Week six in the NFL went unusually pretty much to form, we selected ten of the 15 winners but of the losers most rue the Saints inexplicable inability to put the game away against the Patriots in the last three minutes. We went for a couple of upsets with winless teams, the Steelers rewarded us but Tampa lost again, we have frequently backed them but they have always let us down. The Saints defeat leaves just the Broncos and Chiefs unbeaten, both belong of course to the unusually strong AFC West, neither was at their best in week six but neither had to be against modest teams.
Still winless are the Giants, Jaguars and Buccaneers, the latter play the Falcons who only have one win themselves and the others are both at home against teams with a .500 or worse record so you would expect at least one to break their duck. This week’s bye teams are the Raiders and Saints. Oakland at 2-4 are at least fighting hard and have some winnable games when they return although their December stretch looks tough. They have played about as well as could be hoped for a team in full on rebuild mode and by finding quarterback Terrelle Pryor they have added the potential cornerstone of the new era. The Saints could have really enjoyed their bye but for a late capitulation against the Patriots, still they would have taken 5-1 and a three game division lead going into their bye if you had offered it to them. Sean Payton is once again proving his worth as one of the league’s best head coaches and defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has vastly improved this defense. The Saints are locks for the playoffs and the NFC South as long as Drew Brees stays upright but need to keep winning to challenge for home field advantage in the playoffs; the Superdome truly does give them an advantage.
Seattle Seahawks @ Arizona Cardinals
Each week we stress that the Seahawks on the road can be beaten and the overachieving Cardinals, a 3-3 divisional rival are a potential banana skin. Arizona are unbeaten at home and gave San Francisco a real game for a long time last week. Quarterback Carson Palmer has been patchy and committed too many turnovers for the Cards but at least he can move the ball unlike last year’s band of misfits at the position. Arizona’s defense is pretty solid and will try to pressure Russell Wilson here; slowing Marshawn Lynch down of course is equally vital.
Seattle responded to their first defeat by beating Tennessee in a hard fought, low scoring battle to get back on track. Their defense needs little introduction as one of the league’s best but their offense could desperately do with getting Percy Harvin back to provide a spark. Wilson has just eight touchdown passes so far and despite ranking second in the league in rushing Seattle have just an average offense at the minute.
The key to this game is Seattle’s enormously talented defense and the turnover prone Carson Palmer’s battle. You would expect the Seahawks to create turnovers and they look after the ball well themselves so should win the turnover battle which is always big. On the road they edge it in another war.
ATPF Prediction– A brutal encounter goes to Seattle by just a point or two.
Buffalo Bills @ Miami Dolphins
At 3-2 the Dolphins are still well in contention for a playoff berth and should be well prepared to go again after their bye last week. The 2-4 Bills lost in overtime against the Bengals but have been well beaten in both road games so far and rookie quarterback E.J. Manuel remains out with a knee problem.
Miami’s solid start has been powered by the improved play of quarterback Ryan Tannehill and a turnover hungry defense. They still give up way too many sacks and pressures and their run game frequently disappears but there is talent upfront, players just need to execute better.
Buffalo’s much vaunted running duo of C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson have flattered to deceive and again injuries have bit both. Quarterback Thad Lewis has patiently awaited his chance in the league but was solid last week when he got a go, rushing for a touchdown and throwing two strikes without interception. Buffalo’s defense rely on turnovers as they can’t seem to slow anyone down or get off the field on third down, Tannehill could give them chances but he will also fancy putting points up.
The Dolphins are outplaying Buffalo and at home, facing a backup quarterback they have to be favoured. Buffalo must win the turnover battle to have a chance but are second favourites in that race too.
ATPF Prediction– Miami are too strong, win by a touchdown.
Dallas Cowboys @ Philadelphia Eagles
The winner of this will have control of the NFC East but both 3-3 teams are deeply flawed despite having some elite talent. The Eagles have won back to back games and been re-invigorated by quarterback Nick Foles’s return to the starting quarterback job. Foles came off the bench to throw two touchdowns in week five and threw three more without interception against Tampa Bay; he doesn’t have Mike Vick’s dynamic abilities but is accurate and looks after the ball. The Eagles defense will keep the pressure on their quarterback; they have given up more yards than any team in the league and average three touchdowns conceded per game.
