NFL Week 13 Predictions: Patriots vs. Packers

I had this big Patriots-Packers matchup circled months ago as I was going to do an article I started in summer 2012 about Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. It’s one of only a few articles in my files that I started without finishing a full draft. This was going to be a very eye-opening piece that I still expect to complete at some point. Missing from my plans was the fact that Week 13 was Thanksgiving week, so that put a damper on my hopes of generating a lot of discussion over my article with the holiday. Throw in the fact that I’m experiencing pain in the bottom right side of my body every time I move and I haven’t been able to do much at all this week.

What I will do is provide some thoughts on this important game which should have major playoff implications. After Sunday, I’m not sure either team will lose another regular-season game this year. 

Coaching – The Patriots are believed to have a big advantage with Bill Belichick matching wits with Mike McCarthy, who still rarely gets credit as one of the best coaches in the league. Also, Dom Capers and his 3-4 defense havea lot in common with Dick LeBeau’s system, which Belichick and Tom Brady have picked apart better than anyone. I’m inclined to agree with all of that, but I know in 2010 McCarthy took his team with Matt Flynn at QB and played very well in Foxboro. At a time when the Patriots were blowing everyone out, the Packers only lost 31-27. A few tactical errors did doom them, such as a short kickoff late in the first half that a NE lineman returned for 71 yards. In the fourth quarter, McCarthy chickened out on a 4th-and-1 at the NE 1 and kicked a field goal for a 27-21 lead. Has McCarthy improved as a decision maker, especially in close games? I wouldn’t say  he has, but he’s better than most of the coaches the Patriots have faced this year.

The Quarterbacks – You may have heard five million times already this is the first start between Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. I was listening to Sterling Sharpe and the NFL Playbook crew break down the matchup and found their takeaways to be intriguing and accurate. Basically, they said Rodgers just has to show up and be himself, which means making great throws into tight coverage to beat those NE cornerbacks. For Brady, they talked about how he’ll take advantage of your mistakes, especially in the red zone and with breakdowns in coverage that leave guys wide open like Tim Wright on just about every touchdown he has this year.

In layman’s terms, Rodgers can credit a higher percentage of his success to his own greatness while Brady benefits more from schematic advantages.

In caveman terms, Rodgers succeeds by being great and Brady succeeds because the opponent fucked up.

That might sound harsh, but I can’t really disagree with it. That’s a big part of the reason I never bought into Brady being the “best” because you rarely see him make the tough plays. There are throws that Rodgers can routinely make that Brady and just about every other QB in the NFL simply can’t make. When pressured, we know Rodgers will take more sacks because he’s really cautious to not throw picks, but he’s still much better than Brady at making something out of nothing. He has the better individual tools for the position.

But the question is which quarterback will have to do more to win this game? That should be Rodgers, because I think he’s playing the tougher defense. Forget the early-season results. The Patriots held Denver and Indianapolis, two of the best offenses in the league, to 21 and 20 points. Rodgers has gone from having the deepest receiving corps in the NFL to basically playing catch with Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb, yet he’s still playing like a MVP this year. He’ll have to play at a high level to consistently beat Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner in coverage with those receivers. I think Nelson is more dangerous and so much of his success comes near the sideline by adjusting to throws from Rodgers where only Nelson can get the ball. Revis will have studied this, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see if they play the size matchups and Revis sees a lot of the faster Cobb. But if the Patriots are winning these matchups, then Green Bay could be in trouble due to a lack of production from tight end and other receivers.

The Running Game – I didn’t even consider the running game in Patriots-Colts, because NE didn’t show any real consistency in that area this season. Of course, the RB position was critical and the Colts made Jonas Gray a star for one night. Of course, the Patriots are the only team in NFL history who would have a guy go off for 200 yards and 4 TD and not even play the following week to teach him a lesson. I have no idea if Gray will contribute this week or if the reacquired LeGarrette Blount will get most of the action. Eddie Lacy has been anything but consistent for GB this year, but he’ll need to have a decent impact. His receiving has been a huge benefit lately, but rarely do you see a Belichick-coached defense look so pathetic on a screen or tackling the way the Bears and Eagles have in recent weeks against GB.

