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Thursday, October 30, 2014

Week 9: #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis)

Between injuries (left) and retirement (right), Cam Newton (center) has had his hands full. The Carolina Panthers look to get back on track v. division-rival Now Orleans to get Week 9 started.

Week 9: #NFL Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis)
Week 9 results (season): 9-4 wins (90-43-1 .671); 6-7 v. spread (60-73-1 .448)

New Orleans Saints 3-4 (-3) @ Carolina Panthers 3-4-1 (49): Panthers 24-21 Saints 28-10
Thursday, 8:25 PM, B of A Stadium, Charlotte, NC (Weather: Clear; low 50s)

Reasons: This is the first game between the two teams that battled for the NFC South division through 2013, with the 12-4 Panthers taking the crown over the 11-5 Saints (both teams made the playoffs). It’s not exactly the battle everyone expected when the schedules came out this year, as both teams come in with losing records, but the division is still up for grabs, which actually makes Thursday night’s game critical. The Saints still have their juggernaut offense, ranking in the top-10 in passing offense (2nd) and scoring offense (5th). The problem is key injuries at running back (Khiry Robinson and Pierre Thomas) basically make that 7th-ranked rushing offense obsolete. The Saints much-criticized defense actually has the league’s 10th-ranked run defense, which could come in handy against a Panthers’ run game (27th) that has been hurting - literally. The Panthers are looking to get their running game back on track with DeAngelo Williams returning after missing the last five games, but it won’t be easy with such a banged-up offensive line. The Panthers are statistically bad, ranking near the bottom of the league in both scoring offense (24th) and defense (25th), but their +4 turnover ratio has kept them in games, something the Panthers should take advantage of v. the Saints (-6 turnover ratio). Carolina should also take advantage of the Saints 31st-ranked pass defense, which must have Cam Newton and rookie sensation Kelvin Benjamin drooling. I expect the Panthers defense, which played well at home v. the Seahawks last week, to continue that trend, to capitalize on those turnovers, and to beat a Saints team that doesn’t play well on the road (­0-4).

So much for the Saints playing poorly on the road. That said, this game was more about how badly the Panthers played at home. Carolina’s offense mustered only 231 offensive yards and the Panthers’ formerly vaunted defense gave up 7.1 yards per play. These Panthers – specifically Cam Newton – are in trouble.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1-6 (+6.5) @ Cleveland Browns 4-3 (43.5): Browns 27-20 Browns 22-17
Sunday, 1 PM, First Energy Stadium, Cleveland, OH (Weather: Sunny, low 40s)

Reasons: The Cleveland Browns are a better football team than most people want to give them credit for, and the Buccaneers are, well, horrible. One of the worst statistical teams in the NFL, the Buccaneers have lost two games by over 30 points so far this year. The Browns, on the other hand, have won many close battles, and finally have the talent to justify the close wins. It shouldn’t be too close today.

So it ended up being closer than expected, but then again the Bucs are far worse than expected, so perhaps all is right with the NFL universe. Brian Hoyer threw for 300 yards and 2 TDs, once again silencing the critics…for this week

Arizona Cardinals 6-1 (+1) @ Dallas Cowboys 6-2 (44): Cardinals 24-23 Cardinals 28-17
Sunday, 1 PM, AT&T Stadium, Dallas, TX (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: The Cowboys could be starting their November-December slide early this year, as they dropped their last game in October, albeit after six straight wins, to the lowly Washington Natives and third-string quarterback Colt McCoy in overtime Sunday. They face an Arizona Cardinals team that doesn’t stand out statistically, but finds ways to win, usually as a function of turnovers (­+9). Consider Tony Romo probably won’t play due to the back injury he suffered v. Washington and Arizona excels at stopping the run (3rd), and you pretty much have your winner. (Yes, I picked the same score v. the Eagles).

I’ll spare the Romo-less Cowboys the “annual slide” jokes and just leave at this: the Arizona Cardinals are a great football team. Period. Andre Arrington outrushed DeMarco Murray in both total yardage and average, and the Cardinals defense held the Cowboys to 266 offensive yards, and forced Brandon Weeden into two INTs.

