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Friday, November 17 2017

NFL Predictions 2012: Week 8

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 Maybe Microsoft Word bugs should screw up my picks more often. I went 12-1 straight up (67-37 overall). I nudged out a 7-6 week against the spread (53-48-3 overall) and also went 7-6 on the over/under (52-50-2 overall) to stay ahead of Vegas.

Tampa Bay (2-4) @ Minnesota (5-2): This one isn't too complex so I don't feel bad having to analyze it in 5 minutes prior to the game. The rushing offenses will be fairly average here. The Bucs can stop the run and the Vikes can impose their will. It pretty much averages out. On the flip side there is mediocrity. Ultimately it boils down to pass rush and throwing the ball plus home field advantage. I like Minny in this spot on TNF where they can act like it is MNF. It should still be fairly close though because of the red zone run defense. Plenty of field goals here and unlike most NFL Network games a little scoring: Minnesota 26, Tampa Bay 20 (TB +7/over 41.5) 

Washington has been in competitive games all year, and high scoring ones. Just two of their games have been below 50 total points; a 24-17 loss to Atlanta and 24-22 win at Tampa Bay. Pittsburgh’s games have been 49 or above half the time as well. They won all three of the lower scoring affairs, limiting their opponents to a total of 41 points in those wins. I don’t know if they have a preference here if I ignore their “Steel Curtain” history of bruising defense.

The rush defenses here are both in the top 10 for yards per game allowed, but both around the middle in yards per carry. Clearly the Redskins and their NFL best running game (177.7 yards per game) will look to the ground first whereas the Steelers have to just tread water on the ground. Jonathan Dwyer might be their lead back due to injuries and they have rushed for just 3.5 yards per carry this year. They will do their damage against the worst pass defense in the league (328.4 yards per game). At the same time their pass defense (second, 184.8) is good enough to stack the box against the mobile Griffin III.

I don’t know if Washington is ready to hit the road a week after a physical loss at the Giants and do it all over again against the Steelers. They have to be spent having not yet enjoyed their bye week. The defense has proven their inability to limit any opponent below 22 points thus far although it has improved over the past 4 weeks allowing about 25 points after giving up 32, 31 and 38 the first three weeks of the season. Pittsburgh is going to get their passing yards and points if Ben Roethlisberger is able to stay upright and avoid turnovers. I like them to muscle this out rather easily: Pittsburgh 28, Washington 20 (PIT -4/over 44.5)

Seattle (4-3) @ Detroit (2-4): This is such an interesting matchup. Last year the Lions were the magical team and this year the Seahawks have taken on some of that charm. Things could level out here. Detroit is backed up against a wall. They had to spend four of the first six weeks on the road and all of those games were outdoors on natural surface where they struggle. If they lose this game their season is pretty much sunk considering Houston and Green Bay (twice) remain on the schedule plus Atlanta and Chicago in the final two weeks. 

Seattle does not travel well. They lost short treks to Arizona and San Francisco already, and also fell in St. Louis. Ironically they won their longest trip (Carolina) but this is their fifth road game already without the benefit of a bye week to date. This defense has to be tired as they continue to carry a weak offense. They have scored more than 16 points just twice, both at home, but have only given up more than 13 points three times (20, 19, 23). This is going to be a tight, low scoring game.

It’s tough to score on the Seahawks because running on them is not really an option, and their secondary is so talented. That combination really helps their pass rush. The Lions have a competent run defense and have actually allowed just 1 rushing score. Offensively Seattle has a better lead option with Marshawn Lynch and has gained more yards because they rely more on the run.