For the year the Patriots have done a better job of stopping the run. A big part of containing the Broncos and Colts was holding those offenses to pathetic rushing numbers. If Lacy has 10 carries for 23 yards, I can promise you the Patriots will win this game decisively. I expect better than that, but I also expect the Patriots to have a better rushing day to help complement Brady’s passing.

Home-field Advantage – It’s good for Green Bay the game is at Lambeau, because they have been landing fatalities before halftime there this season. The problem is they’ve done it against a bunch of weak teams except for the Eagles, who still don’t match up as well as the Patriots can. There’s a pretty big step up in competition here for Green Bay. Still, this is one of the toughest road tests for the Patriots in years, and Indy game be damned, they rarely pass these tests anymore. Keep in mind the Patriots had a bye week to prepare for that Indy game where they went unorthodox by utilizing a sixth offensive lineman to much success in the running game. These are fairly unfamiliar opponents, though I’m not sure that benefits or hurts either team too much after a normal week to prepare. Belichick was playing against a Peyton Manning offense for the 23rd time this year. He was facing the Colts for the 12th season in a row. Did that experience help with those performances? Maybe. I’m just trying to figure out how Geno Smith and the Jets had more offensive success than those teams, and if the Packers are added to that list, then I’m going to be even more confused.

Close Game? – Speaking of first-half fatalities, these teams aren’t playing close games this year at all. They each only have one 4QC/GWD opportunity and both were in Miami. The Packers are 1-0 at 4QC/GWD opportunities, which is stunning since they have three losses. That means they were beaten thoroughly, which is unusual. The Patriots are 0-1 at 4QC/GWDs, because they got their asses kicked in Kansas City and have mostly blown teams out since then. If you want to see a classic shootout between these quarterbacks, you’re probably going to be disappointed. This is more likely to be a rout the Patriots haven’t seen since Drew Brees destroyed them in 2009, or it could be a stomping the Packers haven’t taken under Rodgers since the 2012 Giants made us think they were prepared for another run.

Gronkowski Factor – He’s regained his status as the best TE in the NFL, but Gronkowski can have a big impact without even touching the ball now. Defenses are so afraid of him they’ll allow other guys (like Wright) to get open and Brady has no problem picking out the open guy. Gronk’s actually been held under 80 yards the last two weeks, yet NE continued to score 34-42 points. His touchdown against the Colts, as impressive as it was, came with the game basically decided already. So you can hold down Gronk to respectable numbers, but that doesn’t mean you’ll stop the Patriots. They have too many ways to succeed, and that’s the overall theme I’ve been driving towards with this matchup. Hell, Brady didn’t even average 6.6 YPA against Denver (6.28) or Detroit (6.59), yet the Patriots won by 22+ points. If it’s not Gronk’s amazing catch radius or taking advantage of a poor run defense, you get the defense setting up short fields with takeaways or Julian Edelman making a monster punt return. Did I mention the Patriots are better on special teams? Brandon LaFell has also really come on during this run as a trustworthy third receiver and I wouldn’t be shocked if he outproduced Cobb and Nelson on Sunday. I’m assuming his injury wasn’t a big deal at the end of last week’s game.

Rodgers is certainly having more of a MVP season than Brady, and he could take a significant lead in that race with a brilliant performance here. But it’s also for that reason — needing one player to do more to succeed — that I think the Patriots, the more complete team, get this win.

Final prediction: Patriots 33, Packers 24

NFL Week 13 Predictions

Should the Broncos be worried if Julius Thomas doesn’t play on Sunday night? I don’t think so. Last week’s dominant offensive display was done without Thomas, as was last year’s 35-28 win in Arrowhead. In both games Virgil Green played over 70% of the snaps to give Denver better blocking. While I think the Chiefs will come out strong looking to make up for the Oakland loss and rally around the terrible Eric Berry news, I still think Denver will score enough to get the win. Hopefully this game and NE-GB will live up to the hype, because Thanksgiving really sucked. I picked Detroit, Dallas and Seattle, so there’s a 2-1 start.

Winners in bold:

  • Redskins at Colts
  • Browns at Bills
  • Saints at Steelers
  • Raiders at Rams
  • Giants at Jaguars
  • Chargers at Ravens
  • Titans at Texans
  • Panthers at Vikings
  • Bengals at Buccaneers
  • Cardinals at Falcons
  • Patriots at Packers
  • Broncos at Chiefs
  • Dolphins at Jets

Heavy on the road teams late in the week, I guess.

