I apologize for the late write-ups, but things have been more hectic than usual this week.
Houston Texans vs Tennessee Titans: HOU +3.5
Many people are going to shy away from this matchup after they look at the historical trends. Chris Johnson has been very productive after a bye and TEN have a good record against HOU at home. Mario Williams and the aforementioned Andre Johnson are out leaving HOU with more of a "us-against-the-world" attitude. Instead of the "AFC darlings" to start the year, most pundits are now writing them off as the same old Texans.
I see this game a different way. First of all I was never high on TEN to begin with. I expected them to be a bubble team and after five games that's exactly where their power rating shakes out. HOU on the other hand remains among the contenders even if they are hanging on for dear life. Losses vs OAK and BAL were disappointing, but they didn't play horribly in either case. Without their two best players, the "team" has played within the system and done alright.
In this particular matchup, I expect HOU's defense to limit CJ's big-game potential. The secondary is still very good and most of the pressure will fall at the feet of Matt Hasselbeck. Without Britt, opposing defenses have been taking Washington out of the game and forcing Hasselbeck to find other options. Without the big play, this isn't an offense that has produced very good results this year. The O-line is doing a good job protecting Hasselbeck, but they've been horrible with their run blocking schemes. How much will that improve coming out of a bye? We'll see, but temper your expectations.
On the flip side, this HOU offense minus Johnson still put up really solid numbers against a good BAL defense on the road last week. Look for Foster to be much better and Schuab will have opportunities to spread the ball around. His receivers need to step up, but with so much attention going to the running game, the chances will be there. TEN's defense hasn't been good in many key areas this year. Their D-line isn't getting to the QB, they aren't very stout on 3rd down, and haven't stopped many people in the red zone. They also rank in the bottom half in penalties per game. There are simply too many potential problems up and down the roster to hope for a consistent 60 minute game.
The 3.5 hook is still available at some books if you shop around, but if you are stuck with +3 you should have the option to buy the half point since most lines are sitting at EVEN odds. If not, +3 is still a solid option. HOU should play well enough to pull out the straight up win and remain atop the division. Prediction: Bank HOU +3.5.
San Diego Chargers vs New York Jets: SD -2
SD might not be getting as much respect as they usually get due to their play within the intangible categories. Both their O-line and D-lines, special teams, and red zone play have either been average or below in 2011. Yet when it comes to lining up between the 20s not many teams have been competitive with SD. This offense continues to go up and down the field regardless of who's banged up or who the opponent is. When you have a guy like Mark Sanchez on the other side, that's bad news if you're a NY fan.
Normally this NYJ team has been known for their ability to shut down the run and limit the big play in the air. Not this year. Teams have gashed this defense on the ground all year long and now they go up against an emerging star in Ryan Mathews. Tolbert is also probable to play after dealing with a concussion. If this SD run game continues to produce as it has earlier in the year, the play-action pass is going to be an effective weapon for Philip Rivers. Vincent Jackson is probable to play, but even if he gets shut down by Revis, Rivers is adept at finding the open man regardless of the name on the back of the jersey. Heck, even Gates has an outside shot to play in this one. This is the time of year when SD usually get their mojo going and coming off a bye is the perfect spot for them to be in. They avoided the early season hole they usually put themselves in and I expect them to inch closer to the championship form I envisioned to start the year.
On the other side of the ball the matchups look even better for SD. NY have been abysmal in the run and the pass this year. Normally they can count on the run game to keep things competitive, but Greene and Tomlinson haven't had the same kind of running lanes they are used to. SD's defense hold an even bigger edge in the air. Sanchez still hasn't been given the full playbook to use and you have to wonder if the coaches will ever trust him to take over a game like others from his draft era. NY have played one more game than SD but have 25 less points from long drives this year. That is a telling stat. They have also had less completed offensive plays.
NY's win-loss record is a bit deceiving as they aren't as good as many people think. The only significant category that they hold an edge in is special teams. I don't think that will be enough to overcome a contender like SD. NY is filled with too many divas that haven't been able to backup all their Super Bowl talk and I won't be surprised if they miss the playoffs altogether this year. Roll with the road team and fade the hype. Prediction: Bank SD -2.