The Notebook makes its weekly review of the Sunday NFL schedule, organized by how the TV schedule will unfold…
New Orleans-Atlanta (1 ET, Fox): Most of the nation will see this game and I have serious doubts that the Saints corners can match up with the Falcons wideouts. Tracy Porter isn’t healthy and both he and Jabari Greer are going to have their hands full with Julio Jones and Roddy White. The Falcons also have
Michael Turner in rhythm running the ball and if this game turns into a scoring race—which is an extremely good possibility, they’ve got a little more going for them offensively than does New Orleans. Both Drew Brees and Matt Ryan have had interception problems this year, so that hangs out there as another wild-card in the mix. Overall though, I’ll take Atlanta to win a 38-34 game on their home turf.
Other early games…
Buffalo-Dallas: This is the prime CBS game of the day with Jim Nantz and Phil Simms calling the game, but it won’t get a greater coverage scope than any of the other games. The Bills must either get Fred Jackson established on the ground or find some way to keep Demarcus Ware out of the backfield. If they do that, Ryan Fitzpatrick can make hay against the Dallas secondary. The Cowboy offense really didn’t impress last week in a home win over Seattle and they have no one as reliable as Jackson in the backfield. A slight lean to the Bills to pull the road upset.
Pittsburgh-Cincinnati: It’s too bad CBS didn’t have the doubleheader this week because this would have been a good one to push back to 4:15. The Bengals are playing good defense and Andy Dalton has been mistake-free at quarterback. If Cincy can get Cedric Benson going on the ground they’ll be right there with a chance to win and I think they’ll at least be in it. Whether Marvin Lewis’ team gets over the top depends on whether they can exploit the Pittsburgh corners the way Joe Flacco did on Sunday night. The talent is there for the Bengals to do it with A.J. Green, but there’s a huge experience gap in games like this, and that puts the Steelers over the top, 23-20.
Houston-Tampa: The Buccaneer defensive line has been a disappointment this year and has to get into gear against a Texan running game that comes at you with both Arian Foster and Ben Tate. With Tampa missing defensive tackle Gerald McCoy for the rest of the year, the task got tougher, but I’m not ready to throw in the towel on the Bucs just yet. At 4-4, they need to win and I want to see them get a running game going against a Houston defense that is beat up along the front seven and to see Josh Freeman make some big plays to Mike Williams. I believe Tampa will do both. If Andre Johnson would healthy for Houston it still wouldn’t be enough. But the explosive receiver isn’t healthy, and that means Tampa scrapes out a 20-16 win.
Arizona-Philadelphia: I’m still hanging on to the idea the Eagles can rip off a nice win streak, even if it might be too late at 2-5. What kind of effort will see here might give a clue as to whether Philly’s heart is stlll in this season gone awry, because on paper this is a complete mismatch and Michael Vick’s offense should have be able to hang 40 on the board.
Tennessee-Carolina: The Titans don’t have the defense to really match up with an offense that combines Cam Newton both throwing and running along with DeAngelo Williams in a more conventional running game.
Denver-Kansas City: I might not be a believer in Tim Tebow generally, but I do buy into the idea that he’s a tough kid who can win in a close game. Kansas City has to find a way to open this game up and force Tebow to win a game with his arm. After the beatdown the Chiefs took from Miami last week I’m not sure they can do it. I see Denver as a team that will improve defensively in the second half and Von Miller can cause problems via the blitz. The Broncos pull out a big road win.
Washington-Miami: How low can the Redskins sink? They’re actually four-point underdogs in Miami and the defense needs to force turnovers if they’re going to have any chance to score points.
St. Louis-Cleveland: Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy bringing their 2008 Oklahoma-Texas rivalry to the NFL is a nice storyline for this game. Once kickoff comes though, it’s a game only a Rams or Browns diehard could love.
Jacksonville-Indianapolis: Until Indianapolis shows an interest in playing competitive football, I don’t even know how to preview them. Just go against them until they decide they can at least play like a 3-13 caliber team.
NY Giants-San Francisco: I know the 49ers haven’t played the toughest schedule, but there’s still something to be said for ranking first in stopping the run, and with Ahmad Bradshaw out for New York, the Giant offense loses the shifty party of its 1-2 component where Brandon Jacobs is the hammer. Eli Manning throwing the ball is carrying the offense as long as the weather is mild, Eli can still put decent numbers up. Where San Francisco can win is by stopping the run, forcing a large number of passes and picking up a couple interceptions. Meanwhile, the Niner offense can run with Frank Gore, so long as that problem hip doesn’t keep him out of the lineup and Alex Smith has to continue his efficient mistake-free football. This will be Smith’s biggest challenge as he has to stay mistake-free with a top-notch passing rush with Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora bearing down on him. In game that will loom large in the fight for the NFC’s #2 playoff seed behind Green Bay, this one’s a toss-up. I give a slight edge to the Giants, but the minute you give Eli too much credit, he turns around and throws a clunker. Ultimately this will just be a great game to tune into Joe Buck and Troy Aikman and just relax.
Other late games…
Detroit-Chicago: The entire Midwest will get this game rather than Giants-Niners and you could make a good case for Bears-Lions to be shown to a broader audience. The teams are within a game of each other in the NFC North and both are in position to be wild-card teams in the playoffs. The strategic battle surrounding the Detroit offensive front is what this game is about. The Lion front four can punish the Beaer offensive line and Jay Cutler. But Chicago can counter with some misdirection with Matt Forte, keep that line off balance and buy Cutler some more time. On the other side of the ball, Matthew Stafford will get his shots to make some plays down the field to Calvin Johnson as he long as he stays patient. This game being in Soldier Field makes it interesting, but I believe the Lions are a much better team and win it by gradually pulling away.
Baltimore-Seattle: This really should be a complete mismatch, but Baltimore can be expected to let down a little bit after that emotional win in Pittsburgh on Sunday night. And the Ravens tend to play to their level of competition. I wouldn’t be surprised if this one stays close into the fourth quarter, but after blowing one game in Jacksonville, I can’t imagine Baltimore would blow a second.
New England-NY Jets (8:20 ET, NBC): Both teams are tied at 5-3 along with Buffalo, and both are moving in opposite directions. The Jets have won three in a row. The Patriots have lost two in a row and that losing streak was preceded by a shaky win against Dallas. Tom Brady has looked out of synch in losses to the Steelers and Giants. But one area that has improved is rush defense, and if you can stop the run you can force the Jets out of their comfort zone. New York has played good football since deciding to first establish Shonn Greene on the ground and then let Mark Sanchez throw it from there. If you turn the Jets into a pass-first offense they’re a different team. I’m looking for Brady to bounce back with a good game and a combination of points from the Patriots plus a better New England run defense put the heat on the jets. For New York to win, I would want to see the defense either scoring or setting up points. New England doesn’t have a deep threat and relies heavily on Brady playing perfect football by spreading the ball around underneath. That kind of confined passing game gives someone like Darrelle Revis a chance to come up with a pick-six. The fact the game is in the Meadowlands gives me pause, but in the end the Patriots come up with a hard-fought 24-20 win.