By Jordan Jackson
I was lucky enough to have a ticket to Thursday Night Football in Charlotte. From my third-to-last-row seat in Bank of America Stadium, I settled on three conclusions: one, the best burger in Charlotte can be found right outside the stadium at The Burger Company (in case you are ever in the neighborhood); two, the Panthers are becoming the latest NFC South team to fail to defend their championship from the previous year (it has never been done); and three, the Saints, after all, are still a threat in the NFC. Watch out.
As for the other 24 teams playing this weekend, there is still much to learn. Before the games kick off, let’s go over the usual items.
Sure Bet: For the sake of variety, I am not going to go with Oakland’s opponent here. Let’s say you have already played your Seattle card in your survivor pool; who else has a lock on a ‘W’?
First off, I like the Eagles. As long as Ryan Fitzpatrick is their quarterback, the Texans will not be able to compete with the top half of the league. Andre Johnson is hardly a factor due to his age and Fitzpatrick—and Arian Foster, with his fragility—cannot and will not do it alone.
The Texans have a very talented defense, but if the offense cannot sustain drives (which they can’t against good teams), it makes little difference. The Eagles, meanwhile, are regaining the health of their offensive linemen. Theoretically, this should give LeSean McCoy and the run game an overdue boost. More reliably, the Eagles play well on the road, and are unlikely to lose two games in a row. They should overpower Houston assertively.
I also like the 49ers to sweep the Rams. Losing Jake Long and Brian Quick for the year is just awful for the Rams. Two huge blows coming in one game. They were sorely outmatched by San Francisco at home with a healthier team. To expect things to improve on the bay this weekend with the injuries the Rams have sustained is ludicrous.
For the record, yes, I also like Seattle over Oakland.
Not So Fast: This, as usual, is a bit tougher. It does not seem like a huge upset or anything, but I am going to go with the Ravens to win in Steel City. Despite the loss to Cincinnati this past week, I still believe Baltimore is the best team in the AFC North—maybe not the most talented necessarily, but they are playing the best ball. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, is difficult to trust even after their resounding victory over the Colts to the tune of 500 yards through the air. This team, after all, lost to Tampa Bay and struggled mightily with Jacksonville.
This rivalry is always hard-hitting and hotly contested. It is usually a pretty even competition too. Ben Roethlisberger’s career stats against Baltimore are not great. Terrell Suggs loves to hit him. Inside linebacker C.J. Mosley has quietly been one of the year’s best defensive rookies. The Ravens D is, as always, a ferocious one. After a tough division loss against the Bengals, they will be out for blood against Pitt.
Surprise Performer: Offenses have had their ways with Oakland all season, so there is really no knowing who is going to be the one(s) to make plays against the silver and black. The Oakland game might be a great opportunity for Russell Wilson to get straightened out as a passer. Aside from the final drive, Wilson was ineffective and lousy in Carolina, and a matchup with the soft, beat-up Oakland secondary might be just what the doctor ordered. The Seahawks also seem intent on being free of their previous dependency on Marshawn Lynch.
The benefactor of all of this is Doug Baldwin. With Percy Harvin gone, the Hawks no longer have to worry about feeding him the ball. Baldwin is now the undisputed No. 1 receiver in Seattle. He has been the team’s consistent leader in yards and targets all year, but it never really translated to fantasy success until the Week 7 loss to St. Louis.
Clearly, Baldwin will have his looks, and no defense offers as much opportunity as Oakland’s. Now is the time for Doug Baldwin to break out for good.
Disaster Waiting to Happen: I’m not crazy about Demaryius Thomas this week. He is every team’s favorite Broncos receiver to attempt to shut down, and it is showing in the targets that have been recently deferred to Emmanuel Sanders—even in the red zone. Thomas can expect to see a lot of Darrelle Revis this weekend, and that, too, does not work in his favor. Revis leads a New England secondary that ranks second in the league in pass defense.
In all of the many times that Peyton Manning has battled Tom Brady, I cannot recall a time when both defenses were this good. It could be a surprisingly low-scoring affair, with lots of handoffs and field goals. If Thomas is going to have a good game, he almost has to get in the end zone. The Pats eliminate big plays, and there is no way Thomas breaks the century mark against Revis.
Happy Halloween, and happy week 9, folks!
Jordan Jackson is a writer for Scouts Alley. You can follow him on Twitter @JordanJackson1