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Monday, July 16 2018

NFL Predictions 2008: Week 13

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I saw this bad week coming against Vegas and I’m not surprised it happened to me. I went with a lot of teams to cover and some of them really let it slip away. Straight up was a respectable 10-6 (110-65-1 overall) but I stumbled against the spread at 6-9-1 for my second loser in three weeks (90-77-9 overall). The over/under was a train wreck at 5-11 as I gave away the previous week’s progress (90-80-6 overall) thanks to a ton of games going over.

Tennessee (10-1) @ Detroit (0-11): pick TEN -11/over 43.5

 

A lot of talk was centered on this being a meeting of winless against undefeated, but the Titans didn’t live up to their end of the bargain. The Lions almost didn’t either after building a 17-0 first quarter lead only to have Tampa Bay bum rush them 38-3 the rest of the way. Now it isn’t even a historical pairing because just last season 1-13 Miami hosted 14-0 New England. Ironically the Dolphins won the week before that game against the Pats as well. The “momentum” helped them lose only 28-7 on the road two days before Christmas. As you can probably tell by now there isn’t a ton of analysis to do on this game. It’s a matter of how much Tennessee is going to lay it on Detroit.

 

There isn’t a lot of preparation for a game on Turkey day. Teams mostly line up and do what they normally do. For the Titans it is running the football. LenDale White acted like a kid who dropped his ice cream after being left out of the game plan in their first loss. Who does he think he is, Terrell Owens? His carries will go up in this one because the Lions allow an NFL high 166.7 yards rushing. Only one team has been run on more times per game (33.7) but their average per rush (4.9) is also second worst. It’s quantity and quality. Tennessee has gotten by this season by sticking to the run. They are #9 in yards per game (124.7) but over half of the NFL has a better average rush (4.0). It might take them some time to put the Lions out of their misery. Detroit let last week’s get away on two return touchdowns in the third quarter, but their defense allowed just 255 yards. The Titans have better running backs, but the question remains. Can they blow out the Lions or will it be close? No team without a quarterback can hang with this defense and whether it’s Culpepper or Stanton doesn’t really make a difference: Tennessee 31, Detroit 13

 

Seattle (2-9) @ Dallas (7-4): pick DAL -12/over 46.5

 

The pairings get a little better as the day rolls on and I certainly don’t blame the NFL for this one. It looked like a great rematch of the infamous Romo fumble game in the playoffs two years ago. The Seahawks have fallen fast this season though under the weight of losing nearly every available wide receiver and their starting quarterback. Seattle has their talent back. Now it’s a question of how soon Engram and Branch can get back into a rhythm with Hasselbeck. The Cowboys have struggled quite a bit against the pass allowing 15 touchdowns against 5 interceptions, but the yardage per game (196.2) is decent and 33 sacks (#4 in NFL) have kept them from getting gouged much worse. Because of the injuries this is the worst passing offense, even behind the Raiders. This is a case of throwing out the stat book on that side.

 

In the running game Seattle brings discarded feature back Julius Jones to his former workplace. There aren’t a lot of bad feelings and considering the team records I don’t see this being much of a factor. Only 10 teams have run the ball fewer times per game than the ‘Hawks (25.2) but when they do they are fifth in average rush (4.4). I see a lot of potential in this offense if it all comes together and the Cowboys are wise not to take this game lightly on a short week. Seattle has been a disaster on the road at 0-4, but gave a pretty good effort at Miami before losing 21-19.

 

The vibe in Dallas is really positive right now after Owens helped put the offense back into high gear. The team had scored either 13 or 14 points in their previous four outings and needed the confidence boost. The key for the Cowboys is to relax. Romo has yet to play a game without a turnover in 8 outings. Even if he’s good for 300 yards and 3 touchdowns a lot, the team is just 3-2 when he does one, either or both. Their running game took a hit when rookie Felix Jones was lost for the season. Too many carries for Barber can be a bad thing and they would be wise to work another rookie Tashard Choice into their game plan in December. The Cowboys will struggle if they are not mentally focused, but the hype of this game is such that they will eventually roll: Dallas 34, Seattle 17

 

Arizona (7-4) @ Philadelphia (5-5-1): pick PHI -2/over 46.5

 

Finally a game to somewhat look forward to, and not everyone gets to see it because NFL Network is still not in many households. The Cards are coming off an emotional home loss to the Giants. They felt like it was their opportunity to prove they belong in the NFL elite against the defending champions. Instead they were held down throughout and while it got close in the end New York was never really sweating. The Eagles had a much different week as everyone with a television knows. McNabb was benched at halftime and untested Kolb was sent to the Wolves, uh, Ravens during what turned into a rout. Andy Reid has had an excellent run as Philly’s head coach, but did he lose his mind on that decision or what? Sending Kolb out there under those circumstances is probably the equivalent of putting your newly licensed teenager behind the wheel during the Indy 500. The speed is overwhelming.

