Week nine comes up lacking in the NFL matchup department

Mark Bell Spectator’s Eye

October 31, 2013

Sometimes the NFL’s schedule just doesn’t give you a whole lot to look forward to. Week 9 seems to be one of those times.

Eagles at Raiders - Now that Philadelphia’s Nick Foles is cleared from concussion therapy and ready to go again, let’s see if he can hold onto the job for awhile. Coach Chip Kelly has not been able to implement very much of his offensive philosophy because of the revolving door at the quarterback position. One field goal in two games is hardly what he had in mind when he began working on this job back in the winter.

Oakland has been thriving (relatively speaking) on the abilities of Terrelle Pryor, who has yet to lose at home since taking over the starting QB job. This week, Coach Kelly can only wish he had traded for Pryor when he had the chance. You just don’t pick against a spotless home record in this league, especially when the team’s strengths and weaknesses are marginally equal.

Buccaneers at Seahawks - Seattle is one of the best home teams in the league and they are taking on winless Tampa Bay. Russell Wilson has never lost on his home field since taking over as the starting quarterback last year.

Gee, what’s a body to think? It’s just so easy to connect the dots when they are pointing in a straight line. It scares me a bit because that’s just when this league hits you broadside, but that kind of upset would be one of mythic proportions and my crystal ball’s not that big.

Ravens at Browns - Baltimore has had a long bye week for some wound-licking. The Ravens have not lost following a bye since John Harbaugh became head coach. While they have lost three of the last four, the total margin in those three games adds up to eight so it’s not like they are actually struggling.

The defending champions play the toughest schedule and they have essentially rebuilt their roster (particularly on defense). In that sense they remind me of the last Giants team that won a championship after finishing the season at 9-7. As long as they stay in wild card contention, they have the talent to be there at the end.

As for this game, Joe Flacco has yet to lose to the Browns, whether in Cleveland or not, and at their core the Ravens have the sort of team confidence that Cleveland still lacks. They know they are good enough. They just have to make those little plays go their way for wins to start coming. As for the rest of us, we’d think a lot more of them if they found their running game again.

While Cleveland has improved, they have not developed the level of mental toughness yet that Baltimore spent a generation developing. The Browns keep getting all their hopes dashed by critical injuries and what seems like cruel fate. As such, this week the home team again starts the reliable veteran journeyman Jason Campbell at quarterback, their third starter in the past month.

Because the Browns, too, have lost three of their last four (three in a row), don’t play a championship-level schedule, and have already lost to Baltimore this season, I just don’t see an upset in the works.

Steelers at Patriots - Pittsburgh responds well to the pride factor: for example, their victory two weeks ago at home against Baltimore. They just could not stomach the thought of losing to those guys at home. Then they go on the road to a largely inferior Oakland team and lose because they just don’t play with the same level of intensity, concentration and grit. They relaxed and blew it.

Getting a prime network coverage spot for a late afternoon game in Foxboro puts them back in the spotlight where at least you’re likely to get their best effort. It may not be enough.

While New England is a patchwork affair on both sides of the ball, they are still held together by the Belichick-Brady Bond that’s one part pitch, two parts sap and three parts preparation. However they do it, it’s nearly impossible for someone to undo them at home. Try as they mightily will, the Steelers just lack the offensive weapons to get the job done this time.

Colts at Texans - Houston’s dream of dominating the division after an aging Peyton Manning moved on from Indianapolis are crumbling quicker than a week-old pound cake laying out on the window shelf. A loss at home Sunday night and pretty much all that’s left is mouse treats, and we all know how those wind up.

Without a sturdy Ben Tate and agile Arian Foster, their offense will depend upon local college hero QB Case Keenum and a thinning receiving corps led by Andre Johnson (who is good enough to carry the team). Thankfully the defense continues to be stout as a rock.

Because of their severe limitations in offensive weaponry, Houston has to play mistake-free with the ball. Their stellar defense gives them the best chance to win at home. The Colts move the ball very well, but seem to break down when they get to the red zone and settle for a lot of field goals. That’s the Texans’ best chance to win, but their offense has to come through when they get their few shots.

So the key to the game is how well Indy’s defense keeps Keenum in the pocket, gets pressure on him there, and minimizes his opportunities. Without a strong running game, his chances are just too slim, even at home.

Bears at Packers - Monday night’s feature on ESPN is sure to bring out the league’s musty scrapbook as we walk down the Curly Lambeau and George Halas memory lanes. I can admire the stats of Don Hutson and Sid Gillman as much as anyone, but my memory only extends to the Bart Starr and Gale Sayers eras, so maybe I’ll learn something.

(Sadly, can you imagine how many times we’re going to see Aaron Rodgers’ doing that State Farm commercial on the plane with Norm from Cheers doing his ‘da Bears’ shtick?)

When it comes to what happens on the field, what we really should not expect is any sort of surprise given Rodgers’ abilities and Chicago’s key injuries. Even coming off a bye week, Chicago is not about to snatch a big W without Jay Cutler making the deep throws and Lance Briggs making the hard tackles.