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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!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Week 8: #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis)

 Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers could keep pace with the AFC West-leading Denver Broncos this week, or fall two games behind the most complete team in the NFL.

Week 8: #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis)
Week 8 results (season): 10-5 wins (81-39-1 .669); 9-6 v. the spread (54-66-1 .446)

San Diego Chargers 5-2 (+7.5) @ Denver Broncos 5-1 (51.5): Broncos 27-21 Broncos 35-21
Thursday, 8:25 PM, Mile High Stadium, Denver, CO (Weather: Clear, mid-60s)

Reasons: This could be the best Thursday Night Football match up to date in 2014, and not just on paper. These two teams are actually very good – both of them. The Chargers have the chance to tie the Broncos for the division lead tomorrow night or they could end up two games back at the mid-season point against a powerful team which will be ahead of the toughest part of their schedule after their Week 9 game v. the New England Patriots. In other words, this is a big game for San Diego. The Chargers lost a close game to a solid Chiefs team on a Cairo Santos 48-yard FG with 21 seconds remaining, and dropped to 5-2; the Broncos steamrolled the 49ers to improve to 5-1, their third straight blowout win against solid defenses. These are two of the most evenly matched teams in the NFL, and they happen to be bitter divisional rivals. Both teams have top-tier passing games (SD – 6th; DEN – 3rd), but both teams have struggled running the ball (SD – 29th; DEN – 25th), primarily a function of injuries. Defensively both teams excel, but in different areas. The Chargers stop the pass (ranked 3rd), which will come in handy versus the Broncos high-flying attack. The Broncos excel at stopping the run (ranked 3rd), which may not matter much here, save for stopping Branden Oliver, which could slow the Chargers’ play action pass game. Neither team allows many points scored against them (SD – 3rd; DEN – 6th), but the Broncos’ 4th-ranked scoring offense will score just enough to win against a solid AFC West rival. Hopefully The Curse of Thursday Night doesn’t ruin the potentially epic match up.

Detroit Lions 5-2 (-3.5) @ Atlanta Falcons 2-5 (47): Lions 24-21 Lions 22-21
Sunday, 9:30 AM, Wembley Stadium, London, England (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: This game starts at 6:30 am if you’re on the west coast, so get your waffles ready. The Lions were down 23-10 to New Orleans when they scored 14 unanswered points in the final five minutes of the game, sending the Saints into a tailspin. The Falcons have been in a tailspin since Week 2. With no defense to speak of the Falcons don’t stand much of a chance against a statistically dominant Lions team, especially considering the Falcons aren’t actually at home 4,200 miles away from Atlanta.

Seattle Seahawks 3-3 (-5) @ Carolina Panthers 3-3-1 (44.5): Seahawks 28-24 Seahawks 13-9
Sunday, 1 PM, B o A Stadium, Charlotte, NC (Weather: Sunny, high 70s)

Reasons: To say the Panthers are reeling is an understatement; their formerly vaunted defense having yielded 37-38-24-37-38 points to their last five opponents speaks volumes to that. So if the pattern continues the Panthers should give up 24 point v. the Seahawks, which is about what the Seahawks average, plus a FG (27 ppg – ranked 8th). That Panthers defense, ranked 2nd in scoring defense (15.1 ppg) after 2013, ranks near the bottom of the league so far in 2014 (29th – 28 ppg). The Seahawks defense is a shell of its 2013 “self” as well, yielding nearly 10 additional ppg (24 ppg – ranked 19th) relative to the top-ranked 2013 squad (14.4 ppg). When we saw this game on the schedule a few months ago we rejoiced; now one of these teams will hit the midway point with a losing record, which is exactly where one of these teams should be considering how they’ve played.

Chicago Bears 3-4 (+6) @ New England Patriots 5-2 (50): Patriots 28-21 Patriots 51-23
Sunday, 1 PM, Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, MA (Weather: Sunny, high 50s)

Reasons: The Patriots have quietly climbed back into the ranks of respectable teams, and have the numbers to back it up, despite one of those wins coming v. the Jets. The Patriots have the 7th-ranked scoring offense and the 12th-ranked scoring defense, and should have no problem against an at best mediocre Bears team that has already started to come apart at the emotional seems, as they tend to do with Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall leading the team. The Bears only excel in the passing game; the Patriots have the top-ranked pass defense. The Patriots should roll at home.

St. Louis Rams 2-4 (+7) @ Kansas City Chiefs 3-3 (44): Chiefs 27-21 Chiefs 34-7
Sunday, 1 PM, Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, MO (Weather: Sunny, low 80s)
Reasons: The Rams beat the Seahawks last week, which is exactly why they’ll lose on the road against the Chiefs this week. Coming off an emotional win at home against the defending Super Bowl champions, the Rams come into the formally loudest 12th Man in football and play a superior team. Besides a surprisingly good passing game (ranked 11th), anchored by rookie quarterback Austin Davis, the Rams are pretty awful. The Chiefs are not, ranking 2nd in pass defense, 3rd in run offense and 6th in scoring defense. The Rams may cover, but they won’t win.

