By Dan Durkin-
(CBS) Juggernaut Games of the Week
BEARS 24, Lions 20 – 3:15 PM
Once again, the Bears find themselves at the center of the NFL universe this weekend in a crucial NFC North battle against Detroit. Five weeks ago, the Lions dealt the Bears a 24-13 defeat on Monday night. That game boiled down to a few big plays given up by the Bears defense, in particular safeties Brandon Meriweather and Chris Harris. Harris, in particular, was awful that game and clearly wasn’t 100% healthy, as he gimped around the field on a bad hamstring. A lot has changed since then, as Meriweather has been planted on the bench, and Harris now finds himself on the bench as well, of the Detroit Lions. The Bears were impressive this past Monday night against the Eagles. It was clear that the Bears made proper use of the bye-week, looking refreshed on defense, and offensively they installed new wrinkles the Eagles weren’t prepared for. I think the Bears are amped up to prove they’re better than the Lions, and I like them to keep the momentum going at home and pick up their fourth-straight victory.
49ERS 21, Giants 20 – 3:15 PM
The best east coast NFC team travels to San Francisco to play the best west coast NFC team. This game features two bruising defenses, and two quarterbacks playing at the highest level of their respective careers. The 49ers’ have seven wins and a five-game cushion in the awful NFC West, two more wins and they’ll clinch the division. On the other hand, the Giants have a two-game cushion on Dallas, but they’ve yet to play the Cowboys. This game will be played very close to the vest, with both teams limiting risk, trying to control the clock and set-up a few play-action shots down the field. Tough game to pick, but I’m giving a very slight edge to the home team, as they’re better at running and defending the run.
JETS 24, Patriots 23 – 7:20 PM
Just last week, I suggested Bill Belichick the general manager was negatively impacting Bill Belichick the head coach – especially on defense – and the Patriots proceeded to drop their second straight game at home against the Giants. Now, defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth has been released and wide receiver Chad Ochocinco has nine catches for 136 yards this season. Wide receiver Wes Welker had nine catches for 136 yards in last Sunday’s game. So, I think I’m onto something here. The Patriots just don’t have the talent to compete with the NFL elite. It’s hard for me to think of the Patriots dropping three straight games, but I like the Jets to ground-and-pound their way to a win at home.
Juggernaut Lames of the Weak
COLTS 20, Jaguars 17 – Noon
The Suck-For-Luck favorite Indianapolis Colts got some help this past weekend from Miami, who picked up their first win of the season. How does Jim Caldwell still have a job? The Colts have completely lost their way, and that falls squarely on the shoulders of their coach. Contrast the Colts’ sleepwalking ways against the effort you’ve seen from the Dolphins the past two weeks, and tell me this team hasn’t mailed it in. They have, and for that reason, Caldwell needs to go. The Jaguars are no prize pig either, but at least they have somewhat of an excuse as they’re bringing along rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert. These are two awful teams, and even though it goes against all of my football sensibilities, the Colts will pick up their first win this weekend.
Rams 13, BROWNS 10 – Noon
The Rams made NFL history last weekend, in dubious fashion. The Rams became the first team to post a four-point quarter in the NFL’s 92-year history, by way of two safeties of Arizona quarterback John Skelton. Truly amazing. Neither of these teams does anything well and they’re both banged up. The total punting yardage in this game could very well exceed the offensive yardage. Avert your eyes at all costs, as this could be the least entertaining game of the 2011 season. I expect the Rams to be less bad and pick up a win on the road.
DOLPHINS 20, Redskins 17 – Noon
Just two weeks ago, the Dolphins were on life-support, laboring to keep a pulse going in the 2011 season. The past two games, they’ve played like an entirely different team. In back-to-back road games, they gave the Giants everything they wanted, yet lost, then went to Kansas City and dominated the Chiefs earning their first victory of the season. This weekend, they get some home-cooking against an awful Redskins team. Here’s a statistic you may not know: John Beck has never won a game as a starting quarterback in the NFL. It’s true. Four years in the NFL, seven starts, no wins. I’ve said it before and will say it again — Mike Shanahan needs to be fired for starting this season with a quarterback “battle” between John Beck and Rex Grossman. Beck will have to pick up his first career win some other time, as it’s not happening this Sunday against the team who drafted him.
COWBOYS 31, Bills 24 – Noon
The Bills complete the Ryan twins double-dip this weekend. Last week Jets head coach Rex Ryan dismantled the Bills offense, this week, twin-brother Rob gets his chance. The Bills offense was exposed by the Jets in a dominant performance last weekend. The Jets exploited vulnerabilities in the Bills protection scheme, throwing a variety of blitzes and coverages to take away the Bills underneath routes, and challenged the Bills to beat them deep, which Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick failed to do. Certainly the Cowboys will adopt a similar game-plan and dial up the pressure. I like the Cowboys to ride impressive rookie DeMarco Murray to victory this weekend in Big D.
