The Playbook: Previewing Bears-Packers, Saints-Jets and more Week 9 games
Baltimore (3-4) at Cleveland (3-5) — 4:25 p.m. ET, CBS: The Browns are in must-win mode — a loss not only would drop them to 3-6, but also would put them at 0-2 against the Ravens. The situation is not much rosier for the defending champs. Baltimore (3-4) has a Week 10 showdown with Cincinnati looming, so a 2-0 stretch starting Sunday is imperative. Coming off a bye, can the Ravens finally kick start Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce? – CB
San Diego (4-3) at Washington (2-5) – 1 p.m. ET, CBS: The Chargers are merrily rolling along right now, but the Redskins are in a bit of trouble. Robert Griffin’s receivers are taking shots at him and bickering with each other, and tight end Fred Davis — who Washington tried to trade before the deadline — recently admitted to napping in team meetings. At this rate (and with a 2-5 record), the team’s name should be the least of its concerns – DF
Minnesota (1-6) at Dallas (4-4) — 1 p.m. ET, FOX: The 1-6 Vikings reportedly dangled veteran DE Jared Allen at the trade deadline, an admittance that this season has gone to the dogs. Head coach Leslie Frazier has yet to even name a starting quarterback for this game, after Christian Ponder flopped again in Week 8. NFC East-leading Dallas could use a cupcake game, after a heartbreaking loss to the Lions last Sunday. RB DeMarco Murray is expected to be back in the starting lineup, which certainly should help. – CB
Tennessee (3-4) at St. Louis (3-5) – 1 p.m. ET, CBS: The Titans expect to have a healthy Jake Locker at quarterback for the first time since Week 4, but Locker may have wished he waited an extra week when all is said and done. The Rams offense isn’t much to crow about, but the pass rush — led by NFC sack leader Robert Quinn — is one of the NFL’s most effective. – DF
Atlanta (2-5) at Carolina (4-3) — 1 p.m. ET, FOX: Rare have been the meetings between these NFC South foes when the Panthers looked like the stronger team. (The last time Carolina finished a season with a better record than Atlanta was 2008.) Atlanta’s 22nd-ranked defense will have its hands full with a surging Cam Newton, but it’s the Falcons’ depleted offense that really may run into trouble — Carolina sits No. 2 in the league in points allowed and No. 3 in yards. – CB
Only For The Faithful
Kansas City (8-0) at Buffalo Bills (3-5) — 1 p.m. ET, CBS: Quarterback Thad Lewis should be able to go for this game despite rib soreness, and the Bills faithful had better hope so. Putting Jeff Tuel or Matt Flynn up against Kansas City’s defense constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. – DF
Tampa Bay (0-8) at Seattle (7-1) — 4:05 p.m. ET, FOX: Records-wise, the worst team in the NFC playing at the best team in the NFC. What could go wrong? The 7-1 Seahawks have not lost at home since dropping a 19-17 decision to San Francisco on Christmas Eve, 2011. – CB
Philadelphia (3-5) at Oakland (3-4) – 4:05 p.m. ET, FOX: The good news for Chip Kelly is that he’ll have Nick Foles back under center this Sunday. The bad news is that one of the guys he tried to recruit to Oregon — Raiders quarterback Terrelle Pryor — is one of the league’s most dynamic weapons, and should run wild on Philly’s defense. – DF
(Unless otherwise indicated, all stats come from our friends at Pro Football Focus.)
• If you’ve been watching Seattle’s offensive line and assuming that Russell Wilson has no time to throw, the stats back up your take. Wilson has been pressured on an astonishing 46.7 percent of his dropbacks this season, the highest percentage for any qualifying quarterback since 2008, which is as far as PFF’s pressure metrics go back. Amazingly enough, Wilson’s been pretty efficient under the gun — 33 completions in 76 attempts with seven touchdowns and four interceptions — but one wonders just how far the Seahawks will go if they can’t protect their most important player.
• There’s not much to point out when watching the Jacksonville Jaguars these days, but running back Maurice Jones-Drew is still blocking like a champ, as he always has. He’s been involved in 193 passing plays this season, with 62 pass-blocking snaps, and he hasn’t allowed a single pressure all season — no sacks, no hits, no hurries.
