Thursday, October 18, 2012

NFL Predictions 2012 Week 7: Teasers

San Francisco 49ers -1.5 & Houston Texans -.5

UPDATE: Money continues to come in on the 49ers which has moved the line to -8.  I like them in a teaser at anything under -9, as long as it gets brought down below a field goal.

49ers

Out of all the games on the Week 7 skid, the Seahawks vs 49ers is one of the most fascinating.  I'm not sure I would've said that before the season though.


Entering Week 6, many people regarded the 49ers up there with the Texans as the best team in football. Both of these teams depend heavily on their defense and controlling the tempo with the running game.  However, last week both fell behind early and could never recover (Smith passed 21 times in the 1st half, compared to only 9 runs).  Going forward, I think this dynamic is less of an issue for Houston than it is for San Fran.

As good as Alex Smith looked in September, some of his deficiencies were on display against the Giants.  Dropping seven in coverage put a lot of pressure on Smith.  The G-men rushed four and exposed what has been a well-below-average offensive line. In fact, the 49ers O-line ranks near the bottom in adjusted sacks given up.  No doubt the Seattle defense is going to give Smith and company a hefty challenge on Thursday night - especially with LT Joe Staley on the sidelines with a concussion.

The good news for 49ers fans is their offense has made great strides this year.  They rank near the very top in drive success rate, improved drastically on third down from a season ago, and carry a very high TD-conversion rate in the red zone.  Given the ineffectiveness of the Seahawks offense, the 49ers should be able to stick to their traditional game plan on offense and be in the best position to control this game.

Speaking the Seattle offense, this is due to be a problem this week.  I realize Wilson put together an efficient game last week and pulled off an improbable comeback vs the Patriots, but relying on this to happen week in and week out is not living in reality.

The key for the San Fran defense will be to disrupt Wilson's rhythm and ability to go through his progressions.  When not facing a blitz, the rookie has been good.   The 49ers defensive line hasn't put up the kind of numbers from a year ago, and they've also been below average in red zone defense.  The problem for opposing offenses though, is getting to the red zone. Not many defenses make it as hard for you to drive down the field as the 49ers.  This is a severe area of weakness for Seattle, so if they are going to put up points, they'll need some favorable field positions from their special teams and defense.

The final important aspect of this game is the situation.  If this were played on Sunday I would seriously consider adding the Seahawks on my regular card, but despite their win over Carolina, this team has one of the most dramatic home-road dichotomies in the league.  When you add on the fact that they are traveling on a short week and coming off a very emotional win over the Patriots, it all adds up to a very bad spot for them.  It is also the very likely reason why late money has pushed the line off the key number of 7.

Texans

If it wasn't for the two point line movement earlier this week, I might have added the Texans on my regular card as a straight play.  At the same time, I can't be too surprised that people are reacting strongly to the Ravens injury situation.

Yet, the Texans don't need Baltimore injuries to have a significant edge here.  I realize the Houston gravy train has been halted with back-to-back non-covers in recent weeks, but I'm also not about to overreact and jump off the tracks.

All people need to do is look at what the Ravens defense has been doing in the last couple of games.  In a very untraditional manner, they've suddenly become incapable of stopping the run.  People might think the loss of Ray Lewis will compound that issue, but that is still up for debate.  He was clearly more effective vs the run than he was vs the pass. 

With the loss of Webb on the outside, the Ravens are going to be taxed if they load up the box to slow down the Texans running game.  Even when the Cowboys lost their top two rushing options, they still found success on the ground.  Therefore, the game plan is no secret - the Texans are going back to basics and should pound the ball with aplomb on Sunday. 

The scary thing for Ravens fans, is their defense was already playing below-average before the injuries in Week 6 - and they put up these bad numbers against weak offenses!

The same issues are present with the Ravens offense.  They've face below-average defenses this year and they've been very inconsistent as well.  A 5-1 record is nice to have in your back pocket, but this team clearly has issues going forward. 

Yet, this is the NFL and I'm not saying this is going to be a blowout, either.  The Texans have shown some signs of inconsistency on defense.  They slaughter the lower half of the league, but were completely embarrassed against Rodgers and the Packers receivers in prime-time.  They still need to overcome the loss of Cushing and prove they can right the ship.

The good news is I think they return to normal after two high-profile games under the spotlight.  Nobody wins a Super Bowl in October, so they have a long way to go to get more comfortable as a championship-caliber team - and it starts this Sunday.

NFL Pick: 49ers -1.5 & Texans -.5.

New York Giants PK & Chicago Bears PK

Giants

If context were irrelevant, this could appear like a dangerous point spread for the G-men.  This is the NFC East after all.  However, the Giants lost both games to the Redskins last season, so I'm not the least bit worried about a letdown spot here after New York dominated the 49ers in Week 6.

From an X's and O's standpoint, the Skins don't match up very well here.  They have what is arguably the worst pass defense in the league, while the Giants ranks near the top in passing the ball.  Some of that is on the meager secondary, but an equal amount should be attributed to the pass rush (or lackethereof).  It would really help if Washington's defense could show some personality and step up on third down or stiffen up in the red zone, but they aren't very good in those areas either.

That said, the raw talent and flair of RG3 is simply too dangerous right now to risk taking the Giants straight on the spread.  Even though I have them graded as full touchdown favorites, it makes more sense to tease them down.  RG3 is not only making impressive reads in the passing game and dynamic runs on the ground, but he elevates the play of those around him and isn't the turnover machine say, a Mike Vick is. 

New York is also a team that has started slow at home a couple times vs weaker opponents this season.  It's clear they relish the underdog role much more than that as a favorite.  I like them to win, but the chance for a close game or back-door cover by RG3 is very real.

Bears

In the other leg of this teaser, we have the Bears on Monday Night Football.  One would think this would be a recipe for disaster with a guy like Jay Cutler under center, but he's 5-1 on MNF.  Lovie Smith is 8-2 on MNF.

With that out of the way, the reasons why I like Chicago to win the game are pretty straight-forward.

To start, there is such a disparity in special teams between these two.  It might only make up 15% of a team's ability to win a game, but in a league of parity, that can mean a lot.  The Lions have been atrocious in this area, while the Bears have been among the best (if not the best). 

Yet, what I like most about this game for Chicago is their ability to take away the deep passing game for Detroit.  They are one of the last teams in the league to maintain the traditional cover 2, but it's only because they do it so well.  The Lions have faced some variation of this approach for most of the season as they haven't put up the kind of gaudy numbers as expected.  Can Stafford put together long drives, put up points, and not lose the turnover battle?

Meanwhile, the one hope the Lions do have is their ability to rush the QB.  Their D-line only ranks in the middle of the road in sacks, but the talent is always there to take over a game.  Given the issues Chicago continue to have on their O-line, this is a battle sure to be showcased heavily.

Another overlooked aspect of this Lions defense is their ability to keep people out of the end zone.  They give up a lot of big plays in the passing game, but teams aren't dominating them on a drive-per-drive basis. 

However, the bottom line is the Bears are fundamentally better across the board (O-line notwithstanding).  Throw in home field advantage, and this becomes a no-brainer teaser option of the week.

NFL Pick: NYG PK & CHI PK.