Week 10 sees the first of the run of Thursday night games in the NFL as the Chargers play their third game in 11 days, against the Raiders. It’s also a week where all 32 sides are in action as we rapidly approach the business-end of the season…
Last week’s record: 10-3
Season record: 53-28
Oakland at San Diego
Both teams enter this game at a low-ebb, but this one has huge significance for the AFC West. Time for Philip Rivers and San Diego to cut out the mistakes, protect the ball and get the win. Should be achievable against a Darren McFadden-less Oakland outfit who are still getting to grips with Carson Palmer under centre. Chargers by 10
Jacksonville at Indianapolis
The Jags are 0-4 on the road, but the Colts are 0-9 overall. Two bad teams, but Jacksonville are the least worst. Jaguars by 4
New Orleans at Atlanta
The Saints are still in a healthy position, despite recents setbacks. The Falcons are looking for their fourth consecutive win, and getting it here might have serious playoff implications. Falcons by 1
Houston at Tampa Bay
The Bucs have gone off the boil, but they’ve had a tough run of games. Although the Texans are in good form, Tampa offers a more difficult challenge. Bucs by 4
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati
A real letdown for the Steelers last week, and that might motivate them to beat a Bengals side who have surprised everyone at 6-2. Steelers by 7
Tennessee at Carolina
The Panthers have lost a lot of close games this season, but they should come out the right side of another tight contest on Sunday. Panthers by 3
Arizona at Philadelphia
The status of Kevin Kolb is a talking-point in this one, but the Eagles are another team with yet another point to prove. Should win comfortably. Eagles by 14
Denver at Kansas City
Hands up who saw the results for these two teams coming last week? Differing motivations therefore going into this important divisional clash. That, and home advantage might be enough for Kansas City. Chiefs by 6
Buffalo at Dallas
Could be a shootout in Dallas as both sides look to win this one on offense. It’s all the Bills know, and the cowboys have enough to punish any wrecklessness. Cowboys by 7
St. Louis at Cleveland
Hardly the most exciting prospect of the weekend, but it’s St. Louis who have shown a little promise of late and that could be enough to overcome a limited Cleveland side. Rams by 4
Washington at Miami
Miami are favourites for this game, which gives you an indication of the freefall the Redskins are currently experiencing. Expect it to continue this week against a rejuvanated Miami side. Dolphins by 4
Baltimore at Seattle
The Ravens are on a high after the late heroics at Heinz Field last Sunday night. The Seahawks might not score. Ravens by 17
NY Giants at San Francisco
The 49ers are just a very well drilled, tough team, who won’t give anything up easy. The Giants will struggle against that kind of opposition, despite their improbable victory in New England last week. 49ers by 10
Detroit at Chicago
This should be a very tough, physical, low-scoring encounter between two teams who are right on form. The Lions are coming off a bye week while the Bears might find it difficult to repeat the performance in Philly. Lions by 3
New England at NY Jets
New England will be keen to avoid losing thier third consecutive game, and they’ll not get anything easy against the Jets. Rex Ryan smells blood, but expect the Patriots to remain cool and stop the skid. Patriots by 6
Minnesota at Green Bay
Always a big battle in the NFC North, but the fortunes of both sides are at the extreme ends of the scale. Although the Minnesota are looking much better than they did earlier in the season, it’s hard to see them overcoming a Green Bay team seeking perfection. Packers by 9
Another mixed bag with the NFL predictions last weekend, but we posted a winning total nevertheless. This week’s slate contains some very appetising fixtures, on paper anyway. There might be a shootout in San Diego when the Packers visit the west coast, and the Sunday night game offers the Steelers a chance to avenge their opening week blowout against the Ravens…
Last week’s record: 8-5
Season record: 43-25
Seattle at Dallas
A chance for Dallas to recover from last week’s abject showing, and no better team than Seattle to allow for some therapy. Cowboys by 12
Atlanta at Indianapolis
