For the second week in a row I failed to hit a single cover in the second slate of games (9:15pm In the UK, 4:15pm ET). If this is a trend, it’s a dangerous one that I need to find a remedy for. Fortunately for me there are always many more games in the earlier 6pm/1pm kick-off slot so I’ve been keeping my head above water results-wise. So what happened last week? Firstly an off-day from the Broncos defense cost them their undefeated record, never mind them covering a -5 line. Blaine Gabbert was surprisingly not-awful while the 49ers defense shut down Devonta Freeman. Early in the day, the Saints and their truly awful defense allowed a sure-fire interception to go for a touchdown to Delanie Walker and the St. Louis Rams offensive line crumbled to the Vikings pressure and prevented even Todd Gurley from having a good day. This week we have 4 teams on a bye – Atlanta, Indianapolis, San Francisco and San Diego – leaving us without the glory of Julio Jones for a week. It also means we’re back to a 14 game slate and not 13, giving me more options for the best bets. So let’s get down to them…
GREEN BAY PACKERS (-11.5) over Detroit Lions
R-E-L-A-X. That was the message from Aaron Rodgers last year when the Packers hit a rough patch, and it will be the same mantra in Green Bay now after their recent 2-loss road trip through Denver and Charlotte. Coming back home to the frozen tundra will help – and so will playing the utterly lousy Detroit Lions. The Lions, who sit 31st in team DVOA on FootballOutsiders.com and dead last for a few weeks in our power rankings, have averaged a 12-point loss in every game this season.
Meanwhile, what looked like an easy stroll to a bye week come play-off time for the Packers has taken a big hit. They’re 2 games and a tie-breaker behind the Carolina Panthers, tied for the NFC North division lead with the over-achieving Vikings and in a seeding tie with the Cardinals. If the Packers want that week off in January it’s time to start turning the heat up and winning some games in a big way. The move away from the lethargic Eddie Lacy towards James Starks should help the offense tick over more smoothly.
Arizona Cardinals (+3) over SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
Speaking of the Cardinals, they make the trip up to Seattle with the chance to stamp their name on this division for the first time since 2009. Both teams are coming off their bye week, giving them a chance to get healthier and plan for what is really a must-win for both teams. The Cardinals, at 6-2, could take a strangle hold on the division if they take a 3-win lead over their most obvious rival. Alternatively, the Seahawks have to get back in the hunt for the division title because the wild-card race is perhaps an even tougher nut to crack. The problem the Seahawks have is that their offense is not very good, and their defense isn’t as good as it used to be. Don’t get me wrong, the Legion of Boom, their pass rush and linebacking corps are still very good – It’s just they don’t have the depth on the bench they once had. There’s also signs that teams are finally getting to grips with their defense and finding holes. Switch-verticals plays have had good success against the ‘Hawks, but they require a good quarterback used to making deep passes and a team that can provide him with time. Well guess what? That’s what the Cardinals have been doing all year. I expect this to be a relatively low scoring affair with the way Arizona’s defense has been man-handling offensive lines. They have a player in Tyrann Mathieu that could follow Russell Wilson all day or just cover all the deep passes Wilson’s scrambles allow for.
CINCINNATI BENGALS (-10.5) over Houston Texans
It’s an interesting little fact that the only team Houston has ever beaten in the playoffs is Cincinnati; but this isn’t the playoffs, and this Bengals team is a different beast to those of previous years. They protect Andy Dalton better, particularly up the middle where Vince Wilfork and JJ Watt roam. They have more options than just AJ Green in the passing game with Tyler Eifert finally realising some of his potential as a receiver that everyone saw in his pre-draft evaluation. Marvin Jones’ return to fitness gives them an option across the field and Giovani Bernard’s re-emergence from last season’s doldrums gives them a check-down option and homerun threat from the backfield. Meanwhile, Houston’s early season swapping of QB’s has put the offense behind schedule on in-season development. There’s little chemistry or innovation happening, and the loss of Arian Foster damages the passing game far more than their already anemic rushing attack. For all that there’s still the brilliance of DeAndre Hopkins, but one wide receiver does not an offense make. 10.5 is a lot of points to cover, and leaves that always-annoying back door cover in play. However if the Houston defense plays like it did last time it went on the road (that 41-0 half time scoreline in Miami) then it’s really nothing to worry about.
TNF: Buffalo Bills (+2)
Jacksonville Jaguars (+5.5) over BALTIMORE RAVENS
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (-5.5) over Miami Dolphins
WASHINGTON REDSKINS (+1) over New Orleans Saints
PITTSBURGH STEELERS (-5.5) over Cleveland Browns
Carolina Panthers (-5.5) over TENNESSEE TITANS
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (-1.5) over Dallas Cowboys
ST LOUIS RAMS (-7) over Chicago Bears
OAKLAND RAIDERS (-3) over Minnesota Vikings
NEW YORK GIANTS (+7) over New England Patriots
DENVER BRONCOS (-5.5) over Kansas City Chiefs
Last Week: 7-6-0 (2-1-0)
Overall: 60-64-6 (14-13-0)