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Cullen: Week 9 NFL Preview

Scott Cullen
11/1/2012 5:32:06 PM
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With 14 games on the NFL schedule in Week Nine, 10 of the games boast point spreads of four points or less. You want parity? You've got parity.

Check out this week's Power Rankings for more of my takes on all 32 teams.

A look at the Week Nine matchups in the NFL:

KANSAS CITY (+7.5) at SAN DIEGO
Even though the Chiefs secondary has some playmakers, including CB Brandon Flowers and FS Eric Berry, they have been wholly ineffective in pass coverage this season, allowing a touchdown pass every 12.7 pass attempts, easily the worst rate in the league. That would figure to benefit a Chargers offence that has been atypically ineffective passing the ball, with Philip Rivers resorting to more short throws than ever before.

If Rivers turns it loose, Malcom Floyd is the likely beneficiary, since he has recorded half of the 20 Chargers pass plays that have gone for at least 20 yards. Additionally, Vincent Brown remains out, Eddie Royal is likely out and Robert Meachem is dealing with a strained hamstring, so Danario Alexander could find his way into the San Diego offence.

Kansas City's passing attack has been inconsistent, at best, but it might be their best hope to move the chains against the Chargers. San Diego's run defence has been as good as any in the league, allowing 80 yards per game and 3.6 yards per carry. After a week in which Jamaal Charles was limited to five yards on five carries, it would make sense for the Chiefs to get him more involved this week, even if it's just a matter of keeping San Diego's defence honest.

DENVER (-3.5) at CINCINNATI
As long as Peyton Manning is playing at such a high level, it's difficult to forecast him slowing down against Cincinnati, a team that has struggled in pass defence this season. Opposing quarterbacks have a 97.9 QB rating against the Bengals and only three teams have been worse, so turning loose Manning, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker does make it seem likely that the Broncos will be able to score.

Cincinnati may not mind the shootout approach, since QB Andy Dalton and WR A.J. Green have been a dangerous duo, but if the Broncos could shut down the New Orleans passing game last week, then the Bengals are likely going to be fighting uphill. Being at home and coming off their bye week could help level the playing field, but they have to get Manning off his game or it won't much matter.

BALTIMORE (-3.5) at CLEVELAND
The dirty secret of the vaunted Baltimore Ravens facing the Cleveland Browns is that Cleveland's defence has as good, if not better, particularly when they have shutdown corner Joe Haden on the field. Baltimore, missing Ray Lewis and Lardarius Webb, allow sizeable chunks of yardage in the passing game, yet have remained relatively unscathed (tied with a league-low six passing TDs allowed), certainly when compared to a Cleveland defence that has surrendered 15 passing touchdowns.

Baltimore has even struggled with run defence, allowing 142.9 yards per game on the ground, which ranks 30th in the league, and would seem to play right into the Browns' hands, since their best plan of attack is to use Trent Richardson to soften up the defence before trying to get deep with WR Josh Gordon.

As has been the case since Lewis and Webb were injured, the Ravens need to count on their offence more than ever, but it's a different animal for QB Joe Flacco to be counted on as the focal point for his team's success, as opposed to the guy who merely converts when his defence provides good field position.

ARIZONA (+11) at GREEN BAY
Those were heady days when the Arizona Cardinals were 4-0 to start the season, but they are a long way from there now. Even if the Cardinals have a secondary that could make matters difficult for Aaron Rodgers and Co., it's hard to fathom Arizona scoring enough to keep up.

For that to happen, they would need RB LaRod Stephens-Howling to take advantage against a depleted Packers front seven and then wide receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Andre Roberts can put pressure on the Packers' defensive backs. That latter factor isn't so easy because Green Bay won't be afraid to force John Skelton to beat their corners in coverage, but if the Cards can run a little bit, then turning Skelton loose could give Arizona a puncher's chance.

On the other hand, Green Bay isn't getting enough from their ground game to rest comfortably, even against an inferior team. If Alex Green can't keep the Cardinals' defence honest, and there is reason to doubt the effectiveness of his 2.9 yards per carry, then Rodgers has to throw, which is fine because he's great at it, but the Packers could be missing Jordy Nelson again and it's not as easy to trust the Green Bay passing game when James Jones and Randall Cobb are at the top of the depth chart -- they're good, but aren't accustomed to facing the top corners week after week, either.

