NFL Predictions 2014: Week 10

Thursday, November 06 2014

Contributed by: norcalfella

Winning can sometimes feel like losing. It was the case for me this past week. I took some chances, which is what I do when I fall behind the masses. I want to pick the most winners out of anyone on the planet. This is unrealistic. I know this. I do not care. It hurts me immensely when a game goes wrong the way Washington's trip to Minnesota did. The outcome honestly could have gone either way. I called it 24-21 for the Redskins, who ultimately lost 26-29 but not before they failed on a two-point conversion when trying to go ahead by a full touchdown and therefore costing themselves a shot at overtime. 

Naturally I blew it hoping for Houston to ride the home field against Philadelphia. The injury to Adrian Foster wound up hurting the Texans, who were in the game at that point, a lot more than the Eagles losing Nick Foles. Heck, I am not even sure Mark Sanchez loses his job when Foles is healthy. If I had really known (I did suspect it) that Tony Romo was not starting I probably would have taken Arizona over Dallas, another bad beat. I believed Denver would rush Tom Brady in New England, and stupidly went against a ton of history which is something I rarely do. The weather is what it is and sometimes I overreact to it, but in this case I should have known better.

Tallying it all up, I was a frustrating 8-5 straight up (84-49-1 overall) and that puts me 12 behind the   published leader of all media pickers. It does not seem like much, but it is a lot. I can take solace with my rally against the spread to finish 8-5 (73-61 overall). Two of those straight up misses I took a chance on cost me, and another two-point failure also went against me. Cleveland was up 22-17 and trying to go up a touchdown, and win by more than 6, but failed so Tampa Bay covered. Worst of all this week, I lost on the over/under at 6-7 (74-59-1 overall). However, I am now +27 so I should be happier than I am.

Cleveland (5-3) @ Cincinnati (5-2-1): When the schedule was made many months ago, network executives probably figured this would be a fun game between in-state rivals and hoped rookie Johnny Manziel would make it a draw. They never dreamed it would pair two teams on pace to win double-digit games, with the victor claiming the lead in the AFC North. The history between these teams is rich, even when just considering the "new" Browns starting in 1999. Certainly the Bengals have gotten the better of the action since their rivals were reborn, but since 2007 there has been only one season sweep and one of those included an OT win. Mostly the home team wins, and four of the past six have been decided by double digits so prepare for a potential snooze. We can dream about the game in 2007 that ended 51-45 though right? 

As successful as Cleveland has been this year where the bottom line (wins) is concerned I still wonder how good they really are. Stumbling past the likes of Oakland and Tampa Bay, both at home, the past two weeks does not impress me. Those teams have combined for 1 victory, and the wins came after losing to then winless Jacksonville. Speaking of the Jags, Cincinnati had a bit of a tussle with them last week before winning by 10. I like their scoring ability at home, 97 points in their past three games, a lot more than what I have seen from Cleveland on the road. They did rally in Tennessee after falling behind 28-3 and scored 29, but 6 points in Jacksonville? Their only other road game was another big rally, from 27-3 down to a tie before losing in Pittsburgh. I think this is too big a stage for them. Honestly, I would roll with Manziel. Brian Hoyer has run his course. He is a backup for a reason, and Manziel was drafted for a reason. See what he has, right here and right now. 

Losing Giovani Bernard did not hurt the Bengals running the ball (4.2, 121.4) who lead the league in rushing touchdowns (12). Rookie Jeremy Hill is a stud and will pair nicely with Gio for years to come. However, the Browns without center Alex Mack have a fading running game (3.6, 111.3) with less dynamic backs at their disposal. Green Bay has the worst run defense in the league, but these teams are tied for the next spot with identical averages (4.8, 139.6). Clearly the home team is in better position to take advantage. The passing offense totals are comparable, but Cincinnati gets a huge boost from A.J. Green being healthy again. The pass defenses are also comparable. However, across from Joe Haden is a problem for Cleveland. When rivals get together it should be close, just not all that close here I suspect: Cincinnati 27, Cleveland 20 (CIN -6/over 44.5) 

