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Tuesday, August 21 2018

NFL Predictions 2014: Week 6


Things have turned around for me quite about after the typically dead opening two weeks of the season. I reeled off a 13-2 mark straight up (46-30 overall) missing on two teams (Chicago, Detroit) who blew leads. One day I will pick all the winners in a given week. Until then, I march on. Against the spread I put some distance with breaking even by going 11-4 (41-35 overall) and rebounded from a losing week on the over/under with a 9-6 showing (42-34 overall). At +17 versus Vegas I am on red alert for an upside down week. 

Indianapolis (3-2) @ Houston (3-2): Will the streak of blowouts on TNF ever end? It sure looks like it will in this game. So far in the season, the Texans have overachieved a little while the Colts are trying to lift their status to elite. Last week was a nice win for Indianapolis over Baltimore, but it was a sloppy game with the teams combining for 7 turnovers. Houston had a great comeback in Dallas, only to let it slip away in OT. In a league with a lot of scoring, both teams are coming off game totals of below 40 points. Is this going to be a tight defensive struggle? I doubt it.

I look at this game on a short week and see a couple teams who are tired after tough games just a few days ago. The defenses figure to be worn down. Houston has the home field advantage, for real this time (hi, Tony Romo!), and primetime has a way of firing up a team in front of their fans. Indianapolis has the elite quarterback Andrew Luck who dominates his division. I struggle with calling a game based on emotion because logic makes more sense to me. Luck is someone I can bet on comfortably in almost any situation. Ryan Fitzpatrick, not so much. He is turnover prone, and while his defense certainly has a shot here (hi, J.J. Watt!) to dominate, his lead running back Arian Foster has already spoken out about not liking games on Thursdays. He is gassed, and clearly feels he will not have his best to give. For that reason, I take the visitors in a squeaker the CBS executives will love: Indianapolis 28, Houston 23 (IND -2.5/over 46) 

Denver (3-1) @ NY Jets (1-4): Looking at the records, maybe this is a mismatch. I assure you, there is a chance for a serious surprise here. Peyton Manning is playing in his brother's stadium, and has an outside chance to at least tie Brett Favre's all-time touchdown mark if he throws five. Rex Ryan is going to dial something up for him and it will be difficult for the Broncos to protect their quarterback if the running game is non-existent. The Jets can stop the run, and they are facing a team without their starting running back. I expect C.J. Anderson to come off the inactive list and provide them with a big option, especially to pass block. Ronnie Hillman handles the small back role. Either way, they are going to be one-dimensional.

The one dimension for Denver is pretty good, and New York is having a tough time in the secondary. Flipping it around to when the Jets have the ball, their quarterback Geno Smith would be benched if the team had a better option behind him. He lacks dynamic receiving options anyway, and the running game is just average. This game boils down to how much will to win the Jets have coming back from being shut out in San Diego. Their season is on the line right here. They probably already figure it's a lost year, and if the Broncos go up quick 10-0 or 14-0 it could get out of hand. I think their defense rises up, and key plays on offense keep them close into the second half. Then, it is all over: Denver 26, NY Jets 13 (DEN -4.5/under 48)

Pittsburgh (3-2) @ Cleveland (2-2): It is hard to believe quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is 18-1 against the Browns. He is in good position to keep that success going. Rookie Justin Gilbert just got benched at one corner spot, and Joe Haden is out at the other. Buster Skrine was toasted for a long touchdown last week in Tennessee. Unless the pass rush is fast and furious, Big Ben is going to be in business. He has a running game at his disposal as well, and against a defense that has allowed at least 23 points in every game this season I like his chances.

