By Doug Halberstadt
With one-fourth of their regular-season schedule complete, the Bears, Packers and Vikings are all 2-2 and hoping to avoid falling any further behind the NFC North division-leading Detroit Lions (3-1). Thursday, Oct. 2, The Vikings and the Packers will square off against one another in Green Bay. One will fall further back, and the other will keep pace.
Both teams are coming off impressive wins last week. The Pack dominated the Bears, and the Vikings knocked off the Atlanta Falcons. Minnesota’s starting quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, left that game in the fourth quarter with an ankle sprain. He was replaced by third-stringer Christian Ponder.
Meanwhile, Green Bay’s quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, looked like he was back to his old self as he threw four touchdowns against Chicago. I don’t think it will matter whether it’s Bridgewater or Ponder getting the start tomorrow. I look for Rodgers to stay hot and pick apart the Minnesota defense in much the same way he did against the Bears. Green Bay should hold serve at home and improve to 3-2.
Sunday’s NFC North games have the Bears traveling to Carolina (2-2) and Detroit hosting the Buffalo Bills (2-2). I don’t think the Lions will have any problem improving to 4-1. The Bears won’t have it quite as easy, but I still like their chances of getting the win.
Bragging rights for the state of Texas will be on the line when Houston (3-1) visits Dallas (3-1). Both teams feature elite running backs — DeMarco Murray for the Cowboys and Arian Foster for the Texans. Foster has been hampered by a recurring hamstring injury. Murray has had some fumbling problems during the early part of the season. This game could come down to which one of these guys has the better game. I’m giving the edge to Murray. He was extremely impressive in the Cowboys’ win over the Saints last Sunday night. I’m taking the Cowboys by a touchdown.
Baltimore (3-1) will be in Indianapolis (2-2) to try to stop Andrew Luck and the rest of the Colts. Both teams put up big points last week. Baltimore had 38 in their win over the Panthers, and Indy scored 41 against the Titans. This could be another shoot-out type of game. I wouldn’t be surprised to see another 40 or more points for the winning team. I think Luck has the better chance of having a repeat performance. I’m taking Indy.
The Jacksonville Jaguars (0-4) and the Oakland Raiders (0-4) are the two remaining teams without a win this season. The good news for Oakland is they won’t lose again this week … they have a bye.
I can’t say the same for Jacksonville. They host the Pittsburgh Steelers (2-2). I’d hate to be any team facing Pittsburgh this week. They are coming off a last-minute loss to the Buccaneers last week. Something tells me they’re going to have a chip on their shoulder this week. That’s not good news for the Jaguars, as I think they’ll be 0-5 when this one’s done.
At the opposite end of the spectrum, only the Arizona Cardinals and the Cincinnati Bengals haven’t lost a game this season. Both teams had last week off. The Cardinals will have a real challenge when they pull into Denver (2-1) Sunday. The Broncos were also off last week. I’ll take a well-rested Peyton Manning at home to end the Cardinals’ win streak and come away tied with the Cardinals at 3-1.
The Bengals will have to wait until Sunday night before they get an opportunity to improve to 4-0. Standing in their way will be the New England Patriots (2-1 at press time). For much of the same reason as I went with the Broncos, I’m taking the Patriots. Tom Brady at home is pretty tough to beat. I don’t think Cincinnati will be able to stay undefeated.
The Atlanta Falcons (2-2) have to go on the road to face the New York Giants (2-2). After opening the season with two losses, the Giants have bounced back nicely and won their last two. The Falcons are coming off an upset loss to the Vikings. I look for the Giants to continue their winning ways and make it three straight by knocking off the Falcons.
After starting the season 3-0, the Philadelphia Eagles lost their game last week to the San Francisco 49ers. This week, they are almost guaranteed to get back into the win column. They are at home against the St. Louis Rams (1-2). The Eagles will improve to 3-1, and St. Louis will fall to 1-3.
The first “Who Cares?” game of the year features the Cleveland Browns (1-2) in Tennessee to take on the Titans (1-3). The Titans have dropped three in a row. The Browns were off last week. I think the rest will serve them well. Look for the Browns to hand the Titans their fourth-straight loss.
The San Diego Chargers (3-1) are riding a three-game win streak. This week, they’re at home for the second week in a row. This time, the Jets (1-3) come calling. I think the Chargers will make it four wins in a row.
If you’re a fan of the Kansas City Chiefs, you can’t wait until All-Pro running back Jamaal Charles gets back on the field following an ankle injury (at press time). The problem is, it’s not supposed to be this week when they visit the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers have injury issues of their own. Their starting tight end, Vernon Davis, left the game last week with a lower back injury. His status for Sunday’s game was uncertain at press time. The Chiefs miss Charles way more than San Fran will miss Davis. I’m taking the 49ers at home.
The Seattle Seahawks (2-1) go cross country to Washington, D.C., to meet up with the Redskins (1-3). Both teams should be well rested. Seattle had a bye last week. The Redskins haven’t played since Thursday night, Sept. 25. I think overall the Seahawks have the better offensive weapons with Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch and Percy Harvin. They’re virtually unstoppable when they are clicking on all cylinders. Something tells me they’ll be clicking. Seattle will improve to 3-1.
Who would have imagined that the New Orleans Saints and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would both be 1-3 when they faced one another during week five? The Saints are the bigger disappointment in that equation. I think most fans expected more from Drew Brees and his supporting cast. I certainly did. As bad as they’ve been so far, I don’t see them losing at home against Tampa. The Saints should get back in the win column this week.
Another week of upsets hurt me last week. I was 4-8 after Sunday’s games. I took New England over Kansas City in the Monday night game. (Results of that game were unavailable at press time.)
From the Oct. 1-7, 2014, issue