NFL Sunday–Early Game Previews

Eagles @ Bills

If I were an Eagles fan with access to a time machine I would head back to preseason and gaffer tape over Vince Young’s mouth. From the very moment he mentioned the phrase ‘dream team’ it became virtually unacceptable for fans and pundits alike to refer to Philadelphia’s finest as anything but. Since then they’ve been a yardstick for other teams to measure themselves against and have been found wanting. They enter the game 1-3 needing a win to realistically give them hope of a playoff run this season.

The Bills on the other hand, well, they were expected to be the Bills. Everyone except Kevin Cadle had the Bills down for another losing season and another record setting year without a playoff berth. They find themselves 3-1 going into this weekends head to head on the back of their first defeat. How the Bills respond will define their season as well I feel, back to back defeats may well lead to a bowing of heads and a return to the defeatest mentality that has stalled their momentum in previous seasons.

What will decide the game?

The run game. Fred Jackson has been devastating this season for the Bills with 369 yards from the opening four clashes, while option back CJ Spiller has been racking up over 7 yards a carry. The Eagles have shown little ability to stop the run with the third worse run defence in the league. However, the Bills defence has already given up 518 yards so LeSean McCoy will have an opportunity to add to his 363 yards. If neither team stops the run then the Bills poor pass rush may be exposed and the Eagles will win. Expect another high scoring shootout here.

Saints @ Panthers

The Saints haven’t lost since their opening day clash against the Green Bay Packers and have shown all the signs of having another strong season. Darren Sproles, Pierre Thomas and rookie Mark Ingram have given much needed balance to the Saints offence while tight end Jimmy Graham has become that ‘safety blanket’ tight end for Brees, that every top passer relies on. In other good news for the Saints offence Marques Colston is set to take a bigger role against the Panthers after returning from injury last week.

Cam Newton performances in the opening four games have far exceeded the expectations of all but the most ardent Panthers fans. He has been a revelation. But the Panthers are keen not to be a one man offence, last week DeAngelo Williams finally got handed the ball enough to make a contribution to the offence.  

What will decide the game?

Turnovers. These two offences lead the NFC in terms of total yardage but Brees’ TD/INT ratio is far superior (10-4 as opposed to Newton’s 5-5). If Newton hits his targets he’ll have to hope his side’s defence can gain the upper hand against the Saints’ Cerberus run game. I expect another strong performance from Newton but given his relative lack of weapons I expect him to rack up another defeat this week.

Raiders @ Texans

It’s been an emotional week for the Raiders following the passing of owner Al Davis and the team will be looking to honour their former GM by getting back to winning ways against the Texans. The Raiders offence is dynamic and explosive. They had the better of Tom Brady’s Patriots until Jason Campbell threw a careless red zone pick to end the second half. It is unlikely he will make the critical mistakes he made last week again and with Darren McFadden ruling the roost in the run game the Raiders are a tough prospect for any opponent.

Andre Johnson’s leg injury is not as bad as first feared but the four time all-pro wideout is going to be a big loss to the Texans against the Raiders. Matt Shaub will still have tight end Owen Daniels to aim at and I feel the Texans will go to the air a lot even without Johnson in their line-up. Expect Jacoby Jones and James Casey to have the ball chucked in their direction a lot more.

What will decide the game?

Defence. The Raiders have the worst pass defence in the AFC in terms of points given up. Even without Johnson the Texans still have quality receivers. Having said that the Raiders have stopped the run very effectively which could prevent Tate and Foster getting a foothold in the tie. If this does happen the Texans could become one dimensional and vulnerable. The Texans defence has been pretty solid against the pass but Jason Campbell has a point to prove, he threw nearly 400 yards in defeat but his two interceptions cost the Raiders dearly. This one is very much in the balance but I think the
Texans will win even without their star man.

Chiefs @ Colts

The Chiefs lost all four preseason games before coming up against three in form teams (The Bills, Lions and Chargers). A victory against ‘one half wonders’ the Minnesota Vikings will have done a lot to restore faith in Kansas while the improvements in the defence in the last two games following back to back blowouts have been heartening. But this side are a long way from fixed. Their offence is only scoring an average of 12.25 points per game. The Chiefs would enter the box seat in the ‘suck for Luck’ draft chase which will undoubtedly rally the previously unimpeachable Matt Cassel.

The Colts mini civil war was stalled last week when Reggie Wayne’s main man Curtis Painter started under centre in the continued absence of Peyton Manning. He was a drastic improvement on the Brett Favre endorsed Mr-Should-have-stayed-retired 2011 winner quarter back Kerry Collins as Painter passed for 349 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions against the Bucs.

What will decide the game?

