By Christopher Reina
Our NFL Team Rankings are based entirely on the The Trench Counter, which is an objective formula measuring average yards per pass and run on both offense and defense, along with first downs registered and given up, turnovers for and against, and total penalty yards.
Over time, The Trench Counter rankings begin to closely resemble the standings but goes even further to determine which teams are truly the best when on the line of scrimmage.
We are also including the Bill Parcells/Michael Lombardi stat that we modified called Total Rushes/Completions, which is listed as the second set of rankings below.
The chief aim of the Trench Counter is to take the subjective out of the equation and even the somewhat fluky nature of teams actually scoring points, which is of course the whole point on a game-by-game basis.
In Week 13, the Seattle Seahawks both delivered a statement on why they're clearly the best team in the NFL while also essentially securing homefield advantage throughout the NFC Playoffs. It is hard to remember a team with a better shot at reaching the Super Bowl so early in the season based on Russell Wilson's 15-0 record at home.
The Philadelphia Eagles have ascended to No. 3 in our rankings despite having their playoff chances in serious doubt as they battle the Dallas Cowboys for the NFC East. The Cowboys, however, are ranked 25th despite having a better point differential. The Eagles have a more difficult schedule remaining and also must travel to Dallas for Week 17.
Click here to see the game-by-game results for Week 13.
Trench Counter (TC) Rankings
1. Seattle Seahawks: 8.7
2. Carolina Panthers: 6.8
3. Philadelphia Eagles: 5.0
4. New England Patriots: 4.6
5. San Francisco 49ers: 4.5
6. New Orleans Saints: 3.9
7. Denver Broncos: 3.1
8. Kansas City Chiefs: 2.8
9. Cincinnati Bengals: 1.6
10. Detroit Lions: 0.8
11. Indianapolis Colts: 0.6
12. Green Bay Packers: 0.2
13. Miami Dolphins: 0.1
14. Arizona Cardinals: -0.3
15. St. Louis Rams: -0.4
16. Chicago Bears: -0.4
17. Baltimore Ravens: -0.7
18. Buffalo Bills: -0.9
19. Pittsburgh Steelers: -1.0
20. San Diego Chargers: -1.3
21. Cleveland Browns: -1.4
22. Tennessee Titans: -1.4
23. Atlanta Falcons: -1.6
24. Dallas Cowboys: -1.7
25. Houston Texans: -1.9
26. New York Giants: -2.3
27. Washington Redskins: -2.5
28. Minnesota Vikings: -3.0
29. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: -3.8
30. Oakland Raiders: -3.9
31. New York Jets: -4.3
32. Jacksonville Jaguars: -9.8
Total Rushes/Completions (TRC) Rankings
1. New Orleans Saints: 7.4
2. Detroit Lions: 7.3
3. Denver Broncos: 6.8
4. Carolina Panthers: 6.2
5. San Diego Chargers: 5.5
6. Houston Texans: 4.8
7. Seattle Seahawks: 4.3
8. Cincinnati Bengals: 3.7
9. Washington Redskins: 3.6
10. Buffalo Bills: 2.8
11. Kansas City Chiefs: 2.6
12. Baltimore Ravens: 2.4
13. New England Patriots: 2.0
14. Green Bay Packers: 1.3
15. Tennessee Titans: 1.2
16. Arizona Cardinals: 0.2
17. Pittsburgh Steelers: 0.1
18. Chicago Bears: -0.8
19. San Francisco 49ers: -1.1
20. Indianapolis Colts: -2.0
21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: -2.1
22. St. Louis Rams: -3.1
23. New York Jets: -3.2
24. Atlanta Falcons: -3.6
25. Oakland Raiders: -4.0
26. Philadelphia Eagles: -4.7
27. New York Giants: -4.8
28. Cleveland Browns: -5.2
29. Miami Dolphins: -5.6
30. Minnesota Vikings: -6.7
31. Jacksonville Jaguars: -7.4
32. Dallas Cowboys: -7.8
Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins, Arizona Cardinals, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, IQ
By Jeff Risdon
$.01--The Denver Broncos erased any doubts about who the best team in the AFC West is, defeating the Kansas City Chiefs on the road by a final score of 35-28. At least that is what the scoreboard would have you believe, but the truth is a little more complicated.
