"You must be a pirate for the pirate's code to apply and [besides], the code is more what you'd call "guidelines" than actual rules."
--Captain Barbossa, Pirates of the Caribbean
Picking football games for Week 6 of the 2012 NFL season should probably be viewed more as guidelines than any kind of actual prescience.
Statistic of the Week: Alfred Morris is the first rookie to rush for over 75 yards in all of his team's first five games since Eric Dickerson in 1983.
Quote of the Week: "We are not gladiators and this is not the Roman Colosseum. This is a game." -- Eric Winston (Kansas City Chiefs guard on the fans "sickening" cheers when QB Matt Cassel was knocked unconscious)
Thursday Night Football
Pittsburgh Steelers at Tennessee Titans Troy Polamalu may have re-aggravated his calf injury*, but the Steelers got starting rusher Rashard Mendenhall back in the fold (81 yards on 14 carries, 20 yards and a score receiving+) just in time to win a close one in the rain over Philly. The Titans have given up 137 ground yards per game over the last few contests. The Steelers also succeeded in Todd Haley's new short-passing game: 13-of-22 first downs were through the air and Ben Roethlisberger remained unsacked. Pittsburgh controlled the ball for 33:31 minutes.
Chris Johnson gave an honest (and uncomplimentary) assessment of his team's mediocre status as quoted by Terry McCormick of Titan Insider: "We don't look like a good team." Perhaps a running back with one good game in a season-and-a-half might want to keep his opinions to himself.
QB Matthew Hasselbeck came to Tennessee expecting to revisit the success he had in Seattle when Sean Alexander was healthy and leading the league in rushing and the O-line was enormous. This was a reasonable expectation. Who knew that Chris Johnson would be stopped in his tracks and that WR Kenny Britt couldn't stay on the field? Hasselbeck was forced to throw the ball 43 times on Sunday--and he didn't even play the full game. Did I mention that the Titans defense has surrendered almost 37 points per game over the last three weeks? Unless Johnson gets more than 25 carries for over 100 yards and No. 8 only has to throw 35ish passes, this could be the proof to Johnson's assertion.
Prediction: Steelers by six.
Sunday Early Games
Kansas City Chiefs at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Chiefs QB Matt Cassel's concussion will be the excuse coach Romeo Crennel needs to start Brady Quinn. In the televised post-game press conference, Crennel said, "We'll find out if he can play quarterback." Yes we will.
The only thing we can count on from the offense will be rushing yards. Jamaal Charles and company (but mostly Charles) have put up over 200 yards on average in the past three games. They'll be going up against a Bucs D allowing 95 yards on the ground over the same span. However they do it, the KC offense must start scoring more than their average of 18.8 points.
Overall, Bucs QB Josh Freeman's play has been a huge disappointment: 65-for-119, 790 yards, five touchdowns and four interceptions. Tampa Bay needs to see more of the QB who led a huge fourth-quarter comeback bid in Week 4. And fans wonder what happened to the anticipated rushing attack from Doug Martin and LeGarrette Blount? The duo is only averaging 3.4 yards per carry!
Both defenses are decent in terms of points, but Tampa Bay has allowed 458.3 offensive yards on average for three weeks.
Coaching is an issue in Florida. Replacement referee Jim Core essentially asserted on Showtime's Inside the NFL that Greg Schiano was at an inferior level to every other coach he met during the lockout. Ouch.
Prediction: Buccaneers by six.
Indianapolis Colts at New York Jets Indy's Andrew Luck got his first epic fourth-quarter comeback win in Week 5. The Colts D sacked Aaron Rodgers five times and held Green Bay scoreless in the second half until four minutes on the clock. Special mention to the injury-depleted secondary's performance against the best WRing corps in the league. Well, maybe they aren't the best without Greg Jennings. Perhaps Reggie Wayne didn't make a foolish choice after all in remaining in Indy to play with a head coach that he's known since the University of Florida. Certainly, Wayne's 13 receptions for 212 yards aren't going to hurt his HOF chances.
The New York Jets are sticking with Mark Sanchez. Well, of course they are. Sanchez actually played pretty well Monday night and it's certainly not all his fault that the offense has scored under 14 points per game the last three weeks. The WRing corps is so injury-depleted that CB Antonio Cromartie lined up on offense to provide speed. Shonn Greene finally had a couple of decent runs and Sanchez was more on-target than he has been. Frankly, Chad Johnson or Terrell Owens could help, guys. Wonder what Plaxico Burress did that prevents New York from calling him?
Then there's the Jets D. Why is there no pass rush from a bunch of first-round draft picks? The defense has a minus-three turnover ratio and let Houston's Arian Foster rush for 100 yards in the first half. The man is a vegan--where does he get that kind of energy? If the Colts can find a healthy running back, he might have a career game in New York.
