The 2009 NFL season has finally reached the midway point. We are eight games into the season and only two lone unbeaten teams remain. The Indianapolis Colts and New Orleans Saints look to be on path to a showdown in Miami. Last week featured a game bigger than the divisional showdown on paper. This week features another divisional showdown, not as big but just as important to the NFC East.
Last week, it was an NFC North rivalry that stole the show. This week’s marquee game features an NFC East rivalry. The Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys play the Sunday Night Game in a battle for NFC East supremacy. Both teams have showed glimpses of greatness and lapses in preparation, yet find themselves battling for first place. For the first time in many years, both teams come into Sunday’s game evenly matched in all facets of the game.
The Cowboys looked like an 8-8 team in the first few weeks of the season. The Cowboys became an immediate laughing stock after losing a last-minute game in Week 2 to the New York Giants. The one-win Kansas City Chiefs even took the Dallas Cowboys to overtime. Something happened to change the team and his name is Miles Austin. Austin emerged in the Kansas City game and has given the stagnant Dallas Cowboys offense new life. Teams are now starting to shift their game preparation to Austin like they did with T.O., which is now opening up the Dallas running game. The Cowboys have won three straight after opening up the season with a 2-2 record.
The last time these two teams met, the Eagles demolished the Cowboys at home in the last game of the 2008 NFL season. Even more impressive for Philadelphia Eagles fans was that it was a must-win game for a playoff spot. After coming a few points away from the Super Bowl, the birds struggled early this season. The birds won, but had some big hiccups on the offense and defense. If not for the disappointment in Oakland, the Eagles would be at 6-1 and would be included in conversations about the New Orleans Saints and Minnesota Vikings. This is a very hard Philadelphia Eagles team to predict from week to week.
Another good sign for Eagles fans, is that the Eagles have always finished strong under Andy Reid. Reid’s problem over his tenure has been starting hot. The Eagles usually miss some great opportunities early and have to either back in to the playoffs or miss them entirely. This year, they have one mistake and lost a game they probably should have lost. The Eagles are in a great position right now and have a pretty easy schedule for the rest of the season. As long as Donovan McNabb, DeSean Jackson, Asante Samuel, and Brian Westbrook stay healthy (big if), this team is almost surely a lock for the playoffs.
Tony Romo has always struggled against the birds. I think Andy Reid does a much better job of getting his team up for these games than old Wade does. The Eagles genuinely seem to come out with more emotion for these NFC East grudge matches. Andy Reid has won 7 of the last 9 against the Cowboys going back to 2000. I just don’t think the Cowboys are coming into this game with the same emotions that the Eagles will have. I am picking the Eagles in a close, yet high scoring game.
The Baltimore Ravens travel to Cincinnati for a showdown with the Bengals. I predicted a Ravens win earlier this season and was mistaken. This is a huge game for both teams, but more so for the Ravens. The Ravens would be a playoff lock in any other division but the one they play in. They need to beat the Bengals and Steelers at least once to have a shot at the playoffs. So far, the Ravens are winless against both teams and lost earlier this season to the Bengals.
The Bengals are no longer surprising anyone. This team is for real. I love their defense. Their defense is smash-mouth and hits very hard. It is everything Bengals fans were hoping that Marvin Lewis would bring to the team. Carson Palmer has been getting more comfortable by the week with the offense. Palmer and the Bengals had their best game yet before the bye week with a drubbing of the Chicago Bears. Palmer has 13 touchdowns this season, although the Ravens held him to one in Week 5. Cedric Benson is playing on another level this season. Even more impressive was his 120 yard game against the Ravens in Week 5.
The Ravens showed me a lot last week coming off of the bye week and handed the Denver Broncos their first loss. Not only that, the Ravens beat the Broncos 30-7 in what you call a “statement game.” The Ravens are hungry and the veterans know that this team has a small window of opportunity. I think the Ravens come out playing this game like it is their Super Bowl. Joe Flacco needs to play better than he did earlier this season against the Bengals. The Bengals picked him off and sacked him twice. I think this one is another close one with the Ravens edging the Bengals in the fourth-quarter.
Finally, the other marquee division showdown this weekend comes in the AFC South. The Houston Texans will look to be the first to hand their rivals, the Indianapolis Colts their first loss. No matter what the records are, these are usually close games. However, the Colts will be facing the most talented Texans team that they have faced since the rivalry began. The Texans are 5-3 and will bring in arguably the only offense on the Colts schedule with the potential to match them point-for-point for four quarters.
First and foremost, Gary Kubiak needs to start Steve Slaton and give him a lot of touches. Slaton had two great games against the Colts last season. The Colts are susceptible to the run, yet nobody has been able to exploit it long enough (other than the Dolphins who would subsequently get torched for seven). Would you believe it if I told you that Matt Schaub has more passing yards and more touchdowns than Peyton Manning? Well he does, and Schaub leads the entire NFL in those stats. That also comes a week after he didn’t score one touchdown against the Buffalo Bills.
