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San Francisco 49ers (5-2) at Jacksonville Jaguars (0-6)
Prediction: Much of the current focus is on Denver, Indianapolis, and Seattle, but San Francisco has quietly won four in a row. They’ve done it by playing good defense -- despite missing Aldon Smith -- and by getting back to running the football. They’re averaging 174.5 rushing yards per game during their four-game winning streak. This week, they’re playing a Jacksonville defense that ranks last in stopping the run.
49ers 35 Jaguars 10
Cleveland Browns (3-4) at Kansas City Chiefs (7-0)
Prediction: Last week, there were times when Cleveland had open receivers, but Brandon Weeden simply missed them with an inaccurate throw. His play landed him on the bench, as the Browns turn toward Jason Campbell. Campbell is a veteran, but he’s up against the best pass-rushing defense in football. Both Justin Houston and Tamba Hali could have big games.
Chiefs 20 Browns 3
Miami Dolphins (3-3) at New England Patriots (5-2)
Prediction: After a 3-0 start, most were legitimizing Miami. However, they’ve fallen in their last three games to New Orleans, Baltimore, and Buffalo. Perhaps the Dolphins were pretenders. That was my initial assumption heading into the year and its back to being my assumption. For New England, Tom Brady must play better. He has exactly one touchdown pass in his last three games. He’ll get at least one against Miami, especially if Rob Gronkowski plays as he did last week.
Patriots 27 Dolphins 17
Buffalo Bills (3-4) at New Orleans Saints (5-1)
Prediction: The Bills struggle to defend the pass. The Saints possess arguably the NFC’s best passing game. Yes, they could be without tight end Jimmy Graham, but much of Buffalo’s struggles come against receivers. They’re allowing 224.4 yards per game to opposing wideouts, which suggests a season-best performance from Marques Colston.
Saints 38 Bills 21
Upset of the Week
N.Y. Giants (1-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (3-4)
Prediction: Picking the Giants has more to do with my opinion of Philadelphia. The Eagles’ three wins have come against opponents whose combined record is 3-16. One of those wins did come against the Giants, but Eli Manning was in the midst of an interception spree. He didn’t turn the ball over last week and I like the Giants’ receivers going up against Philadelphia’s secondary.
Giants 30 Eagles 27
Game of the Week
Dallas Cowboys (4-3) at Detroit Lions (4-3)
Prediction: A game with potential playoff implications, Detroit’s coming off their first home loss of the season to Cincinnati. Meanwhile, Dallas is in complete control of the NFC East after beating Philadelphia. The Cowboys’ offensive line is much improved, but Detroit’s front four is among the best in the league. In addition, Calvin Johnson is playing out of his mind, and going up against a vulnerable secondary. He’ll be the difference in the end, as the Lions win a shootout.
Lions 38 Cowboys 34
N.Y. Jets (4-3) at Cincinnati Bengals (5-2)
Prediction: The Bengals’ victory in Detroit was a sneaky-good win. The Lions are a good home team and Cincinnati desperately needed to make a statement on the road. They come home in complete control of the AFC North, in large part because Andy Dalton’s beginning to play well. He’s thrown for 709 yards, six touchdowns, and one interception in his last two games. The Jets’ pass defense is stout, though, so I suspect a coming back to earth period for Dalton. Nevertheless, the Bengals are a good home team and their defense will devour Geno Smith.
Bengals 23 Jets 16
Pittsburgh Steelers (2-4) at Oakland Raiders (2-4)
Prediction: Quietly, the Steelers are just two games back of the Bengals in the loss column after winning back-to-back games. The Raiders remain good enough to keep games competitive, but not good enough to win them. Terrelle Pryor will have his moments, but this isn’t Dick Lebeau’s first rodeo. He’ll devise a scheme that’ll confuse Pryor, forcing the first-year starter into mistakes. The Steelers’ running game will also have its best game of 2013.
Steelers 28 Raiders 14
Atlanta Falcons (2-4) at Arizona Cardinals (3-4)
Prediction: Last week notwithstanding, Arizona is a good home team. They’re also a tough matchup for the Falcons. The Cardinals can throw the ball and Atlanta has one of the worst defensive backfields in football. Both Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd should have big games, as the Cardinals take care of business against the wounded Falcons.
Cardinals 31 Falcons 24
Washington (2-4) at Denver (6-1)
Prediction: Every year, the media focuses too much on the team with the hot offense. It was the Patriots in 2010, the Packers in 2011, and the Broncos in 2012. What do those teams have in common? They all lost in the divisional round of the playoffs. In order to avoid repeating history, Denver must improve their pass protection and play better defense. Washington can rush the passer, but their secondary is atrocious. Denver will exploit it with their receiving corps, but the real test is whether their defense can slow down Washington’s improving offense. If this game’s a shootout, that’s a bad long-term sign for Denver.
Denver 42 Washington 31
Green Bay Packers (4-2) at Minnesota Vikings (1-5)
Prediction: Last year, Adrian Peterson ran for 508 yards and scored three touchdowns in three games against Green Bay. That was last year, though, and this Packers defense is much better. They rank third against the run and haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher all season. Losing Clay Matthews and Nick Perry, however, will hurts them this week. Peterson is amazing at getting outside and Matthews and Perry were doing a good job of outside containment. Defensively, the Vikings play right into Green Bay’s hand. Their pass rush is struggling and they’ll rely on a young secondary to slow down Jordy Nelson. In addition, Green Bay’s running game is for real. Over the last three weeks, nobody has more rushing yards than Eddie Lacy does.
Packers 31 Vikings 17
Seattle Seahawks (6-1) at St. Louis Rams (3-4)
Prediction: Another week and yet another dull Monday night game. The only drama here is whether Marshawn Lynch will have 100 rushing yards by halftime. Seahawks win in a rout.
Seahawks 30 Rams 6
Last Week: 10-5
Season Record: 63-43