So yeah... last week happened. 3-11 for the week is beyond hideous, but it shows just how fickle the NFL can be. No one picked the Dolphins to win, yet they did. Let's hope this week is better.
Tennessee at Jacksonville
A matchup between the two worst teams in the worst division in the NFL, maybe EVER. Thursday night games are rarely entertaining because of the short rest. This one probably won't change that script. The Jaguars have a decent offense and could put up some points on the Titans. The home team usually has an advantage in this game too.
Jaguars 24 - Titans 17
Indianapolis at Atlanta
This is a matchup of two teams seemingly at a crossroads. The Falcons started the season strong, winning their first 5 games. Then they lost 3 of their next 4, with the only win coming against the lowly Titans. They lost 2 division games against the 4-6 Saints and 4-5 Bucs. They lost to the lowly 49ers led by Blaine Gabbert before their bye last week. In their first 5 games, they averaged 32.4 points per game. In their last 4 games, they've averaged 16.8 points per game. The question is: which team is the real Falcons? They SHOULD get things turned around against the Colts this week, who despite a 4-5 record, lead their terrible division. The Colts will be without Andrew Luck, who will miss much of the rest of the season with an injury. They will have to rely on Matt Hasselbeck to keep them in contention. He has outplayed Andrew Luck in limited time this season though it came against lowly division opponents. This will be a tough task for them. Atlanta takes this one at home.
Falcons 21 - Colts 14
St. Louis at Baltimore
Baltimore, like Atlanta, is enigmatic. They seem to be better than their record while simultaneously seem like a 2 win team. Joe Flacco is on pace for the most pass attempts of his career at 656. The last time he attempted more than 600 passes for a season, he threw more INTs than TDs and had terrible numbers across the board. This season, Baltimore is 20th in total defense and 24th in rushing offense. Per the norm, when Flacco doesn't have a top ten defense and/or top ten rushing attack, the Ravens falter. Flacco lost his only true receiving threat when Steve Smith went down and now is relying on players like Kamar Aiken. The worst part of this? If I switched Flacco's name out with Ryan Tannehill, everything I just said would be considered an excuse. The good news for the Ravens is they get to face a Case Keenum led Rams team instead of a Nick Foles led Rams team. Remember when Nick Foles had that outlier season and fans wanted to trade for him because of his passer rating? Good times. Now we can measure his clipboard rating I suppose. The Rams will rely on Todd Gurley and the ground game, but Baltimore is 8th in rushing defense. I can't take a backup QB getting his first start of the season on the road.
Ravens 21 - Rams 17
Washington at Carolina
The Redskins got a huge win over the lowly Saints last week, but the Saints defense is hideous. They face a different beast this week with the Panthers. The Panthers are the only team besides the Patriots to score 20 or more points in every game this season. Their defense is good and will give the turnover-prone Cousins fits. I'd expect a 2-3 INT game for Cousins as Cam Newton once again gets to dab on them folk.
Panthers 28 - Redskins 17
UPSET OF THE WEEK
Denver at Chicago
The Broncos are 7-2 and had what some considered an all-time great defense. Then they go out and lost to the Colts, who had been terrible offensively and had just fired their offensive coordinator, and the Chiefs led by check down specialist Alex Smith. Peyton Manning played AWFUL, completing only one more pass to the Broncos (5) as he did to the Chiefs (4). He had a passer rating of 0.0. If he snapped the ball and threw it into the dirt every time, he'd have a passer rating of 39.6. Manning looks done, not just physically, but mentally. He's making mental mistakes that rookies make. It's sad to see an all-time great play this poorly. The reins are now handed over to 2012 draft pick Brock Osweiler, He didn't impress in garbage time against the Chiefs. Now he gets to go into Soldier Field for his first career start. The Bears got a big win over the Rams last week and are playing better than expected. Former Broncos Adam Gase has that offense playing well and he may know how to find the weak links in the defense he used to practice against. I like the Bears to get the upset win over a backup.
