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Tuesday, August 21 2018

NFL Predictions 2014: Week 9


Every week my goal is to pick double digit winners first and foremost. I was able to accomplish that last week at 10-5 (76-44-1 overall) with some pretty tough losses. Two of them were in OT including Dallas getting upset on MNF. Another was Baltimore falling on a pretty questionable pass interference call against Cincinnati in a game I called for the underdog to win. I took a big chance on Tennessee with a rookie quarterback and it backfired, so I wish I had that one back. No regrets on Indianapolis in Pittsburgh, but I should have known with a dome team playing in the elements. 

From a "gambling" standpoint I was flat. I went just 7-8 against the spread (65-56 overall) but I certainly laid it all on the table taking the points in 11 games (5-6 mark). Along with the aforementioned frustrating loss by the Ravens, I lost with the Eagles when the Cards dropped a 75-yard bomb. How do you let a rookie wide receiver behind you protecting a 3-point lead late in the game? I wimped out taking the points for the Packers because Aaron Rodgers is usually so good in domes, but a couple of deflected interceptions helped undo his efforts. Anyway, I was on the plus side for the over/under at 8-7 (68-52-1 overall) so I am still +25 versus Vegas. 

New Orleans (3-4) @ Carolina (3-4-1): Two losers are battling for the division lead in the NFC South on TNF. The Saints have to be thrilled being in this position considering their 0-2 start to the season, and honestly their SNF win changed the complexion of their season. At 2-5 here, the pressure is immense to get a victory. Now, a loss would not crush their chances, and it is a good thing because outdoors they are mortal. Twice they have played in domes as a visitor this year and lost both of them (Atlanta, Detroit). They lost big in Dallas, which is not a tough place to visit. In the comparable environment to what they face here, Cleveland, they lost to a very mediocre team. I do not like them in this spot on a short week off a huge victory.

Since starting 2-0, the Panthers have only won once and it was over the Bears who are struggling mightily. They lost last week to the Seahawks, but at least turned things around on defense after a five-game stretch giving up 34.8 points on average. Can they keep the defense in gear against a dome team like they did early in the year, beating Detroit here 24-7? I think it will be tough. Against the run they are horrific (5.2, 135.3) and Mark Ingram just had a great game for a team running the ball well (5.1, 133.0). If those numbers hold, the visitors are going to rush for north of 130 yards, opening up all kinds of things for quarterback Drew Brees.

The Panthers are not going to be able to match the rushing totals of the Saints. DeAngelo Williams I suppose is helpful, but not much. Cam Newton does face a pass defense struggling big time (289.3, 12 TD) and he will definitely use his legs to move the chains. Carolina has allowed 16 passing scores and without Greg Hardy their pass rush is lacking. This is one of those picks I think I will regret either way. I feel like the running game is a huge factor here. Tight end Jimmy Graham getting healthy is also big and I see him doing more damage than his SNF showing. I will take balance and a superior quarterback in a squeaker, even if history tells me the venue is working against this choice: New Orleans 24, Carolina 23 (CAR +3/under 49.5) 

San Diego (5-3) @ Miami (4-3): Not so long ago the Chargers were looking like part of the NFL's elite, 5-1 after the first leg of their tour through the AFC West. Then the Chiefs upset them at home and they were dumped by the Broncos on the road. Now, they look pretty mortal. The Dolphins gained confidence with a couple road victories, both by two touchdowns in Chicago and Jacksonville. In the "did you know?" category, it is worth noting only one of their games has been decided by fewer than 13 points. I really feel as though this one will be, and I do not know  how they can not go all out in support of their head coach Joe Philbin who just lost his father. A lot of football is effort, especially in the trenches and definitely in the second half. Back at home playing a team taking a long trip to reach them I really like Miami in this spot.

