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NFL: Cardinals Braced For Showdown With Seahawks

football

We are now firmly headed down the stretch, as we enter week twelve of the NFL regular season. Several teams are just playing out the clock now, but guys on losing teams have to play for next year’s job, so expect a few more shock results this weekend. There are once again plenty of intriguing clashes between playoff hopefuls, and there are a few teams who have started to skid out of playoff contention in the last few weeks. Losing streaks need to end now, or the post-season will be gone. Let’s preview some of the upcoming action.

Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks

This is the big game in the NFL this weekend. The reigning Super Bowl champions take on their divisions leaders in a must-win home game. The Seattle Seahawks are reeling, having been second best against Kansas City last weekend. They have struggled to find a coherent game plan on offense all year, while the defense has been ravaged by injuries. Important bodies have started to return, but others are now gone instead. The Seahawks defensive front, which was so boasted about on their championship run, hardly bothered Alex Smith last weekend, and didn’t come close to stopping Jamaal Charles.  If Seattle wants the chance to defend its crown in the post-season, then they simply have to take this game. But it is hard to see them pulling it off. Pete Carroll’s team need a spark.

The 9-1 Arizona Cardinals travel to Seattle with the best record in the NFL. They also beat Seattle in front of the Twelfth Man last season, so this bout should not be too daunting for them. Still, it would be a major feather in their cap to repeat the feat, and send their divisional rivals spiralling towards an early end to the season. Drew Stanton started well in the win over Detroit last weekend, but he did toss two interceptions as the game went on. He can’t afford to do that this weekend. Stanton’s aerial threats are pretty good, but the Cardinals need to run the ball some more if they are to dominate this one. Can Andre Ellington make enough big runs? That may come down to the ‘hawks line.

Verdict: Arizona

Detroit Lions at New England Patriots

The New England Patriots have really been tearing it up lately, and their overwhelming victory over the Indianapolis Colts gave them a lot of breathing room in the AFC. But they have to keep winning to claim the top seeding. This is a tough game for the Pats, as they face one of the premier NFL defenses. Tom Brady was decidedly uneven in that win, and can we really expect Jonas Gray to chip in another two hundred yards on the ground? Interestingly, the Patriots re-signed LeGarrette Blount this week after his acrimonious departure from Pittsburgh, and he is a very interesting addition to the backfield. The Patriots secondary will be seriously tested this weekend, and it will be interesting to see how much they can pressure Matt Stafford.

The Detroit Lions only managed two field goals in their huge NFC match up against the Arizona Cardinals last weekend. That certainly won’t be enough to knock off the AFC’s leading side on their home patch, and Calvin Johnson and Golden Tate will need to make some plays. Can the Lions defensive line inflict pain on the new and improved Patriots offensive line? That will be a fascinating battle. If the Lions can break into Tom Brady’s pocket and keep tabs on Rob Gronkowski, then they will be in with a good shout. But those are big if’s. Jim Caldwell has to run the ball more this week, with the decision to limit Joique Bell’s snaps last weekend still baffling. Are the Lions for real? We may find out on Sunday.

Verdict: New England

Miami Dolphins at Denver Broncos

The Denver Broncos have been going through a serious slump lately, losing two of the last three games. Peyton Manning hasn’t played well, and he has been under a lot more pressure. They are missing a lot of skill position players through injury, and that could well be telling in this one.  If Emmanuel Sanders and/or Julius Thomas are ruled out here, it threatens to make the Broncos zero dimensional. There has been little run game to speak of, due to injuries to Ronnie Hillman and Montee Ball, but Denver has to try and get it going on the ground. Kansas City handed them a break by losing to the Oakland Raiders on Thursday Night Football, but the Broncos still can’t afford to lose here. They are facing a mighty good defense, and any receivers who aren’t 100% will find it hard to make plays, even at Mile High. Big onus on Wes Welker to deliver.

The Miami Dolphins have put together a good run lately, and they were last seen taking down the Buffalo Bills in a huge AFC East showdown. Their defense is playing out of its skin, with a ferocious front four and arguably the league’s form secondary at the moment. They could not have picked a better time to be playing Denver, and will fancy their chances of picking up the win. Lamar Miller is making massive gains on the ground and, although Mike Wallace remains unhappy with the supply of deep balls, Ryan Tannehill has kept the offense ticking over. They could take this one.

Verdict: Miami

Cleveland Browns at Atlanta Falcons

This game has taken on a new relevance, following the Atlanta Falcons glorious ascension to the top of the NFC South, with a 4-6 record. The Falcons boast plenty of talent under center and at the skill positions, but they continue to be beaten badly in the trenches. If the offensive line could even break even in its individual duels, then they would have a great shot to win more games. But a couple of linemen have gone down, and the replacements have been well below par. Defensively, they have an absence of game changers, with nobody that can rush the passer or collapse the pocket. Just give Julio Jones and Roddy White the ball in space, and they can do the rest.

The Cleveland Browns got pretty well blown out of it last weekend against the Houston Texans. With Brian Hoyer going 20/50, his limitations were exposed. That’s why Cleveland has done well this season with the ground and pound game, leaving Hoyer throwing 15-20 times per game. Expect them to get back to that here, while they get the ball to Josh Gordon early and often. If they can dominate up front, they should be able to win this one.

Verdict: Cleveland

Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans

The Houston Texans kept themselves alive in the battle for an AFC wild card spot with the win over Cleveland, but they need to win more than most down the stretch to play in January. Ryan Mallett had an interesting first NFL start, but he certainly looked like an upgrade on Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has surely lost his last starting gig in the NFL.  Arian Foster has been great when he plays, but Alfred Blue has emerged as an outstanding alternative. The Texans look real good up front, and if Jadeveon Clowney can finally begin chipping in with some edge pressure to take attention away from JJ Watt, then it will be a long day for Andy Dalton. If Houston can shut down the run game, they will be a long way towards winning here.

Did the Cincinnati Bengals finally emerge from their slump in the win over New Orleans? Or are the Saints just that bad? Those who have seen Drew Brees’ team on more than one occasion might think it was the latter. The Bengals have been hamstrung by injuries to their receivers all year, and it was the magnificent efforts of Jeremy Hill, who ran for over 150 yards in New Orleans, that opened things up for them. This Bengals team needs to win big on the ground to move forward and make Andy Dalton look more composed than he is. If they can get men in the box and A.J. Green in single coverage, then you know it’s going their way. Surely someone has to emerge as the true leader in the AFC North, right?

Verdict: Houston

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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