Authored by Jeff Risdon - 23rd September, 2011 - 12:43 am
Last Week: 12-4, taking the season tally to 20-12. I went 11-4-1 against the spread last week too. Send my commission vouchers to Jeff.Risdon@RealGM.com!
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This week features an inordinate amount of road favorites. They are normally a tougher bet, but one of the prevailing themes I think we are going to see this year is the wider disparity between the good teams and the bad teams. Home field is generally worth a field goal in the gambling world, but the difference between the contenders and also-rans is far more than three points.
This week also marks the onset of meteorological autumn. Most of you call it "fall". I absolutely love fall, with the cooler nights, the changing colors, the fresh apples, weekends dominated by football. Except now I live in Texas after spending almost all my life in the Great Lakes. Our highs are still in the 90s and any tree without the word "palm" in it has been dead for months thanks to our drought. Heck, the Gulf temperature at Galveston Beach is still in the 80s. Lake Michigan never got that warm in the middle of our hottest summers there. It is very awkward and disconcerting. Not that I mind keeping my healthy bronze on until after Halloween, but it just doesn't feel like fall.
Houston (11) at New Orleans (4): The Texans are 2-0 and amazingly lead the league in several pass defense statistics a year after finishing with one of the worst pass defenses of all time. That is getting the lion's share of the credit--as it should--but here is another reason why the Texans are not just 2-0 but have a very real chance to win this game: special teams. Danieal Manning leads the AFC in kick return yardage, while Jacoby Jones already has more than half his entire 2010 total punt return yards. The coverage units are tighter, and JJ Watt has blocked one short field goal and just missed another. You have to manufacture opportunities against the Saints, and the Texans have the ability to do that with their special teams.
They will need to maximize those opportunities because the Saints are going to score some points, probably in bunches and probably touchdowns and not field goals. Drew Brees continues his mastery of the layered route trees, and in Jimmy Graham they have a newfangled weapon that really stresses the pass coverage. This is where we find out just how much improved Houston really is, and I don't think the locals are going to like the answer. New Orleans 30, Houston 17.
Detroit (10) at Minnesota (20): The Vikings get Kevin Williams back, and his presence cannot come soon enough as Minnesota hosts Matt Stafford and the undefeated Lions that are riding a six-game winning streak. Stafford has yet to be sacked and has faced just two official QB pressures in two games. Jared Allen will change that, no doubt, but getting Williams back inside to counterbalance the rush is critical. Detroit does not run the ball up the middle very effectively, and Williams will both further blunt that and impact the play action passing game, where he is perhaps the best defensive tackle in the league at blowing that up.
They will need that rush to be in top form because Stafford has the ability to absolutely light up their back-seven, which has struggled to get off the field (31st in 3rd down defense) and cover receivers out of the slot and in bunch formations. Detroit is using a lot of those types of looks, and Nate Burleson and Titus Young looked great together a week ago when the Chiefs rolled all the coverage at Calvin Johnson. Minny likes to roll towards the number one receiver as well, and Stafford has the discipline, the protection, and the weapons to rip that to shreds. Then there is the matter of Minnesota and their moribund passing attack, which has exactly one completion longer than 18 yards all season long. Detroit thrives at getting quick pressure with the front four and having the linebackers and safeties flatten into a short cloud, where even if the ball is completed they can quickly converge for the tackle. If Donovan McNabb cannot extend that coverage, the Vikings are doomed to a lot of six-play, 22-yard drives. Adrian Peterson will break a long run or two (he is a great fantasy play regardless of opponent), but the Lions have the ability to either outscore the Vikings in a shootout or hold the line in a low-scoring slugfest. Lions 27, Vikings 17.
New England (2) at Buffalo (13): The Bills have been a great story thus far, going 2-0 and showing an explosive offense. But I question the strength of schedule; Kansas City might not win a game all year, and self-destructive Oakland nearly beat the Bills in Buffalo, almost defying a decade-long trend where the Raiders never win in early Eastern Time Zone games. Now the real test comes with high-flying New England (tangential note: when typing "high" I accidentally typed "hgh" three times. If a player from either team gets busted for hgh, you heard it here first!).
