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Sunday, July 15 2018

NFL Predictions 2010: Week 14

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 The season grinds on and so do I. It was a mixed bag for me, as usual. I managed to go 11-5 straight up (118-74 overall) which as I talked about last week is fine by me although for the season I expect to be better than 61.5%. The spread caused me problems at 6-10 (93-90-9 overall) but I stayed ahead of it against the over/under at 9-6-1 (102-87-3 overall). It is funny to look up and see myself +18 “against” Vegas because I know you can never really beat them after the juice and eventual, inevitable losses. The entertainment factor is fun for me though because as anyone who reads this knows I do not gamble.

 Looking back at the handful of regrets, my stomach turns thinking about Miami choking against Cleveland. Who knew Henne would pull a Delhomme against Delhomme? I guess it is understandable since turnovers got him benched, but still. Next year I might have a chance to figure out Tennessee. This year, not so much because I thought their offense could pull it together with Collins back against Jacksonville. Not even close during a 17-6 loss. I’m not sweating one bit blowing the San Diego pick over Oakland. The Raiders ran over a previously stout run defense. The same goes for Indianapolis over Dallas. I picked them in a 31-24 shootout and they lost in one 38-35 after overtime. Another close game went against me when I picked Baltimore 18-17 and a choke by Flacco (strip sack) produced a 13-10 loss.

 

Indianapolis (6-6) @ Tennessee (5-7): Is the NFL Network airing the football death of Peyton Manning? It is entirely possible. The Colts are just 2-4 on the road this season and their star quarterback is in a miserable slump. If you haven’t watched any games in 2010 I will let you know that Indy’s top problem is stopping the run. In the last four they face CJ2K twice, MJD and Run DMC. That should be fun. I’m not predicting it, but could a team that just saw their string of 12-4 seasons end at 7 a couple weeks ago finish 6-10?

 

My inclination is to immediately respond with something like “not on Peyton’s watch!” with authority. However, as I pointed out on Twitter he has become the new version of Favre lately by keeping both teams in the game. Sure, he has averaged 348.7 yards passing with 8 touchdowns over the past three weeks. He also has 11 interceptions. The Titans are better than average at picking off the football with 15 on the season. That’s a problem.

 

Running the football has not been as easy as last year for Tennesee when Chris Johnson ran for 2,006 yards but they run it better than any of the three teams that just beat Indianapolis. In a league driven by stars this game is really all about Johnson vs. Manning. The Titans have allowed just 14 touchdown passes (sixth in NFL) and 6.7 yards per attempt (eighth in NFL) so ignore their #23 rank against the pass. Peyton, more than ever, has to be smart with the football. It will be long, sustained drives and possibly (gasp) field goals to carry the day for him.

 

Admittedly, it is pretty difficult to back a team in Tennessee that has scored a grand total of 39 points during their four losses since the by week and sporting a five game losing streak. However, Indianapolis has allowed 31, 36 and 38 points while losing their past three. Something has to give right? Do we really think Randy Moss can wake up in yet another primetime appearance? The Colts do not allow much through the air although some of that can be attributed to their porous run defense. Passers complete 65.5% of their attempts and have only been picked off 9 times against them. Sure, they have given up just 200 yards per game and 14 touchdown passes, but the way teams run on them it is tough to put too much emphasis on that.

 

We will see what Collins and Moss can do if Chris Johnson struggles. That is the key because CJ2K has been struggling of late with teams realizing the Titans can’t throw. Only the Panthers, whose offense has been decimated by injuries at various positions, have less success throwing the football. Perhaps both star players see their slumps end and while I was tempted to go with an old score of 22-20 here from a previous meeting back in 2007 it feels to me like the structure of one organization is crumbling while the other is just waiting to regroup. Jeff Fisher might have lost control and his reign has longest tenured coach in the NFL might be over when this season ends. Two interceptions for Peyton and 125 yards for Johnson: Indianapolis 23, Tennessee 19 (IND -2/under 45)

 

 

Tampa Bay (7-5) @ Washington (5-7): Before the season I certainly would have had the records reversed for these teams. The Bucs are still trying to prove people wrong and have some work to do if they want to earn a wild card in the brutal NFC race. At this point 10-6 might not even get it done with the 8-4 Packers currently slotted to miss the playoffs entirely. Their margin for error is nil, but while they are 0-5 against winning teams that means the record against losers is a perfect 7-0 which is good news this week.

 

The Redskins had their season ended last week on the road against the Giants in convincing fashion. It has been a pretty maddening campaign for them as I pointed out in my preview for that one given some of their impressive wins, but the bad losses far outweigh those at this point. Their demise is pretty easy to figure out. Shanahan kept searching for his stable of running backs, or at least one guy who could function in all areas as the position. He never found anyone and the offensive line was not good enough to mask this deficiency.

