Friday, September 26, 2014

The Hail Mary - Week 4

Sunday, September 28

Miami (1-2) "at" Oakland (0-3), in London, England, Miami favored by 4

Poor England always seems to get the worst matchups. The Raiders are dreadful as I and anyone that isn't a dumb superfan of the team expected, and Miami has created a quarterback controversy out of thin air. Usually, the media will start chirping and then a team has a quarterback controversy. But Dolphins coach Joe Philbin was bored or something and decided to create one of his own. He won't commit to Ryan Tannehill as his starter, despite the fact that benching him for middling Matt Moore would not be positive in any for the team. Tannehill has played poorly though, and is struggling with consistency and that is despite not throwing the ball far downfield. The Dolphins Week 1 one victory over New England feels like a distant memory at this point. A bright spot in last week's embarrassing loss at home to Kansas City was the play of Lamar Miller. Miller was running great and despite the Dolphins being close for most of the game, the Dolphins didn't embrace the success he was having. If Miller gets going strong in this game, they need to ride him and let Tannehill just manage the game. Raiders rookie QB David Carr has been decent, but he hasn't had much support from his teammates. Darren McFadden has stayed healthy but is barely averaging over 3 yards per carry. The Raiders are hoping to have Maurice Jones-Drew back, but he is over the hill and not that good anymore. If the Dolphins can't beat the sorry Raiders, maybe there should be a new coach instead of a new quarterback.

Prediction: Miami 28, Oakland 17

Green Bay (1-2) at Chicago (2-1), Green Bay favored by 1 1/2

Football's oldest and some would argue best rivalry is renewed this Sunday. The Packers come in desperate, and in a way that is different than previous years. This is the third straight season Green Bay has started 1-2, but instead of there being questions about their defense, it is their offense that has come under fire. Aaron Rodgers has been underwhelming in two out of the Packers three games, and Eddie Lacy seems like he is still shaking off the cobwebs from his Week 1 concussion. The Bears are banged up on the defensive end and have had rushing problems of their own, as Matt Forte has essentially disappeared from the team the last two weeks. Brandon Marshall has also been fighting injuries, but his presence has been made up for by TE Martellus Bennett. In the past, the Packers have always responded well when their backs have been against the wall. I expect a similar performance this Sunday, as the Bears will fall to 0-2 at home.

Prediction: Green Bay 27, Chicago 20

Buffalo (2-1) at Houston (2-1), Houston favored by 3

It's the Ryan Fitzpatrick bowl! Bills and Texans fans can unite and share Fitzpatrick horror stories. All the good feelings in Buffalo dissipated after a dispiriting home loss to the Chargers last week. A major reason for that loss was the lack of plays C.J. Spiller was able to make. The Texans were beaten like a drum by the Giants rushing attack, so Spiller and Fred Jackson could be in line for big games. The Texans were without Arian Foster last week, and he looks to be a game time decision for this game. This game will be won based on the quarterback, Fitzpatrick or EJ Manuel, that makes less mistakes. I'll go with the veteran over the second year player.

Prediction: Houston 20, Buffalo 16

Tennessee (1-2) at Indianapolis (1-2), Indianapolis favored by 7 1/2

The Colts found that the cure to losing is to play the Jacksonville Jaguars. They flatted the Jags and have calmed down some of the panic that was beginning in Indy. However, if they lose at home to the Titans that level of panic will quickly return. The Titans, much like the Dolphins, have lost all of the good vibes they had after an opening weekend win. Jake Locker has been especially terrible, and now he is injured because that's one thing Locker is good at doing. His cause won't be helped if one of his favorite targets, TE Delanie Walker, is forced to miss this game due to a shoulder injury. Even if Walker were to play, it won't matter, Andrew Luck and company are going to carve up that Titans defense.