Dallas (6-3) vs. Jacksonville (1-8): Technically this is a home game for the Jaguars in the final game of three played in London this season. Ironically, home field advantage probably would have been big for them in this spot if the game was played in Florida. The Cowboys are reeling with two straight losses and while quarterback Tony Romo made the trip his status is up in the air. The offense without Romo is crippled, more than I expected it would be considering their high powered, league leading rushing attack (4.8, 153.4). It feels like they are good for around 20 points if he is unable to go, maybe less. Jacksonville's running game (4.4, 101.1) has been sparked by Denard Robinson who was a quarterback at Michigan not long ago. I wonder how many big plays he has against a Dallas defense giving up a high average (4.6, 113.2) and I think DeMarco Murray could be just so-so against this defense (4.2, 123.4) if Romo is on the sidelines. 

A key factor here is the pass rush. The Jaguars have allowed a league-high 35 sacks, but their defense has generated 27 to rank third. Here is the question, since Dallas has just 12 sacks on defense and has yielded only 18 which side wins this battle? The numbers say 2.5 sacks for each side, but the down and distance situations I expect the teams to be facing here tell me we could be looking at 3-4 "drive killers" as I call them. Blake Bortles is a turnover machine, which rookie quarterbacks tend to be, but Brandon Weeden if he starts might be the inferior player on the Wembley "pitch". If Romo plays, this is an easy call. However, if it is Weeden the turnovers and sacks make this one unpredictable. Honestly, I would under no circumstances play the franchise quarterback against a team with this many sacks. In my world he sits, and this time they muscle out a win because the opposition is nowhere close to what it was last week. In reality, he might play so I have to adjust my score for that a bit: Dallas 24, Jacksonville 14 (DAL -6.5/under 46) 

Miami (5-3) @ Detroit (6-2): If momentum is a real thing, the Dolphins have plenty of it. A five-game stretch scoring 24-plus points peaked last week during a 37-0 demolition of the Chargers. Four of those five games were wins and in those contests they never allowed more than 14 points. This team is white hot, and three of those wins came on the road, albeit against losing opponents. The Lions have their own reasons to feel good. It looks like wide receiver Calvin Johnson is back, and that is huge for their offense. The first half in London two weeks ago against the Falcons was abysmal, and while they did come back and win it was a wake up call. Now they are well rested and ready to attack the second half of their schedule. Things do not let up. The next two tilts are in Arizona and New England. Do I need to remind anyone how poorly they play in the elements? A  6-2 mark can become 6-5 in a heartbeat if they blow this game. 

I expect Detroit to be completely focused for this game. Conversely, Miami is ready for a let down after an emotional win for Joe Philbin who had just lost his father. Points are going to be at a premium here. This is unlikely to be a game featuring either team going for 30. The Dolphins can run the ball (4.8, 137.3) and the Lions (3.1, 79.6) are second-worst in the league. Detroit, however, can stifle the run (3.3, 74.0) while the Dolphins are just average against it (4.0, 103.5). I favor the home team in this situation. I am not picturing Lamar Miller running over this defensive front in this stadium. Both pass defenses are in the top 5 and have combined for a healthy 48 sacks. Detroit has had a tougher time protecting Matthew Stafford than Miami has with Ryan Tannehill, but the stadium noise plays a factor here. No result would really shock me here, so I am riding the home team and Megatron: Detroit 24, Miami 20 (DET -2.5/over 41.5)

Kansas City (5-3) @ Buffalo (5-3): I have no problem admitting I had my doubts about these teams being playoff contenders. Obviously very few people had the Bills in the mix. They have done exactly what good teams need to do - win close games. Even better, they did it twice on the road with an OT win in Chicago and 17-14 victory in Detroit. When last season they were recording a third road victory, blasting the Jets 43-23 in a game many thought they would lose. Of course this means their home record is only 2-2 and on the downside their offense is not very explosive. It will not help their cause if rookie stud wide receiver Sammy Watkins is missing, and certainly the absence of both C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson in the backfield will hurt them. At the very least they have had the bye week to prepare backup plans. 

