After Week 9 of the NFL season, we are closer to crowning the eight division champions and awarding four wildcard playoff spots.
(Note: home team in CAPS; all lines per Sportsbook.com as of 3:35pm Thursday, November 8th)
Indianapolis (-3.5) over JACKSONVILLE
If the record-breaking performance from Andrew Luck this past weekend wasn’t enough to make me a semi-believer in the 2012 Colts, the post-game speech from head coach Chuck Pagano – who is currently on medical leave while battling a treatable form of leukemia – sure as hell did. Since learning of Pagano’s illness, the Colts have played with a chip on their shoulder, mounting an improbable come-from-behind victory over Green Bay, an overtime thriller over Tennessee, and last week’s nail-biter against a better-than-expected Miami Dolphins team. This team is truly playing inspired football right now, and while that’s hard to quantify, it’s also hard to ignore.
And what can you say about Andrew Luck? The kid looks like he’s been slinging NFL footballs for years. In a few years, folks in Indianapolis will compare Luck succeeding Peyton Manning to Aaron Rodgers succeeding Brett Favre in Green Bay. And I think that will be a pretty accurate comparison. As Trent Dilfer would say, Andrew Luck is remarkable.
Jacksonville is still without its best player, with Maurice Jones-Drew still sidelined with a foot injury. And, while Blaine Gabbert has certainly shown improvements this season over last, he’s still, well…Blaine Gabbert, which means he’s not Andrew Luck. Coming off a short week, I like the Colts in this one.
NEW ENGLAND (-11) over Buffalo
I took Houston as 10.5 point favorites at home against the Bills in Week 9, most notably because of Buffalo’s weak defense and the Texans’ efficient, if not potent, offense. We find ourselves in Week 10 with the Bills as double-digit underdogs to another potent offense led by Tom Brady. After Week 9, Buffalo has fallen to 28th in total defense, including dead last against the run. Meanwhile, the Patriots own the highest rated offense in the NFL and are ranked 6th in total rushing offense!
The Patriots put up 52 points in Buffalo in Week 4 and won handily by 24 points. Coming off a bye, the Pats will be well-rested and well prepared after a 45-7 romping of the Rams in London’s Wembley Stadium, during which Rob Gronkowski provided source material for what is undoubtedly a nominee for GIF of the year.
I’m sticking to the formula of ‘bad defensive team on the road’ + ‘potent offense coming off a bye at home’ = big win. I just don’t see the Bills being able to hang with the Patriots in what I think will be a strong offensive showing for Brady & Co.
New York Giants (-4) over CINCINNATI
On the season, the Giants are 3-0 against the spread in road games, while the Bengals are 0-3 against the spread at home. The Giants let one slip away against Pittsburgh on Sunday, so they’ll be hungry to get back to their winning ways. I’m taking the stats, plus Eli Manning in a bounce back performance.
Speaking of Eli Manning, in writing this prediction I became side-tracked and started scouring the internet for Eli Manning GIFs. Based on my extensive research, here is the Eli Manning GIF / Picture Hall of Fame (subject to future tweaks and additions):
(1) Sad Eli
Eli Manning might be the best NFL player when it comes to quality of GIFs. I’m looking forward to adding to this list in the future.
TAMPA BAY (-3) over San Diego
Did you know Josh Freeman (who’s in the best shape of his career, by the way) has produced a QB rating of at least 104.2 in each of his last four games? During that stretch, the Buccaneers are 3-1, and rookie RB Doug Martin has become one of the three most productive running backs in the NFL, thanks to a near-record-breaking fantasy performance against the Raiders last Sunday.
Meanwhile, the Chargers are a mess. In their past six games, they are 2-4, with both wins coming against the Kansas City Chiefs (one of my leading candidates for worst-team-in-the-NFL). One of those four losses includes a 7-6 drubbing against the lowly Cleveland Browns. The Chargers’ next three games are as follows: @Tampa Bay, @Denver, vs. Baltimore. It looks like it might get a whole lot worse before it gets any better.
