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Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Week 13 #NFL Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis)


Green Bay Packers (+6) @ Detroit Lions (50): Lions 28-27
Thursday, 12:30 PM, Ford Field, Detroit, MI (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: The Packers certainly have a better chance with Matt Flynn at the helm, clearly more familiar with Green Bay's schemes than Scott Tolzien, having been their back up QB a few years back. That doesn't necessarily say much about the Packers, who were reeling after three straight losses before their unceremonious tie last week, although they did come back from 16 points down to do so. However, the Lions pass defense is awful, and banged-up to boot, which gives the Packers 5th-ranked passing attack the perfect opportunity to pounce. The Lions 4th-ranked run defense will battle the Packers 5th-ranked run game all game, opening the door for Flynn to silence the many critics (of his bank account). This game will come down to the air as the Lions 3rd-ranked pass offense tries to take advantage of a weak and hobbled Packers secondary. Both teams are coming off stinging weeks: the Lions lost on a last-minute INT that could have gone for a Megatron TD and the Packers had to come back down 16 in the 4th just to tie. A Lions win puts them in the drivers seat; a Packers win ties the division up and creates a mess. Despite the Mighty Flynn, the Lions literally escape this game at home on Turkey Day.

Oakland Raiders (+9.5) @ Dallas Cowboys (47.5): Cowboys 27-20
Thursday, 4:30 PM, Cowboys Stadium, Dallas, TX (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons:  Vegas has Dallas 9.5 point favorites in a game with an expected o/u of 47.5, which means that they expect the Cowboys to do their thing and the Raiders to continue their downward spiral this month, save one laughable win at Houston. The Cowboys have one of the worst statistical defenses in the league (31st v. pass; 30th v. run), but I don't see the hapless Raiders exploiting that. Except for an inexplicably great running game (ranked 4th despite the injuries to McFadden), they have no passing game to speak of (ranked 29th). I fully expect Romo and the Cowboys to exploit the Raiders poor pass defense (ranked 25th) and run away with their annual Thanksgiving Day game.

Pittsburgh Steelers (+3) @ Baltimore Ravens (40.5): Ravens 23-17
Thursday, 8:30 PM, M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, MD (Weather: Clear, cold, low 30s)

Reasons: Tell me if you've heard this one before: Steelers face Ravens in a tough defensive battle late in the season in the cold weather for an advantage in the division. Both teams have two of the better defenses in the league, and both offenses are struggling, expect for the Steelers pass game of late, which has become the 8th-ranked pass attack in the NFL. Both teams average a pedestrian 21-22 ppg, and both teams sit mired in the AFC North at 5-6. The only real difference between these teams is one expected to be mediocre and one was predicted to return to the Super Bowl. Ain't happenin'. But the Ravens could still make the playoffs, and that push begins tomorrow as most of the country sleeps off their tryptophan overdoses. This game could be won in the air as both run games have suffered this season (Steelers: ranked 30th; Ravens: ranked 27th). As long as Baltimore's pass game (ranked 19th) can get something going I expect their defense to clamp down to win close at home and give the fans something to be thankful for - to just be in the hunt not even a year after winning the whole thing.

Jacksonville Jaguars (+7) @ Cleveland Browns (40): Browns 20-10
1:00 PM, First Energy Stadium, Cleveland, OH (Weather: Cold, high 30s, light snow)

Reasons: Brandon Weeden gets the nod after Jason Campbell went down last Sunday. That's not good news, at least not by this season's standards. Lucky for the Browns their top-notch defense (ranked 6th v. the pass and 5th v. the run) takes care of business, and this is one of the worst offensive teams in the NFL, perhaps NFL history. They rank 32nd in the run game, despite having (a clearly aging) MJD and don't do much better in the air (ranked 22nd). They only average 13 ppg, and despite winning last week for only the second time this season, they did it v. a hapless Texans team...and did it by scoring 13 points. They are awful. Additionally, the cold winds will blow a little snow into Cleveland Sunday afternoon, which ultimately spells doom for this suntanned joke of a football team. I actually expect Weeden to answer some critics this week, if it counts v. the Jaguars, and keep the Browns relevant.

Tennessee Titans (+4) @ Indianapolis Colts (45): Colts 27-24
1:00 PM, Luca Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: The Colts have fast become a mediocre team, and have been destroyed over the first halves of their last four games (93-12). Their offense (18th-ranked pass offense; 19th-ranked run offense) has injuries and Luck has had to play from behind the past month, and their once-opportunistic defense has been on the decline (ranked 19th v. the pass; 26th v. the run), giving up 33 ppg since playing the Denver Broncos Week 7. All this points to a Colts loss v. a well-coached divisional opponent. That's exactly why they'll win. Two of the most embarrassing games of the year have come in the past three weeks, the only win being sandwiched between them - v. the Titans (30-27). The Colts only maintain a 2-game lead in the AFC South and might not make the playoffs in they don't win the division. The Titans 8th-ranked pass defense will give Luck some trouble, and TY Hilton's status will be key. The Colts bounce back in another close on at home to keep their divisional lead.

Chicago Bears (+1) @ Minnesota Vikings (49.5): Bears 27-24
1:00 PM, Mall Of America Field (terrible name), Minneapolis, MN (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: Christian Ponder has been playing better, but the Bears defense ranks 13th v. the pass, so the Vikings might lean on a banged-up Adrian Peterson, Toby Gerhart (10 ypc) and their 11th-ranked run game. Still, none of this does anything for a defense ranked 29th v. the pass and 24th v. the run, and their seemingly relevant tie v. the Packers turned out to be not-so-relevant as Green Bay was destroyed 40-10 Thanksgiving Day by the Detroit Lions. The Bears, on the other hand, are actually a little better then their many key injuries would imply, although they have lost two of their past three and needed OT to beat the Ravens in that lone win. The 7th-ranked pass offense is respectable even without Cutler and Forte should play, helping the run game (ranked 22nd). The addition of Jay Ratliff should bolster the Bears defensive line a bit, which is worst in the NFL at stopping the run, shaking up Ponder's 25th-ranked passing offense and the run game just enough to squeak out a win on the road to keep pace with the Lions.

Miami Dolphins (+2) @ New York Jets (38.5): Dolphins 21-17
1:00 PM, MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ (Weather: Mild, mid-40s, light rain)

Reasons: The Jets offense might challenge the Jaguars as the worst in the NFL, if they didn't have the league's 8th-ranked run game; that might be a saving grace, as they'll face the league's 25th-ranked run defense. The Jets average 16.5 ppg, and sport the league's worst passing game, which will do nothing v. the Dolphins average pass defense (ranked 14th) and with key injuries at WR. The Dolphins 26th-ranked run game won't fare much better against the Jets run defense, tops in the league. The Jets pass defense is far worse (ranked 22nd), so the Dolphins 20th ranked pass offense will look to exploit the Jets pass defense. It's a tough call, but you can’t like the Jets on the road with that offense.