This was Kansas City’s game to lose, and lose it they did. Even though they led 21-7 early, it could have been more. Alex Smith threw a bad red zone interception. They also had a late chance when their defense rose up and forced a quick three-and-out, but once again Smith was unable to get the ball into the end zone.
If they would have been able to cover Eric Decker they still might have won. Alas, Marcus Cooper was no match for the Broncos' wideout, and Peyton Manning exploited him early and often. Decker caught four touchdowns, scoring on half his receptions while bagging over 170 yards. They also couldn’t stop Montee Ball, who ran for 117 yards on just 13 carries while last week’s hero, Knowshon Moreno, managed just 18 yards on 15 carries.
It’s that sort of versatility and ability to coax major production from lesser players that separates these two teams. The Chiefs were game, but they don’t have enough to compete with teams like the Broncos or Patriots without the other team helping them with turnovers or mistakes. They are indeed close, but that’s not likely to be good enough in January.
$.02--Mike Tomlin is in a lot of hot water after his Thanksgiving performance.
The Pittsburgh Steelers lost 22-20 to their bitter rival, the Baltimore Ravens, in a must-win game to stay within striking distance of both the Cincinnati Bengals and the final Wild Card spot in the AFC. They fell behind early and couldn’t quite catch up after their flat, sloppy start.
Tomlin tried his best. By now you’ve seen his questionable infamy. On a Jacoby Jones kick return down the Pittsburgh sideline, Tomlin was watching the game on the scoreboard and claims he was unaware when Jones nearly ran into him. Worse, Tomlin veered into the field of play instead of deeper onto the sideline where he belongs.
In a week where the NBA fined Nets coach Jason Kidd $50K for intentionally spilling a drink to try and get a bonus timeout, the NFL needs to come down ever harder on Tomlin. As a head coach, “being unaware” is not an acceptable excuse. Jones could have been injured, but beyond the hypothetical injury, Tomlin directly interfered with the play on the field.
This is not all that different from Woody Hayes punching a Clemson player running up the sideline. It’s worse than the New York Jets’ little stunt a couple years ago that did actually hurt someone. Tomlin is the head coach; the buck stops with him. If he cannot be trusted to uphold the rules and integrity of the game, how is he supposed to control his team?
Here’s what Tomlin, whom I like very much, needs to do: even if it was an honest accident, he needs to publicly and vociferously apologize with genuine contrition. He needs to be fined at least twice as much as Kidd was fined by the NBA. If he continues to play this shady non-denial denial game, the NFL needs to hit even harder.
As a side thought, if the coach on the field would rather watch the game on a big TV because he can see it better that way, what does that say about the stadium experience?
$.03--The New York Jets lost to the Miami Dolphins 23-3, an affair that highlights all that has gone wrong in a wildly up-and-down season.
In the midst of the lifeless loss, Rex Ryan benched both the first and second round picks from April’s draft. Ryan replaced (again) quarterback Geno Smith, the second rounder, with Matt Simms after an ineffective first half (again). First round pick Dee Milliner, a cornerback from Alabama, was benched (again) for simply being awful (again). Ladies and gents, we have ourselves a power struggle!
Ryan did not make those picks; new GM John Idzik selected the disappointing talents. The recent collapse of competitiveness has forced a desperate Ryan to find anyone to help deflect the blame, and by benching the two centerpieces of Idzik’s draft plan, he’s found a worthy scapegoat. Neither player is ready for starting duty in the NFL at this point. They are indeed costing the Jets games with inept play.
Still, they represent the future. Ryan may or may not be a part of that future, but if he cannot coax tangible improvement from these players he is even more likely to be a figment of the Jets past than their leader going forward. Smith and Milliner play the two toughest positions to transition from college to the pros, and both were more than a little overrated and overhyped by fans and most draftniks. That raised expectations far higher than they could ever reasonably accomplish. Still, it’s Ryan’s job to help mold these players into functional contributors, and thus far he and his staff have failed in that capacity. Smith has shown promise and played well in spurts, but Milliner has been an unmitigated disaster.
