[7-3] Dallas Cowboys at [3-7] New York Giants (Sunday 8:30 PM)
More than a Rivalry Game
The Cowboys-Giants rivalry brings out the best both of these teams have to offer. In their first game ever against each other in 1960 they tied in Yankee Stadium. Tom Landry played and coached for the Giants before his historic stint with the Cowboys. It seems as if every couple of years they switch positions in the NFL from worst to first. In 2007 the Cowboys won all of the regular season games, however the Giants came back in the playoffs to beat them at home on their way to their Super Bowl victory. In 2009 Eli Manning signed his name on the locker room wall after they beat the Cowboys in their opening game in their new stadium.
Jason Garrett’s first win as a head coach came against the Giants. In 2012 the Cowboys lost to the Giants in the playoffs before they went on another Super Bowl run. Governor Chris Christie proclaimed his love and support for the Cowboys despite having the Giants play in New Jersey. The Cowboys are 5-4 since 2010 against the Giants, and these games are always close. All football seasons are unique and this one is no exception. The Cowboys have been at the forefront of the NFC East playoff race battling with the Eagles all season.
The Giants have not been so lucky suffering an improbable amount of season ending injuries to most of their starters on offense and defense. Coming off a five-interception performance, that have observers questioning his future in New York, Eli Manning will look to even out the season series against the Cowboys. After their last game against the Giants, Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli was irate at the lack of a pass rush. The last time the Cowboys had zero sacks was against the Giants. Since then, the Cowboys dropped two games against the Redskins and the Cardinals.
They won their last game against the scrappy Jaguars. The Cowboys will be fresh and a little bit healthier coming off their bye having an extra week to prep for the Giants. Expect Marinelli to utilize some of his newer weapons, Second round pick Demarcus Lawrence was still on injured reserve the last time these two teams played; Josh Brent will also be making his return to the football field. As far as injuries go, the Cowboys defensive standouts Tyrone Crawford and Rolando McClain returned to the practice field today, expect them to play against the G men.
On the other side of the ball the Giants dropped the last five games since they lost to the Cowboys, with each loss came another season jeopardizing injury. Their last game against the 49ers was a nail biter but still ended in a bitter loss. Both teams offenses looked anemic but the Giants were facing a resurgent 49ers defense. The Giants and Cowboys are almost identical in certain areas, in sacks the Cowboys have 16, the Giants 17. In first downs the Cowboys have 216 while the Giants have 210. The main difference comes from the turnover differential, the Cowboys -1, the Giants -4. Another key difference is their defensive rankings, the Giants are ranked 31st with only the Falcons being worse. The Cowboys are ranked 15th not great but they have not made a habit of giving up the big play.
Bottom line the Cowboys will most likely need a win to keep pace with the Eagles in the NFC East playoff race.
Pick: Dallas Cowboys
[6-4] Baltimore Ravens at [4-6] New Orleans Saints
Two Teams Hungry For A Win
The Saints were destroyed by Cincinnati last week at home, while Baltimore stayed at home while resting on their bye. The Ravens recently had a similar game against the Steelers were they were outclassed by Roethlisberger’s hot hand. I have a feeling that the Ravens will be in for a fight. The Saints need a win in the worst way as they have lost two straight at home. The only difference with the Saints situation is that you can have a losing record and probably make the playoffs in their division.
The Saints are second in the league in offense with an average of 424.5 yards per game. The Ravens are just 12th in yards per game after Steve Smith set the NFL on fire after his first few games in Baltimore. The Saints also rank higher in the rushing game than the Ravens even with Justin Forsett’s breakout season. This game could come come down to the wire as both defenses are banged up, particularly in the secondary. Another notable injury was Saints rookie wide receiver Brandin cooks being put on IR earlier this week with a broken thumb. This means Brees will have one less target to throw too going down the final stretch of the season. Look for Jimmy Graham, Kenny Stills, and Marques Colston’s targets to all go up with Cooks injury. Mark Ingram will continue to shoulder the load for the Saints running game as Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson are both still out with injuries.
Pick: New Orleans Saints
[9-1] Arizona Cardinals at [6-4] Seattle Seahawks
Will the Cardinals Stay On Top?
The Arizona Cardinals are unstoppable. The Cardinals last game was one of their most impressive performances this season beating the Detroit Lions 14-6. Now the Cardinals will look to beat the defending Super Bowl champions, the Seattle Seahawks. This game will look a lot like the Seahawks-Chiefs game except that the Cardinals are the best defense in the NFL. The Seahawks lost to the Chiefs after becoming somewhat one dimensional in the fourth quarter. The Seahawks passing game is non existent but Russell Wilson is keeping them on the field with his legs. I believe that this trend continues against the Cardinals, even though they are the most defensively sound team.
