Carolina Panthers (4-5) @ Green Bay Packers (8-1)
If anyone is looking for the fountain of youth, they might start their search by asking Vinny Testaverde or Brett Favre. On Sunday at Lambeau, these two ageless wonders, whose combined age is 82, face off. Testaverde has been helping out the Panthers since they lost Jake Delhomme and David Carr, and though he isn’t playing at Favre’s level, he’s still pretty impressive at 44.
This season, while the Packers found new ways to get wins each Sunday, Carolina was slowly losing its team’s identity: its passing and pass rush. The regular playmakers have been unusually quiet. Jake Delhomme is done for the season due to injury, Steve Smith isn’t getting the ball much and Julius Peppers is uncharacteristically lacking in the sack column. The offense has only scored 27 points in the last 12 quarters, leading to a three game slide after a 4-2 start. Green Bay’s stingy defense will pose a serious challenge to them.
The Packers showcased a new ground game last week against the Vikings. The zone blocking scheme was well executed – the lineman were using cut blocks well and Ryan Grant was running with great pad level, making one cut and hitting the holes fast. The shovel pass was working as a counter to the pass rush. If Mike McCarthy can keep his boys playing at that level, there’s no telling how far they can go.
Key to the game: The Panthers need to try and force some turnovers, get ahead early and then control the clock. The Packers will look to establish the run game to set up the play action pass and rely on their defense to keep Brett Favre on the field.
Prediction: Carolina 10, Green Bay 28
Chicago Bears (4-5) @ Seattle Seahawks (5-4)
Even without primary offensive weapons Shaun Alexander and Deion Branch, the Seahawks were able to dominate a struggling San Francisco team Monday night. With a strong offensive line, a good quarterback in Matt Hasselbeck, and a team that has looked better and better as the season has moved on, Seattle should be able to move the ball well against the Chicago defense. And the Seahawks has begun to look better as the season moves on. There’s not much to worry about on the ground with Chicago, but giving up the big play is always a danger with the speed of Bears receivers.
Rex Grossman will get the start in Seattle on Sunday, but will it be good Rex or bad Rex? Regardless of quarterback play, the once-mighty Chicago defense has a lot to feel good about after last week’s game, and they will look to carry that momentum over to the Emerald City.
Key to the game: The Bears need to execute well on offense to keep up with the Seahawks. Grossman has been notorious for botching snaps, and the 12th man in Seattle can always cause hiccups on the offensive line before the snap. Seattle must not give up big plays and should try to force mistakes from the shaky Chicago offense.
Prediction: Chicago 19, Seattle 24
New York Giants (6-3) @ Detroit Lions (6-3)
Both of these teams got off to slow starts but were buoyed by defenses and running games that picked up toward the middle of the season, and both are coming off tough losses.
The Lions have played well but continue to struggle with inconsistency. Their passing game has the ability to put points on the board with Jon Kitna’s arm and talent at the wide receiver position, but their abysmal -18 yards rushing last week cannot be repeated. Detroit is giving up a lot of sacks, and Michael Strahan and company will certainly pose problems if Kitna hangs on to the ball too long.
Eli Manning is having the best season of his career and the chemistry of the team seems to be much improved from last year, but the second half of the season has been disastrous for the Giants in recent years. Running and defense continues to be their bread and butter, which should serve them well as the weather gets colder.
Key to the game: The Lions need to establish the run and continue their positive turnover ratio. The Giants will rely on their triple threat running game to wear down the Detroit defense and play stronger in the second half than they did against Dallas.
Prediction: New York 31, Detroit 24
Oakland Raiders (2-7) @ Minnesota Vikings (3-6)
If you like an exiting game, this one probably isn’t for you. Prepare for a low scoring affair that should not (and will not) be aired outside Minneapolis and Oakland.
Football fans and highlight reel creators everywhere are relieved that Adrian Peterson’s knee injury is not serious, present company included. That being said, he will miss this week’s game against the Raiders at home, leaving Minnesota lacking in offensive weapons. However, Chester Taylor is a very solid back and I think he will run all over this Oakland team. The Raiders main defensive strength is in their secondary, but the Vikings won’t throw the ball unless they absolutely have to since they have little talent at quarterback or wide receiver.
Oakland’s primary strength (if you can even make the stretch that they have one) is their run game. Though Packers’ nobody Ryan Grant was able to get good yardage on the ground versus the Vikes last week, I don’t imagine there will be a repeat performance. The Minnesota run defense has been very good for a very long time, and prospects don’t look good for this already stagnant Raiders offense.
Key to the game: Even though the return of Daunte Culpepper to Minnesota is a nice story (he got the nod this week from Lane Kiffin), the Raiders should just put JaMarcus Russell in to see what he can do. And if they can stop the Vikings run game, they will win. Minnesota simply needs to play the way their team is designed: smashmouth, physical football with 40+ runs and good defense.
Prediction: Oakland 9, Minnesota 16