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Monday, October 18, 2010

Week 7 NFL Predictions: October 24, 2010

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San Francisco 49ers vs Carolina Panthers: CAR +3

As I write this the public are currently 71% on SF.  There are many logical reasons for this.  SF finally got their first win last week.  The public believe this is still a decent team and those stubborn beliefs are hard to change even with a mountain of counter-evidence.  And CAR is still winless with big problems at QB.  End of analysis, put it in the books, and enjoy the win?  Not from where I'm standing.  All those things might be true, but a closer look reveals a different picture.  Since CAR gave up three TD's to Nicks in weeks one, they have only allowed two TD's in the air after that.  Steve Smith returns to action this week with Matt Moore back at QB.  Moore has been bad this season, but is he worse than Clausen?  I don't think that is possible at this point.  At least Moore has had marginal success at times in the NFL and the same can't be said for the rookie.  SF might have won last week, but it was a close one against a lowly OAK team.  It wasn't until later in the game that Gore broke off a few big runs to clinch it.   Neither team have been very good at sustaining drives or red zone efficiency.  SF has also been one of the least disciplined teams in the NFL.  If you don't think that's a category that matters much, go ask the Cowboys.  Lastly, SF is a west coast team traveling three time zones to the east coast playing the 1PM game.  A lot of people are noting that NE is doing the same in SD, but going west has proved much more difficult than vice versa.  CAR is coming off a bye so they hold an extra edge there.  There aren't many home underdogs this week, but this is one of them.  Prediction: Bank CAR +3.

Philadelphia Eagles vs Tennessee Titans: UNDER 43
With Vince Young doubtful, it looks like Kerry Collins will get the start at QB this week when the Titans take on the Eagles.  Given the developments over the past week, this game shapes up to be a defensive and hard fought affair.  PHI will be without their two fastest and most elusive offensive weapons in Michael Vick and Desean Jackson.   They could use players like that in a game like this because TEN's defense will come to fight.  Kolb could find himself in the kind of danger most expected he would be in last week vs the Falcons.  He is nowhere near as mobile as Vick and if it wasn't for a great offensive game plan to keep ATL off-balance, he wouldn't have had near the amount of time that he should have got.  His offensive line is still in flux with a number of players doing spot-duty for injured starters. Kolb really hasn't faced a tough D this year so it will be interesting to see how he does in a hostile environment. He could become check-down Charlie again.

Collins could have just as many problems as Kolb.  He is nowhere near as mobile as Young to avoid the aggressive PHI pass rush.  With Collins under center it will also allow PHI to stack up against the run MUCH easier. With Young in there the ends and edge rushers would have had to stay much more disciplined in case he scrambled which in turn opens up much better running lanes for CJ.  Go back and look at CJ's rushing stats with Collins at QB and with Young at QB.  He is not nearly as effective.   PHI will use a lot of slide play on the line and zone blitzes to attack CJ so he will need to look for the cutback lanes as much as possible.  I don't see either team running away with this one and it could come down to the most reliable kicker.  Prediction: Bank U43.

Cleveland Browns vs New Orleans Saints: UNDER 43.5
This will be the third week in a row that I have played the under for the Saints.  Two weeks ago Brees threw a pick six on the last play of the game to put the game over.  Anyone who watched that game knows that the under was all but a lock until that unlikely play happened.  I stuck to my belief that the Saints continue to be given an unjustified inflated total and played the under again last week, but this time the game didn't even sniff the over.  I expect more of the same in week 7 when the Browns travel to New Orleans.

Colt McCoy will get his second straight start and he will be rewarded with a myriad of blitzes from defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.   The worse news for Colt is that they will not have any advantage in special teams this week.  This means he will need to drive the ball 60+ yards to yield some points.   Up to this point, the Browns offense is only averaging nine points per game from long drives.  This will not be enough to put this game over unless they get four or five pass interference calls.   On the other side of the ball, Brees finally had the kind of game most fantasy owners expected out of him last week in Tampa Bay, but it still wasn't enough to put the game over the total.   He could have another good outing on Sunday, but CLE have fought hard this year.  They have already played three playoff-caliber teams so don't expect them to be star-struck and wide-eyed in this one.   CLE haven't been shutout this year, but it's going to happen sooner or later.   Prediction: Bank U43.5.   

Oakland Raiders vs Denver Broncos: UNDER 42.5
Last week I played the under in the OAK/SF game and won it pretty easily.  OAK was in a classic letdown spot after upsetting the Chargers and Jason Campbell proved once again that he's nothing more than a service-able backup.  I will fade them once again this week as they take another divisional foe in the Broncos.  There are a few reasons I like this play.  First of all OAK is the only team with a clear-cut offensive edge.  They should be able to run the ball successfully against DEN, but it's anything but a sure thing.  DEN played better against the run last week vs one of the best in the Jets.  McFadden might return, but he's still limited in practice with a hamstring problem.  OAK is also pretty decent against the pass.  Asomugha will take away half of the field so look for Orton to be limited in his options.  Without any huge mismatches on either side of the ball and the fact that this is a divisional game, I expect OAK to give a better effort than last year and scoring won't be out of control.   Even if DEN dominate play it's unlikely they put enough points up to go over the line.  Look for a lower scoring affair with a lot of stalled drives.  Prediction: Bank U42.5.