Speaking of the bye, the Chiefs have roared out of theirs by recording three straight wins, the last two of which came by a combined 58-17 margin. They are returning to 2013 form. Honestly, they are probably a better team playing a vastly more difficult schedule. The road has not really been a scary place for them at 2-2 and this is probably their weakest foe. Their wins came in Miami and San Diego, with one-score losses in Denver and San Francisco. The defense has been good enough to limit every opponent this season to a maximum of 26 points. On offense, they are pretty average as well though with the big difference being Jamaal Charles. Kansas City can run (4.5, 136.9) and will score that way (11 TD). Buffalo (3.8, 98.9) is limited on the ground and is unable to run it in (3 TD) even before their backfield was decimated by injury. 

It is interesting because the Chiefs run defense is below average (4.7, 116.1) yet is the only team in the league not to allow a rushing score. The rest of the league has given up at least 3. The Bills can stop the run too (3.6, 92.3) and they are one of the teams who have allowed 3 scores. Neither team does much through the air. It is mostly about protecting the ball and not giving up too many sacks with their veteran signal-callers. Kansas City allows the fewest yards passing (199.4) but Buffalo has a 12-4 edge in interceptions. If they can turn over Alex Smith all bets are off. Both defenses can rush the passer, to the tune of 55 combined sacks. I would avoid this game if I actually bet on football, which I do not. I feel like either team can win. This is the type of game I get a stomach ache trying to pick. After playing two at home the travel should not bother the Chiefs so much, and I believe they can squeeze this win out: Kansas City 20, Buffalo 19 (BUF +2/under 43) 

San Francisco (4-4) @ New Orleans (4-4): The records are the same, and both teams entered this season as serious contenders in the NFC. However, the mentality entering this contest is very different. I feel as if the 49ers are trying to pump themselves up, as evidenced by star running back Frank Gore declaring they will make the playoffs. Dude, your team just lost at home to a team led by some guy named Austin Davis. Earlier in the year, your team lost to Drew Stanton. Drew Stanton! Now you expect me to pick them to beat Drew Brees on the road? Um, no. The Saints are rolling. They smoked Green Bay 44-23 when the Packers were hot, and followed it up with a 28-10 smack down of the Panthers in Carolina. Even worse, they did that one on TNF so their prep time for this game is extended whereas of course their opponent had a travel day. It is not a good spot for the visitors at all. 

It seems like New Orleans has settled down on defense since the bye. Their personnel decisions in the offseason screwed them up a bit and it can take time to correct course. San Francisco has more issues in that area yet have mostly been able to mask their deficiencies. Unless they were playing on the road (Denver) against an elite quarterback (Peyton Manning) like this situation. Without Aldon Smith, the 49ers have only 13 sacks to go along with a great pass defense on the stat sheet (206.3) and have yielded a very ordinary 14 touchdown passes. By contrast the Saints are open for business (268.4) but have given up 12 scores through the air. They also have 17 sacks and the dome crowd noise in their favor to fire up their defense. Stopping the run has worked well for San Francisco as well (3.9, 85.6) but New Orleans is surprisingly good (4.1, 102.1).  If we are facing facts, Colin Kaepernick is a shaky threat throwing the ball and his offensive line is not overwhelming anyone in the run game these days. I question his ability to match scores with Brees.