This loss really hurt, because it puts them behind the Dolphins in the strangely tight Wild Card race in the AFC. It was an embarrassing home loss to a division rival which entered with serious issues of its own. Nobody knows who the starting quarterback will be for New York when they host the Raiders next Sunday. Given the Jets haven’t scored a touchdown in over two full games, it doesn’t really matter all that much. If they lose that one, and they might, Ryan had better start calling in favors to execute his offseason job transition to another team.
$.04--Somebody apparently wants to win the NFC North, and that somebody is the Detroit Lions. My beloved played arguably its most dominant game in my four decades on this earth on Thanksgiving, slaughtering the inept Packers 40-10. It really, really wasn’t that close.
The Lions’ dominance of the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball was stunning. Fox flashed a graphic during the game that illustrated the defensive pressure: Matt Flynn had dropped back 21 times. He was sacked six times, knocked down nine times, and hit 14 times. Because hits do not count as sacks, that means the Lions got to Flynn on 20 of his first 21 attempts at throwing the ball.
Detroit outgained the Packers 561-126, the largest such margin by any team since 2005. Had the Lions not turned the ball over four times, including twice inside the Green Bay red zone, it very well could have been 56-0. Green Bay ran for 24 yards on 15 carries, and the Lions have now allowed just 124 rushing yards on 86 carries in the last four games.
Green Bay might be the worst team in the NFC without Aaron Rodgers. They have not won in his absence, and it’s truly amazing how heavily reliant they are on him to cover for so many glaring deficiencies on the rest of the roster. Mike McCarthy can sleep safe and sound, but legendary defensive coordinator Dom Capers probably needs to gracefully bow out before he’s fired.
Do I trust the Lions to carry this magical performance over to next week in Philadelphia? Hell no. But when the Chicago Bears lost to the Minnesota Vikings in overtime, thanks in no small part to some ponderous decision by head coach Marc Trestman, the Lions have a little breathing room in the division. They also have the three final games of the season against teams with losing records, two of those at home. They might only need to win one more to clinch the playoffs.
$.05--In a very strange Sunday night game, Justin Tuck’s dominant performance for the New York Giants defense is likely to be forgotten. Tuck sacked Robert Griffin III four times and thoroughly embarrassed both Chris Chester and Tyler Polumbus on the Washington offensive line.
He played an outstanding game, one which has to have Giants fans wondering where in the world that effort has been all year. Eli Manning was pretty strong in his own right, an efficient 22-of-28 for 235 yards with one TD and a matching INT.
Yet the hatchet job by noted inept official Jeff Triplette will be all anyone takes away from this game. If you didn’t see the sequence of events at the end of the game, it’s hard to describe and give it justice. Essentially it comes down to this: the Ethnic Slurs thought they had achieved a first down, and the chain crew moved the sticks to indicate as such. But Triplette thought it was still third down for some reason. The Slurs (theoretically) called a play designed for first down when it was really third down. That’s a major league gaffe by Triplette, one that deserves serious recriminations for a man who is perennially the weakest link of the officiating chain.
Of course, the play call matters not when you fumble the very next play. As my Bleacher Report colleague Michael Schottey summated:
Really, Washington can blame just about anyone except RG3 for this loss. He was almost perfect in the first half, missing just one throw. In the second half he was plagued by drops on well-thrown balls and some awful protection. He wound up 24-of-32 for 206 yards and a TD, plus 88 yards rushing. That’s pretty solid production given the overall context. Yet he didn’t throw them under the bus for the bad drops or stupid penalties (Pierre Garcon and Santana Moss both were guilty) in his postgame presser. If people blame RG3 for this latest loss, they’re trying too hard to find fault.
$.06--The Carolina Panthers keeps rolling, and with San Francisco’s recent revitalization, it appears the NFC Wild Cards are pretty locked in heading into the final quarter of the season.
The Panthers, of course, still harbor visions of catching the New Orleans Saints in the NFC South. They sit at 9-3, a half-game behind New Orleans as the Saints play on Monday night. Those two teams square off two times in the next three weeks, which will settle that division. It’s hard to see both teams not winning more than one game left on their respective dockets, and that will comfortably put them both in the playoffs.