A gruelling and unrewarding season continues for the Colts, but expect them to put up a strong performance against a fancied Atlanta. Falcons by 3
NY Jets at Buffalo
Buffalo are the type of team who might match up well for the Jets, who are coming off their bye week. Jets by 4
Cleveland at Houston
This should be a third consecutive win for the Texans against a Browns outfit who have struggled against even intermediate opposition. Texans by 10
San Francisco at Washington
It’s very hard to see where the Redskins will get scores, both in general and against at tight San Francisco defense. 49ers by 6
Tampa Bay at New Orleans
Only three weeks ago Tampa defeated the Saints, but this game offers New Orleans a chance at revenge and to make up for last week’s loss. Saints by 10
Miami at Kansas City
The Chiefs are in a bit of a letdown spot following Monday night’s victory. Miami have looked better of late and this could be their day. Dolphins by 7
Cincinnati at Tennessee
The Bengals are looking for five wins on the trot, and an inconsistent Tennessee side might be vulnerable here. Bengals by 5
Denver at Oakland
After last week’s dismal display form the Broncos, Carson Palmer and the Raiders – coming off a bye – should be able to make hay. Raiders by 8
NY Giants at New England
A chance for the Patriots to bounce back from last week’s defeat in Pittsburgh. The Giants are 5-2, but will reach .500 soon. Patriots by 10
St. Louis at Arizona
Excellent win for the Rams over the Saints in Week 8, and with Sam Bradford back they will have the confidence to get their second win. Rams by 7
Green Bay at San Diego
Many thought this might be the biggest test of the Packers’ potentially perfect season, but the Chargers just aren’t in the form to stop them. Packers by 5
Baltimore at Pittsburgh
Big revenge factor here in for the Steelers, and the are possibly the AFC’s form team. Ravens defense needs to be on top form. Steelers by 6
Chicago at Philadelphia
The Bears won’t lie down like the Cowboys did in Philadelphia last week, but they are too limited to produce the scores required to win this one. Eagles by 9
Week 8 in the NFL was one of shocks, both big and small, as we came no closer to finding out how things might pan out in the remainder of the 2011 regular season. It only succeeded in complicating matters significantly.
Just one short week ago it was a no-brainer. The Patriots would carry the flag for the AFC, whilst Green Bay’s closest rivals in the NFC would be the New Orleans Saints. The Philadelphia Eagles were well out of the equation and the early pace-setters from Detroit and Buffalo had already faded into the background. Very clear cut.
Scrap all that.
The biggest shock this weekend came in St. Louis, where the previously winless Rams stormed to a 31-21 victory over the Saints. That the win came despite the absence of quarterback Sam Bradford made this result all the more surprising. And it must have been a real hammer blow for the Saints. They still hold a 5-3 record, but division foes Tampa Bay (4-3) and Atlanta (4-3) are closing in.
The road to the playoffs has now become a much more difficult and treacherous one for Sean Payton’s men.
Meanwhile, in Pittsburgh – where no home victory will ever be classified as a major shock – we had a minor upset. But a very significant one. The Steelers defense came up big in a solid 25-17 victory. It was the Patriots second defeat of the season. Ben Roethlisberger was at his clinical best, throwing for 365 yards, whilst Tom Brady was limited to 198 yards.
The Patriots’ postseason appearance is not under threat, but the Steelers are emerging as the AFC’s best. Again.
Then there’s the Eagles. If Sunday night’s win over rivals Dallas was predictable, the manner in which they achieved it certainly wasn’t. A rout from start to finish, Michael Vick was back to something approaching his best as his side romped to a 34-7 victory. Vick threw for 279 yards and ran for 50, signalling an awakening in Philadelphia from their early-season slumber.
Now 3-4, the Eagles are hitting form just in time to launch an assault at the playoffs.
As are the Detroit Lions and the Buffalo Bills. Two teams that surprised everyone with their form through the first five weeks, regained some momentum in Week 8. Detroit hammered a hapless Denver 45-10, whilst Buffalo shutout the Redskins 23-0, in Toronto. With these important wins to get their respective seasons back on track, don’t rule out the Lions or the Bills just yet.