The good news for Cleveland is their amazing comeback last week might carry over. They outscored the Titans 19-0 in the second half, setting an NFL record for the biggest road comeback in history. Speaking of comebacks. Pittsburgh had these guys 27-3 in the season opener, only to allow them to tie the score before closing them out with a field goal. It has not been that long since that one, and considering the aforementioned corner issues, Roethlisberger's 365-yard passing effort has to be a primary concern for the home team, right? I know this is a "rivalry" game, and therefore you throw out the records and expectations. However, one team dominates the series until proven otherwise and I like them again: Pittsburgh 28, Cleveland 24 (PIT +2.5/over 46)

Jacksonville (0-5) @ Tennessee (1-4): There are only two winless teams left in the league, and as the weeks wear on it will become tougher to get in the win column. The Jaguars have a prime opportunity here against a team coming off blowing a 28-3 lead on this very field. However, the Jaguars are an epically bad team. To their credit, they hung with Pittsburgh throughout, trailing 10-9 into the fourth quarter until a pick-six provided the final margin of victory. Rookie quarterback Blake Bortles gives them the best chance to win, and his former college teammate Storm Johnson might be ready to provide a boost at running back. Still, it is hard to trust a team that has not scored more than 17 points in a game this season and has a shaky defense.

The Titans had a real chance to turn their season around with a win last week, coupled with a victory here to reach 3-3. They choked that away, and their quarterback situation is muddled. Will it be Jake Locker, Charlie Whitehurst or maybe even rookie Zach Mettenberger? It looks like Whitehurst will go. Either way, there is not a huge advantage or disadvantage at the position compared to Bortles, so I am not too worried. Tennessee is going to play better defense and run the ball more effectively. It is really just that simple. I think they take out some frustration here and this time hold the lead: Tennessee 27, Jacksonville 20 (TEN -4/over 43)

Chicago (2-3) @ Atlanta (2-3): Has a team ever been more excited to be back home? When last seen in the Georgia Dome the Falcons were rolling to a 56-14 victory on TNF over Tampa Bay to reach 2-1. Two losses and 71 points allowed later, their season is at a crossroads. The Bears are in the same situation after blowing a lead in Carolina last week, and they have given up 69 points over their last two outings. In other words, some points might be scored here. In terms of total points, Chicago's have been 43-plus every week and in four of five weeks Atlanta's have been 50-plus.

In an offensive game, all-purpose threat Devin Hester might have a "ridiculous" play in him against his former team. You can bet Atlanta will be looking to get him involved. Julio Jones and Alshon Jeffrey are going to be trying to one-up each other like they are back in the SEC. Honestly, Matt Forte is far and away the best running back in the building, so it is hard to pick against them. The problem is quarterback where Jay Cutler is unpredictable and picking Matt Ryan to win at home always makes sense. He took down the Seahawks in the playoffs here, a season before their run to the title. It is one of those things I have a hard time going against, regardless of the other factors. The Falcons are hurting on the offensive line, but home field cures a lot of ills. The Bears do not have the defense to make them pay: Atlanta 30, Chicago 28 (CHI +3.5/over 53.5)

Green Bay (3-2) @ Miami (2-2): The Dolphins are back from London following a bye week and have to feel pretty good about their standing in the AFC East. Yes, the Patriots rebounded from a blowout loss with a blowout win over previously undefeated Cincinnati, but they seem mortal and the division is open for business. The Packers are in a muddled NFC North having spent the past three weeks playing opponents within their division. They, well, relaxed and won big the last two weeks by a combined 80-27 which in my eyes makes this a bad spot for them. What is really on the line here? It's a non-conference game on the road and if they lose, big deal.

It is hard for me to measure the Dolphins right now. They wore out New England in the opener, but that was a weather thing mostly. They definitely ripped Oakland across the pond, but that is a team with very little going for it right now. In between, these guys were rolled by 19 points against Buffalo and Kansas City, two teams I see as clearly inferior to the group coming in this week. Even if Aaron Rodgers is still in relax mode, he should be able to fire up the team enough to secure a road victory here. Nothing would surprise me in this spot though, so proceed with caution. Knowshon Moreno returns the backfield for the Dolphins and could make some noise: Green Bay 27, Miami 24 (MIA +3.5/over 47.5)

Detroit (3-2) @ Minnesota (2-3): It is kind of amazing how tight the NFC North is so far, top to bottom. The Vikings are hanging tough, and in my mind have completely overachieved considering the loss of Adrian Peterson, especially since his backup from last year left town. Rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is back and ready to take the leadership role, filling the massive void left when "All Day" left the building. I love the kid's spunk. He balled out in the start against the Falcons, throwing for 317 yards and directing an offense that piled up 558 yards. Now he has to do it against a stout defense and ferocious front line. This could get interesting. 

