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Sunday, June 24 2018

NFL predictions 2013: Week 13

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One of these days I might break through. One of these days was not last week, so I’m talking about another quite average performance. Thanks to some upsets I was 7-6-1 straight up (111-64-1 overall) and out of the misses I have to say I’m most disappointed with Detroit (turnovers) Raiders (field goal misses) and Giants (slow start). Calling the big New England win saved me from a losing week without the points and that’s painful.

 

I’m in the No. 26 spot overall now, with Fox’s John Halpin (120) the new leader just ahead of NFL Network’s Gregg Rosenthal (119). They each got 10 last week to make up serious ground.

 

Against the spread I was 8-6 (81-91-3 overall) and have to do a lot of work in a hurry to get where I need to be, which at worst is a winning mark. I was flat on the over/under at 7-7 (97-79-2 overall) and could kick myself for not going with my original 35-31 score in the SNF game (34-31 actual) but those are the breaks. This week it’s on!

 

Green Bay (5-5-1) @ Detroit (6-5): I feel for the Packers. They seem to be so close to being able to weather losing quarterback Aaron Rodgers, yet unable to actually get it done when the final gun sounds. Last week it was a tie, and this represents progress. The defense is the problem here though. Holding the Vikings scoreless in the extra frame is noteworthy, but the 26 points allowed marked the fifth week in a row they had allowed that many. Enter the Lions, who know how to score when the game is indoors.

 

Last week Detroit was limited to 21 points in a loss, but it was all about turnovers. They had 5 including 4 picks from Matthew Stafford, and Tampa Bay had none. There’s no way they lose if he protects the ball, and I don’t see this team having a turnover deficit like that again here. In the last meeting neither team turned it over and Green Bay had a big edge in total yards (449-286) during a comfortable 22-9 win. It wasn’t close, but outdoors with Rodgers and indoors without him are two different worlds.

 

I really expect the Lions to come out firing here. The issue is giving up too many points. All five opponents have come to Ford Field and scored 24-plus points. Matt Flynn is licking his chops. Well, maybe the offense he is leading is licking their chops. Either way, the Packers should be able to tilt the scoreboard past 20 points and at least keep this interesting. The Lions are going to get there as well, and when it comes to a winner I’ll take a mad Stafford over whatever Flynn has in his bag of tricks: Detroit 26, Green Bay 17 (DET -6.5/under 50)

 

Oakland (4-7) @ Dallas (6-5): The Raiders are just good enough to tease their fans into thinking they might go somewhere. The truth is, they haven’t accumulated enough talent to make a run, and while it’s good enough one week it probably isn’t good enough multiple weeks in a row. Last week was a perfect example. I thought they could ride the home field and get by the Titans. Instead, they missed a couple field goals and gave up a touchdown in the final 15 seconds to blow it. The Cowboys aren’t too far off in the inconsistent department, but they have plenty of top-end talent.

 

Tony Romo gets a lot of grief for not winning more games, big games, playoff games, etc. He has his team in first place, and anything is possible in the Super Bowl tournament. If only he had a defense to help him out, or a running game. Dallas can’t stop anyone. Fortunately for them, Oakland has a very limited offense. Rashad Jennings has been a nice spark for the rushing attack compared to the oft-injured, lethargic Darren McFadden, but he’s not going to put much fear in anyone. At receiver and tight end, there really isn’t anyone to look out for, especially with Denarius Moore banged up. So yes, this defense has been ripped, but no I’m not too worried about Matt McGloin tearing them apart. McGloin is a good quarterback prospect who has provided a spark to a stagnant offense, but he’s limited and the Titans exposed his lack of height last week.

 

I like the Raiders on defense overall, but against an offense with a lot of threats and in a hostile road environment it’s not a good situation for them. Plus, they are on a short week taking on an opponent that doesn’t need as long to prepare. The Cowboys can line up and attack. The Raiders are still trying to figure out a way to score. Monte Kiffin used Jon Gruden’s inside knowledge to wreck this offense once, and he is in good position to do it again: Dallas 27, Oakland 17 (DAL -9/under 47)

 

Pittsburgh (5-6) @ Baltimore (5-6): I can’t imagine a bigger game on Thanksgiving featuring two teams with losing records. Believe me I say this with no sarcasm this is a huge game. The Ravens are trying to avoid being swept by their bitter rivals while the Steelers hope to continue digging their way out of a hole that was 0-4 out of the gate and at one point 2-6. Both teams are coming off resounding wins over teams who really can’t play offense. The respective defenses are in late season form and ready to match body blows.

