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Atlanta Falcons (2-5) at Carolina Panthers (4-3)
Prediction: Two teams heading in opposite directions, Carolina enters Sunday with the No. 2 defense in all of football, while Atlanta’s in the middle of a freefall. The Panthers are one of two teams allowing less than 80 yards a game and they’ve held opposing quarterbacks to a 78.5 passer rating. They don’t have a signature win, which points to long-term concerns, but they’ve proven themselves against bad teams.
Panthers 27 Falcons 13
Minnesota Vikings (1-6) at Dallas Cowboys (4-4)
Prediction: In his last three games, Adrian Peterson has just 36 carries. Granted, the Vikings haven’t been competitive in those games, but Peterson is the best running back in football. He deserves more than 36 carries over a three-game span. For Dallas, much of the attention was on Dez Bryant’s sideline antics, but I’d be mad to if I had to sit and watch my defense surrender 600-plus yards. I’m not condoning Bryant’s behavior. I think much of his frustration was the result of wanting to outplay Calvin Johnson, but his antics diverted criticism away from one of the worst defensive performances of the year. Dallas had better improve fast because they play the Saints next week.
Cowboys 37 Vikings 17
Game of the Week
New Orleans Saints (6-1) at N.Y. Jets (4-4)
Prediction: The Jets will play better at home. In fact, they may play well enough to win this game. Most teams (even the mediocre ones) tend to play better the following week. Plus, the Saints aren’t as good on the road as they are in the Superdome. Many experts are chalking up the NFC’s top two seeds to Seattle and New Orleans, but neither team has faced the meat of their schedule. For the Saints, that point starts this week against the Jets followed by an eight-game stretch that includes Dallas, San Francisco, Seattle, and Carolina. They play the latter twice. Right now, the Saints are a good team, but this upcoming stretch will determine whether they’re a great team.
Saints 27 Jets 20
Tennessee Titans (3-4) at St. Louis Rams (3-5)
Prediction: Both teams feature stingy defenses, but the Titans have a much better offense right now. That says a lot about how well St. Louis is playing on the offensive side of the ball. It’s true, though, especially with Zac Stacy questionable to play.
Titans 21 Rams 7
San Diego (4-3) at Washington (2-5)
Prediction: It’s almost as if the media is hoping Washington can go on a late-season run as they did a year ago. Not happening. Robert Griffin III doesn’t look right, and the defense is among the worst in the league. They’re allowing 32.7 points per game, which trails only the winless Jaguars. They have played Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, and Tony Romo. You would think it’d get easier with Philip Rivers, but he’s also playing at a high-level. Washington’s inability to stop the pass will cost them yet another game.
San Diego 41 Washington 31
Kansas City Chiefs (8-0) at Buffalo Bills (3-5)
Prediction: Are the Chiefs a great team or a good team playing an easy schedule? I think the latter, but they can only play the teams across from them on Sundays. Buffalo’s a good home team, but they’re down to Matt Flynn and Jeff Tuel at quarterback. Their defense could keep the game interesting, but neither Flynn nor Tuel are good enough to carry the Bills to a victory over football’s best defense.
Chiefs 13 Bills 0
Philadelphia Eagles (3-5) at Oakland Raiders (3-4)
Prediction: One victory away from reaching .500, the Raiders are getting it done with a good running game and defense. The Eagles, meanwhile, are going in reverse. They started fast, but their offense hasn’t scored a touchdown in two weeks. The Raiders aren’t a playoff team, but they’re good enough to beat the lowly Eagles at home.
Raiders 26 Eagles 21
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-7) at Seattle Seahawks (7-1)
Prediction: You know your team is bad when fans are already eyeing up candidates as your next head coach. Lovie Smith is Tampa Bay‘s leading contender and he’d be a tremendous fit. I wonder whether Jay Cutler -- a free agent after the season -- would reunite with him in Tampa Bay. Oh, there’s a game this Sunday. Give me Seahawks in a shutout.
Seahawks 31 Buccaneers 0
Baltimore Ravens (3-4) at Cleveland Browns (3-5)
Prediction: Despite playing well in Kansas City, I have a hard time imagining Jason Campbell leading the Browns to victory over the defending Super Bowl champions. Sure, the Ravens aren’t playing like defending champs, but the defense is still very talented. Moreover, they’re coming off much-needed rest. Until Baltimore gets production from their running games, they’re going to have to win with their defense. That’s exactly what’ll happen in Cleveland.
Ravens 19 Browns 10
Pittsburgh Steelers (2-5) at New England Patriots (6-2)
Prediction: Neither the NFL nor CBS thought Pittsburgh would be this bad when they scheduled this game in the off-season. Le’Veon Bell could give New England’s defense trouble, despite their acquisition of defensive tackle Isaac Sopoaga, but the Steelers look old. That’s especially evident on the defensive side of the ball, where they’re allowing teams to run the ball on them. That’ll be New England’s game plan, as they take care of business.
Patriots 28 Steelers 17
Indianapolis Colts (5-2) at Houston Texans (2-5)
Prediction: Don’t discount Houston in this game. They’re playing good defense and Case Keenum gave their offense energy two weeks ago. Nobody has a better set of wins than Indianapolis does. They’ve beaten Denver, San Francisco, and Seattle. They’re not without flaws. Losing Reggie Wayne hurts, though I think second-year receiver T.Y. Hilton will explode in his place. However, Trent Richardson looks like a bust. He’s not getting to the second level and he looks slow. Maybe the Browns were right. The Colts are good enough to beat the Texans without getting production from their running game, but Richardson playing well would enhance their long-term prospects. That’s something to watch for on Sunday night.
Colts 30 Texans 20
Chicago Bears (4-3) at Green Bay Packers (5-2)
Prediction: This week’s only game featuring two teams with winning records, Chicago travels to Lambeau Field in a matchup of the NFL’s oldest rivalry. Jay Cutler’s absence will be a hot topic, but it might be a blessing in disguise, as he doesn’t play well against the Packers. The Bears want to rely on their running game, but Green Bay is third against the run. In addition, this isn’t the same productive Chicago defense. The Bears are No. 27 against the pass and No. 25 against the run. Turns out, Green Bay can throw it and run it now. This is a different Packer team. Their running game surprised many against Minnesota, but that’s how they’ve been playing since week two. They’ve found their identity and it happens to matchup well with the Bears.
Packers 33 Bears 23
Last Week: 12-1
Season Record: 75-44