NFL Week 9 Preview — Panthers vs. Packers Could Be an NFC Title Game Preview
Teams have just about reached the halfway point of the 2015 NFL season. Week 9 features several interesting games, including one match-up we could see again in the playoffs. Here’s a preview of this week’s action:
Thursday, November 5
Johnny Manziel Gets Another Shot at the Bengals
Cleveland at Cincinnati | Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati; 8:25 p.m. (ET) on NFL Network
The mythical football gods have a great sense of timing (and, perhaps, humor): why else would they let Browns backup quarterback Johnny Manziel make his second start of the 2015 season against the undefeated Bengals? Manziel can avenge his most embarrassing professional defeat by leading Cleveland (2–6) over Cincinnati (7–0) in a national primetime game. Or, he could confirm all the doubts about his ability to be an NFL starter.
In leading the Browns over the Titans in Week 2, Manziel seemed better than he was when the Bengals held him to 80 yards passing in a 30-0 whitewashing last year. Trouble is, Cincinnati has been much better, too. The Bengals, led by quarterback Andy Dalton, have played like championship contenders this season. If the Seattle and Buffalo defenses couldn’t stop Cincy’s offense, it’s hard to believe the Browns 30th-ranked unit can slow them down. Johnny Football’s magic act better be in top form to keep this one interesting.
Sunday, November 8
Panthers vs. Packers Could Be an NFC Title Game Preview
Green Bay at Carolina | Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox
The road to the Super Bowl might go through Charlotte. Carolina (7–0) is the NFC’s last unbeaten team because of an aggressive defense led by Luke Kuechly, Thomas Davis and Jared Allen. As long as quarterback Cam Newton makes enough big plays — and avoids big mistakes — the Panthers remain a surprise contender to reach Santa Clara in February.
It won’t surprise anyone if the Packers get to the Super Bowl. They will, however, have to play much better than they did in last Sunday’s embarrassing loss to the Broncos to get there. The real worry for Green Bay (6–1) is that the Carolina defense might be just as good as Denver’s, a unit that held Aaron Rodgers to under 100 yards passing last week.
It seems clear that each of these teams will end the first half of the 2015 NFL season as one of the best squads in the NFC. The Cardinals, Falcons and Seahawks still may have something to say about which team represents the conference, but a Panthers-Packers title game is a strong possibility.
The Blaine Gabbert Era Has Arrived in San Francisco. Great.
Atlanta at San Francisco | Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara, Calif; 4:05 p.m. (ET) on Fox
After his team failed to score a touchdown in the last eight-plus quarters with Colin Kaepernick at quarterback, 49ers head coach Jim Tomsula decided that backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert could be the answer for San Francisco (2–6). Perhaps. Especially if the question is: "How do we get a higher pick in the 2016 NFL Draft?"
Gabbert was 5–22 in 27 starts with Jacksonville from 2011–2013, throwing 22 touchdowns and 24 interceptions for a career passer rating of 66.8. And, thanks to the early announcement, Atlanta (6–2) has had all week to game-plan for him. Of course, Tomsula was playing the hand he’s been dealt while presiding over the rotting corpse of a team that reached three consecutive NFC title games from 2011–13. He, Kaepernick and Gabbert might all find their way out of the Bay Area before the start of next season.
Peyton Manning Returns to Indianapolis (Again)
Denver at Indianapolis | Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis; 4:25 p.m. (ET) on CBS
The Peyton Manning–faces-the-Colts storyline has gotten as old as the future Hall of Fame quarterback. The real twist: Manning has clearly fared better than his former team since he signed with the Broncos in 2012. Even this year, with Manning having a middling season and Indy restocking its offense with weapons, Denver (7–0) is a Super Bowl contender and Indianapolis (3–5) isn’t.
Current Colts’ quarterback Andrew Luck only wishes he had the team Manning did when he was in Indy. Luck has been sacked 14 times and thrown 12 interceptions in six starts this season. Those numbers aren’t likely to improve this week against the best defense in the NFL.
The Cowboys Really Miss Tony Romo
Philadelphia at Dallas | AT&T Stadium, Arlington; 8:30 p.m. (ET) on NBC
Is any player more valuable to his team than Tony Romo is to the Cowboys? Before Romo was injured in Week 2 against the Eagles, Dallas (2–5) seemed poised to be an NFC title contender. Since then: five losses, two starting quarterbacks and many Cowboys fans falling off the bandwagon. Worse, Romo won’t be back until November 22 at the earliest. That leaves Matt Cassel to try to lead Dallas to its second win over Philadelphia (3–4) in 2015.
This rivalry always seems to get a primetime showcase, but unless Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford spent his bye week getting much better with Chip Kelly’s sputtering offense, this could be an ugly, error-filled mess of a game — a lot like the teams’ first meeting.
Sunday, November 8
Oakland at Pittsburgh | Heinz Field, Pittsburgh; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Washington at New England | Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, Mass; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox
Tennessee at New Orleans | Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
Miami at Buffalo | Ralph Wilson Stadium, Buffalo, N.Y.; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
St. Louis at Minnesota | TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis; 1 p.m. (ET) on Fox
Jacksonville at New York | MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, N.J.; 1 p.m. (ET) on CBS
N.Y. Giants at Tampa Bay | Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Fla. 4:05 p.m. (ET) on Fox
Monday, November 9
Chicago at San Diego | Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego; 8:30 p.m. (ET) on ESPN
BYE: Detroit, Kansas City, Arizona, Seattle, Baltimore, Houston