 

The big question in this game is how motivated the Eagles will be. From where I’m sitting their season is absolutely not over even if most writers are shoveling dirt on their grave. It’s tough when six teams are ahead of you in a race for two wild cards, but they can help their own cause by pulling down Washington and Dallas in the final two weeks. Cleveland is also on the schedule so while it’s not sane to predict a road win over the Giants, isn’t 9-6-1 possible? They shouldn’t give up here and honestly the worst of the NFC East might be better than the best of the NFC West. Philly’s defense is now leading the NFL with 39 sacks. Warner has always struggled with fumbles, and this season has 9 (6 lost) despite being sacked just 19 times. He has also passed for 381, 343, 328, 395 and 351 yards since the bye week. I don’t think he can throw the ball 40+ times against this secondary and defensive scheme without sacks and turnovers being part of the equation. The Giants sacked him only once, but he turned it over twice. On the road, where the Cards have been a much worse team it’s a different story.

 

Pride is a funny thing. McNabb has plenty of it. Westbrook isn’t going to quit. Philly’s defense will show up for anyone who is still tuned in to watch the third game. Arizona’s offense has been totally one dimensional to the point where James asked to be released. How many guys ask out of a team in first place ready to clinch their division with a month to play? Someday the Eagles will get a short yardage back who can abuse the opposing defense, but this week their game plan will be McNabb distributing the football at will. Arizona has allowed an NFL high 22 touchdown passes and even throwing out half of what Favre’s 6 they’re still tied for worst. There is little motivation for the Cardinals right now other than clinching the division and fighting for the #2 seed. It’s not enough: Philadelphia 27, Arizona 20

 

Indianapolis (7-4) @ Cleveland (4-7): pick IND -4/under 46

 

I did an interview earlier this week and was asked about a sleeper team ready to make a run. Immediately I brought up the Colts. Remember when I mentioned a couple weeks ago that they were one loss away from failing to win 12 games for the first time since 2002? Well, they still are. Four gutsy wins in a row over New England, Pittsburgh, Houston and San Diego by a total of 16 points have put them in a position where they might not take that fifth loss. The next two games will be at home against Cincinnati and Detroit, who are out of it. Then comes their only other road game at Jacksonville (4-7) and the Jags are on the brink of elimination right now. The finale is at home against Tennessee who at 10-1 should be locked into the #1 seed and playing their backups. Perhaps the only downside is that at 12-4 in the playoffs no team will be overlooking them.

 

First they need to continue this roll against a struggling team and continue getting back to the things they do well. Teams can’t win in the playoffs without running the ball and while their average carry (3.5) bests only two teams it’s misleading. Addai is getting his legs back after being hurt. The past two weeks he has 38 carries for 175 yards and 11 receptions for another 79 yards. Those are almost Westbrook numbers in an offense that doesn’t rely on him nearly as much as the Philly star. Peyton has been a rock this season while recovering from injury. I don’t know if he can catch Favre’s consecutive start record, but given the circumstances he has excelled. When the team has needed him most, sitting at 1-2 off their bye week, he has delivered 2+ touchdowns in seven of the past eight games. The weather will be a factor and we know the Colts struggle outdoors. Cleveland has the fifth most interceptions (15) in the NFL although their secondary has given up plenty of yards and a high completion percentage (63.7%) but also recorded just 15 sacks, third fewest in the NFL.

 

If Peyton isn’t getting sacked, or pressured he won’t be throwing those interceptions. On Cleveland’s offense it will be Derek Anderson retaking the quarterback spot from Brady Quinn who is out for the season. Let me classify how bad their passing offense has been this season. They are ranked ahead of Cincinnati, Oakland and Seattle. Those teams have been playing with a backup quarterback, struggling second year player, and mostly backups at quarterback/receiver respectively. They are behind Baltimore, who has started a rookie. They are also behind Minnesota and Tennessee, two teams who rely heavily on the run. I could go on. Is this a good time to point out the Colts have allowed an NFL low 4 touchdown passes? Their completion percentage allowed is awful (69.8%) but obviously everything stays in front of them. Now that a good team opposes the Browns this recent stretch of playing fairly well should go up in smoke. Playing at home won’t help, they’ve lost three in a row since shocking the Giants. The Colts just won at Pittsburgh and San Diego: Indianapolis 26, Cleveland 17