 

Neither was McNabb throwing to unfamiliar targets and the result has been the worst season of his career. He now has 15 interceptions, two more than any previous year with 4 games to go. His next turnover would match a career high set in 2006 which was one of the four times he played the full 16 games. The Bucs haven’t mustered much of a pass rush (18 sacks) but rank second in interceptions with 18 and their completion percentage allowed (58.2%) mirrors McNabb’s season (57.9%). If he can’t connect on a high percentage and is going to throw an interception or two it puts the visitors at an advantage obviously.

 

Freeman has been protecting the ball quite effectively thank you and while he has failed to reach 190 yards passing in 7 of 12 games this season he looks like a keeper once the team gets more talent around him. Washington’s pass defense has been chewed up to the tune of 260 yards per game and he should have a chance to do some damage. The run defenses are both suspect with the Redskins giving up the highest per carry average (5.0) in the NFL and the Bucs (4.6) with them in the bottom 7 in yards per game. Usually good teams don’t give up that much against the run.

 

The keys are which team takes advantage in the running game and which quarterback can avoid the mistakes. Tampa Bay has Blount going strong at the moment, but could use a healthy Williams (rib) down the stretch. Washington looks like they will get Torain back from a bum hamstring suffered on Halloween. It is anyone’s guess how effective he can be, but if he starts chugging along this could turn into a nightmare for the Bucs. I expect a tight, low scoring game which has already been the case for the ‘Skins six times with totals of no more than 35 and neither team hitting 20. Tampa Bay has no road issues. They play tough away from home and will find a way: Tampa Bay 19, Washington 17 (WAS +3/under 41)

 

Cleveland (5-7) @ Buffalo (2-10): It is on the schedule so I have to pick a winner. The Bills probably peaked when Steve (I’m not calling him Stevie yet it’s just weird) Johnson appeared to haul in a game winner against Pittsburgh two weeks ago. As we all know it bounced off his sweet spot and they eventually lost, then were swamped at Minnesota 38-14. Motivation is tough to come by late in a losing season, especially when the team can’t even gain satisfaction they are spoiling an opponent’s playoff hopes. The Browns are on a 4-2 run and the losses have been close ones against two teams in the hunt (Jets, Jags). It might not be realistic for them to run out for a winning final mark with home dates against the Ravens and Steelers to close, but for now it is something to shoot for.

 

The game plan here is pretty easy to figure out. For starters, the turnover differential favors Cleveland (+7) by a lot over Buffalo (-8). If they pull a +2 as those figures suggest this might be a rout because Peyton Hillis is going to be running the ball early and often. He has been up and down, but surely will get 20+ carries against by far the NFL’s softest run defense. The Bills allow over 25 yards more than the next worst team. Be aware, however, that as a team Buffalo is only slightly less effective running the ball and Cleveland’s run defense is just below average.

 

If this goes on the quarterbacks, one guy is really smart and the other likes to throw it to the other team. Please tell me you know which is which. Who knew the Browns would be missing rookie Colt McCoy at this point? I know, it’s weird yet true. Both passing offenses are in the bottom 10 although from all the big plays it probably seems like Fitzpatrick has the Bills higher up. Where they lead by a lot is touchdown passes (21-9). That’s important because Cleveland has allowed 20 although in fairness Buffalo has given up 22. The Browns do have the interception edge (18-8) which levels out the Delhomme factor.

 

I am expecting game of the week material, which of course means it will be a dud. I can see a ton of scoring on both sides. Cleveland’s defense came up big last week in Miami which means they are due to be worn out while playing consecutive road games. Buffalo’s defense has mostly been torched on the road of late having allowed just 53 points in their past three home dates. At this point I see them showing a little quit on that side of the ball. Offensively I don’t see them keeping up with a retooled offensive line putting two interior players on the shelf and getting one back. If they put too much on Fitzpatrick the turnover battle goes against them and coupled with a strong running game the Browns should squeeze it out: Cleveland 27, Buffalo 23 (CLE +2.5/over 38.5)

 

NY Giants (8-4) @ Minnesota (5-7): I’m pretty sure New York wishes they had played this game a few weeks ago. Suddenly the Vikings have a spark at 2-0 under interim head coach Leslie Frazier. Their playoff candle has been extinguished, but after routing the Bills they are ready to turn their attention towards ruining the playoff situations of others over the next three weeks. The Giants have already been bitten by an interim head coach last month when Dallas came to their stadium and literally put out the lights. That misstep should help them focus here because it will be easy to look forward to next week’s rematch with division leading Philadelphia.

