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NFL Team Rankings, Week 7

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. 

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.

The Baltimore Ravens held onto the top slot in the rankings after another blowout win against an NFC South team, while the Miami Dolphins recorded a convincing win at the Chicago Bears and now rank No. 2.

The Denver Broncos and Dallas Cowboys, meanwhile, jumped up to No. 5 and No. 6 from No. 11 and No. 8 respectively.

The Indianapolis Colts continue their winning streak and now rank No. 7 after coming in at No. 14 last week.

Week 7 Rankings

1. Baltimore Ravens: 7.4
2. Miami Dolphins: 6.0
3. Green Bay Packers: 4.8
4. San Diego Chargers: 4.8
5. Denver Broncos: 4.5
6. Dallas Cowboys: 4.5
7. Indianapolis Colts: 4.1
8. Arizona Cardinals: 3.6
9. New Orleans Saints: 3.5
10. Seattle Seahawks: 3.0
11. Detroit Lions: 2.9
12. Chicago Bears: 2.7
13. San Francisco 49ers: 2.7
14. Cincinnati Bengals: 1.1
15. Philadelphia Eagles: 0.7
16. Washington: 0.3
17. Kansas City Chiefs: 0.3
18. New England Patriots: 0.2
19. Cleveland Browns: -0.6
20. Houston Texans: -0.7
21. Pittsburgh Steelers: -1.9
22. New York Giants: -2.1
23. Buffalo Bills: -2.3
24. Minnesota Vikings: -3.0
25. Carolina Panthers: -3.6
26. Tennessee Titans: -4.1
27. Atlanta Falcons: -4.3
28. Jacksonville Jaguars: -4.9
29. New York Jets: -6.2
30. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: -7.2
31. Oakland Raiders: -8.0
32. St. Louis Rams: -8.5


$.10 After NFL Week 7

By Jeff Risdon

$.01--The Dallas Cowboys avoided the dreaded emotional letdown in holding off the rival New York Giants 31-21. A week after surprising pretty much everyone by winning at Seattle, it was easy to see Dallas falling back to reality and losing a game against the dangerous Giants.

Instead, Dallas showed real determination and headiness in improving to 6-1 for the first time since 2007. It wasn’t always pretty, and it was often quite chippy. Yet the Cowboys didn’t deviate from their winning course they’ve followed so adeptly this season.

DeMarco Murray ran effectively once again, topping 100 yards for the seventh straight game to start the season. That’s a feat no one has ever done before. Tony Romo was sharp once again, notably on third downs; Dallas converted 9-of-14 and several came courtesy of Romo surveying the field and finding the right option with poise and confidence.

Eli Manning was also good for the Giants, notably in a masterful second quarter. This time it was his supporting cast letting him down, notably Larry Donnell with two critical fumbles down the stretch. The first was a beautiful strip by safety Barry Church, a candidate for most improved player in the league.

That play was the defining moment of the game. The Giants were down by a touchdown and poised for a comeback. Church’s strip set up the dagger three plays later when Romo found Dez Bryant for an impressive touchdown, which was correctly validated upon further review.

Those are the kind of game-changing plays that have come against Dallas so often in recent times, particularly in NFC East games. These Cowboys are making those plays this year. In the postgame, coach Jason Garrett talked about fighting and being the tougher team both physically and mentally. The former quality certainly helps, but it’s the latter that is helping them win so many games. Finally. 

$.02--Seattle did not respond well to their loss last week. Instead of bouncing back and taking out their frustration on the inferior Rams, the Seahawks got surprised in St. Louis 28-26.

The Rams scored three times from the middle of the 1st and the middle of the 2nd quarters, including a deceptive punt return that left the Seahawks befuddled and Seattle coach Pete Carroll angry. With everyone--including Fox’s cameras--focused on Tavon Austin to the left side of the field, Stedman Bailey fielded the punt on the other side and ran nearly unencumbered 90 yards for a shocking touchdown.

