Think before you snicker at this week's Thursday Night Football match up - the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins have two of the best defenses in the NFL.
Week 11: #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis)
Week 11 results (season): 8-6 wins (107-53-1 .665); 6-8 v. spread (70-90-1 .435)
Buffalo Bills 5-4 (+5.5) @ Miami Dolphins 5-4 (42): Dolphins 23-20 Dolphins 22-9
Thursday, 8:25 PM, Sun Life Stadium, Miami, FL (Weather: 20% rain; low 70s)
Reasons: A quick glance at the schedule this Thursday night might cause a few eye rolls, but those eyes wouldn’t belong to football fans, because this AFC East divisional battle – and it is a battle – will be between two top-ten defense coming off bitter losses to great teams. The Dolphins were the victims of a Matt Stafford TD pass with 29 seconds left and lost 20-16 to the Detroit Lions and the Bills squandered several late 4th-quarter chances to eventually lose to the Kansas City Chiefs 17-13. The Dolphins are the NFL’s 7th-ranked rushing team - besides that these two teams have mediocre offenses at best. Defensively, it’s a different story: The Dolphins come in with the 2nd-ranked run defense, the 10th-ranked pass defense, and the allow the 5th-fewest points per game (19.0); the Bills enter the game with the 7th-ranked run defense, the 8th-ranked pass defense, and allow the 7th-fewest points per game (20.2). Consider the injuries at key positions (Questionable: BUF – Fred Jackson; MIA – Ryan Tannehill & Charles Clay), the weather, and the defenses involved, and I’d settle in for a low-scoring defensive battle. Then again, it’s Thursday night…who the hell knows what’s going to happen. I do know I wouldn’t give the Dolphins 5.5 points against this Buffalo front four with a questionable Tannehill.
The Bills held a 9-3 lead into the 3rd quarter, thanks in part to a Ryan Tannehill fumble, but Tannehill 240 passing yards; 2 TDs) and the Dolphins roared back, scoring 19 unanswered points through the end of the 3rd quarter through the 4th. The Dolphins held the Bills to 240 yards and 13 first downs, while sacking Kyle Orton twice (Earl Mitchell; Olivier Vernon). The Bills defense also got after it, sacking Tannehill five times (Mario Williams 3.5; Stefan Charles; Corbin Bryant 0.5), but it wasn’t enough to withstand the 4th-quarter offensive onslaught, something the Bills never accomplished.
Atlanta Falcons 2-6 (+1) @ Carolina Panthers 3-6-1 (47): Panthers 24-23 Falcons 19-17
Sunday, 1 PM, B of A Stadium, Charlotte, NC (Weather: Sunny, low 50s)
Reasons: Does it even matter the Panthers are home? In one of the dud games of the week, these are two of the worst teams in the league, both with the eye test and statistically. Harry Douglas and Devin Hester are both questionable, but so is Charles Johnson for Carolina, essentially washing the injury advantage. Based on play I’d pick Atlanta by the point the Sharps gave Carolina, but the Panthers are home and as desperate as they’ve ever been in the Cam Newton era.
Carolina was down 16-3 with 11 minutes left in the game, then led 17-16 with just over six minutes left in the game on two Cam Newton TD passes (Kelvin Benjamin; Philly Brown). Atlanta then drove 54 yards down the field for over four minutes on 12 plays and kicked the go-ahead FG, before Gano missed a 47-yard go-ahead FG in, then had last-second 63-yard attempt blocked. It’s almost as if Newton got the late news that Carolina actually had a chance to lead the NFC South with a win, and kicked it into gear, but it wasn’t enough in the end. So basically the Panthers should have won 20-19…but they didn’t.
Minnesota Vikings 4-5 (+3) @ Chicago Bears 3-6 (46.5): Vikings 24-21 Bears 21-13
Sunday, 1 PM, Solider Field, Chicago, IL (Weather: 30% snow, mid-30s)
Reasons: Two duds in a row. This game could be worse then ATL v. CAR, and it’s forecasted to snow. The worst defense in the NFL plays one of the worst offenses in the NFL (although MIN has the 10th-ranked running game) with a rookie QB in inclement weather. The one bright spot in this match up is Minnesota’s defense, which is a pretty good unit. That will be the difference.
