By: Dave Baker
Things change in the NFL. Change can come swiftly, like a devastating injury or a blockbuster trade, or change can occur gradually. With each passing week, it becomes more evident that a new class of superstar is rising. For as long as I’ve followed the NFL, Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning has been the league’s premier rivalry. If playoff elimination or a trip to the Super Bowl wasn’t on the line, fans were, at the very least, treated to a duel between two of the finest quarterbacks to ever play the game. That isn’t what I saw on Sunday afternoon. Sure, Peyton Manning looked like Peyton Manning, completing 31/44 passes for 345 yards and three touchdowns, but the rivalry has lost its edge. Sunday’s game between the New England Patriots and Denver Broncos displayed two teams on different paths. One team is finding its rhythm through veteran leadership and improved defense, the other, looks unsettled, inconsistent, and a little rusty. Peyton Manning is finding out just how far from Indy he is. Somewhere between Demaryius Thomas fumbling away a huge gain and Peyton picking himself up off the turf after a Rod Ninkovich sack, it became clear that Peyton Manning isn’t entirely acclimated to his new surroundings or his new teammates. The safety net of playing his entire career in the same city, building continuity and chemistry with the same teammates is a luxury Peyton doesn’t have in Denver. That showed in Foxborough and it will continue to show throughout the remainder of the season.
While Manning vs. Brady didn’t quite live up to its normal billing, Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts went 1928 on the Green Bay Packers and “won one for the Gipper,” in the most shocking upset of this young season. Andrew Luck isn’t playing like a rookie; he isn’t even playing like a journeyman. Andrew Luck is playing like what the Colts envisioned when they drafted him with the first overall pick: the heir to Peyton Manning. His surgical drive for the game winning touchdown and two-point conversion displayed the talent and poise the most sought after prospect since John Elway possesses. Upending the mighty Packers in such fashion begs the question of when, and how quickly, Andrew Luck will take that next step toward elite status. For quarterbacking a team completely void of talented playmakers, Ryan Tannehill continues to show flashes of serious potential, along with this overachieving Dolphins team that’s managed to keep themselves in every game they’ve played. RG III can run all over creation, but he’ll likely get himself killed before he makes his first Pro Bowl. Embrace the slide, kid. As for Russell Wilson, I don’t like him. I don’t care if Bill Simmons things he’s the second coming; I don’t like Russell Wilson, I’m not going to like Russell Wilson, you can’t make me.
The game America will be watching
Sunday, 10/14 8:20 ET
Green Bay Packers @ Houston Texans
Things America thought they’d never say: 1) A Mormon is going to be President 2) Obese rednecks in beauty pageants is reality TV gold and 3) the Green Bay Packers are 2-3, two games behind the 4-1 Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings. That’s right, the fucking Minnesota Vikings. Coming into the season, NFL analysts labeled the NFC North the most competitive division in football, featuring two playoff teams in the Packers and Detroit Lions, a loaded Bears squad that added wide receiver and Brandon Marshall and running back Michael Bush, and a Vikings team that couldn’t possibly play worse than their 3-13 record in 2011. So far in this young season, balance is the key to success in the NFC North. The Vikings have it, playing simple, mistake-free football behind second-year QB Christian Ponder. After a 7-sack-four-pick thrashing at Lambeau, the Bears offense is establishing a rhythm and their defense is forcing takeaways like its 2006. The Lions “are who we thought they were,” an undisciplined one-dimensional team, leaving the Packers. Granted, Green Bay should be 3-2, but they aren’t. They are 2-3 and sitting at third place in the division. They uncharacteristically blew a late lead to the Colts in one of the more memorable games in recent memory, and now face the task of avoiding a two game losing streak against the Houston Texans. They may be a little shorthanded, too. Running back Cedric Benson suffered a Lisfranc foot injury, sidelining him eight weeks, in addition to defensive tackle B.J. Raji and tight end Jermichael Finley being listed as questionable for the Sunday Night game at Reliant Stadium. With no ground game to speak of, the pass-happy Packers will have to find a way to keep their season from snowballing on them. And if any team is going to put them in an early hole it’s the Houston Texans.
At 5-0, the Texans look like straight bullies. Arian Foster already has 532 rushing yards on the year. Matt Schaub is engineering surgical drives and DE J.J. Watt has burst on to the scene with a league-leading 8.5 sacks. They are far and away the most complete team in football and while it may be too early to tell, this sure as hell looks like Houston’s year.