If the two conferences are difficult to predict, then the individual divisions are downright problematic. None more so than the AFC West, where Kansas City’s overtime victory against San Diego on Monday night threw the division wide open. Two weeks ago the Chargers were cruising at 4-1, but they now find themselves tied with both the Chiefs and the Oakland Raiders at 4-3. Only the Denver Broncos (2-5) can be safely ruled out of the playoff equation.
Some things are as predictable as ever.
Week 8 means we’re at the midway point of the NFL regular season (or near enough, considering there are actually 17 weeks), and there are plenty of teams who need to start putting a run of victories together in order to reach the post-season…
Last week’s record: 8-5
Season record: 35-20
Detroit Lions at Denver Broncos
The later game on Sky Sports this Sunday sees two sides coming into Week 8 with very different confidence levels, and that’s something we may not have said just a couple of short weeks ago. Detroit started the season 5-0 but are now in danger of seeing their season unravelling, following successive home defeats against the 49ers and the Falcons. Denver meanwhile have been boosted by the instalment of fan-favourite Tim Tebow at quarterback. Tebow led the Broncos to an unlikely victory last weekend at Miami and they now look as though they have a season left to play for.
However, the momentum that Tebow brings to Denver can only take this side so far and they will be up against it this weekend against a Lions side looking to get their season back on track. Despite his ability to change a game, Tebow has shown an inability to consistently maintain drives and his pass incompletion rate might give the Broncos little to play with on offense, especially with running back Willis McGahee injured for this game. What may go against the Lions in this game is the continued absence of star running back Jahvid best, and that will make their offense a little one-dimensional. But having the Matthew Stafford/Calvin Johnson partnership to fall back on is not a bad second prize, and expect this pair to connect early and often at Mile High to make up for the last couple of weeks when they have been less productive than earlier in the season.
Denver’s offense as a whole has been under-productive all season, with the first 55 minutes against Miami last Sunday being a complete write-off. And that might well be the rule rather than the exception. If the Lions can get a lead in this game then there will be huge pressure on Tebow to produce, which is easier said than done when Ndamukong Suh is hell-bent on smashing your lights out. It is expected that the Lions will play an extremely focused, motivated game here. Their defense will give up nothing cheap, and their talented offense will get enough scores on the board to keep a limited Broncos side well out of reach.
Neutral Zone prediction: Detroit 24 Denver 10
New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers
What a fantastic game this promises to be, and it might be a good idea to watch Red Zone on Sunday evening – rather than sit through events at Mile High in Denver – so that you don’t miss anything from what should be an action-packed encounter at Heinz Field.
The Steelers have recovered well from their early season blowout defeat at Baltimore and currently hold a 5-2 record. For a team renowned for their defensive prowess, they have been especially productive on offense, where they have averaged over 383 yards per game, led by QB Ben Roethlisberger who is in excellent form. ‘Big Ben’ threw for three touchdowns last weekend against Arizona and threw for five against the Titans two weeks earlier. The man is on fire and will be looking forward to increasing those numbers again against an New England defense that has struggled against the pass at various stages this season. Pittsburgh are ranked third in the NFL in total defense, allowing only 279 yards per game, so there is a chance they can limit Brady et al in this one.
New England come into this game off their bye week, so they have had two full weeks to prepare for what on paper looks like one of the most difficult games on their schedule. So far this year they have won in style (Miami, San Diego) and won tough (NY Jets, Dallas), so we know they can do it all, and this is one of those games where everything will need to be clicking in order to come out with the win. It’s no surprise to see the Patriots rank No.1 in total offense, recording 474 yards per game but this game may well be decided by how well their defense plays against the pass. So far their defense is ranked dead last in the league, allowing over 423 yards per game and conceded 34 points in a week 3 defeat to Buffalo.
