Week 10 picks: Cardinals, Seahawks square off in NFC West showdown
I get it Aaron Rodgers. Throwing that tablet to the ground must have been a heck of a lot more satisfying than back in the old days, when you would have had to whip a fist-full of Polaroids to the turf on the sideline. But the frustration should end for the Packers and their quarterback this week, because the Lions are headed to Lambeau Field, where they will fail for the 25th time in a row to defeat the green-and-gold-clad home team.
Week 10 gets much better than Detroit at Green Bay, however. The 8–0 Patriots face off in New Jersey against their singular nemesis, the NFC-East leading Giants. The Cardinals visit Seattle in the game of the year thus far in the NFC West. The Vikings and Raiders hold a Super Bowl XI rematch that actually has playoff-race implications for both, and division battles like Kansas City at Denver and Cleveland at Pittsburgh should help clarify how much faith we have in the Broncos and Steelers as we arrive at mid-November.
We’ve reached double digits in the saga known as the NFL 2015, and the plot is starting to thicken. Now on to this week’s picks...
• Last week: 8–5; Season: 88–44 (.667).
• Best pick in Week 9: Minnesota 23, St. Louis 21 (Actual score: Vikings 21–18, in OT).
• Worst pick in Week 9: New Orleans 39, Tennessee 20 (Actual score: Titans 34–28, in OT).
The Ravens are relatively healthy coming off their bye week and now begin a stretch of playing five home games over their final eight, where they are historically tough to beat in the John Harbaugh coaching era. A second-half turnaround of sorts could start with Baltimore’s defense creating some turnovers. The Ravens have gone five consecutive games without forcing a turnover, and with just four turnovers in eight games, they’re tied with Dallas for the fewest in the league. Harbaugh this week likened getting that streak-snapping first turnover to how difficult it is to get the first olive out of an olive jar, but that more always come much easily after that. Romeo Crennel used to tell the same story, but he always used a pickle jar analogy. Be it olives or pickles, I think something’s got to finally break loose for Baltimore.
Every time I’m ready to give up on Sam Bradford as the long-term answer at quarterback in Philadelphia, he does just enough to keep hope alive that he is the guy. But it’s really the Eagles running game that is getting the job done these days, averaging 151 yards rushing since Week 3. Philly ran for 172 yards in its overtime win at Dallas last Sunday night, and that’s a good sign for this home date against Miami, whose run defense allowed a pair of 100-yard rushers in last week’s loss at Buffalo. It has taken until Week 10, but Chip Kelly’s up-and-down club will finally climb over .500 with a home win over the re-sinking Dolphins.
The ideal antidote for the panic level in Packer-land after two consecutive losses to undefeated teams? A Lions visit to Lambeau. Detroit hasn’t won in Green Bay since 1991, when Barry Sanders was in just the third season of his eventual Hall of Fame career. This looks like the week the Packers try to get their running game back on beam, be it James Starks or Eddie Lacy in the lead-back role. The Lions are ranked 30th against the run, and also rank dead last in the league with 30.6 points per game allowed. A week shy of their Week 11 showdown at Minnesota, the Packers get a needed win that should serve to R-E-L-A-X at least a few of their most jittery fans.
It’s remarkable, but true. The Browns have never beaten both the Steelers and the Ravens in the same season. Let alone on the road, which is the feat Cleveland will be trying to accomplish in Week 10, having already knocked off the Ravens in Baltimore in Week 5. Even without Ben Roethlisberger and Le’Veon Bell in the lineup for the Steelers, it’s difficult to imagine the Browns getting the job done in Pittsburgh, where they haven’t won since 2003, the year before Big Ben was drafted. Steelers quarterback Landry Jones just has to keep feeding the ball to DeAngelo Williams, Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant and all will be well. Pittsburgh has to have this game, because it has just two home games remaining over the course of the season’s final seven weeks.
Well, whaddya know? The Bears might just have their long-term quarterback in Jay Cutler after all. Cutler has made definite strides of progress on the consistency front under head coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Adam Gase, and he has not proved to be the ongoing enigma that he's been recently under Marc Trestman's or Lovie Smith’s coaching. Does Chicago still have to consider taking a quarterback in the first round next spring? Yes. But it doesn’t have to force anything thanks to Cutler’s unmistakeable upswing. The Bears win at San Diego made them 3–2 over their past five games, with a pair of three-point losses mixed in. But that record won’t improve this week. The Rams need this game to stay relevant in the NFC West race, and they’ve been good at taking care of business at home, winning three of four there this season, and allowing just 24 points combined in their past three games in the dome.