 

I beat it to death, but the Vikings have lost primarily because of their -11 turnover differential. Favre, who is going to start if he is able to breathe, has thrown an interception once every 19.5 attempts. Eventually Adrian Peterson will get more than 17 carries for the first time since Halloween because there is a rumor he is pretty good. If that happens against a competent New York run defense it shrinks the odds of a multiple turnover game from the old man. Minnesota is even better against the run in what sets up as a pretty good battle at the line of scrimmage. Both rushing offenses and defenses are in the top 8. Who wants it more?

 

The answer to that question comes into focus when considering the pass defenses. New York has been on fire thanks to their pass rush. Being on the road in a dome certainly slows it down, but will not stop it. Minnesota allows a much higher completion percentage and has not been getting to the quarterback this year. Eli Manning will be aided by key offensive players returning to the lineup around him. His offense is confident after dominating the Redskins and it is really a matter of the defense holding down the fort early. In games like this often a dome team gets on an early roll and never looks back. It is a toss up and I am going with the guys who have something on the line: NY Giants 28, Minnesota 24 (NYG -2/over 42.5)

 

Green Bay (8-4) @ Detroit (2-10): I have been at this too long to assume the Packers are going to roll in this game by a few touchdowns. Division rivals love to play nasty hosts and put their thumb in the playoff cake. Even if the first meeting was early (week 4) it was clear they were the contenders against the Lions who came in 0-3. How did that go? Well, pretty good when they were up 28-14 a blink of the eye into the second half. After that, well, not so much. They never scored again and held the lead because the four scoring drives they allowed were all limited to field goals. Milking the final 6:32 on offense helped too, but it was still too close for comfort.

 

Now they take it on the road against a team dying for a win to hang their hat on during another dreary campaign. Fans often want a team to lose at this point to improve draft position, especially since Matt Millen is out of the front office, but I believe the players on this team are motivated to spring the upset. To wrap up the first meeting there is not too much to take from it going forward. Detroit is going with a different starting quarterback after Hill threw for 331 yards against this defense and ran for a surprising 53. The Lions won the turnover battle 4-3 and had more total yard (431-261) but lost on the aforementioned failures to score touchdowns while giving up the defensive score.

 

If Stanton is up for it the rematch could be an offensive show. He has been capable in two appearances against the Giants in October and Bears last week, but not as explosive as Hill or Stafford. Still, offensively Detroit is #8 in passing offense at 250 yards per game, two spots behind Green Bay. The difference is a +46 edge in attempts though. The Packers are second in yards per attempt (8.1) while the Lions are fourth worst (6.2). Defensively the figures also favor the visitors. Green Bay has the fourth lowest yards per attempt allowed (6.6) and Detroit has the fourth highest (7.8) plus a much higher completion percentage allowed. There is only so much a “dome” field advantage can do to help them out of those disadvantages. Stanton is going to face a pass rush that has tallied 35 sacks and he is not experienced enough to deal with it.

 

In the running game Green Bay has the advantage as well. Rookie Jahvid Best ripped off a run for 45 yards last week for the Lions, but because of a toe injury has just 12 carries over the past three weeks. Meanwhile the Packers might have found the running back to balance their offense for a deep playoff run. James Starks was taken five rounds later, but churned out 73 yards on 18 carries in his debut and has fresh legs. The run defenses are both below average, but with one team having to worry about Rodgers burning them deep and the other able to harass Stanton it bodes well for the visitors to have success.

 

This is the third trip to a dome in four weeks for the Packers, who routed Minnesota and lost a tough game in Atlanta. They are comfortable in this environment. The Lions have been very competitive at home this season other than a dismal second half on Thanksgiving against the Patriots. I can’t overlook the quarterback situation and anticipate a similar outcome to the first meeting although this time they keep them at arm’s length: Green Bay 31, Detroit 20 (GB -6.5/over 46)

 

Oakland (6-6) @ Jacksonville (7-5): Raise your hand if you thought this game would have playoff implications on both sides. Now lower your hand because you are a liar. The Jaguars have been strong consistently since blowing out the Cowboys on Halloween. Their four blowout losses in the first six weeks are a distant memory. Their only loss since was a 24-20 decision at the Giants. The Raiders have continued to be erratic. They have lost three times by 16+ points including twice at the end of November, but have also won by 15+ three times in their past six games with two of those coming on the road. Which team shows up?

 

A month ago Oakland won a showdown against the NFL’s top rushing offense Kansas City. Now their third ranked attack takes on a unit ranked one spot ahead of them. The focus shifts to which defense is more capable of slowing down the run. Jacksonville is getting a great season out of rookie Alualu who has teamed with Knighton to give their front line something to look forward to for the next several years. At times the Raiders have showed up to stop the run and other times not so much. It is really a guessing game trying to predict their showing here. This is a rare late season playoff atmosphere from them and traveling across the country is a lot different than a quick flight to San Diego.

