NFL Guru

September 26, 2009 7:12 PM

Never Too Early For Must-Wins

Here we are in Week 3 of the NFL season and already there are a handful of teams in precarious situations. Some of them were expected to be where they are while others are not at all where they wanted to be.

And while the tired cliche "Every game is a must-win," has been repeated around the league, it actually holds true in more than one case -- including the game I will be at tomorrow out here in beautiful San Diego between the Chargers and the Miami Dolphins.

So let's go down the list, shall we? Last week was the first time I have tried my hand at picking games and I have to say going 8-7 was a pleasant surprise. Remember, because of my affiliation with the Dolphins I cannot weigh in with a prediction on their game.

Tennessee at New York Jets -- The Titans most certainly did not expect to find themselves at 0-2 heading into the Meadowlands, even though they opened with the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. With the Colts at 2-0 and their disappointing loss to the Houston Texans last week, a division loss at that, puts the Titans in a must-win situation today. If Chris Johnson can continue run with authority and Tennessee's defense can get to Jets rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez more than New England did last week, Jeff Fisher will avoid dropping to 0-3. New York's defense is the real deal and Sanchez is getting that Matt Ryan/Joe Flacco swagger going, but here's where all those years of head coaching experience for Fisher will pay off against a rookie head coach in Rex Ryan.

Titans 20, Jets 14

Carolina at Dallas -- It could be argued that this is a must-win for both teams as the Cowboys can't afford to lose their perceived home field advantage at the mammoth new $1.1 billion Cowboys Stadium and deal with the wrath of owner Jerry Jones. They also can't afford to fall further behind the NFC East-leading New York Giants. Meanwhile, if Carolina wants to challenge the Atlanta Falcons and defend its NFC South crown, quarterback Jake Delhomme has to get over the yips and climb out of this turnover funk he's in. The running back tandem of Deangelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart has yet to really get untracked and Dallas did a decent job against the Giants' two big backs last Sunday. Marion Barber;s health and availability will be a key to how effective Tony Romo can be, but I just don't see Dallas dropping another one at home.

Cowboys 28, Panthers 17

Atlanta at New England -- Tom Brady and company know they could easily be 0-2 right now and way behind the 8-ball in the AFC East, and after getting victimized by a confident rookie quarterback in Mark Sanchez last week things only get tougher this week against the Falcons. Matt Ryan looks even more comfortable than he did last year while winning NFL offensive Rookie of the Year honors and running back Michael Turner is just warming up. The addition of tight end Tony Gonzalez has opened up all sorts of possibilities for that Atlanta offense and the defense is playing at a high level. It used to be tough to win at Gillette Stadium, but New England's defense looks very suspect and the Falcons are definitely for real, so I see them taking a stranglehold on the NFC South by improving to 3-0 with this win.

Falcons 31, Patriots 27

New York Giants at Tampa Bay -- Last Sunday night the entire nation saw the Eli Manning of two years ago who confidently led his Giants offense on a game-clinching drive in the closing minutes to win the Super Bowl and end New England's bid for a perfect season. The Bucs' defense is struggling to find an identity and with Cadillac Williams banged up again they don't have many options on offense. New York will stay unbeaten while the Bucs will remain winless and start looking ahead to 2010.

Giants 27, Bucs 10

Pittsburgh at Cincinnati -- The Steelers have not looked good in either of their first two games, despite Ben Roethlisberger's big passing performance in an overtime win over Tennessee in the opener and clearly miss safety Troy Polamalu on defense. The Bengals sense a chance to shake things up in the AFC North at home and have always played Pittsburgh tough, but knowing how important it is not to fall too far behind division-leading Baltimore, especially within the division, the defending champs will get things fixed today and avoid falling below .500.

Steelers 23, Bengals 14

Chicago at Seattle -- Last week's upset of Pittsburgh was just the confidence boost the Bears and new quarterback Jay Cutler needed, especially after dealing with the loss of linebacker Brian Urlacher for the season to a wrist injury. It is a long trip to the Pacific Northwest, but the Seahawks are a team without direction right now as Matt Hasselback is injured, and if Chicago can take the loud Qwest Field crowd out of the game early a win is in the cards.

