Home > Weekly Picks > Three and out: Week 7 picks

Three and out: Week 7 picks

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

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