By Don Banks
October 17, 2013
The Eagles can move into sole possession of first place in the NFC East with a win over the Cowboys.
Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Last week: 10-5; Season 62-30
Thursday, Oct. 17
8:25 p.m. ET (NFL Network) Seattle Seahawks (5-1) at Arizona Cardinals (3-3)
The league did Bruce Arians' team no favors, giving it a Week 6 road trip to two-time defending division champion San Francisco, followed four days later by a Week 7 Thursday-night showdown against the visiting Seahawks, who currently hold down first place in the powerful NFC West. The Cardinals' division hopes may not survive that double-barrel dose of heavyweights. I'd feel a little bit better about Arizona's upset chances if its all-world receiver Larry Fitzgerald wasn't nursing a hamstring problem. But Seattle is proving to be a mature enough team to win without its best effort these days, and the Seahawks will handle a short-week division game on the road, even if they are forced to gut things out.
Sunday, Oct. 20
1:00 p.m. ET (FOX) Chicago Bears (4-2) at Washington Redskins (1-4)
And so, Jay Cutler and Mike Shanahan meet again. But the Redskins head coach has another first-round quarterback to work with now, and Washington needs Robert Griffin III to put together his most complete game of the season in order have a shot at its first home win of the season. Keeping with the reunion theme, guess where Shanahan is headed next week? Yep, Denver, his NFL coaching home for 14 seasons and a pair of Super Bowl parades. Get the party favors ready.
1:00 p.m. ET (CBS) New England Patriots (5-1) at New York Jets (3-3)
No Vince Wilfork. No Jerod Mayo. No Tommy Kelly. A hobbled Aqib Talib. Other than that, this Patriots defense is locked and loaded. The Jets played New England very tough in Foxboro in Week 2, and I see the same kind of struggle unfolding in the rematch. If the "good" Geno Smith shows up and takes care of the football, New York can win this one. But the Patriots should have just enough firepower to get to 6-1 and drop the Jets below the break-even mark. You doubt me? Don't know if anyone noticed, but I did nail last week's Patriots comeback win over the Saints on the nose: New England 30, New Orleans 27. So there's that.
1:00 p.m. ET (FOX) Dallas Cowboys (3-3) at Philadelphia Eagles (3-3)
The season is following roughly the storyline I expected in Philadelphia: See Michael Vick run. See Michael Vick get hurt. See Michael Vick miss games. See Nick Foles play, and play pretty well. As in NFC Offensive Player of the Week worthy. If Philly seizes sole possession of the division with a win over visiting Dallas, I predict Vick's sore hamstring will linger for as long as Foles plays winning football. That's just the way this league works.
1:00 p.m. ET (FOX) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-5) at Atlanta Falcons (1-4)
I keep wondering if things would have been different for the Bucs this season if Lavonte David just hadn't roughed the Jets' Geno Smith out-of-bounds late in Week 1, setting up New York's game-winning field goal. Would a 1-0 start have produced a vastly different early season outcome for Tampa Bay, instead of that loss setting off the chain reaction of disaster that ensued? Probably not. The Bucs likely had a lot of troublesome issues bubbling just beneath the surface, Week 1 win or not. But we'll never really know, will we?
1:00 p.m. ET (CBS) Buffalo Bills (2-4) at Miami Dolphins (3-2)
I like most of what I saw of Thad Lewis last week against Cincinnati, but the news that rookie quarterback EJ Manuel will need another four-to-six weeks to return from the knee injury he suffered in Week 5 at Cleveland is a big blow for the Bills, as they try to scratch out enough wins to escape last place in the AFC East. Buffalo's next five weeks go like this: at Miami, at New Orleans, Kansas City, at Pittsburgh and home against the Jets. That's a heavy lift for Lewis to handle, even if the Miami-area native is jacked for a big homecoming this week.
1:00 p.m. ET (CBS) San Diego Chargers (3-3) at Jacksonville Jaguars (0-6)
I don't give the Jaguars even a shot of winning more than two or three of their remaining games, but this is definitely one of them. Call it my upset special, part I. It'd be just like the Chargers, even this year's improved Mike McCoy-led version, to get the impressive win at home against the Colts on Monday and then fall flat on the road as a heavy favorite. Jacksonville didn't earn a morale victory for beating the spread last week at Denver, but the Jaguars might have given themselves a much-needed shot of confidence.
1:00 p.m. ET (CBS) Cincinnati Bengals (4-2) at Detroit Lions (4-2)
For a game that features a pair of 4-2 division leaders with talent galore on defense and glamor receivers, the sizzle factor still feels lacking. But the Lions have to be considered one of the pleasant surprises of this 2013 season, and if they can hold serve at home against the Bengals and Cowboys the next two weeks, they'll hit their Week 9 bye at 6-2 and in sole possession of first place in the NFC North. There were a lot of preseason predictions that had either Green Bay or Chicago winning the division, but I didn't detect much enthusiasm for another Detroit revival.
