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Victories for the underdogs in another wild NFL weekend

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Neil Reynolds | 11:17 UK time, Tuesday, 29 September 2009

I'm not very good at making predictions, I have to admit. But I'm quite proud of a couple that came to fruition over the weekend.

On the eve of the 2009 NFL campaign, I predicted this would be one of the most open races in recent league history. And it is proving to be the case after another wild set of games on Sunday night.

Who would have thought the Denver Broncos and New York Jets would be 3-0 while three playoff teams from 2008 - Tennessee, Miami and Carolina - would be waiting for their first wins at 0-3?

I also predicted that the Cincinnati Bengals would push the Pittsburgh Steelers very hard and make a competitive game of what some were suggesting might be a blow-out. Well, the Bengals went one step further than that and pulled off a stunning upset on BBC 5 live sports extra, clinching a 23-20 win on Carson Palmer's touchdown pass to Andre Caldwell with 14 seconds remaining.

And finally, I predicted that the Detroit Lions, who had not won an NFL contest since December 2007, would end their 19-game losing streak by defeating the Washington Redskins. Behind the passing of rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford and the rushing of Kevin Smith, the Lions did just that by a 19-14 scoreline.

First to the Bengals, who are officially the least experienced team in the NFL with an average of 3.7 years of experience per player. They fell into an early 13-0 hole against the Steelers and that was not good news.

Carson Palmer
Carson Palmer had an outstanding game for the Bengals

But the Bengals didn't panic. They could easily have abandoned the ground game - especially against Pittsburgh's brutal run defense - but that would only have invited the Steelers linebackers, led by James Harrison, to pin their ears back and go after Carson Palmer on every play.

Instead, Cincinnati mixed in Cedric Benson runs with accurate passes from Palmer. And they got their reward with that late game-winning score. It's hard to believe but had it not been for a miracle Denver touchdown in week one, the team lovably known as the Bungles could be top of the AFC North with a perfect 3-0 record.

The Lions are also a young team in rebuilding mode and for such an inexperienced club, they played a very clean game against the Redskins. Head coach Jim Schwartz would have been pleased with the form of Stafford, who took care of the football and didn't throw an interception or lose a fumble.

The running game produced 154 yards, the offense held the ball for 37 minutes and the linemen took care of business up front, restricting the Redskins to just two quarterback sacks.

While the Bengals and Lions were rejoicing after Sunday's action, Pittsburgh and Washington would have been distraught.

The defending Super Bowl champion Steelers have worrying problems. Their offensive line remains an area of weakness and the fact that unit was not upgraded in the off-season is frankly shocking.

And Pittsburgh find it hard to finish drives. They settled for two short field goals in the first half in Cincinnati because they couldn't punch the ball into the end zone from inside the five-yard line. Had those early opportunities resulted in touchdowns, the Steelers would have led 21-3 at the half rather than 13-3 and the game would likely have been all but over.

As for Washington, head coach Jim Zorn will be feeling the heat. Redskins owner Daniel Snyder is losing patience and is probably already thinking about a high-profile replacement for 2010, namely Bill Cowher, Mike Shanahan or Jon Gruden.

You can catch Neil commentating on an NFL game every Sunday on BBC 5 live sports extra throughout the season.(UK users only).


  • Comment number 1.

    As a Lions fan, we get (quite rightly) very little coverage, so I snap up any publicity I can. Is there any signs of recovery? Or are we looking at another few years before we can become a winning side again? I say "again", it's been a while, but surely some top picks will be coming through soon. Is Stafford the real deal and what are the chances of him moving on which seems to be happening more in the NFL these days?

  • Comment number 2.

    Good blog Neil, great to get up to date info from across the pond!

  • Comment number 3.

    Great blog Neil. After the weekends matches, in paticular Favre's late TD pass, who do you think is the best QB at this time?

  • Comment number 4.

    BarrySanders20... I don't think Matthew Stafford is going anywhere soon -the Lions will want to build around him and I have been impressed with this young man.

    He has had some struggles in the early weeks of the season but has not done badly considering the talent level around him is not quite there yet. I think given time, he will be a good player.

    The Lions have certainly made the right moves in order to correct their poor situation. They have sent Matt Millen packing as GM and Jim Schwartz seems to be an assured leader at head coach.