 

Baltimore (7-4) @ Cincinnati (1-9-1): pick BAL -7/under 36.5

 

I think we found out last week that the Ravens can still bring it on defense. They are fifth in yards per carry (3.5) rushing and third in passing yards per game (182.1) allowed not to mention an NFL leading 19 interceptions. Their power on that side of the ball and NFL leading 37.2 rushing attempts per game has helped them break in a rookie quarterback. I mention attempts because while they are fourth in yards per game (143.5) only six teams have a lower average (3.9). They’ve done it with three different backs. McGahee has struggled with injuries so fullback McClain and their rookie Rice have contributed. The trio has 1,330 yards and 11 touchdowns. By contrast, Baltimore’s lowest producer of that group, Rice, has 382 yards and would be leading the Bengals. Benson has taken over the lead after joining the team in October. At least he has provided them with solid carries at 13+ each of the past five weeks. He is going to be stonewalled against this defense motivated by a playoff run.

 

In the first meeting veteran stud quarterback Carson Palmer was 10/25 for 99 yards and an interception during a 17-10 loss. Think Fitzpatrick is going to do any better? Let’s just hope Marvin Lewis doesn’t go Andy Reid and throw Palmer’s little brother into the fire. The Bengals can still be a good team in the future. Right now the weight of this season is a lot to overcome. When you’re sitting on a bad record against a nasty defense that keeps putting you back on the field eventually your defense will fade. These past three weeks haven’t been as bad holding Jacksonville and Philadelphia to 32 points in 9 quarters before losing 27-10 to Pittsburgh on a short week. At least they’re well rested. I think this is what I would call a “wear down” game. The Ravens will keep running and sooner or later the Bengals won’t stop it. Fitzpatrick can’t pass them to victory and Flacco won’t need to: Baltimore 23, Cincinnati 6

 

Miami (6-5) @ St. Louis (2-9): pick MIA -7.5/under 45

 

Foolishly, in retrospect, I thought the Rams could score some points on the Bears through the air at home. Instead Bulger got hurt and they lost 27-3. These guys have thrown in the towel and I should have seen it a week sooner. After losing a close 23-16 struggle at New England how does 36-9 sound for an average loss in the month of November? Almost all of that has come with star running back Steven Jackson on the sideline and he might be playing here which makes the prediction tricky. Obviously his presence changes their offensive outlook. They score about 4 more points with him in the lineup for one thing and have a 2-2 record when he carries the ball 22+ times.

 

It has been a great story for the Dolphins recovering from their 1-15 season, but after clinging to home wins over two bad teams on consecutive weeks (Seattle, Oakland) by 2 points it fell apart in their 48-28 loss to New England. They were mad the Patriots ran it up on them because in their 38-13 win they ran the ball at the end. There’s no crying in football guys. Man up. The schedule favors them from the standpoint that three of their five opponents have losing records. However, they are home only once (San Francisco) and that’s the only win I’m putting in their column for sure. Everything else is debatable including this one.

 

Miami’s offense has transformed with Chad Pennington and they can thank the Packers and Jets for him. The Favre trade made him expendable and the Dolphins were wise to snatch him up knowing their rookie (Henne) wasn’t the best option this season. They prefer not to rely on him too much though. The team is 3-1 when he fails to throw for 230 yards, and 3-4 when he does. Like most teams they would rather run the ball and thrive on their creative play calling. They’ll run at will on this defense. Their duo of Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams doesn’t have a catchy nickname like Earth, Wind & Fire or Smash & Dash, but they have combined for 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns. It’s enough to offset the potential of Jackson playing or the pass offense showing up: Miami 28, St. Louis 13

 

San Francisco (3-8) @ Buffalo (6-5): pick BUF -6/under 46

 

I’ll always attach this pairing to two things. First, the Super Bowl that Chris Berman always predicted and amazingly never happened. An amazing seven seasons in a row from 1988-1994 ended with one of the two playing for it all, but they never met because the Bills were always facing an NFC East foe. The other thing I remember is their regular season meeting during that stretch. Buffalo won 34-31 and neither team punted. It was one of the best non-playoff games ever played. I’m not sure these teams are capable to living up to that one and there are stakes only on one side. The Bills were never as good as their 4-0 start, and not as bad as their 1-5 stretch. Last week I saw an opportunity for them to pack it in and picked them to win just 31-28 at Kansas City. Instead they were all over in the field in every phase of the game and thumped the Chiefs 54-31. The Bills of the early 90’s would be proud.