Last year’s game between these sides finished 39-26 in favour of New England. It was a game in which Tom Brady took the Steeler’s defense apart and was possibly their most impressive performance of the 2010 regular season. Brady also has a 6-1 record against the Steelers so the Patriots will not be lacking in confidence heading into Pittsburgh on Sunday. On the flip side, those previous results give the Steelers some level of motivation, so expect them to come flying out of the traps as they seek revenge and look to take a stranglehold in a tight AFC North playoff race. It’s a difficult game to call, and you can make cases for both sides. With the offenses on show it should be a high-scoring contest, and if the Steelers can get into an early lead, they might have enough to erase bad memories of Patriots games past.
Neutral Zone prediction: New England 28 Pittsburgh 30
Dallas Cowboys at Philadelphia Eagles
A huge NFC East matchup awaits those willing to make use of the extra hour and watch this week’s Sunday night prime-time game. This is one of the bigger rivalries in the NFL with the Cowboys hoping to catch division leaders, the NY Giants, while the Eagles just want to get themselves off the bottom spot.
As their 3-3 record might suggest, the 2011 season has been a real mixed bag for the Dallas Cowboys so far. On the positive side they have been the only team to defeat the 49ers (back in week 2), but they have also suffered some bad defeats when victory was well within their grasp, namely against the Jets in week 1 and Detroit in week 4. But there have been improvements with this cowboys side since their bye week that followed that improbable defeat to the Lions. Their defense put in a massive game against the Patriots – but they came out of New England empty-handed thanks to some conservative play-calling late in the game – and last week against the Rams, they produced a balanced offensive game to cruise to a 27-point victory. Starring in that game was running back DeMarco Murray, who rushed for an amazing 253 yards. His emergence adds another string to the offensive bow, especially with QB Tony Romo being inconsistent since the start of the season, but there must be a worry that rookie Murray could be a flash in the pan. Those sort of crazy figures are unsustainable in this league, and the Eagles will be more than ready for him this week, so the atention will once agin fall on Romo.
The Eagles are coming off their bye week, and it could not have come at a better time for Andy Reid’s side. The welcome week 6 win over the Redskins halted a four-game skid, and allowed the Eagles to carry some sort of positivity into the two-week lay off, as they got a chance to catch their breath and reflect on what has been a turbulent start to the season in Philadelphia. However, there is a sense of the wind changing where this team is concerned which has repurcussions for this tight NFC East division, with the win over the Redskins meaning that the Eagles still have strong hopes of making the playoffs. They currently rank third in the NFL in total offense, averaging almost 442 yards per game, so they have the power, balance and requisite tools to make a strong run in the second half of the season, and no better place to start than a game against the Cowboys. But forget about offensive numbers, the most striking statistic going into this game is that Andy Reids record coming off a bye week with Philadelphia is 12-0. He must be doing something right, and it would be foolish to disregard that record. This could be the week where the Eagles finally take off and the Cowboys will struggle to catch them.
Neutral Zone prediction: Dallas 21 Philadelphia 28
And the rest…
Miami at NY Giants
Despite being 4-2 the Giants are unpredicatble, but the Dolphins are predicatbly awful. Giants by 10
Jacksonville at Houston
An excellent win for the Jags last Monday night, but they’re unlikely to repeat the dose against revitalised Houston. Texans by 15
Arizona at Baltimore
Things haven’t been getting much better for QB Kevin Kolb and the Cardinals, while an angry Baltimore side will be focused on victory. Ravens by 12
New Orleans at St. Louis
With Sam Bradford once aain out for the Rams this should be a no-contest, even if the Saints are unlikely to replicate last week’s haul. Saints by 10
Minnesota at Carolina
QB Christian Ponder showed promise last week for the Vikings, but Cam Newton is at a different level and will be buoyed by last week’s win. Panthers by 4
Indianapolis at Tennessee
The Colts reached rock-bottom last week against the Saints so expect a more solid defense, but the Titans have a point to prove themselves. Titans by 6
Washington at Buffalo
The Redskins will play this one very tough and force Buffalo to show something more than a passing game; it’s doubtful that the Bills can adapt. Redskins by 3
Cincinnati at Seattle
The Bengals have been something of a surprise package, whilst Seattle have been horrible in the main, but it’s been a unpredictable season. Seahawks by 7
Cleveland at San Francisco
The 49ers should have too much for a Cleveland team that have only beaten the very worst teams in the league. But it won’t be a blowout. 49ers by 6
San Diego at Kansas City
Somehow the Chiefs have dragged themselves into the AFC West race, but this game will test how legitimate their challenge really is. Chargers by 10
It was an eagerly anticipated weekend in the NFL thanks to a whole host of changes for various teams going into week 7, at the quarterback position…
Leading the way was the QB switch at Denver, and thanks to the Broncos having their bye in week 6, we had been waiting for this one for two weeks. And it didn’t disappoint. Tim Tebow made his first start of the season in the place of the maligned Kyle Orton, and for 56 minutes at the Miami Dolphins he looked every bit as bad (or as good) as Orton ever did. But Orton could never do what Tebow did next. With the Dolphins leading by 15-0 with only three minutes on the clock, Tebow led two touchdown drives and ran himself for a two-pointer to tie the game and bring it to overtime. A 52-yard field goal sealed the deal for the Broncos in overtime and it was the first time ever that an NFL team came back to win from 15 or more points down with under three minutes to play.
