The Backup Plan
Veteran quarterback Byron Leftwich will start for the injured Ben Roethlisberger for Pittsburgh against Baltimore in a battle for first place in the AFC North.
Thursday Night Football, November 15 8:20 PM ET – TV: NFL Network
Miami Dolphins 4-5 @ Buffalo Bills 3-6
The message is pretty clear, Miami’s head coach Joe Philbin is not putting up with undisciplined football. Running back Reggie Bush was benched for a first half fumble against the Titans on Sunday, a game Miami got bashed. Bush took the move respectively from his head coach. “I didn’t deserve to be back in there,” Bush said. “I fumbled the ball and I’ve had two fumbles lost this year. I have to do a better job of protecting the ball. I’ve been in this league long enough to know protecting the ball is the most important thing as a running back.” That’s the big difference between both head coaches in this matchup. Buffalo’s Chan Gailey has lots of talent on the offensive end, but his group has turned the football over on a consistent basis, which has been a big reason why they’ve lost close games. Key matchup: Buffalo’s Mario Williams going up against Miami’s right tackle Jonathan Martin. Martin should get help on his side with an extra blocker. Miami is better on the offensive line, and I see them able to gash Buffalo’s defensive front between the tackles with Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas controlling the clock. Methodically ran offenses are the type of offenses that slow down a game, keeping a fast paced offense like Buffalo’s off the field. Pick: Dolphins 20, Bills 17.
Final Score: Bills (4-6) 19, Dolphins (4-6) 14
Sunday, November 18
1:00 PM ET
Arizona Cardinals 4-5 @ Atlanta Falcons 8-1 – TV: FOX
I understand all the criticism Atlanta’s struggling running game is getting from us so called experts of the game. The Falcons only averaged 2.6 yards per carry against one of the worst run defenses last week against the Saints, losing their first game of the season. But let me ask America this question: Didn’t the New York Giants win the super bowl with the worst rushing attack last season? Didn’t the Green Bay Packers do it with a subpar running game the year before? Let’s be realistic, the Falcons offense is putting up points. This is a quarterback driven league. So keep it the way it is with Matt Ryan having the best season of his career with the best team he’s had, and best chance for him to win a super bowl. Comprende? Pick: Falcons 31, Cardinals 21.
Cleveland Browns 2-7 @ Dallas Cowboys 4-5 – TV: CBS
With DeMarco Murray (foot) being sidelined for four straight games, Dallas’ running game has managed to stay afloat with a mixture of Felix Jones and Lance Dunbar carrying the load. Dallas executive vice president Stephen Jones said Wednesday that “we’ll get DeMarco Murray back probably here in a couple weeks.” But Murray has indicated that he may be ready to go for Dallas who’s looking to move within a game of first place New York in the NFC East. And despite being in the midst of a roller-coaster season from top to bottom, here’s three positive things going for Dallas. One, they have a favorable schedule the rest of the way. Two, offensive line coach Bill Callahan seems to be getting better production from the offensive line. Three, linebacker Bruce Carter is starting to turn heads. I like Carter better than the first two. Pick: Cowboys 26, Browns 16.
Green Bay Packers 6-3 @ Detroit Lions 4-5 – TV: FOX
After being gashed last week in Minnesota, the Lions defense won’t have to worry much about defending the run this week against Green Bay. They’ll have to worry about Aaron Rodgers and the Packers high powered passing attack that leads the league with 26 touchdown passes. 25 of those touchdown passes are from the red hot Aaron Rodgers who’s connecting big with a banged up receiving core. And he’s been doing this without a running game. How Detroit will try to pressure Rodgers will be an important part of this matchup. Do you blitz? I say some, but not often. On the opposite side of the ball, I think Detroit’s offense can rack up some points here too. Calvin Johnson is getting the ball, but needs to start getting in the endzone. Megatron is just way too good not to have a huge game at home being the biggest difference maker on the field. This is when the stars come out and win a game for their team that needs it badly. An overtime game doesn’t end in a tie this time. Getcha Popcorn ready, cause I have a feeling this one is going to be a show. Pick: Lions 40, Packers 37.
