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Green Bay Packers (2-2) at Baltimore Ravens (3-2)
Prediction: Losing linebacker Clay Matthews hurts, but it‘s not a deal breaker for the Pack. Nick Perry and Mike Neal have picked up their play and both are capable players. Baltimore, meanwhile, has survived their storm of injuries. However, their injuries have overshadowed legitimate problems with this team, especially regarding running back Ray Rice, who’s averaging less than three yards per carry. This is a good week for him to get going, as Green Bay’s defense has a tendency to play undisciplined, opening the door for Baltimore to utilize play action. If Rice runs well enough that Green Bay’s safeties bite on the play fake, then Flacco hitting on shots downfield will be the difference in the game.
Ravens 27 Packers 23
Cincinnati Bengals (3-2) at Buffalo Bills (2-3)
Prediction: You don’t contend for division titles and lose to Thad Lewis. The Bengals haven’t played well on the road this season (0-2), but Buffalo struggles versus the pass, so Andy Dalton and A.J. Green should have productive afternoons. In addition, running back C.J. Spiller is dealing with injuries, making it more difficult for Buffalo to muster up much offense.
Bengals 24 Bills 3
Detroit Lions (3-2) at Cleveland Browns (3-2)
Prediction: Whether Calvin Johnson plays or not is going to have a significant impact in this game. His presence allows Detroit’s underneath routes to open up because defenses are worried he‘ll beat them over the top. As a result, Matthew Stafford is able to get his tight ends (Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler) and Reggie Bush involved. I’m going to assume Johnson plays, but if he sits, Cleveland’s defense is good enough to single handily win games on their own.
Lions 21 Browns 14
St. Louis Rams (2-3) at Houston Texans (3-2)
Prediction: Starting Matt Schaub is the right move for Houston. This is a good week for him to gain back confidence. St. Louis doesn’t defend the run well, so there’s no reason why Arian Foster and Ben Tate shouldn’t combine for 30 carries in this game. This will take some of the pressure off Schaub, who plays his best when the Texans are utilizing play action.
Texans 28 Rams 16
Oakland Raiders (2-3) at Kansas City Chiefs (5-0)
Prediction: With the exception of Seattle, the Chiefs might have the best defense in the league. The Raiders also are playing good defense, though, especially against the run. They’re allowing under four yards per rush, so they have the ability to contain Jamaal Charles. The Chiefs are going to win, but Oakland’s defense won’t make it easy.
Chiefs 19 Raiders 13
Carolina Panthers (1-3) at Minnesota Vikings (1-3)
Prediction: Carolina had three turnovers against Arizona, so they’ll emphasize protecting the ball this week. Moreover, their front seven is allowing only 3.6 yards per carry, so they’re good enough to keep Adrian Peterson from beating them.
Panthers 16 Vikings 14
Pittsburgh Steelers (0-4) at N.Y. Jets (3-2)
Prediction: The Steelers are a bad team. They can’t protect Ben Roethlisberger and their defense is allowing 27.5 points per game. For the Jets, rookie quarterback Geno Smith is playing good football. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg is relying on a short-passing game, allowing Smith to get rid of the ball quickly. The Jets’ short-passing game and the emergence of running back Bilal Powell should carry them to victory on Sunday.
Jets 23 Steelers 13
Philadelphia Eagles (2-3) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-4)
Prediction: Chip Kelly cannot run a high-octane offense and expect his defense to stop anyone. That’s just not how you win in the NFL. The Buccaneers have the capability of wearing Philadelphia’s defense down with running back Doug Martin, so I expect the Eagles to run a more traditional offense, giving their defense a chance to stay fresh through four quarters.
Eagles 27 Buccaneers 17
Jacksonville Jaguars (0-5) at Denver Broncos (5-0)
Prediction: Consider this a glorified preseason game for Denver. The only storyline is whether they actually play their starters into the fourth quarter.
Broncos 45 Jaguars 10
Tennessee Titans (3-2) at Seattle Seahawks (4-1)
Prediction: After a good start, Tennessee is beginning to come back down to earth. In their defense, losing Jake Locker was a big blow, as the third-year signal caller was beginning to improve. Still, their best asset is their running game and Seattle’s run defense is allowing just 75.5 rushing yards at home.
Seahawks 31 Titans 9
Game of the Week
New Orleans Saints (5-0) at New England Patriots (4-1)
Prediction: Most of the attention will be on Rob Gronkowski’s status, but he won’t be the best tight end in the stadium. That would be Jimmy Graham, who leads the NFL in receiving yards with 593. Two weeks ago, Atlanta tight end Tony Gonzalez dominated the Patriots. They did get physical with Gonzalez later in the game, but Graham’s a different animal, and Sean Payton’s the best coach in the league at creating mismatches for his players. In addition, New Orleans’ defense is no longer a slouch. They’re forcing quarterbacks into mistakes and they rank seventh in sacks. Generally, Tom Brady doesn’t play back-to-back poor games, but these Patriots are not as good as they were in previous seasons.
Saints 34 Patriots 24
Arizona Cardinals (3-2) at San Francisco 49ers (3-2)
Prediction: Despite the identical records, nobody’s expecting San Francisco to struggle against Arizona. I’m not so sure, however. Colin Kaepernick continues to struggle. The 49ers didn’t rely on him last week, so his struggles were overlooked, but he needs to pickup his play, especially against quality defenses. The Cardinals possess such a defense, as they harassed and confused a dual-threat quarterback (Newton) last week. They can keep this game close by doing it again, but ultimately, I can’t trust Carson Palmer and his 10 turnovers on the road.
49ers 20 Cardinals 16
Upset of the Week
Washington (1-3) at Dallas Cowboys (2-3)
Prediction: Isn’t this when Dallas loses? Everybody is on their bandwagon, even after their heart-breaking defeat to Denver. Frankly, Tony Romo was brilliant in that game and Jerry Jones was right when he called it a moral victory. For Washington, Robert Griffin III is slowly improving and they’re coming off their bye week. More important, Dallas’ run defense has shown cracks in their arsenal three of the last four weeks. That bodes well for running back Alfred Morris, who Mike Shanahan needs lean on in order to keep Romo and Dallas’ high-octane passing attack off the field.
Washington 37 Dallas 30
Indianapolis Colts (4-1) at San Diego Chargers (2-3)
Prediction: Other than Denver, the Colts are playing like the AFC’s best team. They’ve already beaten two of the NFC’s top teams (San Francisco and Seattle), Andrew Luck is playing outstanding football, and their defense is much improved. Why am I picking San Diego then? They‘re at home on Monday night, Philip Rivers is also playing outstanding football, and a rejuvenated Antonio Gates will shred Indianapolis’ linebackers.
Chargers 34 Colts 31
Last Week: 8-5
Season Record: 43-33