Tebow had a modest pass completion rate of 13/27 for 161 yards, but forget about QB stats where Tebow is concerned. The only thing that matters to him is winning the game, and he provided further evidence of his ability to do just that against the Dolphins. Tebow’s ability to play at quarterback in the NFL has been scrutinised to the max in his first two seasons in the league. He may look more like a tight end or a full back, and his numbers aren’t going to trouble the league’s best, but there’s no doubting the energy and spirit that he brings to a team and to a game. The intangibles he possesses and his ability to make big plays late in the game will make him a star in the NFL for quite some time. But the jury will always be out.
Having a slightly different afternoon was Kyle Boller at Oakland Raiders, playing the Chiefs. Starting in place of the injured Jason Campbell, Boller threw three interceptions and was replaced at half-time by veteran Carson Palmer, who himself was signed by the Raiders only last week. Unfortunately for Palmer and the Raiders, things didn’t get much better in the second half with Palmer following suit and throwing three interceptions of his own. Boller finished with a QB rating of 22.3; Palmer fared worse, registering 17.3. In all, the Raiders committed eight turnovers, scored zero points and were roundly beaten 28-0 by their AFC West rivals from Kansas City. No doubt Palmer will now be installed as the starting quarterback, but the Raiders need an quick improvement in this department or else all their good work in the opening six weeks of the season will be undone.
A third well-publicised quarterback change came at Minnesota where first-round draft pick Christian Ponder was handed the starting job in place of the seemingly-finished Donovan McNabb. The main problem for Ponder going into his first starting job in the NFL was that he was playing the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers. A baptism of fire, as they say. However, Ponder had a pretty decent afternoon. He connected for a 73-yard pass on the very first play of the game to set up the opening touchdown, and he looked impressive in the Vikings’ subsequent scoring drives. His numbers were far from brilliant (13/32, 219 yards, 2TD, 2INT), but Ponder’s greatest achievement on Sunday was that he kept the Vikings in the game right up until the final few plays. A six-point loss is not the type of result the rookie will have been after, but he showed enough promise and intelligence to keep the starting job at Minnesota for both the near and perhaps long-term future.
Meanwhile, across the country there were a few guys that have seen and done it all before. Two-time Super Bowl winner Ben Roethlisberger thre for 361 yards and 3 touchdowns as the Steelers overcame the Cardinals 32-20. Aaron Rodgers helped the Packers go 7-0 (in a 33-27 win over Minnesota) throwing for 335 yards, 3 touchdowns and a pass completion rate of 24/30 as the current Super Bowl champions proved that it’s possible to win at a division rival by playing well for just one quarter (the 3rd quarter in this case). But pride of place in week 7 goes to 2010 Super Bowl winner Drew Brees. Not only did he amass 325 yards with a passing rate of 31/35, but he also threw for five touchdowns as the Saints routed the Colts on a scoreline of 62-7.
