Christopher’s Picks: Week 10

Week 10 of the NFL needs a title, but I can’t decide what exactly. It doesn’t have to be anything completely original. I was thinking “Judgment Week” but that sounds silly with seven more weeks yet to be played.

I’m going to call it  “Statement Week”. Based on records alone, there are three particular matchups this week that could (and should) be labeled as “must-see”. Lucky for us, they’re all kicking off at different times, so no need to even change the channel.

***Though the coverage maps for the Hampton Roads area (and much of the rest of the nation) are quite disappointing, as usual. More on that later.

The early game has 5-3 Chicago traveling to 5-3 Detroit with first place in the NFC North possibly at stake. The division is currently a three-way tie with Green Bay also at 5-3. But with Aaron Rodgers out for the foreseeable future, it’s fair to say that it’s anyone’s for the taking.

The Bears have also been without their starting quarterback Jay Cutler the past few weeks, but the offense hasn’t missed a beat with Josh McCown under center. As of Friday night, the starter for Chicago is up in the air, but the Bears have bigger issues — their usually-staunch defense has looked out of sorts all season, ranking 23rd in passing yards. Their run defense has been even worse, giving up 127.5 yards per game (29th) and putting up a dismal cumulative Pro Football Focus grade of -49.6. Only New Orleans and Cincinnati have failed to accumulate over 100 yards on the ground against Chicago this season, which speaks volumes to just how bad it’s been.

In Detroit, things are slightly more optimistic. While Matthew Stafford relies heavily on Calvin Johnson, he’s coming through for them and teams still can’t seem to stop the combo. The injection of Reggie Bush into the offense this season has done wonders for their versatility. With so much attention going toward Johnson, Bush has enjoyed the luxury of being the second option, somewhat akin to his time in New Orleans.

On defense, the Lions are led by their fierce defensive line. Ndamukong Suh is his usual dominant self and the rest of the front four follows his lead. The problem with the defense is what happens when they don’t control the line of scrimmage. The back seven are susceptible to being exposed when this happens.

For the evening game, we head to out to San Francisco, where the 6-2 49ers host the 5-3 Carolina Panthers. A very fun matchup between two playoff contenders: one has been a powerhouse for the past three seasons, while the other hasn’t tasted any real success since 2008.

Any chance to talk about a relevant Carolina Panthers squad is a gift for me, so I’ll start there. When the season began, the story was the same for the Panthers: two close games, lost in the 4th quarter. But since a third loss to the Cardinals, Ron Rivera and company seem to be putting it together at last.

The reason behind their four-game winning streak is complicated. While much of it has to do with Cam Newton‘s continued improvement and a less than reputable schedule, perhaps the biggest reason has been the coaching. On offense, offensive coordinator Mike Shula has adjusted the gameplan, better suiting the strengths of the team. As far as the defense is concerned, there’s nothing to see here. They’ve only improved since last season and may have the most fearsome front seven in football, thanks to the introduction of Star Lotulelei at defensive tackle and the leadership of Luke Kuechly in the middle.

For San Francisco, the story really hasn’t changed from the last two years. Average quarterback play behind a strong offensive, surrounded by a great defense. So far this season, Colin Kaepernick‘s taken a step back. That and their two early season blowouts at the hands of Seattle and Indianapolis are likely the the causes of their perceived irrelevance this season.

The problem is they are still just as dangerous. They are riding a five-game win streak and the games haven’t been close. Like Carolina, the opponents aren’t exactly the strongest, but as the saying goes: good teams are supposed to do this to bad ones.

Then in primetime, 5-4 Dallas will tussle with 6-2 New Orleans. Both teams are desperate for wins, but for completely different reasons.

For Dallas, it’s a matter of showing why they are the best team in the NFC East. At this point they’ve been the best in the division, but with Philadelphia, New York, and Washington starting the way that they have, it’s only been by default. The Cowboys have yet to beat a team with a winning record and their bouts of inconsistency have flashed already this season.

