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Thursday, August 16 2018

NFL Predictions 2012: Week 12



A season is a marathon, and right now I’m just jogging along. Straight up I turned in a 12-2 week (109-48-1 overall) and any time I reach double digit wins it’s a good thing. Thankfully I recovered with some late Sunday wins against the spread to finish 7-7 (84-73-3 overall). It might be too late to turn around my woes on the over/under, but I did go 8-5-1 (77-79-3 overall). The dreaded final two weeks where anything goes loom so I only have four weeks left to do some business starting now.



Houston (9-1) @ Detroit (4-6): This is an intriguing matchup of 2011 upstarts who might have seen this Turkey Day showdown as a potential Super Bowl preview. Instead only one team has held up their end of the bargain. At the very least, the hosts are not the dry, burnt turkey that gets eaten up by their hungry guests year after year. Now they are sort of like the last bird in the pen trying furiously to avoid being served for dinner. 

This is the last stand for the Lions, and quite frankly it might already be too late. Ironically, all it appears to take in the NFC to make the playoffs as a wild card is to avoid last place in the NFC North pending the stretch runs of Dallas (5-5) Tampa Bay (6-4) and Seattle (6-4) but right now I don’t think this team can work out of the hole. They are two games plus a tiebreaker (swept head-to-head) behind Minnesota. Football players aren’t thinking that far ahead though. They just know that at 4-7 their wild card dreams are finished.

For the Texans, their sights are firmly set on the No. 1 seed in the AFC. They lead the South by three games and even though they play Indianapolis twice down the stretch no one really believes that team is going to catch them. Their urgency meter is several notches lower. The motivation for them is to showcase their supremacy for a Thanksgiving Day audience to see. On a short week, on the road following an exhausting overtime game I don’t know how much energy they can muster though. 

Houston’s road record this year is spotless (4-0) but three wins were by a single score and the fourth was a rout over Jacksonville who just took them to the wall in the rematch. Detroit’s home slate is spotty (2-2) but three were decided by 4 points and the other was a 20-13 setback to Minnesota. This is a competitive team just looking for a lift and the home crowd on Thanksgiving might be exactly what they need to thrive.

Through the air the Texans (256.3) showed last week they are still potent when backed up against the wall. The Lions lead the league in passing (316.0) but struggle to score via the pass (14 TD) and take more sacks than their opponent here (22-13). Pass rush is going to be a huge factor in this game. Houston’s pass defense (213.6) has 27 sacks and Detroit’s (214.0) has 23 with both units ranking in the top 8. The Texans lead in interceptions 11-6 and have a huge edge in completion percentage allowed (54.2% to 66.5%).

If Matt Schaub is completing about two-thirds of his throws and avoiding the rush the visiting offense will move the chains. Matthew Stafford could be below 60% and is likely to hit the turf a few times to stop drives. The respective running games can be deceiving on the stat sheet. Detroit’s average rush is actually higher (4.1 to 3.9) even though their yards per game are considerably lower (99.9 to 136.7). The touchdown edge goes to Houston (12-11) and they have a huge edge in first downs rushing (80-51). Their offense obviously starts with Arian Foster and flows through him. 

Defensively Houston can stifle the run (3.9, 85.6) and has yet to allow a rushing score. That’s a big deal given Detroit’s relative inability to pass for touchdowns. The Lions have a serviceable run defense (4.3, 114.1) and also are hard to score on running the ball (3 TD). I think this is a tight game and field goals could be the order of the day to keep the total points down a bit. Home field advantage, and dome crowd noise, will help the Lions out a lot on both sides of the ball. J.J. Watt wants to make his presence felt, and I don’t know if Calvin Johnson is ever going to truly snap out of his Madden Curse slump or I would go with the straight upset here. I will still take the points and feel pretty good about it because the home team is tenth in total defense. They can keep it close: Houston 23, Detroit 21 (DET +3.5/under 50)

Washington (4-6) @ Dallas (5-5): I don’t know too many people who would argue if this was the matchup for the Cowboys on Thanksgiving every year. The rival Redskins enter this one a couple games below .500 but very much alive in the NFC East should they be able to win their next two games including a visit from the Giants on MNF after this. At 6-6 they would be at worst a game out of the division lead with two road games against teams out of the race (Cleveland, Philadelphia) and two home games (Baltimore, Dallas) left on the slate.

