Christopher’s Picks – Week 11

In a given NFL week, it’s pretty uncommon for a high-profile quarterback to leave a game due to injury. But in Week 10, we saw four go down and all of them are in danger of missing their team’s upcoming game.

The first to go down wasn’t much of a surprise. Many have been calling for Eagles QB Michael Vick to be benched, but behind that offensive line, it was only a matter of time before he was put there by the opposing defense anyways.

This week it was a concussion, and a pretty bad one according to the team. He’s already been ruled out for today’s game against Washington and could miss even more time (for numerous reasons).

Around the same time of Vick’s concussion, 49ers QB Alex Smith suffered one of his own. Now I’m not the biggest Alex Smith fan, but though he may be the least vital to his team’s success, San Francisco could be hit the hardest by his lost. The reason for this is who’s backing him up (more on him later).

Both of the primetime games saw starting quarterbacks getting knocked out of the game. On Sunday night, Jay Cutler joined the concussion club after being lit up by Texans linebacker Tim Dobbins. I wish I could say that Cutler’s injury changed the tide of the game (easily the most-anticipated of last week), but he left the game with 40 yards passing and two interceptions.

Ben Roethlisberger’s injury almost cost the Steelers an easy game against Kansas City. Roethlisberger hurt his right throwing arm and partially dislocated a rib on a sack by Chiefs linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. Big Ben has only started all 16 games once in his career, but the Steelers offense still struggles without him under center. With no timetable set for his return, they’ll need their backups to step up big in his absence.

So what can we expect from the four replacements this week? Here’s an idea for each.

Nick Foles (Philadelphia): Coming out of Arizona, rookie Nick Foles has an advantage over Michael Vick in one key area — size. Standing at 6’5″, 243 lbs., there is less concern over durability. What Foles will wish he had is Vick’s mobility. Behind a porous line, Vick at least had the ability to scramble out of the pocket and make plays with his feet.

Philadelphia would be wise to employ a run-first strategy tomorrow. Their star running back LeSean McCoy hasn’t been able to do much with the blockers he has, but he’s much less liable to turn the ball over than Foles. Short passes will also be his best friend. With receivers like DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, there’s plenty of opportunity for yards after catch.

Colin Kaepernick (San Francisco): Colin Kaepernick is a mobile QB. Outside of option and Wildcat plays, we never saw much of him on the field before last week. What we saw when he came in was far from spectacular. He was inconsistent and struggled with his accuracy.

With those issues, is there a worse team to face than the Chicago Bears? The Bears defense has been forcing mistakes and turnovers all season. Kaepernick will get his share of designed runs and short passes. That, and pounding the ball with Frank Gore, is their only chance of winning Monday night.

Jason Campbell (Chicago): Coming into the league, Jason Campbell never had the luxury of working with an offensive coordinator for more than a season. It’s hard to argue that the lack of consistency scheme-wise halted any potential he may have had coming out of Auburn in 2005.

With a full week of practice as the starter, Campbell should be a little more comfortable under center this week. But like Houston, San Francisco’s defense is among the best in the league and will blitz Campbell early and often. He can’t afford to sit in the pocket all day.

Byron Leftwich (Pittsburgh): Leftwich has plenty of experience, both in the league (10th season) and with the Steelers offense. To me, he’ll have the best chance of the four quarterbacks to play a good game.

What will hurt him the most is his lack of mobility. Leftwich was one of the league’s slowest quarterbacks coming into the league and he isn’t any faster today. While Ben has made a name by extending plays with his feet, Leftwich’s throws must be quick and decisive.

Now let’s pick. Last week I went 9-5, bringing my overall record to 92-54. Plenty of tough picks to make this week, so I apologize in advance for what you’re about to read.

Miami over Buffalo

The Dolphins had a good spell about six weeks in, but it is certainly over now.

Atlanta over Arizona

The upset pick of the week for many analysts, but I’m not buying in. Arizona has not only been winless since starting the season 4-0, they haven’t looked good in any of their losses. Where Arizona does hold an advantage is with their front seven. They’ll need to pressure Matt Ryan into mistakes if they want to win today.