Dallas lost a remarkable 51-48 shootout in week 5 before a relatively uneventful, special teams inspired win over the Redskins last week. The Cowboys are 0-2 on the road but got within a point of Kansas City in week two, that looks a useful effort now. The Cowboys are starting to get thin in some areas due to injuries. All-pro lineman DeMarcus Ware leads the casualty list, other starting end Anthony Spencer is out for the year and primary backup Tyrone Crawford was lost for the year in preseason, the Cowboys are struggling upfront and have struggled with Shady McCoy in the past. Tony Romo is having another fine season; he has 14 scores to two interceptions but has been conservative on the road so far, nevertheless Dallas are the second highest scoring team in the league. Romo has talented receivers, particularly Dez Bryant but with running back DeMarco Murray out any ground game would be a surprise.
Dallas are the concensus best team in the NFC East but with no run game of their own and LeSean McCoy having torched them here in the past they are highly vulnerable in this matchup. For the Eagles, Nick Foles must offer enough to complement the running game while Dallas will prioritise slowing McCoy down; Romo versus Foles is a matchup they would like.
ATPF Prediction– The Eagles beat the battered Cowboys by a field goal.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Atlanta Falcons
Two teams having nightmare seasons meet in this all NFC South clash. The winless Buccaneers travel to Atlanta who have just one success themselves. Injuries have been Atlanta’s main problem while Tampa have been let down by poor quarterbacking. Both are better than their records but confidence is low in both camps.
Tampa arrive on the back of a defeat to the Eagles, Mike Glennon their new starting quarterback is still learning the trade and has a tough matchup here in the loud, hostile Georgia Dome where the Falcons usually are so strong. Glennon has weapons, receiver Vincent Jackson and running back Doug Martin are both talented but the Bucs are struggling for an identity and rank 31st in both offensive yards and scoring. Their defense has plenty of talent and has actually improved for the enormous investment it received in the offseason but they aren’t good enough to carry the hapless offense.
Atlanta lost Julio Jones for the season and Roddy White, Steven Jackson and Sam Baker are all again in doubt. At least they have a few starters back on defense where pass rush or more specifically lack of a pass rush has been huge. Quarterback Matt Ryan has been excellent considering what he has around him; he has 10 touchdowns to three picks and has the Falcons second in the league in passing yards per game. Getting either White or Jackson back would be a big boost for the offense but even without Ryan can move the football.
The Bucs search for a win is likely to continue, the Falcons defense can have success here and Matt Ryan should at least engineer a few scoring drives to guide his team to success.
ATPF Prediction– Atlanta win a low scorer by a touchdown.
San Diego Chargers @ Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars are still seeking that first win but actually played quite well against the Broncos last week and the way they kept fighting impressed, receiver Justin Blackmon was unstoppable and in him the Jags have a potential superstar. San Diego beat an in form Colts team to keep their playoff hopes alive although the brutal AFC West gives them plenty to do in that regard. Early in the season the Chargers heavily rebuilt defense was really struggling but they are starting to get some chemistry going and are much improved of late as seen on Monday Night.
Quarterback Phil Rivers’ renaissance has been the headline in San Diego and with a fit at last Ryan Mathews in the backfield the Chargers have the league’s sixth best offense. Recent improvement has seen their defensive ranking climb to 21st and this is no longer a vulnerable unit.
Jacksonville backup quarterback Chad Henne is outplaying starter Blaine Gabbert as he did last year and with Henne the Jags will likely sneak a win somewhere. The non-existent running game hasn’t helped the mediocre signal callers, Jacksonville are dead last with running back Maurice Jones-Drew again injured. The Jags have the legaue’s worst offense and Blackmon is the only bright spot. Their defense have battled on to their credit but lack talent in too many areas and are never off the field long.
San Diego haven’t been great on the road thus far and have just six days to prepare for this but are still a vastly superior football team to Jacksonville. The Chargers improved defense should enjoy this matchup and Rivers is certain to rack up yards so San Diego can’t be opposed.
ATPF Prediction– Chargers win by around ten.
New England Patriots @ New York Jets
The miraculous win which the Patriots pulled from the hat on Sunday did little to hide their weaknesses but they nevertheless are in control of the AFC East. The Jets are trying to keep pace but losing to an 0-5 team is not the way to do it and they could be virtually eliminated from the race with defeat here.
