Written/Ranked by Jim Ayello
1. Cincinnati at Cleveland
In their past two games against the Bengals, the Browns have scored 10 points. Total. To be fair, Johnny Manziel was under center for both of those contests, and this week the Browns have … ummmm … Kellen Clemens? No. Uhhhhh. Shaun Hill? No, that’s not right. ... Wait! I got it. I got it. Brock Berlin! No? Come on. I’m getting warmer, I know it. It’s an ex-Rams starting quarterback. … Ah. Forget it. Whomever it is, the Bengals are going to swallow him whole. They lead the league in interceptions the past five weeks (nine), have held four of their past five opponents to 10 points or fewer (including Cleveland) and have at least two sacks in nine of 11 games.
2. Denver at San Diego
Remember that game against Kansas City a couple of weeks ago? The one where Philip Rivers was under constant pressure, averaged fewer than 6.0 yards per completion and threw for less than 200 yards for the first and only time this season? Yeah it’s going to be like that for Rivers this week, only probably worse. Denver has allowed the fewest passing yards per game (197.1), the fewest passing touchdowns (11) and leads the league in sacks. With Rivers throwing to a band of misfits behind a shoddy offensive line — did I say shoddy? I meant sh***y — this could get ugly fast.
3. New England vs. Philadelphia
So, I went to look at Charch’s quarterback rankings to see what he said about Sam Bradford, and he doesn’t have him ranked. Ha. Charch wrote about 20 guys, and Bradford didn’t even make the cut. Charch then went on to list eight more guys, and Bradford’s name isn’t there either. And that list includes Matt Schaub. That means there are 27 quarterbacks Charch would rather you start over Bradford, putting the Eagles QB with the likes of Austin Davis, Blaine Gabbert and Nick Foles. Double Ha. How far the mighty Chip Kelly has fallen, his offense producing a measly 16.6 points per game in their past three. Good thing he doesn’t need Jeremy Maclin, DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy an offensive line or a real quarterback. Meanwhile, the Patriots are second in the league in sacks and in their past three games at Foxboro have held foes to 10 points per game. Ha. Silly Eagles.
4. Seattle at Minnesota
In 32 games between 2012 and 2013, the Seahawks defense allowed an opponent to score 30-plus points twice. In 11 games this season, that threshold already has been breached three times. I’m not saying the Vikings 24th-ranked scoring offense is going add its name to that list, but I am saying the Seahawks defense is far from the the frightening force it once was.
However, Seattle still sits in the top 10 in passing yards, rushing yards and points allowed, so they also are far from frail. And with Minnesota bringing its one-dimensional offense into Sunday’s tilt — Teddy Bridgewater’s eight touchdowns in 11 games are one better than, ready for this? Matthew Hasselbeck — I’m not worried.
5. Arizona at St. Louis
Nick Foles hasn’t thrown a passing touchdown in three weeks. Todd Gurley hasn’t run for 100 yards in more than a month. The Rams have scored 20 points that past two weeks and have lost those games by a combined 48 points. Anyone still think St. Louis is a sneaky contender for an NFC Wild Card spot. I didn’t think so, and it will be made official this week, after the Cardinals hand them their seventh loss overall and fifth straight. Arizona’s defense hasn’t been smothering bunch there were in recent years — 25.3 points allowed in past three games — but this Rams offense poses almost no threat. Arizona is second in the league in interceptions, and Foles is coming off a three-pick game — not even his worst this season — against Cincinnati.
6. Carolina at New Orleans
The Saints are coming off their first touchdown-less game in more than nine seasons, and they’re about to face a defense that surrenders the third fewest points in the league. Woof. I don’t know what’s going on with Drew Brees and Co., but it’s not going to get better against Carolina. The Panthers are the league-leaders in takeaways with 28 — six better than the Jets and Giants — and have averaged 3.0 sacks and 1.8 picks per game over their past five. New Orleans did put up 22 points and conceded just one sack in these teams’ Week 3 meeting, but Luke McCown was at the helm that game. Read into that what you will.
7. Kansas City at Oakland
If Justin Houston is on the field, I love the Chiefs. If he sits, they’re a good-not-great play. Kansas City was on the verge of becoming an undisputed top-5 defense in the league: Before Sunday against the Bills, they had allowed just one rushing touchdown since Week 5 and held five straight quarterbacks to one passing touchdown or fewer. Then Houston went down with a hyperextended knee in the first quarter, and things changed. All of a sudden, Tyrod Taylor was allowed to sit comfortably in the pocket and wait to hit Sammy Watkins on deep passes. If Carr is afforded the same opportunity, he, Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree will torch the Chiefs’ secondary. If he’s not, expect Kansas City to hold another team to fewer than 20 points, as they had in six consecutive games leading up to last Sunday.