Denver (-4.5) over CAROLINA
Peyton Manning is playing like a potential five-time MVP candidate. The Broncos are stringing together wins and really look poised to take control of the AFC West. The Panthers have struggled to put teams away this season, while Peyton Manning has found a way to bring his team back time and time again.
I like the Broncos by a touchdown.
Detroit (-2) over MINNESOTA
Detroit has won two in a row, while Minnesota has lost two in a row. Mikel Leshoure has given the Lions a serviceable running option to help pick up the slack left by Calvin Johnson’s inability to catch a Matt Stafford pass for a touchdown so far this season.
I expect Adrian Peterson to have a solid game at home in the Metrodome, but against a Lions team that has given up exactly rushing touchdowns through 8 games, I wouldn’t expect AP to see much of the end zone.
Overall, I look for the Lions to pressure Vikings QB Christina Ponder, contain the Adrian Peterson ground attack, and start to find a rhythm on offense. I like the Lions by three in a game where Matt Stafford and Calvin Johnson finally make their first TD connection of the season.
PHILADELPHIA (+1.5) over Dallas
The losing team drops to 3-6, effectively ending its season and, likely, the tenure of its head coach. The winning team lives to see at least one more week and another ‘must-win’ game. To be honest, I don’t think either of these teams are making the playoffs, so this game is really just delaying the inevitable. I guess I’ll go with the home team.
In the event the Eagles lose, however, I can only hope for more fan reactions like this one.
NEW ORLEANS (+2.5) over Atlanta
NOLA vs. the ATL. All I can think about after writing that sentence are the various hip-hop superstars that have hailed from these cities over the years. You have Lil’ Wayne and Juvenile from New Orleans, as well as Outkast and Ludacris from Atlanta. How sweet would it be to see these musical icons strap up and play a game of football, along with NFL superstars, for bragging rights (a la MTV’s old Rock N Jock series)? Who wouldn’t want to see Drew Brees throwing bombs to Lil’ Wayne, or Matty Ice with a toss to Andre 3000? MTV needs to bring that back. The NFL should consider this idea in place of the Pro Bowl. I’m dead serious.
I feel like Atlanta is about to drop a game. I don’t really have a basis for this, other than the fact they remind me a lot of the 2011 Packers, who had a stretch of games they kept finding ways to win, until ultimately dropping one to the Chiefs. I’m not sure if this is the week Atlanta loses, but I like the Saints at home in what will likely be a shootout.
MIAMI (-6) over Tennessee
In Tennessee’s 51-20 drubbing at the hands of the Chicago Bears in Week 9, Bears kicker Robbie Gould scored 15 points (3 field goals, 4 extra points), while the Bears defense scored 12, for a total of 27 non-offensive points. That’s 27 points scored with none of Chicago’s offensive playmakers on the field. Compare that with the 20 total points scored by the Titans (two of which actual came via a Chicago penalty in the end zone), and you can basically sum up Tennessee’s current troubles.
The problem a lot of people have had with the Dolphins coming into this year is two-fold: (1) They ‘over-reached’ in the draft for an unproven rookie QB in Ryan Tannehill, and (2) everyone who watched HBO’s Hard Knocks came away thinking they weren’t a very good team (with a rookie coach, rookie QB, and off-the-field issues with Chad Ochocin…er, Johnson, no one expected them to be anyways).
Tannehill has been quietly good for the Dolphins, and as a team they have battled to a 4-4 record, placing them right in the thick of the AFC playoff conversation.
Miami by at least a touchdown at home.
BALTIMORE (-7.5) over Oakland
Earlier in the week, I almost picked Oakland in this one, until it was announced that its top two running backs (Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson) would be inactive. Carson Palmer will look to duplicate his 400-yard passing performance from Week 9, while the Raiders defense will try to avoid another offensive explosion from an opposing running back (see: Doug Martin Week 9).
I look for this game to be close early on, but for the Ravens to pull away late behind Ray Rice and the ground game.