The Niners have recovered nicely from losing to both New Orleans and Carolina in consecutive weeks. With wideout Michael Crabtree back and the passing offense finally looking credible, the 8-4 Niners are getting stronger for the stretch run. They have a critical game with Seattle next week, but after that epic battle they draw the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The dregs of the NFC South both sit at 3-9, not exactly a rough road to double-digit wins for the Niners.
Really the only team with any realistic chance at catching San Francisco is Arizona, but the Cardinals blew a great chance in Philadelphia to stay with their NFC West rivals. Carson Palmer turned the ball over three times, and untimely penalties set up one Philly TD and erased a rare Nick Foles interception. The Cardinals still have life because they host the Niners in the season finale, but they have to stick within one game in the standings heading into that matchup. Their road is not easy. This coming Sunday they host the hyper-physical Rams, who struggle on offense but are no picnic with their outstanding pass rush. Then comes a trip to Nashville to play the Titans in what could be inclement weather. The final two games are as rough as they can get--a trip to Seattle and then the aforementioned Niners game. Because San Francisco holds the division and conference tiebreakers over Arizona, the Cardinals really need a lot of help to turn their good season into a playoff season.
As for the other teams with remaining mathematical life, the road to 10 wins seems highly improbable at best. Chicago lost to Minnesota and their defense is a major problem. Their next game is with Dallas, which is 7-5 and could pound the final nail in Chicago’s coffin. The Cowboys are in a dogfight with the Eagles to win the NFC East, and they play in Week 17 in what appears to be a winner-take-all game. That ensures that the loser of that game will have at least six losses, and that’s not likely to catch the Niners for the final Wild Card.
$.07--The Iron Bowl is the very definition of an instant classic. In one of the most thrilling finishes in American sports history, Auburn stunned top-ranked Alabama 34-28. The final margin came on the game’s final play, one which will haunt Nick Saban as long as he lives.
Saban elected to attempt a 57-yard field goal with his backup kicker, a decision fostered because his regular kicker missed three earlier attempts. The kick was on line but about three yards short, and the ball fell into the waiting arms of Auburn’s Chris Davis. The Tiger did not hesitate, immediately darting towards the left sideline. Alabama was either caught unaware or just flat-out inept, as plodding linemen tried in vain to slow Davis down. He nearly stepped out of bounds but veered inside and ran all the way to SEC Title game. What’s even more crushing for Bama fans is that the play resulted only because of a lengthy review that put one second back on the clock, which sent the Crimson Tide fans into smug optimism.
I watched the game at a bar in Brighton, MI, which is between Ann Arbor and Lansing. The scene there was uncomplicated and unanimous; every single person in the popular, packed establishment was rooting against Nick Saban. I ascertained that the enmity was almost completely directed at the Alabama coach, not the Tide per say. When the play unfolded, even the aging hipsters on an intentionally ironic date behind me were screaming at the top of their menthol-infused lungs. People around these parts recall Saban’s ruthless ego when he coached both Toledo and Michigan State, alienating everyone he touched with his soulless vapidity.
Saban’s regrettable decision cost his team any legitimate shot at a third consecutive national title. He has only himself to blame. Here’s hoping Florida State and Ohio State both win their conference title games and keep Alabama far away from the BCS Championship.
$.08--5 NFL Quickies
1. Atlanta beat Buffalo in Toronto in front of maybe 30,000 people at Rogers Centre. Granted it was a terribly unappealing matchup, but I guarantee that same pairing would have drawn 100K in Monterey. Perhaps the NFL needs to look at a different border for potential franchise relocation.
2. The Houston Texans now own the first overall pick in the 2014 NFL draft. Yet trying to figure out what direction they turn is complicated, because they will almost certainly have a new coaching staff next year. They might also have a new GM, though I think the failures are far more on Gary Kubiak than Rick Smith.
3. Bears wideout Alshon Jeffery had yet another very strong game. 12 catches, 249 yards and two touchdowns. One of those belongs in the “catch of the year” consideration, an acrobatic snag over Chris Cook along the sideline. He’s a perfect No. 2 receiver in a perfect situation for his skills, and he’s made life a lot easier for Josh McCown in Jay Cutler’s latest absence.