Of course San Diego also has a job to do and wants to get back in the win column. In a passing league, the defenses are going to have something to say about this outcome as both teams are in the top 6 for pass defense, neither allowing even 220 yards per game. Miami has 21 sacks and San Diego has 15. Obviously the Chargers have the better aerial attack (276.6) with 20 TD and just 5 interceptions. They are likely to win through the air, if for no other reason than Philip Rivers is better than Ryan Tannehill in any scenario. The run defenses are both smack in the middle of the league rankings, but San Diego gives up 4.5 per carry while Miami is at 4.1. There are no top shelf backs in this game. However, the Dolphins are vastly superior running the ball (5.0, 138.0) compared to the Chargers (3.1, 85.3). If Miami runs the ball effectively they keep Rivers off the field, build a lead and force San Diego into passing situations where they can rush him at will. This is how I see it playing out: Miami 27, San Diego 24 (MIA +1/over 44)

Jacksonville (1-7) @ Cincinnati (4-2-1): There is never a bad time to face an opponent in the midst of a lost season, but this is a great time for the Bengals to be hosting the Jaguars. It looks like running back Giovani Bernard will be out, and while star wide receiver A.J. Green might play for the first time in a while this offense is not going to be in perfect shape. Last week they found a way to win a huge one against Baltimore, and with rival Cleveland on deck this is a bit of a sandwich or shall we say "trap" game. Jacksonville played pretty well in October actually, and being competitive resulted in their sole win of the season. Rookie quarterback Blake Bortles is a turnover machine and that has prevented them from taking steps forward. 

As much as I know Hue Jackson wants to run the ball with Cincinnati, the results are not showing it and without Bernard it is going to be harder for them to overwhelm a bad team with a mediocre run defense (4.0, 115.0). Meanwhile, Denard Robinson has sparked Jacksonville on the ground and they are up against a unit getting gashed (4.8, 148.7) on the year. If they can run, the visitors can compete here, especially with linebacker Vontaze Burfict on the sidelines. Neither pass defense is holding up, as both rank in the bottom 10. Amazingly, the Jags are out-sacking them 25-11, but the Bengals have allowed just 8 passing scores. Jacksonville has let their quarterbacks go down a league-high 33 times while Jacksonville has allowed only 8. The pass rush is probably going to be even here when it all plays out. I see a pretty low scoring game here, and I do think the Jaguars can hang tough, especially if Bortles can protect the ball for once: Cincinnati 23, Jacksonville 14 (JAX +13.5/under 45) 

Tampa Bay (1-6) @ Cleveland (4-3): If the Browns want to be taken seriously these are the games they need to win, and definitely if they are at home. Last week they took care of the similarly dismal Raiders. Can they retain their focus and not look forward to a short week to prep for TNF against the rival Bengals? I am not so sure. The Bucs seemed to be sparked coming off their bye week, but fell short in OT against the Vikings on an unfortunate turnover. The defense might continue to tighten up after trading away safety Mark Barron. In light of his comments and head coach Lovie Smith's response I expect them to be playing better in this one. 

Passing records are unlikely to fall in this one, with the teams in the bottom half of the league on the stat sheet. Cleveland has just 2 interceptions on the season though, and that has been crucial for them. Losing center Alex Mack is going to continue to hurt them, and teams will definitely pressure them right up the middle as a result. Tampa Bay has the second-worst pass defense in the league (286.4) and has allowed 16 passing scores. Cleveland is average, and they have had issues opposite Joe Haden for sure. Paging rookie Mike Evans. It is obvious the Browns would prefer to run over a foe that could just fold up tent. However, the worse run defense here is theirs (4.8, 143.4) so if Bobby Rainey is up to it things could get interesting. I look for a closer game than most expect. I love teams with nothing to lose in a spot like this. The visitors are going to pull out all the stops: Cleveland 28, Tampa Bay 20 (CLE -6/over 43.5)

Washington (3-5) @ Minnesota (3-5): The season might be taking an interesting turn for the Redskins. They are traveling on a short week here after playing on MNF. Never mind about the lack of rest and preparation. They had a huge OT win in Dallas behind third-string quarterback Colt McCoy. Momentum is their friend. Now the decision has been made to go with Robert Griffin III because he is healthy enough to return as starter. If they can win here, rest up on the bye week and dispatch a bad Tampa Bay team suddenly their record will be 5-5 for the stretch run. Jay Gruden has to get his team focused here because the season is still alive in terms of a playoff berth. 