SEATTLE (-6) over New York Jets
Mark Sanchez’s QBR (Total QB Rating) for the season is 32.2 on a scale of 0-100, with 50 being average. That’s lower than offensive juggernauts Kevin Kolb, Blaine Gabbert, and Matt Cassel, and less than half the total QBR of Alex Smith. Yes, that Alex Smith. Sanchez’s 32.2 is also lower than the percentage of total votes Barack Obama received in ANY state during Tuesday’s election, except for Utah (25%) and Wyoming (28%). Even Mitt Romney only received less than 32.2% of votes in three places: the District of Columbia (7%), Hawaii (28%), and Vermont (31%).
Here’s the problem: the Jets have nowhere to turn after Sanchez, since Tim Tebow is their backup QB and they have repeatedly insisted he will not play quarterback in the Jet’s offense. Oh, and Tim Tebow’s email account was hacked the other day, as first reported by Grantland.com. (I couldn’t resist).
Also, the Jets defense is sixth-worst in the league against the run. Seattle’s playbook consists of (1) Russell Wilson throwing 4-yard passes and (2) letting Marshawn Lynch trying to go ‘Beast Mode’ on every play.
Russell Wilson is the latest and greatest version of the rookie game-manager QB (see: Alex Smith and Christian Ponder). The Seahawks defense is sound and will give Sanchez (or Tebow) fits. Lastly, the home-field advantage of the 12th man is a tangible force that is hard for visiting teams to overcome.
SAN FRANCISCO (-11) over St. Louis
Both of these teams are coming off a bye for this intra-division matchup at The Stick. The 49ers haven’t allowed a touchdown in four of their last five games (the lone exception being a home loss to the NY Giants), while the Rams offense comes into this one with an offense ranked 31st out of 32 teams.
Also, I have to give a little love to Alex Smith. Although his career will forever be considered parallel to Aaron Rodgers (whether that’s fair or not), and to this point they haven’t been in the same league, but did ANYONE see this season coming? After last season’s solid game manager-like performance, capped off by one of the greatest games in NFL playoff history, Smith had proved he could successfully lead a playoff team, well, deep into the playoffs. Against the Cardinals in Week 8, Mr. Smith went next level on all of us when he completed 18/19 passes and 3 TDs in a romp. If he plays like that, the 49ers will be tough to beat.
After the 49ers team receives an inspirational pre-game speech, they’ll come out and taken care of business. Big time.
I’ll be in attendance at this one, and am mentally preparing myself to be exiting in the fourth quarter of a blowout.
CHICAGO (-1.5) over Houston
You have to give credit to the Bears and their awesome defense, which seems like something out of an offensive coordinator’s repetitive nightmare. Charles Tillman forced FOUR fumbles against the Titans. That’s like, two more fumbles than video game Pat Tillman would have forced in this game. The Bears as a team have racked up an obscene +16 turnover differential, despite the fact that Smokin’ Jay Cutler has thrown 8 INTs in as many games. In addition, they’ve scored almost as many defensive / special teams touchdowns (8) than the Jacksonville Jaguars have total touchdowns (11).
To be fair, however, the Houston Texans are not the Jacksonville Jaguars. Or the Carolina Panthers. Or the Indianapolis Colts in Andrew Luck’s first ever game, and before the Colts starting playing inspired football. In fact, the Texans are on the short list (along with the Bears) as arguably the best team in the NFL. On the season, Houston has given the ball up just six times (best in the NFL). To win this game, the Bears will have to rely much more heavily on their offense, more so than in any other game this season. This may prove to be tough task for a Bears offense that is ranked 30th of 32 in passing, going up against a Texans defense led by JJ Watt and his league-leading 11 sacks.
I think these two teams are about as evenly matched as it gets, but I’m giving the advantage to the Bears because this game is at Soldier Field. Both defenses are so solid that we can assume this will be a relatively low-scoring game. I just can’t help but feel that the Bears defense or special teams will make a key play to tilt this game in their favor.
Kansas City (+12) over PITTSBURGH
Pittsburgh looked like a legitimate contender in their physical win over the NY Giants last Sunday. That physical win, combined with a Chiefs team coming off a bye, makes me lean towards the Chiefs covering here in what very well could still be a double-digit Steelers victory.
Last week: 6-7-0