 

Not surprisingly since both teams have so much success running the ball both are in the bottom 5 for passing offense. One stat jumping out is completion percentage where the Jags (64.2%) are comfortably ahead of the Raiders (54.1%). The visitors have also allowed more sacks (34-29) although both numbers are high. If the passing game really is the tiebreaker things could get interesting. Oakland’s pass rush has recorded a lot more sacks (36-21) and about that completion percentage? Defensively they flip the script allowing 54.9% while Jacksonville allows 64.6%. Both teams have given up 22 touchdowns and the Jaguars lead in interceptions 11-7.

 

Garrard is a streaky quarterback. He reeled off three straight games averaging 285.3 yards, but has not thrown for 180 any other time this season. Most of his interceptions (7 of 11) came in two games. Meanwhile Campbell is finally settling in as the starter having taken over the role full time now that Gradkowski is on IR. Rookie Jacoby Ford has been sparking the team on alternate weeks both in receiving yards and kickoff returns. His combined totals against Kansas City and Miami are ridiculous. How about 10 receptions for 256 yards and 11 returns for 366 yards with a trio of touchdowns? If Louis Murphy and star tight end Zach Miller are healthy enough to make larger contributions this week a road kill could be on the menu.

 

Right now Jacksonville is the more consistent team and I am more comfortable expecting them to come up big at home against a California opponent playing an early start. Personally I hate this aspect of scheduling, but it is part of the deal. A slow performance early could take Oakland totally out of what they want to do. Plus, we know they are inconsistent from week to week. The first quarter deficit dooms them: Jacksonville 24, Oakland 23 (OAK +4.5/over 42)

 

Cincinnati (2-10) @ Pittsburgh (9-3): Of the three teams stuck on two wins battling for draft position the Bengals are the only one taking their act on the road. Honestly, other than the Twitter antics of Ochocinco is their anything interesting about this team at the moment? After sweeping the AFC North last year en route to the title a 1-5 record is still a possibility as they prepare for round two against all three divisions foes over the next four weeks. The first meeting at Heinz Field on MNF got interesting at the end when the Steelers went to sleep after taking a 27-7 lead shortly into the fourth quarter. A couple touchdowns later and in the final minute Cincinnati was at the 12 with a chance to win. James Harrison sealed it with a hit on rookie Jordan Shipley, but the outcome should have never been in doubt.

 

This is still a rivalry game, more so on the part of Cincinnati. They want to have something to crow about after losing 9 in a row. Being the Bungles again is no fun. It starts with avoiding turnovers. Each team had a pair in the first meeting. Pittsburgh is among the NFL leaders at +11 while Cincinnati is stuck in the middle at -3. Giving it away on the road is a good way to fall behind by a few touchdowns again. Yes I’m looking at you Carson Palmer. He didn’t turn it over last week and they had the Saints on the ropes before losing 34-30. The previous three games he tossed 7 interceptions. He has also been sacked at least 3 times in four of the past five games, and by the way Pittsburgh leads the NFL in that category (36) while Cincinnati is dead last (14).

 

If Palmer can stay upright and make good decisions he should be able to throw a little against this defense, but does anyone really expect that to happen in this hostile environment? He likely is not going to get any help from the running game that is averaging just 3.7 yards per carry while trying to attack the NFL’s best (by a lot) run defense. This is just a matter of Pittsburgh putting them down and keeping them down this time. The home crowd should help them out with that. More than anything Cincinnati does not have the same defensive intensity this season. Their run defense is in the bottom 10 and the Steelers should be able to pick them apart with a balanced attack. Other than New England no team has come into this stadium and scored and I don’t expect that to change: Pittsburgh 28, Cincinnati 13 (PIT -8/over 38.5)

 

Atlanta (10-2) @ Carolina (1-11): The schedule makers tried to set up drama at the end of the season by pairing up division rivals and I get that, but waiting this long for the first meeting is a bit ridiculous. It is especially lame now that the Panthers are out of it and in position to help set up the Falcons with home field position throughout the NFC playoffs. Let’s be honest though, at no point in this season would Carolina have been able to hang with these guys. Right now, however, with their offense in pieces and head coach packing up his office it gives a team on a roll two layups down the stretch.

 

As usual the turnover differential really tells the story with Atlanta +10 and Carolina -7. A lot of that has to do with the Panthers being banged up along the offensive line and in bad shape at quarterback. Rookie Jimmy Clausen has looked pretty overwhelmed this season and in fairness has not had much help. It is somewhat amazing he has thrown just 6 interceptions and never more than one in a game. He has also failed to crack 200 yards passing, has only 1 touchdown strike in 200 attempts and has completed just 50.5% of his throws. He might have had a better shot with last season’s #3 ranked rushing attack. They have trimmed over 50 yards per game off their rushing average.

