Last week saw 3 very near upsets from Arizona, Cleveland and Jacksonville, only to be denied in at the death.
Our pickers have found a rhythm now, and it's getting very, very close. With Phil leading by just one from TomTom Sports and by two from Toby every game is crucial, and one bad week could see you fall out of contention for the most coveted title in all of sports. With no more byes for the rest of the season we're back to picking 16 games a week, so let's get on it. But first, our games of the week...
Toby's Game of the Week: San Francisco 49ers (7-2-1) @ New Orleans Saints (5-5), Sunday 9:25pm ET
A repeat of last years explosive divisional round playoff game which saw San Francisco pull out a 36-32 win in which the lead changed hands 4 times in the last 4 minutes.
There are a few differences to this game from that dramatic playoff one though, firstly is the QB controversy that Monday's drubbing of the Bears has bought up. Alex Smith had lead the 49ers to, and through, that Saints game in January, and followed it up with a solid 6-2-1 record this season. But his concussion left the door open for Colin Kaepernick, and boy did the 2nd year man take advantage of his opportunity. His stat line against the vaunted Bears defense reads: 16/23, 243 yards and 2 touchdowns. But it's what he was doing beyond that that was so impressive. He was identifying good matchups, changing the play at the line of scrimmage and making throws that left you thinking "Why didn't they start him earlier!?".
Unlike last year, this Saints team is no juggernaut. The defense, while playing better recently, is still a train wreck, and the offense has not looked at it's unstoppable best for the majority of the year. Darren Sproles' broken hand has meant more touches for Chris Ivory and Mark Ingram, who have done well with the opportunity, but they lack the explosiveness and matchup issues that Sproles provides. It's possible he could be back for this game, but as we saw on monday night, Patrick Willis and NaVarro Bowman have little difficulty covering running backs.
One of the big deciding factors in this game will be how the Saints defense copes with San Francisco's running attack, which is the most varied in the league. They'll attack you from standard I formations, unbalanced lines, double tight sets and anything else they can think of. They'll take advantage of over-eager defensive tackles with a crushing trap game, or else run counters & powers behind the monstrous Mike Iupati. If the Saints front 7 don't stay disciplined and strong then Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter could be running all over them before the Saints know what hit them.
San Francisco also boast the league's leading sack-getter in Aldon Smith thanks to 5.5 sacks on monday night (sacks against J'Marcus Webb ought really to count as half though) who will be let loose on yet another pair of shaky offensive tackles.
Despite the Saints recent run of 5 wins in 6 which has seen them back in the playoff hunt, I think this will be one ask too far New Orleans.
|HOU @ DET||HOU||HOU||HOU||HOU|
|WAS @ DAL||DAL||WAS||WAS||WAS||DAL||DAL|
|NE @ NYJ||NE||NE||NE||NE|
|OAK @ CIN||CIN||CIN||CIN||CIN|
|PIT @ CLE||PIT||CLE||PIT||PIT|
|BUF @ IND||IND||IND||BUF||IND|
|DEN @ KC||DEN||DEN||DEN||DEN|
|SEA @ MIA||SEA||SEA||SEA||SEA||SEA|
|ATL @ TB||ATL||ATL||TB||TB|
|TEN @ JAX||JAX||TEN||TEN||TEN||TEN|
|BAL @ SD||BAL||BAL||BAL||BAL|
|STL @ ARI||STL||STL||ARI||STL||STL|
|SF @ NO||NO||SF||SF||SF|
|GB @ NYG||GB||GB||GB||GB||GB||GB||NYG|