NFL Predictions 2014: Week 7

Thursday, October 16 2014

Contributed by: norcalfella

It was a decent week for me across the board. I was 10-4-1 straight up (56-34-1 overall) and would like to kick Mike Nugent in the nuts for turning a win into a tie. Amount of sleep I will lose over not choosing Cleveland over Pittsburgh when Big Ben was 18-1 against them? None. The same goes for not picking against Matt Ryan's Falcons at home, or the Lions outdoors, or the Cowboys in the most difficult venue in the NFL. Others might have had a better week taking some chances. I went with the most likely result and that usually works out just fine for me.

Against the spread I won the week at 10-5 (51-40 overall) losing on some of the aforementioned situations (Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Seattle). I took the points for Chicago and Carolina, without hesitation so those worked out. I did not believe Oakland could cover against San Diego given the state of their defense, but they surprised me just a little in losing by 3 instead of a touchdown. I had a frustrating loss when Tennessee had the cover at 16-7 until melting down at the end against winless Jacksonville. For the over/under I was 8-6-1 (50-40-1 overall) so that's fine, especially with a nice "over" on MNF thanks to the late interception return. Trust me, those kinds of things rarely happen for me. In all I am now +21 against Vegas and waiting for the roof to cave in on me. I will do my best to avoid that happening this week.

 

NY Jets (1-5) @ New England (4-2): Saying these teams do not like each other is not doing the rivalry justice. When Rex Ryan took over in New York he said he was not going to kiss Bill Belichick's rings, and immediately took his team to a couple of AFC Championship Games. In fact, for five straight years one of these teams has played for a shot in the Super Bowl, or nine out of the past eleven years actually. Obviously this is tongue in cheek because the Jets had just two of those and have fallen on hard times whereas the Patriots have contended for over a decade at a high level. Truly, however, the records are thrown out when these teams meet on the field.

The TNF games have come under fire for being blowouts and also for player fatigue having to play games on a short week of rest. Who cares? They make a ton of money for the league and are here to stay. At best, the league might move them to Friday or start staging games on Saturday. They have not done this because of high school and college football respectively, but desperate times call for desperate moves. Back to the game, these teams know each other's moves. New York has a defense capable of creating stops and making Tom Brady uncomfortable in the pocket. Suddenly Brady is a superstar again after two solid weeks with the team totaling 80 points. In two weeks prior they were "finished" according to the media thanks to scoring a total of 30, even though they won one of those games.

A key here is linebacker Jerod Mayo being out. New England's defense takes a hit and believe me young quarterback Geno Smith is happy about it. He is under fire from the media and about to crack. I would not be surprised at all to see this team go after a new signal-caller at the top of the 2015 draft, especially if they continue free-falling towards a top-five pick. Another key is running back Stevan Ridley being lost. The Pats need all of their backs against a ferocious front for the Jets that has shown an ability to stop the run. Overall, however, their defense has allowed 27-plus points four times already this season. They are not a shutdown unit. I look for the typical game between these teams. Three of the past four have been decided by 3 points, two in OT. Four of the past six have been decided by single digits, and twice during that stretch the Jets have won. Anything is possible. I see some anxious moments in the first half before the visitors take advantage of miscues to secure the win: New England 28, NY Jets 17 (NE -9.5/over 44)

Cincinnati (3-1-1) @ Indianapolis (4-2): Two weeks ago the Bengals were sitting on top of the world at 3-0 resting on a bye week. Their defense was allowing 11.0 points per game and everything was swell. Then came the Patriots on MNF, a 43-17 loss, and last week's 37-37 OT tie against the Panthers. Think Andrew Luck and the Colts might present a challenge to a defense clearly on their heels? Indianapolis has a mixed bag this year when it comes to their defense, three times allowing 28-plus points and three other times holding teams to no more than 17. I think this one lands in between, especially with wide receiver A.J. Green's status up in the air for the visitors.

The key to beating teams with good quarterbacks is pressure. In the dome, I expect the Colts to do more to get to Andy Dalton than the other way around, so Luck has a distinct advantage. Plus, T.Y. Hilton just wore out the Texans on TNF and these guys are at home following a couple extra days of rest. The advantages are piling up. Cincinnati is tired after playing 5 quarters and going up and down the field on both sides of the ball last week. Running back Giovani Bernard had to come off the field at one point with a banged up shoulder, and for an offense possibly missing Green they cannot afford him to be limited. The Colts have been gashed against the run in terms of average per carry (4.8) but per game (107.3) are pretty good because their offense keeps their defense out of trouble. The Bengals give up much more (4.8, 141.4) but I am not sure Ahmad Bradshaw and Trent Richardson can take full advantage.