Prediction: In a letdown game for Indy, Jets win by five.
Cincinnati Bengals at Cleveland Browns This may be Cleveland's week, although Cincinnati's surprising loss to the Miami Dolphins will probably have them motivated. However, LB D'Qwell Jackson and CB Dimitri Patterson are doubtful, which is incredibly bad news for the Browns D.
Offensively, Cleveland has to develop some consistent conversion ability on third down, which also means that the running game has to get them out of multiple third-and-long scenarios. Since three WRs are hurt, Brandon Weeden will have to throw to TE Jordan Cameron, RB Trent Richardson and rookie Josh Gordon, who is talented but very raw.
Bengals QB Andy Dalton has to find someone else to catch the football besides A.J. Green. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is again the main RB now that Bernard Scott blew out his ACL. He's only averaging 3.3 yards per tote, but the team does have 104 rushing yards per game on average.
The Bengals defense has a tough reputation, though they are in reality only ranked 21st. They are, however, the 17th passing defense. Weeden beware.
Prediction: The Browns by one.
Detroit Lions at Philadelphia Eagles How Michael Vick has one ounce of good luck is a mystery--but he and the Eagles have been showered with good fortune all season (with no small amount of help from their defense). Vick refuses to progress along his 10-year learning curve and continues to fumble and take hits. Andy Reid must be feeling the pressure because he chose to keep the offense in on fourth down more than once in Week 5. The Lions star safety Louis Delmas returns from injury just in time to pick off a few on Sunday.
Meanwhile, Detroit's special teams have allowed approximately 120 scores in 2012. Okay, maybe not quite that many. On offense, Matthew Stafford has eight fewer TD passes now than at the same point in the 2011 season. WR Titus Young (sore knee) or Nate Burleson (plain old age) must catch some balls and take heat off of Calvin Johnson. Detroit also has to improve their third-down success because their defense is not built to stop opponents with a lead. Hint to the Lions D: Keep an eye on Philly TE Brent Celek.
The game will depend upon whether young Detroit RB Mikel Leshoure can get going against an Eagles D that's allowing less than four yards per carry.
Prediction: Lions by three.
Oakland Raiders at Atlanta Falcons Falcons defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has joined Dom Capers and Wade Phillips at the top of his profession. Nolan has successfully turned a perennially suspect unit into an aggressive force that ranks seventh in pass D and eighth in points allowed. They are, however, 27th in defending the rush.
That would be good news for the Raiders, except that star RB Darren McFadden is only averaging 3.5 yards per carry. He may be turning into one of those sputter-backs that never performs to potential due to nagging injuries and then suddenly falls off the planet. The Raiders have gained only 66 rushing yards on average over the past three games. Carson Palmer is playing well in the Black Hole--with little help from anyone on his offense. That is not going to dominate time of possession and keep the ball away from a Falcons O that would scare the '85 Bears.
Maybe we should all take a second look at Tony Gonzalez' line of health food. The 36-year-old TE dominated the injury-hampered Washington defense all game on Sunday. He had 13 receptions for 123 yards and a score.
Matt Ryan is as on fire as someone with "ice" in his or her nickname could possibly be. Atlanta's signal-caller is completing almost 70 percent of his passes for 7.7 yards per attempt. In five weeks, he is 136-of-199 for 1,507 yards 13 TDs and three INTs. Next.
Prediction: Falcons by ten.
St. Louis Rams at Miami Dolphins This is the St. Louis Rams defense that Steve Spagnuolo built. Too bad they arrived too late to save his job. Robert Quinn recorded three of the team's nine sacks. Quinn has more than twice as many tackles and one more sack in five 2012 games than he had in all of his rookie season! Welcome to the show, Robert.
Unfortunately, Arizona was able to complete a nine-minute first-quarter drive. On the plus side, the Rams sacked Kevin Kolb seven times.
QB Sam Bradford is cementing Brandon Gibson as his chosen deep threat so the Dolphins might want to cover him, especially now that WR Danny Amendola has a dislocated clavicle. Rookie Chris Givens, unknown before last week, may only have caught one ball--but it was a 51-yard touchdown pass. Bradford only completed 7-of-21 passes for six passing first downs. Maybe the Rams need to bring back Pat Shurmur: Bradford clearly needs him and he's not exactly paving a road to Canton while coaching in Cleveland.
Rusher extraordinaire Steven Jackson achieved 76 yards on 16 carries, sharing time with rookie Daryl Richardson (nine touches for 35 yards). The Dolphins haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher for 19 consecutive games. Hmmm.
Forget everything you saw on HBO's Hard Knocks: the Dolphins have a football team! The pass rush that has been a Miami hallmark over recent years pushed Andy Dalton into an interception that sealed a win in Cincinnati last week. Conversely, even when pressured, rookie Ryan Tannehill remained unfazed, finishing 17-of-26 for 223 yards. Two rushing touchdowns from Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas were enough.
