By: Dan Durkin-
(CBS) While most of our focus is on the Bears and Vikings “3rd Place in the NFC North” bowl on Sunday night, there will be twelve other games played this weekend. What a difference a year has made in San Francisco and Detroit, and those two square-off in the game of the week. Here’s my take on how the NFL’s Week 6 will shake out with my predictions, my juggernaut games of the week, and my “juggernot lames of the weak”:
Juggernaut Games of the Week
LIONS 23, 49ers 20 – Noon
Entering Week 6 of the 2010 season, the Lions and 49ers were a combined 1-9. My how times have changed. Entering Week 6 of the 2011 season, the Lions and 49ers are a combined 9-1. Even though I don’t consider either of these teams to be on the same level as Green Bay or New Orleans, you can’t discredit what they’ve accomplished. Of the two, I am starting to believe in the 49ers more than the Lions, for a few reasons: their defense is legit, the running game is heating up, Vernon Davis is a match-up nightmare, and Alex Smith is playing smart football. I watched every minute of the Bears-Lions game on Monday night, and the Lions played very tight at the outset of the game. This is a sign of a team that is still learning how to deal with the limelight and pressures that come with success. I thought quarterback Matthew Stafford, outside of a long completion to Calvin Johnson (which he under-threw a bit), was ordinary and missed a lot of throws. This will be a very competitive game, and I’m giving the slight edge to the home team and their dominant defensive line.
RAVENS 27, Texans 17 – 3:05 PM
I never bought the pre-season Texans hype, and last week’s home loss to a plucky Oakland outfit only strengthened my skepticism. Once Peyton Manning had his second neck surgery, the path was paved for the Texans to take over an incredibly soft AFC South. Instead of capitalizing on this opportunity, the Texans have languished. Granted, injuries to their two best players – wide receiver Andre Johnson and outside linebacker Mario Williams – aren’t helping matters. Things get no easier this weekend when they take their show on the road to Baltimore, and face a gritty Ravens team fresh off a bye-week. The Ravens are simply a more complete football team, and will dominate the line of scrimmage against Houston.
Juggernot Lames of the Weak
BENGALS 23, Colts 17 – Noon
Any bit of “faith” I had in the Colts was shredded in last week’s home loss to Kansas City. Granted my faith was miniscule, but if you can’t beat the Chiefs at home, your “Suck for Luck” campaign just received a very generous donation. Let’s assume for a moment that the Colts do end up with the top pick, would they actually draft Andrew Luck? Even if Peyton Manning doesn’t play this season, he’ll certainly be back next season. Seeing the long list of Colts’ needs, wouldn’t they be better served to address another position or positions via trading down? Setting the crystal ball aside for a moment, the more immediate focus is the Cincinnati Bengals, who are playing some serious defense this season. The suspension of Cedric Benson is still under appeal, and the Colts can’t stop anyone on the ground. End result? Bengals winner.
RAIDERS 23, Browns 16 – 3:05 PM
It was touching to see Oakland head coach Hue Jackson’s reaction to his team’s thrilling last-second victory in Houston last Sunday. Playing with heavy hearts after losing owner Al Davis, the Raiders notched an impressive victory, a fitting tribute to their eccentric owner. Don’t look now but the Raiders are entering the soft part of their schedule, and if they’re able to stack a few wins, a wild card berth is realistic. This weekend, they square-off against a Cleveland team fresh off a bye-week. Cleveland is dealing with some off-the-field drama related to the contract status of bowling-ball running back Peyton Hillis. Conspiracy theorists believe that Hillis’ decision to sit out the Miami game wasn’t related to strep throat and that his decision to sit was at the urging of his agent to avoid an injury. Hillis’ recent radio circuit didn’t do much to assuage these theories; in fact, his comments on these appearances may have validated them. Silliness aside, Cleveland is just not a good football team. I like the Raiders to pick up their fourth win of the season.
BEARS 20, Vikings 17 – 7:20 PM
The Vikings visit Soldier Field for a primetime Sunday Night match-up against our beloved yet beleaguered Bears, in the “3rd Place in the NFC North” bowl. Apparently it took the Vikings five weeks to remember they have the best running back in football, and typically good things happen when you hand Adrian Peterson the ball. Peterson responded last week with his best performance of the season, picking up 122 yards and three rushing touchdowns. Seeing how challenged the Bears have been at stopping the run this season, Peterson has to be licking his chops. The Bears of recent vintage have been able to overcome their toothless offensive attack by playing solid defense and dominant special teams. Well the special teams are still dominant, but the defense? What a mess. No pressure from the front four, undisciplined in their gap responsibly, technique poor, and downright horrific at safety. All that said, I think a little home cooking will give the Bears the edge. Jay Cutler was nothing short of heroic on Monday Night, and there will be opportunities against a porous Viking secondary. Can you imagine what Cutler could do with a professional offensive line and wide receivers, and an offensive coordinator who schemed to his strengths? Thanks, Jerry!
STEELERS 30, Jaguars 10 – Noon
After practicing all week in a walking boot, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger put his best foot forward, delivering five touchdown passes in a victory over Tennessee. The five touchdowns through the air are a little misleading, as the Steelers were able to gash the Titans run defense without the services of Rashard Mendenhall. Mendenhall is cleared to start this Sunday, which is bad news for the Jaguars. Outside of Maurice Jones Drew, it is hard to find any positives for the Jaguars. Last weekend against Cincinnati, they kicked field goals of 19 and 20 yards respectively, and botched a shotgun snap late in the fourth quarter on a potential game-tying drive. Adding insult to injury, their last second lateral play was returned for a touchdown by the Bengals. It’s hard enough to win with a rookie quarterback, let alone a rookie quarterback with limited passing options and a soft offensive line. That first NFL victory remains elusive for Blain Gabbert (maybe Week 10 vs. Indy).