Pass defense has been good for Cincinnati, as they have allowed just 6 touchdown passes all year so temper your fantasy expectations for Luck this week. Indianapolis has only allowed 8, and have more than twice the sacks (17-8) so that is the big difference in the game here. I look for home field and fatigue/rest to play a huge part in the outcome. On paper this looks like a close game and it might be for a while, especially if the visitors can control the clock running the ball which should be their strategy coming in. However, in the fourth quarter everything is likely to change and I see no way the Bengals can go on the road after the past two weeks and have enough gas to sustain them through this one: Indianapolis 31, Cincinnati 17 (IND -2.5/under 51)

Tennessee (2-4) @ Washington (1-5): The players do not want an 18-game schedule, but one of the benefits would be keeping teams alive after slow starts. This is basically a meaningless game and we are not even halfway through the schedule. The Redskins can blame their lost season on the injury to quarterback Robert Griffin III, but that is not the case whatsoever. If they want to blame him, the reason would be how much they gave up in the draft to get him. Their resources were sucked dry and the personnel on their 53-man roster is not enough to compete on a weekly basis in this league. Quarterback issues have plagued the Titans as well. This is clearly the end for Jake Locker who has already missed time and will not be wearing their uniform in 2015, unless they retain him in a backup role for some reason.

The Titans have struggled mightily to put points on the board this year. They flashed in the opener, bombing the Chiefs 26-10, and mounted a 28-3 lead on the Browns two weeks ago before losing the game. Other than that, their point totals are 10, 7, 17 and 16. The really ugly one is the 16 because it came last week against a Jacksonville team giving up a ton of points. By comparison, Washington destroyed the Jaguars 41-10 earlier this season. Their offense has sputtered the past three weeks (14, 17, 20) only because of stiff competition from winning teams (Giants, Seahawks, Cardinals). The defense has allowed 27-plus in four straight, but here I see no danger of that streak continuing. Tennessee can occasionally make a big play in the running game, and are trying to get Bishop Sankey going. Trying, not succeeding. Charlie Whitehurst looks like Jesus, but unfortunately does not play like him. I see the home team letting out frustration here: Washington 28, Tennessee 20 (WAS -3.5/over 45.5)

Miami (2-3) @ Chicago (3-3): The Bears might have saved their season with a big road win in Atlanta. The Dolphins did not lose theirs with a late meltdown against Green Bay, but certainly lost an opportunity to say in the thick of things in the AFC East. Momentum in this one is clear, and I do believe there is such a thing. I do think Miami can play fine on the road, where they are 5-5 since the start of last season. Chicago is very happy to be back at home having spent four of the past five weeks on the road. They have seen their fans just once since the season opener. The schedule makers will not be receiving a gift basket from them to be sure. The worst is not over yet because their next two, sandwiched around a bye week, are also away from Soldier Field. On the bright side, they seem to be weathering this brutal schedule, and of course down the stretch will be hosting games in their stadium with their weather conditions.

In this one weather should not be too big of an issue. The Dolphins will come in and look to run the football, which they have done well all season (5.0, 136.2) even without Knowshon Moreno, who is now of course lost for the year. The Bears are improved on paper stopping the run (4.3, 103.7) but that can change in any given week against an opponent determined to do their damage on the ground. Miami has a good defense and can rush the passer, which is a problem for Jay Cutler because he can throw some picks (three games with 2 this year) and take some sacks (three games with at least 3 this year). I expect a close, very hard fought game here. The Dolphins need this one desperately and will not give it away by rolling over. I went against the Bears last week in part because of their wide receiver health issues. I think those are getting better by the week. With only 3 interceptions on the season I do not see the visitors getting the turnover edge, so they fall short: Chicago 27, Miami 23 (CHI -3/over 48)

Cleveland (3-2) @ Jacksonville (0-6): Most people would look at this game and think of it as an easy choice. The Browns win right? Um, not so much. The Jaguars have been downright awful this year, no argument from me. However, this is a bad situation for the visitors who suddenly are considered "contenders" and have no idea how to handle being expected to win. It is much easier to succeed with no one thinking you will do anything. Jacksonville is still in that situation, and they are growing tired of it. The past two weeks they have lost by a cumulative 33-23, so the defense has tightened up and the team has made steps toward earning the elusive first win. A month of games allowing 33-plus points gave their offense no chance to compete. Rookie quarterback Blake Bortles gets limited help from the backfield and without suspended wide receiver Justin Blackmon has no star targets at his disposal in the passing game.