 

The pressure is on again for Buffalo because their final four opponents all have winning records. Losing this game would almost certainly remove them from the wild card equation in the competitive AFC. Winning brings them confidence heading into a meeting against Miami. Has anyone noticed San Francisco allows just 3.6 yards per carry, seventh best in the NFL? Teams have been forced to beat them through the air and have mostly done so with 243.9 yards per game and 18 touchdown passes. Their biggest problem has been the quarterback position. Hill is a better option than O’Sullivan, but the pair has combined for 22 turnovers and 40 sacks. When your quarterback is more or less turning it over twice and getting sacked four times a game it is tough to win. In four appearances this season all 5 of his turnovers have come on the road.

 

It’s brutal playing at Buffalo this time of year. The 49ers can contain the run and ex-Bill Nate Clements will be motivated to do well against the pass. Offensively I can see Gore banging out some yards against an average run defense too. If this was a different venue, time of the year or stakes for the 49ers I might be inclined to sniff out an upset here. There is too much on the line for the Bills though and on this field they will find a way to slug this one out: Buffalo 23, San Francisco 15

 

Carolina (8-3) @ Green Bay (5-6): pick GB -3/over 41.5

 

Was it that long ago these teams were meeting for the NFC Championship? Perhaps not because the quarterbacks in that game, Collins for the Panthers and Favre for the Packers, might be prepping for a rematch on the AFC side for their new teams (Titans, Jets respectively). You often hear analysts talk about this team being better than their record or this team being not as good. Here we might have one of each. From seeing power rankings you might think the Panthers are 5-6, and despite their record the Packers are a game out of first place with three losses by no more than 3 points. The statistics back it up as well. Carolina is #16/#11 in total offense/defense and Green Bay is #15/#17. Why are they having so much more success then? The Panthers run the football and the Packers can’t do it consistently.

 

DeAngelo Williams might have been sullen on draft day when the team selected a running back in the first round. He still leads the team in rushing and has 100+ yards in his last four games. Stewart has kept him fresh as well. Williams’ season high in rushes is 20 and five times he hasn’t gone over 15 while the rookie has chipped in with 14+ on five occasions and has 123 on the season. If their defense shows up this is a dangerous team for the playoffs. Meanwhile, before Ryan Grant showed up last year I cited Green Bay’s lack of a running game as the reason they wouldn’t advance to the Super Bowl despite a gaudy record at the time. He was counted on by fantasy owners for a lot more than 837 yards (only 33 yards receiving) and 3 touchdowns through 11 games. Since rushing for 92 yards in the opener he has gone over that figure just twice and it took him 31 and 25 carries to get there. The breakaway runs aren’t there. He has only two games with a long run over 17 yards this season. So I’m taking the Panthers right?

 

Well, not exactly. The Panthers might be watching game tape of their division rival New Orleans passing all over this defense. Throw it away. This is Lambeau Field, not the quick turf in a dome. Delhomme has been struggling, especially when he isn’t playing the Falcons. Other than those two games he hasn’t thrown for 250 yards this season, and including them has multiple touchdown passes just four times. Their game plan will be to run on the Packers who allow a healthy 4.8 average carry, fifth highest in the NFL. However, something hasn’t clicked for this team on the road since opening the season with a stunning 26-24 win at San Diego without Ste Smith. They have lost three of four with the lone win being an ugly 17-6 affair at Oakland. This is yet another test for Rodgers because when the weather turned Favre dominated at home. They won 37-3 over Chicago and 34-14 over Indianapolis in their last two home games. I can’t go against that, as much as I’m inclined to believe the Panthers can run their way to an upset: Green Bay 27, Carolina 23

 

New Orleans (6-5) @ Tampa Bay (8-3): pick TB -3.5/under 48

 

These are two of the toughest teams to project, but the last three seasons one team has swept. In 2007 it was the Bucs en route to a division title. If it had gone the other way the Saints would have been the champs. In 2006 the Saints had a magical season taking the division bolstered by a sweep. In 2005 again the Bucs swept and won the South. Notice a trend? It would require a turnaround for last place New Orleans to make it four in a row because they won the first meeting over the current division leaders 24-20 in week 1. The more things change the more they stay the same in the rematch. Bush played and hopes to return this week from injury. Garcia was Tampa Bay’s starting quarterback and has regained the helm from Griese after being benched in week 2. Brees had 343 yards passing and hasn’t slowed down since. One major difference is Graham being out as Tampa Bay’s lead running back. They survived the loss to win the past two weeks.