Dallas over Cleveland

Five weeks ago, we wondered if the Browns would win any games this season. Since then, they’ve won two of their last four and been in every game they’ve played. They may keep it close with Dallas (especially if they can get Trent Richardson going), but if Dallas jumps out to an early lead, the game may be decided early. Brandon Weeden doesn’t have enough receiving targets to carry the offense.

Green Bay over Detroit

This could be a fun one. The last time these two teams met, they combined for over 1,000 yards passing and Packers backup Matt Flynn (remember him?) threw for six touchdowns. Long story short, this will be an air affair. Neither team has a reliable running game, but they love to throw the football.

The difference between the two is balance. If Matthew Stafford can’t find Calvin Johnson, he struggles. Aaron Rodgers spreads it around to Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb (500 yards each), and James Jones (eight TD catches) with ease. Advantage: Packers.

Cincinnati over Kansas City

Another sneaky good game. Kansas City is by no means good, but their defense can keep them in games. Meanwhile Cincinnati has A.J. Green, who is quickly becoming the league’s best receiver. He’ll be matched up with Brandon Flowers for most of the game, who is having a pretty solid season himself. I’ll take Cincy in a close one.

St. Louis over New York Jets

As usual, all the talk is focused on the Jets. The problem is that they just aren’t good right now. The quarterback situation is smoke and mirrors for a struggling defense and an offense missing its best receiver, Santonio Holmes.

Already a team with a great defense, the Rams are starting to put it together on offense. Steven Jackson and Daryl Richardson are forming a nice one-two punch on the ground and Bradford got his favorite receiver back in Danny Amendola last week. Their connection opens up the rest of the passing game, as evidenced by Amendola’s 11 catches last week. Expect more of the same today.

Washington over Philadelphia

Before the season, today was billed as a battle between two athletic quarterbacks. But with Vick out, it’s become a battle of the rookies. Robert Griffin III will come into the game with much more experience (an advantage he has yet to have), and should run the Redskins offense much smoother than Nick Foles will the Eagles.

If the Eagles defense can force Griffin into making bad throws, the Eagles have a shot, but I haven’t seen enough of Nick Foles to instill confidence in his abilities today.

Tampa Bay over Carolina

The first “you should’ve beat them when you had the chance” game of the day. Carolina opened the season in Tampa Bay with an opportunity to steal a road win. Vincent Jackson and Doug Martin weren’t hot yet and the defense was still finding its footing.

Now the tables have turned and the Bucs are clicking on offense. Cam Newton will need a big, turnover-free game, or this could get ugly.

Houston over Jacksonville

Seeing what Indianapolis did to Jacksonville on the road last Thursday, there’s no way I can pick them over Houston. They are still without Maurice Jones-Drew (the heart of their offense) and are behind Houston at every position. Schaub and the Texans will cruise on offense and Watt will add to his sack total.

New Orleans over Oakland

For Oakland, the first order of business is to slow down the Saints offense. Drew Brees is back to his elite ways after an average start to the season and their running back by committee worked wonders last week. Without Darren McFadden on the ground, the Raiders will rely heavily on Carson Palmer to make plays with his arm. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have much talent at wideout and will probably turn the ball over a few times.

Denver over San Diego

The Chargers also should have beat Denver when they had the chance on Monday night earlier this season. After starting well on offense and forcing Peyton Manning turnovers, Philip Rivers imploded in the second half on his way to a five-interception game.

They key for San Diego will be gaining momentum on offense and sustaining it for 60 minutes this time. But with the Broncos clicking so well lately, they have a good chance to extend their division lead.

New England over Indianapolis

This is another “get them while you can” game. Andrew Luck is leading the Colts toward the postseason and is well on his way to Offensive Rookie of the Year. He’s doing it with an average cast of characters. In the end though, I expect Brady in the Patriots to pull out a win.

Baltimore over Pittsburgh

With Roethlisberger possibly missing a few games, they’ll need Leftwich to guide them to some wins. But Byron hasn’t won a game since 2006 and probably won’t exploit the depleted Ravens defense.

Chicago over San Francisco

Don’t expect either offense to move the ball much without their starting quarterback. And with those defenses, points off turnovers will likely be the primary method of scoring. In that respect, I have to go with Chicago.

Record (Week): 12-2

Record (Season): 104-56

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