I was going to save this space for a rant about the bunk that is “does more with less,” but we have some pretty good games worth talking about this week instead.
Packers at Broncos
I thought about doing a formal preview for this game, but there’s just not enough history between the two given they’re in different conferences. You also don’t want to get too wrapped up in the numbers after just six games, which is what I’m probably about to do next.
Clearly, this is a step up in competition for both teams, who both had a bye week to prepare. Green Bay’s offense hasn’t seen a defense like Denver’s. Denver’s defense hasn’t seen an offense like Green Bay’s. I’m not going to make the mistake I made in previewing Super Bowl 48 where I thought the matchup of the lesser unit of each team (DEN D, SEA O) would be the deciding factor. Let’s stick with the strength vs. strength deciding how this game will play out.
These teams actually rank first (GB) and second (DEN) in points allowed with just one point separating them. However, Green Bay ranks seventh in Pts/Dr and 22nd in Yds/Dr. That’s a bit odd, but it’s possible because the Packers allow the third-fewest points per red zone trip. Denver’s offense has struggled in the red zone this season, ranked 30th. Denver may need to hit some big plays or take advantage of some great field position to crack this defense in the red zone. That’s how Philip Rivers turned a 500-yard passing game into just 20 points in GB. They tighten up down there. Surprisingly, the Packers go three-and-out on offense more than just five teams. Unless Aaron Rodgers takes advantage of Denver’s aggressiveness with a ton of hard counts to draw offsides and free plays, I think it’s going to be very hard for Green Bay to rack up points in this one.
Denver’s defense has pretty much shut down every offense its played so far. Only Minnesota was able to crack 20 points, and that included some good field position off of Manning interceptions and a big run by Adrian Peterson on fourth down. Green Bay probably needs more than 20 to win in Denver, but not a lot more. The Packers have been fairly mortal on offense in the last three games. Eddie Lacy hasn’t had a great season by any means. Rodgers doesn’t have the same vertical prowess without Jordy Nelson, and he hasn’t even tried to replace that part of the offense with his other receivers. This passing game is more reliant on YAC. Rodgers is scrambling more than he ever has this season, so he could be a problem for an aggressive Denver defense when he leaves the pocket. Shane Ray is out, but DeMarcus Ware should return to action. The Broncos will need Ware and Von Miller to provide good pressure in this one, but I really do think Rodgers will use his legs a lot if the Denver secondary is doing its job in coverage against the receivers. If Rodgers is holding onto the ball, then Denver will have a good chance to add on to its high sack total (26 in six games).
Denver’s offense has been a mess for various reasons this season. Some of those things are not fixable, because it’s not like they can find a good tight end or experienced slot WR in Week 8. They have to tough it out with what they have, but there’s enough here to be playing much better than they have. I recall an old NFL Films clip of Mike Holmgren saying “He’s gotta know he’s fucking up out there” in reference to a young Brett Favre. Gary Kubiak might be saying the same thing about an old Peyton Manning this year, who has 10 interceptions. Clearly that part can’t continue, and I don’t think it will since so many of the plays are mental and situational more than they are physical problems. Cutting down the picks is one step forward. Another is giving more carries to Ronnie Hillman, who has clearly outplayed C.J. Anderson this season. Demaryius Thomas has to stop dropping big passes, and his track record suggests that should also happen. This offense is close to putting it together, but keeps shooting itself in the foot with mistakes. I expect a sharper performance at home after some time to regroup against a Green Bay defense that you can definitely move the ball against. We’ve seen some productive games on the ground and through the air against them already.
Green Bay has not excelled in this type of environment. Since 2012, the Packers are 1-9 in road games against playoff teams. In case you were wondering, Rodgers started all 10 games as none of those were when he missed time in 2013 (broken collarbone). At 6-0, Denver looks destined for a playoff spot. However, the lone win in that stretch for GB was in Houston in 2012 against a team coached by Gary Kubiak and Wade Phillips. Rodgers threw six touchdowns on Sunday Night Football. He’ll be fortunate to get to half that total in this one, but at least that is doable for him. I don’t think the Broncos have played great offensive competition so far, though the reason I like them is because they’re at home. Green Bay’s offense just isn’t that lethal on the road, where they’ve only played twice so far. Unlike last year when the Broncos were so dominant early in the season thanks to playing five of their first seven games at home, this year’s team has been on the road for four of the first six games, including four of the last five. Mile High is always a tough place to win and I think we get a few more points out of this one than expected, but I see Denver closing in the end on defense again.