Unlike every game between these teams since I can remember, this one is outdoors in a temporary venue. The Lions are awful outdoors, just like the Falcons. How good is their offense, really, especially without elite wide receiver Calvin Johnson? I do not expect Megatron to play here, and clearly he is a huge part of what they do on offense. In a way it levels the playing field, but Detroit has not shown the ability to adjust the way Minnesota has offensively. Matthew Stafford needs a running game and a big target to function at a high level. On offense they scored 7 points last week, at home, and it was the second time this season their offense has finished with that total. I do not like this setup for them. They are the same inconsistent team under Caldwell as they were under Schwartz: Minnesota 21, Detroit 17 (MIN +2/under 44)

Carolina (3-2) @ Cincinnati (3-1): Both teams are leading their respective divisions, but have to be feeling a bit nervous in the process. The Panthers rallied from 21-7 down at home to beat the Bears and continue to defy those, including myself, who want to bury them. Their backfield is a mess, and if not for rookie wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin I have to wonder if the offense would be doing anything at all this season. Quarterback Cam Newton is crucial to their viability going forward. For the Bengals, wide receiver A.J. Green is important, but not as crucial because they have a balanced offense. They can lean on the run and be in good shape. 

It seems like defensive struggles are non-existent in the league these days, and this could be an exception. Am I crazy? Carolina gave up 37, 38 and 24 points the past three weeks! I know it, but this game is going to be two teams trying not to make the key mistake on offense. I look for some long drives, and a lot of running from Cincinnati in particular as they try to grind this one out. Their defense was just embarrassed to the tune of 43 points allowed on MNF. We saw how the team that did that to them (New England) turned around a similar primetime shaming the week before. These guys will be ready to play, especially knowing they might have to cover for their offense if Green does not play. This is not a game for the archives, and will not be one of the ones replayed by the NFL Network for sure: Cincinnati 24, Carolina 20 (CAR +7/under 45)

New England (3-2) @ Buffalo (3-2): So Tom Brady is good again right? I am kidding of course. It was laughable how the media, and so-called experts were burying him as a quarterback and the Patriots team as being playoff-caliber. Here the Bills sit with the same record, fresh off a stunning road win in Detroit thanks in part to Jim Schwartz. Yes, the Schwartz was with them as the former Lions head coach exacted his revenge. Now it is time for Buffalo to step up or shut up. They will never have a better opportunity to establish themselves as a 2014 contender than this spot right here. I expect them to put all of their chips in the middle and go for it. This is why they went to Kyle Orton at quarterback, to win this season. Last week, it worked. Now, instead of staring at a potential 2-4 record after losing to a team Brady is 22-2 against, they might be 4-2 and alone atop the division. Sorry E.J. Manuel, that is just reality.

Of course, the Patriots are not interested in this golden opportunity their opponent has. They are the visitors on a short work week trying to continue their reign of terror on the AFC East. It might take Brady being his usual self for them to get over here because the Bills have stopped the run thus far. On the flip side, Buffalo should be able to keep the chains moving with their running game and keep this close. About half of the games in this series over the past handful of seasons have been tight, and the venue is not really the determining factor. Last year New England won here 23-21, but the previous season they won 52-28. If I look for a pattern, every other season it alternates, so this should be a wide margin. I do not see it, but I cannot possibly go the opposite way given the series history. Orton will look more like a guy pulled out of almost retirement here: New England 27, Buffalo 20 (NE -1/over 43)

Baltimore (3-2) @ Tampa Bay (1-4): When I think of these two teams, my mind immediately rushes back just over a decade to them riding stout defenses to consecutive Super Bowl titles. Neither defense is perceived as elite currently, but in terms of points allowed they are absolutely on opposite ends of the spectrum. The Ravens (16.0) might not have Ray Lewis, but only two teams have allowed fewer points per game. The Bucs (31.2) are giving up more than any team other than the Jaguars, which is not saying much. Running the ball is always key on the road, and signs point to Baltimore being able to run on this defense. This is going to lead to balance. Heck, Torrey Smith might actually show up to play some ball. 

