First I would like to pay respect to Cincinnati Bengals receiver Chris Henry and his family. The league lost another valuable member to the organization with his death on Thursday and regardless of what things Henry may have done in the past, death is never deserving for anybody. The season is almost over but the league is far from playing games. The playoff picture is becoming clearer and clearer and teams will have a chance to inch closer to home field and playoff spots after the week is done. Two big headliners for this week that could decide a lot. ‘Boys/Saints and Bengals/Bolts will be the biggest games of the week.
Should be another exciting week and expect teams across the league to have a moment of silence for Henry as they take timeout to remember what was a maturing young man. It should be another week to remember as well, let’s get started:
Indianapolis Colts (13-0) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (7-6) 8:20 p.m.
Kind of strange game right here. The Colts are finished playing for anything serious for the remainder of the regular season. The Jaguars however, are fighting for their playoff lives. The Colts could just buckle up and aim for an undefeated season and quarterback Peyton Manning has already bested long time rival Tom Brady’s regular season win streak with his 22nd consecutive win last week.
Tying Brady’s undefeated 2007 season would further push the debate of who’s been the better signal caller over the past decade. The Colts have been in this position a few times before: at season’s end and nothing to play for. A few seasons ago, Indianapolis rested its players down the stretch after jumping out to a 13-1 record, which only led to an out of synch performance in the club’s opening round loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2005’s playoffs.
The Colts might not need to do much against a struggling Jaguar team though. The Jaguars have dropped two of their last three and have struggled mightily on offense since breakout receiver Mike Sims-Walker has been nursing calf and knee injuries. Teams have focused on slowing focal point runner Maurice Jones-Drew, who hasn’t recorded an 100 yard game since week 10. Starting quarterback David Garrard has been forced to carry more of a load and things have been sort of rough let’s say the past few weeks.
Sims-Walker’s status will spell key for the Jaguars on Thursday night. Indianapolis’ secondary has been shredded over the past few weeks and they’ll definitely come out with a plan to make Garrard beat them. The Colts have the league’s second best defense in terms of points allowed so Manning and the offense may not need to do much to dispose of Jacksonville and keep their undefeated season alive. Jacksonville hasn’t beaten many teams with a winning record this season and they won’t on Thursday either. Colts 24-16
Dallas Cowboys (8-5) vs. New Orleans Saints (13-0) 8:20 p.m.
The Cowboys are tiptoeing dangerous grounds. After last week’s loss to the San Diego Chargers gave the ‘Boys their third loss in the last five games, a road game against the Saints could determine their playoff fate. But Dallas could be catching the perfect Saints at the perfect time however. New Orleans has been anything but flawless in their last two games, knocking off the lowly Washington Redskins and banged up Atlanta Falcons by field goals in each contest.
The Saints have showed major problems in their secondary, allowing a slew of big plays over the last couple of weeks. Dallas starting quarterback Tony Romo could exploit New Orleans with a few strikes to big play receiver Miles Austin. Maligned wideout Roy Williams has come on in recent weeks and has given the passing game the possession receiver it was lacking in the early parts of the season.
Dallas pass rusher DeMarcus Ware is expected to play on Saturday and his presence would be key in trying to slow down Drew Brees and the rest of the Saints offense. The Cowboys secondary is pretty formidable but Brees is out of this world. New Orleans is never out of game with Brees, who gets the ball to everybody on his offense from the third string running back to the guy in the nose bleed seats. Dallas hasn’t seen an offense like this all season and in the Saints last “major” game of the season, at home, they’ll be more than ready to take it to the Cowboys.
The perfect game plan against the Saints: ball control and short passes. The motto of the ‘Boys’ offense under Jason Garrett: quick strike and heavy emphasis on throwing. Something’s got to give and if offensive coordinator Jason Garrett wants any chance of solidifying his return for next year then a game against his normal grain would be ideal for Saturday. New Orleans is going to score, that’s a given, how soon Garrett gives up on the run will determine Dallas’ fate. In a game against the top offense in the league, Garrett will probably be inclined to match wits with Saints head coach and former Cowboy coordinator Sean Payton. As has been shown for the last few seasons, Payton’s clearly a step ahead of Garrett. Saints 34-24
Cincinnati Bengals (9-4) vs. San Diego Chargers (10-3) 4:15 p.m.
With the recent death of receiver Chris Henry fresh on the minds of the Bengals, Cincinnati will be hard-pressed to go on the road and take on a hot Charger team. San Diego has won eight straight and with second place in the AFC up for grabs, the Bolts won’t take it easy on an emotional Bengals team. San Diego has won every way possible during their current win streak; close, come from behind and blowout style.
The Bengals have been a methodical grind-it-out team all season but clashing against San Diego’s fast break style approach could be recipe for disaster for the men from Ohio. Cincinnati’s emphasis on the run game has been something they’ve stuck to all year but their approach will be tested against a high-scoring San Diego team. The Chargers run defense has been better over the past few weeks but Cincinnati has shown they can run against anybody.
The departure of some of his key wideouts from a few seasons ago have clearly hurt Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer and the passing game and against San Diego’s ballhawking cover corners, Cincinnati running backs Larry Johnson and Cedric Benson will play vital roles in the battle for the AFC’s second seed. The Bengals have dealt with saddening situations already this season when defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer’s wife passed in early October. Henry’s recent passing could inspire the club or go the opposite way but it will definitely be on the minds of the Bengals when they board the plane to travel out west.
The Chargers are hot and Cincinnati has been struggling, that’s pretty much the gist of things. The Bengals are going to have to do more than the 94 passing yards they put up against the Minnesota Vikings in last week’s loss but don’t hold your breath. Palmer hasn’t thrown for more than 271 yards in any game this year and has passed for under 200 yards five times this season. The Chargers have scored over 24 points nine times this year and don’t expect things to change on Sunday against the struggling Bengals. Chargers 28-13
Green Bay Packers (9-4) vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-7) 4:15 p.m.
While the Steelers might be out of the playoff running, they have the chance to play spoiler in the next three weeks against teams in the postseason hunt. When Pittsburgh squares off against the Packers on Sunday, it’ll be a matchup of two of the most storied franchises in NFL history. There was talk that injured Steelers safety Troy Polamalu would return for the matchup against Green Bay but he was scratched earlier in the week and his absence will indeed leave a vulnerable Pittsburgh secondary at the mercy of the Packers’ red hot QB, Aaron Rodgers.
Rodgers has had a terrific season but the notorious sloppy conditions at Heinz Field could hamper his receivers’ traction somewhat. Pittsburgh loves to make teams one-dimensional but Rodgers is the type of signal caller that can carry a team by himself if needed. Green Bay’s defense has been the real story of their season and with the Steelers struggling on offense, it could be a low-scoring affair on Sunday.
Pittsburgh has lost five straight games and to make matters worse: Green Bay has the best record of any opponent the Steelers have played during their slide. The Steelers are playing for pride this week and after last Thursday’s embarrassing loss to the Cleveland Browns, expect Pittsburgh to throw the kitchen sink at the visiting Packers despite missing some valuable members from their team.
Green Bay is only a few steps closer to securing a playoff spot and a win over the Steelers would make life extremely easy over the next few weeks. The Packers have won five straight and are catching their stride as they wind down their regular season. Rodgers has weapons everywhere on offense and his defense is suffocating. Against a weak Steeler Oline Green Bay should be able to corral Pittsburgh’s offense with no problem. But it’s hard betting against the champs though. The loss to Cleveland was a definite kick in the rear and if pride is all that Pittsburgh has to play for, expect them to show a lot on Sunday in front of their home fans. Steelers 26-21