If Carroll didn’t like that, imagine how he felt about being schooled on special teams once again later on. This time it was Rams punter Johnny Hekker completing a pass to an uncovered Bennie Cunningham from his own 18 on a fake punt late in the game to essentially ice the shocking win. It caught the Seahawks completely unaware.

The ending was not without controversy. There was a clear fumble by Rams rookie RB Tre Mason, and it sure looked like the Seahawks recovered. The NFL officials did not agree and their leader, Dean Blandino, said shortly after the game that the ball was still loose and then went into the pile.

All of the sudden the mighty Seahawks are 3-3 and two games behind in the NFC Wild Card chase, as well as two games behind the 5-1 Arizona Cardinals in the competitive NFC West. Their defense once again struggled to stop the run, as Mason broke out for his first career touchdown while netting 85 yards on just 18 carries. Seattle’s defensive line was often easily blocked.

St. Louis’ much-hyped defensive line didn’t have that problem. They got three sacks on Russell Wilson and consistently pressured the agile quarterback. Wilson did run for over 100 yards, much of which came on a 52-yard scamper and another 19-yard touchdown as the Seahawks desperately tried to rally from the 21-3 deficit. Seattle’s running backs managed just 65 yards on 22 carries and their offensive line was routinely blasted backwards.

It took two once-a-season special teams tricks to pull off the win, but the Rams will take it. Now 2-4, beating the defending champs might be the apex of their long season. But it’s an awfully sweet win nonetheless. 

$.03--Speaking of sweet wins, congratulations to the Jacksonville Jaguars for notching their first victory of the season. The Jaguars pounced on a shaky, overconfident Browns team 24-6.

As with the Rams, it took some unusual machinations to achieve the elusive victory. Wide receiver Denard Robinson, a converted quarterback, started at running back and scooted for 127 yards. He had 160 career rushing yards in 22 games coming in. They forced three Cleveland turnovers, one more than the Browns had given up in their first six games.

It was a nightmare for the Browns. Forced to throw, Brian Hoyer was overmatched despite facing one of the worst pass defenses in recent memory. Hoyer sprayed incompletions all over the field, completing just 16 of his 41 attempts on the day. It left some fans wondering about a certain Mr. Football.

Blake Bortles wasn’t a lot better, netting just 159 yards on 17-for-31 passing. He also threw one of the worst interceptions you’ll ever see, one of his three on the day as the rookie continues to get his feet wet. He’s an impressive talent that is only going to get better, and he’s got a promising young corps of receivers around him with Allen Robinson, Allen Hurns, Robinson and Clay Harbor. If their defense, which hasn’t allowed a TD pass in the last 10 quarters and appears to be congealing, can keep holding teams under 20 points these Jaguars can notch a couple more wins this season.

Jacksonville’s win leaves the Oakland Raiders as the league’s only winless team. Guess who they play next week? That’s right, the Raiders head to Cleveland in what might be their best chance to win until after Thanksgiving. If Cleveland’s passing offense cannot prove more capable than it has the last two weeks, Oakland absolutely can win there.

$.04--If you were looking for a potential Super Bowl preview in the Sunday night game between Denver and San Francisco, you were probably quite disappointed. The Broncos blew out the visiting 49ers 42-17 in a laugher. The final margin was made more palatable by a garbage time TD throw by Blaine Gabbert, of all people.

The game was overshadowed by a record-setting event. Just before halftime, Peyton Manning broke Brett Favre’s NFL record for most career TD passes. It was his 509th when he found Demaryius Thomas in the front corner of the end zone to put the Broncos up 21-3.

Manning wasn’t done. His next TD was pure artwork, firing a perfect downfield strike to Thomas one play after his defense picked off Colin Kaepernick. Just for good measure Manning tacked on one more, this one to Julius Thomas. He probably could have had more, but John Fox opted to put in backup Brock Osweiler after the start of the fourth quarter.

For San Francisco, the injuries continue to mount. Already playing without stud guard Mike Iupati, the Niners lost center Daniel Kilgore to what appears to be a nasty leg injury. His backup, Dillon Farrell, was also hurt during the game. The defense was toothless with no Patrick Willis in the middle or Chris Culliver outside. It was a tough loss, dropping them to 4-3 and abruptly ending their impressive 3-game winning streak. On Manning’s record-setting night, they never really had a chance.