Dallas might have been looking past the Browns last week, escaping in overtime. Their path to the playoffs also starts here because they host the struggling Eagles next. A 7-5 record is well within reach for them to start the final quarter of the season and their talent level puts them in a position to compete with any team in the league. They just need to figure out how to play better at home where they have already lost twice and been taken to OT by a team with just two wins. In all they are being outscored in home about 23-20.

The good news is that on the road Washington’s defense consistently gives up points, an average of 27.8. I can see this game getting into the twenties on both sides and at least sometimes the Cowboys can bring it on defense. They clearly have a better set of cornerbacks, for example. Passing offense goes to Dallas (300.5) even though Tony Romo has 13 picks and they have allowed 24 sacks. Washington’s numbers are only lower in yardage (230.4). They are close in completion percentage, touchdown passes and sacks allowed, and have thrown just 5 interceptions. If this game comes down to a key turnover the visitors have the edge.

Defensively the Cowboys can handle the pass (211.4) a lot better than the Redskins (289.2, 20 TD) but again they only have 4 interceptions while the visitors boast 12. Turnovers are huge in the NFL where the difference in talent is so slim. The sacks and completion percentage are again even. In other words, on paper Dallas should throw for 295 while Washington gets 220, but they also might lose the interception battle by 1 to offset that advantage.

Running the ball is what the Redskins want to do anyway, and they are second in the league (5.2, 165.0, 12 TD) thanks to Robert Griffin III. The Cowboys have a banged up backfield and can’t run much (3.6, 83.1). The run defenses are pretty even with Dallas (4.0, 106.6) slightly behind Washington (4.1, 94.6) and both having allowed 7 rushing scores. The visitors have the edge in the running game, but Romo has the potential to throw for 350 yards in this matchup if he needs to. Of course that ups his likelihood to turn the ball over which is something Griffin has not done much of in his rookie season.

This is a coin flip game for me with both teams looking at mid-twenties in scoring. Washington is pretty loose following a blowout win that snapped a three game slide and had a bye week buffer to forget about those losses. All of the teams that beat them can rush the passer though, and now they face DeMarcus Ware on Thanksgiving. Griffin will love being back playing football in Texas until he sees Ware chasing him. I think Dallas has worked their way into form against losing teams and picked up some confidence. They squeeze this one out: Dallas 28, Washington 24 (DAL -3/over 46) 

New England (7-3) @ NY Jets (4-6): It feels like these games are either really tight or blowouts. I looked up the past eight meetings, including the playoff stunner the Jets won, and in actuality they’re close but not as close as I thought. When they hooked up few weeks back and it went to overtime with the Pats winning 29-26 it broke a streak of 7 in a row decided by at least 7 points. New England won by 9, 21, 42 and 17 during that stretch while New York won twice by 7 and once by 14. I look for the Pats to open up a can here if they are up for it.

New York effectively “saved their season” with an upset win at St. Louis last week. They had lost two games sandwiched around their by week to fall to 3-6 and most had written them off. Now, with their bitter rivals visiting on Thanksgiving night they have a glimmer of hope. Next week they host Arizona who is down to their third quarterback and after that visit Jacksonville and San Diego who sport losing records. If they could somehow win this game a serious win streak could be at hand.

Is the offense up to it though? The Jets have been erratic scoring at home, twice failing to hit double digits and two other times posting 48 and 35. The defense has been consistently spotty though, limiting only Indianapolis to lower than 23 points in five home contests. This is not good because the Patriots are powerful on offense, even if stud tight end Rob Gronkowski is out. They have posted at least 29 points eight times and lead the league in scoring average (35.8). 

In that first meeting both teams moved the ball well and the stats were split fairly well down the middle actually. Mark Sanchez beat Tom Brady on the stat sheet and the Jets only punted 3 times. However, he was sacked for a critical safety early in the second quarter and instead of Brady needing to drive for a winning touchdown at the end all he needed was a field goal. His kicker was true and repeated the process in OT for the win.

