THIS WEEKEND HAD promised to be a relatively dull one in the NFL as the fixture list conspired to ensure that no two teams with winning records would play each other.
However, as last night’s trashing of the previously 4-0 Cardinals by the Rams proved, anything can happen in the National Football League and invariably does.
The win also means the Rams are above .500 the first time since 4 November 2006, ending a run of 93 consecutive games without a winning record and going 3-0 at home for the first time since 2003.
Denver Broncos @ New England Patriots
The Patriots are two last-minute field goals away from making a perfect start to the 2012 season. Had Stephen Gostkowski not missed his effort against the Cardinals and had Justin Tucker not made his for the Baltimore Ravens, we’d be talking about how the Patriots are still the dominant team in the AFC.
Instead, there are doubts about New England and rightly so.
Their offence has only started to click into gear now that Brady is being allowed throw the ball to his favourite security blanket in Wes Welker and, despite only receiving the ball eight times in the first two games, he now leads the team with 380 receiving yards.
On defence, the Pats have improved since last year, where they ranked worst or next-to-worst in most of the key stats but, with just seven sacks, they are still failing to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
Compare that to the intimidating Denver front four (ten sacks on the season) and you get an idea of where this match will be won and lost. However, despite being destined for the Hall of Fame, questions are starting to emerge about Peyton Manning’s arm strength.
I don’t see it that way and while his arm has been slightly hindered by multiple neck surgeries (how could it not be?) it’s actually his timing and reading of defences that have weakened. That’s what caused three interceptions on his first three drives against the Falcons two weeks ago but, by tempting Manning to go deep last week, the Raiders were thought a lesson by the Mile High maestro.
Patriots secondary beware.
Verdict: New England, when they click, can outscore anyone and I think they’ll comfortably win this. Patriots by 10.
Atlanta Falcons @ Washington Redskins
If you like shoot-outs, this is the game for you on Sunday evening. Atlanta rank third in points scored per game (31) while the Redskins are just one spot below them on 30.8. You also get to see Robert Griffin III who leads the league’s second best rush offence (684 yards) against a Falcons defence that have, thus far, proven themselves incapable of stopping the run.
The Falcons offence, meanwhile, has two of the league’s best weapons through the air in Julio Jones and Roddy White. If Matt Ryan gets into a grove with either of them on Sunday, it will be a long day for the Redskins defence.
Verdict: Falcons by 3+
San Diego @ New Orleans
How many games will the New Orleans Saints go before winning their first? Looking at their schedule, it could be ten but it certainly won’t be this match-up.
After a blip in week three, the Chargers bounced back last week to dismantle the Chiefs and will look to run all over one of the league’s worst rush defences with a combination of Jackie Battle and Ryan Matthews. If that doesn’t work, they’ve always got Malcolm Floyd and Antonio Gates to fall back on through the air.
The one smidgen of comfort for Saints fans is that Drew Brees should surpass Johnny Unitas’ long-standing record of 47 consecutive games with a touchdown throw this weekend. The Saints QB has been an interception machine this year but still has enough tricks up his sleeve to set the record.
Verdict: Chargers by 6+
Remaining fixtures and predictions:
Miami Dolphins @ Cincinnati Bengals – Bengals
Green Bay Packers @ Indianapolis Colts – Packers
Baltimore Ravens @ Kansas City Chiefs – Ravens
Cleveland Browns @ New York Giants – Giants
Philadelphia Eagles @ Pittsburgh Steelers – Steelers
Seattle Seahawks @ Carolina Panthers – Seahawks
Chicago Bears @ Jacksonville Jaguars – Bears
Tennessee Titans @ Minnesota Vikings – Vikings
Buffalo Bills @ San Francisco 49ers – 49ers
Houston Texans @ New York Jets – Texans