 

At least Jonathan Stewart is healthy now and has rung up 190 yard over the past two weeks on just 33 attempts. The deceiving part of rushing defense is always yards per game compared to yards per carry. Carolina is -34.6 relative to Atlanta per game, but having dealt with 111 more rushes they actually lead 4.1 to 4.3 per carry. If Stewart breaks a run or two they might keep it interesting because Clausen has a chance against a pass defense giving up a ridiculous 66.1% of passes to be completed against them. Both defenses have solid interception totals, which favors Atlanta with the more experienced passer.

 

The Falcons are not overwhelming for a 10-2 team. Their total offense is ranked tenth and defense below average at nineteenth. They simply do enough to win in the end. Last week was their seventh win by no more than 7 points and they have allowed at least 17 points in seven straight. This is not a dominant team, but this is their chance to flex. The Panthers have only scored more than 18 points twice and have held just once opponent below 20. Is it pretty easy to figure out their record based on that? They are also weary having just played in Cleveland and Seattle. It seems like after the hot start last week their energy drained. The Falcons are coming off an emotional road win and ready to fall into a trap. I just don’t think the offense opposing them is strong enough to spring it: Atlanta 24, Carolina 10 (ATL -7/under 42.5)

 

Seattle (6-6) @ San Francisco (4-8): I am running out of ways to describe the fact that the 49ers are still not dead yet in the NFC West. It seems like a lifetime ago the Seahawks opened the season by spanking the popular preseason pick to win the division 31-6. Things went wrong for San Francisco when they managed only 6 points out of three promising drives to open the game. Then the offense went into hibernation, Seattle woke up and that was that. Still it was a pretty ugly game with a grand total of 505 yards of offense in what amounted to a foreshadowing of this season in the NFC Worst.

 

The focus here is on the quarterbacks. You would think the visitors have a decided advantage with the veteran Hasselbeck at the controls. Over the course of the season, this is actually not the case. San Francisco’s team QB rating (75.0) is actually a whisker better than Seattle (74.0) who had to go with Whitehurst against the Giants. The 49ers changed Smiths on Halloween in London, but are going back to Alex. His stint produced a 1-6 record and he always seemed to have a stretch where it looked like he could handle the job before blowing the game, or only doing damage when the deficit was too big to overcome.

 

Still, on the season the Seahawks have just 11 touchdown passes against 14 interceptions. The 49ers ratio is similar (13/13) and neither team has completed 60% while the yardage totals are also close. This is a good spot for Alex to regain some confidence against a defense giving up 268 yards per game (third most in the NFL) but their completion percentage allowed (56.6%) is the fifth lowest. San Francisco has a similar TD/INT ratio and sack total as Seattle and allows fewer yards, but let’s passers complete 64.6% of their throws. The way I see it, passing the football is not going to be the deciding factor.

 

The Seahawks, certainly much to the chagrin of Pete Carroll, have not found a running game. The 49ers recently lost theirs when Frank Gore was placed on IR. Mixing in the defenses, on paper the rushing advantage should be heavily in favor of San Francisco especially in their stadium. Former Cal teammates from across the Bay Bridge, Forsett and Lynch, will need to earn their yards against a top 10 run defense. Meanwhile the Seahawks at least get a boost with the return of Cole at defensive tackle on a run defense that has not been the same since Red Bryant was lost for the year.

 

However, the “on paper” part falls flat because Gore is no longer in the mix. The 49ers could really use Glen Coffee right about now, but he quit on them before the season. Instead they have to rely on savvy veteran Brian Westbrook and rookie Anthony Dixon. The duo looked a lot better against an awful Arizona defense when Gore went down compared to last week in Green Bay. How the running backs fare is going to determine the outcome. If either side has a guy willing to fight for some extra yards and break tackles it could be the difference in what should be a low scoring game.

 

Usually I like the 49ers to get a noticeable boost at home while the Seahawks have been mostly horrible on the road. However, Seattle has split their past four away from Qwest and San Francisco was shut out by Tampa Bay the last time they played on this field. It sure would make the race a lot more interesting if they win because of course a loss knocks them officially out of it, as if trips to San Diego and St. Louis the next two weeks won’t anyway. I don’t like their offense or the Seattle defense having allowed a lot of crooked numbers starting on Halloween (33, 41, 34 and 42). I am torn. It is a toss up. Right now I don’t trust going with a quarterback who has won only once this season so the stake is driven in the coffin: Seattle 24, San Francisco 20 (SEA +5.5/over 41.5)

 

St. Louis (6-6) @ New Orleans (9-3): In their title defense who knew rookie quarterbacks would be standing between the Saints and being in the driver’s seat for home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs? They played a trio of first year players during the month of October and went 1-2. Those losses at Arizona (Max Hall) and against Cleveland (Colt McCoy) might be the reason they take the wild card route this time. Now Sam Bradford has a chance to hurt them even more while keeping his Rams in contention for the NFC West title no one seems to want.

