Only one remaining undefeated team in the NFL and they’re not playing. The champions, the New York Giants, have a very interesting NFC East clash with Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins, but the best game of the weekend should be between the two best teams in the AFC so far, as the banged up Baltimore Ravnes travel to play the Houston Texans.
Green Bay Packers (3-3) at St.Louis Rams (3-3), 1:00 PM
Biggest problem for the Packers, on paper? The Rams are undefeated (3-0) at home this season, but after beating the Houston Texans last week, as Aaron Rodgers finally had an explosive game (24 of 37 for 338 yards with a team record-tying six touchdowns and no interceptions) this is their chance to hang on to some consistency. The Rams will try to run the ball (106 per game) against a banged up Packers front seven after racking up 162 yards in week 6. Rodgers will be mostly targetting James Jones, with 33 receptions and no dropped passes this season.
Dallas Cowboys (2-3) at Carolina Panthers (1-4), 1:00 PM
A game the two teams must be looking at and saying: If I can’t win this one, this season’s over, which it practically is for the Panthers. Both quarterbacks have thrown more interceptions than touchdowns, but there were plenty of positives for the Cowboys after a 29-31 loss in Baltimore, including the way they protected Romo (only one sack), for the first time this season. On the line is avoiding a first three game losing streak since 2010. For the Panthers, it’ll be about getting the running game going without involving Cam Newton in it. Problem is, the Cowboys have a very good defense, especially against the pass, allowing only 182 yards per game.
Tennessee Titans (2-4) at Buffalo Bills (3-3), 1:00 PM
The Titans rediscovered their running game against the Steelers last week, with Chris Johnson running for 91 yards, and that’s very good news against a Bills team that allows 148 yards per game on the ground. Expect Buffalo, with C.J. Spiller leading a very powerful running attack (148 yards per game), to do exactly the same to a weak Titans defense (allowing 430 yards per game). The Bills have had problems in pass rushing, the Titans have had protection problems, allowing nine sacks in the last two games.
Cleveland Browns (1-5) at Indianapolis Colts (2-3), 1:00 PM
There’s a huge difference between the Colts of home & away and especially Andrew Luck home & away. Against the error-prone Cleveland Browns, which should see the good side of the rookie quarterback, stepping up against another rookie, the old rookie Brandon Weeden, leading the league so far in interceptions. If Weeden doesn’t get help from his running game (only 83 per game), his struggles with his passing will continue. The Colts have a good chance of finally stopping the run against a team, allowing 159 yards per game this season.
Arizona Cardinals (4-2) at Minnesota Vikings (4-2), 1:00 PM
The Cardinals are one loss away from a real crisis, and despite their fantastic defensive numbers early this season, their inability to protect Kevin Kolb has been passed like wildfire around the league. The Vikings will face John Skelton, after Kolb just took too much punishment (22 sacks in three games) in recent weeks. Vikings pass-rushing specialist Jared Allen has a sack in each of the last four games, and an NFL-best 26 since the start of last season. The key for the Cardinals will be stopping Adrian Peterson, with 499 yards and two touchdowns this season, allowing Christian Ponder to be very effective so far, with 1434 yards, 8 touchdowns and 4 interceptions. The Cardinals don’t have that kind of faith in their QB.
Washington Redskins (3-3) at New York Giants (4-2), 1:00 PM
This will be Robert Griffin III first NFC East game, carrying some big numbers on his back. Griffin ranks 15th among all players with 379 rushing yards to top all quarterbacks, and his six touchdowns on the ground are second to Houston’s Arian Foster. While his running prowess hasn’t been too surprising, Griffin also leads the NFL in completion percentage at 70.2. The problem for the Redskins is their pass defense, which seems a bit too easy for Eli Manning, throwing for 1772 yards and 11 touchdowns this season. The Redskins allow a league worst 328 yards in the passing game, which might be too much to overcome against the Giants.