I want to see Cleveland compete every week and make a run towards the playoffs, but I have my doubts. They have sure looked good since falling behind 28-3 to the Titans two weeks ago, going on a 26-0 run to end that game and outscoring the Steelers 31-10 last week. Consistency is perhaps the toughest hurdle to overcome when changing the culture in a team from losing to winning. A major reason I still like the visitors is their ability to run the ball. Ben Tate is back, and they are third in the NFL behind only Dallas and Seattle for rushing yards per game. Jacksonville is dead last (69.5) and Toby Gerhart has been a bust. What makes me nervous is that their ground attack could wake up against the third-worst run defense in the Browns, giving up 5.0 yards per carry and 149.6 per game. This could be a short game with limited possessions if the hosts play it right and protect the ball. Look for a close one, and do not be stunned if this is the first win for Bortles: Cleveland 23, Jacksonville 20 (JAX +6/under 45)

Seattle (3-2) @ St. Louis (1-4): It is kind of tough to repeat in the NFL, as the Seahawks have found out. How does third place in the division taste right about now? My guess is not very good, and if this team wants to avoid the road in the playoffs they better get straight in a hurry. The Rams present an opportunity for them to do so. It was fun watching them start hot on MNF going up 14-0 on San Francisco while wearing the throwback jerseys. After blowing the lead and falling behind by 10, the magic got going again until limited quarterback Austin Davis threw a pick-six to seal it. He has had himself a couple FFL worthy outings this year, but in terms of winning games he is still towards the bottom of the league. Russell Wilson has some people sniping about him truly being elite at the position, and first of all who called him elite? He is not. He is perfect for this team and what the offense asks him to do, nothing more.

A joke has been made about the Jaguars drafting a punter only to watch the Seahawks take Wilson a few picks later, but had they gone with Wilson does anyone really believe that franchise would be in the hunt? It takes a lot more. Speaking of which, right now St. Louis has none of it. They just set a new record in the NFL by recording just a single sack through five games. The elusive Wilson is not going to make it easy on them this week either. Robert Quinn misses Chis Long. These days it takes bookend pass rushers to really impact the opposing quarterback. Seattle is going to run at them first, and should have plenty of balance needed to put them on their heels which is something the 49ers failed to do on MNF. Speaking of which, St. Louis is on a short week and feeling a bit deflated after blowing a game they could have won. Now here come the champs smarting after a loss, but with injuries mounting it is hard to blow out any team on the road in this league. Perhaps dumping wide receiver Percy Harvin is going to give them a little offensive juice, as odd as that sounds: Seattle 27, St. Louis 20 (SEA -6/over 42.5)

Carolina (3-2-1) @ Green Bay (4-2): So far the Panthers keep slithering along and find themselves alone atop the NFC South. In their past four games, they have given up 37 points three times and the exception was a 31-24 win. The defense was their power in 2013 right? I thought so. Somehow they managed to go 1-2-1 while giving up all of those points, and suddenly quarterback Cam Newton is a weapon running the ball again. Why not? He is healthy and ready. My concern here is having him match scoring drives with Aaron Rodgers in this stadium. The Packers have just played three of four on the road and are very excited to be back at home. Their offense has sharpened up, producing 107 points over the past three games. Last week's thrilling comeback in Miami is the kind of victory championship seasons are marked by.

Clearly this game is going to be determined by the quarterbacks, or is at least set up that way. The rushing offenses are in the bottom 10. Green Bay's Eddie Lacy is in a season long slump while Carolina has a new backfield depth chart every week. Conversely, the Packers have the worst run defense in the league and the Panthers are sixth-worst, so who knows right? I will bank on that meaning a big day for Lacy, while Newton does his impression of Colin Kaepernick scrambling for yardage. Rodgers should have a nice game passing the ball, and I really like his side in this position. They survived a tough situation in the Florida heat last week, and face a team exhausted after a five-quarter struggle and traveling for a second straight week. Seattle and New Orleans loom for them on the schedule so they will put in their best effort here, but it is not enough: Green Bay 31, Carolina 27 (CAR +7/over 48.5)

Atlanta (2-4) @ Baltimore (4-2): The top two quarterbacks from the 2008 draft class hook up for a rematch, and a few things have changed since Matt Ryan's Falcons got the better of the action beating Joe Flacco's Ravens 26-21 at the Georgia Dome in 2010. They solidified their nicknames of "Ice" and "Cool" with results commensurate with first-round picks. Ryan was so close to taking his team to the Super Bowl only to fall short against the 49ers, who of course then lost to Flacco. A ring has a way of ending an argument, but both have done quite well for the respective franchises. Right now, Baltimore is doing what they need to do for another playoff push. Atlanta, is not. Their issues are unlikely to be repaired this season, and this game here is an easy call for me because they simply are unable to win outdoors. It is just that simple.

