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Cullen: Week 8 NFL Preview

Scott Cullen
10/25/2012 10:55:01 PM
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No time for preamble this week, but don't shy away from this week's Power Rankings for more of my takes on all 32 teams.

A look at the Week Eight matchups in the NFL:

TAMPA BAY (+5) at MINNESOTA
As good as the Vikings have been, especially defensively, they could have their hands full with a Tampa Bay offence that has started to show more competence in the last three weeks, with QB Josh Freeman utilizing his big wide receiver targets, Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. Even if Vikings CB Antoine Winfield can cut into some of that production, Tampa Bay has a chance to move the ball through the passing game or on the ground with rookie Doug Martin.

Coming off a horrible game against Arizona, Vikings QB Christian Ponder could use a rebound game and going against Tampa Bay's porous secondary isn't a bad matchup to achieve that result. If RB Adrian Peterson runs like he did last week, that could force the Bucs to put more in the box and leave opportunities for Ponder to capitalize. Bucs DT Gerald McCoy and MLB Mason Foster could play major roles in the effort to slow down Peterson, who is a tackle-breaking machine.

CAROLINA (+7.5) at CHICAGO
The Bears are the newly-minted top team in the NFL Power Rankings and their defence will pose problems for a Panthers offence that has been a mess, apparently forgetting that they have invested a lot in running backs Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams -- too much for them to be after thoughts in the game plan. Running against the Bears won't be easy, but the Panthers will be best served by trying to shorten the game anyway and showing even the slightest bit of rushing attack will make it easier for QB Cam Newton to throw down the field.

Chicago has been utilizing their two running backs (obviously playing with the lead more than Carolina), Matt Forte and Michael Bush, but also have WR Brandon Marshall to move the chains. With CB Chris Gamble out for the season with a shoulder injury, the Panthers' secondary will be especially vulnerable now that nickelback Captain Munnerlyn and rookie Josh Norman will be starting on the corners, so there figure to be opportunities for Jay Cutler to throw, if necessary.

SAN DIEGO (-2.5) at CLEVELAND
Coming off a bye, the Chargers need a dose of good news after back-to-back losses. San Diego's offence has under-performed this season, but with TE Antonio Gates getting healthy and RB Ryan Mathews coming on in the last couple games, there is reason for some optimism, particularly since Cleveland's best defender, CB Joe Haden, won't play a major role in defending those positions.

The Browns have been losers, but competitive losers. The one challenge facing them is that the Chargers' run defence ranks second in the league, allowing 71.2 yards per game, so it could be difficult for banged-up RB Trent Richardson to get loose (he rushed for eight yards on eight carries last week), but that doesn't automatically shut down the Browns' offence. WR Josh Gordon is becoming a great deep threat and WR Greg Little has been better the last couple weeks after going through a stretch in which he couldn't hold onto the ball. That should be enough for the Browns to at least keep it close.

SEATTLE (+1) at DETROIT
There isn't a lot of reason to think that the Seahawks will want to match the Detroit passing game, so look to RB Marshawn Lynch, who ran well against San Francisco last week, as the crucial part of the Seattle attack.

Despite its inconsistency this season, Detroit has the more high-powered attack, ranking second in the league with 307.0 passing yards per game. They'll get a good test against Seattle's secondary, with Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman having the size to get after Detroit's receivers, including Calvin Johnson, who was kept under wraps by Bears CB Charles Tillman Monday night. Lions WR Nate Burleson will be out for the year with an ankle injury, so this will be a big opportunity for Titus Young and rookie Ryan Broyles to move into more prominent roles for Detroit.

JACKSONVILLE (+16) at GREEN BAY
When the line gets this high, there's little doubt which team is expected to win and the Packers, who have been hitting on all cylinders lately, should by all rights blow out the Jaguars, a struggling team that just lost their best player, RB Maurice Jones-Drew, to a foot injury.

Rashad Jennings doesn't have the explosiveness of Jones-Drew, but he's a physical back who will need to have the game of his life to keep the ball away from Aaron Rodgers and company. The Packers have been missing WR Greg Jennings, but producing nonetheless, as Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Randall Cobb have all been frequent targets for Rodgers, who is a superstar quarterback at the peak of his powers right now.

Contrasting Rodgers' situation with Jaguars QB Blaine Gabbert, the still-learning second-year QB who suffered a torn labrum in his non-throwing shoulder last week, explains a lot about the expected gap between these two teams.

MIAMI (+1) at N.Y. JETS
Coming off a bye week, the Dolphins get a rivalry game against the Jets. Miami's strong run defence could pose problems for Jets RB Shonn Greene, but the Dolphins' pass defence has allowed 284.8 yards per game (28th in the league), so if the Jets can throw like they did against New England last week, that may be the best chance for success. Wide receivers Jeremy Kerley and Stephen Hill, along with TE Dustin Keller could all be poised for productive games.

Miami's attack will likely focus on the ground, since the Jets have the 30th-ranked run defence and Reggie Bush is going to be in the spotlight for the Jets, who didn't like Bush's comments after CB Darrelle Revis suffered his season-ending knee injury. Bush had 61 yards on 10 carries in the first meeting between the teams before he was sidelined, so there is some evidence for the Dolphins that they can run on this New York defence.

ATLANTA (+1) at PHILADELPHIA
Hard to imagine that the undefeated Falcons are considered underdogs, yet the Eagles have a secondary that might be able to keep the Falcons' passing game in check, with Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie more than capable in coverage and the pass rush from defensive ends Jason Babin and Trent Cole could be factors in the Eagles' favour too.