Cincinnati Bengals 4-5 @ Kansas City Chiefs 1-8 – TV: CBS
If Cincinnati’s defensive front featured by Geno Atkins, Carlos Dunlap, Domato Peko and Michael Johnson play at a high level on a consistent basis, The Bengals could be the AFC’s dark-horse team down the stretch. The defense has to limit Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles from having a big day on the ground. If they do this well, their front seven will be able to pressure Matt Cassel in the pocket. Offensively, Cincinnati’s offensive line needs to protect quarterback Andy Dalton from Kansas City’s dynamic pass rushers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali on passing downs. Look for Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden to formulate an effective running game on early downs to keep Dalton out of long passing downs. Pick: Bengals 27, Chiefs 22.
Philadelphia Eagles 3-6 @ Washington Redskins 3-6 – TV: FOX
With Washington being second in the league running the football averaging 164-yards per game, an inconsistent Eagles defense needs to play like the way they’re capable of playing, and that’s get after the quarterback and stop the run. The Eagles defense led the league in sacks a year ago, and the same was expected out them this season. But with the offense turning over the football, the defense has been out on the field more and when trailing most of the time. To add more salt to the water, Michael Vick (concussion) is out. Say what you want to say about Vick’s struggles, his athletic ability gives the Eagles offense the best chance to make big plays. And I’m not saying that I don’t like rookie quarterback Nick Foles’ potential, but learning what it takes to win on the road in a brutal NFC East division won’t happen right off the bat. Correct me if I’m wrong, even a player as talented as Robert Griffin III is standing with only three wins in his first nine games. Having said that, I have to go with the quarterback that has more going for him, with a system that fits his style of play, rather than a quarterback that got thrown to the wolves. Pick: Redskins 27, Eagles 23.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 5-4 @ Carolina Panthers 2-7 – TV: FOX
With both starting guards Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph lost due to injury, the Buccaneers offensive line has been protecting quarterback Josh Freeman and opening up running lanes for rookie standout running back Doug Martin. And I expect them to continue using a power running game to attack Carolina’s defense between the tackles. The team plays based on the personality of the coach, and head coach Greg Schiano’s hard-nosed approach is paying off quick in the aspect of physiological genius things. When you have a coach that understands what type of team he has, it makes only for success if they know what buttons to push to make the machine run properly. Pick: Buccaneers 26, Panthers 19.
Jacksonville Jaguars 1-8 @ Houston Texans 8-1 – TV: CBS
I’m not saying that coach Kubiak is planning on getting out of the norm of running the football with Arian Foster, but this could be the week receiver Andre Johnson who’s been fairly quiet, might have his come out party going up against a putrid Jaguars pass defense. That’s the good news for fantasy owners of Johnson in crunch time mode in the world of fantasy football. Outside of that factor, Jacksonville’s season has headed down the path of already starting to think who they’d take if they get next year’s #1 pick of the 2013 NFL Draft. Pick: Texans 34, Jaguars 13.
N.Y. Jets 3-6 @ St. Louis Rams 3-5-1 – TV: CBS
Get a load of this: Anonymous players in the Jets locker room are aiming criticism towards Tim Tebow. Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum’s status with the Jets faithful is on the downside. Head coach Rex Ryan is on the hot seat. Mark Sanchez’s days as starting quarterback appear to be numbered. My goodness, somebody please throw holy water on this organization. And you have to wonder if the Jets finish the season 5-11, can we see an absolute fire sale in the near future? And they have to win a game on the road against a young Rams team that plays inspired football as expected with Jeff Fisher at the helm. Not good. Pick: Rams 24, N.Y. Jets 16.
4:05 PM ET
New Orleans Saints 4-5 @ Oakland Raiders 3-6 – TV: FOX
Both defenses are susceptible to the pass. The Raiders are worse, however. I expect both offenses to move the football. But if I’m going to choose what quarterback will throw less interceptions between Drew Brees and Carson Palmer, I have to go with Brees over Palmer in a shootout. Pick: Saints 41, Raiders 30.
