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Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-5) at Atlanta Falcons (1-4)
Prediction: The Falcons’ weakness is their secondary, which is arguably the worst in professional football. Tampa Bay doesn’t have the quarterback to exploit it, though. Matt Ryan should make enough plays with his arm, even without Julio Jones and Roddy White, giving Atlanta a much-needed victory.
Falcons 24 Buccaneers 14
St. Louis Rams (3-3) at Carolina Panthers (2-3)
Prediction: Both teams are coming off excellent showings, though against lesser opponents. Carolina one of my surprise preseason playoff picks, in large part because of their defense. Entering this week, they’re allowing 299.2 yards per game, which ranks third in the NFL. They’re also allowing just 13.6 point per game, good enough for No. 2 in the NFL.
Panthers 20 Rams 10
Cincinnati Bengals (4-2) at Detroit Lions (4-2)
Prediction: It took overtime for Cincinnati to overcome the Thad Lewis-led Buffalo Bills in week six. The Lions, meanwhile, got a nice road win in Cleveland after losing to Green Bay the previous week. The Bengals don’t play as well on the road as they do at home. This game’s in Detroit, where the Lions have yet to lose in 2013.
Lions 27 Bengals 17
San Diego Chargers (3-3) at Jacksonville Jaguars (0-6)
Prediction: Somehow, a team losing by 16 is good enough for a moral victory. It’s come to this, Jaguar fans.
Chargers 31 Jaguars 17
Houston Texans (2-4) at Kansas City Chiefs (6-0)
Prediction: The two best defenses in pro football reside in Seattle and Kansas City. Frankly, I couldn’t tell you which one’s better. You don’t hear enough about the Chiefs’ defense, but they’re allowing 10.8 points per game, which is best in the league. In addition, they’re averaging five sacks per game. They may increase that number this week, as they face Case Keenum.
Chiefs 27 Texans 7
Buffalo Bills (2-4) at Miami Dolphins (3-2)
Prediction: The Bills are a scrappy team. Lewis played well for them at quarterback, but he’s entering this week banged up, so they signed journeyman backup Matt Flynn as insurance. The Dolphins, meanwhile, are coming off their bye week. This is a good week for quarterback Ryan Tannehill to get right, as Buffalo struggles defending the pass. Look for Miami’s passing attack to have their best outing to date.
Dolphins 28 Bills 20
Upset of the Week
New England Patriots (5-1) at N.Y. Jets (3-3)
Prediction: Perhaps the Patriots benefited from poor game-management by New Orleans, but their win over the Saints could set the tone for the reminder of their season. They didn’t escape without worry, though, as linebacker Jerod Mayo is out for the season. That’s the second significant injury to their defense this season, as defensive tackle Vince Wilfork sustained a season-ending Achilles’ injury three weeks ago. Both injuries leave the middle of New England’s defense vulnerable, so look for the Jets to attack it with their running backs. Last week’s high will wear off quickly, as the injuries to Mayo and Wilfork come home to roost.
Jets 23 Patriots 20
Dallas Cowboys (3-3) at Philadelphia Eagles (3-3)
Prediction: The Eagles are destined to be the team that beats up on mediocre offenses, yet loses to teams with high-octane offenses. Their defense is allowing 420.2 yards per game, which is good enough for last in the NFL. Some of their woes have to do with their offense’s up-tempo pace, but they also have significant concerns in the secondary. Simply put, the Cowboys are a bad matchup for the Eagles, even with the game in Philadelphia.
Cowboys 37 Eagles 27
Chicago (4-2) at Washington (1-4)
Prediction: The Bears are a good team capable of winning their division, while Washington’s just plain bad. They can’t stop anyone on defense and their offense can‘t protect the ball. In truth, they overachieved a year ago and have come back to earth. It’s comparable to the 2012 Lions, who were coming off a playoff season in 2011. They entered ‘12 with high expectations, but won just four games. Washington faces a similar fate.
Chicago 34 Washington 17
San Francisco 49ers (4-2) at Tennessee Titans (3-3)
Prediction: A week after playing in Seattle, the Titans host the 49ers. San Francisco has slowly gotten back on track after a 2-2 start, though they’re best football is still ahead of them. The Titans’ defense is playing well, ranking 10th in total yards and 8th in points allowed. Their offense, however, is averaging just 15 points per game since a hip injury sidelined quarterback Jake Locker. He may play this week, but there’s no guaranteeing he’ll be the same quarterback.
49ers 21 Titans 10
Cleveland Browns (3-3) at Green Bay Packers (3-2)
Prediction: Dealing with injuries is nothing new for the Packers. Since their Super Bowl run in 2010, the Packers have dealt with significant injuries each year. Maybe any other team would struggle without some of their guys, but the Packers find ways to adapt. That’s not to downplay losing wide receiver Randall Cobb, but the Packers are running the ball as well as they have in a decade. They’re better equipped to deal with losing a star receiver and should be able to grind out a home win against a tough Cleveland team.
Packers 23 Browns 14
Baltimore Ravens (3-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (1-4)
Prediction: I don’t think this is what the NFL had in mind when it gave these teams the late afternoon timeslot. The Steelers did get a big win versus the Jets. Frankly, I wouldn’t yet count them out in the AFC North. The Ravens, meanwhile, need to get their running game going. Ray Rice is averaging 2.8 yards per carry, so perhaps it’s time backup Bernard Pierce features more in the game plan. The Ravens are the better team, but I’m a bit more hesitant with that statement than I was a week ago.
Ravens 17 Steelers 16
Game of the Week
Denver Broncos (6-0) at Indianapolis Colts (4-2)
Prediction: Indianapolis owner Jim Irsay is right. The Colts underachieved during Peyton Manning’s 14 years there. Basically, that’s what he said, when talking about the disappointment in winning just one ring. For some reason, that makes him unappreciative. Fine. It also makes him right. For all of Denver’s success, they haven’t done it against quality defenses. The Cowboys, Giants, Eagles, Raiders, and Jaguars aren’t near as good as Indianapolis’ defense is. Maybe you can argue Baltimore is, but it was week one and the Ravens were dealing with a lot of turnover from the previous season. I have no doubts about Manning’s ability to put points on the board. However, I trust the Colts’ defense more, especially at home.
Colts 28 Broncos 27
Minnesota Vikings (1-4) at N.Y. Giants (0-6)
Prediction: The Giants are bad, but so are the Vikings. Minnesota’s major weakness is in the secondary, where they don’t matchup well with New York’s wide receivers. In addition, they’re starting Josh Freeman at quarterback after two weeks with the team. Unless Adrian Peterson single-handily wins this one on his own, the Giants should get their first win of the year.
Giants 31 Vikings 28
Last Week: 10-5
Season Record: 53-38