The NFL Week 2 moneylines are listed below, in sequential order based on TV time slot. There’s also some picks you can confidently bet against, as TheSportsNotebook takes its crack at picking the games.
For new readers, not familiar with the moneyline, it’s simply the odds on a team winning the game straight-up, no point spread involved. Those odds are expressed in $100 increments. If you bet Denver as a (-750) favorite over Kansas City, you need to lay out $750 to get a hundred bucks back (on top of your original bet of course). If you take the Chiefs at (+600) you need only bet a $100 to multiply your profit sixfold. The difference in the moneylines, the -750 to +600 spread, reflects the house advantage that exists on all bets.
I was (-375) in Week One. I had the Miami and Tennessee upsets, but got popped on the losses by St. Louis and New Orleans, and then just in general fell in with the rash of upsets that marked Week 1. If you see my pick as “Pass” on a game that seems to have a sure winner, I learned the hard way last year that it only takes one big favorite (i.e., Denver, which I’m passing on) to lose and you’re set in a deep hole. My approach this year is going to be avoid the games where you have to get outside the (-300) range to take the favorite.
THURSDAY NIGHT Pittsburgh (+130) Baltimore (-150): Pittsburgh
I was giving the Steelers a slight edge in the AFC North as it was, and would have picked them to win this game. I’m almost wondering if the Ray Rice saga isn’t going to briefly spin in Baltimore’s favor though, with a “rally the troops” mindset as players just want to play football. Even so, I’m sticking with the Steelers at the underdog price.
SUNDAY EARLY Detroit (+130) Carolina (-140): Carolina
Jacksonville (+225) Washington (-255): Pass
Dallas (+175) Tennessee (-195): Tennessee
New England (-155) Minnesota (+140): New England
New Orleans (-270) Cleveland (+240): New Orleans
Atlanta (+220) Cincinnati (-245): Atlanta
Miami (-110) Buffalo (-110): Miami
Arizona (-105) NY Giants (-115): Arizona I haven’t seen the official TV listings yet, but I’m assuming the games that will go to most of the country will be New England-Minnesota on CBS and Atlanta-Cincinnati on Fox.
SUNDAY LATE St. Louis (+225) Tampa Bay (-255): Tampa Bay
Seattle (-250) San Diego (+220): Seattle
Houston (-140) Oakland (+130): Oakland
NY Jets (+340) Green Bay (-395): Pass
Kansas City (+600) Denver (-750): Pass
It was tough to pass on the Packers, even at that price. I can’t see them losing a game that’s close to must-win at home. But who knows, maybe this is the year Green Bay comes back to the pack, no pun intended. And a loss at (-395) is just too stiff.
Chicago (+265) San Francisco (-300): Pass The price tag rule is the primary reason for the pass, but I really do look for Jay Cutler to have a strong bounceback game. I’m a Colin Kaepernick believer and think he can step up his game this year to compensate for a defense that will be weakened until they get players back midseason. This game is a spot where Colin has to step up.
MONDAY NIGHT Philadelphia (+150) Indianapolis (-165): Indianapolis
I’m in a pool with six other guys were we picked the Over/Under wins on all 32 teams. These two teams, along with the Saints, were the only ones where the unanimous pick was “Over”. It was modest number, 9 for Philadelphia and 9.5 for Indianapolis. This is the Monday Night showdown game.
It’s time for another season of picking NFL games against the moneyline, where you pick straight-up with odds rather than against the spread. What follows are the NFL Week 1 moneylines, my picks and some brief comments.
For those not familiar with moneyline wagering, the reason the odds are different for each team is to reflect the house advantage—instead of paying 10 percent on losing bets, as you do when betting ATS, you instead just have to lay out a little more when playing the favorite. The moneylines reflect $100 increments. If you bet $100 on the Colts on Sunday night you get $290 in return (on top of your original hundred). If you want the Broncos though, the (-350) is the amount you need to bet in order to turn a profit of a $100.
Finally, a disclaimer—the team I pick is not necessarily the one I think will win the game, even though that is the point of moneyline betting and in most cases, it does reflect my thinking. But when I did this last year, I dug myself an early hole on a handful of losses with big favorites. It’s tough to come back from losing with a team as (-300) or bigger. So unless I’m really confident, I’m going to play it safe, and that includes passing on games where the moneylines are huge.
THURSDAY NIGHT Green Bay (+210) Seattle (-255): Green Bay
Comment: This is an example of what I was talking about. I suspect the Seahawks will win, but think this one is going to be close, and while I’m willing to live with an early (-100) hole if the Packers lose, I don’t want to take a (-255) bite before we get into Sunday.
SUNDAY EARLY New Orleans (-160) Atlanta (+135): New Orleans Minnesota (+150) St. Louis (-175): St. Louis Cleveland (+250) Pittsburgh (-300): Pass Jacksonville (+430) Philadelphia (-550):Pass Oakland (+210) NY Jets (-255): Oakland Cincinnati (+100) Baltimore (-120): Baltimore Buffalo (+250) Chicago (-305): Chicago Washington (+130) Houston (-150): Washington Tennessee (+165) Kansas City (-195): Tennessee New England (-220) Miami (+185): Miami Comment: I find the Patriots-Dolphins line surprising. Miami beat New England outright last December in South Beach and covered the spread against the Pats in Miami in 2012. I really do lean Miami to win straight up. By no means do I think this is going to be a changing of the guard year in the AFC East, but this particular matchup at this particular venue works well for the Fish.