Minnesota Vikings 2-5 (+3) @ Tampa Buccaneers 1-5 (42): Buccaneers 24-21 Vikings  19-13 (OT)
Sunday, 1 PM, Raymond James Stadium, Tampa Bay, FL (Weather: Sunny; high 70s)

Reasons: One of the week’s least compelling games, these two teams combine for a 3-10 record and are categorically last in three major metrics (MIN – passing offense; TB – passing defense and scoring defense). That’s right, Lovie Smith is coaching the league’s worst statistical defense, and they’re worst at defending the pass - so much for the famed Tampa-2. Tampa Bay’s at home and they’ve had two weeks to prepare; that has to be worth something.

Buffalo Bills 4-3 (+3) @ New York Jets 1-6 (41): Bills 21-17 Bills 43-23
Sunday, 1 PM, MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ (Weather: Sunny, mid-60s)

Reasons: Yet another snoozer, don’t plan on seeing many conventional points scored in this game. The Jets one strength – their defense - has wilted towards the bottom of the league (26th-ranked scoring defense) to join a Jets offense that has been there since the beginning (28th-ranked scoring offense). The Bills offense isn’t much better, ranked 24th themselves, but Buffalo’s 7th-ranked scoring defense, which is anchored by the league’s 4th-ranked run defense, is the reason they’re about to be 5-3.

Miami Dolphins 3-3 (-6) @ Jacksonville Jaguars 1-6 (43): Dolphins 27-20 Dolphins 27-13
Sunday, 1 PM, Ever Bank Field, Jacksonville, FL (Weather: Sunny, high 70s)

Reasons: Don’t get too excited about the Jaguars first win. Although the team seems to be improving by the week, the Dolphins are no joke. Ok, they’re a little joke, but they shouldn’t be. The Dolphins can stop the run (ranked 3rd), run the ball (ranked 4th), rank 10th against the pass, and sit just outside the top-10 in scoring offense (11th). The Jaguars are none of those things, ranking in the bottom-five in five of six major statistical categories, including last in scoring defense. The Dolphins don’t have to go far to rain on the Jaguars first-win parade.

Houston Texans 3-4 (-2) @ Tennessee Titans 2-5 (43.5): Texans 24-21 Texans 30-16
Sunday, 1 PM, LP Field, Nashville, TN (Weather: Sunny, high 70s)

Reasons: Another snoozer slated for Week 8, the Texans are rightfully favored v. the far-from-statistical Titans, which will be starting rookie Zach Mettenberger against JJ Watt and the NFL’s 8th-ranked passing defense. That’s about the only compelling matchup in this game.

Baltimore Ravens 5-2 (+1) @ Cincinnati Bengals 3-2-1 (46): Ravens 27-24 Bengals 27-24
Sunday, 1 PM, Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, OH (Weather: Sunny, high 60s)

Reasons: Once a circled game a few weeks ago, the Bengals have gone from arguably the best team in the NFL to arguably the worst after three straight games without a win. After winning their first three games by an average of 15 ppg, Cincinnati has now lost two games by an average of 27 ppg, and gave up 37 in there tie to Carolina, a game they should’ve won if not for Mike Nugent’s 37-yard miss with six seconds remaining. The Ravens, on the other hand, have quietly become one of the NFL’s best teams, which is hard to argue considering they rank in the top-10 in passing (9th) and rushing (7th) offense, passing defense (7th), and scoring offense (6th) and defense (1st). Why are the Ravens getting one point then, you ask? Because they’re on the road, and the Bengals do still have most of the players that made them a once-feared team some three weeks ago. Also, the Bengals force turnovers. However, this is a game of two trending teams, and you can imagine which teams are trending which direction.

Philadelphia Eagles 5-1 (+2.5) @ Arizona Cardinals 5-1 (48): Cardinals 24-23 Cardinals 24-20
Sunday, 4:05 PM, Univ. of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, AZ (Weather: Sunny, mid-80s)

Reasons: One of the more intriguing games of Week 8 is the battle between two 5-1 teams, the NFL’s 8th-ranked scoring offense (PHI) and 5th-ranked scoring defense (ARZ), which also boast the league’s 7th-ranked passing attack (PHI) against its 2nd-ranked pass defense (ARZ). The Eagles are certainly one of the most interesting teams in the NFL, as their usually winning game plans have gone to the wayside in lue of defensive touchdowns and special teams scores; in other words, the complete opposite of what we expected. The Cardinals have weathered the injury storm to not only stay afloat, but also stay on top of the challenging NFC West at 5-1 - so much for losing Darnell Dockett and Daryl Washington. Someone has to lose this game, and the Sharps apparently think it’ll be Arizona (-2.5 at home), but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cardinals caught the Eagles slipping on the road in the desert heat. With Carson Palmer back behind center, Larry Fitzgerald taking form, and the Eagles Jekyll and Hyde play, it’s not that hard to believe.

Indianapolis Colts 5-2 (-3) @ Pittsburgh Steelers 4-3 (49): Colts 28-24 Steelers 51-34
Sunday, 4:25 PM, Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA (Weather: Sunny, low 60s)

Reasons: Believe it or not, the Colts could be the best team in the NFL. Ten teams have to rank in the top-10 in any statistical category, which may not impress some people. To say you’re in the 30th percentile isn’t eye-popping, so I understand if some scoff at top-10 rankings. How about top-5 rankings though? The Colts have four of those, which obviously include the Colts’ top-ranked pass game and second-ranked scoring offense. I bet you didn’t realize those same Colts have the 4th-ranked pass defense, the 9th-ranked run defense, and the NFL’s 4th-ranked scoring defense? Most people don’t, either. The Colts’ Achilles Heal has turned out to be a surprising strength, helping Indianapolis beat their opponents by an average score of 31-19. The same can’t be said for the Steelers, which have a mediocre defense to compliment a potent offense led by Le’Veon Bell and the dynamic Antonio Brown. The Steelers have won close games, but have been blown out in losses, which I expect to occur tomorrow against the suddenly deadly Colts, who are two early close losses away from being undefeated.

