NFL: Forty Niners Seek Win In Denver


Week seven of the NFL regular season is just a few days away now, and the weeks really are whizzing past us. As we approach the half way stage, the top teams are starting to pull away from the middle of the road wannabes and supposed dark horses. As we inch closer and closer to the crunch games at the end of the schedule, the top two sides in most divisions have some breathing room. The only divisions without a team with one win or less are the AFC North, which has four ultra-competitive sides, and the NFC North, where the Vikings are unlikely to make any huge comebacks this season. With each loss proving more and more costly for every side, let’s look ahead to the weekend’s games.

San Francisco Forty-Niners at Denver Broncos

This is the exact kind of opposition the Denver Broncos need to be facing. We all know that Peyton Manning and the Broncos are going to be heading to the playoffs. They will face a fight from the San Diego Chargers for the division title, but they will be playing in January. January has been the time of year when Denver has melted the last couple of times, though. With that sound Super Bowl trouncing still ringing in their ears, the Broncos re-upped their roster, with a view to matching up physically with the NFC powerhouses. They face one in Mile High this weekend, in a game that will tell us a lot about where they stand. Of particular interest will be the performance of their run stuffers up the middle. Denver weren’t that far ahead of the Jets last weekend, you know.

To continue the narrative, the San Francisco Forty-Niners are the kind of NFC powerhouse that the Broncos need to learn to beat. But what percentage of that long-time superpower will be in Denver this weekend? The Niners have been destroyed by injuries, particularly on defense. Patrick Willis is the latest member of the ferocious linebacker unit to be out, and it is worth asking how can they continue to replace these guys. San Francisco had a decent win over the Rams on Monday Night Football, but this is a very tough assignment for them. Frank Gore needs a big game, again.

Verdict: Denver

Kansas City Chiefs at San Diego Chargers

As already mentioned, the San Diego Chargers are right in contention for AFC West honours with the Denver Broncos. Philip Rivers has been playing lights-out MVP type football so far, with his offensive weapons making things happen with ball in hand. The defense has stepped up magnificently this year, with Brandon Flowers a real improvement at cornerback. He already has two interceptions and, if he overcomes a groin strain, will face the side who cut him in the off-season this weekend. Rivers has already thrown 15 touchdown passes this year, and is completing just under 70% of his passes. The Chargers were lucky to beat the Oakland Raiders last week, but if Rivers gets a clean pocket this weekend, they will be headed to a 6-1 record.

The Kansas City Chiefs are…. what, exactly? A team with a good quarterback? Yeah. One with a good coach? Sure. A great running team? Undoubtedly. Despite all that, the Chiefs are an inconsistent team dogged by salary cap issues. They got a great win against the New England Patriots a couple of weeks ago, and were unlucky in defeats to Denver and San Francisco too. But an awful opening day loss to the Tennessee Titans (who have only beaten Jacksonville since) hurt them bad. They are playing catch up in the AFC West with a middle of the road defense and a lack of receivers. Dwayne Bowe continues to infuriate football fans everywhere. KC need to claw back some wins on Denver and San Diego, and the games against them are their best chance of that. Big game for Kansas.

Verdict: San Diego

Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colt

Andrew Luck has been playing phenomenal football at quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts. They lost their two opening games, which put some pressure on the side. Yet now the Colts rank first in passing yards, total offense and points per game. He does benefit from a vast array of weapons at the skill positions, and even a run game as average as the Colts’ keeps defenses from just attacking the quarterback every time. Indy are well set up to make a run, and the longer they keep on this winning streak, the better chance they will have of home field advantage in the playoffs. Such is the advantage of playing in a weak division.

The Cincinnati Bengals were on a roll two weeks ago, but subsequent games without a win have dragged them back down to Earth. How will they react away to the Colts? You would presume they will try and get in their face. The Bengals defense has a lot of talent, but they have not been playing like a cohesive unit at all, which has been a big part of their recent shortcomings. They are also missing their two first-string wide receivers, with AJ Green a particularly big loss. They obviously should have won against the Carolina Panthers last weekend, but they are staring three winless games in the face now. Expect them to test Luck’s offensive line more than once.

Verdict: Indianapolis

New Orleans Saints at Detroit Lions

The Detroit Lions sit atop the NFC North, by virtue of a tiebreaking victory over the Green Bay Packers. They have played some of the best defensive football of any team in the league. The unit is living up to the hype, with their potential having been repeatedly lauded in the past. Yet they are hamstrung by one of the biggest disappointments the NFL has seen this season: their offense. The Lions offense is ranked 27th in points per game, and 29th in the run game. Matt Stafford has remained the same; showing flickering genius, and throwing incomprehensible interceptions.  The nagging injuries that continue to plague Calvin Johnson around have not helped, but he’s still bringing in 70 yards per game. The Lions have success against teams they can overwhelm up front. Their own offensive line needs to perform better though, with Stafford taking 21 sacks already.

Act two of the great New Orleans Saints mystery of 2014 is about to open. The Saints have been quite poor by their own standards this season, having already lost three times, and needing a gargantuan effort to come back to win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.  Perhaps that win, aligned with a bye week, can prove to be the turning point. They made a lot of big moves in the off-season, cutting seasoned veterans and making big splashes on Jairus Byrd and Brandin Cooks. Byrd has been very poor throughout, and season-ending injury may have saved him the embarrassment of being rotated out. Cooks began the season with a bang, but the rookie has been a lot quieter in recent weeks. The loss of Jimmy Graham will put the emphasis back on him to deliver.

Verdict: Detroit

Carolina Panthers at Green Bay Packers

The Green Bay Packers have had another solid start to the season. The defeat to Detroit was a setback, but they have shown great resilience too. That win against the Miami Dolphins was pretty big last weekend, and it came down to the wire. Aaron Rodgers continues to thrive behind his lacklustre pass protection, and Eddie Lacy is starting to get things going. Jordy Nelson has been on fire, and Randall Cobb has scored a touchdown on every fourth catch. Their defense catches a lot of criticism, but the Packers are joint-top of the NFL turnover charts with +9.

The Carolina Panthers still top the NFC South, with an unusual 3-2-1 record. Cam Newton returned to his old running form against the Bengals in the tie last week, and even better news is that Jonathan Stewart will be back as an alternate running option this weekend. Newton has been passing pretty well, but Kelvin Benjamin has suffered a concussion, which likely means he’s out. That would be a tremendous blow to the Panthers chances, with Greg Olsen already shouldering a huge burden to get open. That front four needs to pound the Packers offensive line.

Verdict: Green Bay

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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