Mark Ingram is running like a first-round pick again, on a team with good stats (4.8, 129.5) and leading the league in rushing scores (12). The only team with fewer touchdowns on the ground than the 49ers (3) is the winless Raiders. Marinate on that statistic for a moment. Now ponder only two teams allowing more sacks than San Francisco (27) and those teams (Jacksonville, Minnesota) being quarterbacked by rookies. Offense is the problem. I like Sean Payton over Jim Harbaugh here, even if Harbaugh's team is backed against the wall, They will be in a bigger corner after falling short here: New Orleans 28, San Francisco 24 (SF +6/over 48.5)

Tennessee (2-6) @ Baltimore (5-4): On the surface this looks like an easy call. The Titans have all kinds of trouble scoring, six times failing to post more than 17 points. Four times the Ravens have limited opponents to that total, and the only two times they gave up more than 23 were the last two weeks (losses by 27-24 and 43-23 scores). Those were both rematch games (Cincinnati, Pittsburgh) though. The best I can say for the visitors here is they have had a bye week to prepare. Just twice Baltimore has failed to score 23 points this season, and I feel like they are good for that here. Plus, they have to be ticked off given their losing streak and will be putting up a big effort considering their bye week is on deck. 

Zach Mettenburger is starting at quarterback for the visitors, his first road start in the NFL. I believed in him more than I should have last time and while he did throw for 299 yards they never had a chance against Houston in a 30-16 loss. The respective pass defenses are ordinary, and Baltimore is needing to adjust to life after Jimmy Smith. It was not pretty last week when Big Ben threw torched them for six scores. The rookie Mettenburger lacks the ability, experience and weapons to replicate that effort I am sure. However, he is dangerous because he has no fear. Both teams average 4.4 yards per carry running the ball, but I will take the Ravens in that area, especially since their run defense is vastly superior. The home team will have offensive balance, get the lead and ride it to the promised land: Baltimore 24, Tennessee 16 (TEN +10.5/under 44)

Pittsburgh (6-3) @ NY Jets (1-8): The bye week could not come fast enough for the Jets. Well, perhaps not for head coach Rex Ryan who will have two weeks of hearing about his future. The truth is, he pulled out a magic trick saving his job last year and probably should have been fired. He made the switch to Michael Vick at quarterback, trying to salvage some wins. I am not sure there are many left in their season. The Steelers come in looking for blood having scored 94 points in the last two weeks. However, I am a bit worried about a defense that has allowed 23-plus in four straight. Not as much as I am concerned about New York's pass defense that has given up 24 touchdown passes against one interception. One! They do have 25 sacks, but Ben Roethlisberger can deal with it. 

The run defenses are both above average, but the Jets are stingier when it comes to average per carry for sure. The rushing offenses are both good as well. Somehow I feel as if New York will find a way to keep themselves in this game by running the ball, protecting the ball and casting some sort of spell on Pittsburgh. Seriously, everyone looks at this game and assumes the Steelers are going to roll. However, the Jets have nothing to lose. They could pull some trick plays, try an onside kick, whatever it takes to steal a win and end their eight game losing streak. Percy Harvin has given their offense a little pop, and if they can keep the clock in motion it might be closer than people think: Pittsburgh 27, NY Jets 20 (PIT -1.5/over 44) 

Atlanta (2-6) @ Tampa Bay (1-7): It is a last place battle in the NFC South! Honestly, how much more can the Falcons take? They traveled to London two weeks ago and built a 21-0 lead only to blow it and lose to the Lions 22-21. Head coach Mike Smith is going to be fired, it is just a matter of when at this point. Four times, stateside, they have played outside in the elements and all of those games resulted in double-digit losses. There is also the small matter of the first meeting between these teams. Atlanta won it 56-14 and it actually was not that close. They were up 56-0 entering the fourth quarter. It was an onslaught to be sure, and the game featured 9 total turnovers. The Bucs had 5 of those, and 11 penalties. Eliminating those mistakes will certainly play a big part in them turning around such a lopsided defeat. 