The pass defenses on paper are pretty comparable in yardage and sacks. Seattle is stingier on opposing quarterbacks completing passes, but the difference between Matthew Stafford and rookie Russell Wilson is going to offset that and then some. Detroit has the second most passing yards per game in the league and the visitors have the second fewest. This is still a passing league and Calvin Johnson is going to find a way to get open. On the road I don’t think the ‘Hawks have their magic as evidenced by their 0-3 division record away from home. The more desperate team wins here just barely: Detroit 19, Seattle 17 (SEA +2.5/under 45) 

Carolina (1-5) @ Chicago (5-1): Everyone who was down on Cam Newton when he entered the league last year is coming out of the woodwork saying “I told you so” right about now. He is pouting like a little girl after losses and acting very unlike a professional, mature leader of men. Now he faces another whiny quarterback in the form of Jay Cutler. The difference is that Cutler is on his home turf aided by an elite defense. This could get ugly.

The Panthers have hit the road twice, losing to division foes Tampa Bay (16-10) and Atlanta (30-28) is close games. Much of their time early in the season has been spent at home. This is just the second road game since opening the season away. The Bears are on a short week, but were coming off a bye before dispatching Detroit 13-7 on MNF. They previously disposed of two other dome teams here (Indianapolis, St. Louis). The defense has limited three opponents to single digits already.

If Carolina wants to help Newton out and run the football it’s not going to be easy this week against the league’s top run defense allowing just 71 yards per game. Teams attack them just 18.2 times a contest, fewest in the league. Chicago’s average per rush allowed (3.9) is only slightly better than Carolina’s (4.1) but when opponents fail early or fall behind they can’t stay with it. The story is actually the same offensively where the Panthers have a better average per rush (4.6 to 4.3) but the Bears have more yards per game (131.5 to 113.7) because they pound out wins late.

The pass defenses are both average in terms of yards allowed, but there are key advantages for Chicago. They have a huge edge in interceptions (14-5) and solid advantage in sacks (21-14) while allowing a more reasonable completion percentage (60.8% to 68.4%). If Cutler is able to complete a high percentage and Newton starts getting sacked this will go sour for the visitors. I honestly think the Panthers come in here and have a little bit of success on the ground. They are going to grind and stay in this game early. After a while, however, the superior defense at home carries the day: Chicago 26, Carolina 16 (CHI -7.5/under 44)

Atlanta (6-0) @ Philadelphia (3-3): As long as they are both quarterbacking these teams this will always be about Matt Ryan versus Michael Vick. However, the Falcons have a perfect season on their minds. Both teams are coming off a bye week, as it should be, but the Eagles are smarting having lost three of four. They have also just played three 2011 playoff teams in a row and this will be their fifth returning playoff foe already. 

Already Atlanta has overcome their kryptonite of playing outdoors on natural turf winning in Kansas City, San Diego and Washington.

It’s pretty amazing that with so many household names on offense the Eagles are scoring more points per game than exactly two teams in the league, and those teams are quarterbacked by Blaine Gabbert and rookie Russell Wilson. A lot of that has to do with facing some pretty good defenses, but a lot has to do with Michael Vick struggling as well. He is set up to succeed here because Atlanta’s run defense is porous. They area giving up 143.8 yards per game and 5.2 yards per carry, and LeSean McCoy has to love that.

Philadelphia’s run defense is competent, and Atlanta has really been unable to run the ball effectively (3.7, 86.5) this year. The Eagles are not killing it on the ground (4.1, 122.0) but with McCoy and Vick they have the potential. The Falcons have a worn out Michael Turner trying to churn out yards. Unlike most teams, Philly can match up outside with Julio Jones and Roddy White with their cornerbacks. Opposing quarterbacks are completing just 52.7% of their passes against this defense.

The Falcons are pretty good against the pass with 10 picks and 16 sacks, but outside of the dome they’re not as scary. Offensively they do have the weapons, and they are a lot more efficient but they only average just over 20 more yards than the Eagles. Philadelphia is going to have a great running game to lean on and I always favor a balanced attack, especially when that team is at home. The numbers says Atlanta should win this game about 26-19 but I’m not buying it. I think the Eagles run on them and the defense plays well enough to squeeze this one out: Philadelphia 23, Atlanta 21 (ATL +3/under 46.5)

New England (4-3) @ St. Louis (3-4): Technically the Rams are home here, but the game is being played in, um, England. Defensively, head coach Jeff Fisher has really made a difference for this team and until last week’s 30-20 loss against Green Bay they were on a roll allowing 33 points over three consecutive games. However, two of those quarterbacks were rookies. Tom Brady is an assassin and loves a stage like this to show off. 

