This weekend is Homecoming for my alma mater (yeah, I can say that now), the University of Pennsylvania.
Sounds really pretentious when you write it out like that. Oh well.
The Fighting Quakers are just 2-4 this season, but are 2-1 in the Ivy League, and in sort of a mirror match are facing off against a 4-2 (1-2) Brown squad. Penn has fallen off in the last couple years, going 7-9 (6-4) after going 23-7 (19-2) in my first three years there. From the looks of it, they could use a big Vigtory Saturday.
**awkward expectant expression**
OK, moving on.
WHAT? Carolina Panthers at Chicago Bears
WHY? These are two teams that are headed in opposite directions, despite both having much higher expectations than last year. The Panthers are 1-5 and have lost four straight, but it's not all bad, as their point differential is better than six teams with equal or better records. On the other side of the field is a Bears team has won four in a row, and leads the league in point differential (per game), with an average scoring margin of +14. This game would have "blowout" written all over it, but it seems like just when you know what's going on this season, the Patriots lose to the Seahawks.
WHO? Everyone (and by that I mean FantasyLand) is getting on Cam Newton for being a disappointment this season, but is he really playing that poorly?
2011 (16 gm): 310/517 (60%), 4051 yds, 21 TD, 17 INT; 126 rush, 706 yds, 14 TD, 3 fumbles
2012 (on pace): 269/461 (58%), 3699 yds, 13 TD, 16 INT; 123 rush, 728 yds, 8 TD, 8 fumbles
The noticeable declines here are in pass attempts and total touchdowns. The thing is, I don't think anyone thought that Newton was going to repeat his rushing touchdown total from last year, but his yardage is right there. The passing touchdowns are way down, but to be honest, a lot of the problem here is that the running backs haven't run well at all (without Cam's rushing, they'd be 31st in the league), and that gives him fewer opportunities for touchdowns.
HOW? I'm going to give you a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to watch this game from the sidelines -- as my delivery boy. I told Steve Smith that I'd get him a stepladder so he could more effectively talk trash with Brandon Marshall.
WHAT? Oakland Raiders at Kansas City Chiefs
WHY? I'll be real with you here, there really isn't much of a reason to watch this game. Yes, AFC West games tend to be competitive, but these are the two teams that no one cares about or expects anything from. The Raiders are 0-3 on the road, and the Chiefs are 0-3 at home. The Chiefs are in the bottom third in the league in rush defense, but face a Raiders team that's 31st in the league in rushing. The Raiders are in the bottom third in the league in pass defense, but face a Chiefs team led by Brady Quinn. The Chiefs have by far the worst turnover differential in the league, but Oakland has the fifth-fewest takeaways in the NFL. Wait, I'm not making the right point here.
WHO? This game will be defined by the performance of the two star running backs, Jamaal Charles and Darren McFadden. Charles is coming off a torn ACL, but as we've seen with Adrian Peterson, that's really not a problem. He has more rushing yards per game than 13 teams with fewer than 20 carries per game, due to his yards-per-rush being 4th in the league. On the other side of the field is Darren McFadden, who is 41st out of 46 qualified players in yards per rush (tied with Vick Ballard and Alex Green), and that includes a 64-yard touchdown run. This coming from a guy who was averaging over 5 yards per carry each of the past two years.
WHAT? New Orleans Saints at Denver Broncos
WHY? Say it with me: ssshhhhoooooooooooooooootttt-ooooouuuuuuttttt. The 6th best total offense and 7th best scoring offense faces the worst total defense and 4th-worst scoring defense. The 3rd best total offense and scoring offense faces the 10th best total defense and 17th best scoring defense. The Saints are coming off three consecutive games with 370+ passing yards, while the Broncos are coming off a bye after a big comeback win and are playing at home.
WHO? Despite all of the passing numbers that I expect to see on Sunday night, perhaps the biggest non-quarterback contributor could be good old Willis McGahee. At the ripe old age of 31, he's on pace for 1500 total yards, which would be a career best, and 8 touchdowns, which would be his third-best. This week, his fresh-off-the-bye legs get a chance to rumble with the 31st ranked rush defense (which is also giving up the 4th-worst yards per rush). The threat of Peyton Manning will scare the Saints' defense plenty after they gave up 400 yards to Josh Freeman last week, and McGahee should benefit.
HOW? Nosh on some grits with the Manning family, as Eli celebrates another late-game victory, Archie roots against his old team, and Cooper begs for someone to pay attention to him for once.