Chicago Bears vs Detroit Lions – Believe me when I tell you, head coach Rob Marinelli is an outstanding teacher and football coach, but has been given little in the way of support by management. Let's hope this all changes with the team taking a new direction. The Lions have been unable to run the football and the passing game, minus former OC Mike Martz, has certainly regressed. The Lions on the season have lost to three quarterbacks who have started one, two and three games respectively during their professional careers, a statistic that doesn't bode well for a team that were hoping to contend for a division title in 2008.
The Bears, at two up and two down, are very much alive in the NFC North division and if they can stay relatively healthy for the remainder of the season, and show continued improvement in the passing game, are still in position to challenge for the division title in the NFC North division. Playing on the road, and without their top interior defender Tommy Harris, who aside from an injury to his knee, is serving a one game suspension, I still believe their much improved running game and solid defense will be the difference in this one.
Bears 24 – Lions 16
San Diego Chargers vs Miami Dolphins – I said at the start of the season and still believe today that this Chargers squad has all of the necessary components, particularly on the offensive side of the football, to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. On Sunday, they make their first trip to Florida to take on a Dolphins' squad that is coming off one of the biggest victories in the team's recent history.
The Dolphins and their fans hope that their victory on the road vs the Patriots would give them the necessary carry-over momentum to jump-start the club for the remainder of the season. Sounds like a plan, but this carry-over momentum should be all but forgotten by late afternoon on Sunday.
Chargers 31 – Dolphins 17
Atlanta Falcons vs Green Bay Packers – The Packers running game, particularly last week versus Tampa Bay has been virtually non-existent. Last season's offensive surprise,, Ryan Grant rushed for just twenty yards on fifteen carries last week and unless the Packers can fix that problem in a hurry, their descent from the NFC hierarchy could be sudden and painful. In last week's debacle in Tampa, first year starter Aaron Rodgers not only threw his first interception of the season, he threw three that led to 17 Tampa points! He also injured his non throwing shoulder and if he is not able to go, he will be replaced by rookie Matt Flynn, a seventh round selection in last spring's draft.
The Falcons on the other hand, were simply out-matched by the Panthers, but have done a commendable job of not asking rookie quarterback Matt Ryan to do more than he is able to do. I've liked his work at home, but like most rookies Ryan has struggled when taken out of his element.
In spite of the Packers' offensive problems and key injuries in the secondary (Al Harris), I don't give this young Falcons squad much of a chance of pulling off an upset against an angry Packers squad, on the road, with a rookie quarterback in front of some very hostile cheese heads.
Packers 34 – Falcons 12
Seattle Seahawks vs New York Giants – In 2007, the Super Bowl champion Giants became the first team in NFL history to capture the big prize after compiling a losing record at home. They may not even make it to the big dance this season, but I'm very confident that they will significantly improve upon their home win-loss record in 2008.
Look for the Giants to give the Seahawks a steady diet of 270 pound Brandon Jacobs running the football, in spite of the Seahawks relative success at clogging things up inside. I also expect the Giants to control the tempo of the game with their controlled passing game.
As a side note, hats off to the Giants management team for their actions last week that led to the suspension of wide receiver Plaxico Burress for this Sunday's game. There are far more important things than the game itself and the Giants clearly showed that they will not tolerate bad behavior regardless of the player's skill level.
The Seahawks, who surprisingly rank second in the NFL in rushing despite starter Maurice Morris having played in just one games due to injury (knee), desperately needed the bye-week to allow their walking wounded, an in particular the wide receiver position (Branch and Engram), an additional week to recuperate.
Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who ranks twenty-fifth in the league in passing, has really struggled to date and unless he can get things turned around in a hurry, the Seahawks will have little chance against the undefeated Giants. Based on what I have seen to date, I really don't like their chances of defeating the defending champions on the road.
Giants 27 – Seahawks 20
Tennessee Titans vs Baltimore Ravens – The undefeated Titans led by rookie running back Chris Johnson and veteran quarterback Kerry Collins, with a road victory this Sunday over the Ravens, have a chance to put themselves into a very strong position in the AFC South division.
Johnson, who ranks third in the AFC in rushing and number one among all rookie rushers, has been even better than advertised, but this one isn't going to be easy. Playing on the road, versus the league's top rated defensive unit and likely minus leading receiver Justin Gage is a daunting task.