Season Results

  • Week 1: 8-8
  • Week 2: 9-7
  • Week 3: 11-5
  • Week 4: 8-5
  • Week 5: 11-4
  • Week 6: 9-5-1
  • Week 7: 10-5
  • Week 8: 10-5
  • Week 9: 11-2
  • Week 10: 10-3
  • Week 11: 8-6
  • Week 12: 12-3
  • Total: 117-58-1

NFL Week 12 Predictions

I’m having some health issues this weekend, so no preview. Just the picks.

NFL Week 12 Predictions

I thought the Raiders had a decent shot at their first win of the season, but I still went with the Chiefs on TNF.

Winners in bold:

  • Packers at Vikings
  • Browns at Falcons
  • Bengals at Texans
  • Lions at Patriots
  • Jaguars at Colts
  • Buccaneers at Bears
  • Titans at Eagles
  • Cardinals at Seahawks
  • Rams at Chargers
  • Dolphins at Broncos
  • Redskins at 49ers
  • Cowboys at Giants
  • Jets at Bills
  • Ravens at Saints

I’ve built up enough pain tolerance to add a few one-liners.

Bengals at Texans – I don’t even trust Cincinnati in their playoff house of horrors, but I think Ryan Mallett makes more mistakes against a better defense this week.

Lions at Patriots – Forget Gray and Blount, the Patriots will use the passing game to build the lead and the Lions won’t be able to catch up on the road.

Cardinals at Seahawks – We saw some bad throws from Drew Stanton last week, but Detroit didn’t capitalize the way Seattle will at home. Should be low scoring and tight.

Rams at Chargers – Don’t sleep on another St. Louis upset if the pass rush can get after Philip Rivers, who apparently is hurting and didn’t look sharp last week at home against Oakland.

Dolphins at Broncos – Bad matchup for the Broncos to get back on track, but at least it’s a home game where they’re e 5-0 against five winning teams this year and play much better offensively.

Ravens at Saints – Reminder: Drew Brees has 40 TD, 3 INT in his last 11 home prime-time games. I think he’ll get his first win against Baltimore (0-3; the only team he has never beaten) in perhaps his last career opportunity.

Season Results

  • Week 1: 8-8
  • Week 2: 9-7
  • Week 3: 11-5
  • Week 4: 8-5
  • Week 5: 11-4
  • Week 6: 9-5-1
  • Week 7: 10-5
  • Week 8: 10-5
  • Week 9: 11-2
  • Week 10: 10-3
  • Week 11: 8-6
  • Total: 105-55-1

NFL Week 11 Predictions: 4th-and-2, Take Two

Five years ago today Bill Belichick gambled on a fourth-and-2 in Indianapolis and the rest is history.

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It’s only fitting that tomorrow night the Patriots return to Lucas Oil Stadium for the first time since that classic finish in what is a crucial game for the AFC. While much has changed in five years, the Patriots still come in with a dangerous team that has opened up leads of 17, 28, 35 and 21 points on the Colts in the last four meetings in Foxboro.

That’s why I think home-field advantage is very important here and I wrote about that specifically in our preview at Football Outsiders.

For the Colts to win they must control the game with their offense: ball security, third-down conversions and touchdowns in the red zone. Andrew Luck has done a great job of spreading the ball in a high-volume, high efficiency attack that’s helped the Colts lead the league in scoring. The Colts lead the league with six wire-to-wire wins (never trailed), so they are very pass happy this year. Yet I still think this will follow the script of so many previous Pats-Colts games in that the Patriots will jump out to a big lead while capitalizing on Indy mistakes and Luck will have to lead a second-half comeback, which he of course is very capable of doing. The Colts have had 18-point comeback wins in both games following their bye week under Luck and both teams are coming off the bye for this one, which is a scheduling quirk that needs to die right away.

Luck has to bring his A-game, because if his accuracy is off the Patriots will tip balls and create turnovers. The cornerbacks will be physical with the receivers. I think T.Y. Hilton’s speed could work against Darrelle Revis, but I think Brandon Browner may lock down the older, slower Reggie Wayne. At least one of the tight ends and Ahmad Bradshaw need to have really good games for the Colts, who I think need a minimum of 35 points to win in what should be a high-scoring game, even if it’s not a traditional shootout. Luck will have to throw for 350+ again. If the Week 2 Luck (vs. Philadelphia) shows up, the Colts are toast.