Offensively St. Louis has been fairly inept, but New England’s defense has not held an opponent below 20 points since the opener. Of course, their offense has only been held below 23 once. Just one of their games has featured fewer than 47 total points. I don’t know if this game is that high scoring because it could be one-sided. New England will put their NFL leading scoring offense on display through the air. They have the fewest interceptions (3) and obviously an efficient attack with multiple options. Their only missing element is on the outside.

Conversely, the Rams are limited passing the ball and have allowed 21 sacks. They are also without Danny Amendola who is their most reliable threat. Defensively the Patriots are struggling to stop the pass giving up 290 yards a game and a high completion percentage (65.0%) but they will find a way to get to Bradford. St. Louis has a decent pass defense and might get on Brady (21 sacks) but they give up a high percentage (66.3%). If Brady is completing two-thirds of his passes this is going to be a rout. 

This year New England can also run the ball. Both teams average 4.2 yards per carry, but the Pats run it 10 more times per game so they have a lot more yards per game (149.3 to 106.1) and have scored many more touchdowns rushing (10-2). For all their defensive woes, New England stops the run (3.3, 86.0) and while the Rams are decent (4.0, 98.9) it won’t matter much here. I look for the Patriots to be very balanced on offense. The Rams are going to be forced into passing situations and that’s not good for Bradford’s health. This is another game that looks close by the numbers, like maybe a 26-21 win, but in reality I see a wide margin: New England 30, St. Louis 16 (NE -7/under 47)

Indianapolis (3-3) @ Tennessee (3-4): It’s pretty amazing that the top overall pick has been overshadowed a bit by the second pick, but Andrew Luck has the better record and an inferior supporting cast. Thus far he has not been able to do it on the road, but his defense has given up 76 points in the two losses. We might be in for another high scoring game here. The Titans have only been involved in one game that featured fewer than 47 points this season. The Colts have played in lower scoring games, but the four lowest (30, 39, 43, 44) haven’t exactly been defensive struggles.

Tennessee has the NFL’s worst scoring defense (34.0) and Indianapolis (26.3) is in the bottom 10. The offenses should be able to do some damage here. The Titans are gaining confidence the past two weeks and Chris Johnson has finally done a bit of damage. The run defense is still in the bottom 5, but their average rush (4.4) is pretty good. The Colts might get Donald Brown, but their average (3.7) is weak and that puts a lot of pressure on Luck.

Defensively both teams are in the bottom 8 for run defense, but the Colts (4.8) allow a much higher average per rush than the Titans (4.3) who obviously will be attacking with a better lead rusher. If the averages hold Tennessee should be running for about 4.6 a clip here compared to 4.0, but I think those will both tilt more towards the home team as this actually plays out on the field. Left tackle Michael Roos being out hurts the Titans though.

Passing offense has been a success for the Colts with their rookie when it comes to yards per game (279.0) but they have only 7 touchdown throws and a low completion percentage (53.6%). Veteran Matt Hasselbeck can adjust to losing his left tackle and will have the support of his home crowd and a running game. Defensively Tennessee’s pass defense has been shredded (281.4) and gives up a really high completion percentage (72.7%) along with 16 touchdowns. Indianapolis has held up against the pass (210.7) but they have just 2 picks against 12 touchdown throws allowed.

I’m looking for the Colts to pass for a bunch of yards here and the Titans to run for a bunch. I always take the more experienced quarterback at home with the superior running game. I figure it’s going to be high scoring, but thus far Indy hasn’t shown they can win on the road. It should be a thriller and lately the Titans have been winning these types of games. They pull out another one: Tennessee 28, Indianapolis 27 (IND +3.5/over 46.5)

San Diego (3-3) @ Cleveland (1-6): I thought the Browns would be a bit relieved after finally getting their first win and they were unable to follow it up with a win last week at Indianapolis. Now their stud rookie rusher Trent Richardson is banged up, and a lot of pressure shifts to rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden. They have been competitive in every game this season, but the losses are mounting. Eventually effort fades and this is the point in the season that starts to happen, especially for a team that has not yet had a bye week going up against an opponent coming off a an open week.

