If you ask the fine folks at Disney they’ll tell you that the “Tree Of Life” is an attraction in the center of their Animal Kingdom portion of Disney World. That’s fine if you want to go off of what Disney says – Let It Go – but I’m here to tell you what the real “Tree Of Life” is.
Life as we know it revolves around the National Football League. By definition the “Tree Of Life” is what gives it life. As a result, I have constructed the actual Tree Of Life!
This is the tree that gives life to all 32 teams. Each week we pluck particular matchups off of it and square them off in a battle of ultimate supremacy. At season’s end there will be one final team standing atop this tree, but thankfully we have a ways to go before we know who that is.
If you’ve read my work at Inside The Star before – Hello, my name is RJ – then you know all about my mini helmet collection. This is it… on a tree, the Tree Of Life!
Thursday Night Football: Arizona Cardinals (1-3) At San Francisco 49ers (1-3)
We learned on Wednesday that Bruce Arians’ #BirdGang would be without the services of QB Carson Palmer. This is very not good, especially for a Cardinals team that has lost consecutive games to Buffalo and Los Angeles.
Chip Kelly and Co. are a bit of an enigma these days. Is the offense going to come together? Is Blaine Gabbert kind of good? Is Carlos Hyde’s 2016 for real? The answers to those questions are maybe, eh, and yes respectively. San Francisco has had a weird season, and they haven’t been anywhere near their Week 1 dominance.
Ultimately this game feels like a push, and in such situations you go off the quarterback in my opinion. Blaine Gabbert is better than Drew Stanton, that’s not saying much, so give me San Francisco.
Prediction: Cardinals – 16, 49ers – 20
Chicago Bears (1-3) At Indianapolis Colts (1-3)
I love a good Super Bowl rematch. This particular poison is reminiscent of Super Bowl XLI, the first Super Bowl to ever have outdoor elements influence it as rain happened (Purple Rain happened at halftime when Prince performed), but the quality of this game is very far from a Super Bowl.
Think about this for a second… Chicago has played more of 2016 with Brian Hoyer than Jay Cutler. That’s a sad reality for anyone, but the Bears are the Bears and that’s life. News came out on Wednesday that Kevin White, who’s only played four games in his career, is headed to IR… so I expect this to be a big Eddie Royal game against a bad Colts Defense.
Indianapolis elected not to have a bye after their London game – the first NFL team to make such a choice – and I think that’s a move that they’ll regret. The Colts are a mess, and they’re seriously wasting a once-in-a-generation talent like Andrew Luck. If anyone can find a way to put the Bears on a winning streak, it’s these Colts.
Prediction: Bears – 27, Colts – 21
New England Patriots (3-1) At Cleveland Browns (0-4)
Welcome back, Tom Brady.
Mr. Perfect returns to a near-perfect team as New England managed to win three games in their four-game Brady-less run to start the season. While the Pats are still waiting for Rob Gronkowski’s health to fully return – the same Gronk who says he can’t go grocery shopping without being heckled – they have all-star weapons in Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan waiting for Brady to go to work with.
The lone winless team in the NFL, not just this season but in terms of any kind of optimism this century, is the Cleveland Browns. They’ve already lost RGIII, Josh McCown, Corey Coleman, and amazingly Josh Gordon this season… but they’ve discovered Terrelle Pryor! I’m a believer in Pryor’s athletic skillset, but not this game. Not here. Not when Tom Brady is coming back and out for blood. This game is already over.
Prediction: Patriots – 33, Browns – 10
Philadelphia Eagles (3-0) At Detroit Lions (1-3)
Two NFL teams spent Week 4 on their couches during their Bye Week, and the Philadelphia Eagles were half of ’em. Rookie QB sensation Carson Wentz, who apparently consumes football non-stop, likely spent the week preparing for a hapless Lions team. Carson doesn’t need to work too hard, though; this Jim Schwartz-led Eagles Defense is feisty and is now visiting the team that their leader used to captain. Uh-oh.
Since winning their season-opener against Indianapolis, Detroit has been a mess. They’ve dropped three games in a row… two of which to the Titans and Bears. The Titans and Bears! Seriously! Matt Stafford is the ultimate hot-and-cold quarterback in the NFL, and Jim Bob Cooter is the Offensive Coordinator who has to find a way to continually heat things up. A date with Philadelphia isn’t the best place to start.
Jim Schwartz is going to get his last laugh in Detroit, and it’s going to come on a last-second touchdown courtesy a strip, sack, fumble thanks to a blitz dialed up by Schwartz. Bam.