Our week 7 replacement quarterbacks can only dream of numbers like that. For now.
Each week here on The Neutral Zone we preview the top games on the NFL’s weekend slate. This week, all eyes turn to the International Series game at Wembley…
Last week’s record: 9-4
Season record: 27-15
Chicago Bears at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
This is a massive game for American football fans in the UK as the NFL brings its annual game to London, with the Tampa Bay Bucanneers ‘hosting’ the Chicago Bears. Let’s face it, it’s not the most appetising of encounters, and since the game was announced in April the organisers of the Wembley showpiece have struggled to shift tickets. The uncertainty of the lockout has perhaps dented sales somewhat, but the lack of big names on display is probably a more realistic reason for the slow uptake. With teams like the Patriots, Saints and Chargers having featured in the International Series in recent years, it’s not a surprise that this game holds less appeal, although it is marginally more attractive than last year’s game which saw the San Francisco 49ers take on the Denver Broncos.
Moving onto the football itself, and the form of these two sides just two weeks ago may have made for depressing reading for those attending this game. The Bucs had just come off a 45 point blowout loss to the 49ers, and the Bears had suffered a comfortable defeat against their division rivals in Detroit. But week 6 saw a change in fortunes for these two sides. The Bears unloaded against a poor Vikings side, winning by 29 points, but the Bucs registered the more impressive victory, overcoming the Saints on a scoreline of 20-26.
Whilst this game at Wembley is now quite nicely poised, it’s the Bucs who have been in the better form all season. Josh Freeman looks like becoming an elite QB in the NFL and his control in decisive situations has become an excellent attribute for the Tampa outfit. And the defense recovered well last week to produce four interceptions against none other than Drew Brees, so the Bucs have a little balance about them right now.
The Bears? Not so much. Sunday night’s victory came against a clueless Vikings outfit, so it’s hard to assess Chicago’s true performance in that one. Devin Hester is playing at his electrifying best and Jay Cutler has been producing decent form in his last couple of outings, but the question marks for the Bears lie with their defense. They are conceding almost 400 yards per game and this is something Freeman and the Bucs can take advantage off, despite missing running back LeGarrette Blount. Also, Chicago have struggled to get back into games when they are trailing, so if Tampa get off to a quick start it will be difficult for the Bears to claw back for victory.
Tampa Bay also has the advantage going into this game of having played in Wembley before (being beaten by the Patriots in 2009). They arrived in London as early as Monday past, to get acclimatised and prepared, while the Bears only arrived on Friday. This shows that the Bucs are doing everything in their power to give themselves the best chance to get a victory here. So, as well as having the more balanced team on the field, Tampa should be better prepared mentally also for what will be a very different occasion to what the players of these two sides are used to.
Neutral Zone Prediction: Chicago 21 Tampa Bay 27
Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings
Once Sky Sports round up all their coverage from Wembley, they’ll switch their attention (at least as far as the transmission is concerned) to Minnesota where the 1-5 Vikings host the 6-0 Packers. Over the years his has been a keenly contested, attritional divisional matchup, but whatever way you look at this game, it is bordering into mismatch territory.
Green Bay are top of the NFL – or close – in just about every offensive stat line. They have the highest points per game rate at 32.8 and the are the only team across the entire league to have an unbeaten record. Put simply, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay offense have been able, for the most part, to score at will, and if this hasn’t been possible they have scored enough to win the game. The weapons Rodgers has at his disposal far outweighs anything else any other team in the NFL can boast, and the whispers of producing a perfect season are getting louder with each passing week.
Then there’s Minnesota. With just one win this season, this is a team in disarray. Last weekend saw them limp to a 29 point defeat against a mediocre Chicago Bears side, and quarterback Donovan McNabb lost his starting position in the process. First round draft rookie Christian Ponder will take over under center, but there’s a sense of him being fed to the wolves on Sunday, with many Minnesota fans complaining that the Vikings have already conceded defeat.