Philadelphia Eagles 5-2 (-1.5) @ Houston Texans 4-4 (48.5): Eagles 27-24 Eagles 31-21
Sunday, 1 PM, Reliant Stadium, Houston, TX (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: The Eagles looked like they were rounding into form when the beat the New York Giants 27-0 Week 6 going into their bye week, but then they ran into the Cardinals on the road and lost a tight battle, in which question resurfaced about the Eagles’ abilities to sustain the injuries they’ve suffered. The Texans aren’t a juggernaut, but they have a similar style to the Cardinals on both sides of the ball, and don’t turn the ball over (+4), something Philadelphia does far too much of (-7). Eagles win a close one on the road.

Philadelphia won the battle, but may have lost the proverbial war, as Nick Foles was lost for at least four weeks after breaking his collarbone in the first half. That said, Mark “Butt Fumble” Sanchez (a.k.a.” I Was Drafted 5th, Remember?”) threw for 202 yards and 2 TDs in his wake, and there have been rumors the front office is growing weary of Foles. Huh? Anyway, LeSean McCoy stayed on track, rushing for 117 yards, and Jeremy Maclin (6 REC, 115 YDS, 2 TDs) lit it up. It’s not looking good for Houston – Arian Foster was injured (again) and Ryan Fitzpatrick (4 sacks; 1 INT) has been replaced by Ryan Mallet for Week 10.

New York Jets 1-7 (+9) @ Kansas City Chiefs 4-3 (42): Chiefs 24-17 Chiefs 24-10
Sunday, 1 PM, Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, MO (Weather: Windy, high 50s)

Reasons: Wow, the Jets bad. At -15 on the season, the Jets “lose” their games by an average of 11 points per game (29-18) and have one win, the first game of the season, against the lowly Oakland Raiders, who have since surpassed the Jets in play. The quarterback situation alone in New York is enough to call the game, with out even discussing Kansas City’s mercurial rise over the past few games, save one close lose at San Francisco, which has reestablished them among the league’s elite teams – statistically. Chiefs roll, but the prideful Jets cover.

The Chiefs seem to be rounding into mid-season form, while the Jets seem poised to sabotage Rex Ryan’s last year with the New York Jets. The one shining light may have been the performance of Percy Harvin, recently acquired from the Seahawks, but it’s only a matter of time before the two poisons known as Percy Harvin and the New York Jets collide and provide enough material for New York beat writers for the next 50 years.

Jacksonville Jaguars 1-7 (+10.5) @ Cincinnati Bengals 4-2-1 (43.5): Bengals 27-17 Bengals 33-23
Sunday, 1 PM, Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, OH (Weather: Sunny; mid-40s)

Reasons: The Jaguars are improving, but even that modest improvement won’t be enough to beat a Bengals team that is more difficult to project than New England weather. Speaking of New England, the Patriots are the team that sent the Bengals into a tailspin Week 4; the Bengals went 0-2-1 in their next three games, their two losses coming by an average of 27 points. Then the Bengals go and beat the Baltimore Ravens 27-24 and get the Jaguars Week 9. Don’t get me wrong, there’s always potential for a trap game here, with the Browns up next, but the Jaguars are just too bad, and Cincinnati is home.

The day belonged to Jeremy Hill, who rushed for 154 yards and 2 TDs, outshining Denard Robinson, yes that Denard Robinson, who rushed for 94 and a TD himself. The Jaguars have some things to be happy about, but they have nothing to do with their current record.

San Diego Chargers 5-3 (+2) @ Miami Dolphins 4-3 (45): Chargers 24-21 Dolphins 37-0
Sunday, 1 PM, Sun Life Stadium, Miami, FL (Weather: Sunny; high 60s)

Reasons: This game could be the toughest game to call this week. These two teams couldn’t contrast more on offense: San Diego has one of the worst running games in the NFL (30th), mostly a function of injuries at running back, but quarterback Philip Rivers has the Chargers passing game ranked 8th; conversely, the Dolphins have one of the worst pass games in the league (25th), but have one of the strongest running games in the NFL (6th). Defensively, they’re identical. Both teams stop the run (SD – 6th; MIA- 3rd), and both teams are mediocre at stopping the pass, which will play into San Diego’s favor. The Chargers were once a part of the revolving door of “NFL’s best team”, and after dropping two in a row, they’re looking to get back there with a statement win over the Dolphins, who are a lot better than most people realize. Then again, the Chargers are flying from San Diego to Miami for the daunting “early afternoon” game.