SUNDAY LATE Carolina (+110) Tampa Bay (-130): Carolina San Francisco (-220) Dallas (+185): San Francisco Comment: The Carolina-Tampa Bay line has to be the most surprising of Week 1. Carolina is getting so little respect that they’re an underdog at Tampa? I guess I should be the last one to talk because I picked Lovie’s Bucs to sneak into the playoffs, while the Panther missed. But there’s a difference between taking a flyer on a risky playoff pick 17 weeks in advance and actually letting that reflected in the betting odds before Tampa Bay has done anything in the field. That’s why my pick in this game contradicts my season-long playoff predictions.
SUNDAY PRIME-TIME Indianapolis (+290) Denver (-350): Indianapolis Comment: The same note as the Packer-Seahawk game, but even stronger—didn’t the Colts actually beat the Broncos head-to-head last year? Didn’t Indy win on the road in San Francisco and also beat Seattle? I understand last year’s Colts-Broncos game was at Indianapolis, and all of the above games were early in the season. If this line were Denver (-150) I’d have played the favorite. But not at these prices.
MONDAY NIGHT NY Giants (+220) Detroit (-265): NY Giants San Diego (+145) Arizona (-170): San Diego Comment: Just playing it safe with the underdogs on a couple games that are probably close either way. This game is a nice early test for the Lions—if they play up to their talent level, they win easy. But how often has Detroit done that in recent years?
It’s only fitting that Green Bay Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers was cleared to play for Sunday’s winner-take-all battle in the NFC North at Chicago. It was the Bears who originally broke Rodgers’ collarbone all the way back in Week 9 and #12 hasn’t been seen from since.
The comeback brings everything full circle. And in a year where the State Farm commercials featuring Rodgers show him being harangued by Bears’ fans, the timing of the quarterback’s return becomes even more ironic.
Green Bay-Chicago is one of two win-or-go-home games that highlight the NFL Week 17 schedule. The Packers-Bears set the table in the late afternoon for the prime-time fare that will be Philadelphia-Dallas in the NFC East. Injuries at the quarterback position have dominated headlines in that game as well, with Tony Romo only given a small percentage chance of being under center for the Cowboys thanks to a back injury.
TheSportsNotebook will review NFL Week 17 as we have each week leading up to this. We’ll break down the day by the TV schedule, and look at the moneylines for each game—the odds of each team winning outright, as expressed in $100 betting increments. And as I’ve done all year I’ll make a woefully flawed pick. My moneyline record after 16 weeks is (-2900), so we need a dramatic surge to the finish.
Green Bay (-165) Chicago (+145) (4:25 PM ET, Fox): Even with Rodgers healthy and the Packers a road favorite, injuries still loom over them. Outside linebacker Clay Matthews is out after re-injuring his thumb, and Eddie Lacy hasn’t practice all week after an ankle injury towards the end of last week’s loss to Pittsburgh.
Chicago’s own injury problem is that starting quarterback Jay Cutler is healthy. Josh McCown was decidedly superior in his own starts when Cutler was out, and the Bears were nothing short of a disgrace last Sunday night in Philadelphia when Chicago could have clinched the NFC North. Whether the Bears lose this game remains to be seen, but we can surely say this—they deserve to.
I’m not ready to assume that Rodgers is just going to be magically be sharp, but I am ready to assume that Lacy will play and I don’t believe Chicago can tackle him. This is a soft Bears team and while the Packer defense has more than their share of flaws, they’re at least getting some takeaways in recent weeks. That’s why I’m picking Green Bay to clinch the NFC North.
Philadelphia (-250) Dallas (+210) (8:30 PM ET, NBC): Kyle Orton is the man we’re assuming will quarterback Dallas on Sunday night, as the Cowboys try to avoid losing a winner-take-all game in prime-time for the third consecutive year, each one to a different rival in the NFC East.
There’s no reason, short of homefield advantage, to pick the Cowboys. The defense is terrible, the Philadelphia offense is clicking, with LeSean McCoy dominating on the ground and Nick Foles playing with smooth efficiency in the passing game. The Eagles have respectable pass rushers on the outside in linebackers Trent Cole and Connor Barwin.
It’s going to take an exceptional football game from the Dallas defense, namely defensive end Demarcus Ware. And this at a time when Cowboy Nation has just been hoping for mediocre, never mind exceptional.
But…this is just shaping up a little too easy for Philadelphia and winning a game like this on the road is never easy. Orton stepped into a starting job in Kansas City at the end of 2011 and he beat then-undefeated Green Bay in December and went on the road to beat Denver at the height of Tebow-Mania when the Broncos were trying to clinch the division. The stage won’t frighten Orton.
I’m going to take a flyer on an upset and say that this is how Romo manages to get bad press in this season—that his team’s biggest win comes with a backup quarterback.
LATE AFTERNOON ON CBS
Both CBS & Fox have doubleheaders for the regular season finales. CBS will focus its 4:25 PM ET telecasts on the fight for the #1 seed in the AFC. Denver can lock it up with a win. New England stands in waiting and the Patriots aren’t yet home free for the 2-spot and a first-round bye. Each team goes in the late window, with the Broncos going to most of the country.
Denver (-580) Oakland (+435): Terrelle Pryor is going to start at quarterback for Oakland and his agent is griping that head coach Dennis Allen wants Pryor to fail. I’m going to take that as a subtle hint that Pryor and the Raiders aren’t entirely focused. Denver sews up the #1 seed for the second straight year.
