2012 NFL Season: Week 6 Predictions
Through five weeks of the 2012 National Football League year, the season is as wide open as any I have ever seen in my entire life. There is no clearcut best team in the NFL, although you could make a case for a number of teams, notably the Houston Texans, San Francisco 49ers, Atlanta Falcons, and New England Patriots. There's also no worst team in the league, although you could argue that the Cleveland Browns, Kansas City Chiefs, and Jacksonville Jaguars as pretty bad.
But the playoff races are wide open. Look at the NFC. If the season ended right now, the New Orleans Saints would be the 16th team in the conference. In other words, they'd be last. The Minnesota Vikings would be second, and would earn a bye in the postseason. Yet I'm not convinced that the Saints will miss the postseason and I'm not expecting the Vikings to reach the playoffs.
Then look at the AFC. You've likely got the Texans, Patriots, and Ravens running away with their divisions, but up to a half dozen other teams could emerge as playoff contenders. The Indianapolis Colts, led by stud rookie quarterback Andrew Luck, could surprise a lot of teams, as they did last week, when they came back from 18 down to stun the Packers. The Miami Dolphins are another surprise team. Despite a rookie quarterback, a weak receiving corps, and a pretty no-name defense, they're 2-3 and are playing pretty competitively in every game.
The following slides will highlight my predictions for the games each week.
Atlanta 27 Oakland 17
The Falcons could become the first team to clinch their division by the end of November if they keep winning and the Buccaneers, Panthers, and Saints leep losing. A win over the weak Oakland Raiders would improve the Falcons to 6-0. Don't expect the Raiders to be able to stop Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White, and Tony Gonzalez from scoring a lot of points.
Cleveland 23 Cincinnati 20
It's time for the Browns to stop teasing their fanbase and finally record their first NFL victory. Rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden has been making strides every week, and I expect him to toss a couple of touchdowns against the Bengals. Throw in stud rookie running back Trent Richardson, and you have the formula for a Browns win over an overrated Bengals team that likely won't make the playoffs, despite their 4-1 start.
St. Louis 19 Miami 16
It's been a long time since the St. Louis Rams were legitimate contenders in the NFL. In fact, they haven't had a winning season since 2001, and that was when Kurt Warner won MVP, Marshall Faulk won the Offensive Player of the Year award, and the defense surrendered 198 fewer points than the previous season. Look for a low scoring game between the Rams and the Dolphins, who both have poor offenses but dominant defenses. I have the Rams winning late on a field goal from Greg the Leg. Their 4-2 start would establish themselves as legitimate playoff contenders in the NFC.
Indianapolis 28 NY Jets 20
I picked the Colts to finish 9-7 and reach the postseason this year, and games like Sunday's at the New York Jets is one they simply have to win. Andrew Luck and company could be due for a letdown game after their huge comeback win against the Green Bay Packers last week, so playing a team quarterbacked by Mark Sanchez is the perfect formula. Oh, and this could easily be the last start for Sanchez before some guy names Tim Tebow takes over.
Philadelphia 27 Detroit 20
A weak defensive team like Detroit is the perfect formula for the Eagles' struggling offense, particularly quarterback Michael Vick, who can't stop turning the football over. Expect Vick's biggest game of the season, somewhere along the lines of three total touchdowns and 300 yards. Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson will likely top 100 yards, but it won't be enough as the Lions drop to 1-4.
Tampa Bay 24 Kansas City 17
The loser in the Bucaneers-Chiefs game is basically out of the playoff picture, not that either team really has a chance anyway. I think this marks the beginning of the Brady Quinn era. I think he'll play well, but the Buccaneers will still win behind a strong game from Josh Freeman.
Baltimore 23 Dallas 20
This game really could go either way. The Baltimore Ravens don't have the same defense without reigning Defensive Player of the Year winner Terrell Suggs, who is out for at least another month with a partially torn Achilles. But they're 4-1 and still one of the top teams in the AFC. The Cowboys are their usual inconsistent self, and this is exactly the kind of game they'd step up and win to jump right back into the playoff race. However, I think the Ravens are better, and I see Dallas putting up a big fight but losing on a late field goal.
Buffalo 20 Arizona 17
Not one of ESPN's 16 experts picked the Buffalo Bills to beat the Arizona Cardinals, and I can't blame them, as East Coast teams do not generally play well when traveling to the West Coast. But the Bills are not as bad as the team that got crushed by San Francisco last week (obviously), and I still don't buy into the Cardinals this year. They're coming off a loss, and I expect them to miss the playoffs this season. Their downfall starts this week, as the Bills collect six sacks of Kevin Kolb and win a close one to even their record to 3-3.
Seattle 24 New England 23
What a game this should be. I picked Seattle to emerge as one of the top teams in the NFC this season, although I did expect Matt Flynn to be the starting quarterback instead of rookie Russell Wilson. However, the Patriots don't have the same powerful offense that they did in 2011, and the absence of star tight end Aaron Hernandez for at least one more game should really help a powerful and underrated Seahawks defense that will be fired up playing in front of their home crowd. Throw in a steady dose of Marshawn Lynch, and the Seahawks win a close one to really move into the driver's seat in the playoff race.
San Francisco 23 NY Giants 21
This game will be a bitter one, as the 49ers were clearly the better team last season and lost at home in overtime to a Giants team that ended up winning their second Super Bowl in five years. Playing at home again should be enough for the 49ers, who are again the better team, to squeak out a much-needed victory in the highly competitive NFC West. The reigning Super Bowl champions will drop to 3-3 in an NFC East division that is still pretty wide open, even with the Eagles' expected victory.
Washington 24 Minnesota 20
Talk about an upset alert. The Vikings have overachieved this season, and are due for a poor performance by second-year quarterback Christian Ponder. The Redskins are coming off a poor performance against the Atlanta Falcons from stud rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, who will play despite a slight concussion last week. I expect RGIII to be back to his old magic, throwing and running for touchdowns, while improving the Redskins to 3-3.
Houston 31 Green Bay 28
This is the game of the week without a doubt. You've got the Texans, who have won nine in a row and are probably the best team in the league so far this season, playing last year's best team in the NFL, who is 2-3 and absolutely desperate for a victory. I'd be surprised if this doesn't turn into a shootout but the loss of veteran Cedric Benson (not a good running back but still the best one the Packers had) for the season won't help the Packers at all. I'm expecting a steady dose of Matt Schaub and Arian Foster to take down the Packers in overtime.
San Diego 31 Denver 27
Here's a game that will obviously have major implications on the AFC West division title. The Chargers are 3-2, and the Broncos are 2-3, with losses to three pretty legitimate teams: the Atlanta Falcons, the Houston Texans, and the New England Patriots. I think Peyton Manning will rise to the occasion in a game that is pretty much a must-win, but I'm expecting Philip Rivers to throw for 350 yards and four touchdowns in a shootout.