Peyton Manning returns home in the biggest storyline of NFL Week 7, ESPN is stuck with a Monday Night clunker that looked promising two months ago, and CBS makes a somewhat surprising decision on its national game of the week. TheSportsNotebook’s NFL analysis runs through all the games of Week 7, starting with the four national games most people will see.
The NFL moneylines are in parentheses next to each team, the odds for each winning the game outright. As we do each week, I’ll take my shot at picking these games. And, as is the case the effort will likely be futile. I ended up (-195) in the hole last week. A big upset pick on Buffalo just missed, a mild upset call in New Orleans lost on the last play and Houston losing as a (-350) favorite is enough to sink a week. I’m 3-3 if you go week-by-week, but the losses are heavy and the wins narrow, creating a (-1210) bottom line.
The four national games…
Thursday: Seattle (-270) -Arizona (+225) (8:25 PM ET, NFL): Arizona is at 3-3, so if they can spring an upset in a spot that’s always tough on the road teams, this can really shake up the NFC West. The Cardinals play good defense, so you can always expect them to at least be in games.
Having said that…Seattle is running the ball exceptionally well with Marshawn Lynch. They have the corners, in Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner, that can prevent a big night from Larry Fitzgerald and aid Carson Palmer in his interception problems this year. This matchup is good enough to be interesting, but not so much to pick an upset.
CBS Late: Houston (+215)-Kansas City (-260) (4:25 PM ET, CBS): This isn’t a true “national” game, as CBS is splitting its coverage fairly equally, including the Baltimore-Pittsburgh & Cleveland-Green Bay games previewed below. But Kansas City is where the Jim Nantz/Phil Simms broadcast team is going, which is an indicator of the network’s priority.
The national media has expressed correct outrage at the Houston fans who cheered quarterback Matt Schaub’s injury. Allow me to join the all-to-few voices who pointed out this was a tiny minority of the fans. By all means, ban these people from the stadium in the future, but let’s not impute their actions to the Houston fan base as a whole.
What the issue with Houston’s quarterbacks does illustrate is that this is the worst possible time for the Texans to play Kansas City. The Chiefs attack defensively, with Justin Houston and Tamba Hali collapsing pockets off the edge in the 3-4 and they force turnovers. The Texans run the ball well enough to mitigate that to some extent, but the only you beat the Chiefs at home is to force Alex Smith to throw more than he’s comfortable. Houston isn’t going to do that, and I can’t pick them to win.
Sunday Night: Denver (-260)-Indianapolis (+215) (8:30 PM ET, NBC): It’s Peyton Manning’s return to Indianapolis, and the media world is abuzz about the comments Colts’ owner Robert Irsay made about how the organization wanted to go in different direction, saying essentially that Peyton’s gaudy numbers were nice, but the team was disappointed they only won one ring.
Irsay’s getting a lot of heat for having presumably slammed Manning, but I didn’t take it that way. When the Colts acquired Trent Richardson a few weeks ago for the backfield, the owner made reference to having learned from the previous era and the need for run-pass balance. Is it possible that while Irsay is disappointed his organization “only” won the 2006 Super Bowl, that he wasn’t blaming Manning for the team’s shortcomings?
Either way, I wouldn’t expect Peyton to believe that, and so long as Denver finds a way to keep Robert Mathis out of the Denver pocket, Indy fans should see a familiar sight–their old quarterback lighting up the Dome on a prime-time game.
Monday Night: Minnesota (+155)-NY Giants (-180) (8:30 PM ET, ESPN): If there’s a Game 7 of the American League Championship Series it would be scheduled for Sunday night. This Monday Night matchup might leave sports fans praying for rain in New England and the pushing of a potential Game 7 to Monday.
I like the Vikings’ move to get Josh Freeman, if only because it means they’re obviously throwing in the towel on Christian Ponder. But this team just has so many problems right now, and we can start with the fact that Brian Robison and Jared Allen are no longer getting pressure from their defensive end spots.
Without pressure, Eli Manning won’t be forced into turnovers. The Giants are at home, and while they haven’t won a game yet, they have to beat a quarterback making his first start for his new team don’t they?
Other games a lot of the country will see…
Dallas (+125)-Philadelphia (-145): On a week where Fox has just one game, this is where Troy Aikman will be present, though with partner Joe Buck on duty in the American League Championship Series, it will be Thom Brennaman on the play-by-play. Though neither the Cowboys or Eagles are playing well, their 3-3 records qualify them as juggernauts in the NFC East and this as a showdown game.
Dallas is beat up on the defensive line, including Demarcus Ware, and if they can’t get off the field defensively, Chip Kelly’s offense might wear them down. While the Cowboy defensive line played very well against Washington last week, the Eagles have much more offensive balance with LeSean McCoy having a great year. I like Philadelphia to get this win to be the unlikely leader in the NFC East as we approach the halfway point.