New Orleans Saints (1-4) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-3), 1:00 PM
The Tampa offense is waking up right on schedule, meeting the worst defense in the NFL, allowing 283 passing yards per game. Josh Freeman has two big and effective targets in Vincent Jackson (370 yards, 20 receptions, 4 touchdowns) and Mike Williams (15 receptions, 332 yards, 3 touchdowns), helping the Bucs lead the NFL with an average of 14 yards per completion. The Saints are a bit more confident because of the return of Jonathan Vilma and their first win of the season, but they need to be able to stop the run and protect Drew Brees to continue and work his magic (1720 yards, 14 touchdowns).
Baltimore Ravens (5-1) at Houston Texans (5-1), 1:00 PM
The Texans lost Brian Cushing against the Jets, and then lost their first game of the season to the Packers. The Ravens lost Ray Lewis against the Cowboys, and also Lardarius Webb, which showed on the offensive numbers they allowed Dallas to put on the board, although failed to win. Suggs might be making his 2012 debut, but both teams have a defense that’s not as it was a week or two ago. For the Ravens, it’ll be about protecting Flacco from J.J. Watt (league leader in sacks) and give Ray Rice as much of the ball as possible, responsible for 30% of their offense this season. The Texans have never beaten the Ravens, but Arian Foster should have more freedom to pound the ball with the Ravens’ injury problems.
Jacksonville Jaguars (1-4) at Oakland Raiders (1-4), 4:25 PM
The contestant for least anticipated game of the weekend, with the Raiders looking as favorites for once. They did a great job in stopping the Falcons rushing attack last week (which didn’t help them win), and the Jags have nothing but a ground game with Maurice Jones-Drew going for 408 yards this season but only one touchdown. Blaine Gabbert? 54.8%, 796 yards, 5 touchdown passes, 3 interception. He isn’t a playmaker and he has no playmakers to throw to. The Raiders haven’t gotten their ground game on track, with McFadden averaging only 3.2 yards per carry, but Carson Palmer is having a decent enough season with 1434 yards and six touchdown passes so far.
New York Jets (3-3) at New England Patriots (3-3), 4:25 PM
The key to the New England Patriots offense is the balance. Tom Brady is putting up wonderful numbers (65.8%, 1845 yards, 10 TD, 3 INT) but their inability to balance their aerial attack with a running game against Seattle (only 87 yards, averaging 152.3 per game) was one of the reasons they lost. The Jets allow 151 yards per game on the ground, so it should be easier this time. Another good sign for the Patriots is the Jets’ awful passing game (184 per game, Mark Sanchez still under 50% completion ratio), which might make it easier for their awful pass defense, allowing 289 yards per game.
Pittsburgh Steelers (2-3) at Cincinnati Bengals (3-3), 8:25 PM
This is the first time under Mike Tomlin that the Steelers enter a contest with a losing record, so far failing to close out all three of their road games. Ben Roethlisberger is playing the best football of his career (64.6%, 1487 yards, 10 TD, 2 INT), but there’s simply no running game for the team, as weird as it sounds, averaging only 75 yards on the ground.
Injuries have been a problem: Troy Polamalu (calf), linebacker Chris Carter(hamstring) and right tackle Marcus Gilbert (ankle). Rookie nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu was suspended two games Tuesday following his arrest over the weekend. Running backs Rashard Mendenhall (Achilles) and Isaac Redman (ankle), meanwhile, are questionable. For the Bengals, who have lost 10 of 11 to the Steelers in Cincinnati, it’ll be about establishing a running game from the disappointing BenJarvus Green-Ellis (3.4 yards per carry), to help the surprising Andy Dalton open up a defense that usually doesn’t give up too much.
Detroit Lions (2-3) at Chicago Bears (4-2), Monday, 8:30 PM
The Chicago Bears are impossible to run against, allowing only 66 yards per game, but teams hardly respect the Detroit Lions rushing attack anyway, so this might take a bit of a different turn, as the Bears will play the Cover 2 zone defense teams usually play against Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. The key for the Bears, besides their stifling defense, will be hoping Jay Cutler minimizes his throwing mistakes, with the same going for Detroit, playing against a defense that is known to be able to put points on the board. The Lions haven’t won in Chicago since 2007.