I'll admit it: I'm kind of rooting for Buffalo but expecting a comfortable New England win in a game that obliterates the 52.5 point over/under mark. No, I am not a Pats hater or a Bills lover, but I just really like the narrative of the unexpected upstart taking down the dominant Evil Empire. Ryan Fitzpatrick is great as the heroic foil to Tom Terrific, the plucky Harvard guy that could sit next to you at a seedy Irish bar and seamlessly debate the environmental impact of illegal immigration and how the Pythagorean Theorem applies to preschool admissions against the beautiful California dreamboat with the supermodel wife and GQ covers who spends hours wondering if radicchio is cabbage or lettuce and how his butt looks when he scrambles to his left. My wife thinks it looks great Tom, and she thinks your team is pretty awesome too. So do I, with your 7500 yard and 60 touchdown pace. Patriots 39, Bills 30.
NY Jets (3) at Oakland (19): One of the hallmarks of a good team is soundly beating inferior opponents. After a sluggish start, the Jets did just that last week. I came away impressed with the little tweaks Rex Ryan continually implements with his defense, and I like how the Jets band together when pressed. Nick Mangold's injury is troubling, but as long as The Sanchize avoids the terrible interceptions--not a given--the Jets should have enough firepower to sneak past the self-destructive Raiders. Insert Heidi reference here. Jets 20, Raiders 17.
NY Giants (17) at Philadelphia (9): It just never stops for the Giants, who now lose Domenik Hixon and could be without Mario Manningham. Hixon tore his ACL for the second year in a row, joining the pretty impressive list of talent on New York's IR list. You would think that a team so ravaged by injuries would be a little more self-aware to not so egregiously fake injuries the way Deon Grant did in the Rams game. That bitter irony is the sort of violation of the spirit of the game that rankles Testicles, the God of Football. This is not soccer, Mr. Grant, and treating football as soccer is a sure way to bring about coolers full of negative karma.
Michael Vick sustained a very legit injury, getting a concussion when the Falcons pushed back RT Todd Herremans into his neck. As of pick time it is unclear if Vick will play, but given the virulence of player emphasis on safety and concussion awareness he probably should sit. Given the Eagles porous offensive line, he really should sit or else he risks turning a one-week injury into a season-ending and life-altering condition. Mike Kafka was impressive in relief, and with the Giants having all sorts of secondary issues this is a great week to see what Kafka can do as the first-team QB. They felt good enough about him to deal Kevin Kolb, after all.
In the Xs and Os department, I really favor Philadelphia and Trent Cole attacking Eli Manning and forcing some bad throws and turnovers. Desean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin will find holes in the coverage, and they have the playmaking ability to turn a small hole into a large lead. New York should find success running the ball right at Philly and their woefully inadequate linebackers and safeties, but with so many Giants receivers in various states of injury the Eagles should be able to cheat in enough to stop Ahmad Bradshaw from breaking too many big runs. I like Philly and their special teams to provide a distinct advantage as well. Eagles 28, Giants 14, but make it 33-20 if Vick plays.
Green Bay (1) at Chicago (15): Chicago is looking like a classic schizophrenic team. In the opener they pounded the Falcons 30-13, then got pasted by the Saints 30-12 last week. Their defensive back seven was great in the first week and invisible in Week 2. Jay Cutler is taking a pounding behind the overmatched offensive line, yet Mike Martz continues to dial up a plethora of pass plays that go far down the field and take too much time to develop. Yet he still hits on several plays and the Bears receivers are excellent at Yards After Catch. And despite having excellent corners, Green Bay's linebacker and safety play in coverage has been largely awful, and now they are without Nick Collins, easily the cream of their crop in that regard.
The Bears have not exactly benefitted from stellar safety play either. Major Wright simply cannot stay behind receivers with any modicum of speed even when he lines up in deep zone, and the Bears have quickly learned why the Patriots gave up so readily on Brandon Meriweather. Green Bay has gotten decent offensive line play, which should give Aaron Rodgers enough time to carve up the predictable zone. The Bears are a different animal at home, particularly on defense, and they desperately want to remind everyone who the reigning NFC North champion really is. If they can let Matt Forte get more work and keep pressure on Rodgers, Chicago has a strong chance here. Rodgers still has a tendency to sleepwalk through drives at times. But Green Bay got a necessary wakeup call a week ago, and now they better understand the concept of playing with a bullseye on their chests and bringing their top effort in all four quarters. Had Carolina been a blowout I would probably lean towards Chicago here, but I like Green Bay to bring a renewed sharpness and intensity into this one and they have too much talent on both sides of the ball for Chicago to hang with them when they're of the right mind. Packers 32, Bears 24.
