Each week, we’ll give you 10 things to keep an eye on during the week’s upcoming games. From one-on-one match ups to players on the mend, we’ll talk about 10 things that could have an impact on your favorite team, or your fantasy team.
1. Two teams under .500 battle for first: It should be a marquee match-up. Whenever two teams battle it out for first place on primetime in Week 9, it should feel bigger than the Panthers-Saints game this weekend feels. The reason the first place showdown doesn’t pack as much punch as it should is simple. The Carolina Panthers are 3-4-1 and the Saints are just 3-4. This year, the NFC South is so down that one team will celebrate reaching .500 and taking control of an NFL division at the same time. That just shouldn’t be the case this late into the season. You know things are bad when the 1-6 Tampa Bay Buccaneers are trying to justify their abominable season by telling their fans that, as bad as things are, they’re only two games out of first place.
2. Arizona Cardinals look to sweep the NFC East: The NFC East isn’t the division that the NFC South is, but the division is a lot better than most expected it to be this season. While it looked like the Eagles were a lock to win the division, the Dallas Cowboys turned out to be one of the biggest surprises winning with a resurgent running game and by doing just enough defensively. The NFC East might be better in 2014, but somehow, so are the Arizona Cardinals. The Cardinals who won 10 games a year ago have suffered quite a few losses to their roster, especially on defense, but the losses have not translated on the field. Instead the Cardinals are off to a 6-1 start including victories over the New York Giants, Washington Redskins, and last week, the Philadelphia Eagles. The Cardinals will look to try and finish a sweep of the NFC East when they travel to Dallas to take on the 6-2 Cowboys. The Cowboys are coming off of a 20-17 overtime loss to the Redskins, and the team is suddenly been hit by the injury bug as Tony Romo, Doug Free, Rolando McClain and Brandon Carr, all find themselves on the mend this week. The Cardinals third-ranked rush defense would prove a tough match-up for the Cowboys anyhow, add the injury to Tony Romo, and the Cardinals might have the perfect recipe for a sweep of their former division.
3. Tony Romo’s back: While the Cardinals-Cowboys match-up will be one of the bigger games for each this season, and one of the biggest stories this weekend, the biggest part of that story when it comes to how 2014 will play out is the health of Cowboys starting quarterback Tony Romo. It’s hard to believe in the Cowboys over the long haul because it’s difficult to imagine both Tony Romo and DeMarco Murray getting through the season without injury. The largest reason for that concern reared its ugly head when the Cowboys fell to the Redskins on Monday night when Tony Romo’s famously fragile back gave the quarterback problems after Redskins linebacker Keenan Robinson hit Romo midway through the third quarter. Romo had surgery on his back over the offseason, and while Jason Garrett says he doesn’t believe this injury is related, anyone who’s dealt with back problems know how hard they are to shake, and often how little it can take for a flare up. If Romo were to miss significant time this season due to this or another back injury, it would certainly derail what has been a strong start to 2014.
4 . Surprising Miami Dolphins host San Diego Chargers in tough AFC battle: Despite an upset victory over the New England Patriots in Week 1, back-to-back losses in Weeks 2 and 3, and a struggling offense had new Dolphins offensive coordinator Bill Lazor answering questions about why Ryan Tannehill had a miniscule yards per completion average and the offense seemed to be stumbling. Since the team’s embarrassing 34-15 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 3, the Dolphins are playing a different brand of football. The Dolphins have won three of four, with the only loss being a last second loss to Aaron Rodgers and a very hot Green Bay Packers team. Despite the loss, the Dolphins performance against the Packers offense legitimizes the team as much as their three recent wins. Miami has been surprising, and their recent win, coupled with the early season victory over the Patriots suggest the Dolphins shouldn’t be ignored in the AFC. They’ll have another chance to prove they’re for real Sunday when they host the San Diego Chargers in a game between teams trying to position themselves for a playoff push.
5. The return of Robert Griffin, III: When Kirk Cousins torched the Jacksonville Jaguars and Philadelphia Eagles it looked like he might wrestle the quarterback position away from Robert Griffin, III for good, but Cousins struggled so much moving forward that the team looked to Colt McCoy to start their Monday night battle against the Cowboys. It speaks volumes about how much Griffin struggled earlier this season that some believe McCoy may now be a better fit to lead the Redskins than the quarterback the team invested so heavily in. That investment of three first-round draft picks means that Griffin will be afforded every opportunity to prove he can make things work. He’ll get his first opportunity to do that this Sunday when he returns from injury, yet again, against the Minnesota Vikings. Griffin has to prove he can find a way to get back to the success he had as a rookie and that he can stay on the football field or the quarterback that cost the Redskins three first-round picks could soon have the Redskins considering if it’s time to draft yet another signal caller.
