Right when it looked like the NFL was starting to make sense, Jacksonville beat the Colts, the Saints (at home!) barely beat the Panthers and the Bears got destroyed. However, luckily for you, I’ve gazed into my crystal ball and figured out all of this week’s matchups. Home team in CAPS.
BALTIMORE (-7) over Denver
Kyle Orton is on pace to break Dan Marino’s passing record of 5,084 yards in a season. The Broncos defense has been so poor this year that Denver has been forced to pass all year, much like the Colts. Even worse for Denver is that they have the worst running game in the NFL. When you go into Baltimore (the league’s top pass defense), you can’t have a one-dimensional offense and expect to win. Normally, seven points would be a lot for the Ravens to give because they’ve played low-scoring games all year. However, I think Denver’s tendency to pass could drive the game’s score up, helping Baltimore cover.
Jacksonville (-1) over BUFFALO
As much as I hate backing David Garrard on the road, can you really pick the Bills to win a game? With the Jets, Dolphins, and Patriots all looking good this year, I don’t feel confident that the Bills will win a division game this year. That leaves at Baltimore, at Kansas City, Chicago, Detroit, at Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, at Minnesota and Cleveland. The only games in which I think they have a shot are Chicago, Detroit and Cleveland. Even in those three games, they won’t be favored. If the Bills lose this one, they are on official 0-16 watch.
INDIANAPOLIS (-7) over Kansas City
If the Colts lose this game, we may be seeing the end of an era. We saw it with the Patriots last year. From 2001-2007, the Pats lost the division once and won three Super Bowls. And in 2008, Brady was injured the whole year. Every time the Pats played a big game, you could count on them winning. For the Colts, they have owned the regular season. Since 2003: 12-4, 12-4, 14-2, 12-4, 13-3, 12-4 and 14-2. However, the Colts roster today is very similar to that same 2003 roster. The Colts are getting more injuries, and players are getting older. For now, I’m still going to go with the Colts under the impression that Peyton Manning can will himself to win. However, if Indy loses this game, it may be the end of an era.
St. Louis (+3) over DETROIT
While Jahvid Best has been wowing fantasy owners with big weeks, Sam Bradford looks like the Rookie of the Year right now. St. Louis has already doubled last years win total, and Bradford looks better than expected. The big question is if he’ll be able to go on the road and beat 0-4 Detroit. Detroit at 0-4 looks like a much better team than Chicago at 3-1, but somehow they are winless. They hung in with Green Bay last week, and their biggest loss was just 14 to Minnesota. Besides that, they’ve been close every game. That being said, Jahvid Best’s toe seems like a problem to the run game, Matthew Stafford is still out, as well as safety C.C. Brown, LB DeAndre Levy, and TE Tony Scheffler. I think that the Rams are a legitimate threat to win the NFC West, especially if San Fran drops to 0-5 this week. Arizona could be the worst team in the league, even if they are 2-2, San Fran is 0-4, and Seattle looks like they can’t win a game on the road.
Atlanta (-3) over CLEVELAND
Mike Turner’s lack of production has been disappointing for Atlanta this year. Matt Ryan threw 43 times last week against the 49ers, including an AWFUL pick on what should’ve been the last play of the game. However, Nate Clements’ idiotic play bailed out the Falcons. Clements’ selfishness (trying to score a touchdown on the game winning pick) allowed Roddy White to strip the ball from him on the return, and let Matty Ice go to work, setting up Matt Bryant for the game winning field goal. While Cleveland has looked good this year (or as good as Cleveland can look), I still think Atlanta is an NFC contender. Any team that is a Super Bowl contender has to win a game like this by double digits.
CINCINNATI (-6.5) over Tampa Bay
Right when Tampa Bay was getting some hype for going 2-0 (by beating Cleveland and Carolina), they got destroyed by Pittsburgh. While Carson Palmer may very well be the worst QB in the league, the Cincy defense is still extremely strong. Tampa Bay hasn’t been able to move the ball on the ground, with Cadillac Williams averaging a heinous 2.5 yards per carry. Tampa Bay won’t be able to score in this game, and hopefully the Bengals can score enough to cover.
CAROLINA (+1) over Chicago
Right when people were starting to wonder whether the Bears were for real, they showed us they are who we thought they were. Jay Cutler continues to make atrocious decisions in the pocket, just like he has all year. Except he was bailed out against the Lions (Calvin Johnson “dropping” the touchdown) and Green Bay (having 2 picks called back because of penalties on the final drive). Against the Giants, however, it was one for the ages. Cutler was sacked on 9 of 20 dropbacks, a sack rate of 45% which is the highest sack rate of a QB who’s attempted 10 passes in NFL history. The Football Outsiders (easily the best NFL stats site) rated Cutler’s performance as the 28th worst by a QB since 1994. That may not sound that bad, but keep in mind, that counts over 8,000 QB performances. You may think that it was because of bad line protection that Cutler was so awful, but Cutler earned almost all those sacks: he couldn’t get rid of the ball, and made awful throws when he did. With Todd Collins starting this week, I wonder if Chicago will be able to move the ball, especially with Matt Forte’s running not up to par this year. Carolina was impressive in defeat at New Orleans, and I think they can take care of business at home this week.