BUFFALO (+10) at HOUSTON
This is the one where the Houston Texans see what they're missing now that Mario Williams is in Buffalo (assuming Williams can play, following wrist surgery). Er, maybe it will be more like Williams seeing how good they have it in Houston, even without him.

Houston has the league's busiest running back, Arian Foster, who will continue to see a heavy workload with Ben Tate sidelined, and Justin Forsett moving into the backup role. Facing Buffalo, the team with the worst run defence in the league, gives the Texans exactly the kind of matchup that fits their conservative offensive approach; an approach that has relegated WR Andre Johnson to a relative afterthought. It says something about the Texans that they can achieve this success while not utilizing Johnson as much as possible.

Buffalo is coming off their bye week and have a strong running game in their own right, thanks to Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, but Houston hasn't surrendered a rushing touchdown yet this season and there isn't much reason to think that the Bills are the team to win the battles in the trenches.

MIAMI (-2) at INDIANAPOLIS
Miami's passing game is still a work in progress, but their running game is relatively dangerous, even if Reggie Bush has slowed since getting hurt earlier in the season. Going against an Indy defence that allows 4.8 yards per carry should allow Bush and Daniel Thomas to grind out yards against the Colts.

Indianapolis had their best running game of the season last week at Tennessee, but they aren't likely have the same kind of success against a Miami defence that thrives at the point of attack.

As a result, the Colts' best chance to score will be to turn QB Andrew Luck loose. Luck has one touchdown pass in his last three games but, going against a Miami team that has allowed 281 passing yards per game should be an opportunity for Luck to connect with wideouts Reggie Wayne, Donnie Avery and T.Y. Hilton, as well as TE Dwayne Allen, who will start in place of injured Coby Fleener.

DETROIT (-4) at JACKSONVILLE
There will be a certain amount of talk about the Jaguars dealing Mike Thomas, their leading receiver (44 catches) in 2011, to the Lions this week, but he has just 13 catches for 80 yards this season, so he's not exactly an impact player and probably just depth for the Lions, behind Calvin Johnson, Titus Young and rookie Ryan Broyles.

The issue for the Lions is that Johnson may be slowed by a knee injury. He's managed just six catches, on 19 targets, for 80 yards in the last two games and if he's not Megatron, that puts a lot more pressure on others in the Lions offence.

Jacksonville's most dangerous offensive player is injured RB Maurice Jones-Drew, so Rashad Jennings will see a lot of action against Detroit but, as mediocre as the Lions' run defence has been this year, they've only allowed two rushing touchdowns and forcing Jaguars QB Blaine Gabbert to win the game through the air hasn't proven to be a problematic strategy in most cases.

CHICAGO (-3.5) at TENNESSEE
After a narrow escape against Carolina last week, the Bears can't be resting too comfortably on a visit to Tennessee. The Bears do have a top run defence, allowing 77.9 yards per game, so they might contain Titans RB Chris Johnson, who has been hitting his stride, rushing for 381 yards in the last three games.

Not only does Chicago play strong run D, but corners Charles Tillman and Tim Jennings have been two of the league's best this year, making for a tough matchup even if the Titans take to the air.

Tennessee's defence, on the other hand, has struggled. They have allowed opposing quarterbacks to post a 105.8 QB Rating, second-worst in the league, and they rank 28th with 139.3 rushing yards per game allowed.

CAROLINA (+3) at WASHINGTON
The Panthers deserved a better fate at Chicago last week and this will be an interesting opportunity for Cam Newton, last season's rookie QB darling, to match up against the new-and-improved version, Robert Griffin III.

Newton threw for a season-high 314 yards against Chicago's strong defence, so he could certainly put up some yardage against a Washington secondary that is allowing 314.3 passing yards per game. WR Brandon LaFell may be questionable due to a concussion, so consider Louis Murphy as a sleeper for the Panthers.

All the same, the Panthers' defence has allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 68.1% of their passes, second-worst in the league so even if the Redskins don't have great targets, Griffin III should be able to hit up Santana Moss (who has four touchdowns in the last four games) and Leonard Hankerson.