The Colts have a very tough schedule coming up and it starts here. Peyton Manning and the Colts really haven’t been tested this season. This will be the test that tells you where the Colts stand among the elite teams. Manning will get his points, but can the defense stop the Texans from putting up four touchdowns? This has the potential to be one of the most fun games to watch all season. I am predicting a Colts win in a very tight, high-scoring game. I do think the teams will split this season, but the Colts just seem to be playing at such a high level right now that even the 5-3 Texans won’t be able to stop them.
Quick Hits – Arizona and Chicago is a real peculiar game. The Cardinals have a tremendous rushing defense, so Jay Cutler is going to have to do it in the air. If Denver can’t beat Pittsburgh on Monday night, there will be a lot of people saying, “I told you so.” Eli Manning plays the team he didn’t want to play for against the quarterback traded for him in Phillip Rivers. No motivation there right Chargers? Miami will try and fool the Patriots two years in a row with the Wildcat. The 49ers are in the unenviable spot of facing a very hungry and revamped Tennessee Titans. Welcome to the NFL Josh Freeman, you only have to play a very upset Green Bay Packers. Will all of these close games catch up to the Saints against Carolina?
Fantasy Fix – Steve Slaton. I wrote a lengthy piece about why I am sticking with Slaton and this will be a great example why. I have given you three great unlikely plays over the last few weeks. I gave you Tony Scheffler against the Chargers, Roddy White against the Saints, and Ricky Williams against the Saints. Slaton isn’t on anyone’s radar but this guy’s this week. Slaton had two great games against the Colts last year. The Texans are the only team with a strong enough passing game to run against the Colts. It sounded like Kubiak was trying to teach Slaton a one-week lesson in interviews this week. Don’t worry about losing time to Ryan Moats. If anything, the Texans want to get Slaton more involved than normal to get his confidence back up. I love Steve Slaton this week.
Vince Young – No I am not jumping on the bandwagon here, this is a matchup recommendation only. The early reputation that the 49ers had for being a great defense is long gone. They are being shredded on the ground which opens up a lot of opportunities for a guy like Vince Young. The 49ers are going to be too busy trying to stop Chris Johnson which will open up the passing game for Vince Young. I like, not love Vince Young a lot this weekend.
Michael Crabtree – I drafted him and traded him because I had other needs. That move may come back to bite me at some point. Crabtree has quietly had two weeks better than any NFL analyst on television ever predicted. All of these ex-wide receivers that said Crabtree would struggle didn’t count on Crabtree’s talent. He had 6 catches for 81 yards last week against the Jags. The Titans have been shredded in the air this season (see the Patriots game). The Titans are the worst passing defense in the entire league! I look for Crabtree to get a lot of looks and possibly his first touchdown this season.
Green Bay Packers – I wrote about the Packers in my waiver wire blog earlier this week. Some of you drafted the Giants or Titans are probably struggling with your defense. The Packers were available in most of my leagues on waivers or free agency. Josh Freeman will start his first NFL game against the Packers this weekend. The Packers defense has feasted on bad teams this season. The Packers have double-digits against all of them and you are in good shape if you can get double digits from your defense. Grab them on a one week play if you need a defense.
Ryan Grant – If there was ever a week to play Grant in November, it is this weekend. The Bucs are the 30th ranked defense against the run this season. They give up over 160 yards a game on the ground. I am a little dubious about Ahman Green eating into his carries, but not so much this Sunday. The Packers offense have rolled over bad teams this season and I’d expect a big lead going into the second half of the game. Look for Grant to get a lot of yards running out the clock in garbage time. I love him this week!
CamelClutchBlog.com Fantasy Football Standings
Dusty’s RedBellySpot 5-3 (Eric Gargiulo)
Havertown Spoilers 4-3 (Bryan Reigel)
Team We Own You 4-4 (Erik Espenberg)
Team Nuetral Zone 3-4 (Brett Clendaniel)
Team Wheelhouse Radio! 3-5 (Jeff Peck)
Team The Nice Guys 7-1 (Jeff Porrini)
…Not You!!! 6-2 (John Yomtov)
1st Place 3-5 (Derek Sabato)
The Kings of Krista 3-5 (Josh Usher)
Team Rowland 1-7 (Justin Rowland)
NFL Week 9 Picks!
I had my worst week yet going 6-7. I never expected the Eagles or the Titans to pull of those upsets. I am 74-42 overall on the season. Now for the NFL Week 9 Picks (Picks in BOLD) –
Washington Redskins vs Atlanta Falcons
Arizona Cardinals vs Chicago Bears
Baltimore Ravens vs Cincinnati Bengals
Houston Texans vs Indianapolis Colts
Miami Dolphins vs New England Patriots
Green Bay Packers vs Tampa Bay Bucs
Kansas City Chiefs vs Jacksonville Jaguars
Carolina Panthers vs New Orleans Saints
Detroit Lions vs Seattle Seahawks
Tennessee Titans vs San Francisco 49ers
San Diego Chargers vs New York Giants
Dallas Cowboys vs Philadelphia Eagles
Pittsburgh Steelers vs Denver Broncos
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