Arizona Cardinals (+3) @ Philadelphia Eagles (48.5): Cardinals 27-24
1:00 PM, Lincoln Financial Field, Philadelphia, PA (Weather: Clear, mild, mid-40s)

Reasons: The rule of thumb is that in a game between two evenly matched squads, the home team will get 3 points - perfect example here. About the only thing separating these two teams is a 6-hour flight. Both teams are in the middle of serious win streaks (ARZ- 4 games; PHI – 3 games), both teams average ~24 ppg, both teams are 2nd in their divisions and looking to gain ground, and both teams dominate the game on one side of the ball. Therein actually lies another difference: the Eagles high-octane offense (ranked 9th in the passing game and 2nd in the run game) is countered by the Cardinals stingy defense (ranked 17th v. the pass and 2nd v. the run). The Cardinals average pass defense seems more aberration than fact, as the Cardinals have two of the leagues best at their respective positions in Darnell Dockett and Patrick Peterson. On the other side of the ball, the Eagles can’t really stop the run (ranked 21st), but the Cardinals can’t run it (ranked 24th). One more difference is exposed when analyzing the Cardinals passing game (ranked 12th) v. the Eagles pass defense, which is the worst in the NFL. Considering the weather won’t be a factor, the Cardinals pass game could be the big difference here as Carson Palmer has thrown for over 730 yards the last two weeks, also coming against two bad defenses. The Eagles have struggled at home this season and I think that continues this week, as the Cardinals are just too well coached and too hot.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+8) @ Carolina Panthers (41.5): Carolina 24-20
1:00 PM, Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC (Weather: Clear, mild, high 40s)

Reasons: The Buccaneers have won three straight after losing their first eight games, but they’ve come against a reeling team, a horrible team, and a team looking past them (MIA, ATL, DET); the Panthers are the hottest team in the NFL, but their last three wins were escape acts (SF, NE, NYJ). To some this might appear as a match up of two hot teams; some might see it as lopsided affair. I see it as neither. Make no mistake, the Buccaneers are bad, but their two strengths are the two things that could give Carolina some problems: the resurgence of TB’s passing game (still ranked 29th) via Mike Glennon v. a banged up Carolina secondary, and the Buccaneer’s 9th-ranked run defense v. the Panther’s 9th-ranked run game. The Panthers were trying out CBs this week; even with that front-seven that’s not a good thing. Still, the Panthers defense (ranked 7th v. run; 3rd v. pass) is beastly, and I can’t imagine the Buccaneers scoring anywhere near 29 points, their average over their three straight wins. If the Buc’s front seven can stop the Panther’s run game, forcing the Panthers to throw (ranked 30th) this could get interesting.

New England Patriots (-7.5) @ Houston Texans (47.5): Patriots 30-20
1:00 PM, Reliant Stadium, Houston, TX (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: On paper these teams are about as evenly matched as possible. In reality they’re not even close. No matter the troubles the Texans are in I still expect them to rise to the occasion against the fast-becoming-rivals Patriots. Case Keenum gets the nod, which I can’t decide is good or bad. The Texans have the league’s best pass defense, which could pose some problems for the Patriots pass attack (ranked 11th), one of the keys to the game. The Patriots are also coming off two tough weeks; with a close loss v. Carolina stemming from a bad call, and an epic comeback win v. Denver the Patriots might be a little emotionally drained traveling to Houston, or could be totally rested coming off the holiday.  The Texans 14th-ranked run game is banged up, so there isn’t a huge advantage v. the Patriots 31st ranked run defense, and Case Keenum and Andre Johnson won’t exactly have their way with the Patriots secondary, as NE ranks 9th v. the pass. The Patriots run game (ranked 10th) will flourish v. this Texans front seven (ranked 22nd v. the run), which will be another key. The Patriots will score a few in the air and then run the clock out with their smash-mouth run game, taking one on the road against the team we expected to battle for AFC supremacy.

Atlanta Falcons (+3) @ Buffalo Bills (47): Bills 24-21
4:05 PM, Ralph Wilson Stadium, Buffalo, NY (Weather: Cold, 40% chance rain/snow, 30s)

Reasons: Even if Atlanta’s passing game was still top-notch, which despite being ranked 5th it’s not, they could struggle v. the Bills 12th-ranked pass defense. These rankings, although important, only consider total yards, so a few of these teams benefit/suffer from garbage time stats, e.g. running the clock out or from trying to catch up, which has been Atlanta’s issue. So Atlanta’s seemingly high-ranking pass game is somewhat ‘smoke and mirrors’. Considering the Falcons have no run game (ranked 31st), due mainly to injuries and a bad offensive line, they might have to struggle. The Falcons should run more successfully with Steven Jackson back against a less-than-stellar run defense (ranked 23rd), so they shouldn’t have to rely solely on the passing game. Add one of the worst defenses in the league (ranked 24th v. the pass and 29th v. the run) to their offensive woes and you have the answer to the “Why are the Falcons so bad” question. The Bills are a better team with EJ Manuel at the helm, which only improves their 28th-ranked pass game, and having him back also bolsters the 5th-ranked run game, which already yields the two-headed, but somewhat banged-up, monster that is Jackson/Spiller. The weather could get nasty, and the Bills are a tough team at home anyway, so they should take care of Atlanta.

St. Louis Rams (+8) @ San Francisco 49ers (42): 49ers 28-20
4:05 PM, Candlestick Park, South San Francisco, CA (Weather: Warm, clear, mid-60s)

Reasons:  The surging Rams defense is much improved lately, especially v. the pass (ranked 13th), giving up <18 ppg over their last four games (2W-2L); their offense has blasted off scoring an average of 40 ppg over their last two games, both wins. I’m not sure if it’ll be enough to win v. a tough 49ers team on the road this week, but I give them a better chance than I would have three weeks ago looking at the schedule. The 49ers got back on track last week v. the Natives after two straight tough losses (one robbery v. the Saints) and not only boast one of the league’s best run games (ranked 4th), but have one of the best overall defenses in the league and only get stronger with key players back. Colin Kaepernick should thrive v. this blitzing defense (ranked 21st v. the run), as should the run game (ranked 4th). Clemens should be under pressure all day, and a mediocre offense (ranked 23rd passing and 16th rushing) will have to rely on their surging defense on the road to pull this one off. No wonder Vegas has the 49ers giving eight points.

Denver Broncos (-5) @ Kansas City Chiefs (48.5):  Broncos 28-24
4:25 PM, Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, MO (Weather: Mild, clear, high 40s)

Reasons: In what should be game about two divisional rivals at 9-2 battling for the divisional lead has become a game about two decimated defenses. The once dominating Chiefs defense has suffered major injuries and after playing two high-octane offenses has dropped significantly in the defensive rankings. With key injuries to defensive linemen and a game just three weeks ago v. this defense the Broncos top-ranked passing game should thrive. The Broncos run game (ranked 12th) could roll as well, as they piled up over 200 rushing yards the week before v. the Patriots. The story could be the Broncos defense, which is one of the worst in the league v. the pass (ranked 30th) and only getting worse after key injures to the secondary. Alex Smith could have a break out game v. this Broncos defense, as their 5th ranked run defense could stymie Jamal Charles and the Chiefs 13th-ranked run game. The weather will not effect Manning this week as the Broncos take care of the banged up Chiefs team on as tough a road as there is.

