Titans Shock Steelers; Week 6 Picks

Thursday night saw the first game on the week six schedule, and if the remaining games this week are as exciting then we’re in for a great weekend of football. Rob Bironas nailed a last second field goal to give Tennessee a 26-23 win over Pittsburgh in Nashville, moving their record to 2-4 whilst Mike Tomlins’ Steelers slip to 2-3 having won last week at home to Philadelphia. I’ll over a few thoughts on the contest before I move on to my predictions for this weeks action.

-Shortly before Bironas won the game for the Titans Shaun Suisham saw his 54 yard field goal try drop just short for the Steelers with under a minute to go. Not only did the miss cost his team three points, it also gave Matt Hasselbeck a short field with which to work and the veteran QB showed once again why he still has a job in this league by marching his offense down the field and well inside Bironas’ comfort zone as far as distance goes.

-Kenny Britt has had a poor season so far, missing games through injury and suspension. He wasn’t brilliant on Thursday and did drop one sure fire touchdown pass, but Britt made up for it on the very next play when he hauled in a Hasselbeck throw to give the Titans six desperately needed and ultimately vital points. Britt nearly dropped that pass as well but managed to cling on at the second attempt, so the outcome of the game may well have been altogether different if Britt wasn’t able to snag the ball on the rebound.

-Going forward the Steelers look in a ton of trouble thanks to another night where they sustained injuries to key players. Centre Maurkice Pouncey left the game after being crushed at the bottom of a lineman bundle, the likes of which I haven’t seen since I left school. Rashard Mendenhall left the game, as did his backup Isaac Redman later on. With Troy Polomalu already banged up the Steelers are in a position now where injuries could well ruin their season, if they haven’t already.

-Lastly, a word on ‘Big’ Ben Roethlisberger. The Steelers QB passed Terry Bradshaw for the all time passing yardage record last night, and at the age of 30 Big Ben could well put that record out of reach by the time he hangs up his cleats. Bradshaw won four Superbowl rings whilst Ben only has two thus far, so although Bradshaw currently has a more impressive resume it would not surprise me in the slightest if Roethlisberger were to join him in the Hall of Fame one day with one or even two more championships to his name. Big Bens’ ability to extend plays and make something out of nothing continues to be his best asset, yet it shouldn’t be overlooked how his accuracy and even arm strength have continued to improve as he’s aged to the point where he can now make most throws the position demands. It’s difficult to recollect his rookie season where he led the Steelers to the AFC championship game despite leading a run heavy offense and very rarely throwing anything other than simple five yard passes.

With last nights contest out of the way, let’s have a look at the remainder of week six’s scheduled match ups:

Oakland @ Atlanta
On paper this game looks like an easy win for Atlanta… and that’s exactly how I see this match up unfolding. The Falcons are 5-0 for a reason, and it’s difficult to imagine a porous Raiders defense being able to bottle up Julio Jones and Roddy White in the passing game. Matt Ryan looks like an MVP candidate, and another positive in recent weeks has been the revival of Michael Turner as a power running back. No longer the focal point of the offense, it’s taken a while for Turner to adapt but he’s now scored touchdowns in four straight games and has even been used as a cog in the passing game. Raiders 14, Falcons 31

Dallas @ Baltimore
The Cowboys enter this game fresh off their bye week, whilst the Ravens are currently riding a three game winning streak after their week two defeat in Philly. As far as the Cowboys are concerned you have to imagine that this is a must win game with plenty of divisional games to come, unfortunately for the ‘boys a road trip to Baltimore should prove a step too far even in their desperate state. Ray Rice will fancy his chances of racking up some steady yardage, whilst the Ravens pass rush will force Tony Romo in to plenty of mistakes after his last performance yielded five (!) interceptions.