The Patriots have too many advantages on the offensive side of the ball to not have a big scoring night. When Rob Gronkowksi is on like he’s been, there’s really no stopping him. The Colts’ best defender is Vontae Davis, but if he’s locked up with Brandon LaFell, the Patriots won’t have any problem with LaFell getting three catches for 30 yards, because they’ll just feed Gronkowski and Julian Edelman over the middle of the field against the linebackers and safeties. The Colts are 29th in DVOA against tight ends and 32nd against running backs, so watch out for Shane Vereen as a receiver too. I don’t think Davis can cover Gronk. I’m not even sure he can shut down Edelman based on the 2013 AFC Divisional matchup I took a quick look at here.

To beat Tom Brady is to pressure him. The Robert Mathis-less Colts couldn’t get pressure on Peyton Manning and Ben Roethlisberger and they were shredded in those games. The Colts have to blitz to get pressure. Brady will succeed against the blitz more often than not, but the Colts still have to try because he’ll have all day to carve them up with three and four-man rushes. If you concede the Patriots are going to score a lot and you expect to score a lot too, then maybe a blitz-happy approach isn’t the dumbest plan to have for Chuck Pagano. All it takes is a few well-timed pressures to turn a drive into a punt or field goal instead of a touchdown. The Colts will need a few of those stops, particularly on third down and in the red zone.

It’s a fun matchup. We may see it again in January. Maybe I’m just dreaming, but I can see this being a game where everyone wants to crown the Patriots at halftime, but by the end of the night it’s another Luck-led comeback. Maybe this time Belichick punts on fourth-and-2 and Luck just goes the 75 yards anyway. He’s about due for a GWD. But I know better than to pick against the Patriots when they’re on a run like this and I think Gronkowski will be the difference.

Final prediction: Patriots 35, Colts 31

The Other Big Ones

We do have three other games this week between teams with at least a 6-3 record, making this a historic week in terms of the schedule.

Seahawks (6-3) at Chiefs (6-3) – Does Seattle struggle in early starts on the road? We saw them down 21-3 in St. Louis earlier this year. The Chiefs were fantastic on MNF against the Patriots in Arrowhead and have some favorable matchups here with Brandon Mebane (IR) and Bobby Wagner out. Expect a ton of rushing from both teams and even from both quarterbacks. Russell Wilson and Alex Smith are also throwing short a lot this year, which is nothing new for Smith, but has been a change for Wilson. So this game could be low on possessions unless both defenses play really tough. Travis Kelce needs to be fed Andy. I’m feeling the Chiefs at home, which would hardly be the most surprising outcome of the season for either team so far.

Eagles (7-2) at Packers (6-3) – Another very important game with Green Bay currently not slotted for a postseason spot. Losing another head-to-head game to a team likely to be contending with them would be tough, but I think home-field again wins out with Aaron Rodgers playing great and Mark Sanchez likely to make some mistakes in trying to keep up. I’d trust the Eagles more if the running game was like last year, but even with the offensive line in better shape they’re more reliant on the passing game. Sanchez was 2-19 with the Jets when NY allowed more than 24 points. I expect that to be 2-20 this time tomorrow.

Lions (7-2) at Cardinals (8-1) – Yeah, like you saw these teams battling for first place in the NFC in Week 11. I think the Lions should win the game, but their history is really making me want to pick Bruce Arians at home. In theory, Detroit’s defense should contain the running game and force Drew Stanton to carry the offense. Stanton will want to throw deep, which takes time to set up, which means Ndamukong Suh and company should get a good pass rush on him and create mistakes. Arizona will also shut down the run, but Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate are capable of making plays against Patrick Peterson and Antonio Cromartie. Matthew Stafford should outplay Stanton, but again, when do we see the Lions excel in these moments?

Remember this table? Stafford is 0-14 on the road against teams who finish the year with a winning record.

Staff9

I think it will be low scoring and close. The Lions have pulled off three straight 4QC/GWD in the final minutes. The Cardinals are 8-0 at upholding one-score leads in the fourth quarter. Something has to break here.