Quarterback Mike Glennon has given a boost to Tampa Bay's offense, but will not get a ton of help from the running game here. They are also likely to be a bit winded coming off three consecutive road games. It will help their focus with a bye week on deck I suppose. For Baltimore this is their third road game out of four weeks, and after this two out of their next three are on the road so there is no relief in sight. I think it sets up an interesting edge for the home team actually. The Bucs have played well the past two weeks against good teams, beating the Steelers and losing to the Saints in OT after blowing a lead. I could totally see them pulling this out. However, it makes no sense to me logically. The visitors should win in rushing yards, have a better quarterback and a better defense. They win: Baltimore 24, Tampa Bay 20 (BAL -1.5/over 42)

San Diego (4-1) @ Oakland (0-4): Back in the first week, the Chargers led the Cardinals in the desert 17-6 into the fourth quarter. They blew the lead, and if not for that loss might be considered the best team in the NFL right about now. Their closest win since was almost double digits (30-21) over the defending champion Seahawks. In the past three weeks they have allowed 24 points in total, including last week's shutout win over the Jets. Other than losing running backs to injury, their fortunes are rising. Even that seems to work in their favor because Branden Oliver might never have found an increased role if other players did not get hurt. This type of luck has not happened this season for the Raiders, who are playing their first game under interim head coach Tony Sparano. 

Quarterback Derek Carr might not be ready to go for Oakland here, and he has been so impressive that they definitely will miss him. Matt McGloin is not terrible, but their chances become very slim if he is the guy under center. The bigger issue is quarterback on the other side of the line, as in middle linebacker. They do not have one, and Miles Burris continues to hurt their chances as an overall defensive unit. Opponents can exploit so many things because of their weakness in that key position. Neither team can run the ball on the stat sheet, and ironically in terms of rushing yards allowed per game the Chargers (4.5) are worse than the Raiders (4.3). I would ignore this stat, even if Oakland figures to be fired up off a bye week trying to prove they have something in the tank, especially with their former MVP Rich Gannon calling them out. Even if they can keep it close, this is not another upset over the Bolts for the silver and black: San Diego 28, Oakland 17 (SD -6.5/over 43)

Dallas (4-1) @ Seattle (3-1): Co-division leaders in the NFC square off in a key afternoon matchup here. Everyone is going to be watching this game. Think Tony Romo remembers his visit here in the playoffs after the 2006 season? He will probably not be re-enacting his ill-fated attempt at holding for the game-winning field goal during the pre-game warmups. It seems like a lifetime ago, right? Eight years is almost a generation in the NFL. Russell Wilson and Pete Carroll are now the quarterback and head coach for Seattle, although mouthpiece Richard Sherman feels like the face of the franchise. Dallas lacks the swagger these days and while head coach Jason Garrett might be off the hot seat, they are not an elite team by any stretch of the imagination. For my money, this is just a hot streak in advance of an inevitable cold streak. 

I heard a talking head on television saying something about being able to run on the Seahawks as a way to beat them. Um, what? They are leading the NFL in yard per carry (2.6) and per game (62.3) with one rushing score allowed in a quarter of a season. Good luck DeMarco Murray. Yes, Dallas has a nice offensive line. If they thought it was tough hearing from Houston fans in their own stadium, how do you think things are going to go with the 12th man in full throat? They are probably motivated by hearing about how it rattled the Cowboys last week. Oh, and only one team is allowing more rushing yards per attempt than Dallas (5.2) so there is that. Think Seattle's top-ranked running game is feeling good about that? I would say so. Ignore Dallas being second because they will be unable to take advantage against this defense, plain and simple. Romo is more like his usual self in this one, turning it over and getting sacked. I do not see any sort of upset here, and in fact see this as close to the week 1 opener in terms of how well the home team plays: Seattle 31, Dallas 20 (SEA -7.5/over 46.5)

Washington (1-4) @ Arizona (3-1): Even with an emphasis on protecting the quarterback, we still end up with Kirk Cousins and Drew Stanton as the opposing signal-callers. Of course, Michigan State fans are loving this. Stanton has kept the Cardinals going in Carson Palmer's absence, but he suffered a concussion during the loss at Denver last week. He is cleared to play, and that is big because rookie Logan Thomas is not ready to direct this offense. As for Cousins, he rebounded from a poor performance and played pretty well on MNF in a loss to Seattle. However, I feel as though the league is catching up to him. In a hostile road game against a ferocious defense I do not like his chances.

