Week nine was a wild one in the NFL, the theme was to throw the formbook out of the window. We scraped a winning week at 7-6, several close games went against us but on a week like we just had, 7-6 will just about do us. Thursday night started the bandwagon rolling, the completely out of form Dolphins beating the well and truly in form Bengals. On Sunday we saw the Jekyll and Hyde Jets beat the vastly more talented Saints, the winless Bucs taking the NFC leading Seahawks to overtime in Seattle and the Eagles who had managed just ten points in their last two games scored 49 against a previously top ten defense. Monday continued the shocks, Green Bay at home were heavily fancied against a Jay Cutler-less Bears but with Aaron Rodgers going down early it was the Bears who won the battle of the backup quarterbacks.
We are back to a fourteen game slate this week; the teams on bye are the Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs, New England Patriots and New York Jets. The Chiefs at 9-0 won’t be resting on their laurels, they will be preparing for their huge game against the Broncos next week, winning it would make them odds-on favourites for home field advantage in the playoffs and people may begin to talk about the holy grail of an unbeaten season. The Patriots are well in control of the AFC East and with their offense close to full strength at last they showed what they are capable of last week, scoring 55 and humiliating the Steelers defense. The Jets are their closest pursuers in the AFC East, two games back but with a tie break from their victory over the Patriots. Rex Ryan’s team is wildly inconsistent but were on a going day last week to upset the Saints. Their best chance of a playoff spot is probably a wildcard but there are a whole host of teams ahead of them in the race. The Browns are having a decent season but at 4-5 are not going to make the postseason, nevertheless this team has shown it has talent and is going in the right direction at last, drafting a franchise quarterback in May could finally make them contenders in the AFC North.
Washington Redskins @ Minnesota Vikings
The Redskins haven’t quite given up on defending their NFC East title yet; an overtime win over the Chargers in week nine kept them breathing. The Vikings threatened to do them a huge favour by beating the NFC East leaders Dallas but succumbed to a last minute drive.
Adrian Peterson’s return to form was key to the Vikings being competitive at last but even his heroics weren’t enough and Minnesota slipped back to 1-7. Their trio of quarterbacks are all in the poor to moderate range, they each have different strengths and different weaknesses. This was a team with so much confidence and excitement around them to start the season. They made the playoffs in 2012 and with three first round draft choices and prized free agent Greg Jennings joining the ranks there was belief in the twin cities that they could really push for the NFC North title. Instead they have been let down by a porous defense which is giving up almost 400 yards per game and an offense hamstrung by poor quarterback play. They face a defense as poor as their own here but the Redskins have players to supplement their star runner unlike the Vikings and that could be key.
Robert Griffin III after missing the entire offseason was very slow to get going for Washington and still hasn’t reached the dizzy heights of his rookie of the year campaign last season but he is certainly getting better as the season wears on. Battering ram runner Alfred Morris is having another great season; he averages over five yards per carry and is the Redskins most consistent offensive player. The talented sophomores are the key components to the NFL’s fifth most productive offense. Washington’s major issue has been their defense, expected to be better for a host of players returning it has actually been even worse than the moderate 2012 unit. Only two teams are giving up more yards per game than Washington and it has meant that even games like last week where they controlled the match they end up in close ones.
Two similar teams in many ways here; both have awful defenses and offenses heavily reliant on their star runners but the Redskins at 3-5 are absolutely desperate to get the win. A loss may end their chances of retaining the NFC East, the Vikings meanwhile are playing merely for pride but losing a game they could and maybe should have won a week ago may have shattered their confidence even further. Washington’s offense should capitalise on such a favourable matchup but can Minnesota do likewise? We doubt it.
ATPF Prediction– RG3 is the difference here as the Redskins come through a close one.