 

Ben Roethlisberger is 7-2 against Joe Flacco, and 3-1 as a visitor. These games are literally always close, with the last four being decided by exactly 3 points. The 2011 season opener was the last time either team opening up a can, and it was Baltimore (35-7) doing the whooping. The last meeting was tied until the final play when Shaun Suisham kicked the seventh field goal (both teams) on the day securing Pittsburgh’s 19-16 win. The total yards went to Baltimore, 287-286. Pittsburgh had the game’s lone turnover, but they punted only once. Baltimore punted just 3 times.

 

In fact, this was a game of long possessions. The Ravens had a quick punt the first time they touched the ball, and were stuffed after the Steelers fumbled leading to a field goal, but other than that neither team had a meaningful drive (two Pittsburgh kneel downs at the end of the halves) that lasted under 1:58. I expect the same here, only probably more punts and a couple more touchdowns. The scoring flow can’t be the same. I have reasons to favor both teams. It feels like Big Ben has his guys in comeback mode. By the same token it seems as if Flacco in his own way (calling the Wildcat his team ran last week a “high school” offense) is ready to defend his title so to speak.

 

At what point does Baltimore get tired of mediocrity and start flexing their muscles? They were doing it at Chicago before Mother Nature took them out of rhythm. Last week shutting down the Jets certainly didn’t hurt their confidence and there are no focus issues for them. They are in the middle of three straight at home, on a short week against a familiar opponent. The Steelers are on the road again, and have had their issues outside of the Steel City. Like losing to a suspect Minnesota team in London, losing in Oakland and getting blown out in New England. I think it’s close (of course) and I’m taking Joe Cool: Baltimore 20, Pittsburgh 19 (PIT +3/under 41)

 

Tennessee (5-6) @ Indianapolis (7-4): The Titans surely wish they could replay the third quarter of the first meeting. After opening up a 14-0 lead after the first quarter things were looking great, but a 17-0 quarter out of the break catapulted the visiting Colts to a 30-27 victory. Instead of the teams coming in with matching 6-5 records and the division lead on the line, now Tennessee is starting at virtual elimination from the AFC South because Indianapolis will have a magic number of 1 with a win here.

 

The Colts took it to them on the ground, averaging 5.1 yards per carry. Most of the damage was done by Donald Brown (14 rushes, 180 yards 2 TD) with quarterback Andrew Luck and the sluggish Trent Richardson chipping in another 53 yards on 17 attempts. It was a cumulative effect, wearing them out as the game wore on. Chris Johnson came out ready to roll, and fizzled in the second half. In all, it was a pretty even game. The Titans had the only turnover, penalties were low on both sides (9 for 85 yards combined) and each team punted 3 times.

 

A game such as this where the teams played just two weeks ago, not much is going to change. The teams know what worked and are going to try to do it again, while also trying to adjust to stop what worked against them. It’s almost like a fifth quarter. One change I do see is the emergence of Justin Hunter for the Titans. Last time their passing targets were basically tight end Delanie Walker (10) and top threat Kendall Wright (12). Only 4 passes were thrown to anyone else, and one of those was a late bomb to Nate Washington when the Colts were up 10. Hunter is a factor here.

