By Brian Spencer
How We Did Last Week
Meh. It wasn’t a total disaster, but our 3-4 record for Week 7 was disappointing. We swung and missed on the favored Titans and Raiders covering–both were handily blown out–but few saw that coming.
What rankles us more is the Browns failing to cover -3.5 in the biggest Toilet Bowl game so far, a mind-numbing 6-3 win over the Seattle Seahawks. Most of our ire is directed at Seahawks DT Red Bryant, who not only blocked two Phil Dawson field-goal attempts but also prevented a third one late in the fourth quarter. From the good people at ProFootballTalk:
After the Seahawks sacked Browns quarterback Colt McCoy on third down with about a minute to go, Bryant head-butted Browns tight end Alex Smith. That personal foul got Bryant ejected and gave the Browns an automatic first down, and all they had to do was kneel down twice to run out the clock.
The Vikings’ inspired effort against the Green Bay Packers wasn’t good enough for a win, but 1.5 points good enough to cover the 7.5 spread in their 33-27 loss. We thought that one was in the bag, particularly with Aaron Rodgers shredding the Minny secondary and staking his team to a healthy 33-17 lead after three quarters. Hey, that’s football.
Cincinnati Bengals (-2.5) at Seattle Seahawks: The 2-4 Seahawks return to Seattle for just their third home game following that riveting loss at Cleveland… and they’re still in second place in the NFC West! Exciting! This team has a well-known (and earned) reputation for overachieving at home in what’s always a rowdy atmosphere, but we wonder if that home-field advantage is strong enough in this matchup against the streaking Cincinnati Bengals to warrant this low spread: they’re otherwise overmatched in almost every category.
The 4-2 Bengals look like a playoff team. Led by unglamorous-but-effective rookie QB Andy Dalton and explosive rookie WR A.J. Green, the Bengals offense is capable, though not unstoppable, but it’s their rock-solid defense that’ll largely determine the team’s fate going forward. They’re yielding just 18.5 points/per (4th overall), and are 5th overall in both passing and rushing yards allowed. That’s bad news for a stinky Seahawks offense putting up just 16.2 points and 262.8 total yards per. QB Tarvaris Jackson looks like he’ll return to the starting lineup, but he’s really not been much better than Charlie Whitehurst. Cringe.
The home-field advantage is not insignificant, but neither is Seattle’s loss of starting CBs Marcus Trufant and Walter Thurmond. Look for Dalton to hook up with Green for another score and for the Bengals DEF to cause a few key sacks and turnovers. PICK: Bengals Cover
New Orleans Saints (-11.5) at St. Louis Rams: Heading into a tangle with a defense that’s giving up 28.5 points/per, the Saints are averaging a league-best 34.1 points/per, a number significantly aided by the 62 smackers they laid on the Colts in primetime last week. Coincidentally, the Colts defense is the only one that’s been more generous than the Rams’. Happy Late-October, Drew Brees.
Brees is again leading a prolific attack that’s 2nd in total yards, 2nd in passing yards, and 9th in rushing yards. New Orleans is relatively healthy on both sides of the ball (though rookie RB Mark Ingram is likely out), they’re motivated, and… enough about the Saints. This one’s about the winless Rams.
Sam Bradford will likely sit again, which means the league’s worst offense, the only one averaging less than 10 points/per (9.3, to be precise), will again be led by A.J. Feeley. Get psyched, Rams fans! The question isn’t if the Rams can pull an upset here–they absolutely cannot–but whether they can cover that hefty 11.5 spread. Their last two games have been a 27-point loss to the Cowboys and a 21-point loss to the Packers, so here’s your answer.
PICK: Saints Cover
San Diego Chargers (-3.5) at Kansas City Chiefs: He can deny it all he wants, but something’s not right with San Diego’s bolt-thrower Philip Rivers. One of the league’s best and most consistent regular-season QBs for the past 3 years, Rivers has looked out of sorts from the get-go and is on track for a career-worst season through 6 games. He’s thrown more picks (9) than TDs (7), and based on what he saw in DirecTV’s “Short Cuts” version of last week’s Chargers/Jets game, my colleague Mr. Thell is convinced Rivers is hiding some sort of injury.
You’ll recall that the last time Rivers and the Chargers ventured to Arrowhead Stadium, in Week 1 last season, they left with an unexpected 21-14 loss to a Chiefs team that unexpectedly went on to the playoffs. Last year was last year, however, and though the Chargers’ four wins have come against teams with a combined 6-19 record–including a narrow 20-17 win over these Chiefs in Week 3–we have a hunch Ryan Matthews and Mike Tolbert are in for big games against a KC defense allowing 125.5 yards rushing/per; Matthews had 149 yards from scrimmage and 2 TDs in their first matchup. Beyond Dwayne Bowe, the Chiefs offense simply has nothing to counter-punch with. PICK: Chargers Cover
Detroit Lions (-3.5) at Denver Broncos: You knew it was going to happen, right? (Of course you did, it was predicted in Corinthians 16:22.) You knew Tim Tebow, after logging 56 minutes of some of the worst quarterback play I’ve ever seen on a NFL field (4-14, 40 yards), would bounce back and comandeer a come-from-behind victory against the winless Miami Dolphins. There’s simply no way our Lord would let the bad guys win and fail to deliver the good guys into the victorious promised land.
