Falcons @ Buccaneers
In three of the Buccaneers’ last four outings, Doug Martin has rushed for over 100 yards; this week the 25th-ranked run defense travels from Atlanta to stop this trend. That’s asking a tall order, some would say, given that the Falcons give up 130 yards a game on the ground.
Tampa Bay also has their matchup issues as well. The Falcons must use lighter packages on early downs to exploit a weakness in the Bucs’ nickel package – cornerback Leonard Johnson. He should be a guy that Matt Ryan finds at the line of scrimmage and attacks frequently.
This game will rest on the shoulders of the quarterbacks. Josh Freeman better be careful against this Falcons secondary. While they aren’t the best in-your-face man coverage corners, they play very smart off-zone coverage and take gambles at opportune times.
Winner: Tampa Bay
Vikings @ Bears
Even with Jay Cutler at quarterback, Jared Allen and the Vikings front seven should have a field day against this offensive line. The Bears offense has been extremely inconsistent all season, and the variation of looks that Minnesota gives teams now opposed to prior seasons, will benefit the Vikings.
Adrian, Adrian, Adrian, as Brian Baldinger explained on the Playbook show, Chicago doesn’t handle heavy sets well (multiple tight ends & running backs) – that is what Minnesota does. Over the last for games, when Minnesota has aligned in the I-Formation (2 RB’s) they have averaged 11 yards per carry, accumulating 540 yards out of this set alone. On the other hand, defending the I-Formation in the last four games, the Bears have given up 4.3 yards per rush. Too much AP
49ers @ Saints
This is an intriguing matchup. On paper, nothing adds up. New Orleans is last against the run while San Francisco is first. Let’s peel the onion a bit more; the Saints have given up 42 runs of 10+ yards while the 49ers have gained 57 runs of 10+ yards – these are drive-sustaining runs that will keep Drew Brees off the field.
We all know how great the Niners defense is in all stages of the job description, but they face the best all-around passing offense in the NFL. With the annual improvement of left tackle Jermond Bushrod, expect Aldon Smith to face some sort of resistance this week. The Saints have only given up 16 sacks this season (T-6th). They also lead the NFL in touchdown passes (28) and are fifth in the NFL on third down (44.9%) – but San Francisco has a 32.6% conversion rate against them on third down (3rd).
Winner: San Francisco. We feel funny about this game, and it can go either way
Packers @ Giants
If there is any time for Eli Manning to wake up, the time is now. This is a wounded Packers defense ,and he better capitalize because Green Bay’s offense is no sitting duck – and they will score! In the last five games, Aaron Rodgers has thrown 17 TD’s while Eli has only thrown two.
The one thing that goes in New York’s favor is that Green Bay cannot block their front, therefore the Giants can rush four comfortably and drop seven into coverage – giving Rodgers smaller throwing lanes. If the Giants can generate pressure like we know they can, this should force the Packers to keep eligible receivers involved in the protection, limiting how many can deploy into a route.
This is a classic set up for the Giants to explode, coming off of a bye and having two weeks to game plan for the NFL’s most deadliest passer. Tom Coughlin is too good of a coach for his team to continue to be flat after this much time to prepare.
Winner: New York
Panthers @ Eagles
The Eagles lead the NFL in red-zone giveaways with six, and are second to last in total giveaways at 24. The Eagles have also fumbled seven times in the red zone, not losing all of them, but carelessness is our point. This is just what Carolina needs — an opportunity for the ball to bounce their way.
Rams @ Cardinals
Arizona’s inability to run the football on offense is the key to their downhill skid after a 4-0 start to this season. It is easy to blame the quarterback situation, and that has aided their situation as well, but there has been no relief in the backfield with Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams injured.
One thing the Rams have done well all season is compete. This is a much improved football team from a year ago, and their defense will be the reason the Rams win this game. They are the better team no doubt – but do not count out defensive coordinator Ray Horton of the Cardinals to dial up exotic blitzes to breakdown the Rams’ protections and potentially force turnovers.
The Rams learn from their early loss to the Cards and get a victory.