Friday, November 14, 2014

The Hail Mary - Week 11

San Francisco (5-4) at New York Giants (3-6), San Francisco favored by 4

The 49ers saved their season with a gritty, tough win at New Orleans in overtime last week. At the end of the game, the Niners faced a fourth and 10 after blowing a 14 point lead. Colin Kaepernick was scrambling around and then heaved the ball downfield to an open Michael Crabtree. The 49ers eventually were able to kick the tying field goal. Then in overtime, poetic justice was served when Ahmad Brooks sacked and stripped Drew Brees and the 49ers recovered deep in Saints territory, allowing Phil Dawson to awkwardly make the winning field goal. However, if the 49ers go and lay an egg in Jersey on Sunday, all that effort will be for naught. With this week's game and then hosting the Redskins next week the pieces are in place for San Francisco to enter the game with Seattle at 7-4 and very much alive in the playoff race. The Giants have lost four straight games. They are struggling both offensively and defensively, but are hopeful they will finally get back their leading rusher, Rashad Jennings this weekend. Returning for the 49ers will be Aldon Smith from his 9 game suspension. Not returning is Patrick Willis, who is out for the season. However, rookie Chris Borland has stepped in and played admirably in Willis' place. The Giants are a mess right now and I think we are seeing the end of the Tom Coughlin era this season. The 49ers will help move that along by handing the Giants their fifth straight loss.

Prediction: San Francisco 35, New York Giants 21

Minnesota (4-5) at Chicago (3-6), Chicago favored by 3 1/2

The Chicago Bears have been beaten 106-37 in their past two games on the road, so you would think they would be happy to be returning home. Unfortunately for them, home has treated them no better, as they are 0-3 at home this season. In those three losses they have been outscored 88-51. The defense is even worse than people imagined, and the offense is nowhere near as good as people imagined it would be. Bears fans are tiring quickly of Jay Cutler and his apparent indifference, as well as coach Marc Trestman and his stoic demeanor that almost never changes. The Vikings have had a long history of struggling to win at Solider Field. RB Adrian Peterson has gone through the legal process but the NFL is not ready to let him get back on the field. Matt Asiata is coming off a 3 touchdown performance against the Redskins, and Teddy Bridgewater has proven that against soft defenses he is capable of good performances. The Bears defense certainly would qualify as soft, but I feel like the Bears have to win at home sometime, and there is no better chance than against a Minnesota team that struggles on the road.

Prediction: Chicago 27, Minnesota 23

Tampa Bay (1-8) at Washington (3-6), Washington favored by 7

The Redskins look to win their second straight home game and RG3 looks to win his first start this season where he actually got to finish the game. Griffin looked pretty good two weeks ago, but of course as I predicted the Redskins were unable to keep their momentum from the Dallas victory and now are just playing for pride. The Buccaneers have been just playing for pride since basically September. Josh McCown was unable to help lead them to victory at home against the terrible Falcons and now has 6 interceptions and 4 touchdowns this season. Doug Martin is possible to return at running back, although rumor has it that even if he is active, Bobby Rainey will get the majority of the carries over him, quite a fall for the Muscle Hamster. This game will be close, because almost every Redskins game is, but I think that Griffin will get his first true win of the season.

Prediction: Washington 31, Tampa Bay 26

Houston (4-5) at Cleveland (6-3), Cleveland favored by 3

During their bye week coach Bill O'Brien finally decided to make the switch from journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick to Ryan Mallett at quarterback. This will be Mallett's first career start after years of never playing while backing up Tom Brady. The Texans hope the switch will wake up their passing game, which besides DeAndre Hopkins has been underwhelming. The Browns are coming off an impressive whipping of the Bengals in primetime last Thursday. They were helped by Bengals QB Andy Dalton appearing to be on drugs during the game, as he couldn't complete a pass to save his life. Cleveland has struggled at home against teams you would think they are better then. Because of that, I like the Texans and Mallett to pull off the slight upset, against a Browns team that isn't used to dealing with success.

Prediction: Houston 24, Cleveland 20

Seattle (6-3) at Kansas City (6-3), Kansas City favored by 1 1/2

This game might be over quicker than the average NFL game, as the Chiefs and Seahawks are two teams that like to run the ball. Both teams rank near the bottom of the league in passing offense, but near the top in rushing. Jamaal Charles of the Chiefs and Marshawn Lynch of the Seahawks are two of the best running backs in football. Lynch had 4 touchdowns against the Giants last week, while QB Russell Wilson continued to be underwhelming throwing the ball. Alex Smith and underwhelming have been in the same sentence often throughout his career. Smith has game managed very well this season, helping the Chiefs to six wins in their past seven games. Both teams have strong defenses, although this year's Seahawks defense has not been as adept at forcing turnovers. The Chiefs defense is best in the league against the pass, but 20th against the rush, so Lynch could be in line for another strong performance. Despite that, I still like the Chiefs to win, mostly because of the game being at Arrowhead. 

Prediction: Kansas City 28, Seattle 22

Atlanta (3-6) at Carolina (3-6-1), Carolina favored by 1 1/2

The NFC South, ladies and gentleman, where these two awful teams are just a game out of first place! The loser can probably kiss their season goodbye, while the winner will miraculously still be very much alive in the race for the division. The Panthers look dreadful on both sides of the ball, while the Falcons have played much better defense the past few weeks. With that being said, I do like Carolina to get the victory at home against an Atlanta team, that save for last week against Tampa, has had a tough time playing well on the road.

