You’ll have to wait until Sunday Night Football to see game of the week, the New England Patriots at Indianapolis Colts. Not only do these two play atop their respective divisions, but the game serves as possible revenge for the defending Super Bowl champions.
The Colts started the Deflate-gate scandal by turning the Patriots into the league. Without Deflate-gate serving as motivation, the Pats rolled over the Colts 45-7 in Foxboro in January after destroying Indianapolis in similar fashion during a regular season trip to Lucas Oil Stadium.
Some good games throughout the day whet the appetite for this marquee encounter, including the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals traveling to Buffalo, the Denver Broncos trying to avoid an upset in Cleveland, and the Pittsburgh Steelers seeking to contain the offensive juggernaut that is the Arizona Cardinals.
Let’s take a closer look at Sunday’s slate of NFL games . . .
Cincinnati Bengals (5-0) at Buffalo Bills (3-2)
Bills starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor is nursing a knee injury. So when will the Bills’ brass decide when he’s going to play?
“He’ll be a game time decision,” Bills coach Rex Ryan said on Friday. Not really.
ESPN’s Bob Holtzman reported on Saturday afternoon that backup E.J. Manuel expects to start.
In this day and age of mega-talent agencies representing players, coaches, general managers, and broadcasters under one roof, it’s hard to keep a secret. A lot of cross-pollination – using one client to help another.
Going from Taylor to Manuel probably won’t change the Bills’ QB landscape significantly. Just like with Taylor, they will play it close to the vest offensively with a conservative passing game plan.
This game would seem to favor the Bengals, but Bills have a top-shelf defense and are tough at home, so this game is a toss-up.
Denver Broncos (5-0) at Cleveland Browns (2-3)
Clearly the Browns did the right thing staying with Josh McCown at quarterback.
Aside from Johnny Manziel drinking again following a stint in rehab, McCown has been red-hot over the last three weeks, throwing for 300 or more yards in each game, including a 457-yard, two-touchdown effort in a win over Baltimore last week.
The Browns possess a real chance in this game against the undefeated Broncos.
First of all, Denver’s offensive line isn’t very good and the Browns field a lot of talent in their front seven. Secondly, the Browns boast a very good offensive line, and the Broncos’ top-shelf defense plays without stellar pass rusher DeMarcus Ware.
This game could go either way.
Chicago Bears (2-3) at Detroit Lions (0-5)
One reason for the Lions’ poor start has been substandard offensive line play, so getting back their best lineman, right guard Larry Warford, should help.
Chicago has won two in a row, they are so banged up, so this game favors the Lions. The Bears suffer from so many injuries on their defensive line that circumstances forced them to sign defensive tackle Bruce Gaston off the Green Bay Packers practice squad earlier this week. Aside from health issues on the defensive line, they also play without starting safety Antrel Rolle and outside linebacker Shea McClellin.
So due to home field and health, the pick here is the Lions.
Houston Texans (1-4) at Jacksonville Jaguars (1-4)
Call this the “Final Nail Bowl.” Both teams are 1-4. At 2-4, you are on life support, at 1-5, you are toast.
The Texans are sick on and off the field. A virus going around their locker room has made wide receiver Jaelen Strong, cornerback A.J. Bouye, and defensive end J.J. Watt questionable for the game.
One reason Houston has underachieved this year is the average play of Watt, perhaps the most dominant defensive player in the league last year. Against the Colts last week, Watt finsihed without a solo tackle.
Both of these teams are playing so poorly. Your guess is as good as mine how this turns out.
Kansas City Chiefs (1-4) at Minnesota Vikings (2-2)
The Vikings aren’t protecting quarterback Teddy Bridgewater well; he has been sacked 13 times in four games.
When you struggle with protection issues, the Chiefs appear as one of the last teams you want to face. While they post a lousy record, they get after the quarterback, led by sack machine Justin Houston. Minnesota’s protection issues essentially take their talented tight end Kyle Rudolph out of the passing game because he needs to stay in as a blocker.
So don’t be shocked if the visiting Chiefs pull the upset.