The defense for the Falcons right now is not giving them a chance to compete. They have allowed 27-plus in three straight games, all losses. The Ravens gave up 23 points in their opener, and have not given up more than 21 points since. Their past two home games resulted in big wins over Pittsburgh (26-6) and Carolina (38-10). Having spent three of the past four on the road, they are probably a bit fatigued, but certainly happy to be home. Justin Forsett is doing his thing for the running game whereas Atlanta is relying on big play runs for a high per-carry average (4.6) but not much per game (103.2). Meanwhile, the Ravens can stop the run (3.7, 90.7) but the Falcons (4.2, 140.2, 12 TD) are getting gashed. Flacco should have an easy time of it with a balanced offense whereas the pressure on Ryan is going to be immense. The visitors fall flat: Baltimore 28, Atlanta 20 (BAL -6/under 50.5)

Minnesota (2-4) @ Buffalo (3-3): It had to be disappointing for the Bills to be in a position to take over sole possession of the AFC East on their home field in front of their official new owner, and be in the game (down 20-14 mid-third quarter) only to get crushed by the Patriots down the stretch losing 37-22. Emotionally I think this is tough to overcome, but at home I expect them to do just that. The Vikings have twice exploded on the scoreboard for 34 and 41 points, their two wins, but have scored a grand total of 29 points in their four losses. Adrian Peterson's loss is not enough to warrant this much offensive ineptitude. Cordarrelle Patterson, a stud wide receiver, has FFL owners mulling over dropping him and that is bad.

Speaking of inability to run the ball, Buffalo quietly leads the NFL (2.8, 67.5) in that area is joins Kansas City as the only teams yet to allow a rushing touchdown. Minnesota is merely average (4.2, 118.2, 6) and while C.J. Spiller has been a disappointment I expect him to be given a shot against this defense to explode for a big play. Either way, Fred Jackson is going to get his yards. The Vikings have good rushing stats (4.5, 119.8, 6) but those numbers will not be realized in this spot. Their hopes are in the hands of rookie quarterback Teddy Bridgewater and a passing offense that is fifth-worst in the league (217.0) with a total of 3 touchdown passes against 9 interceptions. Not all of that is the rookie, but the team has allowed the second-most sacks (22) in the league, so good luck here kid. Buffalo is third in sacks (19) so even if they give up yards (269.2) and touchdowns (11) which rank seventh-worst in the league, I do not think it matters. The visitors will be one-dimensional, and a rookie quarterback on the road throws interceptions and gets sacked this is easy: Buffalo 28, Minnesota 14 (BUF -3.5/under 44.5)

New Orleans (2-3) @ Detroit (4-2): There are two questions here. Is it time to give up on the Saints? Is it time to believe in the Lions? I would love to know the answers because it would make this pick very easy. New Orleans has major issues on defense. They have allowed 26-plus points to every opponent save the inept Vikings. The bye week gave them time to work on it, but losing their prized free agent Jarius Byrd is big and the offense has to carry the load without unstoppable tight end Jimmy Graham. Their backs are firmly against the wall. On the other side, defense has been a major strength for Detroit. Just once have they allowed more than 17 points, and it was on the road (24-7 loss at Carolina). In this building they have given up a total of 38 points in three games.

Is this going to be a defensive struggle? It might. When looking at these teams, people think about Matthew Stafford and Drew Brees, then immediately expect a 38-35 game. I do not see it that way because this year the setup is not there for a game like that. Calvin Johnson is the best wide receiver in the game and his absence has hurt Detroit's attack, along with Reggie Bush missing time as he always does. Here is a fun fact. They have 7 touchdown passes this season. The only teams with fewer are Houston and Minnesota. Wow. New Orleans has only 9, but in one fewer game and they are still in the middle of the pack. 