Prediction: Carolina 29, Atlanta 24

Cincinnati (5-3-1) at New Orleans (4-5), New Orleans favored by 7

When the Bengals lose, they don't just lose, they lose in spectacularly bad fashion. Their three losses this season have been by 26, 27, and 21 points. The most fascinating part of this game will be seeing how Andy Dalton performs after the worst game of his life last week. The Saints were finally beaten at home, so maybe now teams won't feel so overmatched when they go to the Superdome. The Bengals were pretty terrible in their past two road games, and their defense is next to last int he league against the run, and just 20th against the pass. That means that Mark Ingram, Drew Brees and all his weapons should have no problem piling up points against the Bungles.

Prediction: New Orleans 35, Cincinnati 17

Denver (7-2) at St. Louis (3-6), Denver favored by 9 1/2

Well the Austin Davis era ended with a thud. After another subpar performance in a loss against Arizona last week, Davis has been benched in favor of Week 1 starter, Shaun Hill. Hill will have to play out of his mind if the Rams are to keep up scoring wise with Peyton Manning and the Broncos. The running back position has seen a lot of changes this year for Denver with injuries to Montee Ball and Ronnie Hillman, and C.J. Anderson is the latest to take the reigns. Anderson has been exceptional, including last week against Oakland. Now, just about any human can be exceptional against the Raiders, so we should just a tad bit more about Anderson this week. The Rams defense has been doing a great job of getting to the quarterback the past few weeks, so Manning will have to keep his head on a swivel in this game. Peyton is a master at quick releases so I don't foresee that being a problem.

Prediction: Denver 41, St. Louis 20

Oakland (0-9) at San Diego (5-4), San Diego favored by 10

The Chargers are probably pretty anxious to get back in action after their bye week. They have lost three straight games, and were destroyed by Miami two weeks ago, 37-0. The fact that they get to play the winless Raiders probably has them even more excited. Although to be fair, the Chargers nearly lost to the Raiders when they played them in Oakland about a month ago. QB Derek Carr had the best game of his young career against San Diego, throwing 4 touchdown passes. The Chargers hope to get a boost from the return of RB Ryan Mathews. I don't expect this game to be as close as the last one was between these two teams, and Oakland will move ever closer to 0-16.

Prediction: San Diego 27, Oakland 14

Philadelphia (7-2) at Green Bay (6-3), Green Bay favored by 5

So I was pretty skeptical about the new Mark Sanchez, but Sanchez did have a strong performance against Carolina on Monday night. Maybe it really will make a difference for him to have the amount of weapons the Eagles offense has. Interestingly, Sanchez seemed to prefer guys that weren't the usual suspects. WR Jordan Matthews and TE Brent Celek saw most of Sanchez's targets, while Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper and Zach Ertz were after thoughts. It will be interesting to see if that continues of if it was just a one game anomaly. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense keeps humming along and nothing appears to be able to slow them down. They will score points, so this game will come down to how the Packers porous rush defense deals with LeSean McCoy. McCoy had another poor performance last week against Carolina and hasn't been able to get any consistency going running the ball. A lot of that probably has to do with all the upheaval the Eagles have had on the offensive line due to injury and suspensions. I need to see more efforts like last Monday from Sanchez before I am convinced that he can take a team to Lambeau Field and win.

Prediction: Green Bay 34, Philadelphia 23

Detroit (7-2) at Arizona (8-1), Arizona favored by 1 1/2

Detroit versus Arizona for the best record in the NFC? Who would have ever thunk it? The Cardinals dream season might have been dealt a death blow last week with the loss of QB Carson Palmer for the season. Drew Stanton is once again the starting quarterback, a role he performed admirably in earlier this season when Palmer was injured. But playing well for 3 games is different than asking someone to play well the rest of the season and into the playoffs. Andre Ellington will have to really step up his game, and it would help if WR Michael Floyd can return from his recent disappearance. The Lions are coming off a dramatic win against Miami, as Matthew Stafford added to his history of late game magic. The Lions defense has no weakness, ranking second against the pass and third against the rush. I think they will make it a long afternoon for Stanton, and the Cardinals defense won't be able to shut down Megatron and Stafford.

Prediction: Detroit 20, Arizona 17

New England (7-2) at Indianapolis (6-3), Indianapolis favored by 3

This is a rematch from last season's divisional playoff game, except this time the Colts get to host the Patriots. Each team has had two weeks to prepare for the other so maybe we will finally see a competitive Sunday night football game. Both teams feature prolific offenses, but the Patriots hold a major edge on defense. Andrew Luck and Tom Brady will both have success slinging the football, so the difference in this game figures to be the two teams rushing attacks and which defense can make more stops. On both of those counts I believe in New England more than I do Indianapolis. I still question just how good Indianapolis is, as four of their wins have come against teams under .500, and their two wins against teams over .500 were at home. It takes a lot for me to pick against New England, and while Andrew Luck almost qualifies, the rest of the Colts surrounding him, especially on defense, won't be able to do enough.

Prediction: New England 34, Indianapolis 31

Monday, November 17

Pittsburgh (6-3) at Tennessee (2-7), Pittsburgh favored by 6 1/2

Stinker of a Monday night game this week. Although, the Steelers really enjoy playing down to their competition as evidenced by their losses to the 1 win Buccaneers and the 2 win Jets. Add in that this game is in Tennessee and I expect the Titans to make it more interesting than some might expect. You have got to believe that Steelers coach Mike Tomlin will impress upon his team how serious they have to take Tennessee and Pittsburgh will at least come out with much more focus than they showed last week. So that means, don't expect Antonio Brown to fumble the ball twice like he did last weekend. Also, the running game should finally wake up for Pittsburgh going against the Titans soft rush defense.

Prediction: Pittsburgh 27, Tennessee 21

Last Week Against the Spread: 9-4
Overall Against the Spread: 74-72-1

Last Week Straight Up: 9-4
Overall Straight Up: 98-48-1

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