Friday, October 24, 2014

The Hail Mary - Week 8

Sunday, October 26

Detroit (5-2) "at" Atlanta (2-5) in London, England, Detroit favored by 3 1/2

The Falcons and Lions couldn't be on more opposite sides of the spectrum when it comes to defense. The Lions have a good defense and the Falcons have a very bad defense. That should be on full display when these teams face each other across the pond on Sunday morning. Ever since destroying Tampa Bay the Falcons have imploded, dropping four straight games, all by double digits. Their offense has been especially bad the past two weeks, putting up a combined 20 points. The Lions are looking to keep pace with the red hot Packers in the North and can't afford any slip ups. They had a stirring come from behind win at home against New Orleans last week and should have no problem carrying over that momentum to another time zone.

Prediction: Detroit 34, Atlanta 17

Miami (3-3) at Jacksonville (1-6), Miami favored by 6

The Dolphins remain a hard team to figure out. Are they the team that beat New England, gave the Packers a great fight and dominated the Bears on the road? Or are they the team that was blown out by Buffalo and Kansas City? Ryan Tannehill carried over his superb second half play against Green Bay with a complete effort against the Bears. Also, quietly, the Dolphins have one of the best defensive units in football, ranking in the Top 10 against both the rush and the pass. The Jaguars got their first win of the season in convincing fashion against Cleveland last weekend. Their defense has been excellent the past three games, not allowing more than 17 points in any of those contests. That is important because Blake Bortles is having some major rookie struggles, already throwing 10 INTs this season. He might be able to get away with that type of performance against the Browns but against the Dolphins defense, that will be the cause of Jacksonville going back to their losing ways.

Prediction: Miami 24, Jacksonville 17

Minnesota (2-5) at Tampa Bay (1-5), Tampa Bay favored by 3

Doesn't say much for the Vikings when they are underdogs to the awful Bucs. Tampa had a week off to try to figure out why they have been so terrible this season. Teddy Bridgewater could use a week off to learn what team he plays for, throwing for less than 200 yards in each of his past 2 starts and a combined 5 interceptions. The Buccaneers have a very giving defense, so maybe this is a game where Bridgewater can get some of his swagger back.

Prediction: Minnesota 23, Tampa Bay 19

St. Louis (2-4) at Kansas City (3-3), Kansas City favored by 6 1/2

Both teams are feeling pretty good about themselves after upset victories last week. The Rams knocked off the defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks, while the Chiefs ended the Chargers five game winning streak. The Austin Davis bandwagon seems to be growing as he now has Brett Favre comparing him to some of the all time greats. Jon Gruden already said he saw similarities between Davis and Drew Brees. Even if Davis isn't on that level he is playing well enough that the Rams should feel comfortable cutting their losses with Sam Bradford after the season ends. The Rams have already seemed to move on from Zac Stacy at running back in favor of rookie Tre Mason. Mason was their lead carrier last week and Stacy didn't touch the ball once. After a slow start to the season, Alex Smith has played really good football the past few weeks, which has coincided with the Chiefs winning three of their past four.  The difference in this game will be Jamaal Charles, who should have a monster game against the Rams weak rush defense.

Prediction: Kansas City 27, St. Louis 21

Houston (3-4) at Tennessee (2-5), Houston favored by 1 1/2

Rookie Zach Mettenberger will make his first career start in this game as Ken Whisenhunt looks for something to give his offense a spark. The Texans have dropped four of their past five games after starting the season 2-0. Their defense has plenty of big names but the unit still ranks towards the bottom of the league against the rush and pass. Jadaveon Clowney wasn't able to play against Pittsburgh, but Bill O'Brien seems optimistic about his chances of returning for this one. JJ Watt should have fun making Mettenberger's life hell and I think Arian Foster will continue his strong running ways, helping the Texans to get back on the winning side of things.