Final score: Broncos 28, Packers 20
Bengals at Steelers
Under Marvin Lewis, the Bengals are 5-7 in Pittsburgh and just 2-11 at home against the Steelers. It’s one of those weird splits, but I truly do believe the Bengals get up for these games in Pittsburgh. They have enough motivation for this one to continue their 6-0 start and silence the return of Ben Roethlisberger by dropping the Steelers to 4-4. That wouldn’t lock up the AFC North, but it would damn near come close to doing so on the first day of November.
I think the Steelers have the better offense when everyone’s healthy, which looks to be the case for the first time since the end of last season. However, the Bengals have the better defense, and their offense is humming along very well this year. Andy Dalton has yet to have a bad game and he had his best game against the Steelers yet in Week 14 last season. I think his receivers have very favorable matchups against a defense that will be missing Stephon Tuitt and Will Allen. Pittsburgh’s defense has certainly exceeded expectations, only surrendering more than 23 points to the Patriots. However, I think the Bengals are the best offense the Steelers have seen since the Patriots. Dalton is protected well behind a line that has only allowed six sacks and he gets rid of the ball quickly. Tyler Eifert is giving this offense a new dimension down the seam and in the red zone that it’s lacked in recent seasons. That is somewhere I see the Steelers struggling to defend here, especially with health issues in the secondary. A.J. Green might feast here too.
I never ever like picking the Bengals in a big game, but I just feel like they’re the more complete team, coming off a bye, and they are playing better than the Steelers have this season. They should win. I know I’ve also seen enough games where Roethlisberger has returned form injury and looked rusty. You can’t look rusty when Geno Atkins and company are rushing, and this is the first game Roethlisberger will start with Alejandro Villanueva as his left tackle. He was beat by Tamba Hali for two big sacks in the fourth quarter last week. Sure, Antonio Brown should get back on track, Heath Miller won’t be a ghost again and Martavis Bryant is always a big-play threat, but no one has cracked 24 points on the Bengals yet this season. I think that continues here and they get another quality win.
Final score: Bengals 29, Steelers 22
Colts at Panthers
Maybe I’m just doing a better job of avoiding it, but I’m glad this wasn’t the week where we pretend Cam Newton has always been better than Andrew Luck based on the last two months. We have several seasons to look at and see that Luck is clearly a superior player who doesn’t need as much around him to succeed. This year, he has yet another flawed roster around him despite the offseason additions. The major difference is he’s playing the worst football of his career, and it’s showing in the results for both his team’s record and his statistics. The team’s really in no worse shape than it was from 2012-14, but the difference was Luck played at a level high enough to overcome those flaws. Is it injury? That’s always my first thought when a very good player is playing poorly, and Luck has missed two games with a shoulder injury. Something’s not right, and I don’t expect it to get right against a tough Carolina team.
Simply put, Cam Newton is playing at nowhere near a MVP level, but I’m sure we can focus on that ridiculousness another week. As the 2015 Colts should show, just having “names” around you at the skill positions means nothing for a QB if you’re not playing well yourself. You still have to make the plays. The Colts have been one of the worst offenses in the league, but they have a fighting chance in this one just because the Panthers aren’t good enough to drop one of those 35-45 point games on them. The Panthers are the more physical team and that’s a huge problem, but I like the Colts defense enough in this one to slow them down and keep the game at least manageable for Luck to pull out a GWD. However, I don’t expect it to happen on Monday night. If they want to shut T.Y. Hilton down with Josh Norman, then go ahead, because in theory Donte Moncrief, Andre Johnson and the very quiet tight ends should have matchup advantages. But hell, has this not been the case each week this season for the Colts? The pieces seem to be there, but the results are not.
And it all starts with how the quarterback is playing.
Final score: Colts 16, Panthers 24
2015 Week 8 Predictions
I had the Patriots winning 31-17 on TNF, and they actually spanked Miami 36-7. OK.
Winners in bold
- Lions at Chiefs
- Chargers at Ravens
- Cardinals at Browns
- 49ers at Rams
- Titans at Texans
- Bengals at Steelers
- Buccaneers at Falcons
- Vikings at Bears
- Giants at Saints
- Jets at Raiders
- Seahawks at Cowboys
- Packers at Broncos
- Colts at Panthers
- Week 1: 10-6
- Week 2: 6-10
- Week 3: 14-2
- Week 4: 11-4
- Week 5: 9-5
- Week 6: 8-6
- Week 7: 10-4
- Season: 68-37 (.648)