 

Offensively New Orleans has found a groove scoring 30+ in four straight games. Rookie running back Chris Ivory has gotten it done on the ground, but Pierre Thomas returning is crucial for his receiving ability out of the backfield. The offense is not the same without him. Even with Steven Jackson handling the rushing duties for St. Louis, having two young tackles starting has prevented them from doing a lot of damage on the ground. They are still ahead of the Saints in yards per game, but their average (3.7) is the fourth lowest in the NFL. Similarly, the run defenses are both in the middle of the pack yet the Rams give up 4.5 yards per carry. Ivory should take advantage.

 

The passing game obviously favors New Orleans with Brees although he has struggled with interceptions (16). Worse yet 14 of those have come in the past 8 games. He makes up for it with touchdown passes (25) though and a low sack total (18) to go with his typical crazy completion percentage (69.5%). Bradford has been terrific as a rookie, but he leads an offense averaging just 6.0 yards per pass attempt compared to 7.5 for New Orleans. Their attack is scrappy to put it kindly. He also has to deal with a stingy pass defense giving up just 199 yards passing per game and the fewest touchdown passes (8) in the NFL. On the plus side for the visitors, St. Louis allows a low completion percentage (57.8%) and has 35 sacks. They will come after Brees and see what happens.

 

Other than a pair of 30+ outbursts the Rams have no scored more than 20 points in a game. They will probably need to hit 30 or forget about winning here. Their defense was on last week in Arizona (shocker) but prior to that gave up 90 points over three games. As simplistic as it sounds I don’t see how they can score with the Saints. Sometimes scrappy works and given their failures against rookie quarterbacks one can never tell. I’ll take Brees every time with no regrets: New Orleans 31, St. Louis 17 (NO -7.5/over 47)

 

New England (10-2) @ Chicago (9-3): Anyone for some Super Bowl XX nostalgia? I would love it if the Patriots wore their throwbacks from the 80’s. The truth is that they need to not screw around here after their 45-3 demolition of the hated Jets on MNF. The Bears can play defense and already used their home field advantage to slow down a speedy Philadelphia attack. Field and weather conditions are the biggest difference between what we saw on MNF and what will transpire this week.

 

I have pretty much learned to throw out New England’s statistically atrocious defense. Only the Redskins give up more total yards and only the Texans allow more passing yards. Their biggest weakness is allowing a high completion percentage (67.1%) but their deficiencies are masked by 18 interceptions. Cutler is always a threat to turn it over although six of his ten interceptions came in two games (Washington, Minnesota). His problem this year is fumbles with 5 of the 9 recovered by the defense. One way or another Belichick’s defense is going to get under his skin.

 

Brady on the other side needs no introduction and is on a tear at the moment since throwing 2 interceptions on October 17. He has 17 touchdowns and not a single turnover in seven games (six wins) since. The Bears have only given up 9 touchdown passes all season to go along with 16 interceptions. Julius Peppers will be ready to make his presence known as well.

 

Most importantly, Chicago can clamp down against the run. New England has gotten a lot of production out of Green-Ellis and when defenses aren’t looking Woodhead knifes them for precious yardage. Their offense is like a Swiss Army knife. You never really know which blade will be used and how to defend the attack. Defensively, they are satisfied to give up the yards and even plenty of points. I’m not going to look it up, but not many teams that are 9-2 (prior to last week) have allowed 18+ points in every game. Seven teams have scored 24+ on them.

 

Perhaps the best part of this game is Mike Martz getting another shot at the Patriots. He was the head coach for the Rams when they returned to the Super Bowl against an upstart team led by a quarterback no one knew much about. The rest is history, and maybe their practice (allegedly) being taped had something to do with that outcome. If he has an axe to grind this is his opportunity to gain a measure of revenge. Throw a dart because I can pick this either way and feel good. Out of respect for their accomplishments I always lean towards the Patriots when it is close because when they are playing like this it is tough for me to envision them losing. They have also won 95% of their past 21 against the NFC so I’ll go with that: New England 22, Chicago 20 (CHI +3/over 37.5)

 

Denver (3-9) @ Arizona (3-9): Is this the year of the rookie quarterbacks or what? The recent successes of guys like Flacco, Ryan and Sanchez have made teams more willing to throw a first year player under center but this is ridiculous. John Skelton is going to be the second rookie starter for the Cardinals this season and the sixth in the NFL not to mention two others who have seen action. Obviously neither team has anything at stake at this point even in down seasons for the respective West divisions.