 

Indianapolis is just about in panic mode, if that’s possible for a team in first place. They have struggled to stop anyone on defense, allowing 24-plus points in five straight outings and seven times overall. Fatigue is a factor having played three of their past four on the road. Their offense has been erratic over the last six contests, three times scoring a total of 28 points and the other three times scoring 39, 27 and 30. Which offense will shop up here? I think the Colts will go all out and show up to play knowing the vital nature of this game. It’s now or never for them to clinch up this division. Losing is not an option and they have Luck, but it’s close: Indianapolis 27, Tennessee 24 (TEN +4/over 44.5)

 

Jacksonville (2-9) @ Cleveland (4-7): At first blush this looks like two awful teams playing out the string. However, the Jaguars seem to care how they finish and have won two of three. Both of those wins came on the road. The Browns entered their bye week on a high having knocked off the rival Ravens 24-28 to reach a respectable 4-5 mark. They lost to both of their other AFC North foes though, and even in a crazy field of contenders for the second wild card things look pretty bleak for them. Will they come out thinking anything is possible and go for the win, or be deflated and sputter to a loss?

 

On defense the clear edge goes to Cleveland in the Dawg Pound. The offenses have both had major issues moving the chains and scoring. Jacksonville’s defense finally showed up last week breaking a string of eight consecutive games allowing 24-plus points. They won 13-6 at Houston. Cleveland fell 27-11 to Pittsburgh and gave up 41 the week before. It’s not a good trend for them. Six of their past seven opponents have posted 23-plus points.  Neither team has run the ball particularly well, but in terms of rushing offense and defense, the Browns have a nice edge in both areas.

 

Late in the year teams out of the race often just take to the ground and wear out an opponent. I know the Jags were up for it last week, but in the cold this week I think it’s a different story. I understand the Browns don’t have much in the way of running backs, but it won’t matter. They will impose their will and when necessary take it down the field to Josh Gordon. I like them to get the win here over a team that has to fall flat sooner or later: Cleveland 27, Jacksonville 17 (CLE -7/over 40)

 

Tampa Bay (3-8) @ Carolina (8-3): These are two of the hottest teams in the league. No, really both teams are hot. The Panthers have won seven straight, never allowing more than 20 points in any of those games. The offense has cooled after scoring 30-plus in four straight, posting 10, 24 and 20 but it hasn’t mattered. The Bucs have won three in a row and the game prior to that was a 27-24 OT loss in Seattle where no one wins. I’d almost call that a victory. The game before that was the first meeting with Cam Newton and Company, a 31-13 loss. It was their last poor performance of the year and dropped them to 0-7.

 

Looking at that game, the yardage totals were pretty even (Carolina 324-297) and Tampa Bay had the only turnover, but the visitors controlled the ball, built a lead and never let up for a nice win on TNF. Mike Glennon threw the ball 51 times and that’s something Greg Schiano won’t want for the rematch. Mike James is out, leaving third-stringer Bobby Rainey as the featured back. This isn’t the Atlanta defense anymore and he will need to earn his yardage.

 

Speaking of the running game, Carolina’s three running backs are all banged up. It’s uncertain who will be ready to run and run hard. I think they will work it out and be just fine, but this is a pretty good run defense they are going up against. It’s a nice defense overall actually. Maybe Darrelle Revis sits out hurt though, and that really hurts their pass defense. On the other side, pass rusher Charles Johnson is out so Glennon will have more time to throw. It should be a fairly tight game. Very few blowouts occur in the league and the Bucs certainly don’t want to be victim to another one at the hands of these guys, so they keep it within reason: Carolina 27, Tampa Bay 17 (CAR -7.5/over 41)

 

Chicago (6-5) @ Minnesota (2-8-1): It looks like the Vikings want to play the spoiler role down the stretch. They certainly came to play last week in Green Bay, blowing a lead before settling for a tie. It always worries me to pick a team to win when they have given up so many points every single week. Six teams have scored 31-plus points on this defense and only one team has been held to fewer than 26 points. That was the Giants who beat them 23-7. If we can chalk the visitors in for at least 24 points if not more, it puts a lot of pressure on an offense that granted has put up plenty of points lately averaging 26.8 over their past five weeks. They are 1-3-1 in those games though.

 

It’s not like the Bears shut anyone down defensively either. All of their opponents have scored 20-plus points and it’s certainly worth nothing they have allowed 40-plus on three occasions. All of those games were losses obviously. On offense they have posted 27-plus six times so they can score, but who’s up for it here? It’s hard to say based on the first meeting. Chicago won 31-30 in the elements and I do mean elements there were snow flurries. The game was a mess with 7 turnovers, but it was tight throughout with neither team up by more than 7. The Vikings controlled the second half scoring three field goals to build up a 30-24 lead while holding the Bears scoreless for 29:50. It was the end that killed them, as Jay Cutler hit tight end Martellus Bennett for the winner with 10 seconds left.

