Before unveiling this weekend’s picks, I owe a sincere apology to Brandon Weeden, who last night proved that he is good enough to win cover football games. As for Joe Flacco, I don’t know what to make of him. One drive he’s a surgeon, the next he’s throwing into double coverage in the endzone for an easy interception. I don’t care if he’s an “elite” quarterback or not, “elite” is not an objective rating system. I do know that you can go to war with Joe Flacco, and if you need him to take over the game he has the ability, and the talent around him to do so. Personally I don’t think he’s a better quarterback than (Smokin’) Jay Cutler, but unlike Cutler his offensive line doesn’t have more holes than the plot in a Dan Brown novel. But I digress, on to Sunday:
Home teams in caps, all lines courtesy of bet365.com
Patriots (-4) over BILLS
What the hell is going on in New England? The defense was never going to be overly dominant, but the high-scoring high-profile offense from last year is nowhere to be seen. Rob Gronkowski was limited to two catches against the Ravens last week, and Tom Brady seems to be focusing mostly on getting the ball to Julian Edelman, who was nearly cut last year until injuries forced him to play cornerback. Here’s where the Patriots fans can relax, as they don’t exactly face a murderer’s row of competition for the rest of the season: @ BUF, vs DEN, @ SEA, vs NYJ, @ STL, vs BUF, vs IND, @NYJ, @ MIA, vs HOU, vs SF, @ JAC, vs MIA. If the Patriots are who we think they are, that’s a 10-3 stretch, at least. As for the Bills, they’ve beaten the Chiefs and the Browns. This will be a great litmus test to see where Buffalo’s future lies; if they win, they’re a legitimate wild card threat.
Patriots 31, Bills 24
Vikings (+4.5) over LIONS
What is going on with Matthew Stafford? Yes, he injured his ribs last week (stunner), but it wasn’t like he’s been lighting the world on fire these past couple weeks. Meanwhile, in Minnesota, Christian Ponder is starting to look like he’s worth the high draft pick the Vikings spent on him. The NFC North is going to be a bloodbath this year, and likewise the games will be close. Take the points.
Vikings 28, Lions 27
FALCONS (-7) over Panthers
The Falcons are looking scary good right now. Matt Ryan is on pace to win the MVP (793 yds, 72% acc, 8 TDs, 1 INT), and Roddy White and Julio Jones form the best wide receiver tandem in the league. As for the Panthers, this is a huge game for Cam Newton. After getting called out by Steve Smith for bad body language following last week’s thumping by the Giants, Cam has some doubters to prove wrong. And although I think he and the Panthers rebound (ie, they actually show up this week), the Falcons look too good to not win by more than a touchdown.
Falcons 34, Panthers 21
Niners (-4) over JETS
We know the 49ers have the most physically imposing defense in the league, and that Frank Gore and Vernon Davis are capable of putting the offense on their shoulders. And then there’s Alex Smith. One week after Cris Collinsworth nearly orgasmed on air while describing his improvements from last year Smith managed to put up only 204 yards in a game where he trailed nearly the entire time. Why am I taking the Niners to cover, then? Because the other team is quarterbacked by Mark Sanchez. Even if Smith can only get you field goals, he won’t throw the pick-six. And, with Derrelle Revis (who earlier this week was referred to as the greatest player in franchise history) out for the season, Smith should be able to find his receivers. If not, well, it might be time to sell your Alex Smith stock.
Niners 16, Jets 10
Chargers (-1) over CHIEFS
I hate this game. Please don’t put money on this game. You can’t even rely on the timeless strategy of betting against Norv Turner, because Romeo Crennel coaches the other team! Give me Philip Rivers over Matt Cassell, but Jamaal Charles has big play ability and if the Chargers start out slow the crowd at Arrowhead can force any offense into mistakes.
Chargers 24, Chiefs 20
TITANS (+12) over Texans
The Texans are looking very much like the Super Bowl favorites many pundits pegged them to be. They have a top tier defense (you can barely tell that Mario Williams left), the best running game in the league with Arian Foster and Ben Tate, and a prototypical game managing quarterback in Matt Schaub. However, if you watch last week’s game versus the Lions you’ll see Titans quarterback Jake Locker making plays. After putting up 378 yds and 2 TDs on 69% acc against a defense that is built to rush the passer I have faith in a Jake Locker backdoor cover.