I think some things will be different in the rematch, starting with the running backs. New England (4.3, 142.9) has an assortment of options and New York (3.7, 108.6) has Bilal Powell ready to break loose. Defensively the Jets (4.4, 141.9, 10 TD) have really struggled to stop the run and that’s why I thought the first meeting would be lopsided. The Patriots are competent against the run (3.9, 99.06) but you can never tell what will happen when rivals hook up with the spotlight of national television.

Clearly the stats are in the favor of the visitors passing the ball we know that. New England (299.3) is near the top with 21 TD and 3 interceptions and protects their quarterback (15 sacks). New York is near the bottom (207.7) completing 10% fewer of their passes with roughly half the scores (11) triple the picks (9) and almost double the sacks allowed (25). Those numbers aren’t good, but did I mention this is a rivalry game? The Jets can stop the pass (200.1) and the Patriots can’t (289.7).

This is a passing league and last time Sanchez won the yardage battle 328-259 over Brady. Bill Belichick doesn’t make the same mistake twice. He will figure out what worked for the Jets and take it away. I expect him to run the ball a bunch and let Brady deal with the shuffling up of moving parts in the passing game. Last time the Jets gave their best punch and still lost, in part because of a special teams breakdown (kickoff return TD). I think they get their hats handed to them here because the Patriots are getting serious. Aqib Talib already made his presence felt last week and it’s amazing that one cornerback can impact an entire defense, but he can: New England 31, NY Jets 21 (NE -6.5/over 48)

Denver (7-3) @ Kansas City (1-9): Fans are wearing black to Arrowhead Stadium and I don’t mean visitors when the Raiders come to town. I mean fans that are fed up with the direction of this franchise and a team that is allowing almost twice as many points as they are scoring. Brady Quinn is starting at quarterback again because it has to seem as if head coach Romeo Crennel is doing something. The team hasn’t scored more than 16 points in a game since September.

The league is too high scoring for anyone to compete without hitting 20-24 on a consistent basis. The Broncos come in with an offense consistently posting 30 points, five times in a row to be exact and seven times on the season. How are the Chiefs supposed to keep up? Peyton Manning has people talking MVP the way he is leading this passing offense (297.5) with 24 TD against 7 interceptions. Kansas City can’t throw the ball (210.4) with a league low 6 touchdowns and league high 15 interceptions. That’s an ugly combination.

Denver’s pass defense isn’t great (219.0, 18 TD) but has 12 interceptions and 35 sacks so when it counts they can deliver key plays. Kansas City (214.6) has given up even more scores (20) and has just 6 interceptions with a low sack total (17). They obviously aren’t making the plays and a smart veteran like Manning isn’t going to implode in this spot. This isn’t the terrifying stadium from the 90’s either.

The Broncos do lose Willis McGahee from their running game (3.9, 105.3) but I expect rookie Ronnie Hillman to step up. The Chiefs (4.6, 145.4) somehow churn out rushing yards even as teams are wiping them out. Unfortunately they face a Denver defense capable of stuffing the run (3.5, 93.8) and combined with their pass rush it’s not good for this inept offense. Kansas City’s run defense (4.5, 129.2) gets worn down. I see no reason for this to be a competitive game. This team has mailed it in and other than playing tough on MNF when the nation was watching hasn’t lost by fewer than 10 points since October 7. I think they get washed out against a team looking to flex their muscles for the playoff stretch: Denver 27, Kansas City 13 (DEN -7/under 44.5)

Buffalo (4-6) @ Indianapolis (6-4): Before the season I definitely would have picked the Bills to win this game. They had the high priced defense while the Colts were a pile of trash led by a rookie quarterback. Instead Buffalo’s free agent additions haven’t formed a cohesive unit while Indianapolis has thrived amidst adversity after losing their head coach. The trouble starts for the Bills on the aforementioned defensive side of the ball. They have already gone on the road six times and the results are not pretty unless they are facing suspect quarterback play, and sometimes even when they are. Overall this defense has allowed 30.2 points per game on the road, three times giving up at least 37 points.

Indianapolis has really gotten it done at home. It has never been pretty with all of their wins coming by 3 or 4 points, but they win. Every time it is a struggle and ultimately their rookie quarterback Andrew Luck comes up big when it matters. Along with being a close game this might be a high scoring affair as well. These are two of the seven worst scoring defenses in the league by average although the Colts give up almost a touchdown fewer points at home.