 

Conventional wisdom says Adrian Peterson runs over a bad rush defense here, but he had 100 yards on 26 carries in the first meeting and without a 36-yard scamper his average would have been awful (2.56). Matt Forte was a bigger factor offensively, totaling 161 yards on 30 touches compared to AD’s 28-107 line and surprisingly neither guy scored. Forte is a little banged up so that’s a factor, and he has a backup quarterback now.

 

It’s a fascinating matchup, and a tough one to call. Chicago has allowed just 17 sacks on the second, third fewest in the league, and has thrown only 9 interceptions. If they can protect the ball and avoid sacks their offense is in great shape with Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall out wide. Minnesota’s defense has only 8 interceptions and 24 sacks while allowing a ton of yards (281.7) through the air. I think the offenses go wild here and it might be the last team with the ball winning. Maybe the Bears are overrated and they certainly looked shady last week, but all the more reason to expect a more focused effort this week: Chicago 28, Minnesota 27 (CHI +1/over 48)

 

New England (8-3) @ Houston (2-9): What a different (almost) a year makes. These teams hooked up a Gillette in the AFC Divisional playoffs with the Texans hanging tough for the first half down 17-13 until a 21-0 run put the game away for the Patriots. It would be a massive understatement to say things have changed since then. Houston is without all, yes all, of their rushing yardage from that game with Arian Foster sidelined and Matt Schaub benched. Foster and injured tight end Owen Daniels were targeted on 24 of Schaub’s 51 passes so virtually half of their receiving is gone.

 

On the other side, tight end Aaron Hernandez is in jail and  receivers Wes Walker and Brandon Lloyd are also gone. Combined they had 248 of Tom Brady’s 344 passing yards and one of the three touchdowns. The good news is that Shane Vereen was a big factor in that game totaling 124 yards on 16 touches with a pair of touchdowns. Fumble-prone Stevan Ridley had 17 touches for 95 yards, but I don’t expect him to be much of a factor in this one. New England has too many rushing options to let him blow a game with a turnover. Their passing game is bolstered by tight end Rob Gronkowski, but this week is without rookie Aaron Dobson who has played better than the rookie who will replace him Kenbrell Thompkins.

 

With all of that being said, Houston is in much worse shape offensively without Foster and relying on rookie Case Keenum. The dream is just about over for Keenum because teams are getting film on him and exposing his weaknesses as they do with most young signal-callers. Ben Tate is playing through pain running the ball and probably won’t be out there much longer in this lost season. New England’s defense is pretty soft, and beaten up with injuries but they know how to stop a team when it matters.

 

I’m not averse to a shocking result here because the Pats aren’t great on the road. They barely beat Buffalo (23-21) and Atlanta (30-23) while losing to Cincinnati (13-6) the Jets (30-27) and Carolina (24-20). Obviously the Texans can’t beat anyone right now so it hardly matters where the game is played. The key factor is that New England has allowed five of their past six opponents to score 24-plus points. Houston really hasn’t scored much in their losing streak, and last week they were embarrassed losing 13-6 at home to Jacksonville. I expect them to come out with a little pride this week as a result. Plus, the visiting team is off an emotional primetime comeback win and won’t be as up for this game. Put it all in the mixer and I still like the road team comfortably: New England 27, Houston 17 (NE -9/under 47)

 

Arizona (7-4) @ Philadelphia (6-5): This should be a good one and it’s pretty tough to call. The Eagles are rested off their bye week, but the Cards come in sky high after blowing out the Colts. Philly finally won a home game prior to the bye and seems to have gotten their scoring defense in order. After allowing an average of 34.5 points during their 1-3 start to the season, they have given up just 17.4 in their past seven games while going 5-2. The offense fell flat, 10 total points, in the two losses, but has averaged 33.4 in the five wins. It’s pretty simple, if they get the offense going they win and four of those victories were by double digits.

