|Brian Hoyer has led the Browns to a surprising 6-3 record and top spot in the AFC North|
The time has come again for Fred Stanley Sport to offer our insight into this weeks slate of NFL games, and with a selection of exciting contests on the horizon this Sunday promises to be one of the most explosive of an already high-powered season. To find out who will triumph in these key encounters keep it right here.
Atlanta @ Carolina
Amazingly, the 3-6 Falcons are still well in the race to win the mediocre NFC South, as are the 3-6-1 Panthers. Neither team possesses healthy offensive lines, and neither boasts even an average defense. The Falcons, however, have a healthy quarterback and Steven Jackson has shown signs of life as the teams ball carrier. Those factors are just about enough to qualify them as favourites in a game that could catapult them back into relevance following a 2-6 start. Falcons 23, Panthers 17
Minnesota @ Chicago
Adrian Peterson isn’t yet back for the Vikings, although they may not need him against a Bears outfit that has imploded in recent weeks, culminating in the Sunday Night Football humiliation against Green Bay seven days ago. Teddy Bridgewater has shown enough to offer Vikings fans hope for the future, and their defense has been pretty good for a lot of the campaign. With Chicago in self-destruct mode, particularly on defense, it’s difficult to predict anything other than a road win. Vikings 27, Bears 20
Houston @ Cleveland
For the first time in 20 years the Browns top their division this late into the season, and at home against a Texans team sans Arian Foster they’re favourites to retain that title into week 12. Ryan Mallett has been installed as Houston’s starting QB after he was acquired during the off-season from New England, which makes the Texans offense a complete mystery in this one with Mallett and rookie running back Alfred Blue in the backfield. That uncertainty, combined with the Browns consistency this season, makes Cleveland the pick to improve to 7-3.
Texans 14, Browns 17
Seattle @ Kansas City
In the pick of the early games, the struggling Seahawks travel to Arrowhead Stadium to do battle with the rejuvenated Chiefs. Both teams rely on a stout defense and controlling the clock using the ground game, and both have “game-manager” type quarterbacks. Russell Wilson is more likely than Alex Smith to beat you in a game, but with Kansas City healthier, at home and on a roll it’s difficult to pick against them, even against the reigning champs. Seahawks 16, Chiefs 19
Cincinnati @ New Orleans
Will Andy Dalton improve upon his 2.0 passer rating from last week against Cleveland? Probably. Will the Bengals go into New Orleans and beat the Saints in the imposing Superdome? Probably not. Even though the 49ers did just that last week they have a much better defense and quarterback than the Bengals, who after starting the season on fire have been in free-fall. Dalton may have A.J Green back in the fold but that didn’t exactly help him last week, and the Saints are sure to respond to last weeks overtime defeat with an improved performance. Bengals 20, Saints 30
San Francisco @ New York Giants
Tom Coughlin’s job is now well and truly on the line with the Giants languishing at 3-6 and looking all but certain to miss the play-offs for the fifth time in six seasons, while the 49ers are just about in with a shout at making it to January with a 5-4 record. I’m not sure they’ll accomplish that, but they’ll be on their way after a comfortable win tonight on the back of their defense, which could have a field day against the erratic Giants offensive attack. 49ers 26, Giants 17
Denver @ St. Louis
The Rams looked set to upset a third NFC West rival of the season last week against Arizona but they ultimately came up short, and with the elite Broncos on tap things don’t get any easier for Jeff Fisher’s men. They’ve gone back to Shaun Hill at quarterback but that won’t ultimately matter as Peyton Manning will find a way to get the ball out before the Rams vaunted pass rush gets home, putting up enough points in the process to keep Denver well clear of St. Louis. Broncos 31, Rams 13
Tampa Bay @ Washington
This game isn’t very relevant to the play-off picture, but hey, someone might have some fantasy options involved. Robert Griffin III will be eager to continue his return to full fitness and could be primed for a fairly big game against the passive Buccaneers defense, which has been awful for most of 2014. The Redskins are no powerhouse, yet it’s still difficult to imagine anything other than a home win occurring here with the woeful Bucs in town. Buccaneers 20, Redskins 28
Oakland @ San Diego
When the Chargers played the Raiders in Oakland they struggled on their way to a close victory, and while they should win again today there’s no guarantee they won’t stumble with Phillip Rivers and co currently riding a three game losing streak. The Raiders have played hard for interim coach Tony Sparano, yet ultimately their lack of talent has counted against them as they find themselves win-less late into the year. Rookie QB Derek Carr, on the plus side, looks like a keeper under centre.
Raiders 17, Chargers 24
Detroit @ Arizona
The 7-2 Lions face the toughest tests of their season to date with a visit to the desert to play the 8-1 Cardinals, although Arizona is without Carson Palmer for the rest of the year after he tore knee ligaments last week. Detroit has won many a nail-biter on their way to the top of the NFC North, thanks mainly to their league leading defense as they’ve had to deal without star receiver Calvin Johnson for large portions of the season. Johnson’s back this week, however, and it’s not hard to envision the Lions scary defensive front feasting on Drew Stanton in a statement win for the Lions.
Lions 23, Cardinals 20
Philadelphia @ Green Bay
In another crucial NFC match-up, the Packers almost certainly have to win at home if they’re to keep pace with the Lions in the NFC North. Otherwise, it’s the wild-card way or no way at all for Mike McCarthy’s charges. Philly looked good with Mark Sanchez under centre last week against Carolina but it’s the defense, which forced five turnovers, who have improved plenty as the season has wore on for the Eagles. They won’t be able to completely contain elite QB Aaron Rodgers but if they can force the Packers into becoming one dimensional by stopping running back Eddie Lacy then they may have done just enough to win this daunting road game. Eagles 27, Packers 24
New England @ Indianapolis
Tom Brady is 2-0 when facing Andrew Luck in the Colts quarterback’s young career, and with the Patriots currently on an imposing roll it’s difficult to see that becoming anything other than 3-0 tonight. Even though the Patriots are on the road they possess a better defense than Indy’s, and Luck has a history, so far, of coughing it up in the big games. Fact: Luck has as many interceptions (9) through nine games this season as he did during the duration of the 2013 campaign.
Patriots 34, Colts 24
Pittsburgh @ Tennessee
Lets cut to the chase; the Titans aren’t beating any half competent team this late in the season. Pittsburgh were terrible last week against the Jets and lost, but New York played an inspired game led by veteran quarterback Michael Vick. Tennessee doesn’t have the talent the mercurial Jets do, and the Steelers, who may have been guilty of complacency seven days ago, won’t make the same mistake twice. Steelers 33, Titans 17
What do you think will triumph in the NFL this weekend? Tweet @fredjstanley or leave a comment