On the other side, the Vikings are in a similar situation. Their bye is also next week, and after the break they head to Chicago to play a team that is starting to really struggle. Anything is possible, and I expect a great game here as a result because both teams should be playing like their season is on the line. At 3-6 it is probably over for the loser of this one. Minnesota has not allowed more than 17 points in three weeks, but lost two of those games because their offense is awful. The defense won it for them last week in OT as rookie linebacker Anthony Barr returned a fumble for a score. The rushing defense are equally mediocre. Offensively, even without Adrian Peterson the Vikings (4.6, 121.8) are a notch about the Redskins (4.1, 102.4) with Alfred Morris. If you had to guess which team was third in passing yards, there is no chance you would come up with Washington (305.3).

Only one team is more inept throwing the ball than Minnesota (212.5) and they have the lowest total of passing scores (5) with the second-most sacks allowed (28). Those are tough stats to overlook. The Vikings are fourth in pass defense (212.1), with 25 sacks, but have lost their "dome" field advantage. The Redskins are seventh (219.3) but have given up 17 touchdown passes against just 3 interceptions. Either way, I look at a rookie quarterback Tedy Bridgewater up against a team with 21 sacks and having issues. This might be an overreaction to last week, but I like the visitors here. Even if Griffin is not completely healthy, Colt McCoy can appear in relief and get this done: Washington 24, Minnesota 21 (WAS +1.5/over 43.5)

Philadelphia (5-2) @ Houston (4-4): Before the season if you thought the Texans would have a shot at a winning record heading into their bye next week, you were in the minority. Here they are and the Eagles post a stern threat. Last week Philadelphia came off their bye and lost a tough one in Arizona, giving up a bomb touchdown pass to give away a lead. Here I think it could go either way. At home, Houston could build momentum going ahead early, control the time of possession running the ball and take this one. Philly can win anywhere, and they are the better team. 

Two of the bottom 7 pass defenses are on display here, opening things up for grisly veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick and young Nick Foles. By far the Eagles have the better passing offense, but did you know they have only 12 TD throws on the year? Foles had 7 against the Raiders in one game last year. On the plus side, they have allowed only 7 sacks and Jadeveon Clowney is iffy to suit up due to illness. The run defenses are both average, with an edge to the Eagles. The rushing offenses are above average, with an edge to the Texans. I think this game will be close. Maybe I regret this pick, but J.J. Watt is a hell of a factor and I am counting on him impacting this result in one way or another. Plus, a home dog is always tempting: Houston 26, Philadelphia 24 (HOU +2.5/over 48)

NY Jets (1-7) @ Kansas City (4-3): The Chiefs have definitely had a tougher time of it this year compared to 2013, but the result might be another wild card berth if they keep up their level of play. A win here is crucial, however, because in the second half of their schedule they play 6 teams with a winning record. The breaks in the slate are against the Raiders, who probably will be pulling out all the stops to avoid a winless campaign. Speaking of which, the Jets have no wins other than their opener against Oakland and are now turning to Michael Vick to avoid a complete spiral the rest of the way. They are giving up points in bunches, and just set a new high mark last week losing 43-23 to Buffalo at home. 