 

Let’s not leave Arizona out of the conversation just yet though. They have won four in a row to become a serious factor in the NFC playoff chase. Their challenge is to get this done on the road where they are 2-3. Offensively, they were contained in two of those road games (20 total points) and didn’t score a ton in the other ones (24, 20, 27). I’m just not sure they can score with these guys. Philadelphia does have the league’s worst passing defense allowing a whisker over 300 yards per game through the air. A big factor is going to be turnovers. Veteran Carson Palmer is prone to them, and rookie Nick Foles hasn’t thrown one yet. The teams have combined to pick off 28 passes this year and have 53 sacks between them.

 

Each team has allowed 30 sacks, but Palmer has thrown 15 interceptions. It stands to reason he will put them in position to lose the turnover battle, but Patrick Peterson is going to be fired up to play in this game so it’s not a given that Foles gets through with a 0. The key for me is Philly’s running game. Arizona can’t match it, and their best threat Andre Ellington is ailing. Rashard Mendenhall is healthy, so maybe he wakes up. Arizona has been stout against the run, but that doesn’t mean they can stop this offense. I think Philadelphia’s run defense is just good enough. There will be points, but I like the home team just a little: Philadelphia 27, Arizona 23 (PHI -3/over 48.5)

 

Miami (5-6) @ NY Jets (5-6): Only one team, the 2-9 Jaguars, have scored fewer points this year than the J-E-T-S. Let that sink in for a moment. Their -101 point differential is also the worst outside of Jacksonville. Somehow though, they find a way to get some wins. It kind of feels like their bag of tricks is out of rabbits though after blowout losses on the road the past two weeks. The key words: on the road. They have lost games by 25, 40, 23 and 16 away from home this year, but it doesn’t matter. This one is in Jersey.

 

At home, New York has dispatched division leaders New England and New Orleans most recently and they are itching to play for the home crowd for the first time since November 3. Yes, I expect miracles. Miami is similarly erratic having started the year 0-3, lost four in a row, then alternated wins with losses. They are due for a win, but the Jets are overdue having finally lost two straight. Miami has been in a lot of tight games this season, particularly the past 7 outings with only one of those games decided by more than 4 points. They are just 2-4 in those games although in fairness they are 4-4 on the season in games decided by that margin.

 

I’m wondering how much scoring we can expect here. Rookie Geno Smith is fading fast. It’s uncertain which of his running backs will get the featured role this week, but whoever it is will get the ball a ton. On the other side, Daniel Thomas is out so Lamar Miller is the man much to fantasy owners’ delight. Of course, this week he’s up against the league’s top run defense. Miami can be run on just a bit. Of course, the Jets can’t throw a lick having a total of just 9 scores through the air all season and taking 38 sacks with 18 interceptions thrown. The Dolphins have offensive line issues leading to 44 sacks taken and 12 interceptions themselves, so defense might rule the day.

 

I actually think it does. Ryan Tannehill has some guys he can trust throwing the ball to, but when his offense becomes one-dimensional it’s going to be tough sledding on the road in less than ideal weather conditions. Geno Smith will be handing the ball off a ton and hoping his defense can get him into field goal range with a turnover. It could be a battle of the kickers, and in a windy stadium it will be interesting to see which team has a leg up in that department. I’ll take the home team here because they find a way on their turf, but not by much and I’m not very confident. The Dolphins are ready to implode so I have no idea what they will do on the road: NY Jets 14, Miami 13 (MIA +3/under 40)

 

Atlanta (2-9) @ Buffalo (4-7): The bad news for the Falcons is that they are on the road. The good news is it’s in a dome, albeit in Canada. The Bills are only 1-4 when playing in Toronto, so this isn’t a huge home field advantage for them although obviously they do have the edge in fan support. The story for both offenses has been injuries to star players. Buffalo has had to deal with C.J. Spiller not at his best while Atlanta lost Julio Jones for the season. Those guys make everyone around them better because they are the focal point of so much attention from the opposing defense.

