It’s unofficially the halfway point of the season this week as by the end of Monday night’s game every team will have played at least eight of its 16 regular-season games.
There were a few somewhat surprising upsets in Week 8: Bucs over Vikings, Dolphins over Jets and Browns over Chargers (who are officially dead-men walking). I warned you the first two might happen and simply didn’t care much about the San Diego-Cleveland game. The Bears almost suffered one of the big upsets of the season at home vs. Carolina but managed to rally. Good teams win on their off days, so in one respect that bodes well for Chicago.
The Bears won on a field goal with no time remaining, and last-second comebacks have been the theme of 2012. In each of the first eight weeks, according to an NFL release, there have been at least two games in which the winning points were scored in the final two minutes or overtime, including three in Week 8. So far there have been 31 games in which the winning points were scored in the final two minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime.
My top choice last week was Green Bay. The Pack didn’t look great -- and didn’t cover -- but beat the Jags. I also recommended the Bears and Patriots. On to Week 9, with St. Louis, New England (both back from London), the New York Jets and San Francisco on a bye.
Houston vs. Buffalo: A complete and utter no-brainer here as both come off their bye weeks. Although I might take the Bills and the points as Houston could be looking ahead to next week’s potential Super Bowl preview at Chicago.
Green Bay vs. Arizona: As noted above, the Pack were my choice a week ago. They badly need a running back amid rumors they might swing a deal before Thursday’s trade deadline (it was Tuesday but pushed back due to Hurricane Sandy). If Green Bay gets Steven Jackson, whom the Rams say is staying put, then the Packers are NFC favorites in my mind. The Cardinals, meanwhile, have one of the worst offensive lines in history – Clay Matthews could have five sacks – and are the first team in 10 years to start 4-0 and lose its next four.
Washington vs. Carolina: The Panthers thoroughly outplayed the Bears last week and deserved to win. They have lost five straight while averaging just 16.6 points, and Ron Rivera is on the hot seat in a big way. Robert Griffin III was introduced to the Steelers defense last week and predictably struggled but should find the going much easier vs. Carolina. The future of NFL quarterbacking is on display here with RG3 vs. Cam Newton.
Seattle vs. Minnesota: I don’t trust either young quarterback, but Seattle is a different animal at home. The Vikes started 4-1 but it wouldn’t shock me if they only finished with six wins as their schedule gets much tougher going forward. I say the 2012 NFL rushing king plays in this game, but I don’t know if it’s Adrian Peterson or Marshawn Lynch.
Denver at Cincinnati: Is Peyton Manning the NFL MVP right now? Five straight games with at least 300 yards passing, tying a personal-high, and he now leads the NFL in rating. The Bengals have dropped three in a row but had the bye week to prepare.
Baltimore at Cleveland: No way the Ravens lose here, right? They have won 10 straight in the AFC North and nine in a row over Cleveland. Baltimore did look pretty bad last time out in Houston but had the bye week to prepare for the vanilla Browns. Here’s one reason this worries me if I back Baltimore: the Ravens are 1-2 on the road (one win at KC) and averaging 15 points per game.
Chicago at Tennessee: Can the Bears return a seventh interception for a touchdown this week (Bears’ six through seven games an NFL record)? Matt Hasselbeck has been very good of late in his career vs. Chicago. And Chris Johnson has been returning to form. I would presume last week’s escape woke the Bears up, but they might be disinterested here with games vs. Houston and San Francisco up next.
Miami at Indianapolis: A few weeks ago, I would have had this in the “ugly” category, but one of these two will be 5-3 after Sunday and be thinking playoffs. Ryan Tannehill (who should play despite leaving last week early) has a better QB rating than Andrew Luck and hasn’t thrown an interception in his past three games.
Detroit at Jacksonville: The Lions will no doubt have some inside information on the Jaguars after trading for Jacksonville receiver Mike Thomas this week. I actually believe that boosts the Jags’ upset chances even with Maurice Jones-Drew out again. Plus, the Lions aren’t very good on the road.
Oakland vs. Tampa Bay: I was going to put this in the “ugly” category as it’s two losing teams, but Bucs QB Josh Freeman has been excellent the past three games (nine TDs, one pick). And rookie RB Doug Martin had one of the best fantasy games of the year in last week’s win at Minnesota – he was a steal in this year’s draft. By the way, the last three times the Buccaneers started 3-4, they made the playoffs. As for Oakland, I have nothing positive to say, but it’s a tough trip west for the Bucs so the Raiders probably win.
NY Giants vs. Pittsburgh: Eli Manning usually wins against the AFC and Ben Roethlisberger usually does vs. the NFC. No Troy Polamalu again for the Steelers, but they appear to have found their new featured back in Jonathan Dwyer. I lean Giants but wouldn’t risk it.
Atlanta vs. Dallas: The calls for the end of the Tony Romo Era in Dallas were hot and heavy this week, so it would be typical for Romo to have a big game here and show how talented he is at times. If Matt Ryan has a 100 rating in his career, he has never lost. Should be points aplenty, but I smell an upset for the desperate Cowboys, who have yet to lose back-to-back games this season.
New Orleans vs. Philadelphia (Monday): Michael Vick will find himself tethered to the bench if the Iggles lose again. But Vick could explode against a Saints defense allowing an astonishing 474.7 yards per game, which would easily be an NFL record. Or Vick could turn the ball over five times.
San Diego vs. Kansas City (Thursday): The teams bring a combined seven-game losing streak into this AFC West dud. Pretty sure neither coach is back next season. While the Chiefs will certainly be taking a quarterback early in the 2013 draft, maybe it’s time for San Diego to move on from Philip Rivers. He seems to be regressing at age 30 (Rivers for Romo!?).
I used the Texans earlier this season but if you didn’t listen, go there. Ditto on the Packers. If those two are off the board, go Seahawks.
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