The Chargers enter this game coming off two crushing losses, the last of which was flat out embarrassing. Blowing a 24-0 halftime lead at home is the kind of thing that generally gets a head coach fired and if Norv Turner’s club doesn’t make the playoffs I expect him to be gone. They will enter this game with a sense of urgency and playing on the road doesn’t both them too much. They have averaged 28 points scored in three away games and while their defense has been buckling of late it’s not like they are facing much of a threat here.

Philip Rivers is slumping so badly that his passing offense is actually behind Cleveland in yards per game (254.7 to 248.7) and the TD/INT ratios are comparable with a slight edge to the Chargers (10/9 to 9/10). The Bolts have a huge advantage in completion percentage (66.5% to 56.6%) but they are also sacked more (18-11). Defensively both pass units are in the bottom 8. The Browns again have the sacks edge (18-10) with the help of an extra game played, and also more picks (10-7). They have combined to allow 29 passing scores in 13 games. The Chargers have let quarterbacks complete a higher percentage (66.1% to 62.5%).

All of this leads me to believe this could be an interesting matchup even if the experience is heavily in favor of Rivers at quarterback. Even with Richardson, Cleveland can’t run the ball (3.8, 79.1) and San Diego is only average (3.9, 101.2). The respective difference in run defense, however, could be the difference. The Chargers (3.5, 71.2) are stout and the Browns (4.5, 133.7) are not. Weeden is not going to get help from the running game and Rivers will. As long as the visitors stick with the run and don’t force too many throws they should get this done. It won’t be easy though: San Diego 26, Cleveland 21 (SD -2.5/over 43.5)

Miami (3-3) @ NY Jets (3-4): I love it when there is a bit of trash talk leading up to a game. The first time around the Jets won an overtime thriller 23-20. The game could not have been closer. The Dolphins led in first downs 23-21 and the Jets lead in total yards 388-381. Both teams had two turnovers and the time of possession was almost even as well. Both teams ran 79 plays. Miami ran more (185-88) and New York passed more (300-196). Almost half the passing yards for the visitors came from Santonio Holmes (147) who won’t play in the rematch.

It has been a pretty uneven home slate for the Jets. They routed the Bills and Colts, but lost in a rout to the 49ers and were handled by the Texans. I would classify the Dolphins as firmly better than the teams they have beaten and worse than the teams they have lost to, for what that is worth. This is a bitter rivalry game and I expect it to be a fight. You can almost throw the numbers out in a game like this. I won’t of course, because it’s not in my nature.

Even with a rookie passer Miami is passing for 30 more yards per game, but the first time around it didn’t work out that way. The rushing offenses have been pretty comparable, and on the road I don’t expect the Dolphins to repeat their edge from the first meeting. Defensively it’s easy to see how they pulled it off though with their third ranked run defense and with the Jets third worst in run defense. Those numbers flip when it comes to pass defense, and now you’re starting to see why the stats do matter because it played out that way in the first meeting.

I really don’t know how this game is going to play out other than it being close. Four straight games have come down to 4 points or less for Miami. They are coming off a bye week and the AFC East is still very much up for grabs. New York is off a draining overtime loss to bitter rival New England, but they have a bye week on deck and should be able to muster plenty of motivation here. Points should be at a premium as they typically are when these teams hook up. I’ll take the home team by a whisper: NY Jets 20, Miami 19 (MIA +2.5/under 40.5)

Jacksonville (1-5) Green Bay (4-3): There is no question these teams are heading in different directions. The Jaguars had a chance to pull an upset on the road last week, but blew a lead at Oakland while watching the bulk of their offense (Maurice Jones-Drew) exit with an injury. It was their second road loss in overtime, both by the same score (26-23). They did win at Indianapolis and the Colts are otherwise 3-0 in their stadium so there’s that.