I’m definitely keeping an eye on the home teams in these big games. Discarding the now 5-5 Bills, there have been 38 games played in 2014 between teams who currently have a winning record. The home team is a staggering 28-10 (.737). As the mention of Buffalo shows, what constitutes a winning team in the early stages of Week 11 is not set in stone. If we look at regular-season games between teams finishing with winning records in recent years, we find the following home winning percentages: 24-15 (.615) in 2013, 33-13 (.717) in 2012, 19-16 (.543) in 2011, 25-17 (.595) in 2010 and 29-19 (.604) in 2009. So this season with its unusually high number of teams above .500 (17 entering the weekend) could end up well above average for home dominance.

NFL Week 11 Predictions

I hesitated on TNF, but I did have Miami solving the Buffalo puzzle, which reads “NO PLAYOFFS AGAIN” when you complete it.

Winners in bold:

  • Buccaneers at Redskins
  • Bengals at Saints
  • Falcons at Panthers
  • 49ers at Giants
  • Seahawks at Chiefs
  • Texans at Browns
  • Vikings at Bears
  • Broncos at Rams
  • Raiders at Chargers
  • Eagles at Packers
  • Lions at Cardinals
  • Patriots at Colts
  • Steelers at Titans

Looking for the Bears and Panthers to show some pride at home against flawed division rivals after last week’s prime-time embarrassments. I think the Rams might sack Peyton Manning a few times, but he could torch them for 400 yards and four touchdowns. Though we’ll see if Shaun Hill does anything different for the offense. Before his first start, I’m on the record as thinking Ryan Mallett sucks, so I don’t expect much from him tomorrow (or ever).

I was going to write something about the Steelers this week, but too much aggravation after last week’s loss to the Jets. There’s really nothing new to say. This is what the Steelers do on the road against inferior competition, and look what’s on the schedule this week. However, I’m sure this is the game where the lousy rookie QB (Zach Mettenberger) will make just enough mistakes to allow for an unimpressive Pittsburgh win.

Season Results

  • Week 1: 8-8
  • Week 2: 9-7
  • Week 3: 11-5
  • Week 4: 8-5
  • Week 5: 11-4
  • Week 6: 9-5-1
  • Week 7: 10-5
  • Week 8: 10-5
  • Week 9: 11-2
  • Week 10: 10-3
  • Total: 97-49-1

NFL Week 10 Predictions: 2014 Midseason Awards

Now that every team has played at least eight games, here are my picks for NFL awards at the midseason point. Unlike some ridiculous experts who decided to make their choices based on what they expected in August, I’m basing my picks on what actually happened in Weeks 1-9.

Most Valuable Player – Peyton Manning

By definition MVP almost has to be a quarterback, and there are some really good seasons in progress right now, but Manning has outclassed them all so far.

Manning leads the league in:

  • DVOA (35.5%) and DYAR (962) (see FO)
  • Total QBR (86.9)
  • Adjusted Net Yards per Attempt (8.69)
  • Touchdown pass percentage (7.8%)
  • Win Probability Added (2.99)
  • Expected Points Added per Play (0.32)

Otherwise, not much going on here. Andrew Luck is barely beating him out in EPA and TD passes, but he’s also played one more game than Manning, which will equal out this week with the Colts on a bye.

Plain and simple, no quarterback has been more consistently valuable this season than Manning. Philip Rivers is on a three-game losing streak that has buried him in the race, which he really never led in my view. Aaron Rodgers has been great, but his three road losses certainly look worse than Manning’s two, especially the respective efforts in Seattle. Ben Roethlisberger has been white hot the last two weeks, but he scored a total of 26 points in Baltimore, Jacksonville and Cleveland this year. It’s nice of the Chiefs to light a fire under Tom Brady’s ass, but that September start leaves him well behind the lead.

Offensive Player of the Year – DeMarco Murray

While I’m really starting to warm up to Antonio Brown for this award, let’s take a chance to reward Murray’s consistency at a position that has been so neglected in recent years. Eight 100-yard rushing games to start a season is a heck of a record to set in 2014, and it’s helped to keep that Dallas defense off the field. Now if only he’d stop fumbling.

Defensive Player of the Year – J.J. Watt

Is this one already wrapped up? Who else even stands out? While WPA is a pretty flawed stat when used for defensive players, I like that it says Watt is so far and away the best DE in the NFL. His WPA in 2012 was 3.20 and 2.32 last season. He’s already at 2.22 this season with seven games to go. He impacts the game in so many ways and he’s done it this year with virtually zero help from Jadeveon Clowney, which was supposed to be the plan.