Cincinnati @ Cleveland
Although the Browns are 0-5, they’ve actually impressed me in recent weeks. Trent Richardson is a legit top level NFL running back and Brandon Weeden has been surprisingly effective after a terrible season debut. Last week they threatened the Giants in New York but their defense let them down, something I see happening again this week. However, Joe Haden makes his return from suspension and he’ll help the Browns cover Bengals star A.J Green, and if Haden and the rest of his defensive team mates can contain the Bengals offense to some extent then the offense might just have enough to get the Browns off the mark against their main rivals. Bengals 23, Browns 24

St. Louis @ Miami
Both of these teams remain a mystery to me. Both have provided fairly good performances on a consistent basis, but neither has been able to convert these performances into an impressive amount of wins. The Rams have certainly been rejuvenated under Jeff Fisher and it’s misfortunatefor them that of all the years this is the one where the NFC west is actually playing at a high level. Two or three years ago they would be running away with a play off birth – this year they’re tied at the bottom of the division with Seattle whilst San Francisco and Arizona lie atop them. Ryan Tannehill has impressed as a rookie, and I’m backing him and Reggie Bush to generate enough offense to outscore a Danny Amendola-less Rams team. Rams 19, Dolphins 21

Indianapolis @ New York Jets
When you have to choose between Mark Sanchez and Andrew Luck, it’s really a pretty easy choice to make. I’ve never been a fan of Sanchez and this year he has been awful nearly every game. It baffles me that he was selected fifth overall in the NFL draft a few years back, and the fact that someone as unnatural throwing the football as Tim Tebow is heaping pressure on him says it all. Luck has been solid, and if he throws for 300 yards on Sunday then he’ll become the first ever rookie quarterback to throw for 300+ yards in three straight games. Having edged out the Packers last week I think the Colts will roll the Jets in New York, ushering in the Tebow era as a result. Colts 30, Jets 17

Detroit @ Philadelphia
The Lions have been one of the biggest disappointments in the NFL this season having generated just a 1-3 record, and in a division where the Packers, Bears and surprise package Vikings reside that just won’t cut it. Matt Stafford is regressing following his excellent 2011 season and Calvin Johnson has just one touchdown reception to date. Johnson has faced double and sometimes even triple coverage because the Lions lack other weapons, and it’s hard to imagine he’ll be able to roam free against an Eagles secondary that contains Nnamdi Asamougha and Domonique Rodgers-Cromartie. On the other side of the ball Michael Vick needs to correct his fumble issues if the Eagles want to join the NFL’s elite and the offense line must do a better job of protecting the inconsistent Vick and creating running lanes for the dynamic LeSean McCoy. The Eagles have won four in a row at home and this Sunday they should make it five, but stranger things have happened. Lions 24, Eagles 27

Kansas City @ Tampa Bay
Is it too early in the season to label this game a battle for the number one pick in next years draft? Maybe, but no one can deny that both these teams have been terrible up to this point and there is nothing to suggest that anything will change in that regard over the coming weeks. Matt Cassell is out for the Chiefs after he was concussed last week, so Brady Quinn (remember him?) gets the start at QB. Josh Freeman continues to struggle to live up to his impressive 2010 showing and although he’s shown some improvement on last year the Buccaneers really need more from the offense if they are to make an improbable run at a wild card. Both teams are bad, but the Chiefs are worse and the Tampa Bay defense is good enough to make Chiefs fans regret cheering Cassells’ injury last week. Chiefs 10, Buccaneers 14

Buffalo @ Arizona
Over the past couple of weeks the Cardinals offensive line has probably run up quite a bar bill, as they likely have been buying quarterback Kevin Kolb a drink for each time he’s been sacked due to their terrible play. Usually you’d look at the Bills defensive line with names such as Mario Williams lining it and say that’s a recipe for disaster as far as Arizona is concerned, but Williams has been a none factor thus far and the Bills pass defense is so atrocious that I can see Kolb having his best game of the season so far. I hope he does, anyway, because I added him to my fantasy roster this week. Bills 21, Cardinals 31

New England @ Seattle
Pete Carroll comes up against his former team in an intriguing game which will go a long way to shaping both teams seasons. Both teams are 3-2 and at a sort of cross roads, although because the Patriots are fortunate to be in a weak division they are leading the AFC east whilst the Seahawks are bringing up the rear in the NFC west. Tom Brady has hit his straps recently and Wes Welker has become a pivotal part of the Patriots offense once more, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see New England put up some heavy points in this contest. Seattle is a misleading 3-2 thanks to their stolen win against the Packers, and even though they’re at home in this one I just can’t see Russell Wilson being able to take advantage of a suspect Pats secondary. Patriots 30, Seahawks 18

