Carolina Panthers at San Francisco 49ers
This game is one of the more intriguing matchups as these teams are nearly identical to each other. Both have mobile quarterbacks that can throw the ball to a limited number of weapons on offense. Both have terrific front sevens that are fast and physical with suspect secondaries behind them. The 49ers are a little more diverse in their offensive game planning because they basically use an expanded version of what the Panthers use in the power run game.
The Panthers’ defensive front seven has predominantly faced pocket quarterbacks this season. They faced EJ Manuel in week 2 but that was a rookie in his first game so it’s not quite the same. How the Panthers defense manages their fronts will be key. The coverages behind will vary but it wouldn’t surprise me if the Panthers played more zone than normal to help keep eyes on Colin Kaepernick. The linebackers flow well enough to keep Kaep and Frank Gore at bay but not sure they’re able to stop them completely.
On defense, the 49ers will have a similar problem. They’ll be faced with the task of stopping a guy like Cam Newton in a power game with the ability of a QB to run for big gains. The 49ers we’ve seen do it this season and they’ve had mixed results.
I think the 49ers are better prepared for this as they see it everyday in practice and they’ll have a good defensive game plan. They’ll likely try to force Newton to be smart and accurate in the passing game. The Panthers will probably do the same but I’m a little less sure of how they do that simply because I haven’t really seen it on film.
The 49ers win this game, probably pulling away a bit in the 4th quarter. I think the Panthers have what it takes to give them a good game but the physical draining that a cross country trip can take on a team isn’t to be underestimated.
Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers
I think people who bet on the NFL are lunatics because no one ever really knows what’s going to happen. And point differentials in football games are incredibly fluky. But they say the best bet in the NFL is a home team that is an underdog by more than a touchdown. This week the Broncos are favored at San Diego by 7.5 points. I think it’s closer than that.
The Chargers defense isn’t very good (dead last in defensive DVOA) but coordinator John Pagano does some interesting things scheme-wise in each game that gives his team the chance to create turnover opportunities. It’s near impossible to confuse Peyton Manning but I’m guessing that at times in this game, the Chargers will give him some looks that he’s not really sure about. Coupled with some offensive line issues, Peyton shouldn’t have a massive day. The Broncos will really need the run game to manage this game how they want. They’ll also use tempo to simplify what the Chargers defense can do at times.
On offense, the Chargers will have no problem moving the ball. They might struggle a little in the run game but Philip Rivers and Mike McCoy will have a gameplan that will attack the middle of the Broncos defense in the deep and intermediate areas. They may have issues handling the pass rush so look for a few max protections and keeping running backs in to block to allow deeper routes to develop.
This should be a high scoring game that will be fun to watch. I think the Broncos are clearly a better team but I think the Chargers matchup well with them and can keep up. The Denver defense is average and Rivers and company can keep up. Broncos by 3 or 4, but don’t be surprised if the Chargers win this game.
Houston Texans at Arizona Cardinals
It’s incredible the difference a quarterback can make on an offense, isn’t it? Case Keenum makes this offense look like it’s supposed to look. He locks onto Andre Johnson too much at times but he also is efficient with the football and mobile enough to move with the play and create throwing lanes and open receivers. He’s also more willing to throw the deep ball and play with more confidence in the intermediate levels. I’m reserved on my prospects of Keenum being “the future” for the Texans simply because I need to see how NFL defenses adjust to him when they have sufficient game film on him.
The rushing attack of the Texans will look better today in their execution but probably not in their output. This is still a good Cardinals defense and Daryl Washington is making up for lost time with how he’s playing. He’s a force and a guy that an offense has to identify presnap on every play. His instincts may be as good as any linebacker in the game.
The Cardinals are only as good as Carson Palmer lets them be. I’ve said it before. He’s a pocket quarterback that needs a lot of functional space to work. If he gets it, he can be strong and accurate with the football. If he doesn’t, he’s an utter mess. It’s unfortunate that the Cardinals offensive line is so bad in front of him. Andre Ellington is finally the man in the Arizona backfield. He’ll still split carries according to Bruce Arians but it’s nice to finally see that he’s being acknowledged as the best runner. I like how the Cardinals use him aside from the lack of expansive touches. He’s quick through the hole and they try to get him in space at times where he’s best. He’s big in the pass and screen game.
This really looks like an even matchup. Both teams have significant deficiencies and significant positives. I think the Texans are better at the QB position right now and that makes the difference. It will be interesting to see the difference in how the Texans play with interim head coach Wade Phillips. Texans win by less than a touchdown.
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