Wilson is just good at taking what the defense gives him, if they are focusing on the pass and those safeties are deep, Wilson will leave the pocket and try to get a first down. Marshawn Lynch undoubtedly will have his work cut out for him against the Cardinal’s run stoppers. Even with all of Lynch’s off the field issues (speculation on whether or not the Seahawks want to resign him) I believe that when it comes to playing football Beast Mode is always ready. We have seen how the Seahawk’s passing game has looked like since they traded Percy Harvin, it is likely they do not want to repeat that move with the head of their number one ranked rushing attack.
On the other side of the ball the Cardinals rookie wide receiver John Brown has been lighting up opposing defenses. Before Brown it was Larry Fitzgerald’s return to form, and before him it was Michael Floyd being the fantasy football waiver wire darling with several impressive performances. Regardless of rushing or passing stats Bruce Arians has this team rolling.
Pick: Seattle Seahawks
[7-3] Detroit Lions at [8-2] New England Patriots
The Battle of the Best
The New England Patriots might just be the hottest team in football right now after decimating both Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos 43-21 and then punishing Andrew Luck and the Colts 42-20. The Patriots have not scored less than 40 points in a game in the last three weeks, that is a frightening scenario, especially if you consider the opponents. Now the Patriots will look to take out Detroit at home. Darrell Revis said earlier this week that “Megatron is basically like a video game character”. This could be Revis preparing himself for the eventual Calvin Johnson touchdown in this battle, he just hoping he’s not covering him when it happens.
The Lions defensive front is one of the best with 26 sacks on the season and will look to pressure Tom Brady. The Patriots will look to get some pressure on Matt Stafford as that Lions offensive line has allowed 31 sacks on the season. Its important to note that wide receiver Calvin Johnson, starting guard Larry Warford, defensive tackle Nick Fairley, and running back Joique Bell all missed practice on thursday. Johnson will probably play considering the importance of the game but if anyone of those players listed cannot it will be a huge blow for a team that wants to keep its lead in the NFC North.
Pick: New England Patriots
[6-4] Cleveland Browns at [4-6] Atlanta Falcons
Can the Real Playoff Contender Please Stand Up?
In an odd twist, of fate the Atlanta Falcons have clawed their way to the top of the NFC South with a win last week over the Carolina Panthers. The Falcons are ranked dead last in defense allowing 403 yards per game. The Falcons are ranked 10th in offensive yards per game, and on average put up 23 points a game. These average numbers and their mediocre numbers on defense can account for why they have underachieved after being expected to be a playoff contender in preseason. I would equate the Falcons to the Chicago Bears, a better than average quarterback with extraordinary receivers and no defense. Jay Cutler suffers when he cannot get the ball into Alshon Jeffery or Brandon Marshalls hands just like Matt Ryan suffers when he cannot get it to Roddy White or Julio Jones. Its just that in their division they can get away with being so inconsistent unlike the Cleveland Browns.
The Cleveland Browns were on a three game winning streak before they met the Houston Texans. The Texans exposed the Browns on both sides of the ball, even JJ Watt got into the end zone for another touchdown. Brown’s quarterback Brian Hoyer is having his best season as a pro throwing for over 2,000 yards, 11 touchdowns, and only 5 interceptions. He currently holds a quarterback rating of 86, which means that he could possibly be the most consistent factor in the Brown’s offense. The run game suffered as soon as Ben Tate returned to the field from injury. Tate was let go after his abysmal performance against the Texans, which they hope will bring more consistency to the run game as Isaiah Crowell and Terrance West will split carries for the remainder of the season.
The big story on the Brown’s side of the ball is the return of star wide receiver Josh “Flash” Gordon. He is an incredible mismatch for most defensive backs and is a touchdown machine. Andrew Hawkins has been Brian Hoyer’s go to wide receiver however he will likely take a back seat to the 6’3 Gordon. With the return of Gordon the Browns finally have a consistent red zone threat; it also should open up the run game now that NFL defenses will be spread out to defend the pass. Neither team can afford a loss this late in the season but the Browns would be the most effected by one. The Browns currently sit last in the tight AFC North after Cincinnati’s surprising victory over the Saints.
Pick: Cleveland Browns