Oakland Raiders 0-6 (+7) @ Cleveland Browns 3-3 (43.5): Browns 28-21 Browns 23-13
Sunday, 4:25 PM, FirstEnergy Stadium, Cleveland, OH (Weather: Sunny, high 50s)

Reasons: The Browns slip up and lose to the lowly Jaguars, giving Jacksonville their first win, and suddenly everyone’s darling from a week ago is back to being some perennial loser. What’s even more ridiculous is the anointing of Brain Hoyer as the Browns’ savior, only to be talking about Johnny Football replacing him already in the case of a bad performance v. the Raiders! The media can be so ridiculous, hence my blog, which I’m sure nobody reads. I will agree that if the Browns drop two in a row to the two worst teams in the NFL that the hype will have been for not, but let’s wait until Sunday night for that assessment. In the meantime the Browns are a statistically mediocre team with some emotional wins that can run the ball (ranked 6th), while the Raiders are an awful team that can sometimes stop the pass (ranked 11th). The Raiders aren’t careful with the ball (-4), which is something I expect the Browns (+3) to take advantage of. Browns get back on track.

Green Bay Packers 5-2 (+1.5) @ New Orleans 2-4 (55.5): Packers 28-27 Saints 44-23
Sunday, 8:30 PM, SuperDome, New Orleans, LA (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: It must be embarrassing for the 5-2 Packers to be getting 1.5 points against the 2-4 Saints, who are certainly a shell of their former selves, even being on the road. Then again, it must have been embarrassing for Aaron Rodgers to watch Alex Smith get drafted before him and then sit behind Brett Favre for four years, but he endured that, too. The days of me believing in the Saints solely because they were home currently hold about as much water as that same feeling for the Atlanta Falcons. In other words, I don’t buy the home field advantage hype with New Orleans anymore, especially with their number one weapon still hobbled. The Packers are for real, and Rodgers is just getting warmed up. Expect a high-scoring affair as both teams have top-10 scoring offenses (GB – 4th; NO – 9th), and Drew Brees still commands the league’s 2nd-ranked passing attack, and will go throw-for-throw against the new(er) guy on the block. One interesting statistic to this game: turnovers. Green Bay leads the NFL in turnover ratio (+10), while the Saints are near the bottom (-8). That could be the name of the game, as it has been for both of these teams so far in 2014.

Washington Natives 2-5 (+9.5) @ Dallas Cowboys 6-1 (50): Cowboys 30-21 Natives 20-17 (OT)
Monday, 8:30 PM, AT&T Stadium, Dallas, TX (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: The Saints may rank near the bottom of the league in turnover ratio, but Washington is the worst team in the league (-9, tied with NYJ). The Cowboys don’t take the ball away much, but if you give them extra chances they’ll kill you. Dallas enters Monday Night Football as arguably the best team in the NFL, right there along with the Colts, and just like the Colts, a surprising Dallas defense has been a big reason for the Cowboys’ first half success. Sitting at 6-1, the Cowboys have the NFL’s top-ranked running attack to compliment the league’s 5th-ranked scoring offense. What’s surprising is the Cowboys’ 9th-ranked scoring defense, which hasn’t squandered any leads, making Tony Romo’s life much easier. The Natives 4th-ranked passing game is an elusion perpetuated by Kirk Cousin’s early success; Cousin’s has since lost his job. The only thing the Natives are good at is stopping the pass, and they’ll soon be bad at that, too. The Cowboys won’t help their “best team in the NFL” case this week, but that’s only because of their opponent.

Check back Thursday and again Sunday for Week 9:  #NFL Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis) at!

Carolina Panthers: Bright spots amidst dull start

Personal Twitter: @phaulkner

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Tuesday's Gone: Week 7 #NFL Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis)

 Remember this guy? He may not be fat anymore, but the results v. the Patriots will be the same.

Week 7: #NFL Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis)
Week 7 results (season): 11-4 wins (71-34-1 .670); 6-9 v. spread (45-60-1 .425)

Week 7 Note: At Pro Football Media we’re just one man. And that one man is away on business over the next few weeks, making it difficult to analyze the games to the length you might be accustomed. So for Week 7 I will only offer my predicted score, without the analysis. Stay tuned for Week 8, when things get back to normal at

New York Jet 1-5 (+9.5)@ New England Patriots 4-2 (45.5): Patriots 27-20 Patriots 27-25
Thursday, 8:25 PM, MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ (Weather: Cloudy; mid-60s)