Bears 28 - Broncos 27
Oakland at Detroit
The Raiders have been playing better this season, but had a hiccup against the Vikings at home. That's nothing to be ashamed of as the Vikings lead their division with a good rushing attack and sneaky good defense (SHOCKING!!!) The Lions hurt their draft position by getting their first win in Green Bay since 1991 last week, which was Matthew Stafford's first road win against a team with a winning record (#QBWinz). The Lions still aren't good however and I expect them to fall against a better team.
Raiders 24 - Lions 17
New York Jets at Houston
The Jets are a decent team this year. They are solid defensively, but their secondary may be overrated. They have to blitz to generate a pass rush as they have no natural edge rushers. The Texans have J.J. Watt and he should give the Jets' OL fits. The Texans are now tied for the lead in their division - a phrase you wouldn't have imagined uttering after Miami wiped the floor with them. If they can hold at home, they can take the outright division lead as the Colts lose this week. But can they do that with T.J. Yates at the helm? Yates is a Bengal killer, but I'm not sure he'll know how to get past the Jets. Revis gets to face off against another Clemson receiver this week.
Jets 17 - Texans 14
Tampa Bay at Philadelphia
Tampa Bay just picked up a win against a Matt Cassel led Dallas team. Now they get to face a Mark Sanchez led Eagles team. The Bucs are quietly the 7th best defense in total yards, 10th in passing yards per game, and 12th in rushing yards per game. Offensively, Tampa Bay is 15th in total yards and 6th in rushing yards per game. They could give the Eagles more problems than expected. The Eagles could struggle against that defense with Sanchez being Sanchez. The Eagles, who just gave up 100 rushing yards to Miami and allow an average of 111 yards per game, could struggle against the Bucs who average 126 rushing yards per game. The Eagles secondary and pass rush are strengths, so I'd expect the Bucs to throw less and run more to negate that. I kinda like the Bucs here.
Buccaneers 17 - Eagles 14
Kansas City at San Diego
I wrote a couple of weeks ago that the season would be over for the loser of the Ravens-Chargers matchup. That was the Chargers and now they are 2-7. Philip Rivers is playing very well for them (269-390, 3033 yards, 19 TDs, 7 INTs, 100.7 passer rating), but it's all for naught. Despite ELITE play from their QB, the Chargers are ranked 30th in rushing and 23rd on defense. KC, on the other hand, is 4th in the league in INTs and 8th in rushing defense. San Diego's offensive line is a mess and the Chiefs can apply pressure. Rivers will likely have a great game, putting up great fantasy stats. But the Chargers will fall to 2-8.
Chiefs 27 - Chargers 21
GAME OF THE WEEK
Green Bay at Minnesota
The Packers started the season looking like one of the best teams in the NFL, winning six straight. But, they beat the 4 win Bears, 4 win Chiefs, 4 win Seahawks, 4 win Rams, 3 win 49ers, and 2 win Chargers. They then faced the undefeated Broncos and managed 10 points. They faced the undefeated Panthers and were down 37-14 in the 4th quarter before a meaningless late rally. They hosted the 1 win Lions last week. They scored a field goal on their opening drive and then punted on 9 of their next 10 drives. The only drive they didn't punt? Rodgers took a knee to end the half. Of those 9 drives ending in punts, 5 were 3-and-outs. They managed 134 yards on those drives, with 34% of them coming on one drive (46 yards). Rodgers was 35-61, 333 yards, 2 TDs, 0 INTs, passer rating 83.6. Defensively, Detroit is 28th in rushing yards per game but allowed 47 yards on 18 carries to the Packers. Rodgers dropped back to pass 64 times (attempts + sacks) and the Packers only rushed 18 times. That's some Joe Philbin-esque play calling there. But hey... Rodgers is great and Tannehill sucks, right? Well, despite decent yardage numbers, Rodgers only completed 57% of his passes with a 5.5 YPA average. They didn't score a TD against one of the worst teams and worst defenses in the league until under 6 minutes to go in the game. Plenty of people who watch film and study the NFL are saying that the Packers receivers are struggling to create separation and get open. That's considered an excuse when brought up regarding Tannehill. Perhaps the Packers and Rodgers miss Jordy Nelson more than originally thought? Meanwhile, the Vikings are winning using the tried and true formula of running the ball and playing defense. The Vikings are 1st in rushing yards per game and they face a Packers defense that is 24th in rushing yards allowed per game. Quietly, the Vikings are 9th in total defense and 8th in passing yards allowed per game. This game will be very interesting.