As impressive as Luck has been passing the ball (296.5) the Colts have as many touchdown passes as interceptions (12). The Bills are struggling to throw the ball (217.9) yet they protect their quarterback (18 sacks) and have 17 touchdown passes. Scoring the football is what ultimately counts. Indianapolis has allowed 18 TD passes and is only average in yards allowed (240.3). Buffalo’s pass defense is similar on paper (234.1, 19 TD) but they have the edge in interception (8-4). I feel as if the quarterbacks might be able to do some damage here relatively speaking. 

Indy has managed to run the ball a little (4.0, 110.4) without a “featured” back. Buffalo has a pair at their disposal and can definitely move it on the ground (5.2, 140.8) with C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson. This could be key because the Colts can’t do much to stop the run (4.7, 119.8, 11 TD). Then again neither can the Bills (5.2, 153.3, 16 TD). Could this turn into a shootout? It kind of feels that way. Buffalo comes in rested having hosted TNF last week while Indianapolis is recovering from playing three of their past four on the road.

If we’re looking at 370 yards or more from each side it stands to reason both teams will reach the mid-twenties, but at some point the Colts are going to decide they are a playoff team. The Bills are in a great spot to make a run if they could muster a win here considering they play three straight at home against teams that aren’t that intimidating. Their effort level should be high. I think the running games will limit possessions and keep the score down, along with red zone defense. It’s a typical home win for the team with a horseshoe on their helmet for, well, luck: Indianapolis 26, Buffalo 20 (IND -3/under 53)

Pittsburgh (6-4) @ Cleveland (2-8): The Steelers better bring their Steel Curtain on this trip because the rival Browns would love to wreck their playoff plans. In 2009 they did just that, extending Pittsburgh’s losing streak to five games and rendering their three-game winning streak to close the season pointless. They missed the playoffs at 9-7. The following season they paid Cleveland back by spanking them twice by a combined 69-19, but last year both wins were closer and low scoring (14-3, 13-9).

About the only thing consistent here is that the Browns can’t score on the Steelers. Not since 2007, a game Pittsburgh won 31-28, have they posted more than 14 in a game on them. Charlie Batch is starting at quarterback for the visitors so perhaps it won’t take that many points to win this game. It’s hard to measure the passing game for the Steelers (256.1) without Ben Roethlisberger or even Byron Leftwich. The Browns have been doing their best with rookie Brandon Weeden (229.8) and mostly avoiding negative plays like interceptions (12) and sacks (16).

Defensively the Steelers are first against the pass (169.3) and while they aren’t getting the sacks (18) they will get after Weeden. The Browns have given up some yards (248.8) and touchdowns (17) but have 27 sacks and figure to make Batch wish he were still holding a clipboard. The perception is that the Browns run a lot with rookie Trent Richardson, but the numbers (3.9, 92.2) aren’t there. The Steelers (3.9, 106.8) keep rotating backs due to injuries yet have managed a steady attack. Defensively it’s tough to run on Pittsburgh (3.8, 89.8) and not as tough to run on Cleveland (4.2, 125.3).

This is probably a popular spot to call for an upset in a rivalry game. I don’t see it. This figures to be a low scoring fistfight. As long as the visitors are fine with punting the ball and letting their defense handle the heavy lifting they are fine. Last week it would have given them a win over Baltimore if not for a special teams letdown. Usually I won’t throw caution to the wind and predict a higher score than logic suggests, but in this case I think field position leads to some cheap field goals and a defensive touchdown or two could boost the total: Pittsburgh 21, Cleveland 17 (PIT -1/over 33.5)

Oakland (3-7) @ Cincinnati (5-5): Carson Palmer has to face the team he abandoned and I don’t expect the welcome mat to be rolled out for him. Unless the Raiders can tighten up their defense it’s going to take a huge effort on his behalf just to keep it close. They have been outscored on average 33-17 on the road and it would be worse without factoring in their 26-16 win at hopeless Kansas City.  The Bengals have been a little uneven at home (2-3) but they just creamed the Giants here 31-13 two weeks ago and smacked the Chiefs around 28-6 to follow it up on the road. They could be rounding into playoff form.

