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New Orleans Saints (4-0) at Chicago Bears (3-1)
Prediction: Because of Atlanta’s slow start, New Orleans has taken control of the NFC South. However, they’ve yet to prove they can win a big game on the road. Wins against Atlanta, Arizona, and Miami were at home. It took a last-second field goal to win in Tampa Bay. They’re a different team on grass. With the exception of last week, Chicago’s done a good job of protecting the football and forcing turnovers. They also have an underrated group of skill players. Matt Forte and Brandon Marshall are household names, but second-year wide receiver Alshon Jeffery is beginning to emerge and free-agent tight end Martellus Bennett is on pace for 12 touchdowns. The Bears get it done, and they do it with their offense.
Bears 34 Saints 27
Upset of the Week
New England Patriots (4-0) at Cincinnati Bengals (2-2)
Prediction: Last week was the first time New England started to play like the team we’ve come accustom to watching over the last dozen years. In one week, the narrative went from the passing game’s struggles back to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick just plugging in guys and moving ahead like a locomotive. The Bengals are coming off the classic trap game. They beat Green Bay two weeks ago in a thriller. In addition, they had to know New England was around the corner, so their focus maybe wasn‘t on Cleveland. With better focus defensively, they’ll force Brady out rhythm and hand him his first defeat of the season.
Bengals 26 Patriots 24
Detroit Lions (3-1) at Green Bay Packers (1-2)
Prediction: The Lions haven’t won in the state of Wisconsin since 1991. They’re due then. Part of me believes that’s true, plus, this might be the best Detroit team to play in Lambeau since the days of Barry Sanders. In particular, quarterback Matthew Stafford is playing well (on pace for 5,000-plus yards) and wide receiver Calvin Johnson should be a matchup nightmare for a Packer team that struggles with big receivers. This might not be the right time to play Green Bay, though. Morgan Burnett, Jermichael Finley, Clay Matthews, and Eddie Lacy are all playing this week, when they probably would’ve sat out had Green Bay played in week four. Aaron Rodgers is also coming off arguably his worst game in three years. Great players tend to respond well after poor performances and Rodgers will get back on track this week.
Packers 37 Lions 28
Game of the Week
Seattle Seahawks (4-0) at Indianapolis Colts (3-1)
Prediction: When Indianapolis defeated San Francisco on the road two weeks ago, the intrigue for this game skyrocketed. The Colts are far more physical this season than last and quarterback Andrew Luck is showing no signs of a sophomore slump. The Seahawks, meanwhile, might have the best defense in football. They’re physical up front and big in the secondary. How do the Colts run on them? They don’t. How do the Colts throw on them? They don‘t. The only way Indy wins is if they’re defense and special teams can shorten the field for their offense.
Seahawks 20 Colts 13
Baltimore Ravens (2-2) at Miami Dolphins (2-2)
Prediction: Maybe the Dolphins aren’t ready for primetime. They did manage to get a tough road win in Indianapolis, but New Orleans overmatched them last Monday. The Ravens enter this game needing a win after an embarrassing second-half performance at Buffalo. They definitely took notice of the success New Orleans running back Darren Sproles had against Miami, and I suspect Baltimore will deploy Ray Rice in a similar manner. They’ll need a big game from Rice, as Joe Flacco’s only legitimate receiver is Torrey Smith, and Miami cornerback Brent Grimes is good enough to take him out of the game. I think Rice delivers on Sunday.
Ravens 24 Dolphins 20
Philadelphia Eagles (1-3) at N.Y. Giants (0-4)
Prediction: Neither of these teams is very good. It seems like the media accepts that the Giants stink, but they aren’t ready to proclaim the Eagles a bad football team. Well, they’re a bad football team. They can’t play defense and somehow along the way we forgot that Michael Vick isn’t a very good quarterback. The Giants have their issues, but they’re wide receivers matchup well with Philadelphia’s cornerbacks. They’ll win in a high-scoring affair.
Giants 38 Eagles 30
Jacksonville Jaguars (0-4) at St. Louis Rams (1-3)
Prediction: The Jaguars just traded tackle Eugene Monroe, signaling they’re intent to build around Luke Joeckel. They also get Justin Blackmon back this week, which should be a boon for their offense. I do believe the Jaguars will eek out one win this season, but this isn’t the week, as St. Louis’ defense is due for a bounce back after a tough game against San Francisco.
Rams 24 Jaguars 10
Kansas City Chiefs (4-0) at Tennessee Titans (3-1)
Prediction: Losing quarterback Jake Locker is a significant blow for Tennessee. Locker was beginning to develop, having played back-to-back quality games for the first time in his pro career. You just can’t downplay the importance of his absence. Backup Ryan Fitzpatrick can move in the pocket, but he doesn’t have the arm to stretch the field against a Kansas City defense that’s playing like the AFC’s top defense.
Chiefs 21 Titans 7
Carolina Panthers (1-2) at Arizona Cardinals (2-2)
Prediction: Cam Newton made his first NFL start against the Cardinals in 2011. He threw for 422 yards on that day, as the Panthers came up short. The Panthers are a good team. I’m not sure about their coaching, but they have a great front seven, and Newton’s beginning to improve as a player. However, the Cardinals play better at home. They’re getting good play from their defense and they’re finding ways to win. I’ll take Bruce Arians over Ron Rivera in a close game.
Cardinals 21 Panthers 20
Denver Broncos (4-0) at Dallas Cowboys (2-2)
Prediction: Tony Dungy brought up a great point regarding this game. He used to coach with Monte Kiffin in Tampa Bay. When he left Tampa Bay, he brought the Tampa 2 defense to Indianapolis, where Peyton Manning saw it everyday in practice. Kiffin now runs the Tampa 2 in Dallas. Good luck in this endeavor.
Broncos 42 Cowboys 28
San Diego Chargers (2-2) at Oakland Raiders (1-3)
Prediction: During the off-season, I wrote that new San Diego head coach Mike McCoy’s No. 1 priority was to rebuilt Philip Rivers. He’s done just that. Rivers is playing outstanding football and is once again looking like the third best quarterback in the AFC behind Brady and Manning. He’ll carry the Chargers to victory over Oakland, whose lone win came against Jacksonville.
Chargers 30 Raiders 14
Houston Texans (2-2) at San Francisco 49ers (2-2)
Prediction: After finding ways to win in their first two games, the Texans are now finding ways to lose. Last week, quarterback Matt Schaub’s fourth-quarter interception was about as poor as a throw a veteran quarterback can make. That type of play could linger in the locker room, especially after the performance Houston’s defense gave. As a result, this is a major test for the Texans. They need to prove that last week is behind them or San Francisco could runaway with this one. Keeping this one close would be a moral win for Houston.
49ers 23 Texans 16
N.Y. Jets (2-2) at Atlanta Falcons (1-3)
Prediction: No team currently needs a win more than Atlanta does. The Falcons are reeling after back-to-back losses versus AFC East foes. Maybe the third times the charm. The Jets will enter Monday with a depleted receiving corps, which is exactly what the Atlanta secondary needs. Because of the injuries and hostile environment, I’d be surprised if Geno Smith attempts 20 passes in this game.
Falcons 24 Jets 13
Last Week: 10-5
Season Record: 35-28