Phil has lept into a 1 game lead after another outstanding week, going 13-1 to gain some separation. It was a week that seemed to go largely as expected, with reports that the sportsbooks in Las Vegas had a really bad day as a lot of the favourites cantered to victory.
Well this week we've all been left with some work to do to chase Phil down, and there looks to be many tricky to call matchups this week, from the NFC East battle between Philadelphia and Dallas to the NFC North game between the struggling Lions & Vikings. So let's take a look into our games of the week, starting with what could be a defensive war between two 7-1 teams....
Toby's Game of the Week: Houston Texans (7-1) @ Chicago Bears (7-1), Sunday 8:30pm ET
Game of the week? This thing has the chance to be game of the season! We've got two of the best defenses in the league, featuring the favourites for defensive player of the year, going toe to toe and we have two of the most productive running backs looking to find some sort of space against them.
Chicago's 7-1 record is perhaps a little soft. They've hardly had to break a sweat in a schedule that's been packed with some of the worst teams (Tennessee, Jacksonville & Carolina) and the middle of the pack ones (Rams, Colts, Cowboys). The only team of note they've faced was a week 2 game in Green Bay, which they lost. And yet, Chicago's defense can not be denied it's greatness. Despite a soft schedule so far they've torn through teams like they weren't even there. The defensive line, featuring players like Cory Wooton, Henry Melton and Stephen Paea on the inside and the formidable Julius Peppers on the outside, has been fantastic, Charles "Peanut" Tillman and Tim Jennings make up the best cornerback tandem in the league by some way, while Lance Briggs flies around from his outside linebacker spot. They still have the great Brian Urlacher, although age and a torn PCL have sapped him of his speed he's still a force in the run game. Chicago's 1st team defense & special teams has given up just 8 touchdowns this year but they've scored 8 themselves. 7 interception returns and a blocked punt is an amazing total, throw in all the forced fumbles that the "Peanut Punch" has been producing this year and you have a defense who is a threat to score from anywhere on the field.
Which means that Houston's defense is going to have to be just as tough. Despite losing Brian Cushing for the year, Houston has continued to play great defense. The pressure they generate on opposing QB's is second to none, with Connor Barwin and Brooks Reed coming off the edge and the unstoppable JJ Watt re-defining the 3-4 defensive end position Jay Cutler is going to be in for a long night behind his shaky offensive line.
If Chicago have any sense, they should exploit Houston's aggressiveness and it's lack of coverage ability at inside linebacker and attack them with screens. Matt Forte is one of the best receiving threats out of the back field in the NFL, and getting him the ball has to be a priority.
The key match ups on the outside are going to be Houston trying to shut down Brandon Marshall. If Jonathan Joseph can play with the big wide out then Houston are going to give Chicago a real tough day, if Joseph needs safety help then Cutler ought to be able to find the likes of Earl Bennett with more regularity. We know that Tillman and Jennings are capable of covering anyone after the job they (mostly Tillman) did on Calvin Johnson. But there's a chance that Tillman will miss this game to attend the birth of his child, if this is the case then Andre Johnson will become Tim Jennings' responsibility, and despite Johnson's recent struggle for form he can still be a real physical challenge for any corner. Chicago are also going to have to figure out a way to defend a resurgent Owen Daniels. With Brian Urlacher struggling for mobility covering Daniels' crossing routes and seams off of play action are going to be a lot more trickier than they used to be.
I'm really stumped for who's going to win this. There are compelling arguments to be made for both sides, but I just keep coming back to Chicago's awful RG/RT combo and how JJ Watt is going to be lining up against them....
Guest Game of the Week: Dallas Cowboys (3-5) @ Philadelphia Eagles (3-5): Sunday 4:25pm ET
By Olly Dawes, 2nd City Fanatics (@2ndCityFanatics)
It's an NFC East battle this weekend, as the Dallas Cowboys take on the Philadelphia Eagles in a clash that will define both of their seasons.
The Cowboys are coming off a tight defeat to the Atlanta Falcons, as the only remaining unbeaten team in the NFL won 19-13, whilst the Eagles suffered arguably their worst defeat of the season, losing 28-13 to New Orleans on Monday night.
Both sides sit with a 3-5 record, but one will finish the weekend 3-6 and surely out of the playoff race. It's a crucial game for two sides having disappointing seasons, particularly for their under-fire head coaches.
Jason Garrett has come in for considerable criticism this season, with some questionable play calling and time management, whilst the ever-inconsistent Tony Romo has reverted to type, effortlessly transitioning between looking like an elite Quarterback and looking like a very average player.
The Cowboys have already beaten Divisional rivals New York Giants once, but also lost to them two weeks ago. Winning against the Eagles would give them a slim chance of making the postseason, but they need to be more productive on offense than they were in Georgia on Sunday night.
Meanwhile, the Eagles lurch from one disaster to another. From the firing of Defensive Coordinator to the constant questioning of Michael Vick's future in Philadelphia, this season has been just as bad as 2011.
Monday night's defeat to the previously comical New Orleans Saints was surely the final nail in the Eagles coffin, as Andy Reid and quarterback Vick are bound for the exit at the end of the season.
It's quite a turnaround, as the Eagles started the season in fine form, winning three of the opening four games of the season. Expectations were high and there was a sense of optimism around the team, but the loss to Detroit in Week 6 was a monumental collapse. They are now on a four game losing streak, and have to beat their rivals on Sunday to have any chance of prolonging their season beyond Week 17.
The game could be ugly, mistake ridden and a display of two teams nervously looking to find some form, and it may simply come down to which team makes the least mistakes. Both quarterbacks are known for turning the ball over and providing the occasional mishap. The winner will be the team that manages to prevent turning the ball over, but the game promises to be intriguing rather than entertaining.
|IND @ JAX||IND||IND||JAX||IND|
|NYG @ CIN||NYG||NYG||NYG||NYG||NYG||NYG|
|TEN @ MIA||MIA||MIA||MIA||MIA|
|BUF @ NE||NE||NE||NE
|ATL @ NO||ATL||ATL||ATL||NO|
|SD @ TB||TB||TB
|DEN @ CAR||DEN||DEN
|OAK @ BAL||BAL||BAL||BAL|
|NYJ @ SEA||SEA||SEA
|DAL @ PHI||DAL||DAL||DAL
|STL @ SF||SF||SF|
|HOU @ CHI||HOU||CHI||CHI|
|KC @ PIT||PIT||PIT||PIT|