Reasons: Let’s be honest, this game has the makings of a blow out. The Patriots are out to prove to the world their 2-2 start was nothing more than a slow one, and the team has done so by blowing out their last two opponents while scoring at least 37 points in each game and winning by at least 17 points. The Jets are reeling, but they’ve played tough in every game, save the Chargers 31-0 blowout in which the team’s two offensive leaders, Geno Smith and Michael Vick, were either in the wrong film room or nowhere near a film room. New York even had a chance to tie the Broncos 24-24 late in Sunday’s game, but the Broncos ultimately won 31-17 after Aqib Talib’s pick-6 to seal the win. The Jets also play the Patriots tough despite any extenuating circumstances, and the Jets can rush the passer, Tom Brady’s kryptonite. Other than stopping the run, that’s all the Jets can do. New York is 1-5 for a reason – they’re awful, ranking at or near the bottom of the NFL in passing yards (last) and scoring offense/defense (30th/25th). The Patriots are hobbled on defense, but that shouldn’t matter against these Jets, and their 11th-ranked scoring offense is starting to click, although they lost Steven Ridley for the season. It’s also worth noting the Patriots have the league’s highest turnover ration (+9), while the Jets have the league’s worst (-9), likely to result in several scoring opportunities. The rival Jets could make the game closer than Patriots’ fans might like, but New England is too good for these Jets, no matter how much Rex fires them up for the game.

Carolina Panthers 3-2-1 (-7) @ Green Bay Packers 4-2 (48.5): Packers 27-24 Packers 38-17
Sunday, 1 PM, Lambeau Field, Green Bay, WI (Weather: Sunny, 50s)

Atlanta Falcons 2-4 (-7) @ Baltimore Ravens 4-2 (49.5): Ravens 27-21 Ravens 29-7
Sunday, 1 PM, M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, MD (Weather: Sunny, 60s)

Tennessee Titans 2-4 (+5.5) @ Washington Natives 1-5 (46): Natives 28-21 Natives 19-17
Sunday, 1 PM, FedEx Field, Landover, MD (Weather: Sunny, 60s:)

Seattle Seahawks 3-2 (-7) @ St. Louis Rams 1-4 (43.5): Seahawks 30-21 Rams 28-26
Sunday, 1 PM, Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis, MO (Weather: Indoors)

Cleveland Browns 3-2 (-5) @ Jacksonville Jaguars 0-6 (45): Browns 28-24 Jaguars 24-6
 Sunday, 1 PM, EverBank Field, Jacksonville, FL (Weather: Sunny, 70s)

Cincinnati Bengals 3-1-1 (+3) @ Indianapolis Colts 4-2 (49): Colts 27-24 Colts 27-0
Sunday, 1 PM, Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis, IN (Weather: Indoors)

Minnesota Vikings 2-4 (+5.5) @ Buffalo Bills 3-3 (42.5): Bills 20-17 Bills 17-16
Sunday, 1 PM, Ralph Wilson Stadium, Buffalo, NY (Weather: Sunny, 40s)

Miami Dolphins 2-3 (+3.5) @ Chicago Bears 3-3 (48.5): Bears 24-21 Dolphins 27-14
Sunday, 1 PM, Soldier Field, Chicago, IL (Weather: Sunny, 50s)

New Orleans Saints 2-3 (+2.5) @ Detroit Lions 4-2 (49): Lions 27-24 Lions 24-23
Sunday, 1 PM, Ford Field, Detroit, MI (Weather: Indoors)

Kansas City Chiefs 2-3 (+4) @ San Diego Chargers 5-1 (44.5): Chargers 27-21 Chiefs 23-20
Sunday, 4:05 PM, Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, CA (Weather: Sunny, 70s)

Arizona Cardinals 4-1 (-3.5) @ Oakland Raiders 0-5 (44): Cardinals 24-20 Cardinals 24-13
Sunday, 4:25 PM, Oakland Co. Stadium, Oakland, CA (Weather: Sunny, 70s)

New York Giants 3-3 (+6.5) @ Dallas Cowboys 5-1 (48): Cowboys 27-24 Cowboys 31-21
Sunday, 4:25 PM, AT&T Stadium, Dallas, TX (Weather: Indoors)

San Francisco 49ers 4-2 (+6.5) @ Denver Broncos 4-1 (49.5): Broncos 24-21 Broncos 42-17
Sunday, 8:30 PM, Mile High Stadium, Denver, CO (Weather: Sunny, 70s)

Houston Texans 3-3 (+3.5) @ Pittsburgh Steelers 3-3 (45): Steelers 21-20 Steelers 30-23
Monday, 8:30 PM, Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA (Weather: 60% rain; 50s)

Check back Thursday and again Sunday for Week 8: #NFL Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis) at!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Tuesday's Gone: Week 6 #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis)

 Thursday night kicks off Week 6 with two of the best young stars in the game. Too bad it's Thursday night. Ask Arian Foster about it.

Week 6: #NFL Game Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis)
Week 6 results: 11-3-1 wins (60-30-1 .659); 9-5-1 v. spread (39-51-1 .429)