 

Spiller is ready to roll in this one, and it should make a huge difference in a matchup of two mediocre offenses. Atlanta’s defense has been awful, so I’m already leaning towards Buffalo because bad defense combined with being out of the playoff hunt is a bad combination, especially on the road. The Bills also come in rested off the bye week having just blasted the Jets 37-14. It broke them out of an offensive slump (40 points total in 3 games) and was their best defensive effort on the year.

 

The Falcons have had a really tough time on offense of late. Out of their last five games they have been limited to 10-13 points offensively four times, and the exception was a 41-28 blowout loss at Tampa Bay where they put up points late. Their defense also put up their best effort of the season in their last game, a 17-13 loss to rival New Orleans on TNF. It gave them a little extra rest, but let’s face it anything they had left in the tank was put into that game. What’s left to do? They’re also in the middle of a stretch playing three of four on the road.

 

Buffalo can’t throw the ball, but they can run it and I feel like they’re better with rookie E.J. Manuel at the controls and Spiller healthy of course. Atlanta can throw it, but they can’t run a lick although Steven Jackson is gamely trying to give what he has left. So much of this comes down to effort. Neither run defense is that good, but the Falcons are worse and they are less motivated. Their pass defense has mustered up only 6 interceptions and 22 sacks, so Manuel won’t be under duress. Matt Ryan has to deal with a hostile environment against a defense that has 16 interceptions and 37 sacks. I’d never have said this a couple months ago, but I like the Bills easily here: Buffalo 28, Atlanta 17 (BUF -3/under 48)

 

St. Louis (5-6) @ San Francisco (7-4): Last year the 49ers really struggled with the Rams, unable to beat them (loss, tie) in two tries. They took care of that in the first meeting back in September, rocking them 35-11 in their dome. It was as convincing as the score indicated with a 370-188 edge in total yards. Both teams turned it over twice and had 80-plus yards in penalties so it wasn’t a very clean game, but the outcome was never really in doubt after halftime. Sam Bradford was leading St. Louis then, and he took 5 sacks while completing just 46% of his throws with an interception. Zac Stacy wasn’t yet the featured running back, leaving the ground attack stifled. The 49ers ran at will with Kendall Hunter and Frank Gore combining for 202 yards on 31 carries and a touchdown each.

 

I see a very different game here. St. Louis is starting to look better, and San Francisco is still trying to find their groove. Michael Crabtree is back to help their passing game and not a moment too soon. Their offense is one of the worst in yardage in the league, and the stout defense has carried the load all year. I feel like both offenses are in trouble here actually. The Rams are decent against the run, but more importantly they have the corners to neutralize a lot of what the 49ers will send at them in the passing game so an extra man in the box isn’t a problem.

 

The 49ers are actually just decent against the run and I expect the Rams to attack them there assuming Zac Stacy holds up after his concussion last week. Pass defense has been strong for San Francisco, but I think St. Louis is content to run the ball and let the punters and field goal kickers get plenty of action in this one. All they want to do is stay close and hope to steal a win in the end. They know they aren’t going to blow these guys away.

 

San Francisco has the home field, but they aren’t rushing the passer as well as they are accustomed to. Maybe that’s why they expedited the return of Aldon Smith from rehab. St. Louis has generated more sacks (33-27) and has a vicious front line. If Gore is nicked up it could become a factor. Colin Kaepernick has to step his game up sooner or later and I’m not sure this is the spot for him to do it. The team is weary from a cross-country road trip on a short week. Their opponent had an open week just two weeks ago and is coming off an easy home win. I see a fight: San Francisco 23, St. Louis 20 (STL +9.5/over 41.5)

 

Cincinnati (7-4) @ San Diego (5-6): People tend to overreact to what happened last week, and it impacts what they think will happen to following week. I fall victim to this now and then. The Chargers were last seen winning a 41-38 shootout at Kansas City, looking like they could beat just about anyone. The Bengals were on a bye week, so people don’t really remember their last win was a 41-20 blowout of a pretty good Cleveland defense. Back to San Diego though, the key factor in that game was injuries to both defensive ends for the Chiefs. If you can’t pressure Philip Rivers, or any really good quarterback, forget it.

