By Dan Durkin
(CBS) Nine weeks into the season, there have been several notable turnarounds. Seven of eight current division leaders didn’t win the division last year, and three teams – Kansas City, Detroit, and Philadelphia – have already matched or surpassed their win totals from 2012.
Here’s my take on how Week 10 plays out.
(Home team in all CAPS)
Game of the Week: 49ERS 24, Panthers 20 – 3:05 PM
This game features two of the NFC’s hottest teams. The 49ers have won five straight and scored at least 30 points in every game. The Panthers have won four straight games by at least 15 points. (It should be noted that the combined record of the Panthers opponents during their winning-streak is 7-27, and the 49ers is 13-28). These teams are built in a very similar fashion, physical in the trenches, dual-threat quarterbacks, with strong running games that set up play-action shots down the field. With extra rest, I like the 49ers to win their sixth straight.
TITANS 23, Jaguars 16 – Noon
Have any doubts about how weak the AFC is this season? Consider this, the Titans will (most likely) be tied with the Jets for the #6 seed after this weekend. And don’t forget, the NFL is hoping to expand the playoffs in the near future. The Titans running game has gotten into gear and will prove to be too much for the poor-tacking Jaguars.
Eagles 27, PACKERS 24 – Noon
For years, the Packers have been able to withstand injuries to key players and excel in the process. However, until this past Monday, this group of players never included quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Few teams in the NFL can withstand an injury to their starting quarterback, and Monday night proved the Packers are no exception to this rule. The Packers will lean on their strong running game, but the Eagles will stack the box and challenge Seneca Wallace. Rare situation in Green Bay, as they drop their second game in Lambeau in six days.
STEELERS 23, Bills 20 – Noon
Never thought I would see a game where a Dick LeBeau defense gave up over 600 yards 55 points, yet that’s exactly what the Patriots hung on them last week. Those are the highest totals ever allowed in franchise history. I’m safely assuming the Steelers’ film sessions were quite unpleasant this week. The Bills get quarterback EJ Manuel back, but he’ll be rusty and inaccurate. Ben Roethlisberger will exploit a leaky Bills secondary.
GIANTS 27, Raiders 17 – Noon
Prior to this season, you would’ve never bet that the Raiders would have more wins at this point than the Giants. The first half of the 2013 season has been utterly unforgettable to the G-Men. Turnovers, injuries, miscommunications, a stalled running game, and a non-existent pass rush. Oakland has problems of their own, they have no pass rush and struggle on the road. After getting shredded at home last week by Nick Foles, it’s Eli Manning’s turn.
COLTS 23, Rams 17 – Noon
While they’ve lost only two games – one each on the road and at home – the Colts surprisingly play better on the road, but this week, they get the struggling Rams at home. One constant for the Rams this season has been their pass rush, particularly defensive ends Robert Quinn and Chris Long. They’ll test a Colts offensive line that’s struggled to protect Andrew Luck and open holes for the running game. That said, Luck makes wise decisions and will get the best of a struggling Rams secondary.
Seahawks 27, FALCONS 20 – Noon
Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Well, at least one team has fallen. It’s hard to believe that just 11 months ago, these Falcons beat the Seahawks in the NFC Divisional round. The Falcons have since flopped, while the Seahawks have built upon their success and are perched atop the NFC. The Falcons have suffered injuries to key offensive weapons, but their offensive line has been the real culprit. Seattle’s defensive front will dominate and pave the way to their fifth-straight win.
RAVENS 23, Bengals 20 – Noon
As brutal as this season’s been for the Ravens, I’m close, but not ready to write off a team that’s been to the playoffs five-straight seasons. They’re catching a Bengals team that’s beat up on defense. Gone are starters Geno Atkins (knee), Leon Hall (Achilles), Rey Maualuga (concussion), and backup defensive tackle Devon Still (elbow). The Ravens have struggled to run the ball, so they’ll spread the Bengals out in three-wide sets and work the ball down the field to Torrey Smith.
BEARS 31, Lions 30 – Noon
First place in the NFC North is on the line. Three weeks removed from tearing a groin muscle, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler will be under center. Head coach Marc Trestman has earned the benefit of the doubt, but this situation bears watching. In their first meeting, Cutler was sloppy with his mechanics and decision-making, throwing three interceptions and losing a fumble. The Lions haven’t won in Chicago since 2007, but this is a different Bears defense they’re facing. The Bears will capitalize on a Lions secondary that’s given up eight passing touchdowns in their last three games and avoid the season sweep.
CARDINALS 24, Texans 20 – 3:25 PM
Patrick Peterson versus Andre Johnson is must-see television, as for the rest of this game? Not so much. For a half against the Colts, the Texans looked competent on offense. Case Keenum played fearlessly, working the ball down the field to Johnson off play-action bootlegs. However, their secondary collapsed, giving up three late touchdowns to TY Hilton. Losing Gary Kubiak and Arian Foster will be too much for the Texans to overcome.
Broncos 45, CHARGERS 31 – 3:25 PM
The Chargers inability to punch the ball in from the 1-yard line snapped their two-game winning streak. This week, they get the well-rested Broncos at home, who have had no problems scoring points this year. The Broncos lead the league with 343, the most ever in NFL history through eight games. The Chargers will try to control the clock like the did against the Colts, but the Broncos will stifle that plan and score at will.
SAINTS 38, Cowboys 31 – 7:30 PM
The last time these two teams faced each other, they combined for 1,008 total yards, 65 points, and 7 passing touchdowns. I anticipate a similar offensive explosion on Sunday night. Certainly, the Saints are anxious to get their shot at a Cowboys pass defense that can’t stop anyone. The Cowboys stubbornly played man against the Lions, despite the fact they didn’t have the players to match up. The Saints have even more weapons than the Lions, will spread out the Cowboys and dissect their secondary.
Dolphins 23, BUCS 20 – Monday Night 7:40 PM
This matchup features two-thirds of Florida’s professional football teams, and begs the question: is Jacksonville the most stable of the three? Oddly enough, I think they are. Both of these teams are in utter disarray off the field, which affects the on-field product. The Bucs gave the Seahawks a scare in Seattle, but gave up 20 points, surrendering a 24-7 lead to remain winless. Since death isn’t an option, I’m begrudgingly picking the Dolphins.
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