This week includes The Battle of Texas, a battle to protect Tom Brady, a coach changing quarterbacks to help save his job, and another coach primed to change quarterbacks to save his season.
Arizona Cardinals (3-0) at Denver Broncos (2-1)
It doesn’t look like Cardinals starting quarterback Carson Palmer is going to be back anytime soon. He has a nerve issue in his throwing shoulder, and Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said he had a setback.
While both teams come off a bye-week, the mad scientist Peyton Manning is particularly lethal with two weeks to break down film and prepare for an opponent.
The bye week should also benefit the Broncos 31st-ranked pass defense as they have two new starters, and needed to get some kinks out.
This game totally favors the home-standing Broncos, especially with the Cardinals starting a backup quarterback (Drew Stanton).
Atlanta Falcons (2-2) at New York Giants (2-2)
The Giants are back in business with two wins in a row. They are finally getting comfortable in the playbook of new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo.
Atlanta comes in with the NFL’s #1 offense, but they need to get their defense fixed. It’s inexcusable to give up 41 points to a Minnesota Vikings club featuring a rookie quarterback in his first start.
Not helping Atlanta’s cause is an injury to left guard Justin Blalock. They already placed their starting left tackle on injured reserve. So the Falcons will be without their entire left side against a very talented Giants defensive line.
This game is a toss-up.
Buffalo Bills (2-2) at Detroit Lions (3-1)
At 2-2, Bills coach Doug Marrone made the gutsy decision to replace developing QB E.J. Manuel with veteran Kyle Orton.
“It wasn’t all E.J.’s fault. We just need more overall production from that position,” Marrone told Buffalo radio station WGR.
The bottom line is Orton has much more experience, and gives Marrone a better chance to win now. And considering there is a new owner in town, it’s smart for Marrone to get as many wins as possible this year to keep this job.
But winning this week is a longshot on the road against the NFL’s #1 defense.
Chicago Bears (2-2) at Carolina Panthers (2-2)
Bears left tackle Jermon Bushrod is out due to knee and ankle injuries.
Last year, this would have been a big problem facing Carolina’s dominating pass rush with perhaps the best end combo in the league–Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy.
The team suspended Hardy due to a domestic violence case that won’t go to jury trial until November 17, but the Panthers took one for the league, shutting him down to help the NFL from a PR standpoint. Hardy is such a good player that he was given the team’s franchise tag, and is getting paid $770,000 a game to do nothing.
With Hardy out, Johnson is getting double-teamed, and has no sacks this season.
The Panthers will also be without DeAngelo Hall and Jonathan Stewart.
The Panthers are a mess, giving the Bears an edge in this road contest.
Cleveland Browns (1-2) at Tennessee Titans (1-3)
Are the Tennessee Titans a bad team?
“How are you going to ask me that?” said Titans linebacker Wesley Woodyard. “How are you going to ask me that (expletive) question?”
Because it’s true.
They are just not very good.
“It’s embarrassing,” said Titans safety Michael Griffin.
And the Titans will likely be without starting cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson who has a concussion. But a concussion isn’t the only thing he has on his mind. His family is from Liberia.
This game favors the road Browns, coming off a bye-week, where they got healthy and had two weeks to prepare.
Houston Texans (3-1) at Dallas Cowboys (3-1)
Should be quite an atmosphere in AT&T Stadium for the Battle of Texas between a pair of 3-1 teams.
The Cowboys have great balance on offense with their high-powered passing attack now buttressed by the NFL’s #1 rushing attack. The Texans rank below average against the run at 24th in the NFL.
The Texans enter this game without their third and fourth corners–A.J. Bouye and Darryl Morris, so if the Cowboys spread them out, they could be in trouble.
Another problem could be the health of their star receiver, Andre Johnson, who is questionable with an ankle injury, and didn’t practice on Thursday and Friday.
It would be surprising if Dallas doesn’t win this game.
Kansas City Chiefs (2-2) at San Francisco 49ers (2-2)
The Chiefs show amazing resiliency this year. Ravaged by injuries, they managed to figure out a ways to win games at Miami and at home against New England.
They might be down two players in the secondary at Levi’s Stadium with star safety Eric Berry (ankle) out, and starting cornerback Marcus Cooper (knee) questionable.
Kansas City has had a lot of success on the ground during their winning streak, but will be challenged this week by San Francisco’s #2-ranked rushing defense.
San Francisco should figure out a way to win this game.
Pittsburgh Steelers (2-2) at Jacksonville Jaguars (0-4)
Expect this to be like a Steelers home game. A lot of Steelers fans in Florida, they also travel well, and it’s not hard to get Jaguars tickets.
Expect Big Ben to get a lot done against a secondary down starting cornerback Dwayne Gratz.
Also, the Jacksonville Jaguars will be without both starting receivers, Marques Lee and Cecil Shorts, out with hamstring injuries.
What a mess!
Look for Pittsburgh to win this pseudo-home game.
St. Louis Rams (1-2) at Philadelphia Eagles (3-1)
It’s never great to face Chip Kelly’s high-octane passing attack with two corners out, but that is what St. Louis will have to do, with Trumaine Johnson, and his backup Brandon McGee, out.
The Eagles’s patchwork offensive line got beat up last week by San Francisco, but will benefit this week with the return of talented right tackle Lane Johnson, back from a PED suspension. Johnson’s return should help the Eagles 26th-ranked rushing attack.
It’s hard to see the Eagles losing this game at home.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-3) at New Orleans Saints (1-3)
All signs point to the Saints in this game.
This is a must-win game, at home, where they are almost unbeatable. And Tampa Bay might be without both safeties. Dashon Goldson (ankle) has already been ruled out, and Mark Barron is questionable with a groin injury.
Also, Tampa Bay will be without starting wide receiver Mike Evans, sidelined by a groin issue.
New York Jets (1-3) at San Diego Chargers (3-1)
The Chargers are the NFL’s 31st-ranked rushing offense, and the Jets have the #1 rushing defense in the NFL. So you can forget about the Chargers running in this game.
But the Jets pass defense is pedestrian, and Philip Rivers is having a great season through the air, with the NFL’s fifth-ranked passing offense. The Bolts will look to make hay in this game, through the air.
This is a must-win game for the Jets, so if they are losing at halftime or the third quarter, it’s quite possible Rex Ryan will turn to Michael Vick at quarterback, to help salvage their season.
Cincinnati Bengals (3-0) at New England Patriots (2-2)
You know New England is struggling when their passing attack is ranked 30th in the NFL. The puzzling move to waive one of Tom Brady’s preferred outside targets last season, Kenbrell Thompkins, doesn’t figure to improve the offense’s struggles.
It’s not so much that Tom Brady has lost it, as much as he’s not getting protected very well.
“Moving forward, we’ve got to improve,” said Patriots left tackle Nate Solder. “We’ve got to get better.”
Well, this is going to be a tough week for the New England’s offense to get going–the Bengals allow 11.0 points per game, the lowest in the NFL. Like the release of Thompkins, not activating defensive back Brandon Browner, coming off a suspension, puzzles.
But it’s hard to keep New England down. Don’t be surprised if they get their act together this week, and slip by the undefeated Bengals.