4. One big highlight from the Buffalo/Atlanta game was Falcons coach Mike Smith pulling aside rookie Robert Alford after he recovered an overtime fumble and then lateraled the ball to a teammate. You could read Smith’s lips quite clearly, “That’s a great play but don’t ever do that again!”
5. Jacksonville won in Cleveland. That’s three wins in four weeks for the Jaguars, and they’ll be favored over Houston next week at home. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that they win their next three games, home dates with the Texans, Bills, and Titans. Those teams are a combined 4-20 in the last eight games for each team. So much for a top three pick in Jacksonville…
--I was in the Big House for Ohio State/Michigan. To keep this in the spirit of “quickies”, here are two thoughts. First, the Ohio State team that played in Ann Arbor will get trounced by Michigan State in the B1G title game next week. Second, I love the decision to go for two by Brady Hoke. Devin Gardner was hobbling and the kicker was real shaky in second-half warmups, missing from both 30 and 40 at that very end zone. They weren’t going to win in overtime, period. The play call itself was lousy, but the decision to go was the correct one. I will have extensive notes on the game posted at DetroitLionsDraft.com on Monday night, please check them out.
--I can’t make sense of the BCS bowls just yet, but my way of evaluating rankings of teams is that I hypothesize them playing three games on a neutral field. The team I believe would win two goes higher. With that as the basis, my top five in order: Florida State, Missouri, Auburn, Alabama, Oklahoma State. I think Ohio State and Baylor would both mightily struggle playing better opponents every week.
--Congrats to the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles, who beat UAB 62-27 on Saturday. That was their first win since the 2011 Hawaii Bowl, when they beat Nevada in longtime coach Larry Fedora’s swan song. The 23-game losing streak ends courtesy of the worst defense in the country, as SoMiss’s own escaped the cellar in the win. Not a lot of defense in Conference USA…
--Nebraska is apparently retaining coach Bo Pelini even though he essentially dared the school to fire him. Ironically, I agree with Pelini’s argument that he’s done well at Nebraska; they’re a solid 25-40 overall program and that’s about as best as they can hope for in Lincoln anymore. Yet he’s greased the skids to get whacked with even the slightest of disappointments going forward.
$.10--In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’ll go with a positive message. I got to spend my Tuesday with my wife’s grandmother. Virginia, or Grandma G as we call her, is in her mid-90s but remains vibrant and vivacious. We had a great time talking about our childhoods, our religious upbringings, the joys of being married, the evils of subsidized healthcare, the decline of Detroit and various other things as we drove across the Mitten State.
I don’t have any of my own grandparents left. Three of them died within a year of my marriage in 1996, and my remaining grandfather passed away this last January. I am very thankful to have Grandma G in my life, and even more thankful that my children have gotten to know her and spend a lot of time with her. My daughter’s middle name is Virginia in her honor and the bond between them is very real, even though they were born 88 years apart.
Be thankful for the family you have, and take time to let them know you appreciate them.
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By Jeff Risdon
Last Week: 7-6-1, with the tie really monkeying up the system. 113-63-1 on the season.
Gambling Update: I wagered a total of 1250 Uzbek som over three games. Two of those (Jacksonville and San Francisco) were winning tickets, earning a total of 1500. That makes two winning weeks in a row. I now hold 7500 som in my greasy little mitts.
Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions (-6): Packers guard Josh Sitton decided to talk some turkey in preparation for this battle for the NFC North lead. On a radio show in Milwaukee, Sitton personally insulted Lions coach Jim Schwartz while also calling the Lions defense “a bunch of dirtbags or scumbags.” As if the fire needed more gasoline…
Detroit has played like turkeys the last two weeks, dropping games to Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay in progressively more embarrassing fashion. This is the most important game of the Jim Schwartz era in Detroit, because if his team loses he is very likely to lose his job at the end of another playoff-less season.