Texans 31, Titans 24
Seahawks (-3) over RAMS
After losing to beating the Packers in dramatic (read: hilarious) fashion on Monday night the Seahawks head to St. Louis to take on Cortland Finnegan and the Rams. What can you take away from that debacle on Monday night, besides cherished memories? 1) the Seahawks defense is scary good. They had Aaron Rodgers doing his best Jay Cutler impression, sacking him eight times in the first half (including four by Chris Clemons). 2) Russell Wilson can make big throws, if they’ll let him. Despite ranking last in passing offense at 127.7 YPG, Wilson threw a 41 yard dart to Golden Tate for his only first touchdown against the Pack. Wilson also has a great demeanor for a quarterback, and can use his legs if necessary. I’m not sold on the Rams yet, they relied on straight-up instigating to beat the Redskins in week two and were completely smothered by the Bears in week three, but if they can take care of business against the Seahawks Sunday they’ll be right in the thick of the NFC wild card race.
Seahawks 20, Rams 13
CARDINALS (-5.5) over Dolphins
Ryan Tannehill. Without his starting running back. On the road. Against a ferocious Cardinals defense. There’s nothing more to say, really, so here’s a gallery of Tannehill’s wife. Hopefully Ryan can keep his QB rating higher than his wife (which is to say over a 10), but we’ll see.
Cardinals 23, Dolphins 9
Raiders (+7) over BRONCOS
Peyton Manning looks old. His passes are missing their usual pep, and his offensive line looks like they’re still learning the code words of Manning’s vaunted offense. The Raiders are nothing special, but Vegas is over-valuing the Broncos here. Besides, with Sebastian Janikowski at altitude a 70 yard field goal is not out of the question. The Raiders may not need to punt once.
Broncos 24, Raiders 19
JAGUARS (+2.5) over Bengals
Blaine Gabbert is the comeback king, apparently. In two out of three games Gabbert has led the Jaguars in crunch time to take the lead (in week one he left too much time for Christian Ponder, a sentence I’d never thought I would ever type). Throw in home field, a frisky defense and Maurice Jones-Drew and you have the recipe for keeping it close, if not victory. Give me the Jags winning following more Gabbert heroics.
Jaguars 23, Bengals 21
PACKERS (-7.5) over Saints
The Saints are terrible. Get off the bandwagon now, before it bursts into flames. If your defense is so terrible that you lose to the Chiefs at home, than Aaron Rodgers should have three scores before the end of the first quarter. And for those who were hoping for a repeat of last year’s opening day thriller, consider this: the Saints have the worst running defense in the league (they’re giving up over 200 YPG on the ground), the biggest onus on the Packers offense is their running game. Although, now that Vegas is no longer over-valuing the Saints we could be in store for some epic Drew Brees backdoor covers. Just not this week.
Packers 41, Saints 28
Redskins (+2.5) over BUCCANEERS
Robert Griffin III, rookie quarterback/spokesman extraordinaire, is slowly getting killed in these games. Lucky for him, he gets to go against the Greg “King of the Cheap Shot Play to the Final Whistle” Schiano and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Josh Freeman is looking much improved from last year, which most pundits attribute to his “getting into shape”. How a professional athlete is ever out of shape is beyond me, but as long as Baron Davis has a job I suppose I’ll have to accept that it’s true. This game is a stay away, but I’d take RG3 and the points.
Redskins 31, Buccaneers 27
Giants (+2) at EAGLES
How the Giants aren’t favored is beyond me. As I wrote last week, Eli Manning is money on the road. Sure he does it with that goofy look on his face, but he is unflappable away from New Jersey (side note: can anyone be flappable?). On the other side of the ball you have turnover machine Michael Vick, who will be running from the likes of Justin Tuck, Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul all night. This one shouldn’t be close, and even if it is, crunch time is Manning time.
Giants 31, Eagles 20
Bears (+3) over COWBOYS
It’s the battle of the over-scrutinized quarterbacks with terrible offensive lines! Matt Forte is battling an ankle injury, but the Bears are ‘optimistic’ he’ll be good to go for Monday night. You can make a case for either team here, but if you’re willing to give up points with Tony Romo in primetime against a top tier defense you are a braver soul than I.
Bears 26, Cowboys 23
BYE: Steelers, Colts
Last week’s record: 11-5
Overall record: 30-18