Prediction: Indianapolis 31, Tennessee 17

Carolina (2-1) at Baltimore (2-1), Baltimore favored by 3

The main story around this game is Steve Smith Sr. facing his former team, the Panthers. Carolina decided that at 35 Smith was expendable, but Smith has played like a man possessed and quite motivated to prove the Panthers wrong. Smith will be all sorts of jacked up for this game, and I would be really surprised if he doesn't snag at least one touchdown. I had doubted the Panthers to start the season but started to come aboard after their 2-0 start. It looked like they could have an all-time type of defense. But then last week at home against Pittsburgh, the defense completely fell apart, giving up over 100 yards rushing to both Le'Veon Bell and LaGarrette Blount. The Panthers are also hurting on offense, but are hopeful they will have RB DeAngelo Williams for this game. Joe Flacco has lost one of his favorite security blankets, Dennis Pitta for the season, so expect to see Owen Daniels step into that role. I think this will be a defensive struggle type of game, and give the Ravens the edge due to homefield.

Prediction: Baltimore 19, Carolina 15

Detroit (2-1) at New York Jets (1-2), Detroit favored by 1

It wasn't pretty but the Lions got the job done at home against the Packers last week. Matthew Stafford though has not looked right the past two games and the Lions offense has really stagnated. As has been the problem in Detroit for many years, running the ball has been tough sledding so far this year. Joique Bell is getting the majority of the carries but is only averaging 3 yards per carry. If he can get going that would open up things so much for Megatron and Golden Tate. The Jets were sloppy on offense in their loss to Chicago and there are already whispers starting about benching Geno Smith in favor of Mike Vick. Much like in Miami, I think that is a knee jerk type of move that wouldn't make much of a difference and really just stunt Smith's growth. A fun battle to watch in this game will be in the trenches between the Lions defensive line and the Jets offensive front. I think the Lions are a different team away from Ford Field and because of that, expect them to fall to 0-2 on the road.

Prediction: New York Jets 26, Detroit 18

Tampa Bay (0-3) at Pittsburgh (2-1), Pittsburgh favored by 7

So somehow, despite adding respected coach Lovie Smith, the Bucs seem to have gotten worse. They were lambasted by the Falcons last Thursday night, 56-14 and at one point, actually trailed 56-0. Josh McCown was really struggling and is now out with an injury so Mike Glennon has his job back. The Steelers were told how awful they were for a week and a half and seemed to take it to heart because they played angry at Carolina. I expect Tampa to show much more heart in this game and not get completely railroaded, but the chances of them winning at Pittsburgh are about slim to none. Expect Blount to be motivated playing his former team that gave up on him a few years ago.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 34, Tampa Bay 21

Jacksonville (0-3) at San Diego (2-1), San Diego favored by 13

The Jaguars should just focus on baby steps. They shouldn't be looking to win, because lets face it, they suck and won't win this game on the road. Their goal should be to lose by single digits or allow under 30 points for the first time all season. They have already ended the Chad Henne plan and are implementing the Blake Bortles era. Bortles seemed to get the offense going when he stepped in last week, and I think the benefits of getting Bortles experience now outweighs the risks of him getting killed. San Diego is being talked about as an upper echelon team after beating Seattle at home and following that up with a convincing road win against Buffalo. It will be interesting to see how they fare in this game, against a bad opponent and after having their egos stroked.

Prediction: San Diego 35, Jacksonville 23

Philadelphia (3-0) at San Francisco (1-2), San Francisco favored by 5 1/2

The 49ers found themselves in the same position one year ago. They were 1-2, coming off back to back ugly losses and faced a must win game at St. Louis. They started off terribly but eventually righted the ship, and won the game in a blowout. After that, they proceeded to go 10-2 the rest of the season. The point of this history lesson is to try to convince myself that the 49ers season isn't going off the rails just yet. But now, welcoming undefeated Philadelphia to Levi's Stadium, a third straight loss would be disastrous. The biggest worry through the first three weeks for the 49ers is the disappearing act their offense has done in the second half of games. Before this year, when Jim Harbaugh's 49ers had a halftime lead, it guaranteed victory. But for whatever reason this year, a halftime lead just means the 49ers will completely forget everything they did in the first half. In the second half they commit stupid penalties in the second half, be unable to get stops on defense, and go three and out on offense. Greg Roman once again abandoned the run game last week for no reason, and I am starting to tire of his erratic play calling. If the 49ers lose this game it will feed the media monster that the players have tired of Harbaugh and the team is on the verge of mutiny. Philly is 3-0 but don't tell Cary Williams that. He is on the verge of his own mutiny because he has to practice too much or something. Philly has taken the opposite approach of the 49ers. They start games really crappy and then turn on the jets in the second half. LeSean McCoy is coming off perhaps his worst ever game as a pro, so the 49ers have to be ready for a revved up Shady McCoy. The Eagles pass defense is there for the taking, so this is a huge statement type game for Colin Kaepernick. Hopefully, Vernon Davis can play because history shows that without him the 49ers offense can do next to nothing. I have no reason to pick the 49ers other than blind homerism, but sometimes you just have to have faith. I think in an odd twist, this game will see the Eagles jump out to a lead, and then the 49ers rally for the win in the second half.