It’s not all bad though — especially on offense, where Tony Romo is on pace to have one of the best seasons of his career and Dez Bryant has quickly becoming a top receiver. On the offensive line, Doug Free and Tyron Smith have shined as well. On defense, the story has been Sean Lee‘s play in the middle of the newly-converted 4-3. Outside of him, DeMarcus Ware, and Jason Hatcher, things haven’t been so great. They’ve found themselves exposed more than times than they’d like.

For New Orleans, the need to win stems mainly from the threat that Carolina is posing in the division. A month ago, the NFC South looked like a foregone conclusion for them. But today, their division lead is just a single game.

On offense, nothing has really changed. Drew Brees is still lighting it up and a healthy Jimmy Graham is the most dominant tight end in the game. The difference between this season and last is the hiring of Rob Ryan and his effect on the Saints defense. Defensive end Cameron Jordan and linebacker Junior Galette lead a dangerous pass rushing front seven. There are some concerns after losing on the road last week to the Jets, but the odds of making the postseason are still very high.

Coverage Maps

Unfortunately, two of the three games aren’t being in Hampton Roads. For the Fox game, we get Philadelphia-Green Bay. Cincinnati-Baltimore is probably the best game on their slate, but that’s not really saying much. For the CBS late game, Denver-San Diego should provide some entertainment though.

Otherwise, head to a sports bar or find a friend with NFL Sunday Ticket.

Now let’s pick. I went 9-4 last week, putting me at 91-43 on the season. After losing the Thursday night game for the first time this season, I have a bad feeling about what’s still to come.

Washington over Minnesota

My goodness, Washington. How much worse can things get before the calls for Mike Shanahan’s job begin?

Seattle over Atlanta

The Seahawks had a bit of a scare last week at home, but don’t expect anything of the sort this weekend.

Detroit over Chicago

Already winners of their first meeting this season, the Lions should take this one at home. They certainly have the defensive line to pressure Josh McCown and with the Bears defense struggling, Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush could be in for big numbers.

Green Bay over Philadelphia

Even with Aaron Rodgers on the sidelines and Seneca Wallace on the field, there’s still enough talent for them to eke out a win. It’ll require a heavy dose of Eddie Lacy though.

Tennessee over Jacksonville

Now that Jake Locker‘s back from injury, the 4-4 Titans could still contend for a wild card spot. Of course, they need to win the easy ones.

Indianapolis over St. Louis

Even at Lucas Oil Stadium, conventional wisdom says that the Colts let St. Louis stay in it through three quarters and seal it in the 4th.

New York Giants over Oakland

Is a Giants team that’s won two straight over Minnesota and Philadelphia something to feel confident about? Not exactly, but I think they’re finally getting on the right track.

Pittsburgh over Buffalo

There’s nothing to love about Pittsburgh’s stagnant offense and aging defense, but I’m certainly not wild about Buffalo either. If Ben Roethlisberger can get time to throw, I still like them here.

Cincinnati over Baltimore

They’re certainly missing Geno Atkins, but the Bengals defense can still be formidable without him. With Baltimore’s struggling in the run game, the key to locking down the offense may be as simple as getting to Joe Flacco.

San Francisco over Carolina

I know I’m not alone when I say that I’m genuinely excited for this one. I think the Panthers will ultimately keep it close, but I honestly don’t think the Niners let another young quarterback into their house and leave with a win.

Arizona over Houston

It’s not all on Carson Palmer by any means, but if he plays within his right mind, Larry Fitzgerald could be in for a big day against that Texans secondary.

Denver over San Diego

I certainly considered adding this to my “Statement Week” games with San Diego still in the wild card hunt. But as good as they’ve looked at times, I still like Denver.

New Orleans over Dallas

Dallas could really use a victory, but with the way New Orleans has played this season, I wouldn’t choose anyone over them in the Superdome.

Tampa Bay over Miami

The NFL scheduling committee nailed this one for all the wrong reasons. Two train wrecks from the worst state for NFL teams facing off on national television? We actually kind of win in a way. I’m going with Tampa Bay, based solely off of their first half flash of brilliance last week in Seattle

Record (Week): 8-6

Record (Season): 99-49

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