I called Bears score, and that’s about it. Well, I guess you could say I also predicted Teddy Bridgewater’s poor play, but I still expected more than 156 passing yards with a 5.6 yards per attempt average; Bridgewater also threw an INT (1 TD). The Bears’ defense held the Vikings to 248 yards and only 10 first downs (2-11 3rd down), but the Vikings defense, the astronomically better unit, gave up 468 yards to the desperate Bears, who had their best game in weeks. Jay Cutler threw for 330 yards and 3 TDs (2 INTs), mostly to Alshone Jeffery (11 of 17 targets for 135 yards and a TD) and Brandon Marshall (7 of 10 targets for 90 yards and 2 TDs). Matt Forte even got involved and rushed for 117 yards and 2 TDs on 26 carries (4.5 ypc).
Houston Texans 4-5 (+3) @ Cleveland Browns 6-3 (41): Browns 24-21 Texans 23-7
Sunday, 1 PM, FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland, OH (Weather: 30% snow, mid-30s)
Reasons: Both of these teams boast good defenses (Scoring defense: HOU – 11th; CLE – 6th), and respectable offenses (Scoring offense: HOU – 16th; CLE – 15th). Both teams also cause many turnovers (HOU - +7; CLE - +9), and despite the Texans losing record, both teams have positive point differentials. The difference here could be injuries as both teams could be missing key players, but Cleveland is simply the better team.
The Texans surprised everyone outside of Houston and not only beat the Browns, but JJ Watt also caught a TD pass. Watt also sacked Brian Hoyer and recovered a fumble, furthering his case for league Defensive Player of the Year, if not MVP.
Seattle Seahawks 6-3 (+2) @ Kansas City Chiefs 6-3 (42): Chiefs 21-20 Chiefs 24-20
Sunday, 1 PM, Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, MO (Weather: 20% snow, high 20s)
Reasons: Finally, an unbelievable match up. The Seahawks are getting two on the road, which speaks volume about the Chiefs play this season…and the Seahawks fall. Although only from the first story, Seattle has fallen off from their dominant selves, via free agency and attrition, and Kansas City is serious team with a serious coaching staff, something the Seahawks lack. Ok, Pete Carroll is plenty serious, just Cali-relaxed, which won’t play well in the snow v. the Kool Aid man. This game will be relegated to the ground for Seattle, as they have the top-ranked running game v. the Chiefs’ 20th-ranked run defense, and also because the Seahawks have one of the worst passing games (30th) and the Chiefs ball on the pass (1st). Beast Mode won’t be enough Sunday.
Both teams went wild running the ball (SEA – 204; KC – 190), Seattle held the ball nearly 12 more minutes, held Alex Smith to 102 passing yards, and forced two fumbles, yet the Chiefs came away with the win and are right up there with the Cardinals and Patriots as the best team in the NFL. Jamal Charles scored 3 TDs and Kniles Davis scored another as the Chiefs literally ran all over the Seahawks. For the record, I called Seahawks score.
Cincinnati Bengals 5-3-1 (+7) @ New Orleans Saints 4-5 (50.5): Saints 27-24 Bengals 27-10
Sunday, 1 PM, Mercedes-Benz Superdome, New Orleans, LA (Weather: Indoors)
Reasons: Seven points? I’m not sure about that, but I sure about a Saint’s win. The Bengals once top-ranked defense has fallen to average, and the Saints’ offense is rolling, ranking 3rd (pass offense), 6th (run offense), and 6th (scoring offense) in three of the major offensive metrics. The Bengals are average, statistically, for a 5-3-1 team, but they’ll be missing several key guys on defense, and the Saints’ are home, which is usually a pretty simple indicator of a Saint’s win.
Just when people thought the Saints might run away with the NFC South they lose at home. Huh? Nothing really sticks out in this game statistically, other than the Saints’ anemic running game, which allowed the Bengals to focus on Jimmy Graham and take him out of the game (3 receptions on only 3 targets). The Bengals offense bounced back nicely after one of their worst statistical performances in their long history last week, with Andy Dalton (3 TDs), AJ Green (6 of 8 targets, 127 yards, 1 TD) and Jeremy Hill (152 yards on 27 carries) all shining.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1-8 (+7) @ Washington Natives 3-6 (45.5): Natives 24-21 Buccaneers 27-7
Sunday, 1 PM, FedEx Field, Landover, MD (Weather: Sunny, high 40s)
Reasons: Sigh. The Natives are one of those teams that can fool you into making poor prediction decisions, because statistically, they’re still riding the insane passing metrics that Kirk Cousins put up before he was benched for Colt McCoy. Yeah. Now RGIII is back, and it’s hard to believe, but that doesn’t mean anything. This could be another defensive battle, as both teams have good defenses (statistically), and turnovers will be an issue (TB: -9; WAS: -7).
