, and we as fans have seen enough to tell for the most part which teams are in the thick of the playoff race and which teams are already looking toward next year.
The great thing is that no division has been decided yet; every division leader has at most a one game lead. Eight games this week are division games, so this is an important week for those teams that are still in the hunt for their division.
I began my series of weekly slide shows predicting NFL games last week, going 10-3 with my picks. As always, there will be wild upsets, controversy, injuries, etc, which makes these predictions very inexact but so much more fun.
With that said, let's get going.
Baltimore Ravens Safety Ed Reed
This game is a possible Super Bowl preview between two 6-2 teams in a six-way tie for best record in the NFL.
The Falcons are the sixth ranked rushing team in the NFL, but the Ravens are notoriously hard to run against. In addition, the Ravens are giving up the third fewest passing touchdowns in the league. Former defensive player of the year Ed Reed has three interceptions, tied for ninth in the league, in only two games!! This is Matt Ryan's first career game playing against Ed Reed, so Ryan has to be careful not to turn it over.
On the other side of the ball, the Falcons have quietly been outstanding at stopping the run this year, and the Ravens' offense is only averaging 3.6 yards per carry. Surprisingly, the Falcons have a pretty big advantage there. Although the Falcons' secondary has given up quite a few passing yards, they have 13 interceptions on the year, tied for third in the league.
This the first game between 2008 rookie standouts Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco, and that will likely occupy most of the headlines going into the game. However, the game itself comes down to who plays better defense.
Prediction: Ravens in a down to the wire game.
Ravens 17, Falcons 14
Buffalo Bills Running Back CJ Spiller
Although the Bills are 0-8, their past three games were all decided by three points, and all three were against teams with winning records. The Bills' pass defense has been among the worst in the league, allowing 17 touchdowns but forcing only one interception. The Bills are also last in rush defense.
The one strong part of the Bills' team is their running game with Fred Jackson and rookie CJ Spiller, but they are only 18th in the league in rushing yards per game.
The thing working in the Bills' favor is that only two teams in the Super Bowl era have had winless seasons. The odds are in their favor to get at least one win before the season is over.
The 2-6 Lions have had a very similar season to the Bills—very close losses in almost every game. Only one of their six losses came by more than eight points. Matthew Stafford has been injury-prone to this point and could be out for the year due to a shoulder injury.
Prediction: The Bills finally get their first win of the season.
Bills 24, Lions 21
Minnesota Vikings' Defensive End Jared Allen and Linebacker EJ Henderson
The Vikings put together a heroic comeback win last week, and Brad Childress' job is safe for at least one more Sunday. If the Vikings want to make a serious run at the playoffs, they have to win this game.
In order for the Vikings to pull off the win, Adrian Peterson needs to have a big day. Chicago is third in the league in run defense, so that will be easier said than done. Chicago has intercepted 11 passes so far this season, so Brett Favre needs to make good decisions about throwing into coverage, which he is notoriously bad at.
On the other side of the ball, the Bears have a very weak offensive line. This is an opportunity for the Vikings' defensive line to have a big game and put lots of pressure on Jay Cutler. If the Bears want to move the ball, they will need their 27th ranked running game to get going, which is easier said than done against the "Williams Wall."
Prediction: The Bears' offensive line will single handedly lose this game for them. Vikings get the upset.
Vikings 20, Bears 7
The Browns' wins the past two weeks have been extremely impressive, and it is clear that Peyton Hillis is the real deal at running back. Although not generating as many headlines, the Browns' defense shut down elite quarterbacks Tom Brady and Drew Brees over the past two games.
The Jets, at 6-2, are one of the most complete teams in the NFL. They have a solid quarterback, an excellent running game, the receivers and most definitely the defense.
Although the Browns have played great the past couple of games, the Jets present a much different challenge, because the Jets' running game is much stronger than the Saints or Patriots.
Prediction: The Browns have some confidence going, and this game will be a lot closer than I would have thought a week ago. I still have the Jets winning but wouldn't be surprised if the Browns pull it off.
Jets 27, Browns 20
Bengals' Receivers Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco
The Bengals had very high hopes for this season but now sit at 2-6. With the Steelers and Ravens both at 6-2, the Bengals would need a miracle to make the playoffs. They still have a talented roster, but the talent has to start performing for the Bengals to even get to 8-8 for the season.
The Colts are coming off a close loss to the Eagles, and they are always very tough to beat at home—even with the injury issues. If you don't believe me, just ask the Texans. The Colts' strength has always been to build a lead with Peyton Manning and then let Freeney and Mathis go after the other quarterback. The Bengals' secondary has quite the challenge in stopping the Colts' passing game.
Prediction: I picked the Bengals to beat the Steelers, and they let me down in a big way. Not making the same mistake twice. I'll go with the Colts at home by double digits.
Colts 27, Bengals 17
Houston Texans' Receivers Andre Johnson and Jacoby Jones
The Texans got off to a 4-2 start, but with two consecutive losses, they run the risk of falling to a losing record this week. They are still only one game out of first place in the AFC South, so they still have time to get things together. With Matt Schaub, Arian Foster, and Andre Johnson, the Texans have one of the most explosive offenses in the league.
The Texans' defense is a huge concern for their team, ranked dead last in yards allowed and passing yards allowed.
The Jaguars rarely get any media attention these days but are still at 4-4 and tied with the Texans, only one game behind the Titans and Colts. Maurice Jones-Drew is one of the better running backs in the league.
The pass defense for the Jaguars is a concern, as they are allowing 8.7 yards per pass attempt. If the Jaguars' pass defense doesn't step up and have a big game, they won't win the game.