Oddly enough, these are two of the four best rushing offenses in the league. The Chiefs are vulnerable against the run (4.7, 112.9) but only in terms of allowing big chunks. They have yet to give up a rushing score. The Jets (3.3, 85.4) are stout up front, but how long can they hold up against Jamaal Charles and Knile Davis? Kansas City has the top pass defense (195.7, 25 sacks) in the league and a crazy home field advantage. New York has gotten to opposing quarterbacks 24 times, which is great if not for allowing a league-high 22 passing scores with a league-low 1 interception. Alex Smith is going to have his way assuming he plays within himself, checking down and taking what the defense gives him. This should be a rather easy victory for him over a fellow top overall pick who is well past his usefulness: Kansas City 27, NY Jets 16 (KC -7.5/over 41.5)

Arizona (6-1) @ Dallas (6-2): One knee to the back has taken the Cowboys from talking about a Super Bowl to wondering what the future holds. Tony Romo could play in this one, but against a good defense I am unsure how it is going to work out for him and the team in general. They are on a short week following a gut-wrenching OT loss to the rival Redskins. Meanwhile, the Cardinals turned in a dramatic comeback win over the Eagles. Coming into the season in a division featuring the two participants from the NFC Championship Game, they have been the class of the group so far. Other than their lone loss to Denver and that Peyton Manning guy, they have otherwise not allowed more than 20 points. Meanwhile the offense has been in the 20-25 range in five of seven outings, giving them a consistent chance to win. 

The Cowboys had scored 26-plus in five of their previous six games until MNF, and their offense has now held six teams in a row to no more than 23 points. This figures to be a low scoring game and the team to reach 24 first probably wins. Arizona is third against the run (3.3, 77.9) and that will be tested against the best rushing offense (5.0, 161.1) in the league. The Cards have a weak running game (3.4, 88.9) and lack the ability to exploit a mediocre run defense (4.8, 114.6). How in the world is Arizona winning so much with the worst pass defense (302.9) in the league and just 7 sacks? One reason is throwing only 1 interception, and their passing offense is actually not far behind what Dallas has produced. I believe I have a good read on this game, and even if Brandon Weeden is under center the Cowboys are the better side here. They can stick to the run and probably generate a turnover or two. The Cards have to show up flat sooner or later: Dallas 23, Arizona 20 (AZ +4/under 48)

St. Louis (2-5) @ San Francisco (4-3): The 49ers have had a week off to forget their blowout loss in Denver, and now get a wounded opponent in the Rams. St. Louis did not have a great offense as it was, and now have lost left tackle Jake Long and top receiver Brian Quick. The pair of them were instrumental in helping them build a surprising 14-0 lead over San Francisco in the first meeting a month ago, only to watch it fall apart in a 31-17 loss. They would be lucky to keep it that close in the rematch. It is odd to see the 49ers with only 3 rushing scores in almost half a season of work, but they could double that total here. The Rams are bad against the run (4.7, 144.3) and with their offense likely to punt on a regular basis, I expect Frank Gore and Carlos Hyde to both rush for more than 75 yards and score. 

The 49ers hold up well against the run (4.0, 84.9) even with a defense missing plenty of parts. Any shot at an upset dies right there. Quarterback Austin Davis is a nice story, but playing an opponent for a second time is a tough deal. Now they have seen him and have the tape. Plus, this time it is on their turf. Rarely do I see a game turning into a blowout. This is one of those situations. So much has gone wrong for San Francisco this year and I see them letting out frustration here. St. Louis is not equipped to really do anything about it: San Francisco 31, St. Louis 10 (SF -7.5/under 44)

Denver (6-1) @ New England (6-2): Everyone knows the deal here. Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have been at this for years now. Last year the Broncos got the better of the action in the AFC Championship Game, and this one could impact home field if these teams meet for a spot in the Super Bowl again. Remember when the Patriots were out of it following their blowout loss to the Chiefs? Four wins later, not so much. They have a bye week on deck and the weather forecast in their favor. Denver came out of their bye week firing with four straight wins averaging 37.3 point scored. This would figure to be a shootout, but field conditions are going to play a huge factor in slowing down the visitors. 