$.05--Thursday finally got another interesting game, as the New York Jets scared the razor blades out of Gillette Stadium and the Patriots. It took a blocked field goal on the final play to ensure a 27-25 win for heavily favored New England.

The key here is “heavily favored”. For some reason the Patriots always seem to struggle when they are a double-digit favorite. Even though this game closed as low as 9 points, it was still a divisional game with a wide margin. And once again the Patriots came up short of the dominating victory they should have had.

The Jets always play the Pats close, and this was no exception. Having a chance to win should probably serve as a moral victory, but at 1-6 it’s little consolation. This was a year where the Jets believed they could catch the Patriots and win the AFC East. Instead they have lost 6 in a row and have to answer relentless questions about job security of everyone on the team, from Rex Ryan to GM John Idzik to Geno Smith.

On the New England side, don’t read too much into another close shave. That is what the Patriots do, playing close games against seemingly inferior teams. It’s what they always do. When they play better teams like the Bengals, they elevate their play. Their next six games are a real meat grinder of talented, and diverse, opponents: Chicago, Denver, bye, at Indianapolis, Detroit, at Green Bay and at San Diego. The Pats who played on Thursday night won’t win more than one of those games, but I’ll bet you right now these Patriots wind up winning at least three. 

$.06--There was an unusual incident on Friday, one which should be a lot more common. Two NFL teams actually executed a trade during the season.

The Seahawks dealt enigmatic wideout Percy Harvin to the Jets for a conditional pick. The return will be between a second and a fourth rounder depending on his production in New York.

This a very tacit acknowledgement by the Seahawks they made a huge mistake in dealing for Harvin before the 2013 season. It cost them a first round pick in ’13, a seventh rounder in that same year and a third rounder this past draft. Recurring injuries and “issues” prevented Harvin from ever really living up to his billing in Seattle. Or Minnesota.

It will be the same story in New York. Harvin has a long history of disappointing despite tantalizing athletic ability. From migraines to a bum hip to lacking practice habits to never really finding a defined role, it’s always something, to quote Donald Duck. The last straw for Seattle was apparently Harvin’s refusal to re-enter last week’s game.

Teams have known about these problems for years. During his draft process in 2009, one team had him in for a visit. Five minutes after he left from his two-plus hour visit, they threw the magnet with his name on it off the board and into the trash. Even before that, he was actually banned from all high school sports in Virginia. It quickly came out that Harvin initiated a fight with teammate Golden Tate just before the Super Bowl last year, too.

It’s a worthwhile gamble for the Jets even with all of Harvin’s baggage. New York desperately needs speed and playmaking ability to help spark the lackluster attack. Geno Smith must have more help, and Harvin can help. In the short term this move might actually pay off handsomely. But if the Jets are banking on Harvin to solve their problems beyond this season, they’ve got another thing coming.

$.07--It was an interesting Sunday in the NFC North.

My Lions authored an amazing comeback victory over the Saints, winning 24-23 despite being the inferior team for all but the final four minutes of the game. Detroit is now 5-2 and 2-0 without Calvin Johnson, finding ways to win games they have found ways to lose for years. Scoring two TDs in the final four minutes to secure the win was a stunning victory.

Minnesota lost 17-16 to Buffalo on a furious comeback drive by the Bills, capped by a great catch from rookie Sammy Watkins. The Vikings did get the first career TD pass from Teddy Bridgewater, finding Cordarrelle Patterson in what had to be a vision of real promise for the future. Things will get better, though the short term is not pretty.