Offensive lines. The Colts O-line has been decimated the first two left tackles in their depth chart (Castonzo and Ijalana) are unavailable for the tie and guard Ryan Diem is questionable. If the new unit can’t protect Painter the Colts will have no hope. The ball has already been handed off to Joseph Addai far too much and he too will struggle to break through the line. I expect Dexter McCluster to give Matt Cassel a lot of support, so if the Chiefs get into the backfield they will win. A close one this one but I think Kansas City will have a 2-3 team after this clash.

Bengals @ Jaguars

One player who has really impressed me with his start to the season is the Bengals’ rookie QB Andy Dalton. Barring the first half of last week’s clash against the Bills he has been consistently strong and has formed an exciting partnership with fellow rookie AJ Green on his way to 868 yards and four touchdowns. Simpson, Gresham and Caldwell have all contributed to the receiving corps and I see this unit improving week in week out. A bigger boost for the Bengals is their league leading defence. The addition of experienced cornerback Nate Clements from the 49ers has given the secondary leadership; they’re far more ordered and organised because of him.

I really fear for the Jaguars in this one. Maurice Jones-Drew is going to have to carry the ball a lot I feel if the Jaguars are going to have a chance. It’s hard to see even in that scenario where they are going to find the edge. I don’t blame Gabbert, he has great potential, as highlighted by his rainy touchdown pass against the Panthers,  the problem is he only has one real target to aim at in Mike Thomas.

What will decide the game?

The Bengals D. I can see Blaine Gabbert having a horrorshow here. A league leading defence against a predictable defence with a weak receiving corps. He’s going to have wideout’s right at the top of his wish list for next season.

Cardinals @ Vikings

Kevin Kolb was formerly McNabb’s backup at the Eagles but now he seems to have found his home at the Cardinals. This side is only three years removed from a superbowl appearance. They may be 1-3 but barring a poor defeat to the Seahawks they would be on for .500 record. They have quality too, Beanie Wells and Larry Fitzgerald would walk into 90% of the NFL’s offences.

The Vikings must be the most frustrating side in the NFL to support. For the first half of their opening four games they have looked like real playoff contenders only to blow in the second half. Another poor performance here and we could see Christian Ponder thrown into the fray earlier than expected. Donovan McNabb needs to ignite the second worse passing offence if he wants to keep his job. This team should not be 0-4, they have the best running back in the league in Adrian Peterson and Percy Harvin is one of the most explosive wideouts in the league. 

What will decide the game?

Rush Defence. Patrick Peterson might be the best rookie CB in the league but he will have to do a lot of covering if he wants to stop ‘all day’ from going all the way. It’ll be a big test for MLB Daryl Washington too. If Adrian Peterson breaks the run defence McNabb will have more time in the pocket and a chance to make the plays to give him more time in the job. Patrick Peterson will pick off McNabb at least once today McNabb will lose and his job will go.

Seahawks @ Giants

Eli Manning has been a frequently maligned player, his Superbowl XLII success was put on the defence and he was voted to be the most overrated quarterback by his peers in a Sports Illustrated poll in 2010. Those doubters have been much quieter this season as Eli has stepped up to the plate. Something has changed in him, eight touchdown passes, 1000 yards and a massive performance against the Cardinals last week bodes well for him. Add in Hakim Nicks at wideout and the return of Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora to the defence is a frightening prospect for the Seahawks.

The Seahawks offence has been misfiring. They have made the second fewest yards in the NFL this year though Tavaris Jackson had a 300 yard game last time out. The decision to put the franchise on Jackson instead of Matt Hass was a bizarre one but if Jackson can replicate that performance again the Seahawks have a chance. Marshawn Lynch can make huge plays from nowhere, we saw that in their shock win over the saints and Sidney Rice is a strong acquisition.

What will decide the game?

Defence. Having said that, Lynch will struggle against a fully fit Giants D. Tuck and Umenyiora aren’t fully fit, but they still have the potential to destroy the run and get to the quarterback, I can’t see past the Giants in this one.

Titans @ Steelers

Matt Hasselbeck’s performances this season have been the most enjoyable surprises in the NFL this year. Only Brady, Rodgers and Eli Manning have better quarterback ratings than him at this stage and all three have superior receiving corps. The loss of Kenny Britt is obviously a blow that places more responsibility on Washington and Cook. But the Titans do have Chris Johnson in the backfield if things aren’t working out in the pass game.

The Steelers are however missing their feature back. Mendenhall is officially listed as doubtful but appears unlikely to start. This means Isaac Redman will start and Big Ben and Mike Wallace will need to continue their exciting partnership which has produced over 450 yards and two touchdowns.

What will decide the game?

The much criticised Steelers defence. Troy Polamalu and James Harrison can still threaten any side and they’ll need to be on their top form to stall the Titans ever improving offence. I think the Steelers will be just shy on this one though.


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