PANTHERS 24, Titans 20 – Noon
It’s incredible that the Titans are getting excited about 20-yard runs from their underachieving yet ultra-rich running back Chris Johnson. In years past, Johnson would rip off multiple 20-yard runs per game, this year he has a total of three through eight games. While Johnson is being singled out due to his protracted hold-out and subsequent payday, the Titans as a whole are not a good football team. They have a terrible offensive line, no semblance of a passing game, and their defense is a doormat for opposing running games to wipe their feet on. Their opponent, Carolina, is better than their record indicates. I expect Carolina to stack the box with eight defenders and challenge Matt Hasselbeck to beat them, which he won’t.
Texans 27, BUCCANEERS 17 – Noon
The Texans continue to stack wins and distance themselves from the rest of the atrocious AFC South. Houston has two running backs in the top ten in rushing, and a top four defense, which is typically a formula for success. Expect more of the same this weekend in Tampa Bay. Speaking of Tampa Bay, what a disappointment this team has been this season. Their 10-win season in 2010 looks like a mirage, as eight of those ten wins came against non-playoff teams. Head-scratching offensive game plans, undisciplined play, and a quarterback who can’t work the ball down the field is a bad combination. I like the Texans over Tampa Bay.
Steelers 27, BENGALS 17 – Noon
Two six-win teams square off in Cincinnati in a crucial AFC North showdown featuring two of the NFL’s top-seven defenses. Not to discount what Cincinnati has done to earn the No. 2 defensive ranking this season, but it should be noted that they’ve done it against some of the worst offenses in the NFL. On average, their opponents rank 25th in total offense, but this week they face the Steelers third-ranked offense. Given the fact they’ve been swept by the Ravens this season, this is a must-win game for the Steelers. As much as this game has the look of a close, low-scoring game, I have a feeling the Steelers are going to handle the Bengals.
CHIEFS 20, Broncos 17 – Noon
Does anybody want to win the AFC West? Much like Homer Simpson becoming an astronaut, the winner of the AFC West will “win” the division as a result of the ‘two sweetest words in the English language: de-fault’. (Please note that I know default is one word). It’s been a tale of two seasons for Kansas City. Early on, this looked like the worst team in the NFL, whose problems seemed to be compounded when they suffered injuries to their two best players, yet they’re 4-4 and in the AFC West mix. Granted, they were shellacked last weekend at home by the previously winless Dolphins. But, this week they get their chance to play against a team with a tight end playing quarterback, namely Tim Tebow and the Broncos. I like the Chiefs to rebound in the friendly confines of Arrowhead.
EAGLES 31, Cardinals 13 – Noon
Did last weekend’s loss to the Bears put the dream team to bed? Very possible considering they’re now three games behind the Giants in the NFC East. The Eagles wide receivers were clearly off their game and intimidated by the physical play of the Bears cornerbacks. When you see wide receivers turning to refs and begging for flags after every pass they don’t come up with, you know they’ve been thrown off their game. Luckily for Philadelphia this weekend, the Arizona Cardinals are on the docket, a team that has made pass defense optional all season. I like the Eagles to rebound in big fashion against a John Skelton-led Arizona outfit.
Saints 27, FALCONS 24 – Noon
Even though these two teams play again in Week 16, this is the NFC South championship game. Looking at the remaining schedules, this is a must-win game for New Orleans. They have a rough stretch of game before they match-up again with Atlanta, so if they lose this weekend, it will be an uphill battle. If the Saints win and take control of the division, the Bears own the tie-breaker against Atlanta, so Bears fans should break out their black-and-gold gear. Soothsaying aside, this will be a very entertaining game. Atlanta has effectively had back-to-back bye weeks, as they played the Colts last weekend, so they should come out confident and fresh. The Saints exacted revenge against the Bucs last weekend, and I like them to pick up another win this weekend on the road in the Georgia Dome.
Ravens 27, SEAHAWKS 13 – 3:05 PM
Fresh off a huge win and season sweep of the Steelers, the Ravens head west to take on the Seahawks. Joe Flacco led his team to victory on an impressive 92-yard game-winning touchdown drive. Flacco needs a few more drives like that to take the next step in his development and entrench the Ravens amongst the NFL elite. Qwest Field is the loudest venue in the NFL, so the crowd noise could prove to be useful playoff preparation for the Ravens. The Seahawks are in the midst of a three game skid, and the finger should be pointed directly at the offense. A team as offensively challenged as Seattle can’t afford turnovers, and of late, quarterback Tarvaris Jackson has been very careless with the ball, throwing three interceptions in last week’s loss to Dallas. I like the Ravens to shoot down the Seahawks in Seattle.
PACKERS 34, Vikings 20 – 7:30 PM Monday Night
I’m sticking with my previous phrase to describe Aaron Rodgers’ play this season: prolific perfection. Rodgers has no peer and is simply on another level of performance. The accuracy, timing, feel, precision, and his command of the offense make him the most complete player in the NFL. Defensively, it’s another story for the Packers, and they could be the limiting factor in what I believe will be a perfect season for Green Bay. Their late-game collapse last week in San Diego was troubling, as if there’s a game this year where Rodgers is pressured or unable to get on track, the Packers could lose. The Vikings are certainly a different team since making the switch from Donovan McNabb to Christian Ponder. Even so, they’re not talented enough to take down the Packers in Lambeau.