These teams are both in the bottom 8 running the ball. Steven Jackson might be mulling retirement when the season is over, and his opposite number Bobby Rainey is just a placeholder. The respective run defenses are below average because of volume. They are both in the top 6 when it comes to rushes per game against. Atlanta has given up the most rushing scores (13) in the league. The worst pass defense in the league in terms of yardage is Arizona, but these two teams are next in line. Tampa Bay has allowed 18 passing scores, second worst in the league. The Falcons have a league low 7 sacks. Outside of their dome, they are a very different team. It makes me nervous to expect anything from them, even against an opponent that is 0-4 at home and has topped 17 points just twice all season. Josh McCown starting again gives the home team a spark I think. Sure, they were blown out the first time on national television under different circumstances. It is different here: Tampa Bay 23, Atlanta 20 (TB +3/under 48) 

Denver (6-2) @ Oakland (0-8): Playing defense for a team with a prolific offense can be tough. The way Peyton Manning puts up points in a hurry and in bunches can put pressure on the defense. I certainly foresee a potential large lead in this game. The Broncos quickly went up 31-0 the last time they came to the Black Hole and No. 18 rested well before it was over. Now, at the very least he faces off against a hot shot rookie quarterback with some game. The Raiders are getting closer to the win column, if that makes any sense. They were an onside kick recovery from having the ball in enemy territory trailing by 6 last week in Seattle against the defending champs. Half of their losses have been by double digits, but only twice have they been totally out of the game from the jump. This could be a third time. 

Pass defense is the big deal here. Oakland is unable to rush the passer, with just 8 sacks on the season. Denver has 24. They can attack rookie Derek Carr whereas Manning will have time to throw and plenty of targets to choose from. The Broncos have the best run defense on paper in the NFL (3.3, 71.6) while the Raiders give it up on volume (3.8, 132.5). Neither team is able to run the ball effectively, but trust me the visitors could care less. They will throw the ball on every play if they need to. In rivalry games, almost anything is possible. However, the Raiders have trouble putting points on the board. The Broncos do not. It is really just that simple: Denver 31, Oakland 21 (OAK +12.5/over 48.5) 

St. Louis (3-5) @ Arizona (7-1): Bad teams get screwed by the schedule makers and the Rams have been bad so that explains them getting three straight road games. This is the last one, but next they host Denver before heading to San Diego. They have to be worn out, and definitely are in line for a let down after a huge win in San Francisco. The Cards are feeling great. Winners of four straight, two of those have come against backup quarterbacks and here comes Austin Davis to their palace of pain. I should not underestimate St. Louis, but I know this building and do not like the situation for them whatsoever.

The recipe for Arizona has been protecting the ball and their quarterback Carson Palmer. However, their pass defense is the worst in the league (286.8) with just 8 sacks so the tables might be turned here. The rushing offenses are both below average. The massive edge here is run defense. The Cards (3.4, 79.6) are the third best in the league while the Rams (4.6, 136.3) are the third worst. I do like what Tre Mason has done for St. Louis, but this is not a great spot for him to go off. Andre Ellington might not pound the rock 25 times for 150 yards because he is not that type of back. However, the team as a whole has a chance to exploit a shaky front seven. I like their offense quite a bit here, and feel as though this stadium is intimidating for an inexperienced quarterback. Davis is going to turn it over and with the rushing advantage I like the home team here: Arizona 24, St. Louis 14 (AZ -6.5/under 44.5) 

NY Giants (3-5) @ Seattle (5-3): The pattern for the Giants this season has been beating bad teams and losing to good ones. Maybe you can argue the Texans are good, and they did get by them. You still get the idea. Now they travel across the country on a short week following their 40-24 loss to the Colts. This is a tough ask. Their backs are against the wall though, so I expect a big effort from them. Realistically, with San Francisco and Dallas up next their season is on the brink right here. Strange things can happen though, and if they can squeeze or two wins out of these next three the schedule lightens up. My point is that their season is not over just yet.