Green Bay capped off an outstanding month of football by waxing the Panthers 38-17. Aaron Rodgers, clearly relaxed, put the finishing touches on what has to be Offensive Player of the Month. Check his numbers over the last four weeks: 77-of-109, 977 yards, 13 TDs, 0 INTs, QB Rating of 137.9 and a 4-0 record. That’s how you rebound from a 1-2 start, folks…

Then there’s Chicago. The Bears got waxed 27-14 at home by Miami, then followed it up with a locker room brouhaha nicely documented by CBS Sports. My summer pick to win the division, Chicago is now 3-4 and reeling in the throes of injury woes and internal discord. When the kicker is intimately involved in postgame locker room consternation, that’s a very bad sign. Nice of Kyle Long to insult the fans too, even though he was technically correct and speaking out of frustration.

$.08--NFL Quickies

--A week after Lions fans were subjected to amateur hour at the mic, Detroit had to put up with ridiculously poor production from FOX’s broadcast of their game against New Orleans. From being late coming back from breaks to scant replays to poor camera angle choices to confusion between Chris Myers and Ronde Barber about who should be talking, it was an embarrassment by NFL standards.

--In a game that wasn’t even on DirecTV’s 8-game mix, Washington edged past Tennessee thanks to Colt McCoy. The journeyman threw a 70-yard TD on his first pass for the Ethnic Slurs. Never mind the pass was a short one followed by a long run from Pierre Garcon; it wasn’t an interception, and that immediately elevates McCoy over Kirk Cousins in the competition to replace the injured RG3.

--Looking for a reason why the Cardinals are 5-1?

 

--If fan reaction is any guide, Mike Smith is a dead man walking as coach of the Falcons. From callers on talk radio to scathing social media takes, he’s worn out his welcome as the milquetoast coach of an underachieving unit that doesn’t develop young talent well. There are talks that he will get the Dennis Allen treatment and get fired on the plane ride home from London if Atlanta doesn’t beat Detroit there next week.

--Cincinnati had just 47 yards on their first 38 plays while being shut out by the Colts. What the heck happened to the Bengals who hit their bye week 3-0? They haven’t won since. Not having A.J. Green hurts, but this takes humiliating to another level.

--Kudos to Chiefs kicker Cairo Saintos, as the tiny (he’s 5’8”) Brazilian rookie nailed a game-winner in a critical KC win over the San Diego Chargers. It keeps the 3-3 Chiefs very much in the AFC playoff race and even still breathing in the AFC West. A loss there would have put them 3 games behind both Denver and San Diego. Santos was my #2 kicker in the last draft coming out of Tulane, and he has an intriguing back story.

$.09--College/Draft Quickies

I spent Saturday watching football at the Park Tavern in Rosemont IL with two of my favorite NFL draft figures, Justin Higdon and Bill Carroll. Here are some observations from my 12 hours on a barstool.

--West Virginia WR Kevin White might be the most talented wideout in this draft. Higdon noted a stylistic, and hirsute, comparison to Larry Fitzgerald with his physicality, route running and concentration to make difficult catches. His one-handed TD stab in the corner over tight coverage is the kind of play that will sell NFL coaches to pound the table for him in the top 20.

--Minnesota RB David Cobb continues to reliably churn out tough yards with very good forward lean and smart vision. He’s never going to be a star, perhaps not even a starter at the next level, but Cobb has viable NFL skills and belongs in the conversation in the 90-120 overall range. The Gophers barely squeaked past a suddenly competitive Purdue, a team that wouldn’t win 3 games in the MAC, to stay in first place in the B1G West.  Golden Gophers TE Maxx Williams will be no worse than the #2 player at his position for all three of us.

--We all agreed that Stanford QB Kevin Hogan is simply not an NFL prospect with his long, low windup and delivery.

--Texas A&M tackle Cedric Ogbuehi was the subject of a lengthy discourse. I’m infatuated with his footwork and body coordination, seeing an elite athlete for the position. Yet I had to agree with Higdon and his serious reservations about Ogbuehi’s lack of power and pathetic initial punch. There isn’t any aggression behind his blows. It’s coachable but rather disturbing that it has to be coached to an offensive lineman.

--After breaking down Ogbuehi we moved to Stanford LT Andrus Peat. None of us see a first round-caliber talent, but we all begrudgingly concede he’s likely to be one of the first 15 picks because of his reputation and potential. I offered my “Stanford hype” test and it really fits with Peat; if he played for Indiana and not Stanford, would his skills still merit a high draft profile? In Peat’s case we all agreed with a resounding “hell no!” Caveat draftor.