Buffalo (+320) New England (-400): The Patriots will know by the time they take the field if the first-round bye is at stake, pending how Cincinnati does in the early games. By rights, the Pats should easily beat Buffalo at home, but I’m not ready to sleep on the Bills.
They’ve won two straight, including shutting out playoff hopeful Miami last week. Buffalo is playing to get to 7-9, something that would be a nice first year for head coach Doug Marrone. From a matchup standpoint, they have the #5 pass defense in the NFL and New England without Rob Gronkowski has struggled to get receivers open for Tom Brady.
So does “not ready to sleep on the Bills” equate to picking them to win? Not quite, but I think this one is going to be good.
NATIONAL GAMES IN THE EARLY WINDOW
Both of these games will be seen by large parts of the country…
Baltimore (+205) Cincinnati (-245) (1 PM ET, CBS):The Ravens need to win this game and then have either Miami or San Diego lose. Both Baltimore and Cincinnati have good defenses and quarterbacks who throw interceptions. Andy Dalton has shown a greater capacity for explosiveness this season, while Joe Flacco has a demonstrated ability to play big in tough moments like this.
It’s big for Cincinnati, as they angle for playoff seeding, but it’s monumental for Baltimore. I don’t know if the defending champs will make it back to the postseason, but I’ll pick the Ravens to have at least one more big performance.
Carolina (-265) Atlanta (+220) (1 PM ET, Fox): I’ve praised Atlanta throughout the stretch drive for their competitive integrity in refusing to quit amidst a lost season that has them at 4-11 after being one play from the Super Bowl a year ago. Even playing at home, I wonder if last Monday night in San Francisco might have finally drained the Falcons of competitive juice.
San Francisco was the team that had denied Atlanta the Super Bowl and surely there was some revenge motivation, as the Falcons nearly pulled the upset. Now they’re on a short week and playing a team looking to wrap up the NFC South, the #2 seed and keep its hopes alive for the top spot in the NFC bracket.
And finally there’s this—as much as they fight, Atlanta just isn’t good defensively, they have problems on the offensive line, they’re without Julio Jones and Matt Ryan is just stuck in a rut of throwing critical interceptions. It’s the problem of all season, it did them in on Monday and it will do them in against Carolina.
SIX MORE GAMES WITH PLAYOFF IMPLICATIONS
NY Jets (+195) Miami (-230): The Dolphins have the best chance of the four contenders for the AFC’s final playoff spot, including Baltimore, San Diego and Pittsburgh. None control their destiny, but unlike Baltimore, Miami has a manageable home game.
The Dolphins, presuming they take care of business, would just need either a Ravens loss or a Chargers win (the rationale here being that with all three teams at 8-7, Miami wins a three-way tie, they win a two-way tie with San Diego and lose a two-way tie with Baltimore).
But should we presume the Dolphins will take care of business. They spit the bit last week in Buffalo, losing 19-0, while the Jets got a good running game and ran over Cleveland. I’m not expecting Miami to play well, but given the ability of Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon to pressure the passer, I’m guessing they force New York quarterback Geno Smith into 2-3 interceptions and win ugly.
Kansas City (+340) San Diego (-430): Kansas City is locked into the #5 seed, which explains why they’re such a substantial road underdog at San Diego. The Chargers need a win, and both Miami and Baltimore to lose to snag the #6 seed.
I’d like to say I think they’ll get it, but Kansas City has shown no inclination to rest their starters (though Tamba Hali’s sore knee may end up in him sitting down). There may be a little revenge, as the Chargers won in Kansas City earlier this season, and after looking bad in a home loss to Indianapolis last week, Andy Reid might want his Chiefs to focus and play well going into next week’s first-round games.
When you combine all of that with the big moneyline risk there is going with the favorite, and it points me to picking the Chiefs.
Cleveland (+255) Pittsburgh (-310): The Steelers need outside linebacker Jason Wordlis healthy from an abdomen injury, as they try and pressure Cleveland quarterback Jason Campbell and prevent him from hooking up with Josh Gordon. The Browns seem to have a lost a lot of their competitiveness in recent weeks and I’m picking Pittsburgh. The Steelers need the Grand Slam Parlay of a win, plus losses by San Diego, Miami and Baltimore to make the playoffs at 8-8.
Tampa Bay (+490) New Orleans (-675): Tampa Bay, like Cleveland, seems to have lost some of their underdog fire in recent weeks. In both cases, the decline began right around the point when I started picking them. To the dismay of Saints fans, I’m reversing course today.
New Orleans has played itself into a must-win spot at home. A loss puts them in danger of missing the playoffs, while they also have a chance at the division title and 2-seed if Carolina loses. We know how different the Saints and Drew Brees are at home and with Tampa Bay fading again, the favorite is worth the price.
San Francisco (-120) Arizona (+100): Both teams need help in games that will go on in the same late afternoon window that this one kicks off in. The Cardinals need the Saints to lose in order to have a chance at the playoffs. The 49ers are in the postseason, but need the Seahawks to lose to win the NFC West. And if Carolina and Seattle both lose, the Niners can move up to the #1 seed.
Arizona is the best team in football over the second half of the season and Bruce Arians is making his case to catch Andy Reid for Coach of the Year. The Cardinals are the best in the NFL at stopping the run. Colin Kaepernick has stepped up admirably in games where the Niners have needed his arm recently, but on the road against this defense won’t be one of them. Arizona wins it.
St. Louis (+420) Seattle (-550): The odds of Seattle losing a second straight home game to a division opponent are pretty long (well, they’re -550 to be exact). They played well defensively in last week’s loss to Arizona and I expect the Seahawks D to force Kellen Clemens into mistakes and to make Zac Stacy’s life miserable.