This game is all about the quarterbacks. Oakland can sling it around (303.9) but a lot of it comes in games they had no chance to win. Cincinnati (263.2) has 21 passing scores and it looks like Andy Dalton is going to be their answer. The Raiders have no defensive answer to the pass (253.2, 20 TD) and a league low 11 sacks. The Bengals (228.3) have 30 sacks and will be more than happy to wrap their arms around Palmer.

On the ground Cincinnati is average (3.9, 103.2) and Oakland is down to Marcel “matchup nightmare” Reece (3.6, 81.0) in their backfield. Neither team can really stuff the run, but clearly the odds are in favor of the home team. The Raiders are slightly worse against the run (4.5, 122.4, 14 TD) than the Bengals (4.4, 117.8, 10 TD) and their featured back is basically a tight end. This might be a spot for the visitors to give up on their season. At 3-7 they know the playoffs are not an option. The defense has allowed 42, 55 and 38 points the past three weeks. Now they face a team hungry to make a playoff run. It’s a bad combination: Cincinnati 31, Oakland 17 (CIN -6/under 50.5)

Seattle (6-4) @ Miami (4-6): The time is now for the Seahawks to turn around their road woes. It helps that they are coming off a bye week with the momentum of a couple wins. The Dolphins had extra rest too having lost on TNF in Buffalo, but they have dropped three in a row. This is their last stand and with New England and San Francisco (road) up next on the schedule I don’t think it really even matters. They are not going to make the playoffs, but it doesn’t mean they won’t play hard here.

Miami has struggled offensively at home since opening with a 35-13 win over Oakland. They have posted just 40 points in three games since, losing two of them. Seattle is 1-4 on the road, but all of the losses were within 7 points. Points figure to be at a premium here with two of the top eight scoring defenses hooking up against two of the bottom nine scoring offenses.

The Seahawks have the worst passing offense in the league (187.5) with their rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, but have 16 touchdowns against 8 interceptions and only 19 sacks. The Dolphins have rookie Ryan Tannehill leading a slightly more productive passing game (225.1) but the touchdowns (7) and interceptions (11) are not where you want them to be. It’s going to be tough on him against a Seattle pass defense (196.2) that can lock it down and has 28 sacks. Miami’s pass defense is shaky (266.3) although they have 27 sacks. I like Wilson to avoid that rush and get help from the running game.

Seattle’s rushing attack (4.3, 142.4) has helped Wilson all season. Miami (3.6, 100.9) has struggled on the ground and seems to be blaming it on Reggie Bush who is not a pure rusher. The Seahawks don’t give up a lot of rushing yards (4.3, 100.6) and neither do the Dolphins (3.8, 96.8). I just think Marshawn Lynch is going to run harder than his opposite numbers. I’m riding with the visitors in a really close low scoring game. It could come down to a missed field goal: Seattle 17, Miami 16 (MIA +3/under 38.5)

Atlanta (9-1) @ Tampa Bay (6-4): All season I have waited for the Falcons to fall flat on the road outdoors on natural surface. It still hasn’t happened. They are 4-1 on the road and their only loss came in a dome at New Orleans. As it turns out, over the past six games both teams are 5-1 having only lost to the Saints. The Bucs are flat out hot, especially on offense. They have averaged 34.2 points in their last six games and while the NFC South title might still be outside of their reach a playoff berth is certainly not. They want to prove they can contend.

Can they though? Their only victory over a winning team was at Minnesota on TNF when the Vikings started to unravel a bit. It’s not like the Falcons are taking out juggernauts either though having also beaten only one team that currently has a winning record, knocking off Denver 27-21 way back on week 2 before the Broncos got going. Still, they keep finding a way to win, even when their quarterback throws 5 picks.

Atlanta’s passing game has been efficient all year (307.2, 20 TD) and most of Matt Ryan’s interceptions (8 of 12) came in two games. Tampa Bay has thrown the ball in spots (250.5, 21 TD) and avoided interceptions (7) and sacks (14). The Bucs can’t stop the pass (312.6, 17 TD) to save their life and don’t rush the passer (17 sacks) well. The Falcons do a competent job (216.3) with 11 interceptions and 24 sacks. Clearly this is a spot where the visiting team can put up some yards through the air.

