By Brian Spencer
How We Did Last Week
We went 4-3, and are still glaring in the direction of the Saints, last week’s Best Bet, for that shitshow in St. Louis. We also missed on the Browns, who got 9.5 points–they lost by 10–and the favored Chargers, who lost in overtime at Kansas City after Philip Rivers threw for 369 yards, but couldn’t find the endzone but threw 2 INTs, took 3 sacks, and lost a fumble.
Having kicked this column off in Week 6, our record now stands at 11-10. Not so hot, but stick with us: we’ll help you earn back that dog food money yet.
Atlanta Falcons (-6.5) at Indianapolis Colts: Pass-rushing demons Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis are the only factors that give us slight pause, particularly with Falcons’ starting LT Sam Baker out. What else do the Colts have going for them right now?
They’ve lost their last 3 games by an average of 27 points–okay, that includes that 55-point laugher against the Saints 2 weeks ago, but still–and they’re at or very close to the bottom of the league in most major offensive and defensive categories. Their coach is squarely on the hot seat. We’re not sure what kind of home-field advantage an 0-8 team has, either.
The Falcons have been underwhelming, and certainly not resembled the Super Bowl-contending team many predicted they would be, but they’re coming off two straight wins (and a bye, last week) and should have no trouble ramming Michael Turner down the Colts’ throats. We see no reason why the Falcons shouldn’t win this one by at least 10 points. PICK: Falcons Cover
Green Bay Packers (-5.5) at San Diego Chargers: Following their frustrating performance and non-cover on Monday, I swore we wouldn’t pick the Chargers game this week, regardless of the spread. They’re too unpredictable, and already feel like that team that’s going to fuck you on a weekly basis, covering when you bet against them and not covering when you bet with them. There’s one wild card every year.
I’d be lying, then, if I said I was totally comfortable with this because I’m not. Yes, the Packers are clearly the NFL’s best team right now and just spent a week resting up on bye. They’re 4-0 on the road. On the other side, the Chargers have only had 5 days to focus on the Packers and are pretty banged up, particularly in the backfield with starter Ryan Matthews and third-stringer Curtis Brinkley both likely out. Mike Tolbert is expected to carry the load, but keep in mind he was out last week and isn’t 100% either.
They still have big-time playmakers, though, in WRs Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd and TE Antonio Gates. You have to think Rivers is going to have a breakout game at some point, but then again, maybe not. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the Packers should cover this, and we think they will cover this, but wouldn’t be shocked if they don’t.
Pick: Packers Cover
Tennessee Titans (-3.5) vs. Cincinnati Bengals: Just as we were suspicious of the low 3.5 points the Steelers were only favored by a few weeks ago in Arizona (they won by 12), we’re similarly leery that Vegas knows something we don’t here.
It’s fair to say that the 5-2 Bengals have enjoyed a fairly easy schedule thus far, with their wins coming against teams with a combined record of 12-25; take the Bills out and it’s 7-23. As we discussed last week, however, that defense is legit, ranked 4th overall in both points allowed and yards allowed, 2nd in rushing yards allowed, and 9th in passing yards allowed.
Rookie QB Andy Dalton is clicking with fellow rookie A.J. Green (33 receptions, 516 yards, 5 TDs), and though he’s not the league’s most exciting starting RB, Cedric Benson is back from a one-game suspension and is still an upgrade on backup Bernard Scott.
In short, this is much more complete team than the one Tennessee is fielding, and with two tough games apiece looming against the Steelers and Ravens, the Bengals know they need to take care of business against middling teams like the Titans. If they lose, it’ll be by a slim margin. PICK: Bengals Cover
San Francisco 49ers (-3.5) at Washington Redskins: Was anybody out there sad to see Mike Shanahan get shut out for the first time in his NFL head-coaching career last week? Didn’t think so. A week removed from an ugly 23-0 thrashing at the hands of the Buffalo Bills (9 sacks allowed, 2 turnovers, 178 total yards) and in the midst of a three-game slide, a visit by the brutally efficient 6-1 ‘Niners is, well, it’s not good.