Buffalo Bills @ Pittsburgh Steelers
Any hopes of a turnaround are long gone in Pittsburgh, their back to back wins have been quickly followed by back to back losses and giving up 55 points as they did a week ago is unheard of for this franchise. Buffalo meanwhile are only one win better, they have had to start three different quarterbacks but have starter E.J Manuel back this week although the rookie himself was patch early in the season until his injury.
The Bills put up a fight against the unbeaten Chiefs last week but their inept offense couldn’t capitalise on opportunities and a huge end to end pick six was the game’s key play. Manuel’s return should help the league’s 30th ranked passing attack but with receivers Marquise Goodwin and Robert Woods out it’s hard to see too many viable options for him to throw to. Runners Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller are the key to this offense, both are finally healthy and they combined for nearly 200 yards rushing a week ago. The Bills defense which didn’t give up a touchdown to Kansas City last week has often been let down by a weak secondary, something Ben Roethlisberger will surely target. They have played better at home also.
The Steelers have a multitude of problems. Their offensive line has been poor, losing best lineman Maurkice Pouncey to injury certainly has been an issue. The receiving corps also lacks talent; one must wonder whether both the Steelers and Miami flop Mike Wallace wish they had worked out a deal to stay in Pittsburgh. Defensively they have not played ‘Steeler football’ and last week’s seven touchdowns allowed in New England really was astonishing for this franchise. The Steelers defense hasn’t been all bad, they allowed 6 and 16 in the team’s two wins but unlike previous years they have been inconsistent and haven’t had enough big plays from the unit.
A meaningless game in most senses here but both will want to win it. The Bills need a few more wins to show that their regime is making progress at least while the Steelers will desperately want to finish the season strongly to avoid embarrassment. Suggesting a Buffalo win in Pittsburgh would normally be unthinkable but if the Bills can get pressure on Roethlisberger, which they should they can win this behind their dynamic running game.
ATPF Prediction– The Buffalo Bills win in Pittsburgh! They can do so by a touchdown.
Detroit Lions @ Chicago Bears
The Bears got a crucial win in Green Bay last week behind backup quarterback Josh McCown and running back Matt Forte. Three teams are now tied for the NFC North including these two so this is a massive game. Detroit pulled out a remarkable comeback against the Cowboys in week eight and had their bye last week.
Chicago had looked in danger of slipping out of the race for this division until that win in Green Bay. With Aaron Rodgers out for around a month though this division is once again up for grabs and the Bears know a home win here will suddenly make them favourites. McCown doesn’t have Jay Cutler’s huge arm but the eleven year veteran has over thirty starts to his name and is a smart backup. Matt Forte is having a huge season; the Bears will lean heavily on him again after his 29 touches for 179 yards and a score last week. Chicago’s defense has underperformed so far, with Lance Briggs out they couldn’t stop the run at Lambeau field so Reggie Bush could give them real problems here.
The Lions rode one of the all time great games by Calvin Johnson to beat Dallas in week eight. Combining the nearly unstoppable Johnson, multiple threat Reggie Bush and gun slinging Matthew Stafford gives Detroit one of the league’s most potent offenses. Only two teams have more yards than the Lions whose offense could wreak more havoc here against a team ranked in the bottom ten in several defensive stats. The front four of Detroit’s defense is strong but if teams can hold up upfront they can have plenty of success against a weak secondary. The Lions are allowing around 380 yards per game, too many but not such an issue when you’re offense averages nearly 420 per game.
Unless the Bears defense springs to life they won’t be able to contain the Lions diverse offense so McCown will be under pressure to do more than Chicago would ideally like. Matt Forte must have a big game and help keep Stafford off the field but Detroit are likely to play eight in the box and take their chances on McCown. To beat the Lions you have to either have an elite defense or elite offense to compete with theirs, Chicago have neither so this is an away win for Detroit.
ATPF Prediction– Lions seize control of the NFC North, win by ten.
