UPDATE #1: NE/CLE added to the picks. It has dropped to -3.5 so you can buy the half point to avoid the hook. I will have one or two totals an hour or so before the early games depending on the weather. Check here for the latest odds.
New England Patriots vs Cleveland Browns: NE -3
On paper, the Browns have some favorable matchups in this game. They should be able to move the ball through the air with some success. However, the key word being 'should'. This NE defense hasn't been great this year, but if you've watched them closely they are coming up with key stops at critical points of the game. They are limiting the big play a lot better of late, and are playing more cohesive and disciplined as a unit. This is expected with a young defense and great coaching . CLE will have difficult sustaining drives and will need considerable variance for things to go their way on Sunday. They are decent in red zone and 3rd down offense/defense, but decent doesn't cut it vs Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.
For the Pats, look for Brady to have enough times to pick apart this CLE defense as they become more and more like the Patriots of old. They are second in the league in points from drives of 60+ yards. In fact they double the Browns in that category. This is not good news if you are a CLE fan because they aren't getting the starting field position they have been used to in the past. NE isn't about to beat themselves either. They rank near the top of the league in turnover differential, too. The underdogs should put up a good fight in the dog-pound, but at the end of the day we are still talking about the 6-1 Patriots vs the 2-5 Browns. Prediction: Bank NE -3.
San Diego Chargers vs Houston Texans: SD -1.5
Last week the entire world seemed to be on the Titans vs the Chargers. At times during the game I felt like a Survivor castaway on Exile Island. Yet in the end the offense and defense performed like they were expected too and the special teams only gave up 3 points instead of their usual 21. SD might never fix their special teams problems this season, but good teams make improvement. Another reason I liked them last week is because of their leadership. We saw this play out as they easily could have packed it in after going down 19-7 just as the Cowgirls did in their game. They came back, fought hard, and pulled out a convincing win against a good team.
This week they travel to HOU and catch them on a short week. HOU might feel better about playing at home, but make no mistake about it - they are going to be disappointed with their performance in IND on Monday night. They use the Colts as a measuring stick every year and they didn't come close to winning that game. As their reward, they get to face the best passing attack in the league after facing the best QB in the game. That isn't good news when your pass defense ranks 32nd. They might be high on their rookie cornerback, but this team misses Dunta Robinson and will wish they had him in this game. To add insult to injury HOU rank dead last in red zone defense.
SD also do pretty good against the pass so HOU will need to get creative to keep pace with SD. This will be difficult for Kubiak because he isn't exactly the most dynamic coach in the NFL. They will get favorable field position a few times with Jacoby Jones in the return game, but how often will they be able to turn it into touchdowns? A Johnson is still hobbling around on a problematic ankle and it's a patch of no-names after him. Schaub is not making that next step that he needs to make to be in the discussion of the league's elite QBs so I don't expect him to do so in a game where he is outmatched. SD do a great job sacking, pressuring, and disrupting the QB, too. This is the time of year when SD go on a run. Prediction: Bank SD -1.5.
Chicago Bears vs Buffalo Bills: BUF +3
Last week the only game that didn't cover for me was BUF/KC. I had KC winning convincingly, but it didn't happen. For whatever reason they didn't run the ball nearly enough which kept BUF hanging around. Yet this isn't the main reason I like BUF in this game. This is a team that is fighting hard to get a win. There is a lot to be said for that given the talent on this team. They showed me a lot after losing a rough OT game against BAL. Now they lose another game they feel they could have won against KC in OT. However, one of the best indicators of how hard these players are fighting is their ranking in penalties. When you are a winless team this far into the season, it would be fairly easy to start losing focus. It's so easy for bad teams to stick an arm out and hold or cheat your gap when there is no hope of making the playoffs. Yet this team continues to stay disciplined. Even without McGee and secondary coach Dick Jauron, they are very good against the pass. BUF is near the top in red zone offense, near the middle of the road on third down, and have more time of possession and long-drive points than CHI. Not bad for a winless team.
For me, CHI continue to be one of the most overrated teams in the NFL. Outside of Devin Hester and their 3rd down defense, there really isn't a lot to like about them. Cutler should have more time to throw this week than he has had in recent weeks, but does that mean he is about to play a mistake-free game? Who outside of the Cutler family have trust in this guy? Mike Martz if a very smart offensive coach, but they rank near the bottom in long-drive points, third down offense, and red zone defense and offense. In fact they are dead last in scoring efficiency. I understand BUF is winless and can't stop the run if their lives depended on it, but I still don't understand how CHI is favored by 3 on the road in this one. They haven't played very many good teams, while BUF have played 5 or 6. We'll see how it plays out on Sunday, but I'm going with the home dog. Prediction: Bank BUF +3.
