The up-and-down season continues in the NFL and it still feels like we don’t quite have a grasp on the teams. For instance, Pittsburgh with a running game that felt like it was starting to emerge, faced a Jaguars team that had given up 256 yards on the ground to the Jets….and they got blown out 30-9.
Six weeks in, the Jets, Bills and Patriots are 3-2, the Jaguars lead the AFC South with three 2-3 teams behind them, and there are just four teams with 4-1 records or better. Our performance last week was closer to .500, just the Vikings not covering on Monday night keeping us from that. So, let’s look to build on that step with a better week this week.
No way we can lose – locks of the week: As you can guess, these will be the stone-cold locks of the week. The games that I’m so confident about that I’d put my life’s savings on them if I had a life’s savings to wager.
Feeling pretty… pretty good: Not quite willing to bet the farm on this batch, but as Mr. Larry David would say, I’m feeling pretty… pretty good about these games.
Heads or tails: These are your true toss ups: they can go one way or another and you should pick with caution even after heeding my expert advice.
All lines courtesy of CBSSports.com.
Philadelphia Eagles @ Carolina Panthers (-3), Thursday 8:25 p.m. (CBS)
Level of Confidence: Feeling Pretty….Pretty Good
ATS & Straight up: Panthers
This is going to sound odd, but the way I feel about this game significantly changes depending on the status of Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson. In Carson Wentz’s young career, the Eagles are 9-2 when Lane Johnson starts and just 2-8 when he doesn’t. Johnson suffered a concussion in the team’s game against the Cardinals on Sunday and with this being a Thursday night game, it’s difficult to imagine that he can make it back for this one.
Meanwhile, the Panthers have seen a resurgence from Julius Peppers and he combines with Kawann Short and defensive end Charles Johnson for a dominating pass rush. On offense, Cam Newton seems to have found his 2015 form in the last two weeks. At home, I think they get the win.
No Way We Can Lose….Locks of the Week
Detroit Lions @ New Orleans Saints (-5.5), Sunday 1:00 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Lions
I understand that the Saints defense looked better against the Panthers and the Dolphins in the two weeks prior to their bye. But, the Panthers still featured a Cam Newton shaking off the rust from not playing in preseason and the Dolphins, well, they’re just incapable of playing offense apparently. Call me crazy, but I’m refusing to buy into the Saints defense, especially against a Lions team that is averaging 24 PPG.
Miami Dolphins @ Atlanta Falcons (-11.5), Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Straight up: Falcons
The Falcons offense hasn’t looked as good this year as it did last year and they were pretty banged up heading into their bye. Both Julio Jones and Mohammed Sanu left the game against the Bills with injuries, which left the offense largely rudderless. With a full week of rest, those two will likely be back, though I still have questions about how effective they’ll be considering the injuries they sustained (Julio- hip, Sanu- hamstring).
But, the Dolphins offense is woeful. Last week, against a Titans team that was flamethrowered (yes I know I made that word up) by Texans rookie QB Deshaun Watson, Jay Cutler managed the following line: 12/26 92 yards 1 TD 1 INT. I don’t trust this Miami offense at all as they’ve shown no signs of improvement over four full games.
All that said, the Dolphins defense has been the top unit in the league in terms of points allowed. The Falcons will win, just not sure they win by 12 points or more.
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Kansas City Chiefs (-4.5), Sunday 4:25 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Chiefs
The Steelers are coming off getting embarrassed by the Jaguars 30-9 last week at home while Big Ben threw 5 interceptions. Roethlisberger has historically been much better at home than on the road and while the Chiefs defense gives up yards, they tend to be very turnover opportunistic. Oh, and the Steelers run defense is 28th in the league and they’re now facing the league’s leading rusher in Kareem Hunt. Seems like a bad combination of factors. Chiefs should be able to cover.
Feeling Pretty….Pretty Good
Chicago Bears @ Baltimore Ravens (-6.5), Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Straight up: Ravens
The Ravens offense woke up against Oakland, putting up 143 yards rushing and 222 passing in their 30-17 rout of the Raiders. But, this week, they face a Bears defense that has been stout, ranking 13th against the rush (100.2 YPG) and 8th against the pass (204.8 YPG). The Bears are starting rookie QB Mitch Trubisky in his first road start against a ball-hawking secondary. They’ll have to protect him and run the ball well with Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, and teams have been able to run on Baltimore this year (124.3 YPG). The Ravens win, but the Bears keep it close.
San Francisco 49ers @ Washington Redskins (-10), Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Straight up: Redskins
Washington is coming off of a bye following a loss to the Chiefs in which they played well. The defense has started to round into form, with pass rushers Preston Smith and Ryan Kerrigan starting to get more pressure on opposing QBs. The offense has figured out a nice three running back rotation with Kirk Cousins playing largely mistake-free football (7 TDs 1 INT).
But, since losing in Week 1 23-3 to the Panthers, the 49ers have lose by just three points or less in each of the past four games against the Seahawks, Rams, Cardinals and Colts. Two of those games took overtime to decide. My point is, the Niners have made a habit of playing close games this year and ten points seems a bit too high. Especially in a game featuring Kyle Shanahan going against his former team and QB. If anyone knows Cousins’ limitations and how to exploit them, it would be Shanahan. I’d expect this one to be closer than double digits.