St. Louis Rams @ Indianapolis Colts
The Colts came back from the dead for a win at bitter rivals Houston last week; they are two ahead and well in control of the weak AFC South. The Rams lost by one score to the Titans, they are 3-6 and 0-3 since Sam Bradford was lost for the year in Carolina.
Defensively the Rams were supposed to be really good this year but it hasn’t materialised. A young group seems to have lacked leadership at times but they aren’t terrible, they are just middle of the road in most key categories. The offense is another story however, only two teams have less yards and Kellen Clemens has just one touchdown strike in three games. If Steven Jackson were there they would be leaning on him but instead they are reliant on a mediocre committee led by Zac Stacy.
The Colts haven’t been blowing teams away but they keep winning and at 6-2 look almost assured of the AFC South title. Their defense surrenders yards but lives for turnovers and has forced thirteen so far. Offensively the Colts do not turn it over, Andrew Luck hasn’t aired it out quite like we may have expected but has thrown just three picks to thirteen touchdowns in a very solid sophomore season.
The Colts at home are big favourites here, their opportune defense and solid offense can both have more success here.
ATPF Prediction– Indianapolis win the game by around two scores.
Oakland Raiders @ New York Giants
The Raiders had been going along nicely and must have fancied their chances against the toiling Eagles at home a week ago. As it was though they lost by 29 and Nick Foles threw seven touchdown passes. The Giants at 2-6 have been one of the league’s most disappointing teams, they return from their bye knowing they probably need to go 7-1 to make the postseason.
Oakland’s defeat a week ago was shocking in so many ways, their defense had been playing as well as the Eagles offense had been poorly. Their offense was on the field for 38 minutes meaning Foles managed a touchdown every three minutes. Both Terrelle Pryor and Darren McFadden left that game injured but Pryor should be fit here, the oft-injured McFadden won’t be. The Raiders offense is a run first operation so losing McFadden will be a blow but he hasn’t had many games of note anyway this season. Pryor is ultra dynamic on the ground but his pocket passing skills are still in question so expect the Giants to focus on keeping him contained here.
The Giants won their two pre-bye games but are still on life support. Their offense bled turnovers through those first six games but only gave up one in each of the two wins. Their defense has improved and now they rank 14th, their pass rush is still lacking from the dominating force it was a couple of years ago but overall the unit has the talent to compete in most games. If Manning and co can continue to not shoot themselves in the foot the Giants could yet get back into contention in the woeful NFC East.
Coming off two wins then their bye the Giants could be ready to play better football in November and December than they did in September and October. They are certainly better prepared than the Raiders who were like an open door defensively last week and on the back of that you really can’t fancy them.
ATPF Prediction– Giants revival continues, they win this by upwards of ten.
Cincinnati Bengals @ Baltimore Ravens
The Bengals overtime loss to Miami last week not only kept the AFC North just about alive but lost their best defensive player, all-pro tackle Geno Atkins. The Bengals remain odds-on favourites for the under-par AFC North but Atkins could be a huge loss in the playoffs. Baltimore lost to North rivals the Browns a week ago, their third straight loss and one which also gives them a losing division record so the Superbowl Champions of 2012 likely won’t even make the playoffs this year.
Baltimore’s season has been disappointing throughout really, every time they have threatened to gain some momentum they have fallen back again. An offense lacking weapons after Anquan Boldin left, Dennis Pitta got injured and Ray Rice was slowed by injury has been the main culprit; they have thirteen turnovers and only ten teams have accumulated fewer yards. Defensively they have been better; they are the tenth best unit but have managed just four interceptions, the sort of amount Ed Reed alone used to have each year.
The Bengals are a tough team to predict. They have as much talent as any team in the league but quarterback Andy Dalton knows where the self destruct button is, he threw three picks and no touchdowns in Miami, the week before it was five touchdowns and just one pick against the Jets whose defense is at least as good as Miami’s. Atkins joins Leon Hall as big losses to the Bengals defense. Both are tough to replace but this is still a very solid unit and a top five defense for sure, at worst they will become above average for the losses.