Cincinnati Bengals (-1) @ San Diego Chargers (48): Bengals 27-24
4:25 PM, Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, CA (Weather: Sunny, clear, high 60s)

Reasons: The Chargers are coming off an incredible last-second win last week and the Bengals are coming off a bye week, so this game could go either way. The Bengals 10th-ranked pass game should exploit the Chargers 28th-ranked pass defense, the only real mismatch of the game. The Chargers 4th-ranked pass offense can be deadly and score in bunches, but the Bengals have one of the best overall defenses in the NFL (ranked 6th v. the pass and 10th v. the run) and get after it. Both run games are up and down, and both teams have respectable run defenses, so this one should be won in the air. The Bengals are the better team and should win, but they’re bad on the road (2-4).

New York Giants (-1) @ Washington Natives (45.5): Natives 24-20
8:30 PM, FedEx Field, Washington, DC (Weather: Cold, clear, high 30s)

Reasons: The one major mismatch in this game could be the Natives top-ranked run game were it not for the Giants resurging run defense (ranked 7th). Besides that these teams are mired in mediocrity and headed south. The Giants may have been partially expecting this, but the Natives had Super Bowl aspirations, which are not happening anytime soon, let alone this season. Both of these teams have nearly been eliminated from playoff contention as the Eagles and Cowboys surge, and both teams seem to have nothing but pride to play for. In other words, this is not going to be an epic game.  Maybe RGIII’s dad will come onto the field this week to offer his coaching advice. Both teams get to 4-8 Sunday in one of the tougher games to call this week.

New Orleans Saints (+5) @ Seattle Seahawks (47): Seahawks 30-24
Monday, 8:30 PM, Century Link Field, Seattle, WA (Weather: Cold, mid-30s, slight chance of rain/snow)

Reasons: A potential NFC Championship preview these two are the best in the NFC along with San Francisco. Both teams have great offenses anchored by the pass (NO, ranked 2nd) or the run (SEA, ranked 3rd), both teams average 28 ppg, and both teams have two of the best pass defenses in the NFL (NO: ranked 3rd; SEA: ranked 2nd). A recent suspension of Walter Thurman is a big advantage Saints, who’ll look to exploit the Seahawks defense any way they can. I don’t think they will as the Seahawks 12th man makes up for Thurman. Dome teams continue to suck outdoors.

Tuesday's Here: #NFL Predictions Review

Week 12 results: 7-7 wins (50-31 season); 6-8 v. spread (28-53 season)

New Orleans Saints (-9) @ Atlanta Falcons (53): Saints 31-24 Saints 17-14
Monday, 8:25 PM, Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: As much as I wish the Saints would get crushed after not only stealing the game from the 49ers Sunday on a horrendously bad call, but for Drew Brees adding fuel to fire every chance he gets by claiming his smallish mouth filled with blood after the legal hit. Alas, it's not going to happen. It could; their really is no explicable way in which we can answer why the Falcons have been this bad (they rank 3rd in overall passing), but they have been, and with the Saints' improved defense (ranked 3rd v. the pass), the chances of a Falcons upset seem even lower. I finally learned last week (Den v. KC) that even against stout defenses high-scoring offenses (2nd-ranked passing attack) with HOF quarterbacks beast; so you can imagine what happens when those offenses face one of the worst defenses in the league (22nd v. pass; 30th v. run). If Vegas has New Orleans as 9-point favorites on the road then I'm all in. The tired Saints (short week) led by the bloodied Brees continue the trend they began Week 1 destroying Atlanta's once bright season in the weekly shit show that is Thursday Night Football.

Thursday night games often disappoint. The players are tired, the coaches have had a short week to prepare, and even the fans haven't recovered from the previous weekends games. In all seriousness, any NFL player will tell you they don't even begin to recover physically until Tuesday, so most don't expect the best out of these guys on "TNF" (and the NFL brass wanted 18 games).  That said, the Falcons, despite managing only 14 points, gave one of their best efforts of the season against their bitter divisional rivals, holding the Saints to a measly 17 points (12 below their season average). Maybe not, but the Falcons held the ball longer (7 more minutes), gained more first downs, and gave up fewer penalties, but key sacks and a costly turnover spelled doom for the Falcons. The game was over in the first half.

Pittsburgh Steelers (+1.5) @ Cleveland Browns (40): Browns 23-20 Steelers 27-11
1:00 PM, First Energy Stadium, Cleveland, OH (Weather: 50% snow, high 20s)

Reasons: As improved as the Steelers have been in the past few weeks (2-0 last two games, 4-2 last six games), the Browns have one of the best overall defenses in the league (in terms of yardage) and are fighting for their divisional lives. The snowy conditions should keep this tough divisional match up low-scoring; the Browns escape at home.

The Steelers own the Browns, something I forgot Saturday. The Browns defense is at a level the Steelers defense used to be at, and the Steelers offense was struggling to the point where a Browns home pick seemed legit. Unfortunately four turnovers made that impossible. Not much else to report. The Steelers didn't blow minds offensively, but the defense showed improvement...against a horrific Browns offense.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+9) @ Detriot Lions (49): Lions 31-20 Buccaneers 24-21
1:00 PM, Ford Field, Detroit, MI (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: The Buc's have won two straight games after losing their first eight, and even scored a season-high 41 points last week v. the dreadful Falcons. That hot streak ends this week as the Lions look to solidify their playoff position. The league's 3rd-ranked passing attack will shred the Buc's lame pass defense as Revis and Co. focus solely on Megatron. Mike Glennon has revitalized this offense, and will hit Jackson for one or two, but will it be enough? No, the Lions roll.

Just when the Lions were poised to escape with the win against the suddenly surging Buccaneers, the ball inexplicably bounced out of Megatron's usually sturdy hands into Johnthan (no 'a') Bank's for the 5th interception of the game - and therein lies the key. Turnovers killed the Lions. Stafford forced the ball all day as the Buccaneers seem to be showing their support for Schiano, who seemed doomed just a few short weeks ago. The Lions destroyed the Buccaneers on nearly every level, but mistakes once again cost the Lions.

Minnesota Vikings (+4.5) @ Green Bay Packers (44): Packers 27-21 TIE 26-26
1:00 PM, Lambeau Field, Green Bay, WI (Weather: Clear, cold, 20s)

Reasons: The Packers have been reeling in their three straight losses without Rodgers, but have still managed to gain yards. They'll finally put up points this week, too, sweeping the season series from the confused Vikings. The cold weather will also get to this cozy dome team as one of the league's highest-rated offenses goes to work. 

Lame. Only the 4th tie in the last 13 years, this one was all Vikings through the 3rd Quarter, but a benching of Scott Tolzien for Matt Flynn evidently sparked the Packer's comeback. After going up early, the Packers scored 16 unanswered 4th Quarter points to TIE the game. The Vikings run game went beast mode, but their one-dimensional offense and mediocre defense was only a neutral match the Packer's disheveled offense and banged-up defense. This game at any other time in the season may have been epic.

