Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers
The Chicago Bears defense this season has always been flawed, but the worst of those flaws were exposed in the worst of ways in last week’s 54-11 drubbing at the hands of the Eagles. Things won’t get much better for the defense this week, and the stakes are even higher. The winner of this game goes to the playoffs, while the loser is left wondering at what could have been. With Aaron Rodgers and Randall Cobb (I expect Cobb to be limited, but even a limited Cobb is a dangerous Cobb) back in the fold, the Bears burnable secondary and uneven pass rush could be exposed in the worst of ways against the best QB in the game. Also, Eddie Lacy should have an absolute field day against that secondary, especially with a better QB at the helm.
On the bright side for the Bears, the Packers defense isn’t exactly great, and the secondary isn’t at the “Legion of Boom’s” level either. The Bears have been carried this year by their offense, and both quarterbacks have been solid this season. More importantly, Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall are monsters, and it was actually good to see Marshall make the Pro Bowl over Jeffery, even if the second-year pro has also been excellent (explanation here). This should be a fun game, and I’m hoping for a nice shootout between Cutler and Rodgers.
Oakland Raiders vs. Denver Broncos
Terrelle Pryor was the spark that the Oakland Raiders needed early in the season, and it’s good to see him starting again. His decision making still needs a lot of work, but he has excellent physical tools and is a fun player to watch for sure. The Denver Broncos defense has been severely hit by Von Miller‘s injury, so Pryor has a chance to show his stuff today. I still think the Raiders should draft a quarterback in May, but I wouldn’t be too upset if the Raiders decided to roll with Pryor, who is talented in his own right.
Meanwhile, the Broncos should be able to add to their record-breaking numbers on offense, because the Raiders defense looks poised to be torn up by Peyton Manning and his deadly group of receivers. This game isn’t about the Raiders or Broncos getting the win, but it’s more about watching how guys like Pryor player or how guys on the Broncos defense step up following Miller’s ACL tear.
Arizona Cardinals vs. San Francisco 49ers
A win over the top-notch San Francisco 49ers isn’t enough to push the Arizona Cardinals into the playoffs, as they would also need an unlikely win by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers over the rival New Orleans Saints. The Saints have been upset before, but it would truly take a shocker for the Buccaneers to upend them. Anyway, whichever of the Cardinals or Saints gets sent home packing will have been the victims of horrid luck, and you really have to feel bad for the Cardinals. They’ve been great this season, but they are stuck in the NFL’s toughest division. I mean, they had to out-stingy the friggin’ Seattle Seahawks last week in order for this game to even mean anything. So the Cardinals will have to sit at home, while a mediocre team in the NFC East and North will slip by. The 49ers are a dangerous team with Michael Crabtree back in the fold, and I would hate betting against these guys.
New Orleans Saints vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Gerald McCoy and Adrian Clayborn would pretty much have to play the game of their lives as pass rushers, though I wouldn’t put a remarkable performance past McCoy any time soon. The Saints offense is a juggernaut, but it is vulnerable if you can put pressure on Brees, which is exactly what Greg Hardy and the Carolina Panthers were able to do last week. Will Terron Armstead play more like he did in the second half of last week’s loss than he did in his embarrassing first half? That’s something to watch. The Buccaneers just don’t have enough depth in the secondary to hang with all of the Saints weapons, and they simply aren’t good enough on offense either. Upsets are never impossible, especially in rivalry games, but this one is highly unlikely.
New England Patriots vs. Buffalo Bills
Both of these two teams opened up their seasons with a wild game that was barely won by the New England Patriots, and they’ll close the season in what should be an interesting game. The Bills aren’t a good team, but they are a deep team and are on the rise. If E.J. Manuel, who isn’t starting this week due to his third knee injury of the season, is truly the franchise quarterback that Doug Marrone and the organization believe he is, then the Bills are in good shape going forward. This team absolutely has to run the ball effectively against the Patriots and work the short and mid-range passing game with Thad Lewis. For the Bills, this game is all about running the ball and minimizing mistakes with an efficient passing game. For the Patriots? It’s essentially the same thing, but Tom Brady has his work cut out for him against an underrated Bills defense that features the likes of Jairus Byrd, Kyle Williams, Kiko Alonso, Mario Williams, Marcell Dareus, Jerry Hughes, Stephon Gilmore, and Leodis McKelvin. Brady will once again be the difference and should be able to stretch out the Bills defense horizontally, but I think this will be another hard-fought game between these two teams.
San Diego Chargers vs. Kansas City Chiefs
Assuming the Chiefs do rest their starters significantly, then the San Diego Chargers should be disappointed in themselves if they lose. While beating a rival and eliminating them from playoff contention would feel great, Coach of the Year candidate Andy Reid and the Chiefs are making the right decision by resting their guys. Why? Remember Wes Welker‘s ACL tear in Week 17 of the 2009 season? Yeah, that’s why.
Philip Rivers has had an extraordinary season, and it’s annoying listening to people dismiss what he’s done with this team. The Chargers defense is abysmal, and they are basically being carried by the offense and Rivers, who has been the most accurate QB in the league this year. Should he win the MVP over Peyton Manning? Probably not, but Rivers is a fully legitimate MVP candidate and deserves all the credit he is getting.
Seattle Seahawks vs. St. Louis Rams
NFC West teams always play each other tough, and the Rams nearly upset the Seahawks earlier this year in dramatic fashion. If Zac Stacy never went down with an injury, then one might really start to speculate about that game’s ending. The Seahawks legitimacy as an elite team is unquestioned, and I don’t even think losses to the Cardinals and Rams at the end of the season would cast that legitimacy into doubt. The Seahawks are the team with the fewest holes, and they are the best team in the NFL right now. Does that mean they’ll win the Super Bowl? Heck no, but they are the favorites. There are a few excellent teams in the NFC who all have a good case to be made, but the Seahawks depth and talent give them the best case. The Rams should be able to stay in this one due to Stacy’s dominance and the Rams pass rush led by DPOY candidate Robert Quinn, but the Seahawks should be able to take care of business.
Dallas Cowboys vs. Philadelphia Eagles
The Philadelphia Eagles dominated the Chicago Bears on last week’s edition of Sunday Night Football, and they’ll be hoping to do the same this week to the rival Dallas Cowboys and punch their playoff-ticket in. Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray, and Dez Bryant have done an excellent job as the Cowboys top trio of skill position players on offense, and the line has quietly done a very good job of blocking for Murray this year. This offense has been great, but it’s had to due to the horrible defense than can’t cover or stop the run a lick. They could get torn up by Nick Foles, and they need to watch for Riley Cooper and DeSean Jackson on deep balls- no team likes the throw the ball deep as much as the Eagles. The way the Cowboys win this game is by getting a clean, efficient game out of Kyle Orton and handing the ball off to DeMarco Murray as may times as possible.
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