4:25 PM ET
San Diego Chargers 4-5 @ Denver Broncos 6-3 – TV: CBS
Can somebody please give some props to Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio? Del Rio is doing an amazing job getting his defense to get after the quarterback. The Broncos lead the league in sacks with 31, mainly coming from Elvis Dumervil rushing off the edge and Von Millar with disguised blitzes. San Diego will use double tight end sets to have extra blockers to keep quarterback Philip Rivers in better shape to get the protection he needs from the Broncos dynamic pass rush. Dumervil (shoulder) is questionable, however. The Chargers need to get a solid effort from their running game if they have any chance of pulling off the upset. If they don’t, Philip Rivers will have to work his magic being a top notch signal caller against a hostile crowd trying to read Denver’s disguised blitz packages. Ultimately, until somebody shows me they can put out the fire on Peyton Manning’s arm, I just don’t see Denver losing a game, honestly speaking. Pick: Broncos 34, Chargers 24.
Indianapolis Colts 6-3 @ New England Patriots 6-3 – TV: CBS
If I’m Colts offensive coordinator/interim head coach Bruce Arians, I know my team won’t be able to beat Tom Brady and the Patriots in their house in a shootout. So…I’d dig deep into my offensive playbook and see what I have best for my running plays and short passes, running plays that consist of power runs between the tackles, jet sweeps, reverses, screens, bubble screens and anything from dunk passes or getting my tight ends involved to move the ball methodically to chew up clock. New England’s secondary will allow you to get things underneath and are vulnerable to the deep pass. They’ll keep a safety over the top on Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis’ best route runner that could get free deep because of that. But Arians can’t be afraid of going deep a few times. Great quarterbacks are capable of getting the ball deep against the double coverage in tight spots. I know Andrew Luck is only a rookie, but the kid is ahead of his time. Trust him coach, just trust him. Pick: Patriots 31, Colts 24.
Sunday Night Football in America 8:20 PM ET – TV: NBC
Baltimore Ravens 7-2 @ Pittsburgh Steelers 6-3
No burgers to eat for the “Burger Eater Man #7” under NBC’s bright lights. In Ben Roethlisberger’s (concussion) absence, backup Byron Leftwich gets the go for the Steelers in an AFC North showcase showdown. If the Ravens pass rush gets after Leftwich, it’ll be a long day for the Steelers offense that will also be without receiver Antonio Brown (ankle) for the second consecutive game. The Steelers have managed an effective running game despite having an injured group. That’s been the positive side of the story for them, winning games with injuries all over the place. Here’s the problem for them in this matchup: The Ravens offense will take advantage of an injured Steelers defense by keeping them guessing with a physical rushing attack and play-action passes. And I get the fact that Pittsburgh’s defense has been outstanding without safety Troy Polamalu (calf), but they need him in a matchup like this. Pick: Ravens 27, Steelers 20.
Monday Night Football, November 19 8:30 PM ET – TV: ESPN
Chicago Bears 7-2 @ San Francisco 49ers 6-2-1
This is the ultimate battle in the trenches, and duel between both offensive coordinators. Both defenses stuff the run and provide pressure on the quarterback. We know Jay Cutler will be out for Chicago, but Alex Smith who like Cutler suffered a concussion last week has a better chance of suiting up for the Monday Night showdown. Look for Bears offensive coordinator Mike Tice to get running back Matt Forte heavily involved in the running game on early downs and utilize his receiving skills out in the flats on screens or lined up either in the slot or out wide to try to create confusion for San Francisco’s defense. That’s the luxury Tice gets with a running back like Forte that can do so many things for you on offense. 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman will stick to the basics and ground and pound with bruising running back Frank Gore. What he does with the passing game will come down to if Alex Smith plays or not. If Smith doesn’t play, then Colin Kaepernick, a much bigger body with mobility will be used with some power sweeps and to chuck some deep passes with his strong arm. They might use him on some play-action roll-out passes as well. This factor may give San Francisco’s offense a better shot of making big plays against a ball-hawking Bears defense. In the grand scheme of things, I always like the team with the better offensive line in these types of matchups. And I don’t trust Jason Campbell behind a bad Bears offensive line to connect the dots against a stingy 49ers defense. Pick: 49ers 19, Bears 13.
Bye: Tennessee 4-6, Minnesota 6-4, N.Y. Giants 6-4, Seattle 6-4