The bigger-picture question will be how the Seattle offense bounces back from its awful showing against a defense that can bring it with the front four. I’m sure Russell Wilson, Marshawn Lynch & Co. don’t want to close with two straight subpar games, leading into a week off and having to open the postseason without having played a good offensive game in a month.
FOUR MEANINGLESS GAMES
Jacksonville (+410) Indianapolis (-520): I suppose this game isn’t literally meaningless. Indianapolis can move from the 4-seed to the 3-seed if Cincinnati were to lose. But in either case that means no first-round bye, while still opening the playoffs at home. The bracket has no obviously advantageous position to be and the 3 and 4 seeds have met in a conference championship game just twice in league history (1987 and 2006).
Now that I’ve thoroughly debunked the game, I still expect the Colts to make that hefty moneyline worthwhile on their home field.
Houston (+235) Tennessee (-285): The Titans took care of Jacksonville last week behind balanced running from Chris Johnson and Shonn Greene, so I guess I’ll trust them to do it again at home as a solid favorite. A win gets them to 7-9 which becomes a good case for Mike Munchak keeping his job in a year where Jake Locker was hurt most of the way.
Detroit (+115) Minnesota (-135): Yes, the Lions have really sunk this low. Not only are they out of the playoffs, but they’re underdogs at Minnesota. Detroit’s Thanksgiving Day thrashing of Green Bay seems like ages ago. I took a chance on the Vikings at Cincinnati last week, getting carried away with what Minnesota might do on the road. Now that they’re back at home, I’ll take the Vikes to put the Jim Schwartz Era out of its misery.
Washington (+155) NY Giants (-180): At the start of the season these were the teams I picked to finish 10-6, a scenario that would have likely turned this into the flexed Sunday Night Game. Instead, it’s flexed into this last spot on TheSportsNotebook’s list of games to review. Regular readers know I’m a ‘Skins fan and have put up with my rants all year. I’m consoled by this fact—my belated Christmas gift probably comes by late afternoon when Mike Shanahan gets fired. No prediction here.
There’s two weeks to go in the regular season, as we get set for NFL Week 16there are a lot of decisions–from play-calling to officiating to personnel–that are going to be debated. A few decisions for this week already qualify as late-season choke jobs, and it’s the ones made by the TV networks. For example…
Why did New England-Baltimore get flexed out of the Sunday Night spot? Last I checked, these are two ferocious rivals who have played in the last two AFC Championship Games. New England is fighting for a first-round bye, Baltimore could go anywhere from division champ to out of the playoffs.
The Chicago-Philadelphia game that replaces it is good, but just how good depends on what happens early on Sunday. If Dallas and Green Bay both win, the impact of Bears-Eagles is sharply reduced. This would have been fine as a 1 PM EST kickoff shown anywhere in the country that doesn’t have a local game going, but Sunday night?
What’s worse is that Chicago-Philly isn’t even the second-best game on the board for Sunday. That honor belongs to New Orleans-Carolina. The only explanation I can think of is that since NBC has already shown New England-Denver and the previous New Orleans-Carolina game, that they felt a little pressure to spread the wealth. I have no idea if that’s the case, but it’s the only explanation that makes sense.
Let’s now run through the games of NFL Week 16. And speaking of decisions that make little sense, I’ll again make predictions for each one based on the moneyline, the odds for an outright win expressed in $100 increments.
The main national games…
New England (+115) Baltimore (-135) (4:25 PM ET, CBS): I’m not feeling really confident about either offense right now. Tom Brady will find a way to move the ball, but there’s a difference between moving the ball and sticking it in the end zone. That was a problem for the Patriots last week against the Miami Dolphins, and you may recall it was a big problem in last year’s AFC Championship battle against these Ravens. The common thread? No Rob Gronkowski in the lineup.
Baltimore didn’t score a touchdown in Monday’s win over Detroit, so saying I lack confidence in their offense shouldn’t be seen as an earth-shattering statement. The only thing we can say is that return of Dennis Pitta at tight end can at least allow them to move from being atrocious to simply being mediocre.
Big plays on the defensive side are what’s going to decide this game, and you can make a good argument either way. Flacco is by far the more mistake-prone quarterback, but the Ravens’ defense has far more players who can force errors than do the Patriots. It’s a toss-up game as far as I’m concerned and that means I’m picking the home team–Baltimore.
Chicago (+135) Philadelphia (-160) (8:30 PM ET, NBC): As long as there’s no snow or heavy wind in Philly on Sunday night, we should see a lot of points scored. The Bears’ defense has been a sieve all season, and I have to think LeSean McCoy is going to want to bounce back strong after a terribly disappointing showing in Minnesota last week. And even with McCoy playing perhaps his worst game of the year, the Eagles still scored 30 points.
The Philadelphia pass defense is 30th in the league in yardage allowed per game, and the only real way they can get pressure on Jay Cutler is if they bring a variety of blitz packages out of their 3-4. None of the linebackers are very good at getting to the quarterback. There was a time when Connor Barwin or Trent Cole might have, but that day is past.
Matt Forte is having a great year of his own running the ball, so even if Philly does blitz, they have to be alert to the run and possible cutbacks by Forte. The Eagles’ best hope is to bend and hope Cutler will give them a couple key interceptions.
That’s not an unreasonable hope and I’m again going homefield here and taking Philadelphia.