6. Pittsburgh hoping for better results at home against Ravens: The Pittsburgh Steelers are as inconsistent as any team in football this season. The Steelers are the only team in the NFL who’s managed to lose to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and two weeks later they were blown out 31-10 by the Cleveland Browns. Somehow, that same Steelers team is 5-3 and coming off of one of the most impressive offensive performances in a long time in a 51-34 victory over the Indianapolis Colts. The third of the Pittsburgh Steelers losses came back in Week 2 when they were dominated 26-6 by the Baltimore Ravens. The Steelers have already lost two games in an AFC North division where every team is above .500, so Sunday’s game against the Ravens is pivotal.
7. Bears, Lions and Packers get well timed byes: When the NFL schedule comes out, most players and coaches are probably hoping for a mid to late-season bye week, but this week probably couldn’t have been better timing for a bye for the Chicago Bears, Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers. The Bears are reeling right now. A year after going 8-8 under new head coach Marc Trestman, the Bears are just 3-5 through the team’s first half and the losses have gotten progressively uglier culminating in last Sunday’s 51-23 trouncing at the hands of the New England Patriots. Bears’ players probably need this week to just get their mind off of football for a day or two even more than they need to get healthy. The Detroit Lions on the other hand don’t need a break from the mental side of the game as they’ve continued to win under new head coach Jim Caldwell despite a rash of injuries that has hampered growth in a new offense. The Lions’ absolutely need this week to try to get healthy as the team is trying to get their superstar receiver Calvin Johnson, as well as all three of their talented tight ends, Brandon Pettigrew, Joseph Fauria and Eric Ebron back from injury. For the Packers it’s all about one man. More specifically, it’s all about one hamstring. Aaron Rodgers tweaked his hamstring during the Packers 44-23 loss to the Saints Sunday, and while the Packers and Rodgers say the injury is no big deal, you know both he and the team are thrilled to have this bye week to give that hammy a rest.
8. Broncos and Patriots battle for AFC supremacy: This game has everything you want in a primetime match-up that isn’t on primetime. Both teams come in winners of four straight with their quarterbacks putting up gaudy numbers. Peyton Manning has been playing at an MVP level all season long, and Tom Brady has been just as good over the past month despite stumbling out of the blocks just long enough to have people in the media start asking some dumb questions. The biggest separator of these teams is that the Broncos have the best run defense in football (something that shouldn’t matter much against Brady and the Patriots) while the Patriots give up 130 yards per game on the ground. It will be interesting to see if the Broncos will look to run the football and try to keep Brady off the field on Sunday or if this thing will just deteriorate into the full blown shootout we all expect, and honestly hope to see.
9. The nauseating “Manning vs. Brady” coverage: Stop it. Just stop it. Am I really the only guy on the planet who just doesn’t give a damn if Peyton Manning is better than Tom Brady, or vice versa? Forget about breaking down how the Patriots match up with the Broncos, because it’s “Manning v Brady” time! Give it a rest already. Face it, when it comes to the greatest of all time question, or the Manning vs. Brady question, the guy who has it right Is Joe Montana. If you’ve never heard Montana answer the question, his take is that we’ll never know, and he’s right. We’ll never know who the greatest quarterback of all time is, and we’ll never truly know if Manning would have won those titles in New England or if Brady is just a product of the system. That’s the beauty of football. It is the ultimate team game. As Tom Brady proved during the opening weeks of this season, even a great quarterback will get you less than stellar results if hampered with a struggling offensive line. The success of NFL signal callers rely so much on the work of others that there really is no way to know for sure who the best is when you start getting into the conversation with the all-time greats. Something that Manning and Brady obviously are. So how about instead of wasting time arguing for your guy, or about which one of these phenomenal talents is better, we just sit back, relax, and watch a pair of the game’s greatest go toe to toe one more time without giving a damn which one is better. When you’re driving a Ferrari are you really concerned if the Lamborghini is better?
10. Colts and Giants hope for Monday night redemption: The Indianapolis Colts were rolling. They had won five in a row, and a defense that looked like it could hold the team back pitched a shutout in the Colts 27-0 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. Just when it looked like the Colts were ready to make the argument that they were one of the league’s best and Super Bowl contenders, everything fell apart against the Pittsburgh Steelers. The defense, which shut out the Bengals, gave up 522 passing yards and six touchdowns to Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers. The New York Giants were winners of three straight and Ben McAdoo’s offense was starting to click and the Giants looked like they might just be able to compete in the NFC East. They learned the following two weeks that probably wasn’t the case as they were shut out 27-0 by the Philadelphia Eagles, and lost 31-21 to the Dallas Cowboys. If the Giants were to find a way to get back into the division race it would be on the back of some huge upsets as their next four games include Monday night’s game, followed by a trip to Seattle to take on the Seattle Seahawks, and home match-ups against the San Francisco 49ers, and Cowboys. The offense should be able to have some success against the Colts, but if it can have enough success to outscore Andrew Luck is another question.
Buccaneers admit mistake, boot Aguayo
Source: Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk
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Did Bucs put too much pressure on Aguayo?
Source: Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk
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Broncos holding their breath on Derek Wolfe
Source: Mike Florio of ProFootballTalk
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