 

The next change is Carnell “Cadillac” Williams who saw his first action since September 30, 2007 in last week’s win at Detroit. He had 16 carries for just 27 yards. I would expect a better performance here at home with the crowd behind him. The team needs it desperately because I’m not sure Warrick Dunn really has the legs at this point of his career to be more than a change of pace back. Williams needs to be the blue collar rusher and wear down the defense. On the other side it’s debatable if Bush plays and even more questionable what he does against this stout defense in their stadium. It is one thing to get over on them in a dome, quite another on the road in a meaningful late season game. The Bucs are 5-0 at home, the Saints are 1-4 on the road having only beaten the lowly Chiefs 30-20.

 

It’s more than just the venue. Tampa Bay’s pass defense will be up to the task. They don’t want any part of Brees and his quest to beat Marino’s record for passing yards. This game and a meeting at Chicago are the games most likely to hold him short of 5,083. Kiffin’s defense, and to be fair Gruden’s insight, made the last guy who approached the record look pretty bad in the Super Bowl. Gannon is calling games now and I suspect he is watching Brees closely. I’m always wary of a one-dimensional offense playing a good defense on the road. For the same reason I’m taking Philly on Thanksgiving I favor the Bucs here. No sweep this time: Tampa Bay 23, New Orleans 19

 

NY Giants (10-1) @ Washington (7-4): pick NYG -3/under 42

 

Nearly three months ago these teams kicked off the season at the Meadowlands. The Giants won 16-7 and most people were left with the impression that the Redskins were in for a long season. They had just 209 total yards. Campbell completed 15/27 passes for a measly 133 yards and the Giants held the ball for 35:43. Something funny happened after that loss. The ‘Skins won their next four including road kills at Philly and Dallas plus wins over inevitable West winner Arizona and for now contending New Orleans. A 3-3 record since that run has kept them slotted for the second wild card, but a loss in this game would officially remove them from the division race. Three of their final four games are on the road so holding their playoff spot is going to be tough.

 

Speaking of tough how about Clinton Portis? He was once considered a product of Denver’s system after rushing for 1,500 yards in his first two seasons with the Broncos before being traded to Washington. He has already rushed for 1,206 yards this season and in five seasons his only failure to reach that mark was 2006 when he missed 8 games. This year is impressive because he is playing hurt. He was limited to 28 carries in two games, both losses, before returning to his usual massive workload with 29 carries for 143 yards in a win at Seattle. It was the team’s fourth road win in a row since dropping the opener to the mighty Giants. It strikes me a little similar to what happened to New York last year. They lost to juggernaut Dallas early, and then ran out on the road all the way to a Super Bowl title right? Is this team capable of such a run? It’s possible if it starts here back at home where they are just 3-3. Maybe not though because the Giants were 3-5 at home last year so a loss keeps them right on track right?

 

Jacobs might not be available to run the ball for the Giants. They made it work without him at Arizona, a very comparable run defense on the stat sheet. Eli Manning is the luckiest quarterback in the NFL. All he has to do is shred the opposing defense on play action. Last week’s 240 yards and 3 touchdown effort broke a string of six straight games failing to break 200 yards. He can do it when he has to, and this might be an example. I anticipate points being at a major premium. This will be the first early game to finish because the clock will never stop running. Neither team wants to pass the football. Going against Earth, Wind & Fire in favor of, for lack of an actual nickname, The Hulk doesn’t make sense to me: NY Giants 16, Washington 12

 

Atlanta (7-4) @ San Diego (4-7): pick SD -4/over 48.5

 

If the Chargers want to know one of the big reasons they have fallen from being one of the elite AFC franchises the past two seasons to on the brink of playoff extinction just look at the opposite sideline. Allowing Michael Turner to exit in free agency has really hurt them. The offense has only dropped from #5 to #7 in scoring, but it’s the way they get there. Compared the last year they have shed almost 32 yards rushing per game. How has that draft pick of fullback Jacob Hester worked out Charger fans? Sproles is an explosive player and has a few big runs, but he’s not going to punish the opposing defense like Turner did. I know the salary cap makes it difficult to keep a backup running back, but couldn’t they see his value? He had 5+ carries seven times last regular season, all wins. They were 21-1 when he carried the ball at least five times. Are you kidding me? I don’t care if you have to cut someone to afford his salary. This has been a two back league for a while now.