Eagles 24, REDSKINS 20 – Noon
Despite the downward spiral the Eagles find themselves in at the moment, I think they will pull this game off. It will be strength on strength every time the Eagles have the ball, so this game will come down to what the Redskins are able to do on offense. While I admire the grind-it-out, cautious approach the Redskins are taking with their offense, they will need to take some shots to win this game, and I don’t trust Rex Grossman to deliver (shocking, right?). Fresh off a bye-week, the Redskins will have a few wrinkles in the game plan, but I don’t think it will be enough. The pressure is on Andy Reid, and I think the “dream team” wakes up this weekend.
Bills 27, GIANTS 23 – Noon
I believe in Buffalo’s offense, but their defense? Not so much. While they have been opportunistic, they have also given up over 400 yards of offense in their last four games. That’s not a sustainable NFL formula. This weekend’s match-up against the Giants should present their defense with some opportunities. Even though the Giants are 3-2, they are still searching for an offensive identity. Their rushing attack is stalled at the moment, as they deal with injuries on the offensive line and to running back Brandon Jacobs. So much of Eli Manning’s success comes from play-action passes, so they need to establish the run this weekend in order to win. This will be a very interesting game to watch, but I think the Giants’ lack of a running game and pass rush gives the Bills the edge.
PACKERS 37, Rams 13 – Noon
Spoiler alert: Packers win. What possible case can you make for a Rams victory? That’s a rhetorical question, so don’t try to come up with one. In the last 16 games that Aaron Rodgers has completed, he is 15-1 with 39 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. Could that be the greatest 16 game stretch for a quarterback in NFL history? If you find a better one, please tweet me. Look for an increase in every positive category listed there, as the Rams will provide no resistance on Sunday. I said it weeks ago and I’ll say it again, for a team many were touting in the pre-season as the NFC West favorite, the Rams have a very good chance of starting the season 0-7.
Panthers 27, FALCONS 24 – Noon
With each passing week, my Panthers belief and Falcons disbelief has grown. Last week, I predicted that the Panthers would give the Saints everything they wanted, and they certainly did. It took a masterful late-game drive led by Drew Brees for the Saints to pull out a victory. The impact Cam Newton has had on the Panthers offense shows up every week, as through five games the Panthers are scoring twice as much as they did last season. Newton has thrown seven touchdown passes, and has five rushing touchdowns. Newton will pad these stats this weekend against a vulnerable Falcons pass defense. The Falcons are a schizophrenic football team. For one half last weekend, they made the Packers offense look mortal, with a smothering pass rush (without John Abraham) and a ball-control offense. The second half was a different story, as the Falcons were shut out on offense, and gashed on defense. When will this team take a deep-shot down the field in the passing game? I like the Panthers to pull off an upset in the Georgia Dome.
Saints 30, BUCCANEERS 17 – 3:15 PM
New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees and tight end Jimmy Graham have some serious mojo working. Over the past three games, the duo has hooked up on 22 receptions for 361 yards and two touchdowns. Head coach Sean Payton has schemed various formations, sometimes splitting Graham out wide to get advantageous match-ups. Seeing what Alex Smith and Vernon Davis were able to do to Tampa Bay last weekend, I think Graham is primed for another monster day. Tampa Bay is really struggling offensively this season. Quarterback Josh Freeman has yet to take the step I expected him to, which is hindering the offense. Outside of screens and check downs, Freeman is not making the down-field throws that are necessary to stretch a defense. I like the Saints to march in and roll over the Bucs.
PATRIOTS 34, Cowboys 27 – 3:15 PM
If you like games where defense is optional, tune in to the Patriots-Cowboys game. To be fair, the Cowboys front seven has played well this season, but their secondary is a mess. It’s a bad week to have issues in your secondary when Tom Brady is the quarterback of the other team. Much like the Cowboys, the Patriots secondary is in shambles, and will present many opportunities for Romo, but which Tony Romo will show up? If the Tony Romo-meter holds true, this game should be a good performance. However, the Patriots struck a nice run-pass balance last weekend against the Jets, and I expect them to take care of business in Foxboro.
JETS 24, Dolphins 13 – 7:30 PM Monday Night
I truly feel bad for Dolphins’ fans. While I’ll never be able to prove this, I think they are deliberately tanking this season to assure they’ll have the golden ticket in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes, as you can’t tell me David Garrard isn’t a better option at quarterback than Matt Moore or Sage Rosenfels. Alas, they will line up with Matt Moore under center against a reeling Jets squad. Rex Ryan’s match-up of “hall of famers” didn’t go his way last Sunday, as the real hall of fame coach – Bill Belichick – led his team to victory. Look for ground-and-pound to make a temporary return this weekend for the mediocre Jets best the awful Dolphins.
Last Week: 9-4 / Season Record: 54-23 (70%)
Dan Durkin joined The Score’s columnist community after finishing runner-up in the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He is a graduate of the University of Illinois where he was a member of the men’s football team (despite his best efforts to join the women’s team). Dan is a longtime Scorehead, known as Dan in Wicker Park – even though he no longer resides in Wicker Park – who will be sharing NFL analysis and opinions. You can follow Dan on Twitter @djdurkin. To read more of Dan’s blogs click here.