The Ravens, who rank twenty-fifth in the league in total offense, ran out of gas last Monday night on the road vs the Steelers. In spite of the short week of preparation, being without two key defensive starters; Kelly Gregg and Samari Rolle, little in the way of a running game and the disappearance of Todd Heap from the offense, I really like their chances of upsetting the undefeated Titans this week. This conference battle is going to be a real dog fight, but I like the home team in a low scoring affair.
Ravens 16 – Titans 12
Indianapolis Colts vs Houston Texans – With the Titans off to a great start and the Jaguars playing better in recent weeks, the Colts can not afford dropping another game in the division. Playing on the road without the services of their All-Pro safety Bob Sanders, the worst rushing offense in football and injuries to the offensive front, aren't going to make things easier come Sunday afternoon. Look for the Texans defense to show little respect to the Colts anemic running game and apply a great deal of outside pressure on Peyton Manning.
Matt Schaub, played extremely well in a losing effort vs the Jaguars last week, but will have to duplicate his effort if the Texans are to enter the win column for the first time in 2008. If the Texans' linebacker DeMeco Ryans is healthy (ankle sprain) come Sunday afternoon, I really like their chances of pulling off an upset in the Texan's home opener.
Texans 28 – Colts 27
Kansas City Chiefs vs Carolina Panthers – The Chiefs got into the win column, primarily on the strength of a great individual effort by Larry Johnson and near flawless performance by veteran back-up quarterback Damon Huard versus the thirteenth-ranked Broncos defense. Things might not be quite as smooth this week, on the road, versus a surprising Panthers squad. The Chiefs very inexperienced secondary, will be hard pressed matching up against a receiver group that includes Muhsin Muuhammad, Dante Rosario, D.J. Hackett, and the great Steve Smith. The Chiefs will be without rookie left tackle Branden Albert, injured in the first half of last weeks game versus the Broncos and veteran linebacker Donnie Edwards in this inter-conference battle.
The Panthers enter this contest without either offensive tackle starter; Jordan Gross and Jeff Otah. In many ways both the Panthers and Chiefs have similar playing styles, but the Panthers passing game offense and the friendly confines of Charlotte, should be enough to give them a decided advantage in this one.
Panthers 31 – Chiefs 16
Washington Redskins vs Philadelphia Eagles – The absolute best match-up of the weekend and quite possibly the young season, pits the division rivals' Redskins and Eagles in the city of brotherly love (yeah right)!
The Eagles couldn't close the deal last week in Chicago and needs this one desperately to stay within striking distance in the NFC East. The Eagles hope to get tight end L.J. Smith back this week after missing last weeks contest due to a lower back strain and with the anticipated return of Brian Westbrook, the offense should be much improved for this much anticipated battle.
The Redskins on the other hand, playing without pass rusher Jason Taylor, put it to the Cowboys early and hung-on for a very impressive road victory over America's team. Quarterback Jason Campbell, a healthy Clinton Portis and Santana Moss have been the big difference in the Redskins early success on the offensive side of the football.I've gone back and forth on this one, but on the strength of the Eagles defensive play in their first three outings, home field advantage and injuries to the aforementioned Taylor and Shawn Springs, I like the Eagles chances of picking up a victory and further tighten up the highly competitive NFC East division.
Eagles 23 – Redskins 17
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs Denver Broncos –The Broncos are just a far better football team at home and after their crushing defeat last week at the hands of the winless Chiefs, I'm certain they couldn't be happier to be back in the friendly confines of Invesco Field at Mile High. One has to be impressed with the work of the offense to this point of the season and in particular the pitch and catch combo of Jay Cutler throwing to the receiving duo of Brandon Marshall and rookie Eddie Royal.
In last week's first loss of the season, the Chiefs just took it to a very soft and undersized Broncos defensive front and although the Buccaneers have run the football decidedly better in 2008 (ninth in the NFL), I believe they will find the going a whole lot tougher in the Mile High city. Both teams have player extremely well through the first quarter of the 2008 season, but the Broncos passing offense led by the leagues top passer Jay Cutler, is a far superior to that of the Buccaneers.
Broncos 30 – Buccaneers 16
Cincinnati Bengals – Dallas Cowboys – I said after week number one of the season that I would under no circumstances, pick the Bengals to win again during the 2008 season. That promise lasted three whole weeks when I again picked them to defeat a stumbling and bumbling Cleveland Browns squad. Well, I don't care if they add the University of Findley to the schedule, it's not going to happen again in 2008!