New York Giants @ San Francisco
If you’re going to watch any game this weekend, make sure it’s this one. It’s the rematch of last January’s NFC championship game and if that contest was anything to go by then this game should be an absolute thriller. Eli Manning has orchestrated a sky high passing game over recent weeks, most notably against Cleveland when Eli and Victor Cruz combined for three touchdown tosses. The 49ers have the leagues best defense however, and Alex Smith has shown recently that he can carry this team when needs be. One wild-card to consider is the wildcat that San Fran has unveiled this season with Colin Kaepernick at the helm, and whether that can help slow down the Giants vaunted (though slightly unproductive of late) pass rush. San Francisco are the class of the NFC in my opinion, and with revenge on their minds I see them giving the Giants a bit of a lesson this Sunday afternoon. Even though it’s never wise to bet against Eli in a high stakes game (just covering myself in that eventuality!) Giants 17, 49ers 20

Minnesota @ Washington
I have to say I was quite shocked when I realised that the Vikings actually are 4-1 this season. No one saw this coming, least of all me, and their ascension has a scent of opportunism about it as the Packers have struggled so far this year and the Lions are playing well below last seasons standard. Washington has somehow managed to clear Robert Griffin III to play in this game after he was concussed last week, and it’s difficult to imagine that he’s 100 percent after he had his bell rung in Atlanta. Kirk Cousins came in after RG III left and lost the game by throwing two picks and Mike Shannahan will be mighty relieved to have his star player back in the huddle. Percy Harvin is the man the Redskins must stop if they want to win this one, and with Adrian Petersen nearly all the way back from his knee injury the ‘skins D will have its hands full as they attempt to get back to .500. I fancy the Vikings fairy tale season to continue, whilst Shannahans’ seat could be heating up if Washington find themselves at the bottom of the NFC east – again. Vikings 28, Redskins 20

Well that’s that for now on this weekends action, although I hope to be back with a brief recap of the action on Sunday night along with predictions for Sunday and Monday night football. Thanks for reading!

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Award Winners at the end of the First Quarter

After four weeks of action it’s difficult to believe we’re already a quarter of the way through the 2012 NFL season, but a quarter of the way through it we are and the sample size is just about large enough to make some judgements on the action so far. Some teams have flourished, such as Houston, whilst others have been slow out of the gates and as a result will need a miracle to reach the play-offs. One team who have struggled thus far are New Orleans, with the ‘Bountygate’ scandal taking more toll than anyone could have predicted. As I noted to a friend the other day, imagine how bad they would be if Drew Brees got injured! But injured he isn’t and the Saints still have the faintest of hopes that the season will have a positive conclusion. The Superbowl will be held in the Superdome, but time is running out if the Saints want to crash the party that they’re hosting.

Best team in Division

AFC West
This one was a difficult choice, as all four teams have their flaws and none look likely to reach even the championship game this season. But if any of the quartet were to pose at least a minuscule threat in January I’d have to plump for the Denver Broncos. Peyton Manning is still a top ten QB, and his presence gives the Broncos the edge over San Diego, in my opinion. The Chargers miss Vincent Jackson, and Antonio Gates hasn’t scored a touchdown yet this season which has severely affected Phillip Rivers ability to put up heavy points. Denver also has one of the most underrated home field advantages in football, with defeaning support and a thin atmosphere to draw upon when the games reach a climax. At 2-2 they are just one game behind San Diego, and I think it’s just a matter of time before their positions are reversed and Denver sits atop the AFC west tree.

AFC South
Probably the most lopsided division, consequently the easiest division to pick a standout team. The Houston Texans are quite simply a well balanced, well oiled machine and easily, easily the best team in the AFC south. They’re probably the best team in the conference, if not the league, but Baltimore and San Francisco can at least offer some competition in those regards. Arian Foster has been as good as expected on the ground, rushing for 380 yards and four touchdowns over the four games so far. The balance he’s provided enables Matt Shaub to slice opposing defenses and find his stud receiver, Andre Johnson. J.J Watt has starred on the defense and his seven and a half sacks have helped offset the losses of Mario Williams and, less so, DeMeco Ryans. Here’s a guarantee for you: Houston will win the franchises first play-off game this winter. And maybe one, two or three more besides.

