Will the Dawg Pound be Barking in Pittsburgh? Can the Bengals Deliver Against the Red Hot Chiefs?
Who Will Prevail When an Emotional Raiders Franchise Takes the Field in Indy?
8 playoff berths remain up for grabs and 24 teams are still in the hunt for Super Bowl LVI. The Chiefs, Cowboys, Rams, Packers, Cardinals & Buccaneers are already there. Which means 2 spots remain in the NFC while 6 are still open in the AFC.
Las Vegas Raiders (8-7) @ Indianapolis Colts (9-6) (Colts -6)
This is sure to be an emotionally charged Raiders team which takes to the field on Sunday in the wake of the great John Madden’s passing this week.
At 8-7, they have the same record as the Chargers and remain in the hunt for a Wild Card spot in the playoffs. They arrive at Lucas Oil stadium on the back of 2 straight wins but they haven’t topped 17 points in either of those games and that could be a problem heading into this matchup against the red hot Indianapolis Colts.
They’ve taken down the Patriots and the Cardinals in their last 2 games. They’ve won 6 of their last 7 BUT they maybe without QB Carson Wentz this weekend. Wentz is unvaccinated and tested positive at the start of the week. Usually that would mean him isolating for 10 days but a change in regulations this week means players can return after 5 days isolation if they test negative. That’s potentially good news for Wentz and it’s good news for star linebacker, Darius Leonard as well – he missed the win in Arizona after testing positive.
Leonard leads the team in tackles. Running back Jonathan Taylor is the NFL’s leading rusher and needs another 84 yards to pass Hall of Famer, Edgerrin James for the franchise single season rushing record.
If games were decided on emotion, this week the Raiders may have the edge. However, it’s players who decide games and man for man, the Colts are the more talented team – on both sides of the ball. During their last 7 games they average 31.4 points per game on offense. In contrast, the Raiders have only scored more than 17 points in a game once in their last 8! If Wentz and Leonard take the field, expect the Colts to win big!
Kansas City Chiefs (11-4) @ Cincinnati Bengals (9-6) (Chiefs -5)
There isn’t a hotter team in the NFL right now than the Kansas City Chiefs – winners of 8 in a row and clinching a 6th straight AFC West title with a demolition job of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Chiefs now have eyes on securing the number 1 seed in the playoffs and home field advantage. Meanwhile, the Bengals have aspirations of their own of hosting a game in the playoffs. QB Joe Burrow starred, throwing for 525 yards and 4 TDs as the Bengals routed division rivals, Baltimore 41-21 last weekend – it was enough to earn him the AFC Offensive Player of the Week award and it catapulted Cincinnati into top spot in the AFC North.
There’s no question the Bengals have the offensive weapons to compete with anyone in the NFL. Rookie Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd are all big time receiving threats and Joe Mixon is as good a running back as there is. The problem is this season, every time the Bengals come off of a big time win, they follow it up with a disappointing performance. They’ve followed up impressive wins over Baltimore with a defeat to the Jets. A thrashing of Pittsburgh with back to back defeats. Time is running out and another slip up may prove critical to their post season hopes.
That’s not really the backdrop you want when the Kansas City Chiefs are coming into town. Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense has found its’ mojo. In their last 3 games, they’ve scored 48, 34 and 36 points. Only the Chargers have scored more than 10 points against this Chiefs’ defense in their last 5 games! This is a formidable challenge for the Bengals. To win, they have to be ruthless on offense and avoid committing turnovers and hope their defense can make one or two stops on 3rd down. As much as they’ve progressed this year, I’m yet to be convinced they’re ready to overcome this kind of challenge – a win here would go a long way to changing that but I’m taking the Chiefs.
Cleveland Browns (7-8) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (7-7-1) (Browns -3)
This is a must win game for both teams, if they are to keep their playoff hopes alive – even then, both teams need help from elsewhere while knowing they must win out.
The Browns suffered an agonising loss to the Packers last weekend – and only had themselves to blame. A missed extra point, a failed 2-point conversion attempt and 4 turnovers from QB Baker Mayfield contributed to a 2 point loss in Lambeau. Meanwhile the Steelers were blown out in Kansas City and that week 10 tie with the Lions now rests heavy on their record.
One bright note for Cleveland was their running game. Nick Chubb totalled 126 rushing yards and a TD on just 17 carries. It begs the question, why didn’t they hand him the ball more?! Surely that’s something they’ll do against a Steelers’ defense which is dead last in the NFL this season at stopping the run! Steelers’ pass rusher, TJ Watt is the league’s leader with 17.5 sacks but it’s tough to sack a QB when the offense is running the ball down your throat!
For Pittsburgh, their best hope is to keep this game tight. However, as bad as their defense is at stopping the run, their offense is just as inept at starting out games. Last weekend’s defeat to the Chiefs marked the 5th straight game in which Pittsburgh has been unable to score a 1st half touchdown! The last time they went on a run this bad was 1940 – when they went 6 straight games without finding the endzone in the first half! It all points to feast time for the Browns defense and it would be no surprise to see Myles Garrett and co have a day against an aging – and increasingly immobile – Ben Roethlisberger. The Browns are just 3 point favourites heading into this game. Expect them to win by more!