The Titans looked like a different team on offense under interim head coach Mike Mularkey in New Orleans, but how much of that was due to the porous Saints defense? We’ll find out soon enough when Carolina and its superb defense visits Nashville. I don’t discount Tennessee’s upset chances in this game, but the Panthers have handled every challenge in their path and are playing with a supreme sense of confidence and doing whatever it takes to win.
Did you know the Cowboys have never had a 7–1 second half since the NFL went to a 16-game season in 1978, despite going to four Super Bowls in that span? And at 2–6, Dallas needs a 7–1 run from here on out in order to go 9–7 and give itself a strong shot at the playoffs, be it as the division champ or a wild-card team. So the math is decidedly against the Cowboys at this point, and the sense of doom will grow a little darker this week in Dallas when the improving Bucs knock off Jason Garrett’s team, rendering it a perfectly dreadful 0–7 with Tony Romo out of the lineup.
These are two teams that give you little in the way of predictability from week to week, so that makes this a coin flip game. There should be plenty of offense on display, and a fair share of turnovers. But I’ll take Drew Brees and that Saints red-hot offense to produce a little bit more than Kirk Cousins and his so-so collection of play-makers can manage.
The Vikings’ only loss since that egg-laying in Week 1 at San Francisco was at then-undefeated Denver in Week 4, and Minnesota has made a habit of late of grinding out close, low-scoring wins. But the Raiders can hang up some points with Derek Carr at quarterback and they have some of their swagger back this season in The Black Hole. With their crucial home game against Green Bay looming next week, the Vikings have a tricky assignment on Sunday, and their winning streak will be a casualty of the road.
We all know the Chiefs should have beaten the Broncos way back in Week 2 at Arrowhead, but they couldn’t hold onto the ball when it mattered. Kansas City’s pass rush could certainly make life miserable all day for Peyton Manning and key a Chiefs upset, running the Denver skid to two games. But I see a Broncos bounce-back effort coming on defense, with Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith having his timing and pocket presence disrupted by Von Miller and Co., and Denver finding a way to win another back-and-forth game in the fourth quarter.
Whether they’re 8–0 or 18–0, you just don’t know what to expect from the Patriots when they run up against the Tom Coughlin-coached Giants, the only team I can remember pulling off a three-game winning streak against New England in the Tom Brady-Bill Belichick era. For the Pats, this is the first half of its three-week Manning-Manning doubleheader of sorts, facing Eli on Sunday, followed by a trip to Denver to take on Peyton in Week 12. You’d be crazy not to give New York a shot to solve New England this week and end its perfect season, but the Giants have beaten the Patriots in the past by getting their hands on Brady, and I just don’t see enough pass rush capability from New York to reproduce its proven blueprint for victory.
This is the game that will set up the rest of the season in the NFC West race. The Cardinals lost twice to Seattle last year after holding a two-game lead over the defending division champs at midseason, but that was with Drew Stanton and Ryan Lindley starting at quarterback in Weeks 12 and 16. The last time Carson Palmer faced Seattle, Arizona won at CenturyLink Field in Week 16 of 2013 (somehow, despite four Palmer interceptions). The Cardinals can take a commanding three-game lead over the Seahawks with the win, but Seattle knows what’s at stake and should be prepared to play as if its playoffs hopes are on the line. If the Seahawks are to make the most of its three-game homestand against Arizona, San Francisco and Pittsburgh, getting this first victory is paramount.
The Bengals are well aware that current Texans QB Brian Hoyer led the Browns to a convincing primetime win in Paul Brown Stadium last November. So Cincinnati can’t take 3–5 Houston lightly, or Andy Dalton and Marvin Lewis will start to once again hear about how the Bengals tend to get quaky in big-stage night games. But even with the Texans having 15 days to prepare for this trip to Cincinnati, I expect the Bengals to make good use of their own 10-day break between games, and dispatch the upset-minded Houstonians with relative ease. And the magic carpet ride rolls on in the Queen City.