 

Instead Turner is leading the Falcon resurgence. He has become a lead back, not an easy transition, with great success. The past four weeks, when one would anticipate he might be wearing down, he has carried the ball 24+ times. In eight of eleven games he has 22+. Last week’s four touchdown fantasy special was his fourth multiple rushing touchdown game. Close your eyes San Diego fans. Turner has 1,088 rushing yards and 13 rushing touchdowns. Tomlinson has 1,099 total yards and 6 total touchdowns. Is it any wonder why these teams have their current records? Now that I’ve gone off on that subject, throw most of it away. The Chargers are desperate. Their trouble has been pass defense. Matt Ryan is still a rookie and while San Diego’s defense isn’t the same without Merriman they can still make his life difficult on the road where the Falcons are 2-3. The Chargers are only 3-2 at home, but certainly looked like a contender in defeat against the Colts.

 

This season is not lost for San Diego. They are two games behind Denver. Thanks to the hated Raiders they now require only one loss from the Broncos plus taking care of their own business over the next four games to be in position for a shocking AFC West winning victory over Denver in the season finale. Atlanta can’t stop the run. They have given up 4.9 yards per rush. Defensively the Chargers have to be fired up to stop Turner and if he has a weakness their defense knows about it. If they can win the rushing battle, do you really think Rivers isn’t going to beat out Ryan through the air? The Falcons limit quarterbacks in completion percentage (58.4) but now yards per game (230.7) or touchdown passes (14). This might be an eye opener: San Diego 31, Atlanta 20

 

Pittsburgh (8-3) @ New England (7-4): pick PIT +1.5/under 40

 

Some rivalries have suffered this season because both teams aren’t playing well, but this one is on like Donkey Kong as the saying goes. Last year the then 11-0 Patriots were supposed to be tested by the visiting Steelers who eventually won the North. They won 34-13 and of course finished the regular season undefeated. In 2005 the Pats won a 23-20 game at Pittsburgh. The Steelers went on to win the Super Bowl anyway with three straight road wins in the AFC playoffs, but avoided a rematch when Denver upset New England. Big Ben’s rookie regular season in 2004 ended 15-1 including a 34-20 win over New England at home. It really ended in the AFC title game losing the rematch 41-27. Hines Ward remembers even more of the mostly one-sided rivalry. New England beat Pittsburgh 30-14 in 2002 yet failed to make the playoffs, but the previous season went to Pittsburgh and won 24-21 in the AFC title game a week after their “Snow Bowl” win and eventually won the Super Bowl. Add it all up and this is a big obstacle for the Steelers.

 

I mention all of this because these Pittsburgh players are used to losing against New England. They might be tired of it, but can they do anything about it? On defense the answer is yes. Somehow four teams have been able to score 20+ points against them. Those teams considered themselves fortunate. Cassel comes in trying to make history with a third consecutive game throwing for 400+ yards. I have a better chance of suiting up and completing a touchdown pass than he does of achieving that landmark. Every aspect of Pittsburgh’s defense is firing and for once I won’t mention the stats. Don’t get me wrong I love the story of Cassel tearing up the Jets and Dolphins for 79 points the past two weeks. I just realize the AFC East is a weak division right now for the Pats to lose Brady and still be in the hunt. If the overtime flip goes their way they are probably leading.

 

The impressive part of New England’s offense for me is their running game and it really illustrates how an effective offensive line can produce for several running backs. Five different players have run the ball which is usually a recipe for disaster. The Pats are seventh in the NFL in yards per game rushing (131.3). Last week they split the carries almost equally between Faulk (8) Morris (8) and Green-Ellis (7). The result was seven scoring drives and only one punt in their 48-28 win. Unfortunately it won’t play against the Steelers. Can the visitors score on this defense in an important late season game? I think the past two weeks proved that point. As impressive as Cassel has been, this team allowed 62 points in those game and earlier gave up 38, 21 and 30 on consecutive outings. I know they can buckle down and get it done, especially if Willie Parker is out. I still like the upset: Pittsburgh 17, New England 16

 

Denver (6-5) @ NY Jets (8-3): pick NYJ -7/under 48

 

This is a battle of division leaders, but I can’t help thinking both teams are overrated. New York is euphoric with Favre at quarterback. I see them as a team taking advantage of the opportunity created when Brady was injured. Yes it can be argued they still beat the Pats because Brady has never passed for 400 yards as Cassel did when they beat them 34-31 in overtime. However, we all know the team is better with him in the lineup. The Jets are now 8-1 when not playing in California too and since the Super Bowl is in Tampa Bay they’re in luck other than next week’s visit to San Francisco. I have a hard time forgetting they were hammered by San Diego and lost to Oakland while barely staking by Kansas City 28-24. Here comes the last AFC West opponent and they are one drive from being 0-3 against this bunch. Plus, this is the leader of the pack at the moment.

