Friday, March 7, 2014
(Continued from page 1)
Prediction: Bengals, 27-23.
BUCCANEERS (5-4) at PANTHERS (2-7), 1 p.m.
Bucs barely got past Panthers in September, 16-10, but Carolina has sort of gone stagnant since then while Tampa has been en fuego, with five consecutive games of 28-plus points. Josh Freeman has had a 115.9 passer rating in those games, with zero picks in 151 attempts. Tardily, I think I'm finally on board that Bucs bandwagon.
Prediction: Buccaneers, 23-20.
SAINTS (4-5) at RAIDERS (3-6), 4:05 p.m.
Two weeks ago, the Oakland defense was trampled for 278 rushing yards by Tampa. Last week, Oakland was bludgeoned for 51 points by Baltimore. And now here comes Drew Brees, who tends to make even good defenses look bad. I mean, I know anything can happen in this weird NFL, but beyond a Saints letdown after beating Atlanta, there is little here testifying on behalf of a Raiders upset.
Prediction: Saints, 37-24.
CHARGERS (4-5) at BRONCOS (6-3), 4:25 p.m.
San Diego has won three in a row on road in this division rivalry, but things have changed. The change is named Peyton Manning. Chargers will have much incentive after embarrassingly blowing a 24-0 lead and losing to Denver 35-24 in October, but Broncos have Manning, who in four home games has 10 TDs, zero picks and a 115.3 rating. Chargers have yet to beat a team with a winning record, but should keep this one close.
Prediction: Broncos, 30-26.
RAVENS (7-2) at STEELERS (6-3), 8:20 p.m.
Shoulder and rib issues will shelve Ben Roethlisberger and foist veteran Byron Leftwich into his first start since 2009 in this Game of the Week matchup. This is one of three games this week affected by new QB injuries, and this one must fill a Steelers fan with dread considering Pittsburgh needed overtime with Leftwich steering just to survive the lowly Chiefs last week. And Ravens have won past two at Heinz Field even when Roethlisberger was pitching. Nevertheless, I'm still feeling a prime-time upset -- maybe by hunch more than logic, I'd admit. Steelers are on a nice roll, are 4-0 at home, and will rise up with a big defensive effort.
Prediction: Steelers, 20-17.
BEARS (7-2) at 49ERS (6-2-1), 8:30 p.m.
The Game of the Week runner-up stayed off betting boards because both QBs -- Bears' Jay Cutler and Niners' Alex Smith -- were battling concussions and iffy. As the week wore on it seemed likely that Smith would start but Cutler would sit in favor of experienced backup Jason Campbell. That and the venue steer this pick in what should be a delicious defensive battle.
Prediction: 49ers, 19-17.
-- Greg Cote, The Miami Herald; last week -- 9-4-1; season -- 93-52-1