1:00 p.m. ET (FOX) St. Louis Rams (3-3) at Carolina Panthers (2-3)
The Panthers have a little something something to be proud of on defense this season, with an NFC-best 13.6 points allowed per game, and ranking third in yards allowed. And let's hear it for linebacker Thomas Davis, the longtime Carolina veteran who earned the NFC Defensive Player of the Week honor for a two-sack, 10-tackle showing in last week's 35-10 blowout win at Minnesota. Davis' hard-luck story is well-known. He tore the ACL in the same knee three times in less than two years, but is back in top playmaking form.
4:05 p.m. ET (FOX) San Francisco 49ers (4-2) at Tennessee Titans (3-3)
With their bye just ahead in Week 8, the Titans should have injured quarterback Jake Locker back in the lineup for a Week 9 trip to St. Louis. Alas, that's not soon enough. Ryan Fitzpatrick is about to fall to 0-3 as the team's pinch-hit starter, albeit against the elite threesome of the Chiefs, Seahawks and 49ers. But it's not like Tennessee's Chris Johnson-led running game stepped up and helped carry the load for Mike Munchak's team, so there's plenty of blame to go around.
4:25 p.m. ET (CBS) Houston Texans (2-4) at Kansas City Chiefs (6-0)
The NFL gets the worst-to-first trick turned fairly often, but I'm pretty sure no one has ever gone from 2-14 one season to 14-2 the next (although the 1998-99 Colts pulled off a nifty 3-13 to 13-3 maneuver). There's a long way still to go for Kansas City, but an 8-2 record in its final 10 games doesn't sound ridiculous with that defense. Three of the AFC's six Defensive Player of the Week nods have gone to Chiefs, with linebacker Tamba Hali winning it this week for his role (3.5 sacks) in K.C.'s 10-sack mauling of Oakland quarterback Terrelle Pryor. All in all, the Chiefs are not the opponent the reeling Texans want to see coming their way about now.
4:25 p.m. ET (CBS) Cleveland Browns (3-3) at Green Bay Packers (3-2)
I'm usually impressed with the intelligence and thought behind everything that comes out of Aaron Rodgers' mouth, but I don't think the Packers quarterback was in a, well, entirely defensible position when he criticized Ravens rookie safety Matt Elam for his knee-high hit on Green Bay receiver Randall Cobb last week in Baltimore. It was a legal hit, and defenders do have a challenge on their hands these days in finding the correct, penalty/fine-free target area on a ballcarrier. Rodgers won't be walking a mile in a defensive player's shoes any time soon, but he misfired on that particularly delivery.
4:25 p.m. ET (CBS) Baltimore Ravens (3-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (1-4)
I'm sure there have been Ravens-Steelers games where neither team entered with a winning record, but I don't quite recall any lately. Not that this game isn't meaningful. The Steelers stirred to life last week against the Jets on the road, and they're only a win over Baltimore away from being back in the picture in the AFC North. Pittsburgh's defense finally got a couple takeaways against New York, and history says the turnovers tend to come in bunches when Dick LeBeau's guys start finding the football. That's bad news for Joe Flacco and an underwhelming Ravens offense.
8:30 p.m. ET (NBC) Denver Broncos (6-0) at Indianapolis Colts (4-2)
Well this should be interesting. Upon further review, I happen to think Colts owner Jim Irsay really did aim his curiously timed comments about Indy's one-ring past more at ex-GM Bill Polian than Peyton Manning, but messages get lost in translation all the time and serve to fuel someone's motivation. Manning doesn't really need any more reason to want this one, but the free-wheelin' Irsay certainly made his team's task a little tougher. But don't overlook how much Andrew Luck wants to make his mark in this showdown, turning Sunday night into a showcase of the Colts' present and future rather than their past. Going with Indy in my upset special, part II.
Monday, Oct. 21
8:30 p.m. ET (ESPN) Minnesota Vikings (1-4) at New York Giants (0-6)
Absolutely no surprise that the Vikings named Josh Freeman the starter. You knew that was going to happen any second, otherwise why even sign him? Interestingly, Freeman will make his Minnesota debut in the same MetLife Stadium where things started to fall apart in his Bucs career, thanks to Tampa Bay's last-second loss to the Jets in Week 1. Freeman best take advantage of the opportunity against the winless Giants, because the Vikings' schedule is about to step up into the big leagues: Green Bay, at Dallas, Washington, at Seattle, at Green Bay, Chicago, at Baltimore are the next seven opponents after New York. Yikes.
BURKE: Upstart Rams moving up the Power Rankings
COVER-TWO: Sorting through QB controversies around NFL
FARRAR: The All-22: Cardinals' gamble on Mathieu already paying off
Mock GM: Nicks to Falcons, more trades that should happen now
BELLER: Player-by-player fantasy projections for Week 7

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