We are in the home stretch of the NFL regular season.
There are some teams that still look like possible contenders for the Super Bowl while there are some definite pretenders, who still think they have a chance.
The Freak is going to examine the NFC teams this week, and will look at the AFC next week. As he rubs the NFL crystal ball, here is what The Freak envisions (remember, with five weeks left, most teams are one injury away from disaster):
Giants have only beaten one team with a winning record (Pats), and in the last couple of weeks their bread-and-butter pass rush has been non-existent. Thus, opposing quarterbacks have been carving up the secondary. Can’t see the Gmen making any playoff run.
Lions really had a great start, but have cooled off ever since. First of all, they don’t have a good running game unless you think Kevin Smith is the answer. Matt Stafford has been forcing the ball into some bad spots, resulting in too many picks. Losing Ndamukong Suh, who will be suspended for two games, will probably result in two losses that the Lions cannot afford. Nonetheless, it’s been a positive year for this franchise.
Cowboys will probably win the NFC East, but we all know how quarterback Tony Romo plays in December and January. Also, the Dallas secondary is terrible, and they will mostly likely face both the Packers and Saints. How will this secondary slow down these two teams with those defensive backs?
Bears were starting to look like a team to be reckoned with, until they lost quarterback Jay Cutler a couple of weeks ago. The Freak likes Chicago’s defence and running game. The killer is not having Cutler, who gave them those big-play opportunities down the field. Backup Caleb Hanie doesn’t provide that.
Packers are definitely the odds-on favorite as quarterback Aaron Rodgers is playing “lights out” and opposing defences cannot just game plan for a couple of players. Most coaches can devise a blueprint to stop this offence, but don’t have the talent to execute it. The Pack’s defence is by no means dominant, but makes big plays at big moments. A good offensive team will be able to move the ball on this defence, but can they outscore the Pack offence is the burning question? Also, when the weather turns bad in January at Lambeau, it can become difficult to throw the ball. So will their running game be good enough in those big spots in the playoffs?
Saints are having a solid season and quarterback Drew Brees is having a great season. But the guy in Green Bay has overshadowed Brees. He has an arsenal of weapons on offence just like Rodgers, and the Saints’ three-headed monster at running back (Thomas, Ingram, Sproules) is very solid for those cold outdoor games. They were the only team to give the Packers a scare this season in Week 1. Have a feeling they will be playing each other once again this season, but in a much-more important game – the NFC Championship game.
Falcons are a dome team with a chance to make some noise. First of all, they have a good solid running game with Mike Turner, but they also have two great receivers in Roddy White and rookie Julio Jones, who can cause big matchup problems. If you want to double one of those two guys, you will have to contend with Tony Gonzalez in the middle of the field with single coverage. The big question mark with the Falcons is whether their front four can pressure the quarterback, and whether they have learned anything from last year’s playoff loss to the Packers? Giving up the future to draft Jones was one piece of the puzzle, and signing defensive end Ray Edwards. But will that be enough?
Stats of the week
Arizona rookie Patrick Peterson tied an NFL single-season record by returning his fourth punt for a touchdown.
"As he rubs the NFL crystal ball, here is what The Freak envisions (remember, with five weeks left, most teams are one injury away from disaster)." John Turner
Also, the game between the Raider and Bears featured the only two remaining first-round picks from the 2000 draft (original team) playing against each other – Brian Urlacher and Seb Janikowski.
Coach Parcells quote of the week
“Anybody that has their own agenda that’s separate from the team’s won’t be around long.”
Pet peeve of the week
Trash-talking and post-play antics are out of control in the NFL. It went over the edge on Sunday when Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson scored a touchdown, and did the Jet plane thing. But then Smith pretended to shoot himself in the leg, obviously referring to Jets wide receiver Plaxico Burress. What ever happened to respecting the game, respecting other players and acting like you should when you score a touchdown again?
The sure thing
Giants have no pass rush, and the secondary has trouble in coverage. This is a recipe for disaster against the undefeated Packers. Unless, it’s a blinding snowstorm with 100-kilometre winds (even that might not help), Green Bay pounds the Giants in New York.
Originally, the Colts-Pats’ game was supposed to be Sunday night. We know the Colts are winless, and are winless for a reason – no Peyton Manning. When No. 18 played this was always a marquee game. Without him this will be over by the end of the first quarter. Pats win big, and Brady takes a seat to start the fourth quarter.
The poor old Rams looked like they turned the corner last season, but have regressed this year. San Fran can clinch the division title early with a win. That tells you how good the NFC West really is. The 49ers need a game like this after their loss to the Ravens. San Fran celebrates a division title.
Don’t mortgage the house picks
Some of the locals are on their annual trip, and this year it’s New Orleans. Unfortunately, The Freak couldn’t make it. The game got moved to Sunday evening to accommodate the boys, and they should see an offensive display between the Lions and Saints. Paulie, who is a Lions’ fan, is apparently too scared to wear a Detroit jersey down in the Bayou, so he’s wearing a Brees one. Well, at least he’ll be able to say he was wearing the winning team’s jersey. Have a good trip boys.
The Bengals have come back to reality the last three weeks. However, a credit to them, they are still in the AFC wild-card race. A win in Pittsburgh would go a long way to achieving that goal, but the Steelers are hitting their stride. The Bengals are just too young to win a game like this yet. Steelers win to stay atop the division.
Let’s try this one more time – picking the favourite Ravens on the road against a bad team in the Browns. Cleveland, believe it or not, has the best pass defence in the league, and quarterback Joe Flacco’s game is up and down like a yo-yo. This time, after losses to Titans, Jags and ’Hawks on the road, the percentages have to be in our favour. Take the Ravens based on that, and hope this an up game for Flacco.
The Freak is not really sold on the Raiders, who have to make that tough across-the-country trip to Miami.
The Dolphins have played great football the last four weeks, and will continue this success with a win over Oakland.
The Freak saw Coach Jackson make some questionable calls versus the Bears, and it almost cost him the game. Miami’s defence will stop them in the red zone, and Matt Moore will continue his solid play in the upset win.
Last week: 4-for-7 (57 per cent).
Season: 58-for-86 (67.4 per cent).
John Turner is a Summerside schoolteacher. His column appears every Saturday during the NFL season. Feel free to e-mail questions and comments to the firstname.lastname@example.org.