Prediction: Houston 29, Tennessee 17

Seattle (3-3) at Carolina (3-3-1), Seattle favored by 5

Unrest has hit the Seahawks hard, which tends to happen when you lose two straight games and trade your playmaker Percy Harvin out of the middle of nowhere. With Harvin gone now we are hearing about all the unrest he was causing in the locker room and apparently some of Russell Wilson's teammates think he needs to watch the new show Blackish to add to his cred. The Panthers have their own unrest, especially on defense, where week after week they seem to hit new lows. Something will have to give in this game, as I doubt the Panthers will have their second tie in three weeks. I expect the Panthers defense to give, as they have been doing for the past month, and Russell Wilson will put up more gaudy stats and quiet the problems in Seattle for at least a week.

Prediction: Seattle 35, Carolina 23

Baltimore (5-2) at Cincinnati (3-2-1), Cincinnati favored by 1 1/2

Seems like ages ago that people were saying the Bengals were the best team in football. Cincinnati hasn't won since starting the season 3-0 and hit a new low last week when they were shut out by the Colts. It is obvious that Cincy misses A.J. Green, and he is once again questionable for this game. The Bengals are looking to sweep the season series, which would be huge for potential tiebreaker implications in the AFC North. Joe Flacco is putting together a Pro Bowl type season, and has rebounded quite nicely from last year's disappointment. The Ravens also have a much improved run game from last season and are looking closer to the 2012 version that won it all. I think these teams are pretty even and while Cincinnati did win at Baltimore in Week 1, I think they continue their hot play at home, where they haven't lost a regular season game in 2 years.

Prediction: Cincinnati 20, Baltimore 17

Chicago (3-4) at New England (5-2), New England favored by 6

Another team dealing with a great deal of unrest is the Chicago Bears. They dropped to 0-3 at home after an embarrassing loss to the Dolphins and reports of in-fighting in the locker room after the game came out. A week after playing excellently at Atlanta, Jay Cutler was horrific against a defense with a pulse this past Sunday. The Patriots have won three straight games and a battle of the titans looms with the Broncos next weekend. They got all they could handle from the Jets last Thursday night and I expect a similarly close game with the Bears. Matt Forte will have a good game against the Patriots questionable run defense, but Cutler will make some sort of crippling mistake, giving the Patriots the win.

Prediction: New England 28, Chicago 24

Buffalo (4-3) at New York Jets (1-6), New York Jets favored by 3

Geno Smith had his best game of the year, and one of the better ones of his career as the Jets came oh so close to knocking off New England. The Jets slowly seem to be figuring out that Chris Johnson is dead and that the majority of the touches should go to Chris Ivory. The Bills pulled out a last second victory at home against Minnesota, and remain a tough team to figure out. They are decimated with injuries at the running back position, losing both C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson in that Vikings game. That leaves former 49er Anthony Dixon as their lead running back. After six straight losses the Jets are due for a win and will earn just that on Sunday.

Prediction: New York Jets 27, Buffalo 22

Philadelphia (5-1) at Arizona (5-1), Arizona favored by 2 1/2

Based on records this is the best game of the weekend. Both teams enter 5-1 but unfortunately for Philadelphia their 5-1 record is only good enough for second place in the NFC East. The bye came at a great time for Philadelphia as it allowed RB Darren Sproles to rest up and he should be healthy and ready to play in this game. Nick Foles and Jeremy Maclin should be licking their chops over the prospect of what they can do against the league's 31st ranked pass defense. They will have to do something though, because the Cardinals are first against the run, which means LeSean McCoy might revert back to bad Shady in this game. The Eagles defense has moments of greatness but has had problems with consistency so the opportunities will be there for Carson Palmer, Andre Ellington, Michael Floyd, and even the quickly disappearing Larry Fitzgerald. This should be a showcase game of two of the NFC's best teams, and come right down to the end.