 

Notice I didn’t call Rivers elite, and that was on purpose. I think he and Andy Dalton are about in the same class right now actually. Rivers is a step above because of experience, but Dalton has a better No. 1 option in A.J. Green. Rivers has to make due with slightly less overall talent at receiver and tight end. It’s fairly close though. He also has to go up against a defense with 34 sacks that is allowing just 211.1 yards passing per game. Dalton faces a defense with 29 sacks, but one that gives up 276.0 yards a game and has just 6 interceptions. Turnovers are vital in the NFL.

 

Breaking it down, I would say each quarterback is good for an interception and north of 250 yards, but the sacks total is going to be interesting. Cincinnati is rested, and that offsets the travel to California. I would call a 3-2 edge for the visitors, and depending on when those come it might be a critical factor because they tend to kill drives. If these offenses are hot, maybe this is a game with few punts, making that an even bigger factor. The Bengals have allowed 20-plus points seven times and I expect the Chargers to get there in this one. They have scored more than 21 on five occasions, all wins.

 

San Diego has played better defense at home, other than an opening 31-28 loss to Houston. They have wins over Dallas (30-21) and Indianapolis (19-9)  plus a loss to Denver (28-20). The points hadn’t been flowing that much until last week, with five straight games scoring 16-24 points so it’s not like this team is unstoppable as the KC win might indicate. Cincinnati definitely has issues on the road at 2-4, but three of those losses were by a total of 8 points including one in OT. Twice their offense was held down (6, 17) by division rivals, but I don’t see them struggling too much to score here.

 

The number that jumps out at me is 4.9 yards per carry allowed by the Chargers. The Bengals only average 3.7 themselves, but in my mind I’m always adding those figures and dividing by two as a gauge to what might happen. If Cincinnati, with two good lead rushers, can pick up 4.3 per run and have some success throwing the ball it’s going to be hard for San Diego to finish them off. It’s going to be close and usually I would go home team with Rivers, but I like the rested team with a division lead they are trying to hold: Cincinnati 27, San Diego 24 (CIN +1/over 45)

 

Denver (9-2) @ Kansas City (9-2): In two short weeks they dynamics here have changed dramatically. It looked like these teams were battling for not only the AFC West, but the No. 1 overall seed in the conference in this series. Now that the Patriots beat the Broncos, they have become a factor in a big way. I don’t think it plays out that way because of the schedule, but anything is possible. The Chiefs also stumbled last week off the hangover, and if they can’t find a way to win here they have to deal with three road games in their final four. It’s a good thing they are four clear of the next wild card contender.

 

Honestly I was ready to take Kansas City in this spot because their home field and defense have been so great this season. This is where I overreact, rationally, to last week’s action. They have faced almost exclusively bad, often backup quarterbacks all season. Other than early games against Tony Romo and Eli Manning, their opposing signal-callers have been awful. They were able to muster up a good effort at Denver holding Peyton Manning from fantasy football dream stats, but when their defensive ends got hurt Philip Rivers destroyed them.

 

Tamba Hali is going to play hurt, but Justin Houston is out. This is a huge advantage because knocking Manning down on his bum ankle was their chance to win this game. Now they have to count on him making mental errors and he just doesn’t do that. Last time it wasn’t a perfect game by any stretch. The teams combined for 22 accepted penalties to slow the pace down. The Broncos averaged just 2.9 yards per carry and with Knowshon Moreno banged up that doesn’t bode well for their running game in the rematch because rookie Montee Ball is fumbling too much. He scored twice in the first meeting from short range. I feel like Jamaal Charles never got a chance to get going last time, touching the ball just 18 times for 86 yards. This time he will.

 

There are factors helping the Chiefs to be sure, like their ability to stop the run, having their home crowd, and finally being able to play in a shootout last week to show they can score some points. It hurts more to lose Houston and have Hali limited though, so I don’t think I can call for them to get this done. The Broncos are mad coming off a primetime loss blowing a 24-0 lead. Manning hates that kind of thing. I think he knows just how important home field is in the playoffs and will not want to come back here, or to New England, when it matters most: Denver 28, Kansas City 24 (KC +6/over 47.5)

 

NY Giants (4-7) @ Washington (3-8): NBC leaving this as the SNF game proves just how little they care about most NFL fans. They know the New York and D.C. market is huge and people will watch this game as a result. Never mind that these teams are out of the hunt. I can think of 5 other games out of the 12 being played on Sunday I would rather see than this one. Heck, if you want this market why not go after Dolphins at Jets? Maybe CBS protected that game, but if that’s the case I thought Titans-Colts was good the first time on TNF and I wouldn’t mind watching the rematch. Oh well, whatever., we’re stuck with it.