Games in the 1 PM ET window seen by wider national audiences…
New Orleans (+140) Carolina (-165) (1 PM ET, Fox): The winner of this game takes first place in the NFC South and the inside track to the #2 seed and first-round bye in the playoffs. The loser is looking at three road games to reach the Super Bowl.
I’ve been a Saints’ believer this season, but the failure of this team to show any progress on the road is more than a little discouraging. They’re going to have a tough time stopping Carolina’s good running game, and the Panther defense isn’t going to let Drew Brees go crazy with a big game.
The only way the Panthers’ lose is if Cam Newton tightens up in the biggest game of his career to date and makes some mistakes. That is possible, but playing at home, I think Cam plays efficient football and the Panthers’ complete team gets this win.
Denver (-500) Houston (+390) (1 PM ET, CBS): I understand why CBS made this its main game of the early TV window–Peyton Manning brings eyeballs to the sets. But who’s kidding who about the competitiveness of this game. Houston is a bad team and banged up on top of it. Denver is a good team and now has to be mad after losing to San Diego last Thursday and keeping the AFC West up for grabs. Easy win for the Broncos.
Indianapolis (+225) Kansas City (-270): This game isn’t being shown outside the Midwest pockets that cover both teams’ local markets. I was going to question why CBS didn’t make it their main early game, but this is really not as a big a game as it might appear. Indy is locked into the AFC South title and they aren’t getting a first-round bye. It only matters for Kansas City if Denver loses, so it makes sense for CBS to just show the popular Broncos.
It’s worth wondering how much the Colts’ will show strategically. This game is very likely to be played again up in Indy two weeks from now for the first round of the playoffs as the 4 vs. 5 game. The Chiefs are still in the AFC West race if the Broncos stumble, so Kansas City can’t mail it in. I’m going to pick Indy just because I don’t want to risk this much on the moneyline when I think both teams are closely matched, but it’s like a college football bowl game in that we’re having to guess how much the Colts will care.
Other games will playoff implications…
Miami (-140) Buffalo (+120): The Dolphins are a team hitting on all cylinders right now and they absolutely must win to keep the pressure on the Ravens as the two teams fight for the last AFC playoff spot. There must be skepticism in Las Vegas about Miami playing in cold weather that they’re a fairly cheap favorite, but the Fish did just win a snow game in Pittsburgh two weeks ago. I’m on the favorite here.
Oakland (+350) San Diego (-440): This moneyline is completely out of whack. Yes, San Diego is the better team, playing at home and has more to play for, as they need to win and hope for collapses in Miami and Baltimore. But they’re priced at a level reserved for the league’s upper crust. I don’t like it, but I simply have to take the Raiders at these prices.
Minnesota (+295) Cincinnati (-360): I love what the Vikings have going right now, both their effort and the improved offensive play. It’s looking like Adrian Peterson will be good to go on his injured ankle, and I’m riding with Minnesota as an upset play. Unlike other upsets I’ve picked, where the moneyline has forced me into it, I really like the Vikes to get this done.
Pittsburgh–Green Bay: No moneyline posted on this game because Aaron Rodgers is still not cleared to play and his status again remains a last-minute decision. If there’s any way for Rodgers to play, the organization needs to get him on the field. If the Packers win, they at least guarantee themselves a chance to play for the division next week in Chicago. If Green Bay loses this game, they could be eliminated by a Bears win.
Matt Flynn won’t eat up the Steeler pass defense the way he did the Cowboys’ last week. Pass coverage is the one strength of a Pittsburgh D that has otherwise grown old and unable to force turnovers like they used to. Green Bay should be able to get Eddie Lacy room running the ball and Pittsburgh’s too heavily dependent on Ben Roethlisberger.
This game won’t be calculated into the final moneyline results either way, but I’ll lean Green Bay’s way if Rodgers is out and go decisively for the Packers if he’s in.
NY Giants (+340) Detroit (-430): I should know better than to pick the Lions at this price, and this organization’s track record doesn’t inspire confidence that Monday Night’s disaster will mean a strong bounceback effort. But the Giants are an absolute train wreck and for all of Detroit’s problems, getting to the quarterback is not one of them.
Eli Manning is one of the few quarterbacks going who can match Matthew Stafford interception-for-interception, and that’s enough for the Lions to grab a survival victory.
Dallas (-140) Washington (+120): We’ve got Mike Shanahan throwing RG3 under the bus, and Jason Garrett doing the same to Tony Romo. It’s fitting that both of these scapegoat-seeking leaders get together in Washington D.C. in front of a bunch of politicians. It speaks volumes to the Cowboy mess that they’re such a modest favorite against a 3-11 train wreck. I’m a ‘Skins fan and exercising my right not to pick this game.
Arizona (+390) Seattle (-500): Going for an upset bid is enticing at these numbers. Arizona plays good defense and is the kind of physical team that’s as suited as you can be to win a game up in Seattle. But there are injuries going on with Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd. I expect all three to play, but having your entire passing game beat up isn’t the way you want to go into a game like this.
Arizona needs the game more–if they lose, they’re eliminated, but Seattle still has reason to play, with one more win enough to lock up the NFC West and the #1 seed. I’ll risk the big moneyline and play the favorite.
And the three games that matter only to diehard fans, Fantasy league players and hard-core gambling degenerates…
Tampa Bay (+185) St. Louis (-220): Both are non-contenders worthy of respect for the way they’ve competed down the stretch. The Rams have one of the best defensive lines in the league and are playing at home. I’ll go with them in this rematch of the 1999 NFC Championship Game.