The Ravens have to win this; defeat would put them out their misery and as good as crown Cincinnati AFC North champions. The Bengals will be just as aware of that and Dalton will surely be out to make amends for last week. Cincinnati will feel the loss of Atkins and they are inconsistent but there is little getting away from the fact that they have just been the better football team so far this year.
ATPF Prediction– Bengals reaffirm their dominance of this division, win by a touchdown.
Philadelphia Eagles @ Green Bay Packers
This time last week you would have feared for Philadelphia ahead of this clash. Having scored seven touchdowns in a win in Oakland however they will be buoyed and with Aaron Rodgers out for Green Bay the Eagles will be well aware that this is now winnable.
Philadelphia’s offense had been so dynamic early in the year that it was surprising to see them muster just ten points between weeks 7 and 8 but on the back of that the 49 they got in Oakland was just as surprising. The quarterback merry go round looks to have stopped on Nick Foles now and although his mobility isn’t ideal he is much the best passer on this team. Foles deep ball is impressive and his thirteen touchdown passes to zero interceptions shows how he takes care of the ball, something you can’t say of Mike Vick. The Eagles defense is the league’s worst, they are giving up nearly 420 yards per game so the offense has to come up big.
Green Bay without Aaron Rodgers could really struggle for the next month or so. Rodgers passes account for over two thirds of Green Bay’s yardage so far and his backup Seneca Wallace was largely ineffective against the Bears. Running back Eddie Lacy was effective in that game and is a serious contender for rookie of the year, he and James Starks may see heavy workloads in the coming weeks. The Pack’s defense ranks mid-division in most statistics which is normally enough for them but they may need a little more in the coming weeks.
This is now a game where the Eagles have a great chance to pull the upset if you can still consider it one. Foles was outstanding a week ago and he and Shady McCoy can cause Green Bay plenty of problems here. The Eagles are awful defensively but if they can just contain the run you would have to favour them.
ATPF Prediction– No Rodgers no W for the Packers, Philly win this by ten.
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Tennessee Titans
The Jags make their eagerly awaited return after bye, they are winless and desperate to get at least one win, any win. Tennessee aren’t a team laden with blue chip talent but they are 4-4 and play hard every week, they aren’t likely to take things easy on their rivals especially with the playoffs still just about possible.
The Titans beat the Rams last week and at home have another winnable game here. They have been better when quarterback Jake Locker has been fit and last week finally got something from one time superstar running back Chris Johnson. Johnson’s resurgence was timely but the Titans will need more from him down the stretch if they are to make a bid for a wildcard. Defensively the Titans have been pretty good, they have 22 sacks, fifteen turnovers and rank 11th in yards allowed.
Jacksonville needless to say are poor on both sides of the ball. Their offense has given up 21 turnovers to the seven touchdowns they have scored, with receiver Justin Blackmon, their only elite talent now suspended indefinitely things look pretty hopeless here. What about the defense? They have given up 29 touchdowns in the eight games they have played and only five teams are giving up more yards per game.
ATPF Prediction– Titans should shut down the Jags, win this by between fifteen and twenty.
Seattle Seahawks @ Atlanta Falcons
The Seahawks remain atop the NFC but were awful in the first half last week against the winless Buccaneers. They came back to force and then win in overtime but make no mistake; this was a really average effort. Nevertheless they won and were probably a little complacent ahead of what should have been such a comfortable game. Atlanta’s season has been ravaged by injuries and at 2-6 they have no chance of catching either New Orleans or Carolina in the NFC South.
The Falcons injury report is always worth checking, this week we note the likely return of old warhorse Roddy White at wide receiver and expect to see a fully healthy Steven Jackson in the backfield. The duo will be welcomed back by Matt Ryan who has thrown seven picks in his last two games. Up until that implosion Ryan had played well with little assistance. Atlanta’s defense has also had injuries but looks as healthy as it has for a few weeks. Inability to create pass rush has been their biggest issue and they could struggle with a slippery customer like Russell Wilson.