Prediction: Dolphins by six.
Dallas Cowboys at Baltimore Ravens The Ravens run defense was embarrassed in Kansas City as Jamaal Charles gained 125 yards by halftime. However, panic may not be in order since the defense as a whole has allowed less than 18 points over the past month. Oldsters Ray Lewis and Bernie Pollard led the team Sunday with ten tackles each.
Ray Rice contributed six yards per carry, but Joe Flacco fueled his critics with an anemic 187 passing yards, zero scores and an interception. Dallas has a top-notch passing defense so this would be an opportune time for Flacco to get back on track. The Ravens offense achieves 100 more yards per game at home than on the road. That's not going to cut it in the playoffs, but will probably outscore the 2012 Cowboys.
The Dallas offense must do better than the 13.7 points they have averaged in their last three games. DeMarco Murray is supposed to be a dynamic running back. So why is he giving the team less than 43 yards per game? How can people blame Tony Romo for this? Completing Romo's joy, both the starting and reserve centers are questionable with injuries. Terrific.
Prediction: Home Ravens by a Field Goal.
Sunday Late Games
Buffalo Bills at Arizona Cardinals Forget QB Ryan Fitzpatrick's problems, Buffalo has gifted opponents with an average of 37 points the past three weekends. Arizona's defenders, conversely, have allowed less than 15 points.
Neither offense is exactly lighting up the scoreboard: both are in the 18-point range recently. Kevin Kolb may have led last-second heroics in Week 4, but in Week 5 he reverted to uninspired type. Of course, all of those sacks weren't helpful. John Skelton's almost healthy, Kevin.
After the way FB Anthony Sherman stepped up, Arizona might want to give him the ball. The 5'10," 242 lb Sherman had two receptions for 25 yards after RB Ryan Williams' injury. Williams will miss the rest of the season. This leaves third-down specialist LaRod Stephens-Howlin, William Powell and Alfonso Smith to tote the rock. Who? Exactly. Of course, the Bills are giving up almost six yards per rush. Yeah.
Prediction: Cardinals by a touchdown.
New England Patriots at Seattle Seahawks While not questioning the coaching prowess or team discipline of the New England team, it is possible that they may have a letdown after facing the Broncos last Sunday.
The Patriots made 35 first downs against the Denver defense. They were also 11-of-17 on third down. That reflects tremendous production from a beat-up O-line. If TE Aaron Hernandez plays, look for a slight decrease in Wes Welker's production. Welker may be a weird duck, but he is incredibly brave on the field. Last Sunday he did not flinch or call for a "fair catch" with a full-speed Bronco literally in his face.
The Seahawks offensive hopes rest as usual on Marshawn Lynch's sturdy legs. The Pats have allowed fewer than 100 rushing yards in the last three games, but Lynch isn't your average rusher. New England's secondary is getting tougher and will make life difficult for Seahawks rookie QB Russell Wilson. Note to Seattle WRs: If you are covered by CB Sterling Moore--two hands in a death grip on the football, please.
Almost all of the Seahawks Week 5 highlights were on defense. Bruce Irvin, the rookie whose selection was roundly criticized, appeared in almost every shot. With DE Chris Clemons, Irvin and the Seahawks defensive line have been incredible in 2012. The team has 16 sacks.
Let's see if the Seahawks can do what Denver's John Fox didn't even let his defense try to do--get after Tom Brady. It's not as if it were a secret: dump Brady and you have a chance to win. Let him stand there and you're filleted dead meat--or fowl as the case may be.
Prediction: Patriots by three.
New York Giants at San Francisco 49ers New York's Martellus Bennett has arrived at full-grown manhood. The enigmatic TE went out with a knee injury early last week, but returned in the second quarter and gutted it out. WR Ramses Barden and RB Andre Brown both have concussions, Hakeem Nicks' foot is still a problem and tackle David Diehl is not a sure start. Center David Baas' elbow injury causes swelling in his hand, making it hard to grip the ball. And that's just the offense. Big Blue has five defensive starters or key situational players doubtful or questionable at all three levels.
The Niners have a huge edge on the health front. QB Alex Smith sprained a finger on his non-throwing hand, but is improving. And that's the injury report.
The 49ers are a better team than they were in 2011, when they faced the Giants in the NFC Championship game. New York certainly won't be afraid, but they'll be very wary.
Offensively, there will be two main comparisons: Frank Gore and the Niners productive runners versus the Giants uneven rushing attack and the Eli Manning/Alex Smith matchup. Don't laugh. Smith is currently sporting a QB rating of 108 against Eli's 96. No. 11 may become the next Drew Brees. Sometimes the right QB/Head Coach marriage can work miracles.