Coach of the Year – Bruce Arians

I said BA had a death grip on this award after Week 8 and some Dallas fans weren’t too pleased with that. Well, he proved it again last week with a convincing win in Dallas after Jason Garrett spent the week playing an injured Romo in OT and getting away from DeMarco Murray with Brandon Weeden in the game. Arians has been COTY material for the last three years now. He does it by being aggressive on both sides of the ball and getting the most out of his flawed teams. Imagine if the Cardinals had Darnell Dockett, Daryl Washington and John Abraham on defense this year. They’ve held everyone but Denver under 21 points without those guys so far.

The Arizona Cardinals have the best record in the entire NFL at 7-1. That fact alone is worthy of the award.

Offensive Rookie of the Year – Zack Martin

I like some of the rookie WRs, but wish the best ones (Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Kelvin Benjamin) had better QB play to show off their skills more. And I guess the Steelers waited too long to get Martavis Bryant involved for him to be in the discussion, though keep catching TDs every week and we’ll see come December. So for now let’s just go with the boring choice of Martin, a guard who was like the final piece of the puzzle to Dallas’ high-resource cost OL.

Defensive Rookie of the Year – Anthony Barr

This definitely looks headed to a linebacker, whether it’s Barr, C.J. Mosley or don’t forget Oakland’s Khalil Mack. I’m going with Barr for now based on impact plays, and few were better by a defender this year than his strip, recovery and return for a game-winning touchdown in overtime against Tampa Bay. I know one of Mosley’s interceptions was caught off a deflection this year, so I’m not terribly impressed with that one, but he’s working out as expected for Baltimore.

Comeback Player of the Year – Rob Gronkowski

Always hate this award with its goofy criteria, so let’s just go with the guy who tore his ACL in December and has returned to being the best TE in football, and arguably the toughest overall skill player to defend.

NFL Week 10 Predictions

I should know better than to trust the Bengals in a prime-time game with a division lead at stake, but since when am I supposed to trust the Browns too? Crazy year in the AFC North.

Winners in bold:

  • Falcons at Buccaneers
  • Cowboys at Jaguars
  • Chiefs at Bills
  • Steelers at Jets
  • 49ers at Saints
  • Dolphins at Lions
  • Titans at Ravens
  • Broncos at Raiders
  • Giants at Seahawks
  • Rams at Cardinals
  • Bears at Packers
  • Panthers at Eagles

I sure don’t trust the Falcons, but Mike Smith might be out of a job if he takes a bad loss in Tampa Bay here. Remember Week 3? It’s the last time the Falcons looked competent for more than three quarters.

Put the Steelers on upset alert in New Jersey. That’s exactly the kind of game they should win, which is exactly why it’s the kind of game they’ll make a nail biter and possibly lose. I didn’t pick them to lose, but I know Michael Vick has started three times against Pittsburgh and every game was decided on the final snap. Injuries on defense should allow for Vick to have some favorable matchups with the weapons available to him. Ben Roethlisberger will come back to Earth eventually and the Jets have a defensive line capable of helping in that.

Season Results

  • Week 1: 8-8
  • Week 2: 9-7
  • Week 3: 11-5
  • Week 4: 8-5
  • Week 5: 11-4
  • Week 6: 9-5-1
  • Week 7: 10-5
  • Week 8: 10-5
  • Week 9: 11-2
  • Total: 87-46-1

Had Colin Kaepernick scored last week I would be forever cursing the Chargers for that 37-0 ass-whipping straight out of The Twilight Zone for costing me a perfect week. Even if it was just 13-0, I want a perfect week at least once in my life.

NFL Week 9 Predictions: Manning vs. Brady Is Coke vs. Pepsi

Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are like Coke and Pepsi, the two biggest brands in the world.

You can appreciate both for what they are, but Coke (Manning) has always been better.

That’s my opinion and nothing I’ve seen in 14 years (and even longer on the Pepsi-Coke front) has been good enough to change my mind.

They meet for the 16th time on Sunday and I have already done a game preview at FO, so I implore you to read it if you haven’t yet.