Arizona Cardinals vs Seattle Seahawks: SEA -4.5
The Seahawks make their first appearance on my weekly predictions this year.  Coming into the season not a lot was expected of this bunch.  They had the most roster turnover of any team in the NFL, a college head coach, and big questions at key positions.  All that hasn't stopped them from putting up some surprising wins.  Last week my system tagged them as a play, but I didn't trust them on the road so I took a pass.  Now that they are at home against a bottom-feeder and a soft line, it's time to jump on their bandwagon even if it's only for one week.
In this matchup SEA's defense will keep ARI's running attack under control which will put the game in the hands of Max Hall.  He might have inspired his teammates with his bonehead dive for the end zone in their upset win over the Saints, but make no mistake about it - he is not the next coming of Kurt Warner.   He will be under pressure for most of the day as SEA will dominate the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.   SEA might only be averaging 10 points a game from long drives, but they won't need to do a lot of that because of their advantage in the return game.   Hasselbeck shouldn't have too much trouble putting up points since ARI have one of the worst third down defenses in the league.   The opposite can be expected when ARI is on offense.  They can't sustain drives, score points, or take care of the football.  A division matchup and a bye week will help ARI in this game, but SEA is a tough place to play.  I expect SEA to win by at least 10 ponits.  Prediction: Bank SEA -4.5.

St. Louis Rams vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers: STL +3
At first glance this pick looks like a square play.  STL upset SD and TB got blown out by NO.  However, a closer look reveals that STL is better than a lot of people thought they were.  They might be 0-2 on the road, but this is a team that is improving as the season goes along.  Bradford has made a nice transition into the NFL and he is showing he can get it done regardless of his receiving options.  He was without his top two targets last week and still managed to pull out a win.  Steven Jackson appears a lot healthier coming off a 100 yard rushing performance and that is where I expect this game to be won and lost.  S-Jax should be able to have his way on Sunday while TB's running attack will be non-existent.  Cadillac Williams is averaging a dismal 2.5 YPC.  STL are averaging twice as many long-drive points per game than TB which translates into a lot more time of possession.   Coach Spags has done a good job with this defense as they rank near the top on third down and do a great job disrupting the quarterback.  TB will have their hands full with protection calls as they continue to play without their starting center.   Teams are also blitzing Freeman more as the season goes on. 

TB got off to a great start, but they have allowed two superior teams to come into their backyard and smack them around this season.  When a young team plays better on the road than they do at home it's a sign that they are comfortable as the underdog, but aren't yet ready to handle higher expectations.   They are a disciplined bunch and rank near the top in turnover differential, but if you can't sustain drives and put up points those intangibles become a lot less meaningful.  They also have a lot of trouble getting consistent pressure on the opposing quarterback which helps explain why they can't get off the field.  Much like the Rams they are a nice surprise to start the year, but they will struggle to win by more than a field goal this Sunday.  Prediction: Bank STL +3. 

Cincinnati Bengals vs Atlanta Falcons: ATL -3, OVER 42.5
Last week I picked the Falcons to go into the Linc and pull out a victory.  The only loss they had on the season up until that point was a close overtime game in Pittsburgh.  The Eagles deserve credit for how they played as ATL came out flat and never recovered.  However, I still believe this is a good team from top to bottom and a disappointing road loss to a good team doesn't mean I've changed my mind about them.   I expect them to rebound this week against the Bengals because they will own huge advantages in many key categories.  Michael Turner couldn't get going against an speedy and aggressive PHI defense, but look for that to change against a CIN team that has struggled against the run.  This will be key because ATL do a good job at sustaining long drives and coming away with points from them.  In fact they almost double CIN in that category this season.  That trend should continue because ATL owns the edge in the return game on both sides of the ball.   ATL also rank near the top in turnover differential and penalties so CIN will need to earn most of their points on Sunday.  

The only thing going for CIN will be opportunities in the passing game.  Dunta Robinson will likely be out with a concussion and CIN have done a pretty solid job protecting Carson Palmer this year.  When both teams have an offensive edge I like to play the over and I wouldn't be surprised if the number moved up towards 44 by game time.   Unfortunately for CIN, Palmer has been pretty bad this season despite having more receiving options than last year.  They should be able to put up some points through the air, but they won't be able to consistently stay on the field.  I expected better things from the Bengals this year, but they are struggling in too many important areas to be a real contender at this point.  On the bright side, at least Ocho and T.O. have their own TV show.  Prediction: Bank ATL -3, O42.5.
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