Philip Rivers, many pundits candidate for early-season MVP, threw for 138 yards and 3 INTs, and was sacked three times on their way to the worst Chargers’ performance this season. The Chargers’ supposedly stout defense gave up 441 yards of offense and 37 points through the 3rd quarter, until both teams called it quits and went through the 4th quarter motions. The Chargers are now 5-4 after taking the early season title.

Washington Natives 3-5 (+1) @ Minnesota Vikings 3-5 (43.5): Vikings 24-21 Vikings 29-26
Sunday, 1 PM, TFC Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, MN (Weather: Sunny, high 40s)

Reasons: Ugh. Let’s put it this way. I would’ve have picked the Vikings to win even if the Natives were starting McCoy, but the fact that the front office insists on starting RGIII, over head coach Jay Gruden’s wishes, and the team was involved in a team bus accident on their way to the stadium seals it.

Matt Asiata went in from 1 yard out with 3:27 left to seal the win in a game that saw six lead changes. RGIII showed he’s still a work in progress, but at least he has DeSean Jackson to throw to (120 receiving yards, 2 TDs). Alfred Morris added 92 rushing yards and 2 TDs to the Native’s effort, which came up short yet again. Word on the street is the RGIII nod came from above, which didn’t sit well with the team. Maybe RGIII should stop calling it his team.

St. Louis Rams 2-5 (+9.5) @ San Francisco 49ers 4-3 (44): 49ers 28-21 Rams 13-10
Sunday, 4:05 PM, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara, CA (Weather: Sunny; mid-60s)

Reasons: Not quite sure about a 9.5 point spread, but I certainly see the 49ers winning. The Rams used some trickery to beat the Seahawks, but then the Seahawks aren’t really as good as people thought they were. The 49ers are coming off a crushing defeat, but the Broncos actually are for real, made even more real this season by the embarrassing loss they suffered at the hands of the aforementioned Seahawks. Confused? So am I about the spread. The 49ers defense is still elite, which cannot be said for the Rams (31st-ranked scoring defense), not to mention the turnover ration differences between the two teams (SF +4; STL -3), but 9.5 points?

Talk about a tough division. The 49ers v. Seahawks NFC Championship game was widely considered the Super Bowl by many fans and experts alike, and these Rams have now beaten both of them in the past three weeks. If I had told you Austin Davis would throw for 105 yards and Tre Mason would lead all rushers with 65 yards, you assume the 49ers defense balled. They did, that’s the problem. Colin Kaepernick fumbled the ball at the goal line, a microcosm of their offense throughout the game, and the Rams recovered for the victory.

Denver Broncos 6-1 (-3) @ New England Patriots 6-2 (54): Patriots 28-27 Patriots 43-21
Sunday, 4:25 PM, Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, MA (Weather: 60% wintry mix; mid-40s)

Reasons: The public and the spread might tell one side of the story, but the other side is more compelling: these two teams are far more evenly matched than any Broncos’ fan wants to realize. With the exception of excelling at different aspects on the defensive side of the ball (NE - 2nd-ranked pass defense; DEN - top-ranked run defense), these two teams excel in the passing game, have mediocre run games, and “win” their respective games by nearly identical margins (NE 30-22; DEN 32-20). The major factor here will be weather, as a wintry mix is forecasted, which will offset the Patriots myriad injuries. The game could come down to turnovers, as they so often do, and the Patriots excel at that better than any team in the NFL (+11). If this game was in Denver, or even if the weather was great, I could see Denver winning. Not with Mother Nature and Rob Gronkowksi, her human-form of a disruptive equal, affecting the game.