 

The Broncos are lucky to be in this position. Everyone saw the blown call against San Diego. Another blown call the following week against New Orleans was very beneficial to them in the waning moments. If those calls go the other way this is a 4-7 team just trying to hang on following a blowout loss at home to the offensively challenged Raiders. Their season on the road is equally difficult to piece together. They wasted those same Raiders 41-14 in the opener and are coming off road wins over the Browns and contending Falcons. In between they were the only victim of the season to this point for the Chiefs and got hammered 41-7 by the Pats in their stadiums. At a certain point in the season venue really becomes a lot more important. Teams have so much film built up over the course of three months that it isn’t easy to fool anyone.

 

This pick is easy. Do the math. New York is fourth in the NFL averaging 4.5 yards per rush on offense. Denver is fifth worst (4.8). On the other side the Jets are also fourth best on defense (3.4) to offset the Broncos fifth best mark (4.4). I’ll say it often. If you can win the rushing battle late in the season at home it’s much easier to win games. Fans might want to see Favre and Cutler meet at the Okay Corral, but it’s not going to happen. The winds kick up in this stadium as Winter approaches. If it isn’t an issue we probably would see a lot of passing. The pass defenses are both in the bottom 8 for yards per game allowed and each has given up 15 touchdown passes. The Jets have the advantage of much more sacks (35-20) more interceptions (9-4) and a less egregious completion percentage allowed (63.0-69.9). Everything slants in their favor: NY Jets 31, Denver 16

 

Kansas City (1-10) @ Oakland (3-8): pick OAK -3/under 41.5

 

The Raiders have been waiting for this rematch for weeks. Last week they played their best game of the season so far beating division leading Denver 31-10 on the road and now they draw a team they manhandled 23-8. Fourth overall pick Darren McFadden was on full display in that one with 164 yards rushing, but partially due to injuries has only 228 in his other seven appearances. He seems to be ready to roll after carrying the ball 10 times against the Broncos. Even at 4-18 combined this is a heated rivalry, and even at 1-4 at home the Black Hole can be a very unpleasant place to play. Just ask the “one” in that equation Brett Favre who saw his Jets lose here in overtime, or Jake Delhomme who couldn’t complete a pass to save his life. It might seem comical, but perhaps Al Davis was right. These Raiders can win. They have now beaten two current division leaders under Tom Cable. Prior to that they blew leads against Buffalo or San Diego or they might be 5-6 sitting a game out of the division lead, not to mention a last second field goal undoing them at Miami two weeks ago.

 

For the Chiefs it really can’t be sugar coated. Half of their losses have been by 10+ points including last week’s 54-31 disaster against Buffalo. They might be happy to hit the road. At leas they won’t have to hear any booing. One highlight for them is a totally misleading statistic. They are now second only to the seemingly unstoppable Giants in a typically important category with 4.9 yards per rush. However, they have the fourth fewest rushes per game (23.4) and Larry Johnson no longer takes over games. Last week in his second game back from team and league suspension he had a 63 yard burst, but only 6 carries for 18 yards otherwise because they fell behind 40-17 five minutes into the third quarter. They ran 28 plays prior to that and I’m still not sure why he wasn’t more involved. The Raiders chewed him up in the first meeting (12 carries for 22 yards) which is rare.

 

This time around I expect defense to rule the day. Oakland keeps both teams in the game with great play on defense and terrible play on offense. The offense did loosen up last week against Denver. JaMarcus still had a stat line straight out of college completing 10/11 passes for 152 yards and a touchdown without a turnover or sack. He must have felt like he was back at LSU with a near perfect 149.1 quarterback rating. The Chiefs should be up for this one even if the trends say otherwise. Three weeks in a row they lost by a combined 8 points before losing 30-20 and the wipeout last week. Usually that means they’re in the tank, but this is a rivalry. At some point the players might think about the ramifications of a 1-15 finish on their head coach. I think the effort is there, but the Raiders are honestly a much better football team. They can build on their big win and look to spoil the season for a playoff contender in December: Oakland 24, Kansas City 10

 

Chicago (6-5) @ Minnesota (6-5): pick MIN -3/over 41.5

 

NBC has to be loving this pairing considering how the first game went between these teams. The Bears won 48-41. Both teams scored at least one touchdown in every quarter and 10+ in three separate quarters. Until late in the third quarter neither team led by more than 7 and the Vikings made a late charge once the Bears and opened up a 17 point advantage. Can you really say in a game with 89 points Chicago won with special teams and defense? I guess so because it’s true. They scored twice on punt plays, one block and one fumble recovery, and forced 5 turnovers. It isn’t often Adrian Peterson carries the ball 22 times for 121 yards and two touchdowns yet is an afterthought because Minnesota’s 439 total yards were wasted. The result is positive for the Vikings now though as these teams battle for the NFC North lead. They know they can beat this defense and the advantage shifts even more in their favor at home where they have won five of the past six in the series.

