For the second straight week, the two teams I had pegged as the cream of crop fell in (slightly) unexpected manners. A week after the Jets and Steelers lost the top spot in my power rankings, the Patriots and Colts both lost after I declared this season was shaping up to look like every other year in the 2000s. With a bunch of top AFC teams going down, I think we need to start paying attention to some elite NFC teams, particularly in the Tri-State area. With a lot of the media focusing on the Jets in the preseason, the New York Giants have gone relatively unnoticed compared to their cross-town rivals. The Giants have put together a 6-2 record, winning five in a row, and scoring 41 points in each of their last two games. The G-Men top my rankings for this week, as I begin to give the NFC a little more credit. My picks in bold. Last week: 7 wins – 5 losses – 1 push. Season record: 67-58-5.
Baltimore Ravens at Atlanta Falcons (-1): In a game between two evenly matched 6-2 teams, I turned to one factor which separates the Falcons. They are playing at home. Homefield has been crucial under coach Mike Smith and 3rd-year QB Matt Ryan. Both of them joined the Falcons prior to the 2008 season, and since then, the Falcons have put together a home record of 17-3, including a 4-0 mark this year. Honestly, both teams are playing really well, with the Ravens winning 5 of their last 6 and the Falcons winning 6 of their 7 games. But, on a short week, this will come down to the friendly (or not-so-friendly to the Ravens) confines of the Georgia Dome.
Detroit Lions at Buffalo Bills (-2.5): At first glance, this game pits two of the league’s worst teams together when the 2-6 Lions face the 0-8 Bills. However, I’m convinced these teams are much better than their records would suggest. The Lions beat the Redskins two weeks ago and nearly upset the Jets in a 23-20 overtime loss last week. Meanwhile, the Bills have lost three games in a row by 3 points, all to teams with winning records. Last week’s 22-19 loss to the Bears came after consecutive overtime losses to the Ravens and Chiefs. I’ve gone back and forth on this game, and I finally decided that I cannot trust the Lions yet, because their QB Matthew Stafford is out with a shoulder injury and backup QB Shaun Hill is coming off an injury himself. The Bills win their first game of the year and avoid the 0-16.
Minnesota Vikings (-1) at Chicago Bears: Even with all the controversy surrounding Brett Favre and his cellphone, and Brad Childress’ job security, I like the Vikings in this NFC North showdown. I got two main reasons why. One, the Vikings have Adrian Peterson. And two, they don’t have Jay Cutler and Chicago does. Minnesota’s offense has been much superior to the Bears’, with the main difference being the running game. Peterson, aka AD or All-Day, has been averaging over 107 rushing yards per game, and the Bears as a team only rush for 90 yards per game. And Chicago QB Jay Cutler always has potential to be a turnover machine. After Favre retires in 15 years, Cutler will finally get his chance to shine as the master of the interception.
New York Jets (-3) at Cleveland Browns: Last week, Cleveland shocked lots of people, including myself, by pulling the upset over the New England Patriots. On their way to a 34-14 victory, the Browns rushed for 230 yards, led by RB Peyton Hillis’ 184-yard game. I wouldn’t expect the same outcome this week. No offense to Patriots fans (actually, I hope they do take offense), but the Jets defense is on another level. New York is fourth in the NFL in rushing yards allowed, at just 87 per game on the ground. Look for the Jets to put eight or nine men in the box to focus on Hillis and the running game, forcing rookie QB Colt McCoy to beat them.
Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colts (-7): What do I keep saying about the Bengals? Overratted and overvalued. The Bengals fell to 2-6 against the spread after a failed comeback against the Steelers. The Bungles rallied from a 20-point deficit to cut the gap to 27-21, but could not seal the deal on the potential game-winning drive. Carson Palmer continues to put up good stats only when his team is down big. Meanwhile, the Colts always play well at home in Lucas Oil Stadium, where they are 3-0 this year. It should be noted that the Colts have covered the spread in each of those games. Love Indianapolis in this one.
Tennessee Titans (-2) at Miami Dolphins: While watching the Dolphins game last week, I came to the conclusion that Miami just might not be good. We’ve been waiting for them to breakout, but they continue to lose to good teams. To be fair, their losses have come to the Steelers, Jets, Patriots and Ravens, who all sport impressive 6-2 records. But, if you want to survive in the NFL, you have to beat good teams. And Miami hasn’t proven it can do that yet. I don’t think turning to veteran backup QB Chad Pennington will help matters for Miami. I also think their defense will get exposed by the Titans running game with superstar Chris Johnson, as well as the newly revamped passing attack with recently acquired WR Randy Moss. Plus, Miami has no homefield advantage, going 0-3 so far at Sun Life Stadium in Miami.
Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-6.5): I’m putting this out there. The 1-7 Carolina Panthers are, BY FAR, the worst team in the NFL. The 0-8 Buffalo Bills would blow this team out of the water. The Panthers have a league-worst -96 point differential, and they are 2-6 against the spread. Tampa Bay already beat the Panthers 20-7 at Charlotte earlier this season, so why should I expect anything different? Probably because the NFL is crazy and impossible to predict.
Houston Texans (+1.5) at Jacksonville Jaguars: There has been a lot of talk about the Texans finally putting together a winning season and a playoff team. Not so fast my friends. By my count, Houston’s 4-4 record isn’t as good as we think, considering they are just 2-5-1 against the spread. Still, I love rooting for this offense when they put it all together. Matt Schaub to Andre Johnson is a lethal duo through the air, especially when you combine that with the current NFL leader in rushing yards, Houston RB Arian Foster, who already has 864 rushing yards this year. This pick is more from my gut and rooting interests than my brain, but I’ll take Houston.
Kansas City Chiefs (-1) at Denver Broncos: Lock of the week. Kansas City will definitely win this game. Honestly, I’m surprised that the line isn’t higher. The Chiefs’ 5-3 record is no joke, and they will run the ball with some serious success against the Broncos. The Chiefs lead the NFL at nearly 180 rushing yards per game, and Denver has the second-worst rushing defense in the league at 154 yards allowed per game. And KC’s defense is no slouch either. They have only allowed 18 points per game, good enough for eighth in the NFL. The Chiefs continue their surprising season and pose a serious threat in an exciting AFC West race between Kansas City, Oakland and the perennial favorite San Diego.
Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants (-13.5): Will new Dallas head coach Jason Garrett make a difference? Let me think about this…umm…nope. This team is beyond all hope. The Cowboys have given up 41, 35 and 45 points in their last three games, including a 41-35 loss to the Giants at home. I’ve already said how I believe the G-men are playing the best football in the league right now. They put a serious hurting on the Seattle Seahawks, blowing them out by the score 41-7. The Giants now boast the #1 ranked total defense at 250 yards allowed per game, and the second-most prolific offense at 401 yards gained per game. They have also scored 144 points in their last four games. For those non-math majors out there, that’s an average of 36 points per game. Big Blue rolls to another dominating victory.
Seattle Seahawks (+3) at Arizona Cardinals: Ugh. Not the NFC West. Anything but the NFC West. Can’t we just skip this game? Somehow, the 4-4 Seahawks remain atop the division despite losing their last two games by a combined 64 points. They also allowed over 1000 total yards in those two games. And they aren’t even the worse defense in this game. The Cardinals’ 28.1 points allowed per game is the fifth-worst mark in the NFL. In a toss-up, I’ll take the points and Seattle, only because somebody has to win.
St. Louis Rams (+6) at San Francisco 49ers: The fact that the 2-6 Niners are not completely out of the playoff race tells you how weak the NFC West is. However, out of those four teams, I’m backing the Rams. That’s right, the 1-15 Rams from last year will win their division just one year later. In San Francisco, the Niners were supposed to have a suffocating defense. However, this vaunted defense has not stood out so far this year, allowing 331 yards per game, only an average 16th-best in the NFL. If Rams QB Sam Bradford keeps on impressing as a rookie, I may have a budding bromance on my hands. Love that guy. In a close game, I’ll take the points.
New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers (-4.5): I’ve been high on the Steelers all year, and a loss to the New Orleans Saints in the Superdome two weeks is nothing to get down about. It’s always tough to win on the road in the NFL. The Steelers got back on track with a 27-21 win over division rivals Cincinnati Bengals. As for the New England Patriots, it seems that the Cleveland Browns may have exposed their defense. The Browns ran for 230 yards on the Pats’ defense, and I expect the Steelers to go to RB Rashard Mendenhall for a similar smashmouth offense. Also, at this point in his career, you have to respect QB Ben Roethlisberger, and I’m not convinced New England’s talented but inexperienced secondary will be up to the task.
Philadelphia Eagles (-3) at Washington Redskins: The Eagles and Redskins are moving in opposite directions. A lot has been made of Washington head coach Mike Shanahan’s decision to bench QB Donovan McNabb for the last two minutes of a 37-25 loss to the Detroit Lions. Clearly, there are problems between the coaches and their starting QB, and you need to be on the same page and have confidence in each other to succeed in the NFL. On the other hand, the Eagles really impressed in a 29-27 victory over the Indianapolis Colts, which frankly should have been a bigger winning margin. Several times in the second half, the Colts had drives extended by dubious defensive penalties flagged on the Eagles. Michael Vick’s resurgence has been a great story, and I like the Eagles to continue their run towards a playoff berth.