Prediction: Eagles – 27, Lions – 20
Tennessee Titans (1-3) At Miami Dolphins (1-3)
This game is… rough.
This is the ultimate game for light shades of blue as the Titans and Dolphins both sort of incorporate it into their uniform combination. Gross.
Tennessee is ruining Marcus Mariota. Mike Mularkey is not fit to be a Head Coach in the NFL, but at least the Titans have a dominant run game to lean on. Hooray! DeMarco Murray has found life in Tennessee, maybe it’s because there are three little stars on his helmet and he mentally combines them into a big one so he can feel like a Cowboy again.
Miami, with players like Jarvis Landry and DeVante Parker, is one of the most boring teams in the league. How is that possible? Innovative offense mind Adam Gase? Who would have thought?! The Dolphins are the same story every year. Little tiny bits of flashes, but no real substance. This game sucks.
Prediction: Titans – 17, Dolphins – 13
Houston Texans (3-1) At Minnesota Vikings (4-0)
The Texans will hit the road for just the second time this season, and they are in for a tough test with these Vikings. Offensively Houston has some interesting pieces, and AFC Offensive Rookie of the Week Will Fuller is particularly exciting. The Texans Defense runs fairly deep, but with last week’s move of JJ Watt to IR and Devon Still joining him on Wednesday… the well suddenly seems more shallow.
Mike Zimmer is Coach of the Year. Lock it up right now, I don’t need to see anything else. This team has lost its quarterback, running back, left tackle, and primary defensive tackle all while climbing to the top of 4-0 mountain. It’s incredible. This team is so much fun and their defense plays with a ferocity that makes them the best in the world these days. #Skol!
Prediction: Texans – 17, Vikings – 26
New York Jets (1-3) At Pittsburgh Steelers (3-1)
J-E-T-S… Fitzpatrick kind of sucks!
The New York signal-caller not named Eli Manning has had a rough two weeks, throwing nine interceptions in only two games. I’m not a mathematician or anything, but that’s very un-good. The Jets will likely be missing Eric Decker this game, and while Brandon Marshall is the man it’s going to be difficult to keep pace with what might be the best offense in the NFL.
Pittsburgh is a franchise built on legendary defense, but Todd Haley is doing a lot of work to change that reputation. Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown combine for the most lethal aerial attack in the game currently, and it’s hard to imagine anyone stopping them (save for the Eagles to weeks ago). Expect the Steelers to be a bit stifled by New York’s great D-Line, but for Big Ben to pull away early in the fourth.
Prediction: Jets – 20, Steelers – 38
Washington Redskins (2-2) At Baltimore Ravens (3-1)
The Battle of
the ugliest state flag there ever was Maryland!
Washington almost managed to give away a game to the Cleveland Browns last week, but holy moly is Jordan Reed a terrifying target in their passing game. Kirk Cousins is beginning to get a little bit more comfortable this season, and if he finds anything close to his 2015 form this season could be interesting. Not in Baltimore, though. That’s Tracy Turnblad country.
Last week was interesting for the Ravens as they entered it the least impressive undefeated team in the league. They lost a heartbreaker of a shootout to the Oakland Raiders, but Joe Flacco’s offense looks more legit than most were willing to admit. With Justin Forsett officially gone – and cleverly looking for work – Terrance West is going to be the man on the ground and grind this bad boy out for Baltimore.
Prediction: Redskins – 24, Ravens – 30
Atlanta Falcons (3-1) At Denver Broncos (4-0)
We have ourselves another Super Bowl Rematch! Yes! (Super Bowl XXXIII).
Atlanta is bringing to the Mile High City a passer coming off a 500-yard game and receiver coming off a 300-yard game. If you were unaware those are good things to have in a football game. Atlanta’s offense is indeed for real, but it’s in for one of the toughest possible tests that a team can face… the Denver Broncos Defense.
Things are still a bit unclear as to who will be starting at quarterback for the World Champions. It could be Trevor Siemian, who has looked good so far this year, or rookie first-rounder Paxton Lynch, who looked good in limited action last week. Either way whoever it is will be targeting Emmanuel Sanders a ton as #10 in orange has managed to out-target fellow wideout Demaryius Thomas on the season.
This is potentially the matchup of the week as far as Julio Jones and the Broncos Secondary. My money’s on the World Champs.