• Is it time to give Denver Broncos guard Louis Vasquez a name-check? It is, indeed. The former San Diego Charger was signed to a four-year, $23.5 million contract by Denver in the offseason and has been earning that cash. In 295 pass-blocking snaps this season, he’s allowed no sacks, no hits and just four quarterback hurries.
• We mentioned earlier that St. Louis Rams defensive end Robert Quinn leads the NFC with 10 sacks, but there’s been no more impactful defender in the entire NFL when it comes to pressuring opposing quarterbacks. He’s also got 13 quarterback hits and 21 hurries — 44 total pressures in 220 pass-rushing snaps.
• Dallas Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee won the NFC Defensive Player of the Month award for his excellent play in October, and that’s well-deserved. But when looking at inside linebackers in coverage around the league, it’s tough to find a guy with more impressive numbers than Buffalo Bills rookie Kiko Alonso. Like Lee, Alonso has four picks this season, and he also totaled 49 tackles in October, most among all rookies. He’s allowed 0.49 yards per coverage snap to Lee’s 0.99. Alonso is well on his way to making a Luke Kuechly-like impact in Buffalo’s defense. Could he be the next Lee? – DF
• Matchup to Watch: Antonio Allen vs. Jimmy Graham.
Hard to say exactly how the Jets will line up against Drew Brees and the high-powered Saints this weekend — odds are, Rex Ryan will mix and match as the game goes along. One thing is for sure, though: New York’s pass D must be significantly stingier than it was in allowing 325 yards and five touchdowns to Andy Dalton last week.
Though Brees utilizes every pass-catcher available to him, Graham remains one of the most dangerous offensive players in football. Even at far less than 100 percent, he hauled in two TD passes last week, and the Saints might opt to save him for red-zone opportunities again.
Allen drew the task of covering Rob Gronkowski during New York’s win over New England a couple weeks back. Gronkowski caught just 5-of-13 passes thrown his direction while the second-year safety was on him, according to Pro Football Focus. The Jets may choose to go the Allen route again, thus leaving Antonio Cromartie, a scuffling Dee Milliner and Kyle Wilson to focus their attention on the remaining Saints receivers.
• This Week’s Sleeper: LaVon Brazill, WR, Colts.
Hey, someone’s gotta help pick up the slack caused by Reggie Wayne’s season-ending injury. The Colts will use T.Y. Hilton, Darrius Heyward-Bey and TE Coby Fleener plenty, but that still will leave some Andrew Luck passes up for grabs.
Enter Brazill, who has yet to record a reception this season — in large part due to a suspension. He averaged 16.9 yards on his 11 grabs last season; he might be able to find some space, with defenses focusing on Indianapolis’ more high-profile options.
• Pressue’s On …: Nick Foles, QB, Philadelphia.
The Eagles’ offense has been wretched in its past two outings, mustering all of three points against the Cowboys and Giants. (Philadelphia scored its only TD of Weeks 7 and 8 on special teams.) Foles was wholly responsible for the former effort, throwing for just 80 before an injury drove him from Philadelphia’s loss to Dallas.
He’ll get a shot at redemption Sunday in Oakland versus a middle-of-the-road pass defense. Another disappointing performance could send the Eagles to their third straight loss and a 3-6 record.
• Rookie Spotlight: Star Lotulelei, DT, Carolina.
Though the 15 sacks Matt Ryan has taken this year are far from a league-worst number, Atlanta’s offensive line has been problematic — especially on the ground, where the Falcons’ 437 yards rushing is worst in the league by a decent margin. Lotulelei has been a steady force up front for the Panthers this season, and he should see around his usual workload (38-40 snaps) this Sunday. If the Falcons cannot move him from his spot, running between the tackles will be a lost cause.
• Tennessee: Once 3-1, the Titans have slipped out of the AFC playoff picture with three straight losses. Falling in St. Louis Sunday might be the first nail in their coffin, even as a matchup against the Jaguars awaits in Week 10. — CB
• Green Bay. The Packers welcome the Chicago Bears to Lambeau Field on Monday night, and with Detroit on a bye this week, it’s a great opportunity for Aaron Rodgers and friends to get some separation in a very contentious NFC North. If the Bears win, there will be three teams with 5-3 records in the division. – DF