Prediction: With two of the worst defenses in the league, expect a shootout.
Texans 34, Jaguars 27
Tennessee Titans' Running Back Chris Johnson
The Dolphins have looked solid on both sides of the ball this year, but they are 4-4 with losses to the four 6-2 AFC teams—the Jets, Patriots, Steelers, and Ravens. To put it simply, the Dolphins need to step up when they are playing playoff-caliber teams, and they haven't done it so far this year. The Dolphins are in the middle of the road in both total offense and total defense, and they have the talent to compete with the upper echelon AFC teams.
However, if the Dolphins lose, they risk falling too far behind the Jets and Patriots to catch up.
The Titans have Randy Moss now, and Moss can change their team in a huge way without even touching the ball. Even at this point in his career, Moss has enough respect from opposing defensive coordinators for them to double team him, which combined with the threat of Vince Young scrambling, means that defenses have to pick their poison between Moss down the field, Chris Johnson running the ball or Vince Young breaking off big runs.
Prediction: This is a possible playoff preview between two balanced teams. Very hard to call, but I think the Titans' offense with Moss is too much for Miami's defense.
Titans 27, Dolphins 20
Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Quarterback Josh Freeman
The Panthers' lack of a passing game and an underperforming running game are killing their team. The Buccaneers' pass defense has 14 interceptions and three defensive touchdowns. If the Panthers can't get some passing game established between Matt Moore and rookie Jimmy Clausen, their struggles will continue, because they are dead last in the NFL in points per game with room to spare.
The Bucs have been one of the pleasant surprises of 2010, with a young team playing with lots of energy and effort. Josh Freeman has been excellent in pressure situations and should continue to get better as a passer.
Prediction: The Panthers have been unimpressive all year. Division games are usually close, but I'm going with the Bucs.
Buccaneers 17, Panthers 7
Denver Broncos' Quarterback Kyle Orton
Kansas City is 5-4 and in first place in the AFC West, but they have lost their last three road games. The Chiefs' impressive running game and defense has been leading the way for their team which has been another of the NFL's pleasant 2010 surprises.
The Broncos have had a rough 2010, and many are wondering about what young head coach Josh McDaniels is doing to this team. After years of being a highly ranked rushing team under Mike Shanahan, the Broncos are last in the NFL in rushing offense. That fact combined with the fact that the Broncos have the sixth worst scoring defense in football has the Broncos at 2-6 even though Kyle Orton is having a pretty solid year.
Prediction: AFC West games are always close, but the Broncos have too many problems to get through this game.
Chiefs 30, Broncos 23
Seattle Seahawks' Corner Marcus Trufant
The NFC West as a whole is having a bad year. Arizona has lost three games in a row and is now 3-5. Seattle has lost two in a row by a combined score of 74-10. The Cardinals are playing at home, and they have looked a little less awful than the Seahawks have recently, so I'll pick them to get the win.
Cardinals 20, Seahawks 17
New Dallas Cowboys' Head Coach Jason Garrett
Oh, where to begin with the Cowboys? The Super Bowl preseason favorites have looked like anything but a Super Bowl-worthy team, and their slide reached a new low last week with a 45-7 loss to the Packers which led to Wade Phillips being fired.
Now, Dallas is replacing a defensive coordinator as well as a head coach. Also, Jason Garrett's offensive coaching was one of Dallas' big problems, and now he is the head coach.
The Giants have been rolling ever since their loss to the Titans. They have an outstanding running game, passing game and defense. Plus, they are playing at home against a team they know is in complete turmoil. Don't be surprised if this thing is over by halftime.
Giants: However many points they feel like scoring, Cowboys 7
San Francisco 49ers' Running Back Frank Gore
This is the first meeting of the year between the team that was favored to win the NFC West and the team that is currently winning the NFC West. Steven Jackson has only averaged 84.5 yards per game—a lower total than most would expect from a running back of his level. If he gets things on track, the Rams could really make something special out of this season.
Against the 49ers' run defense that is averaging only 3.6 yards per carry allowed, it will be difficult for Jackson to get something going.
The Rams' rushing defense is allowing 4.3 yards per carry, so expect Frank Gore to touch the ball quite a bit.
Prediction: The Rams are 0-3 on the road, and the 49ers are more talented than their record indicates, so I'll go with the 49ers in an upset.
49ers 23, Rams 17
New England Patriots' Wide Receiver Wes Welker
Over the past two seasons, the Patriots have had a hard time playing on the road against playoff-caliber teams. Guess what? They have a road game in Pittsburgh this week.
The Steelers definitely have more experience on their roster as the Patriots are still developing younger players. Also, the Steelers' defense has been playing at a much higher level than the Pats' defense has, and the Patriots' offense just hasn't looked the same since Moss left the team.
Prediction: Although the Patriots almost never lose consecutive games under Bill Belicheck, there is too much going in favor of the Steelers for me to pick the Patriots.
Steelers 30, Patriots 14
Philadelphia Eagles' Running Back Lesean McCoy
In the three games this season where Vick has played the entire game, the Eagles are 3-0, averaging over 29 points and 154 rushing yards per game. As long as Michael Vick stays out of injury trouble, the Eagles' offense will be explosive and productive. Even with a terrible game by Kevin Kolb in the first meeting between these two teams, the Eagles were within one play of a win.
Aside from one excellent game against Jay Cutler, the Redskins' defense hasn't looked particularly great this year.
The Redskins are also only ranked 24th in rushing offense, which is surprising considering Mike Shanahan is the head coach.
Prediction: Sweeps in the NFC East are rare. With a healthy Vick, the Eagles have the advantage over the Redskins, but it will be close.
Eagles 30, Redskins 24