One thing I can say is that the Saints are much better at protecting their quarterback (1.0 sack per game) than the Lions (3.5 sacks per game) but "dome" field advantage can help the home team even that out. It will be even harder for the visitors if their offense is one-dimensional, and it very well might be considering the hosts are the second-best run defense (3.3, 73.5) in the league. Will it happen that way though? New Orleans can run the ball (5.2, 133.0) and Detroit might be the team forced to rely on the pass because they can't (3.2, 86.3). Can I get some help on this pick? I am going on gut instinct here, against the home field and with the better quarterback. The extra week is enough for me: New Orleans 24, Detroit 23 (NO +3/under 52)

Kansas City (2-3) @ San Diego (5-1): In the opener, the Chiefs looked like the team I feared they would be, a back-sliding club that greatly overachieved in the previous season and would adjust back towards the middle of the pack. They were swamped at home by the Titans, who have since shown very little signs of life. Then they were faced with a daunting slate of games, playing three of the teams who participated in last year's championship games. They crushed the Patriots and lost one-score games to the Broncos and 49ers. Maybe this team is still pretty good. The schedule lightens up considerably over the next three weeks, and I can see them at 5-4 even if they drop this one, but they probably feel a bit of urgency here nonetheless. 

Last week the Chargers overlooked the rival Raiders on the road and were almost bitten. Ultimately, they scored 30-plus for the fourth time this season and won 31-28. Previously the most points they allowed in a game this season was 21. Their schedule has not been daunting as this week's opponent and that accounts for the difference in their records thus far. This should be a tight game. San Diego has really struggled to run the ball (2.9, 92.7) thanks in part to running back injuries and even though Branden Oliver has flashed for his fantasy owners, he is not a bruising option capable of wearing down an opponent. The Chiefs, even with Jamaal Charles missing time, run the ball very well (4.7, 137.6) and now know they can turn to Knile Davis when needed. 

Here is the rub, both teams give up big averages per carry (Kansas City 4.8, San Diego 4.7) but in terms of yards per game the Chargers (99.0) are well ahead of the Chiefs (127.4). This can be a product of one team leading in the game and the other team being behind. I think both teams will have a chance to run the ball in this game. Philip Rivers is on fire this season. Only the Colts have more touchdown passes than San Diego's 15 and only the Browns have thrown fewer interceptions than their 2. Alex Smith directs a team with the third-worst passing offense in the league and level of competition has something to do with that, but the numbers (209.8) are bad. Both pass defenses are in the top 7 so I have to give the edge to the home team here. They have the better shot at a balanced attack so the odds are in their favor. A week off gives the visitors more energy, but not enough: San Diego 27, Kansas City 20 (SD -3.5/over 44.5)

NY Giants (3-3) @ Dallas (5-1): So far this has been an odd season in the NFL and one of the unusual elements has been games that are not close. Generally speaking, games are within one score. Not so much where the Giants are concerned this season. Their wins have been by 13, 41 and 10 points while their losses were by 21, 11 and 27. It has been feast or famine. With a bye week on deck, they are going to bring all of their energy into this one. The Cowboys, winners of five straight, are about as overconfident as teams can get having won at Seattle where the Seahawks were on a 19-1 roll. They are leading the league in rushing thanks to riding DeMarco Murray, but how long will it last? He entered the season averaging 20 carries per game played, and has 26.5 this year. Because of injuries in previous seasons, his sixth carry in this game will put him at the second-most of his career. In two weeks, the midway point of the year, he could surpass his career high in carries (217). Can this last?

For now, it is working. Maybe Joseph Randle can steal (get it?) a few touches to lighten his load. Anyway, the Giants are without their lead rusher Rashad Jennings and that hurts. The run defenses are even in yards per game, but the Cowboys give up a hefty average (5.1) while the Giants are a little better (4.4). Still, I give Dallas the rushing edge here. Their offense has the better chance to keep the chains moving because passing the ball should be in their favor as well, especially with more star power, pardon the pun. New York loses Victor Cruz and while he has not been a major difference maker he was still a factor. Dallas has Dez Bryant and while this is a typical spot for them to let down, I do not see it. Maybe their fans will chip in and be a bit louder than the New Yorkers buying tickets: Dallas 30, NY Giants 21 (DAL -3/over 47.5)

Arizona (4-1) @ Oakland (0-5): The return of Carson Palmer! Rescued from the Bengals, where he sidelined himself until being traded to the Raiders in 2011, he went 8-16 in games he started and finished. Considering the ineptitude of this franchise over the past decade-plus, he did pretty well. Then he whined his way out of town for a second time, leading the Cardinals to a 10-6 campaign last year but the team missed out on the playoffs. The Black Hole will probably have a few choice words for the quarterback that abandoned them, but Raider Nation appears to finally have their quarterback of the future in Derek Carr. 