New England (-195) -NY Jets (+165): CBS will show this game to a lot of the country in the early 1 PM EST window. The Patriots’ injury woes pile up, as linebacker Jerrod Mayo is lost for the year. He joins Vince Wilfork in that category, and defensive tackle Tommie Kelly and corner Aqib Talib are both banged up. And we haven’t mentioned that the receiving corps is still non-existent and Rob Gronkowski’s week-to-week status is bordering on national soap opera.
This comes as the Patriots play a road game against a division rival that nearly beat them on a Thursday night in Foxboro in Week 2. Geno Smith threw three interceptions that night and has thrown ten picks on the year. If he takes care of the ball, New York will have a real shot to win this game. Their defense is playing very well, with linebackers Calvin Pace and David Harris able to provide the kind of pressure that disrupts Tom Brady’s rhythm.
All are valid reasons why this shapes up as a good game, but if I’m going to go against New England, I need better value than the current moneyline is offering. I’ll just stick with the Pats.
Cleveland (+360)-Green Bay (-460): The Packers are the biggest favorite on the board in spite of being without receivers James Jones and Randall Cobb, and outside linebackers Clay Matthews and Nick Perry. Such is the lack of confidence in Browns’ quarterback Brandon Weeden.
That lack of confidence is justified. What’s more, Green Bay was able to generate an inside pass rush last week with A.J. Hawk, and they still have playmakers for Aaron Rodgers to throw to in Jordy Nelson and Jermichael Finley. The Pack has injuries, but it’s not at Patriot-level just yet, and most important, none of those injuries are to #12. Green Bay is worth the moneyline risk playing at home.
Baltimore (+120)-Pittsburgh (-140): This is the game I thought would get status as CBS’ prime game in the late afternoon. The fact it isn’t shows how no one is really buying anything regarding the Steelers’ first win last week, nor do the Ravens command the same respect they used to. This programming decision means nothing as far as football, but it might signal the end of the line for this great rivalry, at least in terms of national impact.
The other thing that signals the end of the line is that until Pittsburgh figures out a way to run the ball, they are just not a serious team. Baltimore is getting fantastic play from its outside linebackers, where Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil have combined for 12 sacks, and unless the Steelers can use some hard inside running to keep Suggs and Dumervil honest, it’s going to be long afternoon for Ben Roethlisberger.
Put me down for the long afternoon theory, even at home , as the Steelers fall again.
San Francisco (-200)-Tennessee (+170): The loss of Aldon Smith has left the 49ers not quite as imposing when it comes to rushing the passer, but they are running the ball well. Colin Kaepernick got back in synch with Vernon Davis last week. That alone will be enough to get the win against a Titans team that’s competitive, but hamstrung by the presence of Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback.
Cincinnati (+115)-Detroit (-135): This is a battle of two pretty good offensive lines, with the potential for lot of pressure on the quarterbacks. That would put a premium on running the ball, especially if you have a back who can take it between the tackles and make a big play against an overpursuing defense. Like, for example, Reggie Bush. Between Bush and the Lions being at home, I’ll give them the nod.
Chicago (-105)-Washington (-115): RG3 began to look physically like his old self last week. Now he has to get back to the RG3 who didn’t make mistakes and played ruthlessly efficient football on the run, as he faces the ballhawking Chicago defense. If Washington can clean up the mistakes and special teams, they can get this win at home, and I like them to get it done.
Buffalo (+280)-Miami (-320): The Bills are averaging nearly 150 yards per game on the ground, and C.J. Spiller has big play capability, making an upset at least in the realm of the possible. But that presumes mistake-free football and that’s asking a lot of quarterback Thad Lewis on the road against a defense that can get after the QB. The price is stiff, but I’m taking Miami.
Tampa Bay (+255)-Atlanta (-310): After the Falcons’ inexcusable home loss to the Jets a couple Monday Nights ago, I should be wary of laying a big price with them, especially with Julio Jones out for the year and the Buccaneers at least playing well on the defensive side. But if Atlanta is disappointing, Tampa is starting to feel completely dysfunctional. I’ll risk letting the Falcons bury my picks again.
St. Louis (+215)-Carolina (-260): The Rams are a sneaky quiet 3-3 and therefore still very much in the playoff discussion, even if the week-to-week performance is spotty. Carolina is 2-3 and the same basically applies. I frankly have no idea what to make of this game, so I’m going to take St. Louis because I’m not willing to risk losing a lot on the moneyline in an uncertain situation.
San Diego (-360) -Jacksonville (+295): San Diego’s win on Monday night over Indianapolis has moved them to 3-3 and they’re playing well enough to be in consideration for the final wild-card spot. But they’re on a short week, flying across the country and Jacksonville showed some real life in Denver last week, getting Justin Blackmon in the offense. The receiver is questionable with a hamstring, but I’ll put my bets on that he’s going to play, and that Jacksonville catches San Diego napping for the Jags first win of the year.