--Kansas State CB Danzel McDaniel continues to impress. I touted him before the Wildcats’ upset over Oklahoma, and the JUCO transfer delivered with an easy pick-six. He’s a very impressive lockdown corner and athlete. I’ve now seen him in three games and he sure looks like a first-round talent. Keep an eye on his rising star throughout the draft process…if he opts to come out.

--One later-round prospect we all agreed deserves more attention is Old Dominion QB Tyler Heinicki. Though he’s smaller than ideal at 6’ and lacks a big arm, he’s got outstanding accuracy and command of the offense. Heinicki roughly compares as a more athletic Kellen Moore with a better--but still lacking--downfield arm. We are all hoping to see him at the Shrine Game in January.

$.10--I was once a huge baseball fan. Growing up it was a lifeblood to me, from fervently collecting Topps cards (I still have complete sets from 1979-83) to religiously watching This Week in Baseball. I studied everything I could about the game, relishing the history of the game. I even took Baseball History (319A) at Ohio University as a freshman, under the tutelage of Dr. Charles Alexander, the noted author of biographies of Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker.

During the 1990s I was caught up with the rest of my hometown in the ascendancy of the Cleveland Indians. It was a magical time, an entire city uniting around a team that had been so bad for so long. I will never forget in 1995 Tony Pena hitting a walkoff home run off Zane Smith of the Red Sox in the 13th inning of Cleveland’s first playoff game since 1954. I was still a student at Ohio U. and joyous crowds poured onto Court Street in wild celebration.

My all-time favorite sports moment where I’ve been in attendance came the next year in the 1996 ALDS. Albert Belle hit a grand slam off Armando Benitez to give the Tribe a huge win to stay alive. I’ve been to all kinds of events and venues and nothing has ever matched the collective roar of that crowd, strangers hugging and screaming.

Yet the game gradually lost me. I moved from Cleveland in 1999 and that buzz died. The steroid era ended, and most of the players I knew from when they were minor leaguers moved on from the game. I bounced from Richmond to Grand Rapids, minor league cities where baseball ranks well behind other sports (NASCAR and college hoops in Richmond, hockey and college football in GR) and baseball just sort of faded away.

Moving to Houston coincided with the Astros being the worst team in major league history over the three years I lived there. Yet it wasn’t just the home team being awful.

It was the Tony La Russa effect. The multiple pitching changes in each of the 6th-8th innings. The 11 throws to first base to hold on a runner with zero intent of stealing. The batter either striking out or walking more than half the time. The snobbish turn towards advanced stats that turn the players into culprits for not complying with the computer simulation those folks want the game to be.

So imagine my surprise when I stumbled upon the Kansas City Royals in this year’s playoffs. They leave pitchers in too long. They run like every player is Rickey Henderson, one of my all-time favorite athletes. They play defense. They act like they enjoy playing the game with one another, a far cry from the high-priced conglomerations of individual entities that dominated the game over the last 20 years for the most part.

Okay baseball, you’ve got me back for this World Series. I’ll be rooting for the Royals, but also for something to keep the rekindled spark burning. Don’t blow it with overwrought blowhard analysis, or innings lasting longer than football quarters, or at-bats lasting long enough for me to make a plate of chicken fajita nachos. Go Royals, but go baseball too. 


Football Meteorology For NFL Week 7

By Jeff Risdon

Last Week: 9-5-1. In past years I’ve counted a tie as a loss, but this year I’m more of an optimist so I’ll do like the NFL and register it as a tie. 58-32-1 on the season

Gambling Update: Only one of my three wagers hit, but thankfully it was the big one. Denver earned me $3000, overcoming the $1500 I lost on Atlanta and San Diego. After starting at $10,000 I’m now up to $16,000. And no, I’m not actually wagering this kind of cash. My wife would kill me in my sleep. 