Arizona Cardinals (4-1) at Pittsburgh Steelers (3-2)
With Ben Roethlisberger out, the Steelers need to put this game on the back of talented tailback Le’Veon Bell. And you can run on Arizona, as St. Louis Rams rookie Todd Gurley proved two weeks ago, rushing for 146 yards.
The Steelers need to avoid a shootout, since they start backup quarterback Mike Vick against the Cardinals’ red-shot signal-caller Carson Palmer, who boasts 13 touchdowns to just three picks in five games.
Expect a heavy-dose of Bell against a Cardinals defense that could be without both starting outside linebackers. The feeling here is that the Steelers win a close game.
Miami Dolphins (1-3) at Tennessee Titans (1-3)
The Dolphins made a coaching change, firing Joe Philbin, and hiring former NFL tight end Dan Campbell, a Bill Parcells disciple, to toughen up the team. It remains to be seen if this will help.
But one factor that should help the Dolphins this week is getting back franchise left tackle Brandon Albert to protect QB Ryan Tannehill’s blindside. Also helping the Dolphins’ blocking issues is getting back Dion Sims, a very good blocking tight end.
Expect highly-paid nose tackle Ndamukong Suh, who has been getting ripped in South Florida for not living up to his contract, to play his best game of the year against a center he should dominate.
The Dolphins should give Campbell a win in his first game as coach.
Carolina Panthers (4-0) at Seattle Seahawks (2-3)
The Seahawks should get a big boost with the return of tailback Marshawn Lynch from a hamstring injury. This should make the already deafening home crowd in Seattle even louder.
Seattle’s pass rush is as good as ever, coming off a four-sack performance in Cincinnati. They know it will be challenging to bring down Carolina’s 6-5, 250-pound scrambling QB Cam Newton. They have a plan.
“He can’t run without legs – try to hit him low and wrap up his legs,” said Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin.
The Seahawks should remove the Panthers from the ranks of the undefeated on Sunday.
San Diego Chargers (2-3) at Green Bay Packers (5-0)
It hasn’t been easy, but the Chargers are trying to leave last week’s devastating last-second loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the rear-view mirror, especially with a trip to Lambeau Field in the offing.
“We can’t let the Steelers beat us twice,” said Chargers safety Jameel Addae
While it’s not going to be easy, the Chargers have a chance in this game. They have a terrific defense, and have a strong enough secondary to not stop Aaron Rodgers entirely, which is near impossible, but keep him somewhat under control. And when you have Philip Rivers at quarterback, you have a puncher’s chance.
Don’t be surprised if the Chargers either put a real scare into the Packers, or pull the upset.
Baltimore Ravens (1-4) at San Francisco 49ers (1-4)
Two teams heading in the wrong direction.
The Ravens are terribly banged-up, demoralized (coming off a home loss to the Browns), and perhaps distracted by rumors that their coach might go to USC.
The 49ers showed some life last week in a close loss to the Giants on the road.
It’s a tough game to call, but we give a slight edge to the home team, especially if they get tight end Vernon Davis back (game-time decision).
Washington Redskins (2-3) at New York Jets (3-1)
The Redskins deal with some major issues. Due to injuries, they compete without their left tackle (Trent Williams), center (Kory Lichtensteiger), tight end (Jordan Reed), and both starting cornerbacks (DeAngelo Hall and Chris Culliver). The status of their #1 receiver, DeSean Jackson, remains a game-time decision.
The Jets return to action after a bye-week. So, they should play fresher and healthier, and come in with a great game-plan and come out with the “W.”
New England Patriots (4-0) at Indianapolis Colts (3-2)
The Colts have been very coy about the status of their franchise quarterback Andrew Luck, nursing a shoulder injury. If Luck does play, he should be able to throw against a Patriots secondary thin at cornerback.
It remains to be seen how the Patriots deal with losing left tackle Nate Solder to a season-ending biceps injury. How will they protect Tom Brady’s blindside? Plug-in Marcus Cannon and move Sebastian Vollmer from the right to left side. We shall see.
While the Pats downplay the revenge factor against the Deflate-gate snitches, you know they want to run up the score. You would have to be bonkers, like Seth Rogen, to predict this game without knowing if Luck is going to play.
It’s a game-time decision—or it will be leaked by an agency earlier in the day.