The Packers are starting their fourth quarterback in five weeks in Matt Flynn, who has been unceremoniously dumped by two other teams in the last six months. The Green Bay secondary has struggled mightily to cover far more inferior receivers than Calvin Johnson. Sitton and his offensive line cohorts really struggled last week against Minnesota’s four-man pass rush, and the Lions defensive dirtbags and scumbags up front got pressure on Bucs QB Mike Glennon on 68 percent of his dropbacks.
The matchups all favor Detroit. Of course they have in other games too, and the Lions have choked on the bones. Not this time. I think the Lions stuff the Packers and Eddie Lacy.
Lions 33, Packers 17
Oakland Raiders at Dallas Cowboys (-9.5): The Cowboys have several advantages in this meeting with the Raiders, who will once again start undrafted rookie Matt McGloin at quarterback. No advantage matters more than the most abstract one, however: the calendar.
Tony Romo has a career record of 25-6 in the month of November. That goes beyond rational explanation. He extended that last week with his NFL-leading 11th fourth-quarter comeback since 2011 against the Giants. There are just too many signs pointing to the hosts to ignore.
Cowboys 30, Raiders 16
Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens (-3): These two teams seemingly always play games decided by exactly three points, so the spread makes perfect sense. Technically, it’s just eight of the last 11 that have been decided by exactly a field goal, but that’s a pretty strong trend. Home field hasn’t mattered a lot, strangely.
The Steelers are playing much better football lately since their 0-4 start, and the Ravens really don’t have an answer for Antonio Brown. It might surprise you that Brown leads the NFL in receptions with 80 and ranks second in yardage with 1,044 yards. I also really like the move by Steelers' defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau to play Troy Polamalu more as a linebacker and less as a safety. He’s downright awful in coverage far more than he’s effective, and keeping him from having back-end responsibilities allows him to do what he does best. That’s good coaching, and it’s why it is way too early to write off these Steelers. As long as Kelvin Beachum and the patchwork offensive line keep Ben Roethlisberger in the game, I like the road team.
Steelers 24, Ravens 21
Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs (+4): This will be a very interesting meeting beyond the fact that these two are tied for first place in the AFC West. Denver was just on the wrong end of one of the most impressive comebacks in NFL history, and now they have to play on the road in the cold in a hostile environment.
The Chiefs, meanwhile, have lost two in a row since their bye week. Last week they also lost top pass rushers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali. Both are questionable to play in this one, though Hali insisted he was good to go late on Wednesday. He’d better be, because if they cannot pressure Peyton Manning he’s apt to slaughter them. The forecast as of Wed. at 4:14 PM is for the temperature to be 44 and sunny at game time. Everyone knows about Manning’s struggles in sub-40 temps, but this one looks like it will be played in better weather with minimal wind.
I think the mettle and experience of the Broncos pays off here. These Chiefs are not far removed from 2-14, and they’re also playing a year after one of their own committed suicide in the team parking lot. For an excellent read on the Jovan Belcher tragedy, check out Jeff Pearlman’s excellent piece from Bleacher Report.
Broncos 24, Chiefs 20
Arizona Cardinals at Philadelphia Eagles (-3.5): This is a total hunch pick. When I typed up the team matchup, I immediately got a very strong feeling about the Eagles being victorious. Shortly thereafter, my son flipped on the Sixers game. That’s a divine sign.
Eagles 20, Cardinals 17
Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings (-1): This is one of those games where there is one significant mismatch when comparing units vs. units. The Minnesota running game is one of the best in football, ranking fifth in yards per carry. The Bears rank 30th in opposing yards per carry but the actual number is emphatically worsening by the week. It’s at 6.4 yards per carry the last month after allowing 8.9 to the Rams last week. Between the decimated front line and the completely incompetent safeties, the Bears have no shot at slowing down Adrian Peterson. They can’t even slow down Toby Gerhart.
I suspect the Bears offense will be able to put up points as well, but their offensive line is not playing as well lately as it was earlier in the season. Matt Forte’s gimpy knee really hurts too.
Vikings 34, Bears 31
Miami Dolphins at New York Jets (-1): Here is something I have learned over the years in trying to forecast what Rex Ryan’s Jets are going to do. Whenever it seems bleakest, the Jets come out and play well. Ryan always winds up prepping his teams better when expectations are low. And after last week’s blithering ineptitude against the Ravens, expectations are really low.