San Diego Chargers (+5) @ Kansas City Chiefs (42): Chiefs 27-21 Chargers 41-38
1:00 PM, Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, MO (Weather: Clear, cold, 30s)

Reasons: The Chiefs were exposed last week on national television and could get caught looking towards a rematch against Denver again next week, were it not for the fact that Andy Reid is their head coach. The Chargers will come into freezing weather and their only real strength (4th-ranked passing offense) will be thwarted by the Chiefs 9th-ranked pass defense. The Chiefs run game will be the difference in this one as they take the important divisional match up. 

The Chiefs had a few things going against them here. Not only did they just lose a close game to their bitter divisional rival Denver Broncos, and not only were they facing the same team again next week, but they lost their two arguably best defensive players to bookend the 2nd Quarter. Alex Smith and the Chief's offense was stellar, but so was the Charger's, taking full advantage of the injuries on the other side gaining nearly 500 yards. The Chargers also forced two turnovers, but it took a last second - and very Riveresque - bullet into the end zone as time expired to win, as a furious 2nd half ended in the Chief's losing their second straight after starting 9-0.

Chicago Bears (+1.5) @ St. Louis Rams (45.5): Rams 24-23 Rams 42-21
1:00 PM, Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis, MO (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: This game isn't much to look forward to, which means it'll probably end up in some high-scoring shoot-out. The Bears defense is on IR, Cutler is hurt, and the Rams are just fighting for an identity. But every time I predict a low-scoring bore, the opposite happens. I look for the Bears to take advantage of an injured Rams' secondary and that's about it. Lots of FGs in this one.

The Bears defense is a shell of its former self, and we're talking a soft shell. They gave up rushing TDs to three different players, 424 yards on offense, and committed no turnovers; on offense they turned the ball over three times, including two fumbles, one of which was returned for a TD; as a team they committed 10 penalties. The once-impressive Bears look like they're on the downward slide as major injuries have piled up. The Rams defense continues to improve week-to-week, even though the Bears managed an incredible 30 first downs, and their offense gained over 400 yards. There's an opposite trend occurring in St. Louis.

Carolina Panthers (-4.5) @ Miami Dolphins (41): Panthers 27-17 Panthers 20-16
1:00 PM, SunLife Stadium, Miami, FL (Weather: Warm, 50% rain)

Reasons: The Panthers are balling. Even with that bullsh*t call at the end of the game v. the Patriots last week, the Panthers deserved the win and have rattled off six straight. That will continue as the Dolphins are not only only no match for the multifaceted Panthers, they'll still dealing with the outside noise. The top-ranked Panthers defense (5th v. the pass; 3rd v. the run) will give Miami trouble all day as their mediocre offense struggles. Their only hope is that Cam Newton lets the recent success get to his head and the decent Miami defense wreaks havoc. Not likely.

This game was as boring as the score indicates. Both defenses had respectable games, as expected. The Dolphins jumped out to an early lead before the Panthers scored 14 unanswered second-half points to escape Miami with the win. You can't blame them for still celebrating their win at home v. New England the previous week midway through the Dolphins game.

New York Jets (+3.5) @ Baltimore Ravens (39): Ravens 21-17 Ravens 19-3
1:00 PM, M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, MD (Weather: Cold, 30s, windy)

Reasons: One of the better defensive match ups of the week, the improving Ravens defense will give Geno & The Jets trouble all day. The Jets only chance will come on the ground, where they rank 8th. The Jets also stop the run (1st), which means Ray Rice's resurgence will last exactly one week. I look for the Ravens to go to the air often, unless the wind poses a serious problem. Look for more FGs in this one. Ravens take the close defensive battle at home as the Jets end the roller coaster ride and lose two in a row.

Nothing to say here except that Bad Geno showed up and gave the Jets absolutely no chance. Actually, I think it's always Bad Geno, he just gets lucky and looks good once and a while. An expected defensive battle, the Jets managed only 220 yards on offensive and turned it over three times, including two Geno INTs. Flacco and Ray Rice didn't fare much better, as Flacco managed one TD and Rice managed 30 rushing yards, as many as his back up (Pierce). This ended up the FG-fest I predicted.

Jacksonville Jaguars (+10) @ Houston Texans (43.5): Texans 27-16 Jaguars 13-6
1:00 PM, Reliant Stadium, Houston, TX (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: The Jaguars are simply the NFL's worst team. They average just under 13 ppg, and they rank last in the NFL in rushing yards and against the run. Apparently Jacksonville had no concept of the running game. They have lost nine of ten games and their first eight before winning two weeks ago. The Texans aren't much better. Despite higher statistical rankings, including the NFL's best pass defense, the Texans have lost eight straight after winning their first two and have turned a Super Bowl-or-bust season into a bust. Vegas has Houston crushing, so why not.

If you had the Jaguars congratulations, because Vegas is usually the best measuring stick, and they had the Texans favored by 10 (if we're just going by layperson terms). A guy named Dennis Johnson led the Texans in rushing (74 yards) and a guy named Ryan Griffin led them in receiving (37 yards). It has not been a good year for the Texans, and the former high-flying offense gained the fewest yards of any team in the league Sunday (218 yards) as they continued their abysmal slide. The Jaguars, meanwhile, somehow managed to take advantage on a rare decent game from the miniature bowling ball for a RB.

Tennessee Titans (-1) @ Oakland Raiders (41.5): Titans 24-21 Titans 23-19
4:05 PM, O. Co. Stadium, Oakland, CA (Weather: Sunny, warm)

Reasons: Two teams going nowhere, one due to injuries and young coaching, one due to injuries, underachieving, and good coaching. Maybe the latter isn't so good if a team is underachieving, or perhaps we were all just wrong about Chris Johnson. Either way this looks to be boring game as they only potential lightning (Johnson) should be bottled up all day by the Raiders 6th-ranked rush defense, the only feather in their proverbial cap. Titans prevail with better coaching.

When I was analyzing this game I looked to both teams season scoring averages and thought it actually looked like a pretty good play, if not for being such a weird score: 23-19. It's one of those hindsight moments when you imagine yourself calling the exact score in Vegas and cashing in...and then "present sight" sets in. Despite committing 10 penalties, the Titans dominated the clock and took advantage of two Raider turnovers. Fitzpatrick lit up the 4th Quarter as the hapless Raiders helped keep the Titans alive.

Indianapolis Colts (+2) @ Arizona Cardinals (45): Colts 24-21 Cardinals 40-11
4:05 PM, Univ. of Phoenix Stadium, Phoenix, AZ (Weather: 60s, 10% rain)

Reasons: Vegas has the Cardinals pass rush getting to Luck as well as stopping the run. The Colts WR aren't what they were the first half of the season, but I like the Colts improved ground game. The Cardinals 2nd-ranked rush defense will stop the colts from running all over the field, but not scoring. Although the Colts offensive line might struggle some v. the Cardinals, I can't see Carson Palmer continuing this winning streak v. an opportunistic Colts defense, which is surprisingly good v. the pass, despite only being ranked 16th. This will be a battle of the pass rushes. Colts win a close one on the road.