I’ll keep it short, so as not to appear to be gloating. The reports on the death of Tom Brady and the New England were greatly exaggerated.

Oakland Raiders 0-7 (+14) @ Seattle Seahawks 4-3 (43): Seahawks 27-17 Seahawks 30-24
Sunday, 4:25 PM, CenturyLink Field, Seattle, WA (Weather: 60% rain; mid-50s)

Reasons: Again with these ridiculous spreads. Public betting can certainly confuse people into thinking that a team like the Seahawks might actually be a two-touchdown favorite over the Raiders, but football fans know differently. I think. The Seahawks are no 2013 Seahawks, led by a bunch of guys people couldn’t see tucked away in the Northwest corner, a running back who ate Skittles, a second-year 5’ 10” quarterback, and a rah-rah coach who’s only real former NFL success was leading the same Seahawks to the playoffs at 7-9. The Raiders are actually slowly improving week to week, despite being winless, and losing their last two games by 10+ points, especially the play of rookie quarterback Derek Carr. All of that said, I’ll get real. Seahawks roll, I guess I just rant about ridiculous spreads.

The Seahawks won, but it wasn’t pretty. The Raiders may be better than many people would care to understand, but they’re still terrible relative to the reigning Super Bowl champions, who were led in rushing and receiving yards by one man, Marshawn Lynch, who only had 143 all-purpose yards. In other words, the Seahawks, despite scoring 30 points, could have some trouble scoring down the road. Perhaps their defense reverts to their 2013 form and scores the points for the offense if they plan on advancing as far in 2014.

Baltimore Ravens 6-2 (-1.5) @ Pittsburgh Steelers 5-3 (47.5): Ravens 27-24 Steelers 43-23
Sunday, 8:30 PM, Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA (Weather: Partly cloudy; high 30s)

Reasons: Statistically the Ravens should roll the Steelers. Numbers never lie, but they never tell the whole story, which is that this is a NFC North battle. Remember when these two team’s running games were in trouble because one team’s RB beat his wife unconscious and the other team’s two RBs were smoking weed together? Well both teams rank 8th and 9th in the running games, respectively. That reflection about sums up what most people know about the league, and how easily it is to predict division battles between two well-matched teams, let alone a NFC North game between Pittsburgh and Baltimore.

What in Three Rivers is going on with Ben Roethlisberger? Big Ben has thrown 12 TDs in his last two games after throwing 10 in his first six games. Roethlisberger threw for 340 yards, 140 of them to Antonio Brown, outshining Joe Flacco (303 passing yards, 2 TDs) in a rout that included 21 4th-quarter points (34 4th-quarter points total).

Indianapolis Colts 5-3 (-3) @ New York Giants 3-4 (50.5): Colts 28-24 Colts 40-24
Monday, 8:30 PM, MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ (Weather: Clear, mid-40s)

Reasons: Don’t let the Colts’ 51-34 loss to the Steelers in Pittsburgh and the aerial display by Ben Roethlisberger fool you, Indianapolis is good. The Colts had won their previous five games by an average of 18 ppg and ranked in or around the top-10 in all six major points and yardage categories before “Big Ben” went real big and destroyed the Colts, and the defensive pride they had built up. The one thing the Colts don’t do well is defend the pass, so Eli Manning could have a big day. The Giants are also coming off their bye week, and two straight losses, so Tom Coughlin should have them well prepared. Then again, the last thing these Giants probably needed was over two weeks off. The Giants will make the Colts uncomfortable, but they’re too good to fall to the 3-4 Giants, who are still a work in progress.

So I nailed the winner, and the Giants’ score, but forgot how terrible the Giants’ defense is when they can’t get to the quarterback. Andrew Luck continued his campaign for early season MVP, throwing for 354 yards and 4 TDs, keeping him on a record-setting pace. Eli Manning threw for 359 yards and 2 TDs himself, but much of that came in garbage time. If these Giants don’t figure out their new offense quick, they’ll be looking to 2015, and with Odell Beckham Jr., the loss of Victor Cruz can’t be much of an excuse.

See you Thursday and again Sunday for Week 10: #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis) at!

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