Atlanta (7) at Tampa Bay (16): This is a very difficult forecast because there are so many variables. Will Tampa show up in the first half, something they have yet to do this season? Will Matt Ryan attack down the field, something he finally did against Philadelphia with good success? Will the Falcons secondary be able to handle the size of the Tampa receiving corps? Will Legarrette Blount stop running into the back of his blockers on half his runs? Will Tony Gonzalez and Michael Turner be able to exploit the inexperienced, undersized Tampa linebackers?
Honestly, I cannot predict any of those answers with any certainty. So my pick here is based on a strict hunch that the Bucs will be fired up to play the reigning division champ and carry over the momentum from their near-perfect 4th quarter in Minnesota. This pick gets the lowest value in the confidence fantasy game. Bucs 21, Falcons 17.
Jacksonville (29) at Carolina (22): The Panthers are a great feel-good story, but here is some cold reality--they are allowing an absurd 10.4 yards per attempt, and their top two linebackers are out for the year. The good news for them is that Jacksonville will start rookie Blaine Gabbert, a change that surprises exactly nobody. I thought Gabbert looked okay against the Jets in mop-up duty, but now he must drive the Jaguar car all week long. Cam Newton has had that honor from Day One, and he is a much better talent to boot. Carolina will look across the sidelines and see a team that looks very much like they did a year ago, saddled with a lame-duck coach and a QB that fails to give them much of a chance to win, a chance made even smaller by the lack of receiving weapons and a lousy pass defense.
Even though the focus (including the above) will be on the rookie QBs, I expect a whole lot of running in Charlotte. Carolina has veered far off the projected plan of riding their very good, deep stable of running backs, while the Jaguars still have Mo Jones-Drew and solid reserves there too. I think this is an excellent week to use Deangelo Williams and MJD as fantasy backs, and this game could see as many as 60 rushing attempts--especially if the Jaguars get an early lead. Carolina has better weapons and the better QB, and they win 24-21.
Denver (27) at Tennessee (23): Denver is so desperate for healthy bodies at wideout that Tim Tebow wound up getting some in-game action last week. Somehow they held on to beat Cincinnati, but now they take the Tebow sideshow on the road to Tennessee. I was very impressed with how handily the Titans handled the Ravens last week, with Matt Hasselbeck looking spry in the pocket and Javon Ringer bringing a spark to the running game. Denver lacks anyone that can stop Kenny Britt, who should have a monster week as long as he doesn't stop himself.
Tennessee did a lot of things in that game that portend victory here. Even though Chris Johnson struggled (again), the Titans did a good job of not facing 3rd and long very often. That allowed them several conversions that kept the Ravens D on the field too long and kept their own defense fresh. I like how they mixed up coverages and kept Joe Flacco off balance, and the film study clearly paid off because the Titans defense was continually sniffing out the play call before the Ravens ran it. The Broncos lack the weaponry that Baltimore has, and Kyle Orton is similar to Flacco in that he will make mistakes when pressed and can be flummoxed with ever-changing coverages. I like Johnson to break out in this one. If you are bold, this might be a good week to use Tennessee as your survivor fantasy pick. Titans 26, Broncos 20.
Kansas City (32) at San Diego (5): Kansas City is in real trouble. A week after losing their best defensive player in Eric Berry, they lost their best offensive player in Jamaal Charles. The Chiefs lost all their fight after Charles went down, and it really showed in the second half in Detroit; KC was feisty in the first half but came out after halftime a lethargic, rudderless ship. The lack of leadership is glaring, and Coach Haley and his "speak loudly and beat people over the head with your stick" style has clearly lost its effectiveness on this team. Norv Turner and the Chargers will happily continue the misery. San Diego 33, Kansas City 10.
Arizona (18) at Seattle (31): The Cardinals are loading up on the frequent flyer miles, going from Washington DC to Seattle. They will find the Pacific Northwest more accommodating, but I smell a trap. Seattle is going to win a handful of games, and I think those games will A.) be at home, and B.) come primarily against divisional opponents. This game fits both bills. Seattle 27, Arizona 20 in perhaps the only game I pick the Seahawks all year.
Baltimore (12) at St. Louis (24): Have you ever seen a team dominate the action of a game yet lose so badly as what St. Louis did in the Monday Night game in New York? That effort and outcome are indicative of an immature team not yet ready to take the next step. Sam Bradford has got to improve his decision making and accuracy when pressured, and it would behoove his line to make those pressures less frequent. They have played two lousy linebacking corps and still struggled to convert copious yardage into plentiful points. Now they play the Ravens and their playmaking defense. Haloti Ngata is the best defensive lineman in the game and got paid as such this week. Expect him and his mates to celebrate on the field.