AFC East
New England has failed to live up to expectations thus far, and a 2-2 record is pretty mediocre by Bill Belichick’s lofty standards. Last weeks 50 bomb they dropped on Buffalo went a long way to rectifying the mistakes made in consecutive weeks that gave the Patriots their first losing record for nine years, but the defense continues to leak points alarmingly and until last Sunday the offense wasn’t much better. Wes Welker has seen his role decrease from last season, and Aaron Hernandez picked up an injury in week two that seemed to leave the passing game with more questions then answers. The Patriots may well turn out to be OK, but at 2-2 they’re given the honour of best team in the division by virtue that they’re competing with the Bills, Jets and Dolphins for the honour. Nuff said.

AFC North
The north always manages to remain competitive, and is regarded as probably the toughest division, physically, in the AFC. This season Baltimore have impressed, and Joe Flacco looks to have matured into the elite quarterback they envisioned when they selected him in the first round of the draft. Ray Rice has, as usual, been dominant in the ground game and Torrey Smith has given Flacco a deep threat in the passing game. The Ravens have played some tough games already, their one loss coming on the road in Philadelphia by one point, and having defeated New England that loss in Philly can be viewed as an aberration. Pittsburgh hasn’t lived up to their pre-season hype, but Cincinnati has equalled the Ravens with a 3-1 record so far so they’ll bear watching as the season develops. But for now it’s clear that the Ravens are the class of this division, on paper and on field.

NFC West
Usually at this point of the season we’d all be talking about how “8-8 can win the west this year”, or how “Arizona has a chance to make the play-offs because the other three teams haven’t won a game between them yet”. Not this year. San Francisco, save a shock defeat to the Vikings, has been flat out dominant and quite comfortably possess the best defense in the league. Arizona have moved to 4-0, god knows how but they have, and their defense also deserves a mention as one of the leagues top units. Calais Cambell is one of the best, and tallest, defensive ends in the league at 6″7′, while Patrick Peterson is an elite corner back talent. I genuinely think the two are almost too close to call, but the fact that the 49ers won the division last year and gained big game experience in the post-season just about gives them the edge for me, but don’t sleep on Arizona.

NFC South
I bet four weeks ago everyone thought the Saints would at least be in the conversation for best team in this division, right? Not so much. Atlanta looks awesome right now, having moved to 4-0 whilst beating some pretty good teams en route. Last week it was Carolina, the week before San Diego. Matt Ryan has an elite receiving cast to work with, and Julio Jones has taken the next step towards becoming the best wide out in the league (sans Megatron). Roddy White is no slouch either, and in recent weeks Michael Turner has given a boost to the running game. Ironically, Turner has been much better since he was arrested for DUI two weeks ago. So maybe that’s a lesson to struggling running backs everywhere. Chris Johnson, take note. The Falcons play Washington and Oakland in the next two weeks, so it’s very possible and likely probable that Atlanta hits their bye week with a perfect record intact.

NFC East
Every year the NFC beast (as it’s occasionally known) remains intensely competitive, and this year is no exception. We have the reigning Superbowl champion Giants, much hyped Dallas Cowboys and the Washington Redskins have rookie talent Robert Griffin III manning the quarterback position. But for me, it’s the Philadelphia Eagles who are the team to beat in the east. They have a one game lead in the standings currently, although their three victories have come by a combined four (!) points. It’s true that if the Eagles want to remain atop the standings they will have to start winning games by more than a point or two, but it’s also worth noting their schedule has been very tough so far. Having beaten the Ravens, Giants and Browns and been beaten in Arizona, Cleveland aside the Birds have been given a difficult start to the season. Nonetheless they’ve emerged the other side with a 3-1 record and if Michael Vick can play as he did on Sunday night against the G-men then Philly will have no problem making the post-season this year.