When I looked at what Vegas had to say about this game, I understood them to say that these were basically evenly-matched teams and gave the customary 3 points to the home team. I disagreed seeing Indianapolis as slightly better, not taking into consideration the Colts recent first-half troubles, and the inevitable catching up that would ensue. Turns out we were both wrong as the Cardinals destroyed the suddenly struggling Colts, who have been outscored 93-12 in their last four first-halves. They only managed 239 yards on offense and turned the ball over in 23 measly minutes of possession. The Cardinals had another great day in the air and the defense dominated again with Karlos Dansby bringing an INT to the house. These two teams are on opposite trends as well.

Dallas Cowboys (+2.5) @ New York Giants: Giants 27-24 Cowboys 24-21
4:25 PM, MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ (Weather: Cold, 30s, windy) 

Reasons: The Giants are on the rise. Their annual winning streak is in full effect and this high-flying passing attack should decimate the Cowboys pass defense, which is ranked last in the NFL. The Cowboys aren't much better at stopping the run, either (ranked 29th), but that shouldn't be a problem v. the league's 29th-ranked rushing offense. Romo's offense will try to get it going in the air, but that will be trouble in the cold and wind going against this revamped Giants pass rush. The Giants avenge the Week 1 loss and the Cowboys continue to bask in mediocrity. 

The Giants were in the stretch of their annual late-season winning streak when the Cowboys came in and played just better enough, despite the weather, to steal the win late on another Romo 4th Quarter drive. The game was evenly matched, even down to the penalties, but the rushing edge the Giants held all game (202 yards) didn't win out as the Cowboys returned a key pick-six and stayed alive continuing their winning ways in November. The Giants are most likely finished after another late-season winning streak came to an end.

Denver Broncos (-2.5) @ New England Patriots (54): Patriots 27-24 Patriots 34-31
8:25, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA (Weather: Very cold, high 10s, windy)

Reasons: The Patriots haven't been home underdogs since 2006, probably v. Manning and the Colts. Not that the Patriots need any bulletin board material, but that underdog status at home, combined with the robbery that took place last week in Carolina will have the Patriots ready to go. Oh yeah, then there's the weather, Manning's kryptonite. Game time temps will be freezing and wind chill temps will have Manning's face red and worried as the cold weather has stalled Manning's perfectly oiled machine many times in the past. The Bronco's top-ranked passing game is a little banged up, but so is the Patriots 12th-ranked pass defense. The Patriots might have trouble on the ground (ranked 9th) v. the Broncos 4th-ranked run defense, so they'll most likely put it up in the air against a bad pass defense (28th) as the weather never effects the hardened Patriots. We take full advantage of the weather in this one.

Wow. The Patriots looked done at home in their own weather at halftime, down 24-0. The Patriots fumbled the ball three times in the first quarter, two forced and recovered by Raver Von Miller, one returned for a TD. Another fumble occurred at the Patriot's 23, giving Knowshon Moreno an easy TD. Two of those fumbles were forced by illegal helmet-to-helmet hits, but of course the officials never saw any of those hits. The Broncos, more specifically Peyton Manning, sat back and handed the game off to Moreno, who ran all over the Patriots spotty run defense. Manning basically did nothing, saved the ankle, and "weathered" the storm as Moreno ran all over us. Just as the Broncos wrote it up. Maybe just as Bill Belichick (BB) wrote it up, too, because the Broncos got so comfortable running the ball that by the time Manning needed to win the game in the air, he struggled, save a late 4th Quarter TD that tied the game, sending it to overtime. Manning was a shell of himself, as he usually is v. the Patriots in Foxborough (there is a 'ugh' there, which most opponents experience upon arriving) in cold weather. This game was a tale of two halves as the Broncos turned it over several times in the second half and Brady went beast-mode, having the Patriots on top 28-24 by the 4th Quarter. Manning was held to 157 yards passing, but his late incredible TD tied the game and sent it to overtime, where BB again defied odds by giving the ball to Manning to start OT. The gamble paid off as Manning was ineffective and the Broncos were forced to punt. Wes Welker, returning to New England for the first time since bailing for Denver, and who had dropped a crucial 3rd and 8 pass in the 4th (sound familiar?), was late in calling off his blockers, one of them being Tony Carter, of whom the ball bounced and twirled right into. The Patriots accepted this muff gift from the departed Welker and kicked the FG from the 13 yard line. 

San Francisco 49ers (-6) @ Washington Natives (47): 49ers 31-24 49ers 27-6
Monday, 8:25 PM, FedEx Field, Washington DC (Weather: Cold, clear, mid 30s)

Reasons: The Natives can't seem to get out of their own way, and most of it has to do with attitude. This team has too many mental issues to take on such a physical, mentally tough team as in the 49ers, coming off a stinging loss to the Saints in which they were robbed of a win due to a ridiculous roughing the passer penalty.  I would not want to be RGIII going against this defense after last week. SF's run game (ranked 5th) will be in full effect as RGIII continues to struggle but put up late stats. The 49ers get on track big time this week, sending the Natives into "next season" mode.

There is nothing to talk about here other than 49ers domination. The 49ers have one of the best defenses in the NFL, and their LBs could start and star as that team's primary defender on any team in the NFL. The same might be said about their three down linemen, and one of the league's best front-seven units shined again v. a Natives team in serious trouble. Kaepernick shined again with three TDs, once again to Boldin and Davis, the only WRs to catch TDs for the 49ers this season. RGIII struggled again, perhaps with his worst game of the season, throwing for only 127 yards and an INT. Whether he's hurt or not, this is not he same RGIII as defenses have figured him out sending the Natives into scramble mode - and not the pistol kind.

Stay tuned Wednesday for an early edition of 'Week 13 NFL Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis)' for the games on Thanksgiving.

Phaulkner

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Week 12 #NFL Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis)

New Orleans Saints (-9) @ Atlanta Falcons (53): Saints 31-24 Saints 17-13
Thursday, 8:25 PM, Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: As much as I wish the Saints would get crushed after not only stealing the game from the 49ers Sunday on a horrendously bad call, but for Drew Brees adding fuel to fire every chance he gets by claiming his smallish mouth filled with blood after the legal hit. Alas, it's not going to happen. It could; their really is no explicable way in which we can answer why the Falcons have been this bad (they rank 3rd in overall passing), but they have been, and with the Saints' improved defense (ranked 3rd v. the pass), the chances of a Falcons upset seem even lower. I finally learned last week (Den v. KC) that even against stout defenses high-scoring offenses (2nd-ranked passing attack) with HOF quarterbacks beast; so you can imagine what happens when those offenses face one of the worst defenses in the league (22nd v. pass; 30th v. run). If Vegas has New Orleans as 9-point favorites on the road then I'm all in. The tired Saints (short week) led by the bloodied Brees continue the trend they began Week 1 destroying Atlanta's once bright season in the weekly shit show that is Thursday Night Football.

Pittsburgh Steelers (+1.5) @ Cleveland Browns (40): Browns 23-20
1:00 PM, First Energy Stadium, Cleveland, OH (Weather: 50% snow, high 20s)

Reasons: As improved as the Steelers have been in the past few weeks (2-0 last two games, 4-2 last six games), the Browns have one of the best overall defenses in the league (in terms of yardage) and are fighting for their divisional lives. The snowy conditions should keep this tough divisional match up low-scoring; the Browns escape at home.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (+9) @ Detriot Lions (49): Lions 31-20
1:00 PM, Ford Field, Detroit, MI (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: The Buc's have won two straight games after losing their first eight, and even scored a season-high 41 points last week v. the dreadful Falcons. That hot streak ends this week as the Lions look to solidify their playoff position. The league's 3rd-ranked passing attack will shred the Buc's lame pass defense as Revis and Co. focus solely on Megatron. Mike Glennon has revitalized this offense, and will hit Jackson for one or two, but will it be enough? No, the Lions roll.

