WHEN IT WAS announced yesterday that the Jacksonville Jaguars would host the San Francisco 49ers in next year’s London game, two things crossed my mind.
Firstly, why make the 49ers travel so far for a game they’ll win in the first quarter and secondly, the NFL clearly think San Francisco will hear London calling as Super Bowl champions.
It’s not exactly a controversial view. The 49ers narrowly lost last season’s NFC Championship game to this weekend’s opponents and – though they may say otherwise in that inane way professional sports people stick to the script – will definitely be out for a measure of revenge on Sunday.
New York Giants @ San Francisco 49ers
This will be the third meeting of these two teams in a little over 11 months with the series tied at one apiece. The 49ers emerged victorious in the first encounter last November, thanks in large part to the boot of David Akers who kicked four field goals in a 27-20 win. However, it was the Giants who won when it mattered most, beating the 49ers in overtime in last season’s NFC Championship game.
The striking thing about those two games, besides the sheer number of field goals (nine in total), is that the Giants absolutely dominated San Francisco in terms of possession with 160 offensive snaps compared to the 49ers’ 109. This shows two things; the Giants were wasteful in possession and the San Francisco defence deserves its billing as top dog in the NFC.
They’ve reinforced that position this year; ranking second overall in yards allowed (262.6 per game) while conceding the fewest points in the NFL (13.6 pg). On offence, they’ve clicked into gear too, ranking third in scoring (29.8 ppg) and sixth in yardage (401.6 pg) with no less than nine different players sharing 17 touchdowns.
The Giants, meanwhile, are having a very similar season to 2011 by being great one week and terrible the next. With an offence that’s ranked second in both points per game (30.4) and yardage (429.2), you would imagine they would have a much better record than 3-2. However, defensive frailties are hurting big blue and, after ranking second in the NFL with 48 sacks last year, they have just eight this season.
Verdict: If you can’t get to the opposing quarterback, not matter how limited he is, he will tear you apart, especially when he has phenomenal run support to call on too. The only way the Giants win this is if it turns into a shootout and I can’t see that happening. 49ers by 6.
Dallas Cowboys @ Baltimore Ravens
The Baltimore Ravens are the only current NFL team the Dallas Cowboys have never beaten. Wow. However, they have only played each other three times so it’s actually not that impressive. Of much more concern for the Cowboys should be the fact they’ve lost their last two games in Baltimore by a combined score of 57-10.
If they are to re-write history, the Cowboys and Tony Romo in particular, will have to be much more careful with the football than they have been through four games. Romo is personally responsible for ten of the team’s 11 turnovers, thanks to two fumbles and eight interceptions – five of which came in their last game against the Chicago Bears.
The Ravens meanwhile, have had a funny season, winning their last three games by a combined total of just 11 points and, were it not for the accuracy of rookie kicker Justin Tucker, could quite easily be 2-3 instead of 4-1. The fact they rank 21st in rushing attempts (588) yet fifth in yards per run (4.9) and ninth in pass attempts (186) yet just 17th in completions (61.3%) tells you that Cam Cameron is either the worst offensive co-ordinator in the NFL or mistakenly auto-drafted Joe Flacco to his fantasy football team.
Verdict: The Cowboys may have one of the best records in the NFL when it comes to games after a bye-week (16-7) but they just don’t have the run game to threaten the Ravens this weekend. Ravens by 7+.
Green Bay Packers @ Houston Texans
Before the start of the season, I had this Sunday’s late game between the Packers and Texans highlighted as a potential Super Bowl preview. However, the stuttering Green Bay offence has seen them slip to 2-3 and in desperate need of a win this weekend to re-ignite their playoff hopes.
Pity then, they come up against one of the two undefeated teams left in the NFL in the formidable shape of the Houston Texans. While many rightly laud Houston for their defence which ranks fourth in points allowed per game (14.6) and third in yards allowed (275.6 pg), their offence is actually the third highest scoring in the NFL (29.8 ppg) and hold on to the ball better than any other team with an average time of possession of 35.29 which is more than a minute longer than their nearest rival.
What is killing the Packers this season is the lack of a run game. Injuries haven’t helped, but they rank just 27th in rushing attempts with 22.4 per game and though they’ve been somewhat one-dimensional for a while now, they are simply failing to get the ball into the endzone. By the way, don’t let people, including the quarterback himself, tell you this is all Aaron Rodgers fault. He is actually more accurate this year (68.6%) than he was last year when he finished second in the NFL completion rankings with 68.3%.
Verdict: This will be the Texans’ first game without Brian Cushing on defence and it’s difficult to tell what effect his loss will have. However, something is not right in Green Bay and Houston is not the place to come if you’re looking to kick-start to your season. Texans by 5+.
All fixtures and predictions:
Pittsburgh Steelers 23 @ Tennessee Titans 26
Oakland Raiders @ Atlanta Falcons – Falcons
Cincinnati Bengals @ Cleveland Browns – Bengals
St. Louis Rams @ Miami Dolphins – Rams
Indianapolis Colts @ New York Jets – Colts
Detroit Lions @ Philadelphia Eagles – Lions
Kansas City Chiefs @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers – Buccaneers
Buffalo Bills @ Arizona Cardinals – Cardinals
New England Patriots @ Seattle Seahawks – Seahawks
Minnesota Vikings @ Washington Redskins – Vikings
Denver Broncos @ San Diego Chargers – Broncos