Aside from the intangible edge there, the Dolphins makeshift offensive line is at a severe disadvantage against the Jets’ excellent 3-man front. Nose tackle Damon Harrison deserves a lot more praise for his bedrock run defense in the middle. Lamar Miller and the Dolphins will learn about the big man the hard way, I suspect. Bad week for Miller’s fantasy owners. Good week for Jets defense owners.
Jets 16, Dolphins 10 for 250 som
New England Patriots at Houston Texans (+8): Last year when these two teams met, the Texans broke out the varsity lettermen jackets. Since that game, a humbling blowout by the Patriots, Houston is 3-13. They lost last week to Jacksonville. Seriously folks, this is the worst team in the NFL right now despite having the deserving Defensive MVP in JJ Watt.
I would actually like the Texans more if they were double-digit dogs, because Bill Belichick teams always struggle as favorites in those games. They probably should be favored by about 14, but for some reason the books still have some peculiar shine on the Texans. There’s a great opportunity here to tease some points as part of a larger parlay.
Patriots 30, Texans 13 for 500 som
Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts (-4): Had the Colts won and Titans lost last week, Indy could have wrapped up the AFC South with a win here. Instead, the Colts got annihilated by the Cardinals, while backup QB Ryan Fitzpatrick played great in leading the Titans over the Raiders. Suddenly what seemed inevitable is now a realistic question.
If the Colts are going to win this game, they must play better in the first half of the game. Andrew Luck is the master of the comeback, but he has to keep them within striking distance. Last week he was awful, but the pass defense was even worse. And it’s that weak pass defense that gives the Titans a real shot here. The Ryan Fitzpatrick who played last week can absolutely beat these Colts, but I cannot count on that happening. I wouldn’t blame you for thinking it will happen, but I like the Colts to rebound at home. It won’t be easy though.
Colts 26, Titans 24
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Carolina Panthers (-8): After starting 0-8 and having home fans openly cheering against the team in the hopes of getting Greg Schiano fired, the Buccaneers have won three in a row. More impressively, it’s not a fluke. I’ve watched all their victories and they are not getting this done with smoke and mirrors. They’re getting it done with dominant play from defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, All-Pro caliber play from linebacker Lavonte David, and a measured steadiness from rookie QB Mike Glennon.
Still, the Bucs benefitted greatly from five Detroit turnovers last week, three of which almost seemed as if created by divine intervention. Even with a +5 turnover margin, the Bucs barely won in Detroit. As long as the Panthers take care of the football, they should prevail. Carolina is +10 in turnover margin on the season, and they’ve given the ball away just 14 times in 11 games. Advantage, Panthers, but I do like the Bucs to cover quite a bit.
Panthers 27, Buccaneers 21 for 500 som
Jacksonville Jaguars at Cleveland Browns (-7): The Jaguars notched their second win of the season last week, which by most accounts is their season expectation. The Browns are stuck on four wins, but three of those wins are at home. I think the Browns are more like a 5-7 team than the Jaguars are a 3-9 team, which will be the record for the winner. Consider this a tentative vote for the home team.
Browns 24, Jaguars 17
St. Louis Rams at San Francisco 49ers (-9.5): I really like what I saw from both teams last week. The Rams ran around, over and through the Bears, while the 49ers bludgeoned the Ethnic Slurs on Monday night.
The home team is more capable of replicating that result. While I do like the way the Rams have adjusted the offense under Kellen Clemens at QB, the San Francisco defense is another animal entirely from the Bears. Aldon Smith finally looked like his old self against Washington. He brings another element to the Niners, making a good defense a great one. I can’t see Clemens--who has been just as good as Sam Bradford most weeks--pulling off the upset on the road. Both teams could notch a defensive score.
49ers 24, Rams 17
Atlanta Falcons at Buffalo Bills (-3.5): This is a golden opportunity for Buffalo. The Bills come off their bye week with a home game that figures to be played with temps in the 30s against a dome team from the South that is playing out a lost season. If ever the Buffalo Bills were to rise up and show they belong in the expansively muddy AFC playoff race, this is the time.