For all the defensive possibilities the Eagles have, the most crucial factor for them will be the performance of QB Michael Vick, whose 77.7 QB Rating is his worst since 2006. At some point Vick has to protect the ball a little bit and give his team a chance to win. If he gets it done against the unbeaten Falcons, that will provide some reason for optimism in Philly.

WASHINGTON (+4.5) at PITTSBURGH
The Redskins nearly upset the Giants on the road last week, so Robert Griffin III shouldn't be overwhelmed by the circumstances, even if going into Pittsburgh won't be easy. The Steelers have allowed 184.8 passing yards per game, second-fewest in the league, and RGIII has a fairly random cast of receivers -- Santana Moss, Leonard Hankerson, Logan Paulsen -- so maybe the Redskins' best bet will be to let loose on the ground, with rookie RB Alfred Morris, who is one yard behind Arian Foster for the league's rushing lead.

Pittsburgh manufactured some kind of running game with Jonathan Dwyer last week and they should have Isaac Redman joining Dwyer in the backfield, but Pittsburgh's offensive strength has been throwing it to receivers Mike Wallace (who had some bad drops last week), Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders.

NEW ENGLAND (-7) at ST. LOUIS
The Patriots have their weapons back, so they have have the double tight ends, with receivers Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd out wide, so they have more than enough to put the Rams back on their heels, even though St. Louis' pass defence has been pretty strong. Even if corners Cortland Finnegan and Janoris Jenkins can shut down the wideouts, who is going to lock down Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski?

If the Patriots offence scores, that will pose a challenge for a Rams offence that is pedestrian, at best, but the holes in the New England secondary create opportunities for Brandon Gibson and Cris Givens to get deep. Counting on long passes to keep the game close may not be the safest strategy, but should be where the Patriots are most vulnerable.

INDIANAPOLIS (+3.5) at TENNESSEE
If Titans RB Chris Johnson is getting his game together (286 rushing yards in the last two games), that will pose a whole new challenge for teams facing Tennessee. Indianapolis does rank 26th in the league with 141.7 rushing yards allowed per game, so that's an obvious area for the Titans to target.

Tennessee's defence has been porous all the way around (30th in the league with 416.1 yards per game allowed) and, while RB Vick Ballard gained 103 yards from scrimmage for the Colts last week, Indy's passing game is the more dangerous threat, with Reggie Wayne, Donnie Avery and T.Y. Hilton all providing decent options for QB Andrew Luck, who will likely be more active this week than he was last week against Cleveland.

OAKLAND (pick) at KANSAS CITY
Brady Quinn gets another start at quarterback for the Chiefs, but if he doesn't perform against the Raiders, a team lacking playmakers in the secondary, well, that wouldn't be great for the Chiefs' offensive hopes. Of course, they could focus their offence on RB Jamaal Charles, who is a game-breaker and may be the one player that the Chiefs have that would pose any kind of threat to the Raiders.

Oakland's attack is more diverse, with RB Darren McFadden complemented by the deep passing game provided by wide receivers Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey. TE Brandon Myers is the team's leading receiver, with 28 catches for 334 yards, so even if the Raiders don't get it done with the vertical passing game, Myers is there to provide an alternative and those options give the Raiders a leg up on the Chiefs, who are going to need homefield advantage to works its magic.

N.Y. GIANTS (-2.5) at DALLAS
Seeking retribution for their opening night home loss to the Cowboys, the Giants have a passing game that keeps them in any game, particularly with Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz both healthy. The running game could be an area to exploit a Dallas defence that will be missing stud ILB Sean Lee, but the Giants' backfield does have some question surrounding the health of RB Ahmad Bradshaw, who is dealing with a chronic foot problem. If Bradshaw can't go, Andre Brown will get the bulk of the touches.

Dallas' success in the opener was predicated on the pass coverage provided by cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne. If they can neutralize Cruz and Nicks, while DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer provide the pass rush, maybe the Cowboys will be able to take a second straight. That will also require some offence from Big D, which means RB Felix Jones has to handle the starting role and Dallas' receivers -- Miles Austin, Dez Bryant and Kevin Ogletree -- need to take advantage against a Giants' secondary that is vulnerable. Ogletree was the star in Week One, but Bryant and Austin are the ones most capable of putting up big numbers this time.

NEW ORLEANS (+6) at DENVER
Let loose, boys. Drew Brees and Peyton Manning, ranking first and second in passing yards per game this season, take the same field and will surely have no trouble finding targets. The difference, at least for purposes of setting that point spread, is that the Broncos have a decent defence, compared to the Saints' virtually non-existent defence.

The second-highest total of the week is 47.5 (Giants-Cowboys), but this one is at 54.5, a full touchdown more expected than every other game on the board. Should be fun, and if it isn't, that will be such a letdown.

SAN FRANCISCO (-7) at ARIZONA
The Cardinals have lost three straight and though they didn't look terrible in Minnesota last week, it's tough to expect a win against San Francisco. Even if QB John Skelton can survive aganist a 49ers team that ranks first in passing yards allowed (173.4), the Cardinals may not be able to exploit the 49ers run defence in the same way that some other teams have recently. Adrian Peterson and Ahmad Bradshaw were both effective on the ground in San Francisco's two losses, and Marshawn Lynch went over 100 yards last week too, but Cardinals RB LaRod Stephens-Howling is undersized, perhaps not suited to the smashmouth style that has proven to have some measure of effectiveness against the Niners.

From the Niners' perspective, they will need their ground game (ranked second in the league with 176.6 yards per game) to carry the day because QB Alex Smith has struggled over the last couple weeks (340 YDS, 1 TD, 4 INT) and Arizona's pass defence has been excellent.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.



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