You feel that the only way the Vikings can come close in this game is if they get off to a solid start, gain some momentum and knock Green Bay off their rhythm. Then, in a divisional encounter, anything is possible. But they’re unlikely now to get that fast start with Ponder opening as QB. They won’t want to place the ball in his hands too often early on, and are more likely to ask running back Adrian Peterson to carry the weight on offense. The Packers will be ready and waiting. This might not be a blow out, but Green Bay are unlikely to ever be in danger.
Neutral Zone Prediction: Green Bay 28 Minnesota 10
San Diego Chargers at New York Jets
This game in New York has been spiced up by the verbal spat that has taken place this week between Jets coach Rex Ryan and San Diego coach Norv Turner. The central argument related to Super Bowl rings, so why either of these pair were getting involved is anyone’s guess, but we all know how Rex likes to stir things up before a big game.
The Jets have had the Chargers’ number in recent seasons, especially in the playoffs, so there is a lot of motivation on the San Diego side here to ensure that the Jets don’t derail their season. San Diego are coming off a bye week and are therefore unlikely to be affected too much by the travel time to the east coast, and also the timing of the game – which kicks off at 10am Pacific time. The Chargers are usually sitting at 2-3 at this stage of the season, so it’s been something of a surprise to see the amount of criticism they have received so far in 2011 despite having a 4-1 record. But the reality is they haven’t been playing well, and have relied on their defense to make the necessary stops in games that ended up being much closer than they should have been. Their game in week 5 was a case in point, and had the game went on much longer, the Tim Tebow led Broncos would have carved out a victory.
The Jets are sitting at 3-3 and sit third in the AFC East behind New England and Buffalo. With games against their aforementioned division rivals coming in consecutive weeks after next weekend’s bye, the Jets know they have reached a critical point of the season. They had an important victory over Miami on Monday night, but had the Dolphins taken their early chances then that game may have panned out very differently. Rex Ryan’s side are fifth in the NFL in passing defense (the Chargers are second) but they are 28th in rush defense, so expect San Diego to utilise the currently-impressing Ryan Matthews to try and capitalise. And if that doesn’t work they always have the passing attack led by Philip Rivers to fall back on. Mark Sanchez and the Jets can’t boast as many weapons, but expect them to try and control the game on the ground to eliminate offensive errors, and keep Rivers away from the ball.
The Chargers’ lack of big-play ability will always give teams a chance against them but the Jets are low on confidence and will struggle to take a stranglehold in the game. They look short on both sides of the ball, and San Diego has enough balance and creativity to take advantage.
Neutral Zone Prediction: NY Jets 24 San Diego 30
And the rest…
Atlanta at Detroit
The Lions are in the recovery position for the first time this season, whilst Atlanta are beginning to show signs of life. Could be tight. Falcons by 1
Denver at Miami
1-4 plays 0-5, but this one is all about Tim Tebow. The Broncos won’t get it handed to them but the Dolphins look well short. Broncos by 3
Houston at Tennessee
If the Texans want to take control of the AFC South, now is the time. But they are low on confidence. The Titans are ready to pounce. Titans by 7
Seattle at Cleveland
It’ll hardly be a classic between two teams that have struggled to score. Signs are there that Charlie Whitehurst and the Seahawks are improving. Seahawks by 6
Washington at Carolina
John Beck will get a start for the Redskins but he isn’t at the same level as Cam Newton, who needs to start winning soon. Panthers by 10
Pittsburgh at Arizona
The Cardinals had a bye last week and sitting at 1-4, they needed it. Pittsburgh have been unspectacular but are getting the job done. Steelers by 3
Kansas City at Oakland
All the talk is surrounding Carson Palmer, and he could start here. Expect a tough, low-scoring battle, and the Chiefs might just edge it. Chiefs by 3
St. Louis at Dallas
The Rams have been poor all season (0-5) and QB Sam Bradford is doubtful. It’s set up for the Cowboys to get a season-starting win. Cowboys by 12
Indianapolis at New Orleans
The Saints will be keen to make up for last week’s loss, and Indi does not have the offensive power to keep up. Saints by 10
Baltimore at Jacksonville
The Ravens are top of the defensive charts while the Jags have been horrible offensively. The defense wins out in this one. Ravens by 6
A coach complaining about a poorly executed handshake, and another coach getting his leg broken by his own tight end… there were plenty of ridiculous moments in week 6 of the NFL, and we’ll get to those after looking at what caught the eye on the actual playing field this past weekend.