The Patriots are hoping all-pro tight end Rob Gronkowski can return to their embattled offense; even with Tom Brady under center they have just one passing touchdown in their last two games. In addition to their already shopping list of injuries they lost guard Dan Connolly and receiver Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman is now battling an injury also. Their defense is starting to catch up now too, starting tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly are joined by corner Aqib Talib on the treatment table and several other contributors are nursing injuries also.
The Jets are comparably healthy but rookie quarterback Geno Smith is inconsistent and turnover prone. The Jets want to run the ball but aren’t the force they were a few years ago on the ground and they have particularly struggled in the redzone. Defensively as we have come to expect under Rex Ryan they are very sound and may be the league’s strongest team against the run where a host of high draft picks upfront are starting to payoff. Getting pressure on Tom Brady is always a help but they should have ample talent to contain the Pats receivers anyway and if Gronkowski doesn’t make it again they could come up big.
Tom Brady and Bill Belichick are the only reason the Pats keep surviving and being 5-1 with the players they have turned out is remarkable. The Jets and their passionate fans will really fancy their chances in this grudge match and if they can establish the run which they should do they can get the upset.
ATPF Prediction– Gang Green win a war by a narrow margin in this low scorer.
Cincinnati Bengals @ Detroit Lions
Consistency is what is holding back both of these talented teams. The Bengals are all about defense whereas the Lions offense is there strong point. Both won on the road to get to 4-2 last week but the Bengals remain inconsistent away from home and needed overtime to beat the inferior Bills.
The spotlight in Cincinnati is permanently on quarterback Andy Dalton. He has been better in his last two outings and has to understand his own game and limitations. With a battery of talented receivers led by the brilliant A.J. Green and a dynamic duo in the backfield Dalton really should be flourishing. The Bengals feared defense boasts one of the league’s best defensive lines and they rank eighth overall and have eighteen sacks.
Detroit led by Matthew Stafford’s four touchdowns outgunned the in-form Browns last week and their talented offense can compete with anyone. Despite injuries to Reggie Bush, Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson the Lions have a top ten unit and with Johnson and Bush both on the field they really are a dangerous offense. The Lions defense remains vulnerable and inconsistent and the almost constant lack of safety Louis Delmas is a major factor in them giving up big plays.
The Lions offense versus the Bengals defense is a mouth-watering clash but equally important will be how Dalton performs, if the Lions can get points to pressure him into making throws they become favourites.
ATPF Prediction– The Lions are tough to stop at home; they beat the Bengals by a touchdown.
St. Louis Rams @ Carolina Panthers
Two teams unlikely to make the playoffs do battle here but both won on the road by 25 points last week so an upturn in form is possible for the victor here.
Hosts Carolina got a big performance from inconsistent quarterback Cam Newton and their defense grabbed two picks as well as stifling Adrian Peterson in the metrodome. Newton’s inconsistency shows with the Panthers ranking a lowly 27th in passing but he has little talent at the receiving position in fairness. The Panthers rank top ten in rushing and will hope to establish their ground game early on here. Their third ranked defense has been a surprise but makes plenty of appeal against a team which isn’t particularly physical on offense.
Sam Bradford is quietly having a good season in St.Louis, he has thirteen touchdowns to three picks but is over cautious at times and isn’t backed up by a viable running game. Rookie Tavon Austin was meant to provide a major spark on offense but has been of little influence by and large. The Rams defense has taken a step back after coming on strong in 2012; they are giving up nearly 400 yards per game and haven’t been the strong point they were supposed to be.
Both teams could reignite their season with wins here but Carolina’s solid run game and defense gives them the edge. Their two wins this season have come by a combined 63 points so close games are not their modus operandi.
ATPF Prediction– Panthers win by around ten points.
Chicago Bears @ Washington Redskins
The 1-4 Redskins are on life support after defeat in Dallas but the 4-2 Bears who easily beat the winless Giants are still fighting tooth and nail in the too close to call NFC North.
For Washington RG3 remains someway short of full speed and without his dynamic running the ‘Skins have lacked an x-factor on offense. They have moved the ball, they are 4th in total yards but can’t find the end zone and rank an out of proportion 20th in points scored. Dallas defense should have been the tonic last week but field goals still outnumbered touchdowns. Defensively Washington have bigger problems, they are aggressive in pass rushing but when the blitz breaks down they are too often burned for big plays. They have conceded the 28th most yards in the league and are constantly pressurising the offense to get away from their favoured fun first style.
