Note: All times Eastern.
Ten Random Thoughts
Steelers (bye week)
The Borg called, they want their supreme leader back: Ben Roethlisberger has suffered two injuries this year that may have been, quite literally, a millimeter or two away from ending his season. His latest was supposed to keep him down for "a few weeks" -- most of us took that to mean he'd miss the Cleveland game and, possibly, the Seattle road game after this week's bye. Instead, he missed...seven snaps. Seven. And, playing on a bad foot, a still-healing knee and with no practice, he managed to win the AFC Offensive Player of the Week award. At some point, I expect to see him, with his left arm hanging on by a thread, look to the sideline with a smile at John Harbaugh and say, "now you've really pissed me off."
Score: 19-12 Ravens
If I was a receiver in Baltimore, I'd fear for my well-being: The Ravens dodged a bullet when Kamar Aiken -- the number-one receiver in Baltimore right now because, well, who the heck else is gonna run routes at this point? -- took a wicked helmet-to-helmet shot but returned to the game. I don't understand how there was no flag though -- helmet-to-helmet hit, defenseless receiver, defender led with the crown of his helmet. As for the Rams: when you bench Nick Foles, you must be desperate, because there's not much chance that anyone who hadn't already surpassed him on the depth chart will be the season's savior.
Score: 23-10 Panthers
Don't let it get ya down, Kirk -- they've beaten everyone before you, too: Well, Kirk Cousins, it was fun while it lasted. What's that? Heck yeah, I'm writing you off already, at least this week. You've had exactly two good games this season -- against the Buccaneers and the Saints, two of the seven worst scoring defenses in the NFL. You may very well have some great games between now and week 17, but I can say with confidence that week 11 won't be one of them.
Score: 20-17 Bears
Peyton will be Manning the water cooler, as well: Peyton Manning will ride the bench this week with plantar fasciitis. Or, maybe that should be "plantar fasciitis". One has to wonder, after watching him play all season long, if his horrible outing on Sunday was the result of a painful injury -- and I can say from first-hand experience that it is, indeed, quite painful -- or simply that the game has passed him by. It wouldn't be the first time a coach has manufactured (or, at least, heavily trumped up) an injury to help an ill-performing player save face. At least Brock Osweiler won't have to worry about reliving this:
Score: 35-31 Lions
Two weeks ago, I would have written this one off as a relatively easy win for the Raiders, despite their recent loss to the Steelers -- after all, they put up 35 points that day, on the fifth-best scoring defense in the league (19.1 points/game). But you know the Lions brought home some serious swagger after waltzing into Lambeau field and walking out with their first Wisconsin win in 24 years. Since it's in Detroit, I gotta give it to the Lions this week.
Score: 17-13 Jets
With the surprisingly solid play of Brian Hoyer, at least lately, I'd give this one to the Texans -- eeeeeexcept that he's probably not playing Sunday due to a concussion. That means T.J. Yates takes over. That's all fine and good -- he did throw the game winner Monday night against the previously undefeated Bengals -- but if he goes down? That job falls to inexperienced Tom Savage or incapable Brandon Weeden. If head coach Bill O'Brien doesn't cover his eyes and pray every time Yates drops back to throw, he's a stronger man than I.
Buccaneers @ Eagles (Sunday, 1:00 p.m.)
Score: 13-9 Buccaneers
Maybe Chip Kelly should beg USC to hire him: Before the season started, many of us believe that Kelly had made his bed with all the eyebrow-raising free-agent moves he made -- not the least of which was committing $40 million to a running back who no one outside Kelly's own head thought was a good fit for his offense. Now that he's laying in that bed, he probably isn't getting much sleep in it. This team is simply bad. Bad, bad, bad. And before you point out that they are just a half-game out of first place, remember this: I could round up my old college, co-ed, intramural flag football team from 16 years ago and we could be leading the NFC East by three games right now.
Score: 24-17 Vikings
There's a distinct chance this could be one of the least entertaining, yet most important, games of the week. That's one heck of a dichotomy -- then again, the Packers are pretty much the embodiment of that word right now. They are a deeply talented team that has been flatter than week-old Dr. Pepper in the Texas summer sun. The Vikings, meanwhile, are taking a page out of the Panthers' playbook: solid (read: excellent) defense and a gritty, ball-control offense. It's working for the Panthers, and has elevated the Vikings to the top of the NFC North.
Bengals @ Cardinals (Sunday, 8:30 p.m.)
Score: 23-20 Cardinals
The Packers/Vikings game may be the most important game of the week, but this is going to be the best. That is, of course, if Cincinnati plays like the 8-0 Bengals, not the 0-1 Bengals. Andy Dalton's professional football story reads like a cross between Fight Club and Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer: every season, he fights to live up to expectations until his alter-ego convinces him that he doesn't need to conform. Then he realizes he plays in Cincinnati, and therefore has lived on the Island of Misfit Toys all along. It was only one loss, but after that performance (and a quick check of recent history), it's easy to convince yourself that this is going to be the fifth film in that hard-to-watch series.
Score: 28-27 Bills
I want so badly to pick the Bills in this game. I really, really do. They played well last week, and the Patriots look vulnerable for the first time since...well...since the end of their last game against the Bills. You know Rex Ryan wants to beat Bill Belichick more than anyone else. Now, without Julian Edelman, the Patriots could find it difficult to maintain a rhythm against a decent defense. Screw it, I'm picking the Bills. No I'm not. Yes...yes I am. No. Yes! No! DANGIT YES I AM!