Players to watch: Packers LB Clay Matthews and Texans RB Arian Foster
It’s no secret: I hate the Packers. That hate only intensifies when Clay Matthews does that stupid fucking flex-monster sack celebration thing – way to ruin State Farm for me, dicks. An undersized linebacker coming into the league, Matthews has evolved from a high motor, overachiever, to a perennial Pro Bowler and one of the game’s best outside linebackers. His path to the NFL was unconventional. He only started one year on his high school football team. He walked-on at USC and went late in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft when Green Bay traded their second and third round picks to acquire him at 26th overall via a trade with New England. Matthews will be tasked with containing one of the league’s best running backs in Arian Foster, a man who overcame even greater adversity, fighting his way from the Texans practice squad to the field.
Prediction: Packers 23 Texans 20
The Texans haven’t been tested all season and I can’t see the Packers dropping two in a row – they’re too well coached and Aaron Rodgers is still the league’s best QB. It will be a close game, but the Packers will get back on track with a huge road win. Or maybe they won’t. I’m usually wrong about these things, but when it comes to the Packers the football gods hate me, so they’re win over Houston will likely ignite a 7 game winning streak. God I hate the Packers.
Games America won’t be watching but you should still give a shit about
Pittsburg Steelers @ Tennessee Titans
How did the Titans get this bad so quickly? First, QB Jake Locker goes down with an injury to his non-throwing shoulder, the guy who used to be Matthew Hasselback replaces him, and Chris Johnson forgets how to play football. “In college, I just ran fast and nobody caught me. This professional game is trickier – everybody’s fast here, man,” Johnson said. Of course, that’s only what we assume Johnson said. It’s impossible to understand him through that grill. Titans GM Ruston Webster has contacted Cornell “Nelly” Haynes Jr.’s people to set up a try out. The Titans front office is justifying this move based on his play in The Longest Yard. “We believe Nelly would make an excellent addition to our football. He has the speed and he knows the game. How do we know this? Because he was in that movie where this sort of thing happened once. That’s how,” head coach Mike Munchak told the Titans official website.
Prediction: Steelers 17 Titans 10
Kansas City Chiefs @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Bucs come off their bye week to face a reeling Kansas City team with Brady Quinn under center. Sounds awesome. Thankfully the Chiefs have the golden toe of Ryan Succop to keep them in games. I really hope Succop doesn’t Cassel it up. Cassel: it’s gonna be a thing.
Prediction: Bucs 14 Chiefs 13
Indianapolis Colts @ New York Jets
…Tebow…Tebow…Tebow…My screenplay, Gods and Quarterbacks, is an epic trilogy chronicling Tim Tebow’s rise from backup quarterback to King of America and Protector of the Realm. The second installment begins Sunday, when Tebow replaces the beleaguered Mark Sanchez and leads these Jets on improbable playoff run, while Skip Bayless smugly says “I told you so” every day for the next four months. The plot of the final chapter is far more complex, involving a holy war, Native American spirit guides, a Tallahassee dream sequence, Mila Kunis, Josh Hartnett, and a Super Bowl featuring a showdown between Tebow and the Anti Christ, Smokin’ Jay Cutler. Ridley Scott, get at me and let’s make millions.
Prediction: Colts 27 Jets 17
Cincinnati Bengals @ Cleveland Browns
GINGER FIGHT: PART DEUX!
Prediction: Bengals 31 Browns 20
Detroit Lions @ Philadelphia Eagles
If the Detroit Lions are trying to supplant Cincinnati as the NFL’s Most Undisciplined team, they are well on their way. Head coach Jim Schwartz has his team, especially the defense, completely buying into his philosophy of aviators, slicked back hair, and leather jackets. Schwartz frequently calls quarterback Matthew Stafford “Ponyboy,” and last night BVTSB sources reported that DT Nick Fairely made an ambiguous tweet about “settling it” with Eagles quarterback Michael Vick, running back LeSean McCoy, and Rube Foster after the game at a dirt lot with one street light in north Philadelphia. Rube Foster owns Libby’s Liquor Mart and Soup Kitchen, a north Philly staple, and when asked about his affiliation with the Eagles, McCoy simply said, “I don’t roll without Rubes.”