Prediction: Falcons – 20, Broncos – 23
Buffalo Bills (2-2) At Los Angeles Rams (3-1)
Well hey, who would have thought these two teams would have these two records entering this game? Anyone? Bueller?
Bills Mafia is riding a serious wave of happiness after shutting out the Patriots in Foxborough last week, bringing them up to .500 on the season. Rex Ryan is the lone disappointed person as his fixation on Bill Belichick doesn’t make sense when he’s not playing him, and Jeff Fisher is hardly The Hooded One. The Bills are hard to figure out, but we know one thing for sure… Tyrod Taylor sure is good.
The division-leading Los Angeles Rams – yes, really – are one of this season’s biggest surprises. Not only are they currently atop the NFC West, but they are coming off of back to back wins against Seattle and Arizona. Jeff Fisher’s Hard Knocks speech must have worked, and it’ll likely carry over at least another week in sunny LA.
Prediction: Bills – 17, Rams – 22
Cincinnati Bengals (2-2) At Dallas Cowboys (3-1)
This isn’t Julio Jones against the Broncos, but AJ Green against Morris Claiborne is going to be a lot of fun to watch in this game.
The Bengals have had some extra time to digest their win at home against the Dolphins last Thursday night, but that extra time hasn’t helped Tyler Eifert’s odds to play on Sunday. This means that the Bengals, who are horrible in the redzone this season, will continue to be without one of their biggest touchdown machines. Cue the Cincy sad faces.
Byron Jones aka Late Night Ice Cream will likely help Morris Claiborne attempt to shut down AJ Green, but it’s the Cowboys Offense that has people particularly excited in 2016. Rookie quarterback Dak Prescott has thrown a record 131 passes to begin his career without an interception, and Zeke Elliott is leading the league in rushing with 412 yards. Consider these two Siegfried and Roy this week as the tame the tigers.
Prediction: Bengals – 23, Cowboys – 27
San Diego Chargers (1-3) At Oakland Raiders (3-1)
No one, and I mean absolutely no one, has had the porous luck San Diego has had this season. Keenan Allen, Danny Woodhead, Manti Te’O, and now Jason Verrett have all been lost for the season. That is some seriously tough cookies. Despite all of that San Diego has played well, and are the NFL’s best 1-3 team. Unfortunately we’re not here to hand out ribbons for such a prize.
The Raiders are the most fun team in the NFL right now. Blackjack Del Rio, Derek Carr, and Michael Crabtree have captivated our hearts and they have done a lot to live up to their offseason hype. They manage to win games in epic fashion, and the Chargers find ways to lose in the same manner… give me a classic game with Oakland coming out on top at the Black Hole.
Prediction: Chargers – 30, Raiders – 34
Sunday Night Football: New York Giants (2-2) At Green Bay Packers (2-1)
I’ll admit that writing weekly game picks is a long process, but I want you to know that, unlike football for Odell Beckham Jr. these days, it is still fun for me.
The G-Men are coming off a pretty lowly loss in Minny on Monday Night Football. Odell Beckham Jr. had a career-low 23 yards, but rookie wideout Sterling Shephard looks incredible. Head Coach Ben McAdoo’s offense hasn’t really clicked this season, and I’m starting to wonder if it’s ever going to, but if it does the Giants Defense (who is undoubtedly improved) will get some help. The Packers in Primetime at Lambeau, though? Ouch.
Green Bay probably texted Philadelphia while they were both on bye last week, and the Packers probably used it to make sure their offense is really ready for 2016. Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson have shown flashes of who they once were early this year, and they’re going to come out trying to send a message in this game… a message that’ll be heard loud and clear.
Prediction: Giants – 17, Packers – 38
Monday Night Football: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-3) At Carolina Panthers (1-3)
Word on the street before the season began was that Jameis Winston was going to take the next step this season… we haven’t seen it yet. The Buccaneers and Dirk Koetter have lost three in a row, and it’s tough to imagine they’ll get on track against the Panthers. Jameis and Mike Evans are going to light it up, but Carolina is going to be rockin’ as the hometown team is in desperate need of a win right now.
SuperCam has seemingly been surrounded by kryptonite this season. The Panthers are one loss away from utter panic as 1-3 was a hand that no one saw them being dealt. Without being too dramatic, it should be noted that the Panthers 2016 season depends on this game, and they might be in it without Cam Newton. Either way in situations like this the more desperate, and talented, team tends to win and that’s without a doubt the Panthers.
Prediction: Buccaneers – 14, Panthers – 23