Another good Thursday night match up? Astonishing! While the boys in the lab are off figuring out this phenomenon along with Percy Harvin’s career trajectory, let’s take a look at some of these weekend games.
(Picks Update: 55-37)
14. Cleveland at Jacksonville
Blake Bortles or not, this one has the makings of a snoozer. The Browns are rolling following their demolition of the Pittsburgh Steelers last week. Brian Hoyer is feasting on defenses with the play action set up by a very potent stable of running backs. The Jaguars defense and running game are lacking, leaving Blake Bortles with the task of winning this game on his arm. The Browns defense hasn’t been dominant this season, but the presence of defensive backs like Joe Haden and Dashon Goldson will make life difficult for receivers and quarterback alike, given their propensity for creating turnovers. Bortles is good, but he’s still a rookie, and I’d expect one or two mistakes on his part before the day is done.
Browns 28 Jaguars 17
13. Seattle at St. Louis
The Seahawks caught everyone off guard losing to Dallas last week. They were at it again yesterday, trading Percy Harvin to the Jets. Harvin, while averaging a measly 6.0 yards per reception, was still a player that teams needed to gameplan specifically for. I don’t know that I trust Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse, who are both averaging less than 40 receiving yards a game, to carry this passing attack. We’ve seen what happens when Marshawn Lynch-game plan is shelved in favor of a Wilson-led comeback attempt; Seattle is 0-2. Fortunately for the Seahawks, they face a secondary in St. Louis that is prone to allowing big plays. Couple that with their inability to rush the quarterback and the outlook for St. Louis is bleak. That said, while the Rams may not be good, but they’re feisty. Austin Davis is proving to be at least halfway competent, and there’s talent in players like Zac Stacy and Brian Quick. Seattle will need to limit both if they want to improve their struggling 3rd down defense. There’s trap game potential here but I’m confident in this Seattle team’s ability to win the games they’re supposed to.
Seahawks 31 Rams 17
12. Minnesota at Buffalo
The Vikings are bad. A team I lauded in the preseason as one to watch, they’ve been derailed by injuries, suspensions and disappointing play along the offensive line. Never was that more evident than in their loss to Detroit last week, one in which they managed just three points while allowing eight sacks and committing three turnovers. Things won’t get much easier with the impressive Buffalo defensive line on tap this weekend, one that is projected to register 40 sacks between the four starters. For the offense, the Bills are being led…somewhat competently by Kyle Orton. He’s not special but competent. Combined with the usual suspects of Jackson, Spiller, Watkins, Woods and Chandler, the Bills are a more consistent, if not significantly more talented offense than Minnesota. With Teddy Bridgewater’s rookie learning curve, a leaky offensive line, a severely underachieving Cordarrelle Patterson, an old Greg Jennings, and no real starter at running back (yet-watch out for the speedy Jerick McKinnon), there’s not much cause for optimism with these Vikings.
Bills 27 Vikings 20
11. Arizona at Oakland
The Cardinals have some legitimate questions despite being a 4-1 team. Namely, their highly-touted secondary getting gashed to the tune of 309 yards a week, the worst average in the NFL. That’s normally not an issue when facing a sorry team like the Raiders, but Oakland actually saw some results from Derek Carr and co. against a good San Diego secondary last week. Carr tossed four touchdowns and 281 yards, including two to Andre Holmes, a third-year receiver with a 6-4 frame who’s flashed at times in his frustrating career with the Raiders. Consistent quarterback play may be the key to unlocking Holmes’ potential thus making the Raiders more than just a James Jones offense. That all said, the Cards are still respectable and should be able to beat Oakland on the backs of their trio of talented receivers. It’s these types of games Arizona knows it can’t afford to lose if they want to stay atop the NFC West.
Cardinals 25 Raiders 21
10. Tennessee at Washington
This game figures to be somewhat close. Both teams are plagued with inconsistency, especially when it comes to the quarterback position. Between Kirk Cousins and either Jake Locker or Charlie Whitehurst, I’m rolling with young Kirk. I’ll take the Washington pass rush over any element of the lousy, miscast Titans defense. DeSean Jackson has to be accounted for and any extra attention paid to him opens up the field for Pierre Garcon, Jordan Reed and Alfred Morris. That combo is better than Justin Hunter, Kendall Wright, and Bishop Sankey…for now. With Charlie Whitehurst likely to start for the injured Locker once again, expect competence but not dominance from the Titans offense. The end result in this one should give Washington’s coaching staff more cause to consider Cousins as the starting moving forward as Cousins figures to be a captain of victory on Sunday.