Prediction: Eagles 24 Lions 16
Oakland Raiders @ Atlanta Falcons
The Greatest Regular Season Team of all Time will remain the only undefeated team in the NFL, after they make quick work of the Oakland Raiders. RG III and the Redskins gave the Dirty Birds a scare, but regrouped once Kirk Cousins entered the game for the injured Griffin. Carson Palmer won’t fare much better.
Prediction: Falcons 38 Raiders 20
St. Louis Rams @ Miami Dolphins
Despite ending the Arizona Cardinals’ four-game winning streak, Rams head coach Jeff Fisher still couldn’t score an invite to Rod Fulton and Mad Dog McKeehan’s yearly hunting trip to Pohénégamook, Quebec. Using standard issue M-1 Garands, Fulton and Mad Dog hunt the endangered Canadian Lynx because, as Fulton explained, “Nature was too big a pussy to finish the job – like that Jeff Fisher. Now buy me another PBR, bitch.” Fulton couldn’t grasp the concept of a phone interview, and insisted I cover his bar tab for the night. I ended up wiring him $53. He’s incredibly persuasive, and an absolutely frightening human being.
Prediction: Dolphins 10 Rams 6
Dallas Cowboys @ Baltimore Ravens
Can Tony Romo rebound from a five-pick performance against the Chicago Bears? Probably, but it won’t be much prettier. Easy Ed Reed is a pure ball hawk that can score anytime he grabs an interception. After seeing Peanut Tillman and Lance Briggs of the Chicago Bears return two picks to the house last Monday night, the equally opportunistic Ravens defense will impose their will on a Cowboys’ offense in shambles. After a weak showing against the Chiefs, the Ravens’ offense looks to get back on track, which may prove difficult against the league’s best defender in Cowboys linebacker DeMarcus Ware.
Prediction: Ravens 13 Cowboys 10
Buffalo Bills @ Arizona Cardinals
This past offseason, the Bills acquired prized free agent DE Mario Williams to boost an otherwise nonexistent pass rush. The return hasn’t lived up to the $100 million deal. Williams has posted only 11 tackles and 1.5 sacks in five games. Coming off two embarrassing losses, the situation won’t improve for the Bills in the desert. Or perhaps they’ll rally and beat Kevin Kolb worse than the Rams did. After all, nobody circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills.
Prediction: Cardinals 20 Bills 13
New England Patriots @ Seattle Seahawks
I really hope Seahawks’ head coach Pete Carroll benches Russell Wilson for Matt Flynn. It’s nothing personal Russell Wilson; I’m just not that into you. Shit, does that make me racist?
Prediction: Patriots 41 Seahawks 7
New York Giants @ San Francisco 49ers
The San Francisco Chronicle spotted Niners’ head coach Jim Harbaugh enjoying casual drinks and a nice cheese spread with the lovely and irreplaceable Olivia Williams Manning, mother to Eli and Peyton. Eli, Jim Harbaugh has totally besmirched you. It has fallen on you to defend the family’s honor by whatever means necessary. If you must challenge him to a duel, then so be it. Though, I doubt that would end well. Harbaugh would likely get Navarro Bowman to champion him and that dude is fucking scary. On second thought, maybe you should just let this whole thing slide – I’m about 90 percent sure he’s never going to call Olivia again anyways.
Prediction: Niners 24 Giants 23
Minnesota Vikings @ Washington Redskins
Marshall Eriksen must be psyched his Minnesota Vikings are 4-1. With the Smokin’ Jay Cutler and the Super Best Friends on a bye week, the Vikings are presented with an opportunity to take sole possession of first place in the NFC North. Unfortunately for Redskin Nation, Kirk Cousins will be taking snaps in place of the injured RG III. Do the right thing, Mike Shanahan: put Sexy Rexy in.
Prediction: Vikings 16 Redskins 7
Denver Broncos @ San Diego Chargers
Poor Philip Rivers. The guy puts up monster numbers his entire career, but can’t escape being an afterthought in conversations concerning the league’s best quarterbacks. In a down year for the AFC West, Rivers could save his reputation and Norv Turner’s job with a deep playoff run. Rivers will have to get past Peyton Manning and the Broncos first, before they can even think playoffs.
Prediction: Broncos 28 Chargers 21