    There is no sudden Cinderella turnaround coming in Detroit, but they are going to get better in the next couple of years.

  • Comment number 5.

    I must admit that I did not expect anything from the Bengals this year but the defence looks good and having Palmer back is a huge bonus. Dare I say that 10-6 this season is within reach?

    I've supported the Bengals since the days of Esiason, Brooks and Fulcher and it's been tortuous at times but I have a feeling that they might shock a few this season.

  • Comment number 6.

    popemilkmass... Best QB in the NFL today? Probably Peyton Manning (like an extra coach on the field and such a talented passer), Tom Brady (hard to ignore all those Super Bowl wins) or Drew Brees, who is regularly putting up gaudy passing numbers.

    Best of all-time... Joe Montana.

  • Comment number 7.

    I agree with your list of top QB´s for me with Mr Consistency Manning at the top. But I would make a case for "Big Ben". A quarterback is only as good as his offense line and Rugged Roethlisberger gets hit time and time again and keeps on going. Oh yes, and he has 2 rings as well.

  • Comment number 8.

    To be fair to the Broncos, them being 3-0 isn't much of a surprise - not because they're good, but because I think before the season I'd have backed a team made up of just me to be 3-0 after playing the Bengals, Browns and Raiders!

    I watched most of Steelers Bengals. Foolishly I turned off at 20-9, thinking that it was game over as the Bengals looked frankly awful for the first 3 quarters - they scored 6 points on a Roethlisberger INT then missed the XP - the offense did nothing while I watched.

    But the Steeler's O-line looked awful. There's not many QBs in the league as good under pressure as Roethlisberger (largely because tacklers just bounce off him quite a bit), but if they had most of the other QBs in the league behind that line they'd be absolutely awful offensively. Of course, if Limas Sweed could catch they'd have been up 27-9 heading into the 4th. Horrible drop by him in the endzone.

    I think everyone is effectively playing for second place in the AFC North anyway though - the Ravens look scarily good at the moment. Ravens-Jets could be a very fun matchup if it came up in the playoffs.

    What are your thoughts on Tom Brady at the moment? From what I've seen he just looks off. Carson Palmer said he found it really difficult to be confident in the pocket after knee surgery, and Brady suffered a similar injury to Palmer.

  • Comment number 9.

    Drew Brees didn't put up gaudy numbers at the weekend (talk about grasping for positives).

    Unfortunately my underdogs still managed to lose, and not score a single point on offense, despite not letting Brees shred us through the air. Just painful to watch.

    Good predicting work there though Neil, I had a shocker, 120 quid down just on Saturday. (Chelsea/Cal/Ascot you all owe me money if you are listening...)

    Keep the blogs coming!

  • Comment number 10.

    Neil - your predictions have been outstanding so far.
    After you've given us 14 correct scores from this coming weekend can you let us know Saturdays lotto numbers will be, thanks.

    I agree that Jim Zorn will be a very nervous man at the moment but he couldn't have picked the fixtures any better himself as they host the woeful Buccs.

    It's great to see sides like the Bengals overturning powerhouses like the Steelers, it's what makes this game special, but they look to have a tough schedule and making post season will be a big big ask.

    It's all about the Giants and Ravens so far who have been very impressive, didn't you call that as well ? ? ?

  • Comment number 11.

    Rumour I keep on hearing is that Cutler was ready to go to the Skins when McDaniels off-loaded him. Maybe the Skins didn't think they could afford him after their splurge on Haynesworth, but even so, if the rumour is true, then the Skins are getting what they deserve this season.

    McDaniels on the other hand, the Broncos were a team that was ready to implode in the off-season, and now they look like a genuine to challenger to the unconvincing Chargers.

  • Comment number 12.

    I'll be posting this week's winning lottery numbers at

    I really like the Ravens and am leaning more towards them in the AFC rather than the Chargers, who have been hit by some big injuries already.

    Could you imagine anything more bruising than a NY Giants-Baltimore Ravens Super Bowl? Brandon Jacobs v Ray Lewis would be worth the admission price alone.

    Such an exciting season already - I'm loving it. Massive stories each weekend and much more to come. Thanks for following this blog.


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