Cleveland (+115) NY Jets (-135): The Browns have been right there with contending teams the last two weeks, with close losses to New England and Chicago. Norv Turner is showing why, for all his faults as a head coach, he can coordinate on offense, as Jason Campbell continues to play well. The Jets are out of the picture and probably set to mail it in and get a new coach. I’ll take the Browns.
Tennessee (-245) Jacksonville (+205): The Jags have been good to me as a substantial underdog of late and even with last week’s loss to Buffalo, I’m still well ahead of the game. Jacksonville beat Tennessee earlier in the year and they complete a sweep here, something that almost certainly gets Mike Munchak canned in Nashville.
Monday Night Footballfeatures a good game between the Detroit Lions and Baltimore Ravens (8:30 PM ET, ESPN) from Ford Field. There are big consequences at stake for both in their pursuit of division titles, and the personnel matchups offer a lot of intrigue.
By the time Baltimore takes the field they’ll know if this game is must-win. The other prime-time game of NFL Week 15 is Sunday’s Cincinnati-Pittsburgh game, about a half-hour from kickoff as this post goes online. If the Bengals win, then the Ravens have to win to keep their AFC North hopes alive. If the Bengals lose, then a Ravens win at least ensures a Week 17 showdown between the two rivals.
Detroit has the tiebreaker advantage on Chicago in the NFC North, but the Bears’ win over Cleveland early Sunday afternoon compels the Lions to keep pace. There won’t be a wild-card coming out of this division, so Detroit has no slack.
Baltimore has had some offensive problems this year, and they’ve had huge problems running the ball. But they got tight end Dennis Pitta back last week and that at least opens up some options for Joe Flacco in the passing game.
The strength of Detroit’s defense is stopping the run, but Baltimore likely couldn’t run in any case. The Lions do have some problems in the secondary, and it’s here that Flacco may be able to make some plays down the field to his big wide receivers. Pass protection will be the key–Detroit gets consistent pressure across the front four, and the Ravens’ offensive line has been no better here than they have been at run-blocking.
Lions’ quarterback Matthew Stafford will need to avoid interceptions. I expect his team to move the ball well, but he’ll get pressure from Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil on the outside and Stafford can’t get rattled and force passes into coverage.
The moneylines on this game have Detroit a solid (-260) favorite, whereas you can Baltimore at (+215) for the outright upset. Based on these numbers, I lean to the Ravens. Detroit should be a slight favorite–maybe in the (-120) to (-125) range, but this too much to risk to take for what promises to be an exciting game.
After a couple weeks in a row filled with premier showdown games (New England-Denver, New Orleans-Seattle, Carolina-New Orleans, etc), NFL Week 15is a little on the dry side. But when there’s just three weeks left in the race for the playoffsand for seeding, most games take on heightened importance.
The NFL Week 15 TV schedule is highlighted by Green Bay-Dallas (4:25 PM ET, Fox) and Cincinnati-Pittsburgh (8:30 PM ET, NBC). The injury to Aaron Rodgers has taken some of the luster off the main late afternoon TV game, and the fade of the Steelers has de-emphasized the prime-time show.
Each game remains important though, and they key up our look at the Sunday schedule, with each team’s moneyline odds–the odds for an outright win expressed in $100 betting increments–in parentheses.
Green Bay-Dallas: The word that Rodgers won’t play just became official and we’re still waiting on betting lines for this game. The Packers’ offense might be having problems, but they are about to play a defense that just allowed the Chicago Bears to score on every possession this past Monday Night. If Eddie Lacy is ready to play–the running back is listed as questionable with an ankle injury–Green Bay can run the ball and that may open up some room in the passing game for a steadily improving Matt Flynn.
If this were the Green Bay defense we expected to see-a unit that’s had its most notable components healthy for several weeks now–the Packers would still be in good position to pull off a road victory. But the Green Bay defense has been terrible in Rodgers absence and playing indoors, there is every reason to believe Tony Romo can have a big day throwing the ball.
Dallas will win a game played at a more frenetic pace, while Green Bay has a shot if they can turn the emphasis to the running game. I’ve just lost confidence in the Packers’ ability to do it and am picking the Cowboys.
Cincinnati (-125) Pittsburgh (+105): The Steelers are realistically out of the playoff picture. The Bengals can one of two ways in the AFC North–if they win here and Baltimore loses in Detroit on Monday Night, Cincinnati clinches. But if you flip those results, then the Ravens are within one game, hold the tiebreaker and we’d point to a head-to-head game in Week 17. To further sweeten the pot, Cincinnati is also in the hunt to catch New England for the #2 seed and first-round playoff bye.
The Bengals got some good running from Giovanni Bernard in last week’s win over Indianapolis, while Pittsburgh hasn’t run the ball all year. Whatever I say about the Steelers is going to end up being wrong–it’s just been that kind of year for them. I’m going to jinx them one more time in this game.
Ben Roethlisberger has had a very underappreciated year, keeping this team in games and stealing a few, as he plays with his worst supporting cast in years. It’s too late to matter, but this has the feel of a moment where a team with some proud players stands up to be counted on prime time. I don’t like the way Cincinnati nearly blew a 21-0 lead last week, and still feel like the Bengals will slip up just at the moment they’re poised to become Super Bowl contenders. This is that moment.