Wow, are things awful in Washington. The politics are in rough shape, too. RGIII continues to play poorly and then follow it up with and even poorer performance at the post-game conference. RGIII was sacked six times and threw two INTs (1 TD), although he rushed for another 41 yards on six carries. The Buccaneers are one of the worst teams in the league and the destroyed the Natives, at least on the scoreboard. It’s that bad. But then again, it’s always been this bad.
Denver Broncos 7-2 (-9.5) @ St. Louis Rams 3-6 (51): Broncos 27-21 Rams 22-7
Sunday, 1 PM, Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis, MO (Weather: Indoors)
Reasons: Don’t sleep on the Rams. St. Louis hasn’t played a dud opponent since Week 2 (DAL, PHI, SF, SEA, KC, SF, ARZ), and they managed to beat the Seahawks at home and the 49ers on the road. You’d never know it statistically – the Rams are awful on paper, ranking in the bottom-five of most metrics, save pass defense (ranked 13th). Well, what do you know? I think Denver passes a bunch. Before I get carried away, the Broncos are one of the best complete teams in the NFL, but I’m here to analyze the games AND the spreads. The Broncos aren’t winning by 10 points on the road against these Rams.
I swear, for a minute I thought about making this my upset of the week, if not the year. The way the Rams had been playing, especially against great teams (SF, SEA), I knew they had a shot against Denver at home, but I also thought the Broncos would be nearly unstoppable after losing to New England in an attempt to keep pace, and didn’t expect Julius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders to be injured, the latter on a completely clean, but devastating hit. The Rams held the ball for nearly 12 more minutes and forced Manning into two more INTs (1 TD), although he threw for 389 yards, and kept the Broncos to their lowest point total since acquiring Peyton.
San Francisco 49ers 5-4 (-4) @ New York Giants 3-6 (43.5): 49ers 24-20 49ers 16-10
Sunday, 1 PM, MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ (Weather: Cloudy, high 40s)
Reasons: The 49ers might be the best 5-4 team in the league, and the Giants shouldn’t even have three wins. Because of Eli Manning and the Giants WR corps, the Giants’ offense is mediocre; otherwise the Giants are terrible, especially on defense. The 49ers have one of the best defenses in the NFL, and get some key guys back this week (e.g. Aldon Smith), which only makes SF better. The 49ers should run all over the Giants, literally.
This game had moments akin to NFC playoff games’ past, but none of those quarterbacks threw five INTs. The 49ers held the ball for ten more minutes and rushed for 148 rushing yards on 37 carries, controlling the clock after every one of Eli Manning’s terrible five INTs. The Giants stayed in the game, despite Manning’s five INTs, but Eli’s five INTs made it impossibly to win. Did I mention Eli Manning threw five INTs?
Oakland Raiders 0-9 (+10) @ San Diego Chargers 5-4 (44.5): Chargers 27-20 Chargers 13-6
Sunday, 4:05 PM, Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, CA (Weather: Some sun, low 70s)
Reasons: It’s well known how awful the winless Raiders are, but Oakland isn’t the worst team in the NFL; in fact, they’re far from it. Well, 4-5 spots from it. The Raiders are abysmal offensively, but have an average defense, which is saying something. The Chargers remain an above-average team, despite losing their last three games (KC, DEN, MIA), and are superior to Oakland statistically, with the exception of the running game, which will only improve with key players back from injury.
A surprising defensive battle, the Chargers held the Raiders to nine first downs, 233 total yards, and 3-15 3rd down efficiency. The Chargers didn’t fare much better (18 FD, 300 yards, 4-15 3rd down) but they held the ball for ten more minutes, forced a Raiders’ fumble, and controlled the clock with 32 rushing attempts. The Raiders, the only winless team in the league, are now 0-10.
Philadelphia Eagles 7-2 (+6) @ Green Bay Packers 6-3 (55): Packers 28-27 Packers 53-20
Sunday, 4:25 PM, Lambeau Field, Green Bay, WI (Weather: 70% snow, high 20s)
Reasons: One of the best games of the week, these two teams have two of the most prolific scoring offenses in the league (PHI – 4th; GB – 5th), both teams have two of the highest scoring differentials (PHI - +9; GB - +8), and both teams have the ability to get after it defensively. To boot, both teams “win” their games by average scores of 31-22 (PHI) and 31-23 (GB) – pretty even match up. The difference here could be turnovers - the Eagles are at -5 on the season, the source of their few losses and several nail-biters, while the Packers take things from people (+10) and capitalize. I would never take the points, but I do think Aaron Rodgers is hitting his stride, which makes the Packers as dangerous as anybody.