Eventually Tampa Bay needs to use their running game (4.7, 128.9) to take over the pace of games. Atlanta (3.7, 89.2) doesn’t have that luxury and that’s why they tend to struggle outdoors on the road. This week they are going to be one-dimensional because the Bucs have the league’s top run defense (3.4, 81.8). The Falcons don’t stop the run (4.0, 132.2) and I think they are in trouble here.

Living on the edge has worked for Atlanta this year and in Mike Smith’s tenure overall. They have won six times by a single score. Tampa Bay has taken some teams to the woodshed of late winning four times by double digits in their last six. Last year the Falcons came here and lost 16-13. The Bucs were playing well at the time and started 4-2 before dropping their final 10 games. This is going to be a much higher scoring game, but with the same end result. I like balance and without a healthy Julio Jones I see a porous secondary being able to do just enough to hold them off: Tampa Bay 27, Atlanta 24 (TB +1.5/over 48.5)

Minnesota (6-4) @ Chicago (7-3): The NFC North is getting very, very interesting. It is a three-way race and these teams meet again in two weeks. Unfortunately for the Bears, their quarterback has a concussion and the offense has posted 13 points total in losses the past two weeks. The Vikings are rested off the bye week having most recently smacked Detroit 34-24, effectively ending their participation in the division race. Meanwhile the Bears are traveling home on a short week after getting crunched in San Francisco on MNF.

In a passing league this one won’t come down to the quarterbacks. Discounting Seattle, these are the two worst passing offenses in the league, both averaging just over 200 yards per game with about a dozen passing scores. Chicago has allowed 34 sacks and Minnesota has given up 25. The Bears are strong against the pass (216.7) with 19 interceptions and 28 sacks. Back at home I expect their defense to rise to the occasion in this spot. The Vikings are pretty good against the pass as well (229.1) with 26 sacks, but have allowed 17 passing touchdowns with just 5 interceptions.

Running the ball is going to be the focus for Minnesota (5.2, 150.5) with Adrian Peterson. Chicago has to get Matt Forte going for their running game (4.2, 122.8) and keep the pass rush away from their quarterback, whoever it might be for this one. The Bears have the superior run defense (4.2, 95.2, 3 TD) but the Vikings (3.9, 111.6, 7 TD) aren’t bad. I look for a tight game here. The home crowd should fuel a defense that is embarrassed after letting an unproven quarterback embarrass them on national television. Christian Ponder has had a couple weeks to prepare for this one, but it won’t be enough: Chicago 24, Minnesota 17  (CHI -2.5)

Tennessee (4-6) @ Jacksonville (1-9): During their bye week the Titans might have mulled over a possible playoff run. Some close wins kept them alive and a blowout win at Miami gave them hope. They got quarterback Jake Locker back in the mix, but he was shaky. On the other hand, the Jaguars lost their second-year quarterback Blaine Gabbert and watched his replacement Chad Henne light up Houston in a 43-37 OT loss.

To put that offensive explosion in perspective, led by Gabbert this offense has posted 44 points total in five home games this season. They have been outscored at home by an average of 30.6 to 8.8 and their fans have yet to see them come closer than 17 points in any game. Up until their trip to Miami the Titans were getting gouged on the road giving up 30-plus points in all four outings so we’ll see if they return to their woeful ways.

This could be a wide-open game because overall these are two of the four worst scoring defenses. As the season wears on defenses get tired and don’t want to tackle. It’s tough to measure Jacksonville’s passing offense (223.1) because obviously Henne has given them a shot in the arm by throwing the ball to rookie Justin Blackmon who they drafted in the first round for a reason. Tennessee (230.4) has used veteran Matt Hasselbeck in spots and as I mentioned Locker was rusty last week. On defense both teams are spotty against the pass. The Titans (266.2, 20 TD) and Jaguars (276.9) have combined for just 28 sacks and allow opposing passers to complete a high percentage.