Three games will be seen by large portions of the country in the 1 PM ET window…
New England (-125)Miami (+105) (CBS): The main CBS game, with Jim Nantz and Phil Simms on the call, is the best game of the week. The Dolphins are coming on strong over the last five games and with the Patriots missing Rob Gronkowski, their offense isn’t going to be the same. Meanwhile, Miami has been better balanced, with Ryan Tannehill getting different players involved in the offense and having the pass-rushing defensive ends in Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon that can cause Tom Brady some problems.
The thing is…these are the kinds of games the Patriots seem to find a way to win. I don’t think they can make the Super Bowl without Gronk (I didn’t think they were going to make it with him), but I like their chances to break the hearts of a division rival pushing for a playoff spot.
Philadelphia (-230) Minnesota (+190) (Fox): I give the Vikings a lot of credit for the way they’ve kept competing in a lost season and on their homefield, this is going to be a tough game for Philadelphia. Where the Eagles have an edge is, that they way to contain good pass-rushing defensive ends like Jared Allen and Brian Robison, you need to be able to have someone run between the tackles with the threat of cutting back, thereby making the ends stay at home and not unleash immediately on the quarterback.
Is LeSean McCoy such a back? Yeah, I think the NFL’s leading rusher is, which is why I’m picking Philly, regardless of whether or not Adrian Peterson is good to go.
Seattle (-295) NY Giants (+245) (Fox): There’s some good arguments for picking the upset here. While Seattle hasn’t formally clinched the #1 seed in the NFC it looks like only a matter of time and the sense of urgency might not be there. There’s the West Coast team playing an early game out east and messing with everyone’s body clock theory–one which I believe. And there’s the theory that says the Giants still have Super Bowl-winning players who might want to gut it up one more time, akin to what I wrote further up about the Steelers.
If it weren’t for last week’s debacle in San Diego, where the Giants lost 37-14, I’d probably have been persuaded to take an upset shot. But that game suggests to me that New York has quit on the season almost as much as NFC East foe Washington has, albeit not quite as loudly. I can’t pick an upset if I’m not sure if the dog is even going to show up with some bite, so let’s roll with Seattle .
Other games with playoff implications…
NY Jets (+415) Carolina (-425)
Kansas City (-220) Oakland (+185)
Chicago (-115) Cleveland (-105)
San Francisco (-230) Tampa Bay (+190)
New Orleans (-265) St. Louis (+220)
Arizona (-145) Tennessee (+125)
Note that the first two games are late afternoon kickoffs, including Carolina on the East Coast. San Francisco’s visit to Tampa shapes up as the most interesting to me. The Buccaneers have won four of the last five and rank 8th in the NFL in rush yards allowed per game. Colin Kaepernick has started to play better in recent weeks, once he got Michael Crabtree back, and this might be the game the 49ers have to win by throwing the ball.
This week is also the best shot Arizona has at catching San Francisco and making their Week 17 showdown a possible battle for the final NFC wild-card spot. The 49ers have to lose once before that and next week’s game is at home against Atlanta.
I’m a little squeamish about the Cardinals in this road spot–another body clock game–but I’m a lot more squeamish about Ryan Fitzpatrick going against that Arizona defense. Even without Tyrann Mathieu, this is still a unit that can get after you in the front seven and has Patrick Peterson to make plays on the back end.
Jay Cutler comes back for Chicago in a move I think is a mistake. Josh McNown is playing too well right now to sit, and the Bears have no room for error. While they’re tied with Detroit, it’s the Lions who control the tiebreaker. Cleveland’s getting great production with Jason Campbell throwing the ball to Josh Gordon and I see a Browns victory coming here.
The Chiefs have new life in the AFC West after Denver lost at home last night to San Diego. Kansas City needs to win out and hope the Broncos lose one more.
Overall, my picks in the games above would be: Carolina, Kansas City, Cleveland, Tampa Bay, New Orleans, Arizona.
And finally, the games only someone with nothing better to do would watch…
Washington (+235) Atlanta (-285)
Buffalo (-125) Jacksonville (+105)
Houston (+195) Indianapolis (-235)
My apologies to the good people of Indianapolis for dumping their AFC South champion Colts into this sorry mess. But Indy is locked into the division title and isn’t going to get a first-round bye, so the rest of the regular season is pretty well pointless. The other five teams have pointless games ahead for less noble reasons.
I’ve written some commentary already on the whole drama surrounding my beloved Redskins (I will be one of those with nothing better to do who watches). I’ve also spent a lot of time this week in social media, and finally I spent at least twenty minutes outside a gym in zero degree weather talking to a fellow ‘Skins fan about our travails after a rec league basketball game. So yes, I’m somewhat wrapped up in at all right now.
For this space, let’s just say I think everything is in place for Kirk Cousins to play well–let’s not forget in similar situations (bad opposing defense, conducive weather), RG3 had good games against Minnesota and the New York Giants in recent weeks, and I think Cousins can put up some yardage against the Falcons. Whether the defense and special teams give it all back is another question, but the (+235) price tag is enough for me to take the ‘Skins. I’ll take Indianapolis and Jacksonville in the other two games.
The second half of what amounts to the NFC East-NFC North Challenge goes on Monday Night Football. The Dallas Cowboys go on the road to meet the Chicago Bears (8:30 PM ET, NBC). The Cowboys have to keep pace in the East with the Philadelphia Eagles, who knocked off the Detroit Lions on Sunday. That same result opens the door for the Bears to pull back even with the Lions in the North.
Dallas comes in a very narrow road favorite, priced at (-115) on the moneyline for an outright win. But there’s no value in taking Chicago, who is posted at (-105). Weather is going to be a factor, as the Windy City has been just that this weekend. Whether Soldier Field will be covered with the snow blanket that we saw in Philly earlier on Sunday is in question, but there’s no doubt that the teams will have to battle the elements.