Neither rushing offense is doing much, but the Cardinals definitely have the edge on the defensive side of things and home field advantage extends their edge. I look at this and expect either a crazy, out of whack high-scoring game, or a really tight low-scoring affair. The latter is much more likely to me. Defense figures to rule the day here. Washington is on the brink of being truly finished for the season, and probably already are. The pressure is at a boiling point for them, and rookie head coach Jay Gruden has to pull out all the stops here. Even if he does, this is one of the great home field advantage situations in the league so I do not expect his team to finish: Arizona 20, Washington 16 (AZ -3/under 45.5)

NY Giants (3-2) @ Philadelphia (4-1): There are few rivalries as great as this one. It is even sweeter when the teams are winning and the game is played under the lights. I got a laugh out of a fantasy expert who shall remain nameless advocating Nick Foles this week on the basis of the Eagles averaging 31.2 points per game. Uh, what? On offense they are at 21.4, or below average in the league. They are struggling to move chains and score, big time. It was not hard to imagine NFL defensive coordinators starting to figure out how to slow down Chip Kelly's fast-paced offense, and it has happened. He needs to adjust and react. On the other side, steady head coach Tom Coughlin somehow has a team that at 0-2 was left for dead right back in the mix. The Giants just find a way, and it is absolutely a result of excellent coaching.

Eli Manning has definitely been a big part of New York's resurgence by protecting the football. He loses a key weapon in running back Rashad Jennings who was tearing it up, but gaining rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham who debuted last week with effectively the game-winning touchdown. Maybe the offense keeps going, maybe not. They went from losing two games by a combined 60-28 to winning three straight by double digits. The level of competition had something to do with it. Philadelphia is a bigger threat. The concern I have with the Eagles is their offensive line. The Giants are coming at them, in large part because LeSean McCoy and the running game is not working. I could call this game either way and feel good quite frankly. I think Philadelphia got straight last week, even if they blew most of their lead against St. Louis. It was a nice win and at 4-1 they still have a chip on their shoulders with people acting like they are worse than their record. Now is their time to prove otherwise and I believe they do: Philadelphia 28, NY Giants 24 (PHI -2.5/over 50)

San Francisco (3-2) @ St. Louis (1-3): Early in the season it is tough to say which teams are truly at the top and which teams are going to struggle. Things change from season to season, sometimes dramatically. A month into the action, I think now this game can officially be called a trap for the visiting 49ers. The Rams are starting Austin Davis at quarterback, a guy no one had heard of before he was thrust into action due to injury. As much as fans, and some of the media, want to harken back to their magical, unprecedented, 1999 run to the Lombardi with a similarly unknown Kurt Warner this is not the same situation. There is no Hall of Fame running back like Marshall Faulk on this roster, and no elite wide receivers either. The team is struggling, and if not for Jeff Fisher's reputation he might be on the hot seat even with the built-in excuse of his starting quarterback being lost for the season.

For San Francisco, they come in a bit emotional having just survived the return of ex-quarterback Alex Smith during their first home win at Levi's Stadium. Now they hit the road against a team that has given them some trouble in the dome. Last year it was not the case, but in two prior visits St. Louis won in OT and lost 34-27. Anything can happen, and MNF is known for wild results. I do not see it here in part because the 49ers have a distinct edge defending the run and are also better running the ball. The Rams have the top-ranked pass defense on paper, but allow 70.8% of passes to be completed against them. Colin Kaepernick is going to see some nice windows and will run the ball to create manageable third-down situations. Coupled with the team starting to get the backs more involved, even if things get a little crazy the visitors still get this done: San Francisco 24, St. Louis 20 (SF -3/over 43.5)

NFL Predictions 2014: Week 6 | 16 comments | Create New Account
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