Seattle aren’t putting up big numbers offensively, their bigger scores this season have generally come in the games where their defense has found the end zone. With Percy Harvin not looking quite ready and Sidney Rice out for the season Golden Tate is Wilson’s best target though hardly an elite receiver. Beast running back Marshawn Lynch is sure to be a focal point of the offense once more here and the Falcons will have it all to do to slow him. The Seahawks have an immensely talented defense and rank second in the league in yards allowed, they have forced 21 turnovers so far and are always a threat to run one in the other way.
The Seahawks just aren’t that impressive of late. They should have too much for the Falcons but Matt Ryan is always strong in the Georgia Dome and with players back they could score points on this defense. With the Seahawks so lacking in receivers the Falcons may fancy taking their chances there and keying in on Lynch. If they do so and look after the ball they can get a morale boosting upset here.
ATPF Prediction- We love upsets, the Falcons get one by a point or two here.
Carolina Panthers @ San Francisco 49ers
The Panthers are red hot right now. Four straight wins have them right in the thick of the playoff race and even contenders for the NFC South. San Francisco can’t avoid any losses with the Seahawks winning relentlessly; they must be within one game when they host their rivals in a few weeks time.
Key to the Panthers charge has been their defense which hasn’t given up more than fifteen in their four win streak; they are third ranked and really playing fantastically led by dominant linebackers Luke Kuechly and Jon Beason. They remain an offense heavily reliant on the run but with Cam Newton under center big plays are always a possibility, Newton now crucially seems to understand that he doesn’t have to win games on his own.
San Francisco’s defense isn’t far behind, they have the league’s sixth best unit and with Aldon Smith ready to rejoin the party things could be about to get a whole lot tougher for their opponents. The 49ers offense is energised by their power running game; Frank Gore and co very much set the tone. They are dead last in the league in passing but with Colin Kaepernick’s favourite receiver Michael Crabtree about to join Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis things should get better quickly there.
This game would have been a formality not too long ago but now it looks sure to be close. Two very similar teams in a lot of senses, both are in form; both have excellent defenses and run first offenses led by dual threat quarterbacks. Superior receivers and home field advantage is the reason we give San Francisco the edge.
ATPF Prediction– 49ers win a close one, a brutal one, by a field goal.
Denver Broncos @ San Diego Chargers
The Chargers chances of a playoff berth look slim at 4-4 after their overtime defeat in Washington last week. The Broncos return from their bye needing to stay within one ahead of their mouth-watering clash with Kansas City next week.
The bye week came at the right time for the Broncos, defeat in week seven set them back and their defense really toiled throughout October. Von Miller needs to step up now he’s healthy and fully integrated again to pressure opposing quarterbacks who have had a field day against their sorry secondary. Offensively the Broncos are irresistible, Peyton Manning has a plethora of dangerous weapons and this team will rack up yards and points anywhere.
San Diego staged a dramatic comeback only to blow it in Washington last week. Their inconsistent defense is too easy to target and looks to have a terrible matchup here. Phil Rivers bounce back year has the Chargers among the league’s best passing attacks again but he doesn’t have the receiving talent surrounding him that Manning has nor does he have a back as effective and end zone hungry as Knowshon Moreno.
Containing the Broncos can be near impossible, well prepared after their bye they should score plenty of points here and playing better defense in the second half of the season will be a priority.
ATPF Prediction– Broncos win a high scorer by around ten.
Houston Texans @ Arizona Cardinals
The Texans season has been a huge disappointment but on a night where their head coach suffered a mid-game stroke they had the Colts right where they wanted them a week ago, only to allow a huge comeback. Arizona conversely have just about outplayed expectations but are starting to struggle a little. They are 4-4 and return from their bye with hopes high of the win here.
