Only Three to Go
There are still a few intriguing match-ups this week in the NFL. With only three games to go, several play-off spots are still undecided.
The Thursday night game is important to the Cincinnati Bengals who are vying for a wild card spot with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Cincinnati visits the Eagles and a rookie quarterback. The Bengals defense should control the Eagles offense, and Andy Dalton should have no trouble putting points on the board.
Sunday’s early games, (1 p.m. Eastern) give us four that involve teams moving on after the regular season.
The Packers are at the Bears. Green Bay is definitely in the playoffs, but Chicago needs a win to stay in position. Although they have several injuries, again, The Pack is without doubt the best team in the NFC North. Aaron Rodgers, one of the top five quarterbacks in the league, will lead them against a tough Bears defense. No one knows what Jay Cutler will do with Chicago’s offense, he’s always full of surprises.
The Indianapolis Colts are in Houston to face the Texans. Andrew Luck, who is playing more like a third year quarterback than a rookie, is a dangerous opponent for every defense, even one as solid as the Texans. The Colts defense has been improving every week. Houston played its worst game on both offense and defense Monday night against the Patriots, and I expect them to dominate the game at home. J.J. Watt may have a memorable game against the Indianapolis offensive line.
The Broncos travel to Baltimore in a battle of division leaders. Denver has won their division led by Hall of Famer Peyton Manning, and a rejuvenated Knowshon Moreno who is running the ball well. They have two of the best pass rushers in the game in defensive end Elvis Dumervil and linebacker Vaughn Miller who will be chasing Joe Flacco all day. Defensive back, and future Hall of Famer Champ Bailey, will keep him honest.
The Ravens are suspect. They still have not clenched the AFC North. Their defense is not comparable to past years, ranking in the lower third. They fired Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron this week, placing the blame on him for a weak and inconsistent offense. Their path to a win rests on the shoulders of running back Ray Rice. If he gets 50 touches, they might win.
Eli Manning and the New York Giants will be in Atlanta to face the Falcons. The Giants have the league right where they want it. Although they have not won their division, yet, if they follow their history, this week is the time they begin their Super Bowl run. And with the best defensive line in football, they can make it a long day for “Matty Ice”.
Atlanta was considered the best team in the NFC for much of the season. They are division winners, but can they win in the playoffs? They need to win out and guarantee themselves home field advantage throughout the playoffs. The don’t want to go to Green Bay in January. Matt Ryan needs to lead them with excellent decision making, and ensure they play all of their games in the warmth of the dome.
The afternoon has the Steelers in Dallas to challenge the Cowboys. Pittsburgh was soundly beaten, (or more correctly beat themselves), last week by the Chargers. This year the Steelers have been consistent in the fact that they have played down to their opponent’s level. If they follow that pattern, the game will be decided by which Tony Romo, and which Dallas defensive comes to play. Ben is back in control, and was the only player to perform for Pittsburgh in Sunday’s debacle.
The Cowboys are similar to the Bears, both are like that “box of chocolates”, “you never know what you’re going to get”.
The most intriguing game for me is the game on Sunday night. The 49ers are flying to Foxboro and challenge the Patriot’s home dominance. We know what Brady and Belichick will do, somewhat. But I’m not sure the Pats know what Colin Kaepernick will do. He’s fearless, and has one of the strongest arms in football. Having come from Northern Nevada, Reno, he’s used to playing in the cold. I hope it’s not another game like Monday night’s when I turned it off just after the start of the second half to watch a re-run of “the Big Bang Theory”.
It’s definitely a serious weekend for serious fans. I’m retired, and as I tell my friends, my week consists of 6 Saturdays, and 1 Sunday. On Sunday I’m a couch potato, staring at my television until the last whistle blows.