Plus, New England is second against the pass (210.9) with 21 sacks and weather has been Manning's weakness over the years. Tom Brady has to deal with a pass rush as well. Denver has 23 sacks and two rushers in Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. Chandler Jones is out of the action for the home team, and that is big. Manning has only thrown 3 interceptions this year and taken just 8 sacks. I do expect him to turn it over here, and get sacked a couple times. Brady has been picked twice and sacked 15 times. He will protect the ball, but hit the turf more. Stopping the run is a deciding factor for me. Denver has the league's best run defense (3.4, 72.4) while New England (4.6, 129.6) is towards the bottom. Look for Juwan Thompson, or possibly C.J. Anderson to turn in key yardage for the visitors. The Pats never lose at home, but this is a bad situation for them: Denver 28, New England 23 (DEN -3/under 55.5) 

Oakland (0-7) @ Seattle (4-3): The Seahawks have found life defending a title quite difficult, but avoided falling to a losing record with a comeback win in Carolina last week. The Raiders were competitive most of the way in Cleveland only to fade down the stretch for their fourth loss by double digits this season. Now they go up against a team they roughed up in the preseason and trust me players get bent out of shape about stuff like that. Seattle has their crazy home field advantage and could be in the mood to really run up the score here. 

Bad teams generally struggle against the run, and that is the case for the Raiders (3.8, 130.1) if you look at the second number (yards per game) but the per carry average is actually eighth best in the league. The best (3.3) is the Seahawks, so there's that and they are second (5.3, 148.4) in rushing offense. Oakland is dead last (3.7, 69.6) so the game is on the arm of rookie quarterback Derek Carr. Just once as this offense scored more than 14 points, and in this environment it is hard to imagine them going off. I wonder how much Pete Carroll wants to run this up and if Tony Sparano can get his guys up for a second half should they be down big. It is a rout: Seattle 27, Oakland 13 (OAK +16.5/under 43.5) 

Baltimore (5-3) @ Pittsburgh (5-3): This is a great rivalry and it gets even better in primetime on SNF. The Steelers have had what you might call an up and down season. They have already lost  games by 20 and 21 points, and won games by 18 and 17 points. One of those wide margins was the first meeting with the Ravens, a 26-6 loss. That one was also in primetime, on TNF, and came right after the Ray Rice suspension went down. A 3-0 turnover edge helped the home team get it done. For the rematch I see an entirely different game. PIttsburgh suddenly has a wild aerial attack on the heels of Ben Roethlisberger throwing for 522 yards. Baltimore protects Joe Flacco and quite frankly neither pass defense is scary.

The rushing offenses are both in the top 10, and the rushing defenses are both in the top 11 although the Ravens give up a much lower average per carry (3.7) than the Steelers (4.5). Either way, I like Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount more than Justin Forsett and Lorenzo Taliaferro. Yes, I know Forsett has been huge this year averaging 5.5 yards a rush, but the "B" brothers are both at 4.9 with the home crowd and hot passing game on their side. More often than not when these teams hook up it is a close game. Obviously the first meeting was an exception. This one might be too: Pittsburgh 28, Baltimore 17 (PIT +2/under 48)

Indianapolis (5-3) @ NY Giants (3-4): The last time the Giants lost two in a row, to open the season, they responded with three straight wins. They have done it again, and had a bye week to prepare for MNF hoping to get back that winning feeling. The difference has been their defense, allowing 25-plus points in their losses and holding opponents to an average of 17.0 points in their wins. Andrew Luck and the Colts figure to score some points here, so they are probably in quite a bit of trouble. Four times Indianapolis has put up 33-plus this year and have not failed to score at least 20 yet.

The rushing edge goes to the Colts here. Ahmad Bradshaw faces his former team, and I always like a player in that situation. Hakeem Nicks also makes his return, albeit in a lesser role. The pass defenses are both below average, but Indy has generated 21 sacks while New York has 13. The days of the Giants really getting after the passer seem to be gone for now. Luck leads the NFL's top passing offense and it can be tough in New Jersey if the wind is whistling. However, I like his chances. Eli Manning is erratic and his supporting cast is suspect. I look for a high scoring, entertaining affair: Indianapolis 31, NY Giants 24 (IND -3/over 49.5)



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