Minnesota Vikings (+4.5) @ Green Bay Packers (44): Packers 27-21
1:00 PM, Lambeau Field, Green Bay, WI (Weather: Clear, cold, 20s)

Reasons: The Packers have been reeling in their three straight losses without Rodgers, but have still managed to gain yards. They'll finally put up points this week, too, sweeping the season series from the confused Vikings. The cold weather will also get to this cozy dome team as one of the league's highest-rated offenses goes to work in their comfortable cold home. 

San Diego Chargers (+5) @ Kansas City Chiefs (42): Chiefs 27-21
1:00 PM, Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, MO (Weather: Clear, cold, 30s)

Reasons: The Chiefs were exposed last week on national television and could get caught looking towards a rematch against Denver again next week, were it not for the fact that Andy Reid is their head coach. The Chargers will come into freezing weather and their only real strength (4th-ranked passing offense) will be thwarted by the Chiefs 9th-ranked pass defense. The Chiefs run game will be the difference in this one as they take the important divisional match up.

Chicago Bears (+1.5) @ St. Louis Rams (45.5): Rams 24-23
1:00 PM, Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis, MO (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: This game isn't much to look forward to, which means it'll probably end up in some high-scoring shoot-out. The Bears defense is on IR, Cutler is hurt, and the Rams are just fighting for an identity. But every time I predict a low-scoring bore, the opposite happens. I look for the Bears to take advantage of an injured Rams' secondary and that's about it. Lots of FGs in this one.

Carolina Panthers (-4.5) @ Miami Dolphins (41): Panthers 27-17
1:00 PM, SunLife Stadium, Miami, FL (Weather: Warm, 50% rain)

Reasons: The Panthers are balling. Even with that bullsh*t call at the end of the game v. the Patriots last week, the Panthers deserved the win and have rattled off six straight. That will continue as the Dolphins are not only only no match for the multifaceted Panthers, they'll still dealing with the outside noise. The top-ranked Panthers defense (5th v. the pass; 3rd v. the run) will give Miami trouble all day as their mediocre offense struggles. Their only hope is that Cam Newton lets the recent success get to his head and the decent Miami defense wreaks havoc. Not likely.

New York Jets (+3.5) @ Baltimore Ravens (39): Ravens 21-17
1:00 PM, M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, MD (Weather: Cold, 30s, windy)

Reasons: One of the better defensive match ups of the week, the improving Ravens defense will give Geno & The Jets trouble all day. The Jets only chance will come on the ground, where they rank 8th in the league. The Jets also stop the run (1st), which means Ray Rice's resurgence will last exactly one week. I look for the Ravens to go to the air often, unless the wind poses a serious problem. Look for more FGs in this one. Ravens take the close defensive battle at home as the Jets end the roller coaster ride and lose two in a row.

Jacksonville Jaguars (+10) @ Houston Texans (43.5): Texans 27-16
1:00 PM, Reliant Stadium, Houston, TX (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: The Jaguars are simply the NFL's worst team. They average just under 13 ppg, and they rank last in the NFL in rushing yards and against the run. Apparently Jacksonville had no concept of the running game. They have lost nine of their ten games and their first eight before finally winning two weeks ago. The Texans aren't much better. Despite much higher statistical rankings, including the NFL's best pass defense, the Texans have lost eight straight after winning their first two and have turned a Super Bowl-or-bust season into a bust. Vegas has Houston crushing, so why not?

Tennessee Titans (-1) @ Oakland Raiders (41.5): Titans 24-21
4:05 PM, O. Co. Stadium, Oakland, CA (Weather: Sunny, warm)

Reasons: Two teams going nowhere, one due to injuries and young coaching, one due to injuries, underachieving, and good coaching. Maybe the latter isn't so good if a team is underachieving, or perhaps we were all just wrong about Chris Johnson. Either way this looks to be boring game as the only potential lightning (Johnson) should be bottled up all day by the Raiders 6th-ranked rush defense, the only feather in their proverbial cap. Titans prevail with better coaching.

Indianapolis Colts (+2) @ Arizona Cardinals (45): Colts 24-21
4:05 PM, Univ. of Phoenix Stadium, Phoenix, AZ (Weather: 60s, 10% rain)

Reasons: Vegas has the Cardinals pass rush getting to Luck, as well as stopping the run. I doubt they can accomplish both. The Colts WRs aren't what they were the first half of the season, but I like the Colts improved ground game. The Cardinals 2nd-ranked rush defense will stop the colts from running all over the field, but not from scoring. Although the Colts offensive line might struggle some v. the Cardinals, I can't see Carson Palmer continuing this current winning streak v. an opportunistic Colts defense, which is surprisingly good v. the pass, despite only being ranked 16th. This will be a battle of the pass rushes. Colts win a close one on the road.

Dallas Cowboys (+2.5) @ New York Giants (45.5): Giants 27-24
4:25 PM, MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ (Weather: Cold, 30s, windy) 

Reasons: The Giants are on the rise. Their annual winning streak is in full effect and this high-flying passing attack should decimate the Cowboys pass defense, which is ranked last in the NFL. The Cowboys aren't much better at stopping the run, either (ranked 29th), but that shouldn't pose a problem v. the league's 29th-ranked rushing offense. Romo's offense will try to get it going in the air, but that will be trouble in the cold and wind going against this revamped Giants pass rush. The Giants avenge the Week 1 loss and the Cowboys continue to bask in mediocrity.

Denver Broncos (-2.5) @ New England Patriots (54): Patriots 27-24
8:25 PM, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA (Weather: Very cold, high 10s, windy)

Reasons: The Patriots haven't been home underdogs since 2006, probably v. Manning and the Colts. Not that the Patriots need any bulletin board material, but that underdog status at home, combined with the robbery that took place last week in Carolina will have the Patriots ready to go. Oh yeah, then there's the weather, Manning's kryptonite. Game time temps will be freezing and wind chill temps will have Manning's face red and worried as the cold weather has stalled Manning's perfectly oiled machine many times in the past. The Bronco's top-ranked passing game is a little banged up, but so is the Patriots 12th-ranked pass defense. The Patriots might have trouble on the ground (ranked 9th) v. the Broncos 4th-ranked run defense, so they'll most likely put it up in the air against a bad pass defense (28th) as the weather never effects the hardened Patriots. We take full advantage of the weather in this one.