Washington 27 Titans 21
9. Miami at Chicago
Miami gave an NFC North foe in Green Bay trouble last week, they could do so again against an inferior Bears defense this week. It’ll be more of a challenge to stop a Bears offense that saw Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Matt Forte each go for over 100 yards receiving last week. The Dolphins’ defense hasn’t been terrible this season, but outside Green Bay (and arguably New England) they haven’t faced an upper-tier offense this year. Expect their eighth-ranked secondary to be tested by Cutler early and often. Should they be unsuccessful in slowing the Bears down, an offense featuring an erratic Ryan Tannehill won’t win a punch-for-punch slug fest with Chicago.
Bears 27 Dolphins 24
8. Atlanta at Baltimore
I could go on and on about the talent Atlanta lacks on defense. The Ravens, given their tremendous success against the NFC South-they average 43 points scored through two games this season-should be able to capitalize, even without a great supporting cast around Joe Flacco. Where Baltimore will have to be careful is in their handling of the Matt Ryan-Julio Jones combo. Their secondary ranks 27th in the league in yards allowed, and Jones and Ryan have been incredibly difficult to stop this season with the lowest receiving totals coming last week against Chicago where he was limited to four catches and 68 yards. Though inconsistent the Falcons also possess speed to stretch the field in Roddy White and Devin Hester. Add into the equation Antone Smith, a running back who’s accumulated 346 total yards on just 23 touches, and you’ve got a pretty dynamic offense. For the Falcons defense to stand a chance, a good start would be to contain Steve Smith. Smith has been outstanding, recording four 100-yard games in six contests and is on pace for over 1,500 yards and 11 touchdowns. The rest of the receiving corps? The next highest is Torrey Smith, who’s current projections are a poor 40 catches, 605 yards and a decent eight touchdowns. The point being here is that if the Falcons can take away Flacco’s most dynamic target, the Ravens will be left with a one-dimensional Torrey Smith and a slow (albeit reliable) Owen Daniels. I don’t think Flacco and company should be too worried.
Ravens 24 Falcons 20
7. Houston at Pittsburgh
Last week I hyped the Steelers match up with the Browns as one of the more entertaining games to watch and they couldn’t even meet me halfway, looking pitiful against their old Cleveland whipping boy. The Texans coming to town on Monday Night Football may actually present a more talented foe than the Browns, just one with a lesser quarterback. That could spell doom for the otherwise-talented Texans, but considering the fact that the Steelers rank as the league’s tenth-worst defense at forcing takeaways, Ryan Fitzpatrick’s greatest weakness-a propensity for said turnovers-may not rear its ugly head in this one. If he doesn’t make the big mistakes, than the Texans will have a very real chance at earning a win. The Steelers aren’t terrible offensively…until they reach the red zone. The team has routinely struggled in this department through the first six games so much so that fourth-round pick Martavis Bryant and his 6-4 frame may very well see his first snaps of the season when the Steelers find themselves inside the Houston 20. Beyond that, Pittsburgh’s biggest concern will be in how they plan on stopping J.J. Watt. The Steelers offensive line has been its typical self, yielding 17 sacks thus far, the 5th most in the league. Watt has to be licking his chops, despite going against the hardest quarterback in the league to bring to the ground. With all that said, I still don’t believe in Ryan Fitzpatrick; he’s that bad. The Steelers get a much-needed win at home off the back of a few choice Fitzpatrick turnovers.
Steelers 28 Texans 26
6. NY Giants at Dallas
The Giants are in rough shape following a blowout loss to the Eagles that saw them lose Victor Cruz for this season and possibly beyond. That said, teams rarely get blown out in consecutive weeks, and the Cowboys could be in for a letdown after an emotionally-charged win last week against Seattle. I don’t doubt that Dallas is the more talented team, but if you can hinder DeMarco Murray, you get more snaps against a defense that has overachieved to this point in the season. The Giants are ranked 17th against the run, so they’ll have their work cut out for them. They also need rookie Odell Beckham Jr., an uber-talented, yet green player to do his best Cruz impression to keep this offense relevant. Rashad Jennings is still a few weeks away from return so another rookie, running back Andre Williams will also need to step up his game, as the Boston College product is averaging just 3.2 yards per carry. Meanwhile Dallas is humming right along offensively, proving to be nigh-impossible to defend what with all the weapons they possess. While I see the Giants at least putting up a bit of a fight, there’s just too much working against them in this one.