The Bears have had ten days to prepare for this road game and are a sound football team. Quarterback Jay Cutler can be self destructive but the strong armed veteran has more talent around him than ever before and the Bears offense are now a top 10 unit. Chicago have had better defenses than this in the past and they will not be happy with their 20th ranking in yards conceded. Turnovers are the focus of this unit however and they already have seventeen to their name.
Washington’s homefield advantage will be nullified by their playing surface being similar to Soldier Field and the Bears with the extra three days and a far more complete roster look strong favourites.
ATPF Prediction– Chicago have too much and win by a touchdown.
San Francisco 49ers @ Tennessee Titans
The NFC West’s 49ers at 4-2 visit the AFC South’s Titans who are 3-3. The 49ers, the NFC pre-season favourites have recovered from a slow start while the Titans are playing better than expected and remain bang in contention in a wide open division.
Tennessee were outlasted by the Seahawks last week but gave them plenty to think about which is no mean feat in the Hawks nest. Quarterback Jake Locker has missed the last couple but is in contention to return here, his ball security and mobility are both upgrades over Ryan Fitzpatrick on a team who pride themselves on not turning it over or giving up penalties. The Titans defense, so poor last year have been excellent, the most points they have given up in four quarters was 26 to the unbeaten Chiefs and they rank 10th overall, a huge improvement.
The 49ers resurgence has been aided by the return to form of their relentless running attack led by Frank Gore. The San Francisco offense is a different beast with their running game grinding opponents into submission, it is especially important with a Michael Crabtree-less Colin Kaepernick short on targets, the return to form of Vernon Davis a week ago was certainly welcome from that perspective. San Francisco’s defense has been among the leagues best for a few years now and 2013’s unit rank in the top 10 in most categories.
Two excellent defenses go head to head here but San Francisco have the edge due to their more consistent rushing attack and healthy starting quarterback; even if Jake Locker plays for Tennessee he can’t be 100%.
ATPF Prediction– 49ers outlast the Titans, win by between a field goal and a touchdown.
Houston Texans @ Kansas City Chiefs
Each week we marvel at the schedule handed to Kansas City, they are 6-0 and we are 6-0 in selecting them to win. This looked a tough one before the season but the Texans are in absolute crisis and both head coach Gary Kubiak and starting or not as the case may be quaurterback Matt Schaub are staring down the barrel. Despite that the Texans are still close enough to compete in the AFC South but they look to be in a spiral of decline. Kansas City march on relentlessly and even the Arrowhead faithful, so used to mediocrity of late are setting records.
We don’t mean to knock the Chiefs when we mention their schedule, all they can do is win out on Sunday and each week they do. Last year they did a great job of minimising talent, this year they are doing equally well at maximising it and surely Andy Reid is a lock for coach of the year. The Chiefs offense is heavily reliant on running back Jamaal Charles an MVP candidate but has been well marshalled by quarterback Alex Smith who is playing smart, cautious football. Defensively the Chiefs are truly star studded and their ultra aggressive unit sacked Terrelle Pryor ten times and picked him off three times a week ago. This is one of the most talented defenses in football and crucially this year, healthy.
These two teams’ fortunes couldn’t be more different and for the Texans, so short on confidence a tougher game they could hardly find. The raucous Chiefs fans and dominant defense could again overwhelm their opponent’s offense.
ATPF Prediction– Kansas City win again, easily, by ten or more.
Cleveland Browns @ Green Bay Packers
Green Bay remain heavily banged up but are clawing their way back into the race in the NFC North and as long as they have Aaron Rodgers they have a shot. Cleveland’s unfamiliar territory of a winning record slipped away last week and they have another tough game here but they are outplaying expectations.
The Browns won three straight before defeat to the Lions where they fell away in the fourth quarter. The strength of the Browns is undoubtedly their seventh ranked defense, a cohesive unit with a dose of top notch performers and no obvious weaknesses. Offensively they are still desperately low on talent so have to focus on sensible, conservative plays to put the emphasis on their defense.
Green Bay’s offense conversely is hugely dynamic. Led by all-pro quarterback Aaron Rodgers they are 2nd in yards and 5th in points and are in the league’s top 10 in both passing and rushing yards. The offensive line play has been inconsistent but does seem to be improving; the new found faith in running the ball should help the quintet also. Green Bay’s defense remains a middle of the road unit and injuries particularly to Clay Matthews have certainly been an issue.