This past week the Bengals received a one week exemption for receiver Chris Henry coming off a four week suspension, signed problem child running back Thomas Benson and been told that are currently in serious negotiation to sign place-kicker Vito Corleone! What could they possibly be thinking down in the Queen City?
On the other hand, the Cowboys were both stunned and embarrassed in their home loss to their arch-rival Redskins, and are not about to lose two straight; particularly in Texas Stadium. The Cowboys need to show more consistency both running the football and also covering both kick-offs and punts, but I still believe this is the most talented squad in professional football. Wade and Jason, lets get Felix Jones some offensive touches! Any by the way, you can take this one to the bank.
Cowboys 37 – Bengals 17
Buffalo Bills vs Arizona Cardinals – The Cardiac-kids from Buffalo came from behind for the third time this season to defeat the pitiful Rams club last week, while the Cardinals gave up fifty-six points in quarters two and four in their loss to the Jets. The Bills have played well on both sides of the ball, but an injury to corner Terrence McGee, could really affect the play of the defensive unit.
Kurt Warner, put up some Arena League type numbers throwing for 472 yards in last weeks shootout with the Jets, but he also threw three interceptions, one returned for a touchdown which led to the Cardinals undoing. Warner may also be without one of his two star receiver (Anquan Boldin) who injured his sinus cavity in a questionable helmet to helmet collision last week. This one should be a high scoring contest, but I look for the Cardinals to outscore the undefeated Bills at game's end.
Cardinals 34 – Bills 28
New England Patriots vs San Francisco 49ers – The 49ers at home might make this seemingly one-sided contest a much closer affair than expected. The Patriots, coming off a bye-week, have some real problems in both the secondary and along the offensive front. The blueprint for victory over the Pats is there, but exploiting these major shortcomings requires opponents to play virtually error-free football.
Last week the 49ers offensive unit lost a fumble and QB J.T. O'Sullivan, was picked off twice and sacked six times in the loss to the Saints. Even close to a repeat of this performance versus Patriots (they don't beat themselves people) will result in an easy one-sided victory for the defending AFC champions.
Patriots 34 – 49ers 20
Pittsburgh Steelers vs Jacksonville Jaguars – Next week's bye can't come fast enough for a Steelers team that has been decimated by injuries over the last three weeks. The Steelers could be without three defensive interior players, including Casey Hampton. On the offensive side of this western Pennsylvania MASH unit, the Steelers will be without their top offensive threat Willie Parker and last Monday lost number one draft selection Rashard Mendenhall for the season with a shoulder injury. When you add to the fact, that star QB Ben Roethlisberger is playing with an injured shoulder then one can readily see the problems facing the Steelers in week number five.
Injuries, particularly on the offensive line and in the secondary, have also been a major problem for the Jaguars, but in recent weeks, the club has made some needed adjustments and have actually played far better than most people might have anticipated.
Up until last week, the Jaguars defense had performed admirably and is in my opinion, are the heart and soul of their football club. This one should be a hard fought battle, but I don't think the Steelers currently have enough healthy bodies on hand to prevail in the end.
Jaguars 20 – Steelers 12
Minnesota Vikings vs New Orleans Saints – Quarterback Drew Brees is having a career season statistically, but I've got to tell you, the Saints offense is a far different animal when running back Deuce McAllister is touting the football. With Marques Colston, tight end Jeremy Shockey and the veteran David Patten on the shelf, the Saints have tried to get the football into the hands of Reggie Bush as much as possible and he has responded by putting up some steady, but unspectacular numbers.
The Vikings on the other hand need to get the season turned around quickly if they are to have any real chance of competing for a division championship. . The defense which ranks sixth overall in the NFL, have played rather well. Running back Adrian Peterson in his second season, is even better than advertised and the receiving group is much improved, but to win in professional level is virtually impossible without a legitimate performer at the quarterback position.
I look for this contest to be competitive early, but in the end I just don't believe that the Vikings have the offensive balance or the man pulling the trigger to hang with Saints over the long haul. What do you think Tommy Kramer, Fran Tarkington and Joe Kapp are doing these days?
Saints 26 – Vikings 18