There’s no denying this is the biggest game in the AFC this regular season. It usually is. The winner has had home-field advantage over the other except for the last two years. One of these quarterbacks has had the No. 1 seed in the AFC in eight of the last 11 seasons.

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Rarely does this rivalry bring out the best in each quarterback. Only about half of the games featured both quarterbacks playing very well. An even smaller number of meetings were actually decided by one of these quarterbacks.

Last year’s 34-31 overtime classic in Foxboro was a perfect example. In a 31-31 tie, these quarterbacks had a combined seven drives to put their team ahead, but neither could do so. The Patriots only won after Denver muffed a punt return at its own 15-yard line.

Manning hasn’t won in Foxboro since the 2006 game in which he played very well, but Brady threw four interceptions in his worst performance of the series. Manning’s worst game, the 2003 AFC Championship, saw him throw four interceptions, but Brady tried his hardest to match on a sloppy day.

When you look at the nine games in Foxboro, Manning-led teams are 2-7 and constantly shot themselves in the foot on every side of the ball. Sometimes it was in the most unlikely of ways. I got a copy of the first Brady-Manning game from 2001 and somehow Edgerrin James turned this low pass into a juggling interception for the Patriots:

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Remember the 2012 game with Denver? Demaryius Thomas fumbled in the red zone after a long gain. Danny Woodhead converted on the ground on a third-and-17 run. Manning lost  a fumble. In the fourth quarter, Willis McGahee single-handedly blew Denver’s comeback attempt by dropping a fourth-down pass and fumbling at the NE 11 with 3:42 to play.

The Brady-Manning game with some of the best quarterbacking from both was the 2004 season opener. In the fourth quarter, down 27-24 with 3:51 left, Edgerrin James fumbled at the 1-yard line on first down. Manning was later sacked by an unblocked Wilile McGinest and Mike Vanderjagt missed a 48-yard field goal with 19 seconds left.

Some have compared this week’s game to the 2005 meeting on Monday Night Football simply due to the alleged superiority of Manning’s team. That 2005 game was the biggest team advantage Manning’s ever had over Brady and it was a 40-21 beatdown. Both quarterbacks played at a high level, but the Colts were just too much for NE that night.

I don’t think the Broncos are that much better than the Patriots right now. It’s also not lost on me that in his five wins in the rivalry, Manning has thrown for a minimum of 321 yards and scored at least 26 points. Can he do both on Sunday? Sure, but it still feels like he’ll have to do both if Denver’s going to win. The teams aren’t uneven enough to expect he can get by with an average day.

If the game was in Denver it would probably be a comfortable win for the home team, but on Halloween weekend, I know Foxboro has been a house of horrors for Manning teams and Belichick will have Rob Gronkowski and Darrelle Revis at his disposal this time around.

Final prediction: Broncos 20, Patriots 24

NFL Week 9 Predictions

I cautiously picked the Saints on TNF, but they delivered on the road.

Winners in bold:

  • Cardinals at Cowboys
  • Redskins at Vikings
  • Chargers at Dolphins
  • Jets at Chiefs
  • Eagles at Texans
  • Jaguars at Bengals
  • Buccaneers at Browns
  • Rams at 49ers
  • Broncos at Patriots
  • Raiders at Seahawks
  • Ravens at Steelers
  • Colts at Giants

Whether it’s ailing Tony Romo or old-but-inexperienced Brandon Weeden, I’ve been big on Arizona this week. This should be the game where DeMarco Murray’s 100-yard game streak ends, but I get the feeling he’ll be force-fed the ball (30 carries if possible) because of the quarterback situation. But I like the aggressive Cardinals on the road in another tight one.

Speaking of tight ones, the Steelers and Ravens should get back to a usual 3-point outcome this week. I think the big hit Ben Roethlisberger suffered at the start of the Week 2 game threw him off that night and the Steelers are playing much better now. I like them to win 23-20 here. Roethlisberger’s stats might be cut in half after last week, but 260 yards and 3 TD sounds more than adequate against Baltimore without Jimmy Smith at CB.

Season Results

  • Week 1: 8-8
  • Week 2: 9-7
  • Week 3: 11-5
  • Week 4: 8-5
  • Week 5: 11-4
  • Week 6: 9-5-1
  • Week 7: 10-5
  • Week 8: 10-5
  • Total: 76-44-1