Prediction: Arizona 27, Philadelphia 21

Oakland (0-6) at Cleveland (3-3), Cleveland favored by 7

For the second straight week the Browns face a winless team, but for their sakes hopefully it goes much better than the embarrassing performance they had in Jacksonville last week. Apparently the Browns got a little too into their press clipping, especially Brian Hoyer, who was terrible against the Jags. Losing a center like Alex Mack to injury for the rest of the season doesn't normally garner headlines but after how much the Browns struggled to run the ball last week, that could end up being a huge story of their season. The Raiders just hope that somehow, some way they can finally win a game. The Browns struggle to stop the run so the Raiders might try to lean on Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew. Even if those two run the ball well, and even after the Browns pathetic performance last week, no way in hell am I picking the Raiders to win a game.

Prediction: Cleveland 20, Oakland 14

Indianapolis (5-2) at Pittsburgh (4-3), Indianapolis favored by 3

Things were getting ugly in Pittsburgh last Monday night as the Steelers trailed the Texans 13-3 late in the first half. But then the Texans imploded and the Steelers scored 3 touchdowns in less than 2 minutes, cruising to victory. The offense will be hard pressed to do that the entire game against a Colts defense that ranks in the top 10 against both the rush and pass. Andrew Luck and the offense get most of the accolades but the Colts look like they have a complete team this year. Their 0-2 start is a distant memory, as they have reeled off five straight wins. This should be a fun game to watch with the Luck/Ben Roethlisberger battle and seeing how each team's defense handles each other's strong offenses. In the end, I think Luck and the Colts will have too much firepower.

Prediction: Indianapolis 33, Pittsburgh 23

Green Bay (5-2) at New Orleans (2-4), New Orleans favored by 1 1/2

The only reason the 2-4 Saints are favored in this game is they are at home, where they are 2-0 this season. Four of their next five games are at home so if they want to keep any hope of making the playoffs they will have to run the table in those home games. They will be hard pressed to start that streak against a Packers team that is red hot, winning four straight games. Aaron Rodgers has been absurdly good this season, throwing 18 touchdowns and 1 interception. Drew Brees has thrown for more yards than Rodgers but has just 11 touchdowns and 7 interceptions. One of those picks was a crippling one late in last week's game at Detroit. The Saints were hanging on to a 6 point lead and had the ball late, but Brees threw the interception and the Lions converted it into the winning points. The Saints are 28th against the pass, so I wouldn't be surprised if Rodgers comes close to throwing for 400 yards in this game. I think this will be the best Sunday night game there has been this season, but the Packers will do the near impossible and win at the Superdome.

Prediction: Green Bay 34, New Orleans 30

Monday, October 27

Washington (2-5) at Dallas (6-1), Dallas favored by 9 1/2

The Redskins are in their worst possible spot, primetime. Prime time is the right time for Washington to typically embarrass themselves on a national stage. Despite being just 3-13 last season, this will be the Redskins third primetime game this season. Now, ESPN was probably anticipating RGIII being the Redskins starter for this game and not Colt McCoy. That's right, it is now the Colt McCoy era in Washington after Jay Gruden pulled the plug on Kirk Cousins last week against Tennessee. Cousins just couldn't get out of his own way and any good plays he would make would be almost immediately overshadowed by a fumble or interception. McCoy came in and immediately threw a 70 yard touchdown pass to Pierre Garcon. Sure, Garcon did most of the work, but that didn't stop hundreds of Redskins fans from buying Colt McCoy jerseys. The Cowboys just keep winning football games. Unlike in years past where the Cowboys would get a lead and then inevitably blow it, this year's team gets a lead and then holds on, making good plays in crucial situations. The only reason I expect this game to be close is because Redskins/Cowboys games almost always are. McCoy should come back down to Earth and I expect him to make a few mistakes and have a few turnovers. Without the support of Alfred Morris, who seems to have fallen off the face of the Earth, McCoy's mistakes will be too much to overcome.

Prediction: Dallas 24, Washington 17

Last Week Against the Spread: 9-6
Overall Against the Spread: 50-55-1

Last Week Straight Up: 11-4
Overall Straight Up: 66-39-1

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