Houston’s numbers as we said a week ago just don’t match up with their record. They have the league’s best defense and eighth best offense but their minus eleven turnover ratio has killed them. Chase Keenum is making a real case to get a proper crack at the starting quarterback job here next year. He had three touchdowns, no picks a week ago and looks more dangerous than Matt Schaub was doing.
The Cardinals have had quarterback issues of their own, Carson Palmer’s fourteen picks combined with a virtually non-existent running game are the reasons this offense has struggled. Their defense has been solid, thirteenth in yards allowed and benefiting from Patrick Peterson’s near shutdown corner play.
Houston consistently look ready to pull an upset, they so nearly cracked it last week. This is on the road but they are more talented than Arizona so we will give them another shot to get it right at last.
ATPF Prediction– Texans defense squeezes the life out of the Cards offense, Houston wins by seven.
Dallas Cowboys @ New Orleans Saints
The Cowboys survived when they looked like being upset at home against Minnesota, the Saints didn’t survive such a fate away at the Jets. Dallas are 5-4 but have never been better than one win ahead of .500 and after back to back 8-8 seasons they look the epitome of an 8-8 team once more. The Saints are now at 6-2, they need to regain the winning thread with the Panthers charging behind them.
The Saints defeat at the Meadowlands was largely down to the Jets getting if not the better of, at least their share of the spoils against the Saints offense. They forced two turnovers and the Saints had to give up on their running game much quicker than usual. Nevertheless this is usually a highly potent offense and with Jimmy Graham back to full strength the Saints have the sort of dominant playmaker the Cowboys dread, see Johnson, Calvin. Defensively New Orleans have been far better than a year ago, they are now into the top ten and the battle between Rob Ryan and his former employers will be interesting.
Dallas remain a team capable of just about anything. They are 5-4 but notably have beaten five teams with losing records and lost to the four they’ve played who are .500 or better. Their latest two performances sum them up. They outplayed the Lions and dominated the game only to give up a last minute, length of the field touchdown drive but followed it by looking doomed only to score a game winner themselves with 40 seconds remaining last week. Their defense has struggled more and more as injuries have piled up but at least get DeMarcus Ware back here. Offensively they continue to have basically no run game but the enigmatic Tony Romo and his band of receivers are always dangerous.
The Saints are so strong at home and Drew Brees should pick the Cowboys secondary apart here. The Cowboys are capable of making this a game but against good teams have a knack of always finding a way to lose.
ATPF Prediction– Saints win an entertaining game by a touchdown.
Miami Dolphins @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
If Tampa perform as they did last week their first win shouldn’t be long. Here they host their Florida rivals who upset Cincinnati in overtime a week ago but have made all their headlines off the field since.
Miami looked to be on the slippery slope until a week ago but thanks to a dominant Cameron Wake and a woeful Andy Dalton they beat the Bengals. It was an improved effort by the Dolphins defense to force four turnovers and they contributed nine of the team’s 22 points. This isn’t usual service for a Dolphins defense in the bottom half of most rankings. Their offense is even less effective; they are 28th in offense and have given up a staggering 35 sacks.
Tampa could have won 4 or 5 of their games so easily but they just can’t find the winning line. They were outstanding a week ago and you had to feel for them, to lose in overtime was cruel, especially against such a fine team. Mike Glennon is getting better as he learns and he has eight touchdowns to three picks, certainly better than Josh Freeman was managing. The Bucs defense has put them in position to win several times this year but to no avail. Nevertheless the 17th ranked unit should have some joy against the Dolphins paltry offense.
Tampa must win soon if they can play to last week’s levels. Miami were completely outplayed in that win over Cincinnati who basically beat themselves. The Dolphins look very beatable and this is the perfect opportunity for the Buccaneers to finally win.
ATPF Prediction– Tampa outlast the Dolphins, scrape to victory at last.