Half of the NFC West is on a bye this weekend as the St. Louis Rams and San Fransisco 49ers both have the weekend off to rest up and prepare for their game against each other in week 10. As a bit of a coincidence the other two NFC West teams are playing NFC North teams this weekend, the two divisions that were being considered the toughest in the NFL a few weeks ago. The argument over which is the better division has certainly cooled off for now, but this weekends games could go a long way toward either divisions case as the NFL’s best. So let’s take a look at each game and how each team matches up against one another in each phase.
Arizona Cardinals @ Green Bay Packers. If you are a fan of the Arizona Cardinals you have to be dreading this game. After the Cardinals dropped their 4th straight game to fall to 4-4 I am beginning to wonder if they will win any more games this season with the divisions toughest remaining schedule.
Cardinals Defense vs. Packers Offense. The Cardinals strongest unit versus the Packers strongest unit will definitely go a long way in determining how competitive this game is, but considering how good Alex Smith looked against the Cardinals defense in week 8 all signs point to a huge day from Aaron Rodgers. While the Packers still don’t have much of a ground game Rodgers has been very sharp in the second quarter of the season and should make life difficult for the Cardinals secondary. If Patrick Peterson couldn’t handle Michael Crabtree I imagine that Randall Cobb will have similar success.
Cardinals Offense vs. Packers Defense. The Cardinals will catch a break here as they go from facing arguably the best defense in the NFL to one that is really more middle of the NFL and is plagued with injuries. The bad news for the Cardinals is that the Packers are tied for the NFL lead in sacks (with the Cardinals actually) led by Clay Matthews and his 9 sacks. The Cardinals offense will have to try to run the ball effectively to take pressure off their quarterback if they are going to have a shot at the upset.
Special Teams. I will give the special teams nod to the Arizona Cardinals and their ever dangerous return man Patrick Peterson. That being said Peterson hasn’t been nearly as effective this season as he was in his rookie campaign. The Cardinals offense desperately needs Peterson to start having a big impact in the return game by scoring touchdowns or providing the short fields required for them to generate points.
The Packers should have a relatively easy time with the Cardinals in Lambeau field, however I also would have expected them to beat the Jaguars by 30 points last weekend so you just never know in the NFL.
Minnesota Vikings @ Seattle Seahawks. This is honestly one of the more intriguing matchups of week 9, two teams fighting to stay in the playoff race that rely on a strong running game and a young quarterback. The Vikings started the season very well before recent struggles from Ponder have cooled them off, while the Seahawks have been a whole other team at home in 2012.
Seahawks Offense vs. Vikings Defense. The Seattle offense has been built around a power running game and with good reason, they have the kind of defense that can win low scoring games. Lately though the offense has started to run a little bit more through the rookie Russell Wilson and by all accounts he has delivered. Wilson still has a ton of room to improve, as his 180 yards per game statistic would imply, but he throws a very nice deep ball and is almost impossible to rattle. As long as he doesn’t turn the ball over the Seahawks can win with that kind of production.
Seahawks Defense vs. Vikings Offense. The Seahawks defense is allowing only 85 yards per game on the ground at 3.7 yards per carry. While I do believe that they are a very solid defense I can’t imagine they will have that level of success against Adrian Peterson on Sunday. The Seahawks secondary is a formidable bunch that can take away your prototypical #1 receiver with physical play at the line of scrimmage, one area they struggle at is covering the small quicker receivers as Titus Young showed last week. That is good news for the Vikings as they have Percy Harvin, probably the most dangerous small and quick receiver in the league. Of course the Vikings don’t have a player like Megatron lined up on the outside to draw coverage away from Harvin and provide him the space he needs to make plays.
Special Teams. The Seahawks should hold the advantage in special teams as they have one of the best returners in the league, as well as a solid kicker and one of the top punters. The Vikings do have the big play ability in special teams as their win over the Lions in week 4 showed, when they returned a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns. The slight advantage goes to the home team here as I don’t expect either team to have an impact play on special teams.
If you are a Rams fan who still believes that they have a shot at the playoffs the best thing to root for here is a tie. Either one of these teams securing the win makes the Rams road to the playoffs that much more difficult. It is hard not to take the Seahawks at home, but you can’t count out any team that has Peterson in the backfield.
Even though the Rams aren’t playing this weekend the games could have a big impact on their positioning within the NFC West. If the Seahawks and Cardinals were to lose this weekend it would put the Rams only 1 game out of 2nd place heading into their matchup with the 49ers in week 10. Of course the Rams will need to start winning again for any of that to matter, but hopefully the extra planning and a return to health in the bye week will be enough for the Rams to make a push in the second half of the season. Enjoy the games this weekend and as always GoRams!!