Perhaps the rumors of Jon Bon Jovi’s interest in buying the team heat up the Bills to 7800⁰ Fahrenheit. Or it could be Bad Medicine, but maybe Bad Medicine is what they need. Keep the Faith, Bills fans, because this game could Bounce you into a Bed of Roses.
Bills 30, Falcons 24 for 250
Cincinnati Bengals at San Diego Chargers (-1.5): These are two of the most difficult teams to predict. Both are talented but inconsistent, much to the chagrin of their fan bases. The Bengals are the better overall team, and they do have one key matchup advantage: their passing offense against the San Diego pass defense. Check out this exchange from Twitter:
In the parlance of the youth, A.J. Green gonna eat. I think he eats just enough to win, but if Bad Andy Dalton surfaces here, the Chargers could make it a blowout in the other direction. Wager at your peril!
Bengals 29, Chargers 27
New York Giants at Washington Redskins (+1.5): Can we please stop focusing on Robert Griffin as the root cause of Washington’s abysmal 3-8 record?!? How about their astonishingly awful defense? That side of the ball allows an average QB rating over 100 every week. They rank dead last in yards per attempt. They miss an average of 10 tackles per game. Only the Vikings have given up more points than Washington’s 338 thru 11 games.
Has RG3 been great? Heck no, but Peyton Manning would struggle to outscore the opposition with Washington’s brutal defense and completely inept special teams.
Giants 41, Ethnic Slurs 27
New Orleans Saints at Seattle Seahawks (-5.5): This is a real bad case of timing for the Seahawks to lose corners Brandon Browner and Walter Thurmond to drug suspensions. While Browner was already out with a groin injury, Thurmond was expected to play a lot. Teams always need all hands on deck in the back end when facing Drew Brees and New Orleans, and now the Seahawks are really shorthanded.
This is the sixth and seventh drug suspension for Seattle since 2011, the most of any team. I’ll have more about what all that means in this week’s $.10, but suffice to say I think the laws of karma are going to bite coach Pete Carroll in the butt. Not sure it happens at home in prime time, however. Having Percy Harvin as another weapon for Russell Wilson means they can outscore the Saints, and I suspect that’s how this one will play out.
Seahawks 30, Saints 28
Tampa Bay +8 for 500
New England -8 for 500
New York Jets -1 for 250
Buffalo -3.5 for 250
Ohio State 40, Michigan 16. Too much Carlos Hyde and at least three Devin Gardner turnovers for Michigan.
Alabama 20, Auburn 17. Close but no cigar for War Eagle.
South Carolina 28, Clemson 24. Mr. Boyd, meet Mr. Clowney. Again.
Texas A&M 33, Missouri 30 as Johnny Manziel tries to revitalize his Heisman candidacy.
Stanford 26, Notre Dame 13
Mt. Union 39, Wittenberg 33
Seattle Seahawks, St. Louis Rams, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Tennessee Titans, Washington Redskins, Arizona Cardinals, Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Carolina Panthers, Chicago Bears, Cincinnati Bengals, Cleveland Browns, Dallas Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Green Bay Packers, Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, Kansas City Chiefs, Miami Dolphins, Minnesota Vikings, New England Patriots, New Orleans Saints, New York Giants, New York Jets, Oakland Raiders, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Diego Chargers, San Francisco 49ers, Atlanta Falcons, IQ
The 49ers reestablished as a contender with their convincing victory over the Redskins, while the Patriots have a great argument as the best team in the AFC.
Another victory for Tom Brady over Peyton Manning, a late comeback by Tony Romo, disarray in the NFC North and the bottom of the AFC picture, and more.
Jadeveon Clowney, Jake Matthews, Teddy Bridgewater and Marcus Mariota comprise the top-4, while D'Anthon Thomas drops significantly.
Breaking down Wes Welker's return to New England, an important matchup for the Cardinals against the Colts, Giants/Cowboys and the rest of the slate.
Percy Harvin made his debut on Sunday, improving what is already the best team in the NFL in the Seahawks.
On the Saints' win over the 49ers, safety issues in Chicago, Denver's win over the Chiefs, the NFC East getting interesting and more.