 

The irony here is that the Broncos just drafted a little known quarterback named Tim Tebow in the first round. They have not given any indications he will see even an increased role much less start for their new interim head coach Studesville. Max Hall wasn’t even drafted and Skelton was taken in the fifth round. I have no problem with leaving Orton is as the starter, even coming off an awful showing last week (9/28 117 yards) during a 10-6 loss at Kansas City. His dreams of 5,000 yards ended with that performance, but he has already thrown for 290+ yards eight times.

 

Obviously the Broncos have the much more prolific passing offense so while both teams allow plenty of sacks they possess the ability to overcome those setbacks. Then again this is a pretty good spot for a kid making his first NFL start too. Denver has given up the third most touchdown passes (24) and has the fewest interceptions (6). Again, both pass defenses are among the worst when it comes to yards per pass attempt allowed. Do you think that might help Orton a little more than the guy from Fordham?

 

These are also the NFL’s two worst run defenses outside of Buffalo. Sweet, except that offensively these teams are both in the bottom 4 for rushing offense. Arizona has totally screwed up their backfield. Hightower isn’t catching passes and Wells hasn’t consistently gotten on the field. Meanwhile on the other sideline Moreno is finally showing why he was taken #12 overall. He has piled up 569 total yards and 3 touchdowns over the past four games. It’s kind of amazing to think he is the man reason the Broncos are going to romp in this game, but that is how it is.

 

Neither defense cares much at this point. “I can hardly wait to hit someone and avoid losing for a tenth time this year!” will probably not be heard in either locker room. The interim coach factor has already worked for Dallas and Minnesota. I don’t see the Cardinals generating enough offense to keep up: Denver 27, Arizona 17 (DEN -3/over 42.5)

 

Miami (6-6) @ NY Jets (9-3): New York should have buried the game tapes along with the football from last week’s MNF massacre. Now they need to regroup on a short week against another hated division rival. In the first meeting the Dolphins could never quite get back from a 14-0 deficit early in the second quarter. Henne threw for a ton of yards with Marshall mostly on the other end, but a pick ended their final threat during a 31-23 loss. Yes, turnovers haunted Henne even way back on week 3. He really gave one away last week against Cleveland, but having seen Thigpen operate in a shutout loss to Chicago what is their alternative with Pennington on IR? IT’s not like he has three games with 3 interceptions this season right? Oh, he has.

 

It has been a disappointing season for Miami to be sure. Having to go with a third string quarterback on a short week against a vicious Bears defense was a tough break and the controversial loss to Pittsburgh hurt. This could easily be a team sitting on 8-4 or even 9-3, but that is how a season goes. Their inability to run, perhaps by choice, has been startling. Defenses do wear down if you keep attacking them and while their average carry (3.8) is poor it would no doubt be higher with some long runs late in games against tired opponents. I realize they are tenth in attempts, but with backs like Brown and Williams more would likely be better.

 

The Jets have 55 more rushes and a much higher average (4.5). With both run defenses in the top 10 it will be interesting to see which team blinks first and gets tired of punting if it comes to that. My guess is the Dolphins because they are likely to be frustrated on the road with their playoff hopes on life support. Miami has a solid pass defense and obviously New York has that Revis guy. I do not anticipate this being anywhere close to the scoring we saw the first time around. It is going to be a grind. The Dolphins have not allowed more than 17 points in four straight and seven overall. The Jets get more pub on defense, but they can’t make that boast. Home field is on their side and after eating humble pie all week they muscle through this one: NY Jets 17, Miami 13 (MIA +6.5/under 40)

 

Kansas City (8-4) @ San Diego (6-6): Just when it looked like the Chiefs were going to make their final push and win the AFC West going away Matt Cassel undergoes surgery to remove his appendix. Even if the Chargers were flat last week in getting spanked by the Raiders they are still considered a dangerous team. Plus, having just been run over they at least realize their fifth ranked run defense might need some work in the film room. While they are in there it is going to be easier knowing a quarterback who has turned it over just once (fumble) in a month of games is out of the lineup.

 

Here’s a fun fact. How many winning games has Croyle been involved in as a professional quarterback? The answer is one. He kneeled down in the “victory formation” three times as a rookie in 2006 to close out Trent Green’s 41-0 win over San Francisco. It is certainly possible for his offense to be overpowering in the running game much like Oakland was last week, but I’m going to call it highly unlikely. The Chargers have 34 sacks and allow the third lowest QB rating (74.2) in the NFL.

 

When a team gets whipped they can either pack it on or rebound with authority. San Diego is poised to do the latter against Croyle. Rivers has a chance to simulate what Orton did to this defense the first time around. Speaking of the first time around when these teams met in the season opener it was a mess. The total yards was 389-197 in San Diego’s favor, but a combination of special teams, rain and an excitable Arrowhead Stadium crowd ruined them in a 21-14 loss.