Tennessee has Chris Johnson for their running game (4.8, 106.6) and Jacksonville (3.6, 79.5) got a boost from Jalen Parmele last week. Defensively neither team can stop the run with the Titans (4.4, 132.8) worse than the Jags (4.1, 137.3) who simply get run on because their offense can’t score. As crazy as this sounds it looks like it adds up to a win for the home team. They are playing loose and have nothing to lose. It showed last week when they almost stunned the Texans on the road. At home I look for them to build on that moral victory with an actual win: Jacksonville 24, Tennessee 21 (JAX +3/over 43.5)          

Baltimore (8-2) @ San Diego (4-6): Last year the Ravens came here and got whipped, but they went on to within a whisper of the Super Bowl and the Chargers didn’t make the playoffs. I feel like that puts them on upset alert here although sandwiched between two meetings with rival Pittsburgh this fits the “trap” scenario perfectly. It’s also their third road game this month. If they can muster up the energy after the long trip across the country I anticipate a strong effort because they don’t want to face the Steelers with the division lead on the line.

Meanwhile San Diego has collapsed since starting 2-0 and I’m not counting two wins over pitiful Kansas City. They are 0-6 against the rest of the league since then. Perhaps both passing offenses are better in perception than reality, ranking around the middle of the pack. The Chargers actually have a much higher completion percentage (67.1% to 60.3%) but also double the interceptions (14-7) and more sacks allowed (26-21). Ed Reed is eligible for the Ravens to help their pass defense (250.1) which leads the league in passing scores allowed (8). The Chargers (236.0, 19 TD) struggle against the pass.

The respective running games are below average. Baltimore has Ray Rice and a huge edge in rushing scores (12-4) with a better average per carry. San Diego’s run defense (3.8, 87.9) is better than the Ravens (4.0, 132.2, 10 TD) though. Honestly this looks like a pretty even matchup. Coaching is going to be the difference and I’ll take John Harbaugh over Norv Turner: Baltimore 24, San Diego 21 (BAL +1.5/under 47)

St. Louis (3-6-1) @ Arizona (4-6): Things were going so well for the Cardinals until they played the Rams the first time. They went to St. Louis 4-0 and after a 17-3 game that wasn’t as close as the score indicated have just kept losing. The offense has not posted 20 points in any of their losses after posting at least that many in all of their wins. The defense is softening up too having allowed 78 points over the last three weeks.

Points could be hard to come by here with both scoring offenses in the bottom 5 and in the first meeting the teams combined for just 524 total yards. Kevin Kolb threw 50 passes and Sam Bradford completed only 7 but the sacks edge went to the home team 9-1. Danny Amendola is iffy and that impact’s the St. Louis passing game (232.3) that has allowed 26 sacks. Arizona’s quarterbacks have gone down an unreal 44 times and their passing game (229.1) has suffered. Now it’s up to Ryan Lindley because the other two guys are tired of getting the crap beaten out of them.

On defense the Cardinals (204.7) have 28 sacks and 14 interceptions. The Rams (222.3) have 28 sacks, but one-third of those were in the first meeting. Can they do it again on the road? Running the ball has been a struggle for Arizona (3.6, 82.3) and getting Beanie Wells back isn’t going to help that much. St. Louis (4.4, 112.3) can’t punch it in on the ground (3 rushing scores). The run defenses are equally mediocre allowing about 4 yards per carry, but the Rams give up more rushing scores (12-5).

I see an edge here. If the Cards just stick with the run they might be able to use a big play here or there to turn the tide. The Rams are in a takeaway slump and a rematch with a team they embarrassed might be the antidote, but on the road it’s going to be tough. I prefer not to go against Arizona at home if I can help it. They aren’t perfect here, but with a week of practice under his belt I like the rookie Lindley to turn in just enough plays to pull this one out. It’s pretty much the year of the rookie quarterbacks: Arizona 21, St. Louis 20 (STL +2.5/over 36.5)

San Francisco (7-2-1) @ New Orleans (5-5): Suddenly the Saints are back in the mix and here come the 49ers who knocked them out of the playoffs last year. San Francisco’s defense has to be feeling pretty confident having allowing just 3 points total in their past two road games and fresh off a 32-7 trashing of Chicago on MNF. New Orleans’ offense has to be feeling good too having scored 28-plus points five times in their past six games. The exception was at Denver against a solid defense.

A lot of the talk here is about which quarterback starts for San Francisco. We know Drew Brees is going to start for New Orleans and throw the ball a lot (307.6, 28 TD). The 49ers (218.0) get by limiting turnovers (5 interceptions) but have taken 31 sacks. The Saints might be giving up a ton of yards passing (305.0, 21 TD) but they have 24 sacks and the dome crowd noise. San Francisco’s pass defense (182.9) is awesome and they have 23 sacks of their own, but Brees doesn’t take many sacks (16). This is going to be interesting.