The Eagles were down 30-6 at halftime and never had a chance. Aaron Rodgers was on fire again, throwing for 341 yards and three TDs. The Green Bay defense picked off Mark Sanchez twice and sacked three times, and LeSean McCoy (3.8 ypc) was ineffective. These two teams could start trending in opposite directions if the Eagles don’t figure out the quarterback situation.
Detroit Lions 7-2 (+1.5) @ Arizona Cardinals 8-1 (41.5): Cardinals 21-20 Cardinals 14-6
Sunday, 4:25 PM, Univ. of Phoenix, Glendale, AZ (Weather: Sunny, low 70s)
Reasons: Another Week 11 gem, the Cardinals lost Carson Palmer for the season, but it might not matter – they’ve basically been without him most of the season anyway season. The Lions are one of the best teams in the league, statistically, but scrap and claw for every win. The Cardinals have the best record in the NFL, but almost every pundit in the business can’t figure it out and points to their turnover ratio (+12), and how much they capitalize on those turnovers. It’s going to be a close, low-scoring game, but before you pencil the Lions in for a win against Drew Stanton on the road, keep in mind the Cardinals have won these-type games all season.
Drew Stanton threw two TDs in the first nine minutes of the first quarter to Michael Floyd, and that was basically the end of the game. The Cardinals defense held the Lions to 11 first downs and only 262 total yards, and sacked Matt Stafford four times, thanks in part to Patrick Peterson blanketing Calvin Johnson.
New England Patriots 7-2 (+3) @ Indianapolis Colts 6-3 (58): Patriots 28-27 Patriots 42-20
Sunday, 8:30 PM, Luca Oil Stadium, IN (Weather: Indoors)
Reasons: Perhaps the game of the week, the feature Sunday Night game pits the top-ranked scoring offense (IND) v. the 3rd-ranked scoring offense (NE), two teams that, like the Eagles and Packers, have identical point differentials (+9) and “win” their respective games by average scores of 31-22 (NE) and 32-23 (IND). Both defenses are mediocre, but it won’t matter against these prolific offenses. Once again, the big difference here is turnovers – NE is tied with ARZ with a +12 turnover ratio, while the Colts are dead even (0). I expect Bill Belichick’s complex scheme to confuse the Stanford product and force more of those turnovers, which NE should capitalize on, leading to a Patriots’ victory.
The Patriots offense, led by former practice squad running back, and now the current AFC Offensive Player of the Week Jonas Gray, steamrolled the Colts awful run defense. Gray rushed for 201 yards and a ridiculous four TDs on a whopping 37 carries. Rob Gronkowski added 71 colorful receiving yards and a TD, and blocked Sergio Brown into the NBC camera after claiming Brown was “talking smack”. Despite Luck’s most recent stellar performance (303 passing yards, 2 TDs), the Colts only rushed for 19 yards on 16 carries, and the Patriots defense defended seven of Luck’s passes. A 14-10 game at the half, in which the Colts’ scored on a Luck to Nicks TD pass with 55 seconds left, the Patriots made it 28-13 by the end of the 3rd quarter, only to see the Colts get within seven on a Colby Fleener TD catch, before the Patriots rattled off 14 unanswered points to seal the quality win.
Pittsburgh Steelers 6-4 (-6) @ Tennessee Titans 2-7 (47): Steelers 27-21 Steelers 27-24
Monday, 8:30 PM, LP Field, Nashville, TN (Weather: Clearing, high 20s)
Reasons: The Steelers are coming off a loss to the Jets and the Titans start a rookie quarterback and are terrible. The Titans’ run defense, ranked 11th, is the only respectable aspect of the Titans’ team, and the Steelers couldn’t care less because they throw it a ton and throw it well (4th-ranked pass offense). The Steelers might be a little banged up on defense, but the Titans could be missing their two best offensive players (Derek McCluster; Delanie Walker).
The Steelers were down 24-13 with less than four minutes remaining in the 3rd quarter, but 14 4th-quarter unanswered points sealed the win for the suddenly reeling Steelers. The Titans managed only 14 first downs, but gained 312 total yards on only 39 plays (8.0 ypp), including 263 passing yards and two TDs (1 INT) from the rookie Zach Mettenberger. The Titans also sacked Ben Roethlisberger five times and picked him off, but proved they still have a long way to go before they can play on the big stage on Monday Night. I am though, as I called yet another score.
Check back next week for Week 12: #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis) at ProFootballMedia.com!