NFC North
Another very competitive division, even the Vikings look like a half decent football team after four games. As has been the case for the past couple of years, however, the elite team in this division is Green Bay. Mike McCarthy is a brilliant head coach, and between him and Aaron Rodgers the offense will usually find a way to get things done. Although the Pack were robbed by the replacements in Seattle, they managed to bounce back against New Orleans this week and get back to a .500 record. I know Minnesota and Chicago are both 3-1, but do you really think they have the pedigree to hold off the Packers? Besides, if it weren’t for hail mary gate Green Bay themselves would find themselves in the exact same boat. 

Comeback Player of the Year

For me, this award comes down to two players. One obvious candidate is Peyton Manning, who missed all of 2011 with a neck injury. The other is Rams wide receiver Danny Amendola, who injured his knee in week three last year and was lost for the season. I’m giving the nod to the diminutive Rams player Amendola, who so far this season has surpassed anything he’s done in his career. A Wes Welker type possession receiver, Amendola has evolved in to Sam Bradfords favourite target and just the other week had sixteen receptions in one game. Whilst Manning has been good, he hasn’t quite lived up to his peerless past and for that reason I’m going to deny him the award for now. However there’s still 12 games to go in the regular season, and that’s plenty of time for either Manning to shine or Amendola to fall from grace.

Rookie of the Year
A lot of people have been comparing Robert Griffin III‘s season this year to Cam Newton’s from last season. It is true that they share plenty of similarities, both statistically and physically, yet there’s one important statistic that Griffin has the edge in over Newton. At this stage last year Newton had just one win, and would win just two of his next seven games. Griffin already has two wins, and I’m certain that after his next seven he’ll have a very good shot of doubling Newton’s win tally and reaching six wins from 11 games. Griffin also won in a very hostile environment, in the Superdome in week one on his NFL debut, a very impressive feat that not many rookie QB’s have emulated. Perhaps even more impressive is that Griffin has thrown just one interception so far this year, which is a stunning performance when you consider that the Redskins have been running an offense with heavy doses of passing involved. If RG III can keep this up all season then the Redskins might just find themselves in the running for a surprise play-off appearance just a year after finishing with the leagues second worst record.

Coach of the Year
Ken Wisenhunt has one Superbowl appearance on his resume and 2012 could offer the former Steelers assistant another opportunity to reach the big game. It’s only four games in, as I keep mentioning, but Arizona is 4-0 and they haven’t gone undefeated so far on the back of a ridiculously talented roster, they’ve done it on the back of some good coaching and magnificent game planning and scheming. Wisenhunt actually could have been in a bit of trouble this season after a couple of underwhelming years since the Cards run to Superbowl, and his inability to replace Kurt Warner at quarterback has hindered the teams progress. Finding someone to feed Larry Fitzgerald was of key importance, and until this season Kevin Kolb looked like a colossal bust after he was acquired via trade for a second round pick and corner back Dominique Rodgers Cromartie. However, John Skelton got injured in week one, Kolb led a game winning drive and hasn’t looked back since.. so perhaps it wasn’t such a bad trade after all.

MVP
As this award is based on who is most valuable to their team, it’s usually a good idea to choose a quarterback for it. That’s exactly what I’m going to do, although for a brief moment I did consider choosing Darrell Revis after he sustained a season ending knee injury and the Patriots shredded the Jets defense a week later, proving how much New York will miss their star defensive player. However I reconsidered and eventually settled with Matt Ryan, who’s been lights out so far this year. Having led Atlanta to a 4-0 record, Ryan has thrown for 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions as the Falcons have taken to the air more than ever before with wide receivers Roddy White and Julio Jones being the main beneficiaries. I’ve not always rated Ryan too highly and believe he has been over-hyped to an extent during his career to date, but this season he’s really stood out and behind him the Falcons are legit Superbowl contenders.

Well, there you have it. These ‘awards’ might end up looking inspired of ludicrous when the season is over, but for now these are the players, coaches and teams who have stood out during what has been a mad start to the NFL year. I’ll be back with predictions for this weekends games as well as a review on the Thursday Night match up involving St. Louis and Arizona.

NB – The majority of this article was penned before last nights game, where St. Louis defeated Arizona by a score of 17-3