You’ve heard it several times among NFL analysts, gridiron goers and even the players themselves. . . “It’s a Passing League”. But as we dive in to the NFL Week Eight installment of the Match-Up Mania, it’s hard to identify top tier teams who can’t claim at least some success in the run game. The undefeated Carolina Panthers are just one of a few teams in the no-loss legion and their mantra on offense is clearly run first. The New York Jets are a much improved team that nearly handed the New England Patriots their first loss with a mighty defense and Chris Ivory stampeding down the field like a herd of elephants. The left-for-dead Dolphins interim Head Coach Dan Campbell is impressing the Phins faithful with his first two games bringing in yards rushing via Lamar Miller who was previously seen on the back of milk cartons as a missing person. Lastly, The St.Louis Rams are coming back into contention with the rise of their rookie runner Todd Gurley as they can still compete in the difficult NFC West. In tribute to Gurley’s grinding the past couple of weeks, I show probably the single best football themed commercial I’ve ever seen that features former Ram great, Stephen Jackson.
Sure, there a plenty of other teams that feature fleet footed forces carrying the rock. But I had to leave something for the rest of the MuM. Let’s get to it. . .
Bengals v. Steelers
If Landry Jones is the starter again for Pittsburgh, this game will be appropriately timed for Halloween as it will be scarier for the young third-string quarterback than any horror movie. Geno Atkins, Rey Maualuga, Domata Peko, Leon Hall. . . I get shivers just thinking about it. However, it could be the Bengals defense who is afraid if Big Ben Roethlisberger returns. As they fight and claw to bring Ben down, he’ll just keep moving like a man possessed. But the Super Bowl winning passer isn’t the only threat and the Bell will toll if Cincy over commits to the pass. Le’Veon Bell has made a career on defenses paying for thinking too much about Roethlisberger throwing down the field.
If Andy Dalton plays like the Red Rifle he has been this season with Giovanni Bernard’s ground support and fires silver bullets that slay the beastly Steeler defense, this will be a game so close that you could scream. With Ben still knocking off rust from recovering from his knee injury, I see the Bengals leaving him with nightmares from this outing and moving on to a killer 7-0 record.
Packers v. Broncos
It’s not often that the season’s midpoint brings you a battle of undefeated teams. This pairing is definitely an odd couple that are about as dissimilar in their make up as Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
The Packers are a model squad whose makeup features the artful grace of a balanced offense led by the NFL’s best current quarterback in Aaron Rodgers and also featuring running back Jacob Lacey. Rodgers crafts his jewels into the fixture known as the end zone. Conversely, Peyton Manning is a fading field general whose offense can do just enough to win so long as the defense dominates his opponents. It usually helps when Ronnie Hillman racks up run yards to keep the clock running and his defnsive teammates resting.
By now the story of Manning’s age appropriate play as a 39 year old with four surgeries is old news. But with the Broncos coming off of a bye week that gave him and pass rushing power house Demarcus Ware time to recover as Green Bay travels to the Mile High. With this in mind, a Packer victory might be a touch less of a foregone conclusion.
At the end of the day, the X-Factor is the Cheesehead defense. Green Bay has helped with the Packers’ success keeping teams below the awesome scoring power of their offense. But with Rodgers and crew trying to pin points off a stalwart Denver ‘D’, they’ll need to deliver just as they have in the previous six games of this season. And with as limited as the Broncos offense as looked, I think they will.
Giants v. Saints
Both teams got the ‘W’ in Week Seven, and I understand that is the weekly goal for any football franchise from Pop Warner to professional. But as far as inspiring confidence doing it, that is something completely different. When I evaluate whether playoff hopes are alive for either squad, I think I’m bit like this parrot owner — it’s tough to convince me they are still alive.
Will Eli Manning go insane with interceptions or will Drew Brees sail his passes off target? Will Mark Ingram tear it up in the ground game for New Orleans or will New York rookie Orleans Darkwa be the ‘new Orelans’ who finds success? This much is true — whoever loses this game hurts their conference record and Wild Card seeding tiebreaks. They may find their playoff chances will ‘cease to be’.
I’m picking the Saints to win as it makes the most sense so many people exclaiming, ‘God knows’ when trying to predict this contest.
Bucs v. Falcons
I set this game right here for the trap potential. We all know by now that Matt Ryan has led Atlanta to single loss status slinging the ball to Julio Jones or handing it to Devonta Freeman. But last week the Falcons played down to their opposition yet again sneaking past the terrible Tennessee Titans by a measly three points.
Yes, the Bucs gave up and lost a 24-0 lead to the Redskins and were buried earlier in the year by the aforementioned Titans. But this is a divisional game. . . This only adds to the factor of Atlanta flying dirty against lesser opponents.
I see rookie quarterback Jameis Winston with a chance to steal a win for this Tampa squad like a set of crab legs. And if “Matty Ice” melts this week as he did against Tennessee, he would be the grocery store manager to enable Winston’s effort. I make the jokes at Winston’s expense, but I’m sure of Tampa does win, you can bet running back Doug Martin will be listed as a key accomplice.
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