Bears 21, Seahawks 6

Kansas City at Philadelphia -- All eyes will be on Lincoln Financial Field to see if Michael Vick will make an impact in the first game he is eligible to play in since being reinstated by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. The Eagles imploded last week at home against the New Orleans Saints after stifling Drew Brees in the first half, turnovers and blown coverages hurt them in the end and head coach Andy Reid will have then fired up and ready today against a not-so-good Chiefs squad.

Eagles 34, Chiefs 13

New Orleans at Buffalo -- The Saints offense is challenging the high-scoring records of the 2007 New England Patriots and Drew Brees, one year removed from becoming just the second quarterback to pass for more than 5,000 yards, is on pace to shatter Tom Brady's single-season record of 50 touchdown passes. But the Bills have a potent offense of their own behind Trent Edwards at quarterback and Terrell Owens, Lee Evans and Roscoe Parrish at wide receiver. I see this as the upset special of the weeks at Buffalo keeps pace with the Jets in the AFC East.

Bills 30, Saints 28

Jacksonville at Houston -- Not too much to say about this one. The Jaguars are struggling and the Texans looked like solid playoff contender last week behind Matt Schaub's four touchdown passes in a win over Tennessee. Add in the fact the game is being played at Reliant Stadium and Houston will be 2-1 after this game.

Texans 31, Jaguars 17

Cleveland at Baltimore -- The Ravens can create some space between themselves and the rest of the AFC North with a victory over the Browns in this heated rivalry between the team that moved away from Cleveland and its successors. Ray Lewis and the rest of Baltimore's defense will be a nightmare for Brady Quinn on the road and Joe Flacco will continue to air it out as head coach and John Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron grow increasingly more confident their young quarterback.

Ravens 24, Browns 7

San Francisco at Minnesota -- In a battle of unbeatens, the Vikings look to bounce back from a shaky performance against Detroit last week and improve to 3-0, while the Niners hope to move a step closer to grabbing control of the NFC West. Adrian Peterson is simply in that same zone other great running backs in the past have been in like LaDainian Tomlinson, Emmitt Smith and Barry Sanders and I don't see him slowing down today. With Frank Gore on the other side coming off of a 200-yard rushing effort last week, Peterson will want to one up him, and No. 4 will do enough again to compliment his great back, while the Viking top-ranked run defense will try to slow down Gore.

Vikings 28, 49ers 21

Denver at Oakland -- Another classic AFC West rivalry that his lost its luster in recent years. The Raiders are 1-1 and could easily be 2-0 but JaMarcus Russell did not have a great statistical day last week against Kansas City. Denver will move to 3-0 behind a productive day from quarterback Kyle Orton and company.

Broncos 17, Raiders 6

Washington at Detroit -- Maybe the Redskins can do better away from FedEx Field and the boos they heard from their home fans against an up-and-coming Lions team -- 0r maybe they are ripe for an upset. Detroit's rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford has taken a backseat to Mark Sanchez so far this season but I see this as his breakout game as the Lions end their 19-game losing streak and avoid staying alive in its unenviable quest to match Tampa Bay's record 26-game losing streak.

Lions 21, Redskins 20

Green Bay at St. Louis -- The Packers lost a tough one to Cincinnati last week and Aaron Rogers would like nothing better than to feast on a very suspect Rams secondary. Looking to keep pace with Minnesota and Chicago in the NFC North, Green Bay will improve to 2-1 with ease.

Packers 35, Rams 10

Indianapolis at Arizona -- Two of the most accurate quarterbacks in the history of the NFL will got toe-to-toe in the desert, and on paper Arizona's Kurt Warner has the slight edge with all three of his primary receivers -- Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston -- healthy. But Peyton Manning proved last Monday night in Miami that it doesn't matter who his receivers are, he is just as deadly from anywhere on the field and at any time. The odds of the Colts only holding the ball for less than 15 minutes again the entire game are slim to none, and if Manning and company could put up 27 points in that short amount of time, imagine what they can do with a normal time of possession. Look for the Colts to stay undefeated with a close victory.

Colts 31, Cardinals 28

Miami at San Diego -- The Dolphins have been in this same predicament each of the last four years after the first two weeks of the season, and they can look back at how they responded last year as evidence that there is no need to panic. San Diego is more banged up than just about any team in the league, with its starting center, nose tackle and running back all out for this game. Look for a lots of "Wildcat," maybe even some from San Diego, by the bay.

Dolphins vs. Chargers (No prediction. Explanation above)

Until next time, stay thirsty my friends.


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