San Francisco 49ers (-6) @ Washington Natives (47): 49ers 31-24
Monday, 8:25 PM, FedEx Field, Washington DC (Weather: Cold, clear, mid 30s)

Reasons: The Natives can't seem to get out of their own way, and most of it has to do with attitude. This team has too many mental issues to take on such a physical, mentally tough team as in the 49ers, coming off a stinging loss to the Saints in which they were robbed of a win due to a ridiculous roughing the passer penalty.  I would not want to be RGIII going against this defense after last week. SF's run game (ranked 5th) will be in full effect as RGIII continues to struggle but put up late stats. The 49ers get on track big time this week, sending the Natives into "next season" mode.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Tuesday's Here: NFL Predictions Review

Week 11 results: 8-7 wins (43-24 season); 4-11 v. spread (22-45 season)

 New York Jets (+1) @ Buffalo Bills (41): Bills 20-17 Bills 37-17
1:00 PM, Buffalo, NY (Weather: heavy rain, unseasonably warm)

Reasons: The Jets have not won - or lost for that matter - back to back games this season, an interesting trend I see continuing. On the other side, the Bills have lost three in a row, and will be looking for their first win in a month, at home where they historically play better. Both teams feature two of the league's best rushing attacks, which will come in handy during the heavy rain Sunday. Conversely, both teams feature two of the league's worst passing attacks; those statistics will not improve as the two rookie QBs will be throwing in the rain, if at all. The real test will be if the Bill's slightly banged up two-headed RB monster (Jackson/Spiller) can crack the league's top rush defense. I think they will just enough in the driving rain, complimented by a few heady plays from EJ Manuel and a few mistakes from Geno Smith, to take the sloppy win at home.

The Bills defense went beast mode in the bad weather forcing turnovers all day. Geno Smith was injured at one point, and looked lost most of the day as the Bills projected stout defense lived up to the "billing". The Jets continued their roller coaster ride, having neither won or lost two in a row.

Baltimore Raven (+3) @ Chicago Bears (46): Bears 17-13 Bears 23-20
1:00 PM, Chicago, IL (Weather: severe thunderstorms, high winds, unseasonably warm)

Reasons: I can't imagine the O/U would still be 46 if the lines were set today considering the storm forecasted to roll through the Chicago area this afternoon. The weather combined with a banged-up (if playing) Jay Cutler spells doom for the NFL's 8th-ranked passing attack, so they'll hand it off to the run game as Forte takes on the league's 10th-ranked run defense, which is a little banged up. Flacco will have no shot in the air and will have to rely on Ray Rice and the league's 30th-ranked rushing attack, which may have a chance in this weather v. the 31st-ranked rush defense. The stars have aligned to make this one a sloppy game as well, hence the low score.

The weather held true causing a 2-hour delay, but the O/U nearly held true, too, as the teams managed 43 points in the mud (the field was destroyed). Ray Rice took advantage of a decimated defense and terrible weather and lived up to his hype for the first time this season.

Cleveland Browns (+6) @ Cincinnati Bengals (42): Bengals 20-17 Bengals 41-20
1:00 PM, Cincinnati, OH (Weather: sever thunderstorms, windy, unseasonably warm)

Reasons:  Two of the league's best complete defenses will square off in more bad weather and produce another low-scoring game. The Brown's struggling offense will have a hard time gaining traction in the mud or against this beastly Bengals defense, but the strength of the Bengals offense could be non-existent in bad weather v. an equally beastly defense. It'll be up to the Law Firm and the rookie Giovani Benard to carry the load unless the rains come late. That will dictate the game.

Another defense went beast mode yesterday - the Bengals. They completely dominated the Browns throughout the 2nd quarter (31 points) after the Browns quickly went up 13-0 in the 1st. Both teams scored defensive TDs. The Bengals defense took it away four times, scoring on two of those takeaways, and broke the game wide open midway through the 3rd quarter.

Washington Natives (+3.5) @ Philadelphia Eagles (52.5): Natives 34-31 Eagles 24-16
1:00 PM, Philadelphia, PA (Weather: 20% rain, high 60's)

Reasons: Two of the league's best offenses square off against the two of the worst passing defenses and two of the most mediocre run defenses. This is the recipe for a high-scoring game as the Natives look to avenge the Week 1 loss in which Chip Kelly unleashed his new offense and took center stage  ruining RGIII's return.

A tale of three quarters and one quarter, the Eagles shot out to a 17-0 first half lead, then added 7 more in the 3rd, before RGIII finally woke up and got the Redskins back into the game too late. Once again RGIII took most of the game off, just to turn it on late with the Eagles playing prevent defense. That seems to be a theme for RGII, even going back to last year. Neither team looked sharp and despite whatever end these teams enjoy, neither will make it far in the playoffs.

Detroit Lions (-2.5) @ Pittsburgh Steelers (47.5): Lions 21-17 Steelers 37-27
1:00 PM, Pittsburgh, PA (Weather: 80% rain, high 60's)
Reasons: The theme this week is bad weather stifling high-octane passing offenses. This plagues this game too, as two of the league's top passing offenses will more than likely be slowed in heavy rain. Megatron will always manage some offense, but this one will again be left to the rushing attacks, in which Pittsburgh's backs will face the league's 8th-ranked run defense. Another low-scoring game.

No one know what happened in this game. Actually, we do. The Lions blasted off in the 2nd quarter after figuring out the Steelers defense, only to be totally thwarted in the second half by the Steeler's own adjustments. Congrats, Dick LeBeau, you still have something in the tank. Two key turnovers in the second half basically gave the Steelers the game after Stafford began forcing the ball to Megatron. The Steeler's offense found the stadium.

Atlanta Falcons (-1.5) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (43.5): Falcons 21-20 Buccaneers 41-28
1:00 PM, Tampa Bay, FL (Weather: warm 20% rain)
Reasons: What an awful game. The Buc's are coming off their first win of the season, and the Falcons are a shell of their former selves, but with the Falcons getting healthier, and having no option but to pass against the league's 5th-ranked run defense, I see them squeaking out a victory v. the hapless Buccaneers. Schiano's days are numbered.

The Falcons are horrible. That is the review of this game. I suupose we can't close without mentioning Bobby "Makin' It" Rainey, who came out of nowhere for 163 yards and two TDs on 30 carries. Maybe Schiano isn't finished just yet as the Buc's have won two in a row after losing 8 straight.

Arizona Cardinals (-7) @ Jacksonville Jaguars (41.5): Cardinals 20-13 Cardinals 27-14
1:00 PM, Jacksonville, FL (Weather: warm, 30% rain)
Reasons: The Jaguars also won their first game of the season last week, but that won't help them this week as they face one of the league's best run defenses. Wait, they can't rush the ball. They can't throw either, especially in the rain. They will slow the Cardinals mediocre passing attack, but should manage some yards on the ground v. the hapless Jaguars. The Cardinals offense won't be lighting up the scoreboard, but will manage enough point to beat these domesticated, London-bound Jaguars.

The Jaguars had a first-win-of-the-season hangover and the Cardinals took advantage. Only managing 274 yards on offense on 24 minutes possession, the Jaguars turned it over twice and returned to 0-8 form. The Cardinals - specifically Carson Palmer - on the other hand , blew up, putting up 419 yards in the air and took care of the worst team in football.

