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Specific Predictions about the NFL that will seem smart on Halloween

Back on July 25th, I wrote this article about the Buffalo Bills.  I’m feeling pretty good about having done that right now.  Bolstered by that confidence, I’m going to make a couple of predictions about the NFL landscape three weeks from now on Halloween, and what I will expect it to look like.

The Indianapolis Colts will rattle off a pair of road victories behind Curtis Painter

This is the toughest part of the Colts schedule coming up: three straight October road games against the Bengals, Saints, and Titans.  And the Colts are 0-5 and potentially in the driver’s seat of the “suck for Luck” bandwagon.  But Curtis Painter has played quite well.  And the Colts offense has looked really good.  And they have a really good run defense.  The Colts are going to win some road games here, and while I don’t know if they can handle the Saints in the SuperDome, I don’t think that game will be a blowout and I think they will win 2 out of 3 in this tough stretch.  The Colts will enter November 2-6, decidedly out of the playoff race, but no longer the front runners for Andrew Luck.

The Cleveland Browns may replace the Colts in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes

The Browns are heading out to Oakland this week coming off a bye, a long road trip where I think most observers are expecting them to get beat up a bit despite the bye week.  Then it’s home against Seattle before heading right back to the Bay Area to play the 49ers.  The schedule makers could not have been crueler.  And I’m not sure that the Browns have an easy win here.  Obviously, the home game against Seattle is the one where, when we look back at it after the season, the Browns need to win to stay in the race, but the Browns (who still have the belief of the public) and the Seahawks (who never did) are pretty much the same team.  And if the Browns think they can win any of these games without playing their best game, they are mistaken.

So what’s realistically the easiest win here?  I don’t think it is the Seahawks.  I think it’s this Sunday at Oakland because Oakland (who is way more talented than Seattle) will give you mistakes that the NFC West front runners will not.  So if the Browns lose at Oakland, I probably will not pick them against Seattle, and then things could get ugly.  Colt McCoy really needs to play a good one this week.  And keep in mind: the Browns are really just a McCoy injury away from being the Miami Dolphins, perhaps the obvious front runner for the first overall pick.

The Minnesota Vikings can make a move in the NFC

It’s not going to be easy for the Minnesota Vikings to get back into the playoff race after beginning 0-4, and the fact is they already are four games out of second place.  But third place in the NFC North can get you into the playoffs, and the Chicago Bears have been really bad this season.  And there is no better time for the Vikings to get the Bears at Soldier Field than right now, when the weather in Chicago is still pretty nice (at least it’s nice here on Friday), and the Bears could be without defensive cornerstone Julius Peppers, and they’re on a short week coming off a brutal loss, and even the basic tenets of which the Bears have built their team (defense) are failing them.  For the Bears, this is a horrible time to draw the Vikings at home, in a game which every Bears fan predicting 8-8 or better circled as a ‘W’ at the beginning of the season.

In the coming weeks for the Vikings: home against the Packers (maybe the toughest Sunday matchup the Packers will have this season), and at Carolina.  4-4 is not unreasonable.  At at 4-4, I would expect the Vikings to be knotted up with the Falcons, Bucs, and Cowboys for the mythical seventh seed in the NFC, just a game out of the playoff picture with the Redskins and Giants fighting it out in the NFC East.  But first things first: the Vikings have to get this one, or they’re better off playing Christian Ponder the rest of the year.

The Week 7 Texans-Titans winner will have a stranglehold over the AFC South

The Texans might not have a play to go on the road and beat the Baltimore Ravens this week: if the Ravens are who we think they are, that is.  And a loss will drop the Texans to three and three, and will inspire “here we go again” feelings within the fanbase.  But here’s the bigger problem for the Houston Texans: the Tennessee Titans are idle this week.  And a loss to the Ravens will set up a must-win road test against the Titans for the upper hand in the AFC South.

But hey, when you lose a game at home to a team that can’t figure out how to get exactly 11 players on the field, this is the hand you are dealt sometimes.

Here’s what is going in favor of the Texans right now: we don’t really know how good the Titans are.  They went out and got pulverized in Pittsburgh by a team that the Texans handled fairly easily.  So there’s a good chance that the hot start by Titans’ quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was a mirage, and that the Texans will handle business inside the division fairly easily.

If they don’t though, I think the hypothetically 3-4 Texans will be looking for a new defensive coordinator.  Because their current one will be the head coach.

The Atlanta Falcons are in trouble, and that will become apparent this week

The Falcons are at home this week against the Panthers, with a trip to the Lions waiting in the wings.  And they are looking at a 2-5 start with losses to the Chicago Bears and Tampa Bay Bucs, and possibly the Panthers as well.  Their offensive MVP to date has been Michael Turner, and because of wear and tear, I’m not sure they can count on his productivity over the long haul.  The guy they need to count on is Matt Ryan, but the evidence that he’s better than he has played this season is incredibly limited.  I don’t think he’s been bad at all, but this is who Ryan is and has been since a magical rookie year.  Roddy White is great, but his rate statistics have declined every season he’s been with Ryan because he’s a one-man show.  Tony Gonzalez is going to suffer from a lot of the effect that Turner is going do.

And the defense is helpless to handle exciting players like Cam Newton and Steve Smith, and Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson, and that more than anything is why the Panthers will win this week, and why the Lions will win next week, and the Atlanta Falcons — the one seed in last year’s NFC Playoffs — could hit the bye week this season at 2-5.

And finally a prediction…

Only one team will make the playoffs with fewer than 10 wins: the AFC South Winner

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