The Packers are rolling right now though. The offense struggled early, but has put up at least 27 points in four straight. It hasn’t even mattered that the defense has allowed 101 points in those games because they still won three times. The momentum should swell because they have not played at home since the last day of September. It’s going to be hard for the lowest scoring team in the league to come here without their star running back and compete.

Jacksonville has the worst passing offense in the league, and when Gabbert left last week their offense flatlined. Green Bay might not be putting up gaudy yardage numbers (286.6) but they lead the NFL in touchdown passes (20) against just 4 interceptions and have completed 70% of their throws. Of course, Rodgers has also taken 26 sacks. The Jags don’t pose a threat in that area (5 sacks) and allow a lot of passing yards (264.5). Even without Charles Woodson I don’t think Green Bay’s pass defense is in any danger, especially considering their sack total (24). Gabbert is in real trouble here, or Chad Henne if it comes to that.

Green Bay can’t really run the ball, but it is telling that their rushing offense is almost dead even with Jacksonville and that’s with MJD. Defensively teams just run over the Jags (147.3) and while the Packers are just average against the run (109.9) it’s going to be good enough. This is such a mismatch it makes me nervous because the NFL is all about parity. I do think the Jags expended a lot of energy going to California and losing a heartbreaker. Any hopes for making a run are now over and three times they have lost by at least 17 points this season. On the flip side Green Bay hasn’t really put teams away in blowout fashion other than the Houston win on MNF (42-24). This is a snoozer: Green Bay 30, Jacksonville 17 (JAX +15.5/over 45.5)

Oakland (2-4) @ Kansas City (1-5): Something has to give here. The Raiders are 0-3 on the road and the Chiefs are 0-3 at home. Oakland has been outscored 32-13 although they did look good in nearly upsetting the still undefeated Falcons. Kansas City has been outscored 29-17 on their home turf and also looked best in their most recent effort, falling 9-6 to the Ravens. Speaking of something having to give, both are in the bottom 9 for scoring offense, but both are in the bottom 6 for scoring defense. Who has the ability to take advantage?

Brady Quinn takes over at quarterback for the Chiefs who have thrown 11 interceptions and don’t have much of a passing offense (227.0). Carson Palmer has carried the offense for the Raiders (288.7). Defensively Oakland can’t cover anyone. All of their interceptions came in one game and opposing passers have completed a high percentage (67.7%) thanks in large part to a weak sack total (7). Kansas City has given up 13 passing scores against just 4 picks, but they have kept the completion percentage down (61.1%) as well as the yardage (224.5).

Offensively the Chiefs want to ride their running game (164.0) but the Raiders have been pretty competent stopping the run (3.8, 102.2) and without too much of a threat in the passing game should be able to stack the line. Kansas City can’t stop the run (4.7, 125.0) and opens the door for a dormant Oakland running game (3.6, 76.8) to wake up with Darren McFadden. This is a fight, but I like the better quarterback to pull this out. McFadden is going to get his yards and Jamaal Charles probably will too so the points should flow: Oakland 24, Kansas City 23 (OAK +1.5/over 42)

NY Giants (5-2) @ Dallas (3-3): A key play turned around the first meeting in the NFL kickoff extravaganza. After exchanging punts, New York was driving inside the Dallas 30-yard line when rookie David Wilson lost a fumble. He never handled the ball again and the offense never really got in sync running or passing. Dallas had a huge edge in total yards (433-269) and cruised to a 24-17 win that wasn’t as close as the score indicated. Tony Romo threw for 307 yards and 3 scores while completing 76% of his throws. DeMarco Murray ran 20 times for 131 yards, but will not be available for the rematch.

Murray’s absence is going to hurt more if Felix Jones is unable to go and that’s a real possibility. The balance on offense kept Romo from being abused by a vicious pass rush from the defending champs. This is just the third home game for the Cowboys, but they don’t have much of an advantage at Jerry’s World. The offense has posted 34 points in two games here, a win over Tampa Bay and an ugly loss to Chicago on MNF.