Cowboys 33 NY Giants 24
5. New Orleans at Detroit
I like this one for its offensive potential. The Saints possess a lousy defense while the Lions have a the league’s best. With that said, it appears that New Orleans won’t have to deal with the league’s best receiver lining up across the line, perhaps allowing them to maintain a bit of respectability in this game. Though Drew Brees hasn’t been quite as spectacular as his usual self-his current interceptions total of six has him on pace for 19-he still leads the league’s 2nd-ranked passing attack. If Detroit is truly without Megatron, they maybe in for an upset given that they’re running game has been inconsistent thus far this season, ranking 4th-worst in the league. I’ll trust Detroit’s defense to get the job done, but if there’s a week they could be exposed, this would be it.
Lions 28 Saints 17
4. Kansas City at San Diego
Division rivalries always possess some added interest, and the Chargers and Chiefs should be no exception. San Diego had trouble with their worst division rival in Oakland last week, and the Chiefs are light years better than the black hole cellar dwellers. One of the biggest discrepancies between this week’s opponent and last’s for San Diego is the strong running game they’ll face. The Chiefs average 137.6 yards a game, good for the fourth-best rate in the league. They also possess the league’s seventh-best pass defense. The Chargers’ strength lies in their ability to move the ball down the field at will off the arm of Phil Rivers. If the Chiefs can slow him down, things will fall on the shoulders of Branden Oliver. The rookie has rushed for 100 yards in back-to-back games and will be facing the 23rd-ranked rush defense. The Chiefs will counter with Jamaal Charles who is probably the biggest benefactor of Kansas City’s BYE week. The once injury-hampered running back has rushed for over five yards a carry and has scored three touchdowns in the two contests since he sat out in week three. Don’t underestimate the Chiefs. The Chargers are good, even if they drop this one, but they’re inability to wipe the floor with an inferior division opponent last week may prove too troublesome against a better opponent on Sunday.
Chiefs 27 Chargers 24
3. Carolina at Green Bay
I like this match up. Following week two I thought this would be a blowout favoring Carolina. Following week four I thought this would be all Green Bay. Following week six I think this one’s a coin toss. The Panthers are coming off a game that yielded neither a win nor loss but an extra quarter of play. The Packers won a nail biter against a team they should have beat handily. Neither team has had much success running the ball, and both quarterbacks have suffered-though Rodgers more than Newton-through suspect offensive line play. What are the distinguishing differences? 1. Aaron Rodgers isn’t human and 2. the Packers defense has supplied 12 turnovers in the last four games. Cam Newton has played well in recent weeks and it’s no small relief that he will have Kelvin Benjamin healthy in this one, but I just can’t will myself to pick the Panthers in this game. Their defense continues to underwhelm and despite having Jonathan Stewart and now DeAngelo Williams back, you get the feeling that this will still be an offense that is entirely reliant on Newton. That won’t be enough going against an opportunistic defense and the bad man himself.
Packers 30 Panthers 23
2. Cincinnati at Indianapolis
The dynamic in this contest is intriguing. On one hand you have the physical, pound-it-out Bengals and on the other are the air-it-out Colts. Thing get even more polarized with A.J. Green out of commission once again. Though they sit atop the AFC North, the Bengals have been doing a bit of soul-searching and ankle twisting lately, especially with regard to their defense. In the past two weeks, Cincy has surrendered an average of 40 points. That doesn’t bode well facing the league’s best scoring team in Indy. The pass rush is sagging and the secondary and linebacking corps have been exposed. Andrew Luck is the last quarterback you want to see under those circumstances. Still, I hardly think the Bengals are dead in the water in this game. Andy Dalton has proved worthy of his pay grade thus far and Mohammed Sanu appears to be developing into quite the receiver. I trust the defense will bring added heat against an iffy Colts line and force Luck to make plays on the move. Unfortunately for the Bengals, Luck can and will.
Colts 33 Bengals 27
1. San Francisco at Denver
Great defense against great offense. The NFC West against the AFC West. Stop me if you seen this before. Fortunately for the Broncos, they won’t be facing the team they’re 0-2 against since the ultimate letdown of last February’s Super Bowl. They only have to beat the 49ers. That’s a task much easier said than done. San Francisco has a defense proficient in stopping both the pass and the run and an offense that while run-heavy, has the receiving corps to threaten and a quarterback that while inconsistent, still is one the league’s best dual threats. The Broncos can more than compensate offensively. On Thursday I noted the fact that Julius Thomas is on record-pace for 29 touchdowns and that both Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders are on track for over 1,500 receiving yards. Expect those projections to dip a bit following this week. With that said, I don’t know there’s enough firepower on this Niners team to keep up with the high-flying Broncos. They win games through tough defense and ball control. They need to smother the Broncos from the onset in order to make either of those a reality. My gut tells me they won’t and that Denver and all it’s shiny toys will find a way to win. Broncos 30 49ers 27
Tim Mullhaupt (@TimakaHines) is the editor of The Buckets Blog.