 

Minnesota is 4-1 this season at home and coming off a huge 30-12 win at Jacksonville. Chicago is just 3-3 on the road including a hard to watch 37-3 beating at Green Bay two weeks ago although they did pound St. Louis in their stadium 27-3 last week. I’m sure someone is impressed by that. I keep waiting for the Viking defensive line to get suspended, and by the time they do I have to wonder if it might include playoff games. If they are allowed to finish the season this team has a very good shot at advancing. It’s a complicated situation and I’m surprised the players haven’t been distracted by it to their credit. Teams just don’t run on the Vikings who allow 3.1 yards per carry, second best in the NFL. The Bears have gotten 916 yards rushing out of star rookie Matt Forte, but not this week. Equally stout on the stat sheet is Chicago’s run defense at 3.3 yards per carry. They’ll be facing “All Day” though and in his building.

 

Neither pass defense is particularly effective although the Bears do have the second most interceptions (17) while the Vikings have allowed the third fewest touchdown passes (8). Nothing gets the crowd more excited that Frerotte vs. Orton does it? These guys are part of a new trend where teams basically tell their quarterbacks not to blow it. Orton has only 8 turnovers and 17 sacks in ten appearances. Frerotte has 13 turnovers and 26 sacks in nine appearances. Seven of those turnovers came in two outings including the earlier loss to Chicago while 10 of the sacks came in two totally separate games. However, all of that is within the past six weeks. They will do whatever they can to keep the ball out of his hands as much as possible. Their last two games he passed 40 times total. I like both run defenses to keep their team in it and both quarterbacks to play scared. In the end take the home team with the more experienced (and better) feature back: Minnesota 27, Chicago 23

 

Jacksonville (4-7) @ Houston (4-7): pick HOU -3/over 48

 

ESPN must have some bad karma built up to have this game fall into their lap. Honestly I’m not sure who approved putting the Texans, a team without a winning season since their inception, on the schedule in a December game. I believe that person might be an unemployment statistic if this turns into a dud. Actually it might be entertaining. Usually the best games are between teams on their last legs gasping for their playoff life. Last week the Texans ostensibly staved off elimination with a 16-6 win at Cleveland. The Jaguars were thumped 30-12 at home by Minnesota, and with a 1-4 record coming off their bye week (the win was over winless Detroit) enter this contest with a totally different vibe on the road. They were supposed to be a major contender this season, but apparently the Tennessee Titans have stolen their identity. I mean seriously. Last year they won with running the ball, great defense and sound quarterback play. Sound familiar?

 

The first time around Jacksonville won a thriller 30-27 in overtime. They took the lead with 1:48 remaining on a Garrard touchdown run only to watch a field goal send the game into extra time. Once again a coin flip helped decide an NFL game, one of the worst rules on the books, and the Jags went 51 yards before kicking the winning field goal. Neither team was able to run the ball. If not for Jacksonville’s Owens going 41 yards on a fake punt neither team would have rushed for 100 yards on the game. I think both teams will be improved this time around. The Jags are healthier on the offensive line and rookie Steve Slaton is more experienced. This is his backfield now because to no one’s surprise Ahman Green is out for the season. The past two weeks he has 35 carries for 229 yards and the team is actually fifth in yards per carry (4.5). Jacksonville had a strong run defense before Marcus Stroud was shipped out. The Texans are not surprisingly even weaker with their young defensive line still growing.

 

In terms of pass defense these teams have nearly identical numbers in every category across the board. It’s scary really because I can’t give an edge to either other than possibly Jacksonville’s 22-17 advantage in sacks. The tie is broken on the offensive side where the Texans are  fourth in yards per game (272.1) while the Jags are smack in the middle of the NFL at #16. It’s the holidays so maybe they can get a refund on Jerry Porter and Troy Williamson. Houston wouldn’t give away any of their players. Andre Johnson is the best receiver not on the highlight reel every week because his team keeps losing. Likewise for Owen Daniels at tight end with 583 yards already. Kevin Walter is on pace for over 1,000 yards as well. I don’t like Rosenfels, but this is a different environment than his past four starts (1-3). He was on the road three times and home against a terrorizing Baltimore defense. Let the points fly and see if anyone really cares who wins. Tom Petty said even the losers get lucky sometimes. I say even the winner of this game is out of the wild card chase: Houston 31, Jacksonville 27

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