Indianapolis Colts 3-2 (-2.5) @ Houston Texans 3-2 (46.5): Colts 24-21 Colts 33-28
Thursday, 8:25 PM, Reliant Stadium, Houston, TX (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: The Texans have lost three straight games to the Colts by an average of 12 ppg, including a 25-3 blowout in their last meeting in December. In fact, since the beginning of the Watt/Luck era in 2011, clearly the two biggest stars from their respective teams playing tonight’s game, the Texans are 1-3 v. the Colts. However, the game is at Reliant Stadium, the site of that lone win (12/16/2012 29-17). The Colts defense (16th pass defense; 12th run defense) is much better than advertised, and they only give up 22 points per game (14th), which is more points than the Texans score (21, good for 23rd in the NFL). The Texans defense is worse than advertised, and ranks near the bottom of the league in run defense (25th), but are still one of the more difficult defenses to score points against (4th), which will provide a great test on the road for the league’s top scoring offense. Andrew Luck and the Colts top-rated passing offense will try to overcome the noise and slice up the Texans’ 20th-ranked passing defense, and if the Texans stand any chance, they’ll need to stifle that pass game and lean heavy on the run, one of the only other things the Texans excel at (11th). Then there’s the matter of Thursday night, highly criticized this week by one Arian Foster, coincidentally the start running back on one of tonight’s featured teams. OK, it’s no coincidence, but the message is clear: the NFL and affiliate networks may pimp the Thursday Night game (TNF), but not only do the players hate it, they’re not ready for it. As if we needed Foster to tell us that. The winning team is beating their TNF opponents by 24 points in 2014, and the average TNF margin of victory is 17 points the last three years. There’s a reason the teams average five turnovers on TNF and the road team usually gets killed - these guys can’t even walk until Wednesday, let alone play on Thursday. That applies to the home team, too, don’t forget, and I feel it would effect a JJ Watt far before an Andrew Luck this time, because Luck suffered only five QB hits last week (resulting in one sack). The Colts are just hot enough to deviate from the TNF trend and win their fourth straight game.

It wasn’t a blowout, but the Texans have now lost four straight games to the Colts, and Andrew Luck shined again (370 passing yards, 3 TDs). So did JJ Watt, who returned as fumble recovery for a TD, continuing his remarkable season. This proved to be one of the most exciting Thursday night games so far in 2014, as it stayed competitive throughout. The Colts ultimately won, putting themselves in prime position to control the AFC South as the first half of the season is nearly completed.

Carolina Panthers 3-2 (+6.5) @ Cincinnati Bengals 3-1 (43.5): Bengals 24-20 TIE 37-37
Sunday, 1 PM, Paul Brown Stadium, Cincinnati, OH (Weather: 30% rain; low 60s)

Reasons: Once considered the best team in the NFL, just last week as a matter of fact, the Bengals came crashing down to Earth at Gillette last week and no longer scare anyone, not that they did anyway. They should be, however, as they still boast the league’s 5th-ranked defense, and score 24 ppg (ranked 13th), which is exactly what the Panthers give up (ranked 18th). Carolina is coming off a big win after two straight losses, but they had to come back down 21-7 to do it. Both teams force turnovers, but both teams are in triage, with major players questionable for both teams on both sides of the ball. Bengals win a close one at home.

Nobody likes a tie, but the Carolina Panthers sure loved this one. Mike Nugent missed a 37-yards FG with just under three minutes left in OT to preserve the tie for Carolina. The Panthers defense clearly still has issues, giving up 37 points, including a TD play to Giovanni Benard, which ended up being the longest play from scrimmage so far in 2014. That’s not what the Panthers defense was planning on being known for so far this season. The Bengals played the Panthers tough at home, but after last week’s embarrassing loss to the Patriots, a home tie is nothing to be happy about, especially in that fashion. The Bengals are no longer the best team in football, but a lose and a tie to New England and Carolina is nothing to panic about.

New England Patriots 3-2 (-2.5) @ Buffalo Bills 3-2 (45): Patriots 23-20 Patriots 37-22
Sunday, 1 PM, Ralph Wilson Stadium, Buffalo, NY (Weather: Sunny, low 60s)

Reasons: The Patriots rebounded last week v. the Bengals, but there are still major questions, especially on the offensive line, where the Bills excel. The Bills are the second-ranked run defense and the 8th-ranked scoring defense. The Patriots will try to throw  (ranked 20th) as the Bills’ secondary is hobbled, as is Brandon Spikes, who the Patriots will undoubtedly target throughout the game. Both teams are +6 in turnover ratio, so the game could come down to a key turnover. It’s the battle for AFC East supremacy Week 6, and for once it’s an actual battle…between Tom Brady and Kyle Orton.

It was a bittersweet win for the Patriots, who beat the Bills yet again, but lost two key players in the victory. Linebacker Jared Mayo and running back Steven Ridley were both lost for the season, both to knee injuries. Surprisingly Rob Gronkowski didn’t after the Bills defenders continually targeted the tight end’s knees. Tom Brady was brilliant for the second straight game (361 passing yards, 4 TDs), and the Patriots defense held the Bills running game, and Sammy Watkins, in check for the solid road win against a Bills team that is much better than in year’s past.

Jacksonville Jaguars 0-5 (+4) @ Tennessee Titans 1-4 (43): Titans 24-17 Titans 16-14
Sunday, 1 PM, LP Field, Nashville, TN (Weather: 60% storms; mid-70s)

Reasons: Easily the worst game of Week 6, both of these teams have combined for one win and rank in the bottom five in the NFL in both scoring offense and defense. In fact, the Jaguars are 31st and last, respectively. To boot, this is the one game that will be affected by weather, with a 60% chance of severe storms. So there will be some excitement.

The worst game of the week lived up to its billing, although the Jaguars nearly got their first win of the season. The Jaguars are certainly a team on the rise, not that they had anywhere else to go, and they almost took advantage of a hobbled team that doesn’t have much to go with to begin with.