New York Giants vs Seattle Seahawks: NYG -6.5
Giving up 6.5 on the road in Seattle might seem pretty dangerous, but let's take a closer look at how the Seahawks have done at home this year. In week one everyone thought they pulled off a major upset vs SF. That win doesn't seem so impressive anymore. Then they take out a heavily favored SD team. Give them credit for playing hard in the first half, but they can thank Leon Washington for two return touchdowns in that game. They gave up over 550 yards of offense. Two weeks ago they defeat a very bad ARI team. There are many fraudulent teams in the NFL, and SEA is one of them.
In this game they will need Washington to repeat his week 3 performance if they hope to take out the Giants. No one really knows how good NY is at this point, but it's safe to say they are the better team in this one. So how will they win by at least a touchdown? They hold a number of key advantages in this game, but maybe the most important is their pass rush. SEA gave up 8 sacks last week vs OAK and Matt Hasselbeck suffered a concussion because of it. He missed practice today, but is still expected to play on Sunday. He might want to fake a headache or two because his offensive line is heavily over-matched. Injuries and inconsistent play have left Hasselbeck exposed and NY might knock him out of the lineup for good. Even if Hasselbeck does stay in the game, he will have a very tough time putting up points. NY hold a significant defensive advantage in the air and the ground. Offensively, NY almost double SEA in points from long drives and look for Eli to hit a couple deep balls too. SEA will have a tough time keeping Nicks out of the end zone because they won't be able put enough pressure on Eli. NY is going to control the line of scrimmage, the clock, and the scoreboard. Prediction: Bank NYG -6.5.
Indianapolis Colts vs Philadelphia Eagles: IND +3/UNDER 47
If you have paid any attention to the Eagles over the last decade you will know that Andy Reid has a great record after the bye. They are also playing at home against a team coming off a short week. So why in the world would I go with the Colts? Two words - Peyton Manning. Another key aspect of Eagles history is that Peyton has completely dismantled PHI everytime he faces them. I've been a great fan of the PHI defense over the years and I love their aggressive approach on that side of the ball, but it has never worked against Peyton. If the late-great Jim Johnson couldn't produce a scheme to slow him down, I have next to no faith that Sean McDermott can. Ellis Hobbs has been demoted at cornerback which means Peyton will have someone much less familiar with him to pick on. Brandon Graham had a hot start, but he's been slowed by a high ankle sprain and the rookie wall. IND should be able to do enough to contain the rush and if they can't, Peyton will dissect the PHI scheme at the line of scrimmage and beat them deep. This is the downside for a blitz-heavy defense. Even if PHI play two-deep zone and take away the big play, they are not great on third down and near the bottom in red zone defense.
For PHI, Mike Vick will return after his injury and that will be good news for Eagles fans. I expect IND to get a lead in this game which means Mathis/Freeney will be teeing off on a suspect PHI offensive line. Vick will need to hand the ball off a lot to McCoy to keep the defense honest. However, will Reid run the ball enough to keep Peyton off the field? He's gone run-heavy a few times in the past when the game plan calls for it, but if they get down you can be sure he'll be calling passes 60+% of the time. PHI continue to take too many penalties and aren't winning the turnover battle. What it all adds up to is Reid's first career loss after a bye. Prediction: Bank IND +3 and UNDER 47
Kansas City Chiefs vs Oakland Raiders: KC +3
Two teams I banked on in week 8 face off in week 9. KC had a strange game-plan because they must have thought that Matt Cassel was the next coming of Joe Montana. BUF has next to no chance of slowing down Jamaal Charles, but KC went away from the run enough times to keep it close. Expect them to get back to what has got them here this week against OAK. The eye on the sky don't lie as they say and KC is 1st in the league in rushing for a reason. OAK also happen to be one of the worst stopping the run. That didn't play out last week against SEA, but I didn't like how SEA matched up across the board so I don't put much weight in that.
Asomugha injured his ankle on Sunday, but there is no fracture and hasn't been ruled out vs KC. If you saw him on the field you will know that it looked pretty serious. OAK isn't revealing how bad the injury is or if it's a high ankle sprain, but he is a big part of why their secondary dominates against the pass. This could hurt OAK because this was one of the few advantages they had in this game. Opposing teams have struggled to convert long third downs against them because the go-to receiver is usually blanketed. On the other side of the ball their best passing option, TE Zack Miller, is on crutches this week after injuring his right foot. He did return to game after he hurt it, but it's never a good thing when your best receiver is banged up. OAK have been unstoppable on the ground because McFadden is finally showing why he was taken where he was in the draft, but KC do a pretty good job against the run. OAK will need plays in the air to overcome KC in this one. Home field advantage is undermined a bit because this is a divisional game. KC will also get a boost of confidence for overcoming some adversity vs BUF and their kicker redeemed himself in OT with a second chance to win it. There are a lot of things I like about this KC team and I was a little surprised that they opened as 3 point underdogs. I'm not complaining because I'll take the points. Prediction: Bank KC +3.