By Joseph Fazio
Atlanta Falcons (4-3) at Carolina Panthers (5-3) (FOX, 12 P.M. Sunday)
After a close win against the New York Jets, quarterback Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons head up to North Carolina to face the Panthers. Ryan had an above average game last week, throwing for two touchdowns and 254 yards. The Falcons have no problem scoring the ball, as they average 21.9 points per game. The big problem for them is on defense, as they allow on average 21.7 points per game. Outside linebacker Vic Beasley Jr. is arguably their best pass rusher but ranks 48th in sacks with three. Middle linebacker Deion Jones ranks 11th in combined tackles with 60. When going up against a high-powered offense in Carolina, the pass rush defense will make or break the Falcons.
The great burden for the Carolina Panthers has been the many injuries players have gone down with. This week, center Ryan Kalil and right guard Trai Turner are listed as questionable. Questions are being raised about linebacker Luke Kuechly’s health and whether he sustained a concussion weeks ago. The biggest shock came when the Panthers traded star receiver Kelvin Benjamin to the Buffalo Bills for two draft picks. This week will most likely decide Carolina’s playoff hopes.
Prediction: Atlanta 37, Carolina 3
Denver Broncos (3-4) at Philadelphia Eagles (7-1) (CBS, 12 P.M., Sunday)
Forget about every offensive statistic for the Denver Broncos this year because there’s a new sheriff in town. Coach Vance Joseph has informed the team that Brock Osweiler will be the starting quarterback against the Eagles. It’s a tough break for Trevor Siemian after throwing three interceptions and 198 yards against the Kansas City Chiefs. Osweiler has attempted only four passes this year, completing two for 18 yards. After a more than disappointing season with the Houston Texans in 2016 and then Cleveland waiving him, Osweiler will make his first start for the Broncos in almost two years. With their record at 3-4, the Denver Broncos will need a spark from Osweiler if they want a chance to make the playoffs.
The Philadelphia Eagles have the best record in the NFL at 7-1. Quarterback Carson Wentz is one of the frontrunners for MVP with an NFL-best 19 touchdowns. The Eagles suffered a great loss, though, as offensive tackle Jason Peters suffered a season ending injury. Peters, who protected Wentz’s blind side, was arguable one of the best tackles in the league. To make up for such a big loss, the Eagles added a big offensive player in running back Jay Ajayi. Ajayi, for the Miami Dolphins, racked up 465 rushing yards but zero touchdowns. Many fans are uncertain how this will play out with running back LeGarrette Blount. Blount has more rushing yards and more rushing touchdowns than Ajayi. This week will be interesting to see what coach Doug Pederson does with his run game.
Prediction: Philadelphia 33, Denver 13
Kansas City Chiefs (6-2) at Dallas Cowboys (4-3) (CBS, 3:25 P.M., Sunday)
The Chiefs’ defense were the stars of Monday Night Football, forcing five turnovers against the Denver Broncos. However, the defense still needs a lot of work. It allows 261.1 total yards per game, which is fifth worst in the league. Going up players including quarterback Dak Prescott and wide receiver Dez Bryant, the defense needs a game plan that can rush Prescott while keeping Bryant away from the ball. On offense, quarterback Alex Smith’s 16 touchdowns has dropped down to third best in the league. Running back Kareem Hunt rushed for 46 yards against the Broncos, which is a career low in rushing yards when Hunt has rushed 10 or more times in a game. With great rushers including defensive end Demarcus Lawrence on the Cowboys, Hunt’s rushing stats may continue to decrease.
A judge recently reinstated Cowboys’ running back Ezekiel Elliott’s suspension. The NFLPA has put in its appeal to the ruling of the case. This will be the third appeal from the NFLPA concerning Elliott’s suspension. With no clear statement whether Elliott’s suspension will be upheld, we are going to act like he will not be playing this weekend. Prescott has to pick up a lot of slack when going up against the Chiefs’ defense. Prescott has thrown 14 touchdowns and four interceptions with a passer rating of 96.6, which 10th best among starting quarterbacks. Lawrence is still the key player on defense. Lawrence’s 10.5 sacks is the best in the league and he is a probable defensive MVP candidate. With the Chiefs great offense and the Cowboys great pass rush, it is hard to determine who will come out on top.
Prediction: Kansas City 27, Dallas 20