We have reached the NFL’s three-quarter pole, which means the league’s playoff picture is murkier than ever. It also means that players, coaches and teams know they have to clamp down, which should make for a terrific set of games this weekend.
Without further ado, let’s jump into our five bold predictions.
Alex Smith proves Andy Reid right … for now
The enigmatic quarterback has been nothing short of awful during the last five games, four of which Kansas City has lost. In last week’s home defeat to reeling Buffalo, Smith totaled under 200 yards with one touchdown and one interception. In fact, the Chiefs combined for just 19 points against the Giants and Bills in almost nine quarters over the last two games. Better yet, Smith has posted a subpar TD-to-INT ratio (4:4) and passer rating (78.7) over the past four games.
Reid however, continues to stand by his veteran in lieu of rookie first-round draft choice, Patrick Mahomes II. And, at least for this week’s road tilt against the New York Jets, it will prove to be a good choice. The Jets — who have dropped five of their last six games — rank 15th in pass defense, and are now firmly out of playoff contention. Smith knows his job is on the line, and I expect a resounding response from the seasoned veteran.
2. Case Keenum finally hits a road block
Keenum — as we’ve written about — has become a legitimate MVP candidate. And anyone who was surprised with his impressive three-touchdown performance against Detroit on Thanksgiving Day simply hasn’t been paying close enough attention. And yet, Keenum is in line for a dud Sunday in Atlanta. The Falcons are a different animal right now. Winners of three straight, everything is clicking. I’ve written about the offense, but the Falcons defense has arguably been just as impressive. Through the first half of the season, they ranked 25th in pressure rate with just 31 quarterback knockdowns. During the current three-game winning streak however, they’ve jumped to 10th in pressure rate with a healthy 25 knockdowns.
3. Matthew Stafford has a disaster game on the road in Baltimore
Speaking of duds, this is a bad spot for Stafford. The Ravens boast a legitimate shut down defense, thanks in large part to the timeless Terrell Suggs. “Sizzle” already has 9 1/2 sacks for the year, including a timely strip sack of Tom Savage during Monday night’s key 23-16 win over Houston. And do you know the only quarterback with more strip sack fumbles than Savage? That’s right: Matthew Stafford.
4. Jimmy Garappolo lights it up as first-time San Francisco starter
Jimmy G may not be able to save the 1-10 49ers this season, but look for the 26-year-old to come out firing at Soldier Field in his first start with his new team. Look, expectations should be tempered for a guy in an entirely new offense with a patchwork offensive line and lackluster receiving core. But Garoppolo is a confident, accurate passer and he’s going to find a way — especially outside the pocket — to be successful against the lowly Bears.
5. Carolina Panthers upset the New Orleans Saints
Last week we correctly predicted Arizona’s upset over Jacksonville, and this week we are going bold again. There is a lot to like about the Saints right now, including their stout strong defense. However, with rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore out with an ankle injury since the first quarter of the Week 11 game versus Washington, the defense has predictably sputtered. Case in point: From Weeks 4-10, New Orleans posted the best passing defense in pro football — by more than 25 yards per game (allowing an average of 146.7). With Lattimore out the past two games though, they rank 31st at 313.5 yards per game. The rookie from Ohio State is an emerging superstar, and assuming both he and fellow starting corner Ken Crawley (abdomen) can’t go Sunday — the Panthers will pull the rare road upset in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
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Follow Jordan Schultz on Twitter @Schultz_Report
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