 

Most people felt like eventually the Chargers would get on their late season run and after starting 2-5 they were poised to run out. One speed bump does not erase a month of offensive explosion. They are going to score in this game and unless Kansas City’s running game dominates it should be enough. Jamaal Charles got his briefcase of cash and the timing makes sense. They need him now more than ever. It is too bad Cassel won’t be able to show just how much he has progressed this season after being so limited in the season opener, but his absence is too much to overcome. I don’t think it is a blowout though: San Diego 28, Kansas City 20 (SD -6.5/over 45)

 

Philadelphia (8-4) @ Dallas (4-8): I can understand why the NFL and NBC might not be willing to flex a home game for Jacksonville against Oakland with serious playoff implications in the AFC considering how few butts have been getting in their seats. That is fine, but there are four other games between teams still in the hunt at .500 or better. Nah, forget that we need to see Vick because he is such a great story! The Cowboys are back to playing football! It is so comical. Ratings drive it though and just like last week when Colts-Cowboys was on while Atlanta and Tampa Bay did battle that is all that matters.

 

I’m not done sniveling yet. This is another case of the NFL waiting to schedule a team against a divisional opponent for the first time until week 14 which is a joke. Last year the Eagles were whipped by the Cowboys twice in consecutive weeks and it was not at all entertaining. Apparently the NFL thought this year would be different. Maybe it will, but it certainly hurts Philly who has to deal with a revitalized team. At least they are doing so on a couple extra days rest having taken care of Houston on TNF.

 

The interesting part of this Dallas run has been their defense. They have still given up a ton of points (26.0 average) while winning three of four under Garrett, but the offense has stepped it up. Now they have to do it without star rookie receiver Dez Bryant who always seems to have a big play in him. The offense hasn’t missed too much on paper since Romo went down though so anything can happen. In fact both passers have 148 completions and 11 touchdown passes on the season. Kitna has just one more interception (8-7) and double the sacks taken (14-7) but 98 more yards passing. Pretty insane to consider the numbers almost a dead heat.

 

One thing the Cowboys needed to do more of sooner to help either quarterback is run the football. Choice was unleashed last week and responded with 100 yards against a porous Indy defense. Philadelphia is definitely better at closing up those lanes. Their pass defense also plays into Kitna’s historical weaknesses with 20 interceptions and 32 sacks. They have allowed 24 touchdown passes, but Dallas has given up 25 to go along with 254 yards passing. Vick is ready to wreak havoc on this defense and as long as he isn’t taking a lot of hits should be able to do just that. DeSean Jackson loves primetime. Complaining aside I expect this to be a show worthy of a national audience even if other teams are more deserving of the spotlight. The Eagles turn on the afterburners to pull away: Philadelphia 38, Dallas 27 (PHI -3.5/over 50.5)

 

Baltimore (8-4) @ Houston (5-7): I have honestly forgotten about the Texans. Some of it is because they were last seen playing on TNF. Most of it is because they are yet again irrelevant after starting the season with high hopes. A 21-3 scoring run sandwiched around halftime had them in the lead at Philadelphia only to have their defense give it away while the offense watched it happen. Their only win since October 17 was over a Tennessee team starting Rusty Smith at quarterback. Since MNF games are not subject to flex most of the country (Giants/Vikings is postponed and will be shown in those markets) is stuck watching them.

 

The Ravens are set up for a letdown going on the road after a physical loss on SNF. They are comfortably in position to earn at least a wild card, but with a manageable final stretch would love to keep the pressure on the Steelers and rally for a division title. The defense is definitely rounding into playoff form having allowed no more than 13 points in four of their past five games. If this is in fact a trap, run defense will be the reason. Baltimore has tightened up of late but a few players have gotten by them this season. Now it could be Arian Foster’s turn. Houston has the third highest average per rush (4.8) and while their run defense is almost as effective Baltimore’s once dominant rushing attack has the second lowest average (3.6).

 

If Houston can win the rushing battle it is on like Donkey Kong. The passing offenses are quite similar on paper, but the game turns on passing defense. The Texans have been torched all season allowing an insane 8.2 yards per passing attempt while allowing 27 touchdown tosses. The Ravens hold teams to just 6.4 yards per throw, second lowest in the NFL and have a much lower completion percentage (58.4% to 66.5%). They also have Ed Reed.

 

It is really just a matter of Baltimore snuffing out the upset early and being emotionally ready after the disappointing loss. Houston has nothing to lose at this point. They should be loose and quite frankly that is when they are at their best. If I was gutsier I might be calling for the shocking upset here. However, one defense can’t stop anyone and the other is stopping almost everyone so it makes no sense to call it that way: Baltimore 24, Houston 20 (BAL -2.5/under 46.5)

 

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