Vikings 21 - Packers 20
San Francisco at Seattle
Seattle's offense has scored 15 TDs this season. Ryan Tannehill has thrown 15 TDs this season. If people think the Dolphins' offense is struggling, what would they say about the Seahawks? The Seahawks have a terrible OL and Russell Wilson is the most sacked QB in the NFL this season. In his career, Wilson has had a top 5 or top ten rushing attack and a top 4 defense, with his defense being ranked 1st two of his previous 3 seasons. This season, the Seahawks are 2nd in defense, and 5th in rushing. Yet the Seahawks are 4-5, and struggle to score. Seattle is last in the NFL in red zone TD scoring, only getting TDs 35% of the time when they're in the red zone. Miami is scoring TDs 53.85% of the time, which is an improvement from last season. Seattle has dropped nearly 20% from last season. Seattle has the 2th best defense and the 5th best rushing offense. They have a decent slot WR in Doug Baldwin, one of the NFL's premier weapons in Jimmy Graham, and one of the NFL's premier running backs in Marshawn Lynch. Why isn't Russell Wilson getting more of the blame? Why is it when Wilson fails to produce more offense not considered "an excuse" like it would be for Ryan Tannehill? Tannehill has NEVER had a defense ranked higher than 12th. He's never had a rushing attack ranked higher than 12th. Wilson is on pace for the most pass attempts of his NFL career. He's also on pace for the lowest passer rating of his career, and only 17 passing TDs. He's also on pace to be sacked nearly 60 times. The Seahawks just gave Wilson a massive contract and asked him to do more because of it. The Seahawks are below .500 and his numbers are worse. Just a thought. I don't expect them to lose to the 49ers this week, especially with Blaine Gabbert at QB. Then again, I would have said the exact same thing about the Falcons too.
Seahawks 20 - 49ers 14
Cincinnati at Arizona
The Bengals have one of the best all-around offenses in the NFL. They have a good OL, a great WR, and a decent rushing attack. In a home game against Houston, Miami had 35 points before the Texans had 1 yard of offense. The Bengals managed 6 points at home to the Texans. Lamar Miller had 175 rushing yards on 14 carries at halftime. The Bengals had 73 yards on 21 carries for the game. Prime time Andy Dalton showed up again going 22-38, 197 yards, 0 TDs, 1 INT, and 61.0 passer rating. The Bengals have to hope that 1:00 PM Andy Dalton replaces prime time Andy Dalton for this game against a very tough Cardinals defense. The Cardinals offense is clicking too. In the Bengals favor, the Cards have come off a tough divisional game and have a road division game against the 49ers the following week. However, they have this division in their grasp right now and need a win to keep it.
Cardinals 35 - Bengals 24
Buffalo at New England
The Pats are good right now, but lost Julian Edelman to an injury that could sideline him the rest of the season. Edelman is a good slot WR. He will be tough to replace. Can Danny Amendola step up and fill his role? He'll definitely get the targets, but duplicating what Edelman can do will be tough for him. I still see the Pats taking this one, but the Bills can make it interesting.
Patriots 31 - Bills 24
Dallas at Miami
The Cowboys will get Tony Romo back for this game. The Cowboys have a bad record, but that's what happens when you have Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassel starting at QB for you. Romo will have Dez Bryant to throw to as well. All of this presents problems for the Dolphins. The Cowboys have a good OL that Miami will likely struggle to create pressure against. Jelani Jenkins and Koa Misi didn't practice on Wednesday and Jenkins was wearing a boot. This means more Kelvin Sheppard and Neville Hewitt. Hewitt played ok against the Eagles given the circumstances. He would have had an INT, but it was called back due to a weak roughing the passer call. It was weak considering Ryan Tannehill was hit very similarly earlier in the game and nothing was called. Perhaps the refs were trying to protect the very fragile Sam Bradford. Not a surprise considering that later in the game, his terrible, terrible pocket awareness allowed Chris McCain to get a strip sack (after standing still for 4 seconds), forcing Bradford to the ground, where he got hurt.