Oakland Raiders (+7) @ Houston Texans (42): Texans 24-17 Raiders 28-23
1:00 PM, Houston , TX (Weather: Indoors)
Reasons: I couldn't for the life of my figure out why the Texans were favored by 7 points, even with the recent injuries to the Raider's offense, until I realized that the Texans, despite being 2-7, are ranked in the top half of all four major statistical categories, including the #1 ranked pass defense. That is going to spell doom for the Raiders, who will not be able to get anything going against the Texans. Case Keenum has sparked the Texans of late, and I expect that trend to continue.

The Raiders, without starting QB Terrell Pryor and RB Darren McFadden, turned it over to back up RB Rashad Jennings, who posted 150 on the ground and carried the Raiders to victory. On the other side, the Texan inexplicably benched Case Keenum for Matt Schaub in the 3rd Quarter only to have the whole thing blow up in their face. The Texans out gained the Raiders, but turned it over twice in a loss that seals a non-winning season after having Super Bowl aspirations. 

San Diego Chargers (-1.5) @ Miami Dolphins (45.5): Chargers 24-20 Dolphins 20-16
4:05 PM, Miami, FL (Weather: warm and clear)

Reasons: The Dolphins are reeling, and despite the quieting storm, the clouds still linger. Add that to a Chargers team that can turn it on (and off) in any game and I think the Chargers take advantage of an emotionally injured team that is getting worse by the week. The 4th-ranked passing attack of the Chargers v. the 14th-ranked pass defense of the Dolphins may be the only intriguing match up of the game. At least the weather will be nice.

The Chargers remind me of the Jets in their unpredictability. Despite out-gaining the Dolphins and holding the ball for three more minutes, ten penalties stalled drives and the bend-but-don't-break Dolphins defense limited the Chargers to three FGs and a TD. A mediocre effort from the Dolphins offense was all it took to beat the Chargers on their off-week.

San Francisco 49ers (+3) @ New Orleans Saints (47.5): 49ers 30-27 Saints 23-20
4:25 PM, New Orleans, LA (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: Possibly the best match up of the day, we have an early glimpse of the potential NFC Championship game with two of the best teams in the NFC (and the NFL) squaring off. Despite SF's passing problems, they bring the house with the running game, something NO has a hard time stopping. Conversely, the Saints have one of the best passing attacks in the league, but no running game, which will hurt the one-dimensional Saints v. one of the best overall defenses in the NFL. 49ers stun the Saints at home in a close one.

This game of football is getting ridiculous, and another HORRENDOUS call, which ultimately cost the 49ers the game, changed an incredible defensive, game-winning play into a chance for New Orleans to tie the game with a chip-shot field goal. Total bullsh*t. Despite your feelings about the direction of Brees' neck movement relative to his head movement, the hit was not only clean, but textbook. The play also should have resulted in the 49ers taking over and sealing the game. Instead the Saints got 15 bullsh*t yards and kicked a game-tying chip shot, eventually winning as time expired on their next possession. This play unfortunately renders an otherwise incredible game tainted.

Green Bay Packers (+5) @ New York Giants (42): Giants 24-20 Giants 27-13
4:25 PM, East Rutherford, NJ (Weather: 30% rain, unseasonably warm)

Reasons: The Giants could play the Houston Texans in the Super "High Statistical Rankings Yet Horrible Records" Bowl. Both teams are ranked high enough to warrant leading records, not just winning records, yet mistakes by both teams have plagued them all season, costing them many wins. The Giants' defense is improving, just in time, and the offense should take advantage of an injured Packers defense that was mediocre anyway. The Packers are dealing with major injuries and are hoping just to stay afloat as they weather said injuries. The Giants will win their fourth game in a row, a feat they have accomplished every year Manning has been at the helm.

Not much to report here The Giants defense is improving, and the Packers offense relies on Scott Tolzien until Aaron Rodgers returns. The Packers hung in yards-wise, but three turnovers and a 3:2 time of possession advantage tells the tale.

Minnesota Vikings (+12.5) @ Seattle Seahawks (45.5): Seahawks 30-20 Seahawks 41-20
4:25 PM, Seattle, WA (Weather: 50% rain, mid-40s)

Reasons: The Seahawks beast...on EVERY level. Even their 24th-ranked pass offense would have you fooled. On the other side, however, is a Vikings team that, despite injuries and poor statistical rankings and record, seem to give teams trouble now and again, including an unexpected win v. the Natives last week. That will not happen this week. Despite AP getting his, Ponder and the Vikings will be shut down. The Seahawks' run wild on this poor rush defense, and even manage a few in the air.

Tony Gerhart led the Vikings in rushing v. this consistently stout defense, and he had 14 fewer carries than AP. Yikes. You can't play games with this Seahawks defense, and the Vikings turned it over four times, including a pick-6. The Seahawks offense balls, too, and they took care of business against an injured and over matched Minnesota team.

Kansas City (+8) @ Denver Broncos (49.5): Chiefs 28-27 Broncos 27-17
8:30 PM, Denver, CO (Weather: Freezing, clear)

Reasons: Best scoring offense (41.2 points/game) v. best scoring defense (12.8 points). Something has to give. Manning is hobbled. That can't be good v. this KC front seven. The Broncos improving rushing attack might gain some traction v. the Chief's 24th-ranked run defense, but I wouldn't count on it. The name of the game will actually be Denver's defense, as their 4th-ranked run defense will give the Chiefs respectable run game trouble all night, leaving much of the game to Alex Smith. That could go either way as the Broncos have one of the league's worst pass defenses. This is a tough game to call, and I can't believe Vegas has the Broncos as 8-point favorites. With key players hobbled and KC trying to make its first true statement, I like the Chiefs. Barely. Hey, I called the Bronco's only other loss.

The Chiefs struggle offensively. That is an understatement. So it figures that the Chiefs would have a difficult time keeping up with Denver, even while holding them to 14 points below their season average. The Broncos defense, as I said, ended up being the name of the game as their bend-but-don't-break style held KC's mediocre offense to only 17 points, despite gaining 344 yards of offense. Manning looked fine, and the Chiefs barely got to him, but they did lose Welker to a concussion; he's questionable for next week's game v. the New England Patriots.

New England (+2.5) @ Carolina Panthers (46): Panthers 27-24 Panthers 24-20
Monday, 8:30 PM, Charlotte, NC

Reasons: This one hurts. The one kryptonite for the Patriots when they're healthy and firing on all cylinders (which they finally seem to be)? A beastly pass rush. Ugh. Our strength has been the run; they're ranked 2nd v. the run. Ugh. Bill Belichick will no doubt give Cam Newton headaches all day, but the Patriots rank 30th v. the run, a strength of Carolina's game. We're talking about a future HOF QB and a future HOF coach v. a third-year headcase and a coach that could be fired if things don't continue to improve. Still, this Carolina team is on the rise, and despite the Patriots offense trending the same way, recent key injuries on defense will have the Patriots playing catch up against one of the best overall defenses in the NFL, one with the recipe to beat New England.

I refuse to talk about this game other than to say it was hard fought, Cam Newton finally showed why he was drafted #1 overall three years ago, and the officials clearly have a vendetta against the New England Patriots.

Thursday Night Football: Indianapolis (-3) @ Tennessee Titans (42.5): Colts 24-23 Colts 30-27

(Did not review in depth; Thursday Night Football reviews begin next week)