8. Houston at Buffalo
The Texans’ defense has come alive. After allowing 28.4 points per game in their first seven contests, they have seen that number plummet to an unbelievable 8.75 over the past four games. And the bounce-back is not a product of inferior opponents; the Bengals, Jets and Saints are each in the top 13 of points scored per game, and they mustered a combined 29 points against Houston. The difference? The Texans are getting after the quarterback. J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus have decimated opposing offensive lines, registered a combined 40 QB hurries this season. The only team with two players with at least 20 QB hurries are Kansas City (Justin Houston/Tamba Hali) and Oakland (Khalil Mack/Aldon Smith). The result of all that pressure has been 15 sacks and 8 takeaways in the past four games. Meanwhile, the Bills have surrendered the ninth most sacks in the league.
9. Chicago vs. San Francisco
While Blaine Gabbert hasn’t been dreadful, the Bears have stifled far better. Chicago is second in passing yards allowed and on Thanksgiving held Aaron Rodgers to 3.7 yards per completion, his lowest total ever in a game at Lambeau Field. Considering the 49ers running game belongs on a milk carton rather a football field, the Bears are an excellent option for those of you streaming defenses.
10. Minnesota vs. Seattle
I might finally be ready to concede Minnesota just is not the run defense I thought they’d be. With 100-yard games allowed to Carlos Hyde, Ronnie Hillman, Eddie Lacy and Tevin Coleman on their resume, it’s hard to take them seriously. That seems to be the trick against the Vikings, by the way They’ve lost three of the four games they have allowed a 100-yard rusher. Enter Thomas Rawls. The rookies has run for 100 yards or more in three of his five starts, while averaging 5.6 yards per carry. If Minnesota can’t contain Rawls, this game could get out of hand quickly. However, if it does stuff the rookie, and the Seahawks are forced to go to the air, that’s when the Vikings can take advantage. Russell Wilson will not be able to do what he did to the Steelers and 49ers (eight passing touchdowns) to a Minnesota defense that is fourth in passing yards allowed.
11. Washington vs. Dallas
Away from Fedex Field Washington is hot garbage, like weeks-old fish in a pile of months-old eggs kind of garbage. But at FedEx field, Washington is … well, good. It is 4-1 in games at home, surrenders 11 fewer points per game (29.5-18.2) and more than 100 fewer yards (428.75-323.6). The disparity is sort of incredible, but it’s obviously pertinent here. NFC East-leading Washington gets Matt Cassel and the Cowboys at home. Cassel has thrown five picks in five games and led Dallas to just 15.8 points per game in his time under center. It’s feels weird to type, but Washington is an excellent streaming option for those in need.
12. Tennessee vs. Jacksonville
Has anyone noticed the Titans have become sort of an excellent defense? Did you know they’ve surrendered the third fewest total yards to running backs in the league, better than Seattle and Carolina? Did you know they’re seventh in passing yards allowed? Oh, and guess which team leads the league in sacks over the past five games with 17? Yep. Tennessee. That last stat should come into play Sunday, as only Russell Wilson and Alex Smith have taken more sacks than Blake Bortles, whom the Titans got to four times in these teams’ meeting two weeks ago.
13. New York Jets at New York Giants
Here’s what they Jets do well: stop the run. Here’s what the Giants don’t even try to do: run. So this game will come down to the Jets slowing their in-state rival’s passing attack. Can it be done? Of course. Will they? I don’t think so. First of all, if Darrelle Revis (concussion) plays, and he’s asked to cover ODB one-on-one, the Jets will be out of this game in a hurry. The reason the Jets lost to Houston was because they asked their one-time shutdown corner to put DeAndre Hopkins on Revis Island. Five catches, 118 yards and two touchdowns later, and the Jets were left searching for answers. Truth be told, when teams want to throw on the Jets, they do. Four of the past six quarterbacks they’ve faced have thrown for 300-plus yards, and five have thrown for multiple touchdowns. Other that a fierce run defense, the biggest strength the Jets have is putting pressure on the quarterback. But this, too, will be negated by the Giants, who have been excellent at limiting Manning’s exposure. They have allowed the seventh fewest quarterback hits and just 18 sacks. Plainly said, this is just a bad matchup for the Jets.
14. Buffalo vs. Houston
The Bills have become such a milquetoast defense. They force some turnovers but not a lot. They register some sacks, but not many. They give up some points, but not a ton. They’re a perfectly dull option. Especially this week. Brian Hoyer doesn’t really thrown interceptions — only five this season and never more than one in a game — and the Texans’ five fumbles lost are among the fewest in the league. The Buffalo defense gives up about 23 points and 355 yards per game; the Houston offense picks up about 21 points and 357 yards per game. It’s fine. It’s whatever. It’s blah.
15. Tampa Bay vs Atlanta
Yes, Matt Ryan threw for almost 400 yards against Tampa Bay a month ago, but he’s just been so bad since. In his next three games, he’s thrown as many interceptions (five) as touchdowns. Meanwhile, accompanied by a dominant rush defense (No. 2 in yards per carry allowed), Tampa Bay has grown stringent in pass coverage. They’ve intercepted six passes over the past four games, while registering three sacks in three straight games. A blip against Matt Hasselbeck and the Colts last weekend is not enough to make me forget that they limited Eli Manning to 213 yards on 40 passes. That said, Julio Jones scares the beJesus out of me. He historically has toasted the Bucs’ secondary — 100 yards or a score in 6-of-7 career games — meaning, if you role with the Bucs, you’re playing with fire.