Prediction: San Francisco 28, Philadelphia 24

Atlanta (2-1) at Minnesota (1-2), Atlanta favored by 2 1/2

Teddy Bridgewater makes his NFL starting debut and will be the Vikings quarterback for the rest of the year after Matt Cassel was placed on IR with broken bones on his foot. Bridgewater acquitted himself pretty well in relief duty at New Orleans last week. He will need Matt Asiata to step up his game at running back to provide him some support. Asiata has been strong out of the backfield as far as catching passes, but is averaging just 3 yards per carry. The Falcons are coming off a performance they aren't likely to come anywhere near matching. They now have to prove that they can play well away from the Georgia Dome. The Vikings are a much easier opponent than the Bengals were and add to that facing a rookie quarterback and a loss in this game would be unacceptable for the Falcons.

Prediction: Atlanta 24, Minnesota 14

New Orleans (1-2) at Dallas (2-1), New Orleans favored by 3

New Orleans has dominated Dallas in recent meetings, but Dallas is feeling pretty good after overcoming a large deficit at St. Louis last weekend. Despite getting behind big Dallas stuck with DeMarco Murray, who has been sensational the first three weeks of the season. However, after securing the ball well in his career, he has had a case of fumbleitis this season. The Saints are coming off their first victory of the season. However, the offense is still not at the level we are used to seeing. Khiry Robinson has stepped in for the injured Mark Ingram at running back, and Brandin Cooks has been as good as advertised at receiver. The stats are there, the Saints just aren't converting all those yards into points. The Cowboys defense has been better than expected so far this year, but playing this Saints team will serve as a litmus test for both their defense and the Saints offense. Tony Romo has been susceptible to some bad throws this year, and at a higher rate than he was throwing them at last season. It is obvious that he is still trying to get himself right coming off surgery in the off-season. The Saints are a putrid road team but the Cowboys themselves aren't very good at home. I'll go with the better offense. 

Prediction: New Orleans 28, Dallas 24

Monday, September 29

New England (2-1) at Kansas City (1-2), New England favored by 3 1/2

The Patriots seem to have this penchant this last few seasons of not being able to blow out teams that you think would be overmatched. It happened again last weekend against Oakland, when they couldn't put away the Raiders. Tom Brady has been average at best and even saying that might be kind. He said he would retire when he sucks and it might be closer to happening than he realized. The only receiver that he seems to be able to consistently get the ball to is Julian Edelman. The run game has been stagnant as Stevan Ridley has probably had his confidence completely damaged by the yo-yo treatment Bill Belichick has given him over the years. The Chiefs did what I expected them to do and got off the schneid at Miami. Alex Smith played safe and avoided huge mistakes and Knile Davis looks like he could be a star in the making at running back. The Chiefs are hopeful they will have Jamaal Charles back for this game, but even if he returns they should use Davis a little more, since Charles is so brittle. Arrowhead Stadium used to give the Chiefs great homefield advantage, but as evidenced by how the Titans destroyed them there in Week 1, I don't expect it to be much of a factor in this game. I expect the Patriots to win ugly yet again.

Prediction: New England 24, Kansas City 21

Last Week Against the Spread: 8-8
Overall Against the Spread: 20-28

Last Week Straight Up: 11-5
Overall Straight Up: 25-23

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