From the sublime…
Just over two minutes remaining at Gillette Stadium on Sunday and the Cowboys are leading the Patriots by three points. Tom Brady has the ball in his hand at the New England 20 yard line. What do you think happens next? That’s right, Brady leads his side up the field and ends up throwing an 8 yard touchdown pass to Aaron Hernandez. Not only that, but the cold-blooded Brady only leaves 22 seconds on the clock for the Cowboys to respond (they couldn’t). This was another brilliant example of the style, control and efficiency of one of the greatest QBs the game has ever seen.
Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler can’t believe that people kick the ball to Devin Hester. Those of us unaccustomed to punting an oval shaped object on an American football field can only assume that eleven 6ft 4, 250lb men trying their level best to break you in half, can only disrupt your ability to kick the ball into the perfect spot on the field. Maybe that explains why Hester receives the ball so often in punting situations. But there is little excuse for kickers during kickoffs. On Sunday night against the Vikings, Hester returned a career-long 98 yard kickoff return for a touchdown, as the Bears cruised to a 39-10 victory. Electric stuff.
Probably only fair to give the Philadelphia Eagles credit when it’s due. After a four-game losing streak they finally got their second win of the season at Washington following a 20-13 victory over the Redskins. The Eagles went back to basics, concentrating on tackling and controlling the clock for over 38 minutes. Star of the show however was safety Kurt Coleman who claimed three interceptions, putting Redskins’ QB Rex Grossman on the fasttrack to the bench.
To the ridiculous…
Now this… this was ridiculous. Easily the most talked-about moment of the weekend’s football, and possibly the most controversial event of the season so far. No prizes for guessing, it’s the already infamous post-match dust up between 49ers’ coach Jim Harbaugh and his Lions’ counterpart Jim Schwartz, following San Francisco’s late victory at Ford Field on Sunday. AKA “handshake-gate”. If you’re reading a blog about the NFL, then you’ll know what’s being discussed here.
The handshake/backslap/aggressive run/shouting and ensuing faux melee isn’t what’s most ridiculous here, but rather the subsequent reaction to it over in the US. It’s like the whole morality of the country has been thrown into disrepute by the behaviour of these teams. Calls for bans and fines. Basically the US media has gone into overdrive on this one. Predictably so.
Let’s break this thing down. Two coaches running down the field – barely staying on their feet – followed by a few guys from the opposing teams rushing into a corner before, em… looking at each other? That’s not a fight, or a brawl. That’s nothing to warrant long-term bans or fines (and the NFL themselves appear to agree, having refused to dish out any punishments). What it is, is good comedy – especially Harbaugh’s post-match interview in which he effectively workshopped the handshake – but little else.
Most of us here in Ireland have probably seen worse at under-14 hurling games, where mass brawls break out at the mere awarding of a sideline puc. Where lumps of ash are cracked off the nearest bone. Referees have been known to be locked in the boots of cars; and when they’re lucky enough to leave the ground in one piece they’re likely to be ran off the road. What happened in Detroit is an insult. An insult even to the concept of ‘handbags’. Imagine if the 49ers players came out of the changing rooms with sticks!
It would be interesting to see the American media reaction if a proper fight broke out in the NFL. Hopefully some day we’ll get the chance to find out.
Moving on… one coach that suffered a real bad break on Sunday was the Saints’ Sean Payton. Not only did his side lose in Tampa Bay, but he also got knocked sideroads as he stood along the touchdown during the first half of the game. Doing the damage was his tight end, Jimmy Graham. Payton tore an MCL and fractured the tibia in his left leg. He has subsequently had surgery on his knee and leg and is expected to call the plays against the Colts this Sunday from the press box.