Baltimore Ravens 3-2 (-2.5) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1-4 (43.5): Ravens 24-21 Ravens 48-17
Sunday, 1 PM, Raymond James Stadium, Tampa Bay, FL (Weather: Sunny, high 80s)

Reasons: The Buccaneers are getting better, but it doesn’t look that way on paper. Statistically one of the worst teams in the NFL, losing their games by an average of 11 points, the Bucs have showed some fight of late, and have had some semblance of the team people expected in 2014 (that is, much better than they’ve been thus far). The ravens are actually a good team, despite all the outside noise brought on by them, and have the 8th-ranked run defense and allow the 3rd-fewest points (16 ppg). All this points to an easy Ravens win, which mean the Bucs will probably pull it off.

Oh boy. Just when we thought Lovie Smith had turned things around for the better in Tampa Bay after a few embarrassing losses, the Buccaneers were up to their old new tricks in 2014, giving up 28 points on four passing TDs…in the first quarter. The score was 35-0 at the half, on five Joe Flacco TD passes, and long over. Not really much else to say. The Buccaneers continue to battle the Raiders and Jaguars for NFL supremacy…of irrelevance.

Denver Broncos 3-1 (-9) @ New York Jets 1-4 (48): Broncos 28-20 Broncos 31-17
Sunday, 1 PM, MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ (Weather: Sunny, low 60s)

Reasons: Really? Well, actually, the Jets will cover. Pretty beastly pass rush. That is all.

It’s amazing the impression score can give you. Yes, the Broncos covered, but not as easily as it might appear. The Jets were down 24-17 and making moves to tie the game before the Geno circus rolled in just in time to throw is heart-breaking pick-6 to make it a seemingly lopsided 31-17 win. Truth be told, it was rather lopsided, but the Jets had their chances, and the score belies the fact that this game could have eaily had a much different outcome. The Jets may be laughable, but they’re a tough out; on the other hand, the Broncos might seem intimidating, but they just don’t seem as intimidating as their 2013 squad.

Detroit Lions 3-2 (+1) @ Minnesota Vikings 2-3 (43.5):  Lions 20-18 Lions 17-3
Sunday, 1 PM, TCF Bank Stadium, Minneapolis, MN (Weather: Sunny, high 60s)

Reasons: The Lions might be the worst statistically dominant team in the NFL. The Lions rank in the top-10 in passing yards (10th), passing yards allowed (6th), run defense (3rd), and scoring defense (2nd) yet don’t scare anyone. They lost to the Bills at home 17-14 with all that firepower. Apparently Megatron does make that much a difference, and he’s out today, or at least useless. Reggie Bush is also questionable, which, combine with Detroit’s shaky play has the Vikings getting a point at home, despite being more inconsistent than Detroit, with much less talent. That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Minnesota squeaked it out.

Ewww. The Vikings really stunk this game up, and the Lions were without their two best offensive weapons (Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush). You have to give the Lions credit for going on the road hobbled and playing a sometimes-tough Vikings team hard, getting the solid road win against a divisional opponent, but if Mike Zimmer’s comments are any indication, it didn’t take much of an effort to beat these Vikings. Considering this, the Lions clearly still have some work to do if they want to be included among the league’s elite teams. The record might be there, but the numbers aren’t.

Pittsburgh Steelers 3-2 (+1) @ Cleveland Browns 2-2 (47): Browns 27-24 Browns 31-10
Sunday, 1 PM, First Energy Stadium, Cleveland, OH (Weather: Sunny, high 50s)

Reasons: One of the great divisional match ups of Week 6, a rematch of the Week 1 battle in which the Steelers were up 27-3 before the Browns clawed back and made it 27-27 before Shane Suisham kicked the game-winning FG as time expired in the 4th quarter. Both of these teams have strengths and weaknesses, and many play into each other. For example, the Steelers rank in the top-10 in both passing and rushing yards; the Browns rank towards the bottom of the league defending both. The Steelers turn the ball over (-1), and the Browns take it away (+3). It’s interesting to point out that the Steelers “win” their games by an average score of 23-22; the Browns “tie”, 26-26. Statistically this game points towards the Steelers, but I expect another battle; this time the Browns will come away with the close win.

My proudest pick of the week simply represents how far the Browns have come. Once the laughingstock of the league and a perennial doormat for the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Browns beat the Steelers soundly Sunday, and with their own smash-mouth medicine. The Browns torched the Steelers on the ground (158 rushing yards), and beat them down on 38 carries, good for 68% of their plays. These two teams seemed headed in opposite directions Sunday, which is the greatest deviation from the norm in my lifetime of watching the NFL.

Green Bay Packers 3-2 (-3) @ Miami Dolphins 2-2 (49): Packers 28-24 Packers 27-24
Sunday, 1 PM, Sun Life Stadium, Miami, FL (Weather: 20% rain; mid-80s)

Reasons: All of a sudden the Packers are a top-10 team (statistically), ranking 7th in scoring offense and 10th in scoring defense. In fact, the Packers have improved so much on defense they now rankb7th against the pass, too. Too bad they rank last v. the run, something the Dolphins will surely attack today. The Dolphins are no slouches themselves, ranking in the top-10 in rushing yards (5th) and passing yards allowed (9th), the latter being the key v. the Packers quickly improving pass game. The Dolphins may be built for the Packers, but I don’t buy this “northern teams can’t handle October heat” argument. The Dolphins are decent, but the Packers are quickly getting good. I expect Aaron Rodgers to continue to return to his 2012 form.

