Dallas at Baltimore: The Ravens have struggled with teams that have multiple weapons in the passing game. The Eagles were able to burn the Ravens for 371 yards through the air, mostly on the shoulders of Brent Celek (157 yards), and DeSean Jackson (114). Against the Pats, the Ravens did a good job taking away Rob Gronkowski, but they paid for it by giving up big yardage to Wes Welker (142) and Brandon Lloyd (108). I think the Cowboys and their talented group of receivers pose a similar problem for the Ravens D, provided Tony Romo can get some protection.
The Ravens were already trying to improve their outside pass rush when they lost Terrell Suggs for the season in June. The Ravens’ edge pass rush is not a strength, which is good for Dallas, of course, who have a pair of offensive tackles that have struggled this season. This may be a rare game where Romo can cycle through his progressions without simultaneously running for his life. So I do like that matchup. However, I just don’t see any evidence that the Cowboys can run the ball consistently and keep the chains moving, particularly against this run defense, which is better than the numbers might suggest (They’re ranked 20th).
On the other side of the ball, I expect the Ravens to take some shots down the field to Torrey Smith, and try to open up the intermediate zones with Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pitta, while mixing in some Ray Rice in the passing game. This could be the first game where the Cowboys really feel the loss of Barry Church.
Lions at Eagles: For the second straight week, the Eagles are facing a team coming off their bye with their backs against the wall. Will the Lions fight, or fold? My esteemed colleague Tommy Lawlor noted some examples of teams that have folded in recent years on our latest podcast. He noted the Buccaneers of last year, who started 4-2, and once they lost a few, they packed it in for the season. Another good example would of course be the 2010 Cowboys. You kept saying “Well, they’re going to start winning eventually, right?” Didn’t happen, and they dug a 1-7 hole to begin a disastrous season. That’s exactly what the Lions are facing this week. Fight or flight.
The Eagles have to stop turning the ball over (broken record alert). Fortunately for them, they’re facing a team with 3 takeaways this season. That’s last in the NFL. They’re also facing a team with a bad secondary (even with the return of Louis Delmas) and no running game whatsoever. I never liked this Lions team. I like it even less this year.
Eagles finally put some points on the board and win comfortably, 31-20.
Vikings at Redskins: The Vikings are the surprise team in the NFL so far, starting off 4-1, and even beating the 49ers. Golf claps all around for them. However, they’ve done it with a lot of smoke and mirrors. Percy Harvin has 407 receiving yards this season. 316 of them have come after the catch. Translation: They’ve not aggressively attacking opposing defenses down the field.
The teams that have had success against the Redskins have attacked down field, picking on the Skins’ weak secondary. Christian Ponder has yet to prove he can do that this season, and I think the Redskins’ front 7 matches up nicely with the Vikings’ conservative attack that relies on short passes that require YAC. Not buying the Vikes just yet.
Giants at 49ers: The rematch! I’m not sure who I think the best team in the NFL is. Is it the Texans or the Niners? Close call. Whoever it is, I just think the Niners are the better team in this one, particularly on defense. I’ve learned never to doubt Eli Manning, and I think he’ll be able to put points on the board, even against this Niners defense, which is so good. He’ll be on his own, as I have no faith whatsoever that the Giants can run the ball on this team, even with Ahmad Bradshaw breaking out for 200 yards last week. On the other side of the ball, I simply don’t trust the Giants defense to stop the Niners.
Everyone knows how good the Niners’ defense is. However, the Niners have also put up a ton of points (149 on the season). Only the Patriots (165) and Giants (152) have scored more. Meanwhile, the Niners are +81 in point differential.