New York has been throwing the ball around since that opening loss, even with a varying group of receiving options. Dallas has also been effective in the passing game and neither team has allowed double digits in sacks yet. The Giants are giving up a lot more passing yards (253.3 to 187.3) but lead big in interceptions (12-2) and also have the sacks edge (17-12). Without the threat of a running game for Dallas (3.8, 97.2) I worry about Romo. New York (4.5, 116.3) can at least keep the defense honest. The result gets flipped here because New York is on a roll and a one-dimensional offense won’t get it done against their defensive line: NY Giants 23, Dallas 20 (NYG +0/under 48) 

New Orleans (2-4) @ Denver (3-3): There isn’t a Manning brother featured in every primetime game, it just seems that way. Peyton and the Denver defense are coming off a rousing comeback on MNF two weeks ago in San Diego. Their bye week probably came at a bad time. New Orleans has a lot of momentum after rallying for a 35-28 win last week in Tampa Bay. It’s highly unlikely they can catch the Falcons in the NFC South, but they are still alive in the wild card hunt. All of their games have been high scoring and close. The lowest total was their 27-24 loss to Kansas City. The only time a Denver game has gone below 48 points was their 37-6 rout of Oakland. 

These are two of the highest scoring offenses led by quarterbacks bound for the Hall of Fame. Drew Brees has the Saints leading the NFL by a wide margin in passing offense (349.5) even with the completion percentage (60.8%) down. The Broncos aren’t far behind (301.3) and are more accurate (67.5%). Manning also should pick apart the third worst pass defense (304.5) that has just 3 interceptions and gives up a high completion rate (65.6%). Denver still has Champ Bailey and a good pass rush (18 sacks). Beyond that, New Orleans is typically less effective outdoors on natural surface.

Neither offense figures to be bolstered by the running game. The Saints are dead last (3.7, 76.2) and the Broncos (3.6, 93.8) simply run it a little more often. Defensively, however, New Orleans is awful (4.9, 161.0) and Denver is solid (3.7, 115.2). They can get creative on defense whereas Manning might just check down to some running plays when he feels like it. I actually don’t think this game is close, but Brees will sling it late to make it look that way: Denver 31, New Orleans 21 (DEN -6/under 55.5)

San Francisco (5-2) @ Arizona (4-3): This is a huge game in the NFC West and could determine if the 49ers can create space atop the division or if it will be a multiple team race down the stretch. The Cardinals are haunted by quarterback play since the retirement of Kurt Warner. John Skelton had some great performances in 2011 directing the team to a 6-2 record including a win here over San Francisco, but has thrown just a single touchdown pass in 74 attempts this year.

San Francisco has a huge edge coming off what amounts to nearly a bye week. They played on TNF and since this is MNF they are well rested. Neither team has enjoyed their actual bye week yet, but at least the 49ers can let it all hang out knowing next week they are off. It all adds up in favor of the visitors here. The Cards have a huge home field advantage here so anything is possible though.

This is going to be a defensive struggle in all likelihood. The passing offenses are both in the bottom 10. Arizona quarterbacks have been sacked a ridiculous 35 times and San Francisco has taken 20. Defensively these are two of the best four against the pass. The Cards have more sacks (22-11) and need to use the crowd noise to help them get Alex Smith on the turf. If both teams struggle to throw the ball it might be a battle of punters. 

Arizona has a banged up backfield and weak running game (3.6, 89.3) even when their better options were available. San Francisco has a power attack (5.9, 176.6) and likes to impose their will. Defensively they hold up just fine (3.8, 98.9) and should be able to run on the Cardinals just enough (4.2, 120.9). I don’t think this is going to be an instant classic unless you enjoy defense. I think the home team is going to play above their heads and turnovers might help them pull an upset. I’m not calling for it though: San Francisco 21, Arizona 20 (AZ +8/over 38)

 

 

 

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