The visitors pack their running game (5.5, 165.3) that leads the league. New Orleans doesn’t run effectively (4.3, 94.9) and San Francisco stops the run (3.7, 94.3) so it’s on the arm of Brees for the upset bid. The Saints can’t do a thing against the run (5.1, 157.8) so does it really matter who the quarterback is? Either way Jim Harbaugh is going to devise a conservative game plan centered on protecting the football by running it. He will trust his defense to do their job and ideally use long drives to keep Brees on the sidelines. This is a popular spot for an upset, but I don’t see it: San Francisco 27, New Orleans 20 (SF -1.5/under 49)

Green Bay (7-3) @ NY Giants (6-4): The Giants have already won a “revenge” game, whipping the 49ers 26-3. I don’t think the Packers are really thinking about it as revenge though. They are in a fight for the NFC North just as their counterparts here are in the NFC East. On SNF this is a huge matchup between two teams who have the talent to win the conference if they can put it all together in the playoffs.

New York has had a week off to reflect on a pair of losses and for Eli Manning’s arm to rest. They need to straighten out a defense that has allowed 23-plus points in four straight. Green Bay’s injuries are mounting, but their defense hasn’t allowed more than 20 points in any of their past four games, albeit mostly against suspect offenses.

Having two quarterbacks who have won the Super Bowl, passing offense is a key factor here. Each team averages 264 yards per game, but the touchdown edge goes to the Packers big (28-12) as does the interceptions (6-11) and completion percentage (67.1% to 61.2%) but the Giants give up a lot less sacks (13-32). That’s a key factor because New York’s pass defense (257.8, 17 TD) thrives on sacks (25) and turnovers (17). They need to get to Rodgers and force interceptions. Green Bay’s pass defense (244.4) has 33 sacks of their own, but they are streaky.

James Starks is a nice boost to the Packers running the ball (3.8, 99.2) and they might try to run on the Giants a bit (4.4, 113.8). New York’s running game (4.4, 111.4) hasn’t totally found their groove, but they do have 12 rushing scores and Green Bay is just a bit above average against the run (4.1, 99.5, 7 TD). I think this is a fight and pretty much a coin flip game in primetime. I can talk myself into either side. It might come down to the more desperate team winning and I like the rested Giants to squeeze this out by the skin of their teeth: NY Giants 26, Green Bay 24 (GB +3/under 51)                                   

Carolina (2-8) @ Philadelphia (3-7): If only MNF could flex out of this train wreck. Instead they are stuck with two teams who could combine their win total and still not be in position to secure a wild card in the NFC. The Eagles have lost six straight, allowing 26-plus points in their past five and mostly sputtering on offense. The Panthers have lost seven of eight, but only two of their losses this season have been by more than 6 points. Philly’s past four defeats were all by at least 13 points if you’re curious. If the audience is looking for points scored, good luck considering these are two of the six lowest scoring offenses in the league.

Carolina has struggled to throw the ball (244.1, 9 TD) and protect their quarterback (26 sacks). Philadelphia has had a little more productivity (258.8, 12 TD) but 33 sacks allowed put Michael Vick in street clothes. Now it’s up to rookie Nick Foles who based on last week is not the savior yet. The Eagles are struggling on pass defense (222.0, 18 TD) because they can’t apply pressure (18 sacks). The Panthers (232.3, 13 TD) get after quarterbacks a little more (26 sacks). It’s feeling like a rough night for both passers in the hits department.

Philadelphia’s rushing offense (4.4, 121.6) takes a hit if LeSean McCoy is out as I expect him to be. Carolina can run the ball a bit (4.0, 107.9, 10 TD) and I don’t know if the Eagles want to tackle them (4.3, 118.3) at this point in the season. The Panthers (4.2, 118.4) for whatever reason still have a little bit of fire in their belly. They were embarrassed in their only other primetime game earlier in the season and probably want to make amends. I think Cam Newton will avoid sacks and has a better running game. Foles isn’t ready for this stage even if it’s a battle of losing teams: Carolina 23, Philadelphia 20 (CAR +2.5/under 43.5)


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