Can Cleveland’s defense stop Rodgers and co? They are good but on the road, not that good. With the pressure likely to be cranked up on Brandon Weeden turnovers could ensue.
ATPF Prediction– Packers win comfortably; the margin will likely be over ten.
Baltimore Ravens @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Always a hard fought brutal game between these two and while the formbook points to the Ravens, Pittsburgh returned from their bye with a win and at home will play like men possessed to try and claw their way back into the AFC North.
In that win against the Jets, Pittsburgh held their opponents to just two field goals and forced a couple of turnovers. It wasn’t quite vintage Pittsburgh defense but was a step in the right direction albeit against a modest offense, that said the Ravens are hardly rivals to Denver offensively. Pittsburgh’s offense has struggled behind poor line play and lack of receiving talent but the return of rookie running back Le’Veon Bell after injury has provided them a shot in the arm.
Baltimore likewise have been better defensively than offensively but are still giving up too many yards behind an aggressive scheme which has yielded 22 sacks already. Eight defensive players are on this week’s injury report so again the unit aren’t likely to be at full strength. The Ravens offense rank 22nd in the league and their inept running game is heavily to blame; Ray Rice’s uncharacteristic injury problems have been a big factor given how crucial he is to both the run and pass games.
This will be close again, Baltimore are so banged up at the minute and Pittsburgh are good enough to turn their start around. At home, Pittsburgh can get the upset.
ATPF Prediction– Steelers win this ever close game by a field goal.
Denver Broncos @ Indianapolis Colts
The return to Indianapolis of Peyton Manning should be an emotional one but Manning is too professional to let it affect him. He should get a hero’s ovation and I fully expect him too. Manning’s Broncos are unbeaten and the consensus best team in the league through six games but the Colts are useful also. They lost in San Diego on Monday night but are still at a healthy 4-2 and lead the AFC South.
The Broncos have been sensational so far but dodged a bullet in a shootout in Texas before a lacklustre performance against the Jaguars who they knew were never going to be serious rivals. They will have to be much better here but their offense should quickly slip through the gears again. Defensively the Broncos were atrocious in Dallas and even against Jacksonville they couldn’t get off the field at times and had no answer to Justin Blackmon. The return of Von Miller after suspension can’t be overstated, he is easily Denver’s best defender and one of the league’s premier pass rushers, he should be a huge help to the struggling secondary.
Indianapolis opportunistic defense have made their living on turnovers so far but chances against Manning will be few and far between although Denver do fumble more than would be healthy on any normal offense. The Colts have strangely restrained quarterback Andrew Luck and instead relied on a heavy dose of running so far but here they must turn him loose to try and compete. Luck has a couple of good targets in veteran Reggie Wayne and constant improver T.Y. Hilton but if this becomes a shootout he will be challenged to consistently drive his team down the field and not turn it over. Tony Romo performed remarkably in such circumstances but he finally blinked and that was all it took.
You just can’t oppose Denver right now, Manning and his quintet of playmaking starters are a near unstoppable force. The Colts can use this as the measuring stick as to how close, or far they are from being contenders.
ATPF Prediction– Denver’s offense is again irresistible, they win by ten.
Minnesota Vikings @ New York Giants
The lowly Vikings travel to the winless Giants, not exactly a Monday Night Football to saviour. Minnesota can hang on by a thread if they win but the Giants playoff boat sailed long ago. At least the Giants kept it close a week ago in a tough environment, the Vikings were hammered by 25 at home to the modest Panthers.
Minnesota’s offense of course is all about Adrian Peterson but they have a new starting quarterback this week, their third already this year. Josh Freeman was terrible in Tampa as he helped them to 0-4 so he offers little excitement in his debut here. The Vikings defense has given up nearly 420 yards per game so far, the second most in the league and have been in awful in every aspect of the game.
The Giants offensive implosion has been remarkable, with an elite quarterback and several talented receivers an 0-6 start was inconceivable but Eli Manning is having a horror season. His 15 interceptions is on pace for all sorts of unwanted records. The Giants defense, a disappointment last year have continued to decline although they haven’t been quite in the Vikings league for poorness.
Two struggling teams go head to head, if the Giants don’t kill themselves with turnovers they will win, they can’t be relied upon to not do but we will take a chance on them at home.
ATPF Prediction– Giants win at last, one touchdown is the margin.