The 49ers have rattled five consecutive wins, including three on the road against playoff-caliber teams (Cincinnati, Philadelphia, Detroit). We’ll never be fans of QB Alex Smith, but will give him some credit: he’s playing within himself and the offense’s modest game plan and not doing anything to put his team in a bad position. He is, indeed, right now the league’s best Game Manager. I know how depressing that sounds.
More importantly, that defense is dominating. Check out these per-game allowances: 15.3 points (1st), 73.4 rushing yards (1st), 3.5 rushing yards/attempt (4th), passing yards/attempt (12th). Good luck, John Beck. PICK: 49ers Cover
Just Trust Us
Pittsburgh Steelers (-3.5) vs. Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens trashed Pittsburgh in Week 1 to the tune of 35-7. Great win for them. A few fun facts though:
+ The Steelers turned the ball over seven times in that game. That won’t happen this time.
+ The Ravens were at home–this is a vastly different team on the road (See Week 7 at Jacksonville.)
+ The Steelers’ offensive line–really, their whole offense–was in shambles to start the season. It’s still not a dominant line, but the reintroduction of Max Starks at LT has worked wonders.
+ The Steelers are 6-1 since that opening day loss and are coming off an impressive 25-17 win over the New England Patriots.
+ Ravens QB Joe Flacco has a career 2-5 record against the Steelers; at PIT, his average QB Rating is 61.3.
+ REVENGE! BLOODY FUCKING REVENGE!
Pick: Steelers Cover
Kansas City Chiefs (-5.5) vs. Miami Dolphins: A few weeks ago I said that the KC Chiefs were terrible. Can I take it back? They’re not terrible. In fact, kudos to the Chiefs for bouncing back from a 0-3 start to win four in a row, including a huge (and improbable) overtime win Monday night over the San Diego Chargers. Considering all the injuries they’ve dealt with, and the fact that they’re still starting Matt Cassel at quarterback, being tied for first place in the up-for-grabs AFC West is impressive.
The Miami Dolphins, bless their little hearts, are still winless but have kept the final outcome close for two consecutive weeks, losing somewhat of a heartbreaker 20-17 on the road against the NY Giants last week, and feeling the wrath of Tebow’s God two weeks ago 18-15 against Denver. Couple that with a growing sense of desperation, and the 5.5 spread makes sense.
The Chiefs are playing with abundant confidence right now, though, and we all know that Arrowhead Stadium is up there with CenturyLink Field in Seattle and Ford Field in Detroit (this season, at least) as one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL. Rookie first-round WR Jonathan Baldwin finally broke out last week (5 catches, 82 yards, 1 TD): that’s a huge development for this offense if he can sustain relevance. PICK: Chiefs Cover
Dallas Cowboys (-12.5) vs. Seattle Seahawks: The Cowboys are clearly the better team here, but what have they done thus far in their 3-4 season to warrant a double-digit spread like this? Oh, they absolutely could blow out the Seahawks, who are 1-3 on the road and coming off a 22-point home loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. They’re missing their top two corners, are near the bottom of the league in points per (15.6), and rank 31st overall in both team rushing yards/per (77.7) and total yards per (284).
There’s (a little) more to the story of the Seahawks’ thus-far forgettable season, though. Last week’s game against the Bengals was actually a close 5-point game with 4:50 left in the fourth quarter: late TDs from Brandon Tate (56-yard punt return TD) and Reggie Nelson (75-yard INT) blew things open. They also nearly upset the Atlanta Falcons in Week 4, and stunned the New York Giants on the road 36-25 a week later. The offense may be terrible overall, but they’re certainly much better with Tarvaris Jackson behind center: he’s thrown for 300+ yards in 2 of his past 3 games.
The Cowboys have been tough against the run (4th overall), but their best linebacker, Sean Lee, is out, as is starting CB Mike Jenkins. We think the Seahawks’ somewhat underrated defense and middling offense will make enough plays–or maybe it’s that the Cowboys won’t make enough plays–to keep the final score within 10 points. PICK: Seahawks Cover
Michael Turner and San Francisco 49ers Defense Photo Credits: Icon SMI