Thursday Night

- New York Jets at New England Patriots (-10.5): Thursday night games have become rather notorious for being uncompetitive blowouts; every game has featured a margin of at least 21 points during the game. Last week the Texans rallied back strong against the Colts but came up short because of inadequate QB play.

Speaking of inadequate QB play, have you seen the New York Jets lately? While Geno Smith had a few positives last week against Denver, don’t forget his late pick-six to former Patriot Aqib Talib. Bill Belichick certainly won’t. The Jets do have a chance if they can manufacture some turnovers and keep Tom Brady guessing on the pressure points, but even then they still have to score against New England’s talented defense. Having the NFL’s worst pass offense doesn’t engender much confidence in that happening for New York. Although the Pats are never a good bet as a double-digit favorite, they are an easy pick here.

Patriots 20, Jets 10

Sunday Games

- San Francisco 49ers at Denver Broncos (-6): The marquee matchup is an attractive one for the stylistic divergence of the two teams. Denver has Peyton Manning and the precise, methodical air attack with his impressive cadre of weapons. San Francisco has Colin Kaepernick, at his best on the move and supported by a nasty running attack and offensive line.

One of the keys here is Denver’s underrated run defense. The Broncos allow just 3.3 yards per carry, and they’ve been improving that number lately at just 2.8 over the last three games. Their gap integrity and tackling are both very good, presenting a real challenge to Frank Gore and the 49ers offense. San Francisco runs for a lot of yards but they aren’t great at rushing efficiency. They rank 3rd in attempts per game but just 18th in yards per attempt. They’re actually much more efficient throwing the ball than running, yet they’re 30th in the league in pass attempts per game. The numbers say they need to throw more to beat the Broncos.

Of course that’s a double-edged sword. Throwing more means more incompletions and more time for Manning to have the ball in his hands, more opportunities for the Broncos to score. Giving extra shots to the best marksman is never a good idea in a shootout. The Niners will have to create a turnover margin of at least +1 to win. Issues at running back for Denver do create some opportunity for a fumbled exchange or a missed blitz pickup, but it’s hard to have confidence in any team led by Peyton Manning being careless with the ball as a predication of a road victory.

Broncos 28, 49ers 20

- Atlanta Falcons at Baltimore Ravens (-7): The Baltimore Ravens are the best team in the NFC South. They’ve beaten Tampa Bay and New Orleans by a combined 86-27 margin, with almost 1,000 yards of offense in those two games. The Falcons defense is 31st in yardage allowed, giving up 420 per game but 450 on the road, as well as 28 points per game. They’re coming off a discouraging trip to Chicago, not playing well against a lesser defense than what they’ll see in Baltimore. If the Falcons offense can’t do more, this one could look a lot like Baltimore’s other NFC South games. #FreeAntoneSmith

Too bad for the Ravens they’re an AFC North team…Ravens for $1000.

Ravens 30, Falcons 20

- Arizona Cardinals at Oakland Raiders (+4): Carson Palmer makes his return to Oakland, leading the impressive, well-rounded Cardinals against the winless Raiders. The Black Hole will no doubt be hostile towards Palmer, even though it was management who bungled his situation far more than the quarterback’s fault. I like the opportunistic Arizona secondary to score a touchdown here. Derek Carr has proven he’s worthy of building around in Oakland, but he’s a rookie without much weaponry who is going to make mistakes.

Cardinals 27, Raiders 17 

- New Orleans Saints at Detroit Lions (-2.5): The Lions defense is playing consistently outstanding football, but the Saints offense will be a real test. Or will it? No Jimmy Graham and a suspect offensive line make this New Orleans team a little less ominous. Drew Brees’ play has suffered as a result. His Detroit counterpart Matthew Stafford isn’t playing to expectations either, with similar causes: the Lions OL has badly regressed, and they’ll be without Calvin Johnson once again.

One reason to like the Lions here is the Ryan factor. Stafford had his best outing of the season against Rex Ryan and the Jets. Rob Ryan’s Saints defense is similar to his brother’s, though less talented up front. As long as the Lions can make more field goals than they miss--something they have yet to do in over a month--the home team is the better team.