As it stands, both passing games are in the bottom 11 of the league, but the key for Arizona has been 0 interceptions. Oakland has 7. If I told you the league leader in sacks allowed was Cincinnati (2) it would not be surprising, but the Raiders are next (4) which is impressive with a rookie starting every game. Mistakes kill in the NFL and avoiding them is key. The Cardinals have the worst pass defense in the league and have just 6 sacks. If they are unable to pressure Carr, this could get very interesting. Of course, the Raiders have just 2 interceptions and 5 sacks so Palmer is likely to have his way as well. Points might be flowing at the Coliseum just like they were last week. 

The only team worse than these two running the ball is Jacksonville. Combined they have 3 touchdowns. Arizona has the third best run defense (3.2, 75.8) while Oakland has the second-worst (4.2, 149.8). My big thing is choosing the team with the best opportunity to win based on previous performance. If the Cardinals can get something done on the ground, and through the air, things are looking good for them on the road. The Raiders are probably limited to the aerial show although the absence of Calais Campbell gives them a break. Plus, they fared pretty well against a good defense here last week. Do they have enough energy left to finish the job? I do not believe so, but for the third time this year they keep it interesting against a good team: Arizona 24, Oakland 20 (AZ -3.5/over 43.5)

San Francisco (4-2) @ Denver (4-1): Let's get it on! This easily could have been the Super Bowl if Colin Kaepernick was a better quarterback. Instead of getting a sixth title as a franchise, the 49ers were denied a third consecutive year under Jim Harbaugh. Now they hit the road against the quarterback they almost had in free agency. Yes, they were in the running for Peyton Manning after his neck injury ended his long stay in Indianapolis. Instead, he has brought the Broncos to a championship level and this season appears ready to bring them another Super Bowl appearance. My first impression, having said all that, is this is a bad spot for the visitors. They are banged up all over their defense and dealing with a raucous crowd in a nationally televised game. 

These teams have already appeared on SNF this season. Denver beat Indianapolis 31-24, and San Francisco lost the following week to Chicago 28-20 spoiling the regular season opening of Levi's Stadium. I really see no reason for the visitors to rally here with so much stacked against them. Linebacker Patrick Willis is out, and coupled with the season long absence of Navarro Bowman it does not look good for this team stopping short plays over the middle. Tight end Julius Thomas should be able to get open at will, and that goes for wide receiver Wes Welker as well. Both run defenses are top 5 in the NFL, but the 49ers allow more yards per carry (3.9 to 3.3) and are without Willis. It comes down to Denver containing Colin Kaepernick and being able to run just a little on offense with a collection of backup running backs. Pressuring Manning is the way to beat him, and I do not see it here. There is not much left to say. I really believe this will be as easy as it can be considering they are playing an elite opponent. The 49ers will come in guns blazing with a bye week on deck, but in the altitude will fail in the end: Denver 27, San Francisco 22 (SF +7under 50.5)

Houston (3-3) @ Pittsburgh (3-3): It is far too early in the season for dud games on MNF, but here we are. The Steelers have played a fairly easy schedule and yet here they are stumbling, last week getting pummeled by the rival Browns 31-10. Still, the last time I doubted them under the lights they smoked the Panthers 37-19 on the road. On the other side, the Texans went 3-1 against lesser opponents early in the year, then lost close games the past two weeks against the Cowboys and Colts. They are also well rested coming off TNF, amounting to almost a bye week. This is a big game for them. There are games left on the schedule they can win, including two each against Tennessee and Jacksonville. Sweeping those four contests might leave them needing just a couple wins from stealing a wild card.

The Steelers need this game too of course. They have Indianapolis and Baltimore, who already beat them 26-6, on deck. If they are not careful, this shaky start can spiral to a 3-6 record very quickly. Last year they started 2-6 and nearly overcame it to earn a spot in the playoffs. I do believe head coach Mike Tomlin has them focused on avoiding a similar hole. Houston brings the fourth-worst passing game to town and while Pittsburgh is solid in tenth and has thrown only 3 interceptions, they have allowed 17 sacks. Hi, my name is J.J. Watt and I sack quarterbacks. In pass defense, the Steelers are also tenth and the Texans are fifth-worst. It is starting to add up in favor of the home team for me. The run defenses are ordinary, whereas the rushing offenses are both in the top 11 with an edge to the Steelers. On paper, they win this game. With the better quarterback and superior defensive scheme I think they get it done: Pittsburgh 28, Houston 20 (PIT -3/over 44.5)

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