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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!

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