CAROLINA @ CHICAGO
One of the most dangerous aspects of CAR is their youth and change of direction. A key trait of young teams in a new program is their desire to get better. If they have a QB who can move the ball they become a lethal threat for backdoor covers (the main reason why I teased down GB instead of laying the 10 points a couple weeks ago). CHI has the edge on special teams and on defense, but sharps haven't jumped on them thanks in large part to their lackluster offense. The lack of line movement during the week tells the story.
TENNESSEE @ CLEVELAND
In a surprising stat, TEN have passed the ball more than most of the NFL after 3 games. They are getting solid play from both of their lines at the point of attack and forcing teams to kick field goals instead of touchdowns. They are also their own worst enemy too--near the bottom in penalties and yards-per-point. CLE don't have as much going for them. They've played 3 bad opponents and still rank low in many important categories. I know what to expect from TEN, but CLE is still a mystery at this point. Home field advantage should help this week, but there are too many unknowns here for my liking.
WASHINGTON @ ST LOUIS
This is one of the more interesting games to handicap this week. I was high on STL before the season started and then they suffered a handful of critical injuries. Bradford is better than Grossman, S-Jax and Amendola might return, and I might be adding this to the card after I see the final injury report. The big advantage in this game is WSH's legitimate defense against a struggling STL offense. STL only have 26 points from long drives this year--among the worst in the NFL. If they get healthy it could even the playing field as they gun hard for their 1st win of the season. Public are on WSH, sharps are taking a pass.
NY GIANTS @ ARIZONA
If you've been following my blog since the preseason you'll know that I'm nowhere near as high on Kevin Kolb as the rest of the football universe is. I've seen every snap he's taken in PHI and there were many aspects of his game I wasn't sold on. Now in a new system you're seeing those flaws stick out like a sore thumb. In this matchup we are seeing two teams that mirror each other in a lot of ways. Both are having big problems on their offensive line, converting 3rd downs, and controlling the clock. Will NY suffer a letdown after their big divisional upset in PHI? Will we see the Kolb that's full of promise and upside? Or the Kolb who holds the ball too long and forces throws into heavy coverage? The same could almost be said for Eli. The public are heavy on NY, but the sharps pounced on ARI +3 when the line opened.
DENVER @ GREEN BAY
This is game I kept a close eye on during the week. DEN was hoping to get a lot of guys back last week, but it looks like they'll return to face the Packers instead. DJ Williams, Dumervil, and Bailey will significantly help this defense. Moreno should play on offense. Due to this I decided to pass on including GB in a teaser. Bringing them down to -6 or -6.5 looked good at first, but Orton can move the ball and GB's defense has been far too soft late in games this season. At the same time everything on paper suggests a blowout! GB rank near the top on both the offensive/defensive line play, red zone, points from long drives, ball control, and 3rd down conversions. I'll be kicking myself if GB win by 20.
NEW ENGLAND @ OAKLAND
This is far and away the toughest game to get a read on this week. I've come very close to adding NE to the card thanks to the line movement, but a few key things are holding me back. 1) OAK is confident and at home. 2) They should be able to pile up the running yards 3) Brady could be facing a lot of heat going up against a tough D-line. On the flip side, Brady could easily put up 3 touchdowns against a weak secondary and put the game out of reach. The public love NE here, sharps liked OAK at +6 and +5. A good case can be made either way. Everyone liked the total to go 'over'. I'm taking a pass because this will tell us a lot about both teams.
MIAMI @ SAN DIEGO
Much like the DEN/GB game, this was one I was hoping to add to a teaser this week. Yet there are some troubling signs with my AFC favorite SD Chargers. Gates and Sanders are out, Floyd, Mathews, Jammer, and Jackson are banged up. They can't get off the field on 3rd down and can't stop people in the red zone. Their yards-per-point ratios are bad on both offense and defense. This doesn't mean I'm writing them off, but they are not the well-oiled machine I expected them to be just yet. But I could regret not playing this game because as many band-aids as SD has, MIA need life support. They rank near the bottom in so many categories it's too many to list. I think their season is already done and the Tony Sparano clock is a tickin' time bomb. If you like MIA, you already missed the +9 opener.
NY JETS @ BALTIMORE
If I had a lean in this game it would be on BAL. I think both teams are overrated, but I'm not convinced that Sanchez has a long-term future in this league. He continues to hurt his team week in and week out. Even when he has a good game he makes 2 or 3 throws that just make you scratch your head--and they usually happen without getting pressured! I give the edge to BAL thanks to Ray Rice and home field advantage, but I don't feel strong about it. Ultimately I think this line should be BAL -3, so if you're leaning NY there is some value there. Nothing stands out here--filp a coin.
INDIANAPOLIS @ TAMPA BAY
The Colts are in prime-time in back-to-back weeks! Too bad they don't have flex scheduling for MNF. TB don't have the edge in this game as much as the point spread would leave you to believe. If Painter starts (and it looks like he will) I think there is some small value on IND. As bad as he is, I think he's better suited for this offense than Collins at this time. TB impressed me with their gritty divisional win against ATL, but I'm far from sold on them as a playoff team. Freeman continued to look up and down in the win and I don't expect consistent performances from this young defense. In fact their D has given up 57 points from long drives in 3 games! That ranks 26th in the league. The public seem to think this will be a cake-walk blowout. I have my doubts about that. The sharps haven't really touched this one either.