A close battle to the end, Aaron Rodger’s trick spike play on the series play of the fooled the Dolphins – and every one in the world – and set the Packers up for their 4th win of the season. Expecting the Packers to spike the ball, the Dolphins stood around confused as Rodgers surprised rookie Davante Adams with a bullet, which Adams caught and squirmed his way past the first down marker, setting up the Rodgers to tight end Andrew Quarless TD pass to win the game with three seconds remaining.

San Diego Chargers 4-1 (-7) @ Oakland Raiders 0-4 (43): 28-17 Chargers 31-28
Sunday, 4:05 PM, Oakland Co. Stadium, Oakland, CA (Weather: Sunny, mid-80s)

Reasons: Again, really? The Raiders are a coach-less joke and the Chargers are one of the best, if not the best, team in the NFL. San Diego has replaced the Bengals as the popular choice for “best team in the NFL” not named the Broncos or Seahawks, but statistically there’s no argument. The Chargers have the 7th-ranked passing game and the 8th-ranked scoring offense, and that’s not what they’re best at. The Chargers defense, statistically the best, rank 9th in run defense, 2nd in pass defense, and lead the league in scoring defense (13 ppg). The Raiders rank in those categories? 31st, 5th, 22nd, respectively. That’s actually pretty good, relatively, as the Raiders rank last in nearly everything else on the offensive side of the ball. Some might look to the Raiders 5th-ranked pass defense as hope. I’d call them fools.

The Chargers might be the best team in the NFL through six weeks and the Riaders could be the worst. No one told the Raiders. Despite losing their 6th-straight game to open the 2014 season, the Raiders fought tough for the second straight week, and also scored 28 points for the second straight week, nearly coming back to beat their fierce divisional rivals. Well, fierce in the sense that there’s some history there. Philip Rivers continued his case for early MVP (313 passing yards, 3 TDs) and the Chargers survived another game with a decimated backfield (116 rushing yards), all proving to be too much for the reeling Raiders. One bright spot was the continued impressive play of rookie Derek Carr (282 passing yards, 4 TDs), who certainly has a future in this league, a bright one. Let’s hope the Raiders can eventually protect Derek better than the Texans protected his brother.

Chicago Bears 2-3 (+3) @ Atlanta Falcons 2-3 (54.5): Falcons 28-27 Bears 27-13
Sunday, 4:25 PM, Georgia Dome, Atlanta, GA (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: This game could be a shoot-out of epic proportions with these two quarterbacks, or we could see a record amount of INTs. The Falcons are the second-ranked passing offense and the 3rd-ranked scoring offense, but that’s about it.  The Bears are as mediocre as a team can get, making this a pretty mediocre game all around. These two defenses stink, however, which should make for a high-flying game. This game will come down to an epic mistake by Jay Cutler or Matt Ryan, which will probably be Cutler because the Falcons are home, which usually mean something.

When the Falcons can’t win at home there’s not much hope for them. Credit the Bears with this win, as Jay Cutler (381 passing yards, 1 TD), Brandon Marshall (113 receiving yards), Matt Forte (157 all-purpose yards, 2 TDs), Alshon Jeffery (136 receiving yards) and the Bears defense put the Bears on their shoulders and pulled out the solid win on the road against a team that doesn’t lose many in their own stadium.

Dallas Cowboys 4-1 (+8) @ Seattle Seahawks 3-1 (47): Seahawks 28-24 Cowboys 30-23
Sunday, 4:25 PM, Century Link Field, Seattle WA (Weather: Cloudy, low 60s)

Reasons: Not only is this the best game of the week, it’s also one of the most evenly matched games. The Cowboys have quietly, or loudly depending on where you live, become one of the best teams in the NFL. One of the only three 4-1 teams in the league, the Cowboys are also a top-10 scoring offense (6th) and defense (8th), and boast the league’s 2nd-ranked run game, led by DeMarco Murray. The Cowboys defense isn’t blowing people away, but the projected worst defense in the league only allows 21 ppg so far in 2014. The Seahawks are who we thought they were, except they don’t inspire the same fear in opponents as they did a year ago, even at home. The Cowboys have plenty of experience with the silent count, even in their own stadium, so the noise shouldn’t be a problem. Still, Seattle boasts the leagues top running game, top run defense, and are a top-10 scoring offense (5th) and defense (9th) themselves. This game will essentially come down to the Seahawks running the ball and stopping the Cowboys from running it. That will force Tony Romo to throw; that will inevitably end in a Romo INT to end the game. Seahawks win, but the Cowboys cover.

Wow. I expected the mighty Cowboys to cover, but win? And not only that, but the Cowboys destroyed the Seahawks in Seattle, despite the score. The Seahawks have not been that outplayed in the two seasons everyone has been paying attention to them. Tony Romo (250 passing yards, 2 TDs) stole the show and DeMarco Murray (115 rushing yards, 1 TD) showed the NFL world he’s for real, pounding the Seahawks defense, especially the so-called Legion of Boom, and outshined Marshawn Lynch (61 rushing yards) by a long shot. Russell Wilson may have had his worst game of the season as the Cowboys defense, reportedly the worst in the NFL coming into 2014, has suddenly come alive. That might be an exaggeration, actually. The funny thing is the Dallas defense yields the exact amount of yards per play (6.1) that they did a year ago when they actually were statistically the worst defense in the NFL. The difference this year is the Cowboys offense is controli9ng the ball more, which keps their opponents offense off the field for 12 additional plays so far in 2014, leading to far fewer points given up. Whatever the case, it’s working, and the Cowboys are suddenly in the conversation as the NFL’s best team. Let’s see these Cowboys in November/December.