Lions 26, Saints 24

- Miami Dolphins at Chicago Bears (-3): I’ll be in Chicago this weekend, though I will not be at this game. If you’re in the area, I’ll be at the Park Tavern in Rosemont on Saturday watching college football with a couple of my favorite draftniks. Come join us for a day of football, food, beer and draft talk. My presence in Chicago portends very good things for the Bears. The last five times I’ve visited Chicago on a football weekend, the Bears have come up victorious. I like them a lot in the chilly, damp weather against the inconsistent Dolphins.

Bears 20, Dolphins 17

- Carolina Panthers at Green Bay Packers (-7.5): Green Bay’s defense has been vulnerable to mobile quarterbacks in recent times. Enter Cam Newton fresh off a game where he rushed for over 100 yards as well as throwing for almost 300. The problem for Newton and the Panthers is that he is the entire offense; the other Carolina rushers netted just 40 yards on 18 carries. A week earlier the RBs had 59 yards on 19 carries. Newton is playing very well, but he cannot outgun Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay by himself. Rodgers reinserted his name into the MVP conversation with his brilliant comeback drive in Miami, and he keeps the train rolling here against a shaky Panthers secondary.

Interestingly (to me anyways) is that as of Thursday morning over 65% of the action on this game has flowed to Carolina. That’s an awful lot of confidence on the visitors to keep it close. Frankly I don’t understand that logic, and I sense an opportunity to capitalize on what I think is a solid matchup for Green Bay. I’ll put $500 on the home team to cover the 7.5 points.

Packers 36, Panthers 27 

- Minnesota Vikings at Buffalo Bills (-6): Last week the Vikings couldn’t win at home despite Detroit missing both Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush, missing two field goals and the Lions offensive line playing poorly. The 17-3 score reflects how dominant Detroit’s defensive front was against the horrific Vikings offensive line. Buffalo is one of the few teams that can bring the same amount of pressure and aggression. The Bills completely snuff out the run with just the front four, and that’s a serious problem for rookie QB Teddy Bridgewater. I like the Bills to bounce back from a disappointing loss to New England in a big way. They are my survivor fantasy pick, and I’m still very much alive:

Bills 24, Vikings 6 

- Cleveland Browns at Jacksonville Jaguars (+6): The Browns as road favorites by almost a touchdown? Seriously? Even though the Browns have been impressive, never more than in pounding Pittsburgh last week, it’s hard to have confidence in them being a touchdown better than anyone on the road. Then again, these Jaguars are a complete train wreck playing in a stadium where fans are more interested in the swimming pools and world’s largest video panel than the action on the field.

Cleveland wins thanks to its outstanding special teams and ball security, having turned the ball over just twice in five games. They’re also protecting Brian Hoyer well, allowing just 6 sacks. On the flip side, Jacksonville has just one takeaway in the last five weeks. Bad matchup for the home team, which is so bad they need the other team to make mistakes to win. Cleveland doesn’t make mistakes.

Browns 29, Jaguars 24

- Seattle Seahawks at St. Louis Rams (+7.5): Not to beat a dead horse, but many very intelligent people thought the Rams would be a playoff contender thanks to a dominant defensive front. I begged to differ and suffered the scorn for it all summer. Yet even this avowed skeptic is stunned at how bad this team is, and the vaunted defense has not recorded a sack in a month. They’re also near the bottom in yards per rush allowed. Even playing with an early 14-0 lead wasn’t enough to help them last week at home against San Francisco. They’re not going to get that chance against the angry Seahawks. This one is going to be ugly, folks. $1500 on the visitors.

Seahawks 33, Rams 10

- Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colts (-3.5): The Battle of I-74 features two first-place teams in a game that could wind up deciding home field in an eventual playoff game. If the Bengals are even to make it that far their defense must play better than it has the last two weeks. Heading to Indianapolis won’t make that an easy task. Andrew Luck is in the midst of one of the most impressive strings any quarterback has ever had:

 

Comp %

Yards

TDs

QB Rating

Jacksonville

79.5

370

4

140.4

Tennessee

70.7

393

4

123.3

Baltimore

65.3

312

1

72.8

Houston

56.8

370

3

97.7

That’s an awful lot of yards and touchdowns. The gambling community has noticed; an astonishing 96% of all bets on the +/- 48.5 line have been on the over. Andy Dalton and the Bengals are not going to outscore the Colts in a shootout, not without A.J. Green on the field.