The Cowboys will be getting Sean Lee back and now have the despicable Greg Hardy coming off the edge rushing the QB. Dallas is 17th in total defense, 15th in rushing yards allowed per game, and 14th in passing yards allowed per game. Dallas is 16th in sacks and tied with Miami and others at 10th for INTs. They aren't stellar defensively and Miami may be able to take advantage offensively. Of course, that will depend on the offensive line. Jason Fox and Dallas Thomas are terrible. Fox missed several assignments against the Eagles which created bad plays for the offense. Thomas is continually bad in run blocking. Tannehill was pressured 20 times on 40 dropbacks last week. That is horrible any way you look at it.
Miami still won though and that's what matters. This was a win that the Dolphins needed. Not for the standings necessarily, but for morale. Miami beat up on the refuse that is the AFC South. Then they lost to the Pats. Not bad all in all, considering the circumstances (Thursday night game on the road). But then they got beat up by the Bills. Dan Campbell had been preaching toughness. The Bills were simply tougher than Miami. They finished the 3 game road trip at Philly against a more finesse offense, but a very aggressive defense. As mentioned, the 50% pressure shows how effective that defense can be. But Miami rushed for over 100 yards and was effective through the air. They needed to know they could win ugly.
This will be another tough game for Miami. They will have several young, inexperienced players on defense that need to step up. There were several critical miscommunications that led to big plays for the Eagles. The good news is that players like Tony Lippett, Bobby McCain, Jamar Taylor, Neville Hewitt, and Mike Hull were able to limit the Eagles offense (10th in total yards, 10th in rushing yards, 14th in passing yards, and 14th in points per game) to 3 points for 3 quarters. They will need to step up against the Cowboys that will be much harder to defend with Romo playing.
Can Miami do it? Absolutely. Why not? Will they do it? I don't know. I don't trust the offensive line to protect well at all. Dallas isn't exactly a terrifying defense, but Miami's OL is that bad. They'll have one drive when they protect solidly, then have a horrible collapse on a 3rd down with a simple rush. I don't trust Lazor to stick with the run. Campbell wants to run more. They also need to stop with the sweep toss. That play requires excellent blocking from the OL and they simply can't. They need to incorporate Ajayi more, both in the run game and passing game. He runs with conviction and adds a dimension the Dolphins need. I also don't trust the defense to generate a pass rush or stop the run. Kelvin Sheppard is bad. He is bad in coverage and in run defense. With Miami also needing more time from Hewitt and Hull, the chances are that Dallas will exploit their inexperience in every way. Dallas has a good offensive line and they will keep Romo upright. Dallas has allowed 20 sacks, but that's mainly because Weeden and Cassel are terrible QBs. Romo has been sacked 3 times on 75 dropbacks this season, with all three sacks coming at the hands of the Eagles in week 2. Miami may need to resort to blitzing to create pressure and that leaves a weakened back seven even more vulnerable. Brent Grimes was out due to an illness last week and the Dolphins will need him to shadow Dez Bryant.
Ultimately, I like the matchups this week. I think some young unheralded player steps up and makes a contribution. I think Neville Hewitt could have some potential and Bobby McCain looks like a keeper. I think Dallas won't be able to get pressure like Philly did and I think the receivers can win their matchups. The Tannehill-Cameron connection started the season strong but has faded lately. They need to get that working again. Miller and Ajayi should be able to get yards on the ground and Miller has suddenly become an asset in the receiving game.
However, I don't believe in this Dolphins team yet. They have all the pieces to be something, but they just aren't there yet. Last week, I sardonically predicted the Dolphins would lose by negative points. They ended up winning. I know Dallas is 2-7, but they will be a different animal with Romo back.
Cowboys 27 - Dolphins 24
Duke's Overall Record 81-66-0