Washington Natives 1-4 (+3.5) @ Arizona Cardinals 3-1 (45.5): Cardinals 27-23 Cardinals 30-20
Sunday, 4:25 PM, Univ. of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, AZ (Weather: Sunny, high 80s)

Reasons: The Cardinals are 3-1, but statistically they’re terrible. In the six statistical categories highlight most (yards gained/allowed, points scored/allowed) Arizona ranks in the bottom-10.  The Cardinals only excel at stopping the run (4th) and are respectable keeping opponents off the scoreboard (13th). Besides that, the Cardinals are only impressive in turnover ratio (+4). Yet Arizona sits at 3-1. Conversely, the Natives are a top-10 team in passing yards (5th) and passing yards allowed (10th), have a respectable run defense (15th) and score points (24 ppg), yet they’re 1-4. Blame that on their defense (26th-ranked scoring defense) and turnovers (-5). The Cardinals may be reeling at quarterback, perhaps the Natives saving grace, but the Natives defense is hobbles, too, so it could wash out.

Carson Palmer returned Sunday and lifted Larry Fitzgerald to his former self (98 receiving yards, 1 TD), giving the Cardinals a sort of foundation hey haven’t seen yet in 2014. Fitzgerald scored his first TD of the season and Palmer returned after missing four weeks, lifting the Cardinals past the Natives, who are reeling. Kirk Cousins (354 passing yards, 2 TDs), after a strong start to the season after RGIII was lost to an ankle injury, has been inconsistent to say the least, throwing three crucial INTs, one to seal the win for the Cardinals. The Cardinals didn’t do anything to prove they’re any sort of team to be worried about, but they’re 4-1 in the toughest division in football, and with the 49ers improving and the Seahawks angry, the Cardinals need all of these types of wins they can get as they prepare for the inevitable divisional battles.

New York Giants 3-2 (+3) @ Philadelphia Eagles 3-2 (50.5): Giants 28-27 Eagles 27-0
Sunday, 8:30 PM, Lincoln Financial Stadium, Philadelphia, PA (Weather: Cloudy, low 60s)

Reasons: The other great divisional match up of Week 6 (PIT v. CLE), the Giants come into the game one of the hottest teams in the league. After losing their first two games (to good teams), New York has rattled off three straight wins. The Eagles, on the other hand, are a team that could just as easily be 1-4 as they are 4-1. For a team that scores 31 ppg (2nd in the NFL), the offense barely has anything to do with it – the Eagles average a TD a game through defense or special teams. Both of these teams score points and don’t really stop people from scoring points, so expect a high-flying game between two bitter divisional rivals. The Eagles also turn the ball over, which is exactly what I expect them to do v. the Giants, which could make for some interesting late-game heroics. The Eagles may be at home, but remember, that actually meant nothing not too long ago.

Whoops. After three straight wins in which the Giants put any criticism stemming from their first two losses to open the season to bed, the Giants came to Philadelphia and laid an egg…literally. New York looked like the Giants everyone was worried about Sunday night, while the Eagles pulled off the impressive shutout at home, the largest such shutout in years. The Giants lost Victor Cruz for the season to a knee injury, which could be devastating. Luckily the Giants drafted Odell Beckham Jr., who should slide right in for Cruz and take his place without skipping a beat. The Eagles weren’t exactly blowing anyone’s doors off, but Shady McCoy finally got involved, rushing for 149 rushing yards. It’s still clogged in the NFC East, but the Cowboys and Eagles are separating.

San Francisco 49ers 3-2 (-3.5) @ St. Louis Rams 1-3 (44): 49ers 24-20 49ers 31-17
Monday, 8:30 PM, Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis MO (Weather: Indoors)

Reasons: The Rams can throw the ball (6th) and are the best team in the NFL against the pass. That’s where the Rams’ skill set ends. Unfortunately the 49ers are a running team (3rd). The 49ers are also one of the best defenses in the NFL, ranking 4th v. the pass, 5th v. the run while holding opponents to only 21 ppg (10th).  The 49ers might not have much on offense (26th-ranked pass offense; 20th-ranked scoring offense), but the Rams don’t either, and their defense simply isn’t as good as advertised due to multiple injuries. I expect the 49ers to win, keeping Jim Harbaugh around a little while longer.
I guess Jim Harbaugh keeps his job one more week. Down 17-0 in the second quarter, the 49ers defense put on a clinic in the second half, shutting down the Rams and shutting them out in the process. The 49ers reeled off 31 unanswered points to show the team that tries to emulate their style who’s still the big team on the block…or conference. The 49ers run game was not on point, but Colin Kaepernick was, and he continued to improve on the season (343 passing yards, 3 TDs), outplaying a Rams offense that was starting to show some signs of being pretty good, especially rookie quarterback Austin Davis. Davis played ok (236 passing yards, 1 TD), but OK will never beat these 49ers, no matter how much is on their plate.

Check back Thursday and again Sunday for Week 7 #NFL Predictions (w/ spreads & analysis) at!