Colts 33, Bengals 28 

- Tennessee Titans at Washington (-5.5): The battle of the backup quarterbacks is the least appealing game on this week’s docket. As such, I shall write no more about it.

Okay, I lied. If you are hard up in a survivor fantasy game, this is the only time all year you should even consider using Washington. I’m not saying you should, but if you’re full of derring-do this is the time to show it.

Ethnic Slurs 31, Titans 27 

- Kansas City Chiefs at San Diego Chargers (-4.5): Looking for an early front-runner for defensive rookie of the year? While Kyle Fuller in Chicago gets most of the attention, don’t sleep on talented Chargers CB Jason Verrett. My friend Kyle Posey from BoltBlitz wrote an excellent piece about the diminutive wonder, who was my top-rated CB in a pretty skilled draft class. The resurgent San Diego secondary is a challenge for Alex Smith and the Chiefs offense, who lack a viable field-stretcher to open up space against the good coverage. If Eric Weddle--arguably the best safety in the game--doesn’t have to worry about the deep part of the field, he’ll make life miserable for Smith on the short and intermediate routes. The Xs and Os favor the home team in what should be a defensive struggle, as the teams rank 2nd (SD) and 5th (KC) in points allowed. The line is a little big for a low-scoring affair, so if you’re tempted I would encourage a conservative sum on the underdog Chiefs to cover, but a win outright seems a real stretch.

Chargers 17, Chiefs 15

- New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys (-6.5): Can the surprising Cowboys handle their good fortune and abundant media attention? That’s really the question here, because they are the better football team. In the past, that has been a very legit problem for Tony Romo & Co. This Dallas team does appear different, not relying on Romo to win games but rather manage them as a devastating rushing attack and smart defense leads the way. We’ll find out if they truly are different with the rival Giants visiting Jerry World.

Humble prediction: if the Giants score on their opening drive, they will win the game. Otherwise the Dallas defense will remain confident and prevail. Losing Victor Cruz after already losing Jerrel Jernigan is a real blow for the New York passing attack, and they’re without top RB Rashad Jennings to boot. They’re not going to come from behind here, so getting out in front and shaking Dallas’ confidence is imperative.

Cowboys 27, Giants 20 

Monday Night

- Houston Texans at Pittsburgh Steelers (-4): These are two of the stranger 3-3 teams in the league. It’s easy to see where both teams win and lose, yet they somehow remain unpredictable. Pittsburgh leans heavily on a diverse offense featuring LeVeon Bell and LeGarrette Blount running and Antonio Brown receiving. They have almost nothing else, and when a team can shut down one (or both) the Steelers offense really bogs down.

Houston wins with Arian Foster running and J.J. Watt scoring defensive touchdowns. Sure, Ryan Fitzpatrick can run a drive here and there where he feeds Andre Johnson and Nuk Hopkins, but it’s unreliable. I’m more confident in Pittsburgh’s offense than Houston’s defense behind Watt. The Texans are bad up the middle, where ILB Brian Cushing is now a detriment instead of a Pro Bowler and D.J. Swearinger gives up two big plays for every one he makes. Teams have to tackle well to slow down the Steelers, and the Texans rank near the top in missed tackles.

Foster will get his yards and perhaps a touchdown or two, but it won’t be enough unless Fitzpatrick plays four quarters of solid football. This is one of those games where if they play 100 times I would venture that Pittsburgh wins 51 to 49, so it’s a very low confidence pick.

Steelers 21, Texans 17 

Betting recap:

Seattle -7.5 for $1500

Baltimore -7 for $1000

Green Bay -7.5 for $500



NFL Team Rankings, Week 6

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