New England Patriots @ New York Jets (+9.5), Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Straight up: Patriots
This game has more importance than any Jets fan would have dreamed prior to the season. Both teams enter at 3-2 with the winner grabbing the top spot in the AFC East. Not exactly the 0-16 tanking that many Jets fans were expecting to suffer through this season. Meanwhile, the Patriots defense had been one of the league’s worst until shutting down Jameis Winston and the Bucs last Thursday night.
With a full ten days to prepare for a team I will never pick against Belichick, but the Patriots have won just one game by 10+ points all year, and that came against the Saints porous defense in Week 2. The Jets have been solid on defense so far this year, particularly against the pass allowing opponents just 211.4 YPG and picking off six passes. The other interesting point coming into this game is Brady dealing with a shoulder injury from all the hits he’s taken this year. It’s his left shoulder, not his throwing one, but still it shows how much he’s been getting hit this year. Patriots win, but by under double digits.
Cleveland Browns @ Houston Texans (-10), Sunday 1:00 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Texans
The Texans offense has looked explosive since inserting Deshaun Watson as the starting QB. He’s been putting up touchdowns at a crazy rate, and that will probably regress back towards the mean in all likelihood. However, the Browns defense hasn’t proven capable of slowing down offenses outside of last week’s Jets game.
The Browns are also turning to another QB as Kevin Hogan will get the start Sunday following his 16/19 194 yards 2 TD 1 INT performance in relief of Deshone Kizer last weekend. While Hogan looked competent last week, I’m not sure that’s going to continue against Houston, when the Texans have had a week to prepare for him.
New York Giants @ Denver Broncos (-11.5), Sunday 8:30 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Broncos
The Giants have lost two wide receivers, Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall, to season-ending injuries. The offense, that was barely scuffling along, just lost its most important threat. Without Beckham in Week 1 against Dallas, the Giants mustered just three points. That was against the Cowboys, whose defense is nowhere close to this Denver unit. I’m honestly a little scared for Eli this week with Von Miller, Shaq Barrett, and Derek Wolfe coming after him off a bye week. This one could get ugly.
Heads or Tails….Toss Up
Green Bay Packers @ Minnesota Vikings (+3), Sunday 1:00 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Packers
The Packers needed some Aaron Rodgers heroics last week to pull out the win against the Cowboys. It seems they found a solid option at running back as well with Aaron Jones stepping up in his first start to put up 125 yards on 19 carries. However, he’ll have a tougher task this week against a Vikings defense that is allowing just 3.3 yards per carry and 80 yards per game this season. But, the Vikings haven’t fared as well against the pass, allowing opponents to complete 65 percent of their passes for 229.2 yards per game.
The Vikings QB situation is still unsettled as Bradford is working his way back from injury and the offense just didn’t look in sync against the Bears despite getting the win. I’ll take the Pack on the road.
Los Angeles Rams @ Jacksonville Jaguars (-2.5), Sunday 4:05 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Rams
The Jaguars defense has looked dominant at times (Ravens, Steelers) and utterly porous at others (Jets, Titans). Which group shows up this week? The Jags are still very good against the pass with Jalen Ramsey, A.J. Bouye and Barry Church posing a significant issue for opposing passers. Calais Campbell has made a huge impact along the defensive line with six sacks and he’s helped the young guys Dante Fowler and Yannick Ngakoue who both have four sacks.
Against the run has been a different story. The Jaguars are the 2nd-worst defense in the league in that respect allowing 5.4 yards per carry and 146.4 yards per game. The Rams aren’t much better against the run, allowing 133.6 yards per game. This feels like a game where the coaches try and limit mistakes from their QBs as much as possible by running the ball. Whichever defense stiffen enough on a couple of drives gets the win and with Aaron Donald rounding back into his wrecking ball form, I’ll take the Rams.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Arizona Cardinals (+2), Sunday 4:05 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Buccaneers
I can’t get the visual of last week’s Eagles-Cardinals game out of my head. The Cardinals allowed multiple long touchdowns to Carson Wentz and the Eagles receivers and this week face Jameis Winston, who’s been one of the league’s better deep passers over the years. Granted, Jameis and the Bucs haven’t looked particularly good on offense yet, but the Cardinals haven’t been anything to write home about either. I’ll take the Bucs, largely because I just flipped a coin and it happened to come up on the side I assigned the Bucs to.
Los Angeles Chargers @ Oakland Raiders, Sunday 4:25 p.m.
Straight up: Chargers
No line for this game or the one below it because the QB situations are unsettled for the Raiders and Titans. The Chargers got that first win last week while the Raiders fell behind early against the Ravens and couldn’t get it going with EJ Manuel playing in place of Derek Carr. Manuel wasn’t bad (13/26 159 yards 1 TD), but I don’t think he’s got enough to get it done against the Chargers.
Indianapolis Colts @ Tennessee Titans, Monday 8:30 p.m.
Straight up: Titans
It looks like Mariota will be back for this one. If that’s the case, the Titans get the win. If not, they don’t. It’s really that simple. Matt Cassel is not able to capably run this offense as designed so if he’s the guy with the reigns, the Titans lose.
Straight up: 41-36