Lost in the “excitement” of Denver’s 18-15 overtime over the putrid Dolphins is the fact that those were both very, very bad teams… and that the Dolphins were actually the better one, arguably by far, for all but the last 4 minutes of regulation. Fantasy production aside, Tebow was God awful (ahem), somehow actually worse than expected. At one point “he sailed one pass maybe 15 yards over the head of a wide-open receiver, prompting play-by-play guy Kevin Harlan to say softly, almost to himself, ‘But there’s no wind,’ as if ruminating over a Zen koan,” noted Deadspin’s Tommy Craggs. He was sacked 7 times.
There’s been a lot of media backlash against the 5-2 Detroit Lions this week following two straight home losses to playoff-contending teams, and that’s reflected in this paltry 3.5 spread (now down to 2.5). Let the suckers take Tebow’s Broncos: we’ll take the far better team that’s thus far 3-0 on the road, sports the NFL’s 9th-ranked pass defense, and will unleash the NFL’s best WR on an aging Broncos secondary. Expect another dominant performance from Megatron, regardless of who’s behind center. I smell a double-digit win for the visitors and 3 Tebow INTs. Pick: Lions Cover
Just Trust Us
San Francisco 49ers (-9.5) vs. Cleveland Browns: With Jim Harbaugh and his 5-1 49ers done jacking themselves off during the bye week after their impressive 25-19 win at Detroit in Week 6, they welcome an uninspiring Browns team whose offense littered Cleveland Browns Stadium with pellet-sized turds last week against the Seattle Seahawks. There’s just little to nothing to see on that side of the ball in Cleveland, save for promising WR Greg Little–somebody please get that guy a legitimate quarterback.
The Browns defense is another story. Led by unheralded CB Joe Haden, the Browns are surprisingly fielding the league’s top-ranked pass defense and are in the top 10 in points allowed. If they can contain a resurgent Frank Gore (393 yards rushing, 3 TDs in last 3 games) and force QB Alex Smith, quite possibly the league’s most accomplished checkdown artist, to try and make plays, they have a chance to keep it close. In a game pitting two teams who both rely heavily on their defenses to hide middling offenses, we’ll take the points in what figures to be a slugfest. Pick: Browns Cover
Houston Texans (-10.5) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars: I can’t imagine what the ratings would have been for the second half of the Jags’ unwatchable 12-7 win over the Baltimore Ravens on Monday Night Football if not for fantasy football. Both defenses came to play, but that doesn’t excuse the brutal offensive performances, particularly on the Ravens’ side as 10.5-point favorites (7 first-half passing yards, no first downs until 5:26 left in the third quarter, 146 total yards).
Jacksonville travels to Houston as 10.5 dogs, again, to take on a 4-3 Texans team that thumped the directionless Tennessee Titans 41-7 on the road last week behind 219 yards combined rushing from Arian Foster and Ben Tate, arguably the best 1-2 backfield combo in the league. They figure to rely heavily on them again with WR Andre Johnson likely out or at best very limited, which will be a good test for an underrated Jags defense ranked 8th in points allowed and 10th against the run. They also don’t give up many passing plays over 20 yards, which doesn’t bode well for Texans QB Matt Schaub, who sports a career 1-5 record against Jacksonville.
Jaguars rookie QB Blaine Gabbert may have a future in this league, but we’ve seen enough through six games to know he doesn’t have much of a present, particularly with that piss-poor receiving corps and a mostly listless Marcedes Lewis. The recipe for Jags success, or at least for staying in the game, is a steady diet of the venerable Maurice Jones-Drew, who toted the rock 30 times against Baltimore and now has 22+ carries in 4 of 7 games. Amazing stat considering, as Mr. Thell pointed out last night over microbrews at Barcade, the man is coming off a serious knee surgery.
Despite all this–the strong defense, the elite running back, the shocking win over the Baltimore Ravens–the Jaguars are still a pretty bad 2-5 team that could walk in here and get blown out. We don’t think the Texans have two consecutive blow-out efforts in ’em right now though. Pick: Jaguars Cover
Carolina Panthers (-3.5) vs. Minnesota Vikings: Mired on a 1-6 team struggling through a transistion (read: rebuilding) season, Vikings RB Adrian “All Day” Peterson has quietly pounded his way to the top of the league’s rushing pack with 712 yards (4.9 YPC) and 8 TDs. On the heels of a blockbuster performance against a stout Green Bay Packers’ run defense (24 carries for 175 yards, 1 TD), AP draws a hospitable Panthers unit ranked 29th overall against the run and one that’s allowed the most long-gainers and TDs to opposing RBs in the league. Any guesses as to the Vikings offensive game plan on Sunday?
Wins will continue to be hard to come by with a somewhat brutal schedule looming after next week’s bye: @ GB, OAK, @ ATL, DEN, @ DET, NO, @ WSH, CHI. Still, we don’t see Peterson, Jared Allen, and the rest of this team packing it in like some teams have. Rookie QB Christian Ponder will be one to watch as the season progresses; he’s already helped wash away the bad taste Donovan McNabb left in Vikings Nation’s collective mouth. (I know how that sounds; get your head out of the gutter.) PICK: Vikings Cover
Drew Brees & Tim Tebow Prayer Circle Photo Credits: Icon SMI