TAMPA BAY (pick) at OAKLAND
The Raiders have an above-average run defence, so they can focus on stopping rookie RB Doug Martin, who got loose against the Vikings for 214 yards from scrimmage last Thursday and that job gets a little easier with the Bucs losing LG Carl Nicks due to a toe injury.

Even if the Raiders slow down the Tampa Bay running game, however, Bucs QB Josh Freeman has been elevating his game, throwing for three touchdowns and posting a QB Rating over 100 in each of the last three games, so the Bucs can get the ball downfield to receivers Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams.

When it comes to the Raiders' offence, they use RB Darren McFadden a lot, but the Bucs are allowing just 3.5 yards per carry, as DT Gerald McCoy leads a group that tends to be effective in the battle at the point of attack. However, Tampa Bay's secondary has been depleted by suspensions, so Carson Palmer won't hesitate to send Denarius Moore and Darrius Heyward-Bey deep in order to take advantage.

MINNESOTA (+5) at SEATTLE
Minnesota's early momentum has faded somewhat, with losses in two of their last three games and, more importantly, QB Christian Ponder struggling -- a situation that doesn't figure to improve against Seattle's first-rate corners (Brandon Browner and Richard Sherman) and pass rush provided by Chris Clemons and Bruce Irvin.

The good news for Minnesota is that, if they aren't able to throw the ball, they can turn to Adrian Peterson, who has run for 276 yards in the last two games.

Seattle, and rookie QB Russell Wilson, have been much better at home and, after what Doug Martin did to Minnesota last week, Marshawn Lynch should be the driving force of the Seattle offence. If the Seahawks take to the air, ex-Viking Sidney Rice is the most likely target with potential for a decent day.

PITTSBURGH (+3) at N.Y. GIANTS
The Steelers have the passing game to keep up with the G-Men, but it's going to be some question about who handles the running game. Jonathan Dwyer has put up back-to-back 100-yard rushing games, but a calf injury puts his status in doubt. Isaac Redman and Rashard Mendenhall have been out of the lineup too, so it would be desperate times if Baron Batch is forced to start.

Pittsburgh's strength, the second-ranked pass defence, does pose a challenge for the Giants' strength, a passing game led by with Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks and others hauling in passes from Eli Manning.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this game will be that the Steelers, unable to find hotel accomodations in New York, will be travelling on the day of the game. That seems like a rushed day, but at least it is a 4:25 ET kickoff.

DALLAS (+4) at ATLANTA
The Dallas Cowboys are a great opponent for very good teams because they put on a decent show, yet still fall short in the end. QB Tony Romo threw four interceptions to dig in the Cowboys into a hole against the Giants last week, only to march them up and down the field in the second half, passing for a career-high 437 yards in the loss, but he'll likely have to pass frequently to keep up with the Falcons' high-powered offence.

To Dallas' credit, and giving them a chance at the upset, their corners -- Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne -- have been able to rise to the challenge at times when facing strong receivers, so if they could even neutralize Julio Jones and Roddy White somewhat, then the game would be more competitive.

PHILADELPHIA (+3) at NEW ORLEANS
The Monday nighter will feature an awfully bright spotlight on Michael Vick, whose starting job has reportedly been in jeopardy (no matter what denials have since come out), so Vick needs to play well and if he can't do it against a New Orleans defence that stinks out loud, then that ought to be an indication that his game isn't where it needs to be for the Eagles to make a push to the playoffs.

Because of Vick's inconsistency, there is uncertainty over just how much receivers DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin will produce, but a matchup against New Orleans is too tempting to pass up.

The Saints appeared to be turning the corner going into last week's game at Denver, but having their offence shut down by the Broncos turned the game into a humbling experience. If the Saints can lure the Eagles into a track meet, that can work in New Orleans' favour, particularly if they can force turnovers from Vick.

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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Western Conference

(1) COL 1, (WC) MIN 0 (1) ANA 2, (WC) DAL 0
(2) STL 1, (3) CHI 0 (2) SJ 1, (3) LA 0


Eastern Conference

(1) BOS 0, (WC) DET 1 (1) PIT 1, (WC) CLB 0
(2) TAM 0, (3) MON 2 (2) NYR 1, (3) PHI 0


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