The Seahawks need to kick their game into high gear. They are 3-1 at home, but after the overwhelming NFL season opening spectacular against the Packers they have fluttered a bit. They needed overtime to beat a Broncos team they destroyed in the Super Bowl, the Cowboys beat them up, and they were only 6 points better than the winless Raiders last week. Is this the spot they break out and go on a tear? Their run defense (3.2, 83.0) has held up their end of the bargain, but while their pass defense (221.9) is sixth in the league they have only 5 interceptions and 11 sacks. Double those numbers (10, 22) to get a full season and compare them to last year (28, 44) to see why they are struggling. The Giants are shaky on defense in both areas, and that does not bode well for them here. Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch should team up to move the chains at will, making this a comfortable win: Seattle 28, NY Giants 17 (SEA -8.5/over 43) 

Chicago (3-5) @ Green Bay (5-3): The Packers got a week off to wash away their wipeout in New Orleans. Now they are prepared for the stretch run in the second half of the season. These rivalry games are such a guessing game. Sure, the Bears were rolled by these guys on their home field by three touchdowns the last time. Yes, they lost a lineman on either side of the ball. Does that mean they have no shot? Probably in theory, but in reality Jay Cutler could have a hot hand and lead a shootout upset win. Chicago also had a bye week to get ready for this SNF showdown and their season is clearly on the line. With home games against Minnesota and Tampa Bay next up on the schedule, they could be 6-5 if they can get their act together. I think people tend to overreact too much to things like their 51-23 loss in New England two weeks ago. I throw that out the window to an extent. 

I am, however, a bit concerned they have allowed 27-plus points in four of their last five contests. One way to beat Green Bay is to stifle their offense. They are not going to do that here. Another is to run and control the clock. Chicago has Matt Forte, but their rushing offense (4.4, 102.5) is average. However, they are going up against the worst run defense (4.8, 153.5) in the league. The respective pass rushers are pretty average in terms of sack totals, and both teams are average when it comes to protecting their quarterback. I would expect a couple sacks per side here, but the turnover edge is with Green Bay because of Aaron Rodgers who had poor luck in the dome with deflections getting picked off at New Orleans. Here he has no such issues. I believe the game is won in the trenches and while it concerns me that Forte might run all over them, ultimately they take care of their business: Green Bay 33, Chicago 24 (GB -7/over 53)

Carolina (3-5-1) @ Philadelphia (6-2): The season has slowly been slipping away from the Panthers and while I know no one wants to run away with the NFC South, this might be the nail in their coffin right here. Facing reality, their best shot to beat the Saints was at home and they got whipped 28-10 last week. They are not going to win the rematch in the dome. Looking at their schedule, maybe they run the rest of the games on their schedule but with a loss in this game that means 8-7-1 so yes this is a must-win for them. At least they are well rested coming off TNF. The extra days gave them time to prepare for backup quarterback Mark Sanchez. I am not so sure Sanchez is not a better option than Nick Foles at this point, and we will find out here on MNF. 

The Eagles just took care of the Texans 31-21 and other than a game in San Francisco they have been able to score points this season at a nice clip. The Panthers have six times failed to score more than 20, including their past three outings. They have allowed 24-plus in six of their past seven games. Philadelphia might be in "relax" mode here, looking ahead to a game with playoff seeding implications at Green Bay next week. However, when a backup quarterback enters I feel like teams generally perk up at every other position knowing they have to be at their best. They have two games with Dallas in a three-week span coming up, and a contest with Seattle in between so they need to win games like this or their lead in the NFC East could vanish in a hurry. 

Obviously the Eagles will want to run (4.3, 124.5) with LeSean McCoy and make life easier for Sanchez. The Panthers (3.7, 94.7) have not been able to do that for Cam Newton who seems to be pressing way too much this season. McCoy is going up against a weak run defense (4.8, 131.9) that has allowed 11 touchdowns. Chip Kelly might be known for big plays on offense, but I assure you he will run the ball if it means production. If Newton is forced to the air, he does get a defense that has allowed 17 passing scores. However, they also have 23 sacks. I am looking for the home team to get this done rather easily. Carolina is unable to balance their offense with the run, and that will unleash a pass rush Newton is unable to handle: Philadelphia 27, Carolina 17 (PHI -6/under 48.5)

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