Last Sunday, San Francisco became the first team in NFL history to have 300 yards rushing and 300 yards passing in the same game. Meanwhile, their D has given up nine points per outing the past three Sundays. On the other hand, two Super Bowls should tell anyone not to underestimate Manning the Younger. The 49ers defense darn near killed No. 10 last January. And he beat them anyway.
Prediction: Giants by two.
Minnesota Vikings at Washington Robert Griffin III suffered a concussion, but he'll play barring a regression. Robert, do you want to be Michael Vick or do you want to be Aaron Rodgers? Slide.
Here are some numbers that may surprise most fans: Minnesota's defense is only allowing 3.2 yards/rush, 5.6 yards/attempt, 11 points and 305.6 overall yards/game.
On Sunday, sophomore QB Christian Ponder went 25-of-35 for 258 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. However, he has no receiving targets outside of TE Kyle Rudolph and awesomely talented WR/return man Percy Harvin. The offense has been effective but pedestrian, even with supernatural rusher Adrian Peterson. Washington is giving away eight yards per pass play. That should improve Ponder's stats.
Washington, in a move that surprised no one, cut kicker Billy Cundiff, going with 25-year-old UCLA grad Kai Forbath. Forbath made all five of his FGs while in Tampa Bay this preseason.
The Washington offense will have Pierre Garcon purportedly healthy and Alfred Morris lighting up the defenses (19 carries for 115 yards). They'll need everyone against that Vikings D .
Prediction: Home Washington by a Field Goal, maximum. (But only if RGIII plays.)
Sunday Night Football
Green Bay Packers at Houston Texans Green Bay is getting beaten up without Greg Jennings. Now TE Jermichael Finley is questionable, NT B.J. Raji suffered an ankle injury and RB Cedric Benson is on IR.
On the other sideline, Houston LB Brian Cushing is out for the year.
There should be some urgency in Green Bay after the Packers loss to Indy on Sunday. The Packers allowed far too many hits and sacks on their QB again. RBs James Starks, Brandon Saine and newcomer Alex Green will try to generate a rush. Green averaged 6.1 yards per attempt in Week 5. Let's see how well he does against Houston's defense.
If you haven't had the pleasure of watching Texans D-lineman J.J. Watt take over a game, now would be a good time to tune in. Jon Gruden interviewed Watt Monday night. He not only dwarfed Gruden, he over-flowed the chair as if he were visiting a pre-school.
Fun fact: Matt Schaub is averaging 7.5 yards/attempt while the reigning MVP is at 6.4 yards/attempt.
The Texans have averaged almost 31 points per week in the past three games, while the Packers are at less than 23. You see the problem.
Prediction: Texans by three.
Monday Night Football
Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers Last Sunday, John Fox did what he always does--he got conservative. You would think that losing to the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVIII would have proven to this man that you cannot prevail over Tom Brady without aggressive defense. Nine years later, Fox let New England beat him with the running game and a clean Tom Brady. Again. The Patriots accumulated 251 rushing yards. Honestly.
The Patriots D was able to prevail over Denver RB Willis McGahee by rattling his concentration. With only five rushing first downs all game last week, the onus is firmly on McGahee, Lance Ball and Ronnie Hillman to step it up in San Diego.
Norv Turner started RB Jackie Battle again. Rusher Ryan Mathews remains a high-priced and occasionally explosive question mark. Ronnie Brown is nominally San Diego's third-down back. Why haven't the Chargers been working the wildcat with him? Whichever RB gets the ball might have a good night, since Denver has given up 153 rushing yards per game over the past three weeks. If you're going to get conservative on D, Mr. Fox, you might want to start there. Unfortunately, the first- and second-string Denver SLBs are hurt, leaving 22-year-old Danny Trevathan to stop Battle and Co. Trevathan has four professional tackles. Gulp.
In the "due credit" department, the Broncos D is only allowing 22.7 points this month. That will be the key, since Chargers QB Philip Rivers and his group have a habit of putting up lots of yards and stats that don't turn into points.
Both quarterbacks can kill you, slinging the rock all over the gridiron. Rivers was 27-for-42, 354 yards, two touchdowns and one interception on Sunday night. Manning has returned to form and, if his WRs don't drop the balls, will be a challenge for an excellent Bolts secondary.
After a rough road loss, the Chargers will be fired up to beat Manning in front of their home crowd. If Denver can win this one--it will be a signature victory laying the foundation for a new era.
Prediction: Broncos by three.
For more in-depth analysis see barbaras-football-buzz.com beginning Thursday afternoon.
* Injury information via usatoday.com and cbssports.com
+ Statistics courtesy of usatoday.com, espn.com, nfl.com, ESPN's NFL Primetime, Showtime's Inside the NFL and NFL Network's Gameday Final.