Green Bay (-2.5) over WASHINGTON
Washington looked good in a win over Philly, and Green Bay looked awful in a win over Detroit. Here’s the difference: I think Detroit is a much better team than Philadelphia, especially Philadelphia without Michael Vick. Aaron Rodgers looks like a superstar this year, but is getting very little help from his defense. The Lions had the ball for 38 minutes last week, not giving Rodgers much time to work.
HOUSTON (-3) over New York Giants
The Giants are back! At least, that’s the public perception. Their pass rush looked great against the Bears, right? Yes, but so would the Elon Phoenix’s pass rush. Football Outsiders ranks the Bears as the 27th best team in the league, and if you count Calvin Johnson’s TD and give Green Bay some of the breaks the Bears got, the Bears are 1-3, with an awful QB. They’ll need a much better performance against the top passing team in the league to win Sunday. Houston didn’t look great in a win against Oakland, but last week the Giants looked like one of the worst teams in the league, so I think Houston can definitely cover 3.
New Orleans (-7) over ARIZONA
Each week looks like the Saints are still on Super Bowl hangover. They barely hung on against the Panthers, who looked like the Bills the first 3 weeks of the year. It’s hard to tell if the Saints are contenders this year, but I would like to believe that they are. The emergence of Lance Moore gives Brees another consistent target to throw at, and they’re playing the Cardinals! Football Outsiders ranks the Cardinals as the worst team in the league. Last week, Max Hall may have been worse than Cutler: On 20 dropbacks, Hall was sacked 6 times, with a fumble. He converted 3 first downs and had 82 yards passing. The Cardinals illustrate just how important a quarterback is in this league. With Kurt Warner: Super Bowl loss. Without Kurt Warner: worst team in the league? Any serious title contender wins this game by 20, and (for now) I’ve got the Saints as a contender.
San Diego (-6) over OAKLAND
One of the more interesting matchups of the week: While Oakland may very well be awful, in two home games they’ve beaten St. Louis and played Houston tight. They might be better than we think. Meanwhile, is San Diego playing its usual awful September football to go on a run for the rest of the year? Or, are they just not that good this year? I’m inclined to think they’re still a quality team and could win the AFC West. With KC at 3-0, including the easiest schedule in the league, San Diego may have to start winning to win the division. The way Rivers and the offense are clicking, I think they shouldn’t have a problem against Oakland’s awful pass defense.
DALLAS (-7) over Tennessee
I spent days flip-flopping on this game. On one hand, Dallas hasn’t looked great this year against Houston, and Houston just barely beat Oakland. On the other hand, Tennessee hasn’t been able to move the ball offensively and has relied on a good defense to win games. Good Offense vs. Good Defense: who wins? I’m taking Dallas, and here’s why. Tony Romo is better than people think. If you watch PTI, you see how much they talk about how overrated Dallas is. I think they’re wrong. Miles Austin could be the top receiver in the league behind Andre Johnson, and Romo is one of the top 5 QB’s. I think if they can get production out of Barber and Jones in the backfield, that they could still contend in the NFC. After all, they’re only 1-2, and one of those losses was a fluky loss to the Skins. This Tennessee defense is one of the top 5 in the league, and it should be a good test for the Cowboys. At home against a 2-2 team however, the Cowboys have to win this game, and enough points should be scored where they can cover.
SAN FRANCISCO (-3.5) over Philadelphia
At 0-4, I think San Francisco is clearly the best team in the NFC West. This division could be the worst division in the history of the NFL. Seattle can’t win on the road, St. Louis went 1-15 last year, and Arizona starts Max Hall at quarterback. San Fran is the only team that has resembled an 8-8 team. Even if the Niners lose this game, they still could win the division! That’s how bad it is. I think 8-8 gets it for sure, and 7-9 could happen. Never before has a division winner been under .500. While they could be fine at 0-5, I don’t think that’s Mike Singletary’s plan A. Philadelphia lost their MVP, Mike Vick, and now starts Kevin Kolb, who is still pretty good. He gave a very respectful performance in the second half against Washington. At home, with a crowd desperate for a win, I think San Francisco will find a way to win this game. At some point, they’re going to have to actually win a game [while the games against Atlanta and New Orleans sure looked like wins], and I think this is the week!
NEW YORK JETS (-4) over Minnesota
After dismantling the Bills, the Jets have proven themselves to be one of the top 3 AFC teams alongside the Ravens and Steelers. Their only loss came to the Ravens, and they have quality division wins against Miami and New England. Meanwhile, Minnesota is coming off a bye week where Randy Moss rejoined the team and press has been through the roof. The Moss effect will definitely help the Vikings this season, but I don’t think he’ll be effective this game. The Jets Darelle Revis is back and Moss doesn’t know the Minnesota playbook. With Revis back, that eliminates Minnesota’s top receiver, and we all know they don’t exactly have a plethora of receivers to look to. LT’s reemergence will be tested this week: is it possible that he’s really good again? If so, it would be one of the greatest comebacks for a guy who seemed washed up. At home, not only am I picking the Jets, but I’m making them my LOCK OF THE WEEK!
Last Week: 6-8
Underdog Pick: Carolina over Chicago
Lock of the Week: NYJ over Minnesota