I am really curious how Joe Flacco and the Baltimore offense respond to getting beat up last week in Tennessee. Joe Flacco look skittish and inaccurate and the running game bogged down with poor sustained blocking and little variety. This is a good opportunity for the Ravens to reestablish their offensive versatility and rhythm. St. Louis has a pretty solid front seven, though they have underachieved thus far, and their secondary is vulnerable across the board. I think we will see more of the Baltimore offense that eviscerated Pittsburgh in the opener. Pair that with what could be a very big day for Ed Reed and the defense, and this one could get ugly. Baltimore 31, St. Louis 16.
Pittsburgh (6) at Indianapolis (30): The line here pretty much tells you all you need to know. Pittsburgh is 10.5 point favorites and the over/under is 39.5. When Jeff George suggests he can help the Colts and the idea is not entirely laughable, that also speaks volumes about how far the Colts have fallen sans Manning. Cool tidbit I picked up from Sirius NFL radio: Colts QB Kerry Collins has thrown 5 TDs and 13 INTs with a 50.4% completion percentage in his last six games against 3-4 defenses. Guess what Pittsburgh plays? Steelers cruise easily 30-6.
Miami (25) at Cleveland (26): Remember the minor controversy during the preseason where Dolphins corner Vontae Davis staked his claim that Miami has the best corner duo in the league with himself and Sean Smith? After two games, the Dolphins rank 31st in yards per attempt allowed at 9.4 per, and have allowed nearly 70% completions. Of course they have played the Patriots and Texans, which begs the chicken vs. egg argument as those two teams ranks 1st and 8th in passing offense.
They get a chance to improve their lot with the trip to Cleveland. Colt McCoy might be a great leader, but he has yet to demonstrate he is a good NFL quarterback yet. He does not have a lot (any?) of dynamic weaponry, and the Browns seldom even try to stretch the defense with the deeper routes. The Cleveland OL is a hot mess too, with the right side of the line imitating a busy subway turnstile. Yet something tells me the Browns will be okay here.
I really like Peyton Hillis attacking the Miami defense with his power runs behind Joe Thomas and Alex Mack. I like McCoy finding his underrated tight ends, and Evan Moore is my salary cap fantasy TE this week. The Dolphins have been killed by tight ends on both games, and Houston ran a very similar rushing style to 140 yards last week with their #3 running back. I love the Joe Haden-Brandon Marshall matchup when the Dolphins have the ball, and I think the Browns strong interior DL will have a good day. Cleveland gained some confidence in winning in Indy last week and clearly being the better team while doing so, and they take that swagger home with them. Browns 24, Dolphins 16.
San Francisco (21) at Cincinnati (28): There are a number of ways to break this one down, but I will bottom-line it: Cincinnati has a young QB they trust, while San Francisco has a veteran they do not trust. Whereas you can see the Bengals confidence in Andy Dalton growing with every precise throw to wunderkind AJ Green, you get glimpses of the Alex Smith discontent when Niners TE Vernon Davis wonders aloud why he isn't getting the ball more, or Coach Harbaugh not letting him throw in the red zone. One team believes its quarterback can win them games, the other just hopes theirs doesn't blow yet another one. I'll take the former, thank you. Cincinnati 20, San Francisco 16.
Washington (8) at Dallas (14): Washington is much improved, but there are several forces conspiring against them in this one. It is the home opener in Dallas, and the fans will be more raucous than normal. The Cowboys are coming off an inspirational win thanks to Tony Romo, and you'd better believe his teammates are ready to show him how much they appreciate his toughness and leadership. Demarcus Ware against the Washington tackles is a real issue for the Ethnic Slurs, and Grossman morphs into Bad Rex pretty easily when facing the prospect of repeated poundings. The Slurs have not exactly played a tough schedule, with home wins against an injury-ravaged Giants team and an Arizona team making the trek east with a banged-up defense and suspect O-line. Washington still has a decent shot because they can run the ball and their pass rush is excellent in its own right, and the emergence of TE Fred Davis makes them a more dangerous red zone and third down team. Dallas prevails 28-27.
Drinking in the Dorm Room Games:
Last Week: 3-2, .500 on the season
Oklahoma State 40, Texas A&M 37
Alabama 28, Arkansas 17
LSU 29, West Virginia 20
Clemson 17, Florida State 16
Oregon 52, Arizona 27