 

These rivals haven’t met yet, so this is a crucial battle to decide who can stay out of the NFC East cellar. The Redskins can’t stop anyone. Just about every week I look back on their 24-14 win at Oakland thinking about that game against Matt Flynn being the only time they held a team below 24 points. The Giants haven’t scored a bunch of points this season so they welcome the ability to score some. Their defense has been considerably better after that 0-6 start (34.8 points per game allowed) giving up 7, 7, 20, 13 and 24 points while winning four out of five.

 

On offense New York is usually good for the low twenties. The same could be said for Washington until the past two weeks (16, 6). Robert Griffin III is not at full strength and people are finally saying it out loud. It’s almost sad to see him out there at this point. Now they are on a short week against a divisional rival looking to fight their way back into the race. It’s not a great spot for them. This is not a tough road game for the Giants who can run the ball now and have the better defense by far. I’m sorry we have to watch this in primetime: NY Giants 24, Washington 20 (NYG +0/under 46)

 

New Orleans (9-2) @ Seattle (10-1): This is what primetime football is all about. The best teams in the NFC hook up on MNF. Obviously, the Seahawks have a huge home field advantage and the Saints are not as good on the road. I feel like the edge is bigger in primetime, so I’m not too worried about less than perfect home results like nosing past Tennessee (20-13) or going to OT with Tampa Bay (27-24) after falling behind 21-0. I’m looking at their early 29-3 win over San Francisco as a barometer to how they will be feeling. Unfortunately, they come in shorthanded in the secondary and that’s a huge problem in this matchup. The bye week to prepare at least gave them some time to think about stopping Drew Brees, but he has too many options for the guys trying to match up.

 

The Saints on the road aren’t perfect (2-2) but they almost won in New England before a late score (30-27) and did get a victory in Chicago (26-18) who had Jay Cutler at the time. I don’t think it’s impossible for them to win here, now or in the playoffs. It’s not a full bye week for them, but they are coming off SNF to help with the travel situation and preparation. Their focus is going to be laser sharp knowing that they could be slipping from potential No. 1 seed to a wild card with two games against Carolina this month. The time is now to win home field.

 

Running the ball is the best way to win on the road, and contrary to perception Seattle is just average (4.2, 112.9) in that area. Their strength is when it matters, having allowed just 4 rushing scores. New Orleans (4.8, 111.9) is going to have some issues slowing down Marshawn Lynch and they might want to take away his Skittles before the game. The Seahawks have a top running game (4.5, 147.9, 11 TD) ready to attack. The Saints (3.9, 97.7 7 TD) give the football to several guys and have a sneaky running game, especially with Darren Sproles getting the ball out of the backfield.

 

Through the air, Brees has his team second in the league (331.5) with only 8 interceptions and has been sacked just 23 times. Those are the numbers he can’t see rise if they are going to win. The Seahawks have a very efficient passing game as Russell Wilson has thrown only 6 picks, but he has taken more sacks (29). Wilson is up against Rob Ryan’s defense though, and they are third in the league (198.0) with 37 sacks. Of course, Brees goes up against the second-best unit (180.4) with 33 sacks and 16 interceptions, but they are weakened opposite of Richard Sherman.

 

I am very worried about the Saints exploiting the matchups and throwing to tight end Jimmy Graham a ton of times, but I think the Seahawks are a “next man up” kind of defense and will figure out a way to cover up the weak link. They will switch up their coverage, blitz, move around, anything to get the job done. I like Seattle’s offense to keep it simple running the ball and wearing down their opponent. Their best defense against Brees is keeping their own offense on the field. I think they do, and I see them winning a low-scoring affair: Seattle 23, New Orleans 20 (NO +5.5/under 47.5)

 

 

 

 

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