Write-ups with full analysis soon.
Tennessee Titans vs Carolina Panthers: CAR -3
CAR have a few key advantages in this matchup that I really like a lot. Out of the gate TEN's defense was getting applauded for their stingy play, but by mid-season their true identity has come through. The luxury for CAR will be their ability to run or pass the ball. TEN isn't very good at either. Neither option carries a huge edge, but I expect Newton to continue his first half success and hopefully he'll begin to cut down on his glaring mistakes. The amazing thing about this CAR offense is that they are 5th in the league in points from long drives, but yet still have a negative points-to-yards ratio, bad turnover differential, and horrible penalty ranking. Some of that is attributable to their defense, but no matter what the rankings say this offense knows how to move the ball! Imagine how many wins this team could have if they just eliminated half of their controllable mistakes. CAR also hold advantages with their O-line, 3rd down/red zone offense, and completed offensive plays per game.
Things aren't all bad for TEN. They have the top ranked red zone offense in the entire NFL! The only problem? They don't get there nearly enough. They rank well below average in points from long drives which proves that they just can't sustain enough drives to take advantage of their great play inside the 20. Their O-line does a pretty solid job in pass protection too. What all this adds up to is a lack of execution by Hasselbeck and his receivers. It doesn't help that CJ is having a bad year, but losing Britt really hurt this team and now Washington is hobbled with a hip injury. Cook has bright moments, but doesn't get open consistently enough to be a major factor in the passing game. TEN will have opportunities to score some points, but their inability to drive the field is going to hurt them in the end. Relying on the big play isn't a formula for success against an up and coming CAR team. Fans are excited about their Panthers so give them full value for their home field advantage. Prediction: Bank CAR -3.
Houston Texans vs Tampa Bay Buccaneers: HOU -3
To begin with HOU's offense has major advantages in all four running/passing matchups this week. TB lost McCoy last week and that's going to significantly hurt their chances to slow down the HOU running attack. HOU should be able to dominate this game on the ground and have their way with TB's inconsistent pass defense off of play-action. TB rank ok with their 3rd down/red zone defense, but they haven't been able to generate much of a pass rush this season and they are giving up a ton of points from long drives--a lot of them from big plays. They also show their youth as they rank near the bottom in penalties per game. Discipline has been an issue all season long.
Offensively, things don't get much better for TB. Most of the onus to win this game will fall on the shoulders of Freeman because HOU simply don't give up much on the ground. This is really bad news if you are a TB fan because Freeman has been fairly average all season long. They complete an average amount of offensive plays per game, but this team can't get points from long drives whatsoever. In fact, they only average 10 points from long drives per game. Most of this is attributable to their dead last ranking in red zone offense. Some of this falls on the running game, but a lot of it falls on Freeman too because his O-line has done a good job with pass protection for the most part. We'll see if TB can get their act together and make this competitive, but if recent trends continue this outcome won't even be close. TB couldn't even sell out this game and they don't cover a lot of spreads at home. Prediction: Bank HOU -3.
If we learned anything in the 1st half of the season it's that the Indy Colts are the worst team in the NFL. Through 9 games they are 2-7 ATS. That is pretty remarkable when you consider that Vegas has been inflating lines in their favor ever since we knew Peyton would not be in the lineup. Now they go up against a division rival and sit as 3 point dogs at home. Is this the chance for them to get their first win? A lot of people seem to think so, but I'm not one of them.
Let's start with the good news for IND. Their pass protection has been ok given their challenges on the line. They don't face a big threat from JAX in the 3rd down/red zone categories. And they have been fairly disciplined in the penalty ranking.
Now for the bad news. Despite respectable numbers in many key areas, the main problem holding IND back is execution. It's hard to put this all on Painter because their running game has been non-existent, but IND only need an average QB to capitalize on their opportunities. Instead, they are in for a long day trying to contain MJD. He should be able to control this game from the get-go. Gabbert still looks very much like a rookie, but IND's defense just can't get off the field this year. They rank dead last on 3rd down defense and that has translated into a lot of points given up. In fact, IND has given up more points from long drives than any team in the entire NFL. When you factor in that IND turn the ball over a lot, you are left with one big mess of a team. Even worse, IND rank dead last in special teams play as well. So fans can't even expect their main units to get help from that area either. I'm not saying this will be a blowout, but JAX hold all the advantages and have a good track record against IND. I feel pretty good about this pick as well. The "suck for Luck" streak should continue on Sunday. Prediction: Bank JAX -3.
Buffalo Bills vs Dallas Cowboys: BUF +5.5
The main reason that DAL should be the favorite in this game is the edge they hold over the BUF defense. After a strong start, the BUF defense has fallen back to earth. Sharps look at their amazing turnover differential and they know it's only a matter of time before things begin to regress to the mean. I'm not going to argue with this logic because it holds some weight, but is it enough to favor DAL by 5.5 points? There's no question that DAL's offense will have opportunities to put points on the board. Murray has done a nice job replacing Jones in the backfield and Romo has enough receiving options to move the sticks through the air, but let's take a closer look at just how proficient this DAL offense is. We could see more of the same with Austin back on the sidelines with another injury.
To start, they rank near the bottom of the league in red zone offense. Their points-to-yards ratio is also very low. DAL can move the ball, but only put up average numbers in the point column. They either stall and settle for field goals, turn the ball over, or shoot themselves in the foot with drops and/or penalties. Contending teams simply don't do this on a consistent basis. More of this was on display last week against a less-than-impressive SEA team. DAL finally broke through in the 2nd half, but it was a 6-6 game at halftime.
I'm not saying BUF is going to win this game, but they could and I expect them to keep it close all the way through. As it stands now BUF's O-line has done the best job in pass protection through the first half of the season. They are excellent with their red zone/3rd down offense and score a lot of points from long drives. Rob Ryan did get the blueprint for how to slow down this offense from his brother Rex, but DAL don't have the same personnel to lock things down on the outside. Outside of pass rushing, DAL's defense has fallen back to earth and rank near the middle of the pack in every meaningful category. Their test will become even more difficult with Jenkins expected to miss the game. DAL shouldn't be favored by anything more than a field goal for home field advantage. Prediction: Bank BUF +5.5.
St Louis Rams vs Cleveland Browns: STL +3
Despite hanging around the "bubble" status for most of the year on my power rankings, CLE isn't a team that does anything particularly well. They've only managed to beat the bad teams and haven't come close to beating a winning team all season long. In other words, their rankings are a bit of a mirage. In 8 games they've only covered 1 of them, so even in their wins they weren't able to get the cover.
Perhaps one of the most telling stats for CLE is their points from long drives. At the midway point they only have 80 points from sustained drives all year long. When you compare who these teams have played this season, that becomes a god awful number for CLE. In fact, STL have only played 1 team from the bottom third of the league all season long. After adjusting for strength of schedule, STL matchup with CLE quite well in all the major categories.
Massaquoi, Hillis, and Hardesty are all out this week. This means CLE is going to be relying more on trick plays involving Cribbs. Yeah...good luck with that. Bradford is limited, but he can still play. I'd much rather have a hobbled Bradford than a healthy Feeley. This has all the makings of an ugly game, and the matchup was tricky to evaluate given the strength of schedule discrepancy, but I knew that STL would get favorable point spreads in the 2nd half of the season and it starts this Sunday. I expect them to win this game straight up, but take the points just to be safe. Prediction: Bank STL +3.