Neither team is well-suited to win in tough conditions. The Bears may have a slight advantage in terms of what Matt Forte can give them running the ball. But even though the Cowboy running game isn’t very good, everyone can run on Chicago’s defense in the post-Lovie Smith era.
To draw an analogy from college football, the Michigan State offense wasn’t good all year. But when they got a crack against the mediocre Ohio State defense this past Saturday night, the Spartans suddenly became an offensive juggernaut. On Monday Night, I expect the Bears’ D to have Cowboy fans feeling like they’re having flashbacks to the heyday of Emmitt Smith in the early 1990s.
Will it be enough to win? Neither team can be given a whole lot of confidence, but I lean Dallas’ direction.
NFL Week 11is the first week that NBC can “flex” its muscle, so to speak, and reschedule the previously planned Sunday Night Game. The network has taken full advantage and shifted the big Kansas City-Denver battle in the AFC West into prime-time and dropping the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers and their game against the Giants into the mass of local regional games. Chiefs-Broncos will be where we start in The SportsNotebook’s preview of Week 11.
As we’ve done all year, the moneylines–the odds for an outright win expressed in betting increments of $100–are listed next to each team. And as we’ve done all year, TheSportsNotebook will make some futile picks. Last week, losing with San Francisco and Tennessee at big prices couldn’t overcome nailing St. Louis and their upset of Indianapolis. I still ended up (-495) for the week, dropping me to (-2520) for the year. The task now is to make up an average of (+360) per week the rest of the regular season and get back to even.
Kansas City (+300) Denver (-370) (8:30 PM ET, NBC) I’m not as concerned about Peyton Manning’s high ankle sprain as the media is. Manning is going to play and when it comes to mobility, we’re not talking about RG3 or Colin Kaepernick, so it’s not as though Peyton is losing anything. He can still deliver the ball quickly and that’s exactly what he’ll have to do against an aggressive high-pressure defense led by Tamba Hali and Justin Houston coming off the edges.
Kansas City can run the ball as well as anyone with Jamaal Charles and Alex Smith can play mistake-free as well as anyone. Nor is the Denver defense anything spectacular. But to win a game of this magnitude on the road, Smith is going to have to make some big plays in the passing game. That’s not him, nor does he have the receivers to make it happen even if it were.
I give the Chiefs a credible chance of outlasting the Broncos in this division race–KC leads by a game and still has a return trip from Denver coming up. I give Andy Reid’s team a reasonable shot at the Super Bowl. But on the road, against Peyton and in prime-time, I would be absolutely floored if the Broncos don’t win, and that’s why the high moneyline price is worth it.
San Francisco (+145)New Orleans (-170) (4:25 PM ET, Fox): A year ago, Kaepernick came into the Superdome and played extremely well in a 49er win, a seminal moment in his progression from backup to taking Smith’s job in San Francisco and ultimately leading his team to the Super Bowl. The 49er quarterback needs another seminal moment here, because he’s struggling this season in spite of Frank Gore having a big year running the ball and the defense playing well.
San Francisco failed to get into the end zone against Carolina, and the New Orleans defense has played well all year under Rob Ryan. I expect the Saints to contain Gore and force Kaepernick to have to beat them. If the Niner defense can’t play well, there’s no way they’ll win a scoring race against Drew Brees in his own building.
Brees is just playing too well right now, especially at home, and we’re seeing how good New Orleans can be when they play defense. Last year, Kaepernick moved the ball against a Saints D that was a mess all year long. This year, he’ll face a unit playing as well as any the New Orleans fans have seen their 2009 Super Bowl run.
The Saints get the win here in a game Fox is sending its top broadcast team of Joe Buck and Troy Aikman to show most of the country.
Two games in the 1 PM ET window that will go to large chunks of the country…
Baltimore (+135) Chicago(-160): Two units that have been big disappointments collide when the Ravens offensive line blocks the Bears’ defensive line. Baltimore has been unable to generate a running game or consistently protect Joe Flacco. Chicago has gotten a bad year from Julius Pepper and now Shea McClellin is banged up.
The Bears are back to starting Josh McCown at quarterback after Jay Cutler suffered a re-aggravation of his groin injury, and I don’t think this is a bad thing. McCown has played well in both of his games this year (most of the Washington game, the entire Green Bay game). The Ravens got a season-saving win over Cincinnati last week, but looked far from impressive in doing so. I’ll pick Chicago to win at home.
Washington(+190) Philadelphia (-225): Nick Foles is looking settled in as the Philadelphia quarterback, playing mistake-free football, hitting big throws and letting LeSean McCoy still be the focal point of the Eagle attack on the ground. The Redskins’ offense is playing well themselves, with RG3 having strung together a couple good games in a row and Alfred Morris running the way he did in 2012.
Neither team’s defense is anything special, although Washington’s is so fundamentally unsound that Foles can just drop dump passes over the middle and rely on yards after the catch. If the generally solid Packer defense couldn’t tackle Eagle receivers last week, why should the hapless Redskin defenders?
Nonetheless, I have a good feeling about this game as a Redskins’ fan. I don’t think Philly is consistent enough to win three in a row, and as long as Washington keeps its play-calling balanced, and turns its blitz packages loose on defense, I think they can sneak out of Philadelphia with a win.
The rest of the Sunday card, shown to mostly local audiences…
Cleveland (+200) Cincinnati (-240): If the Browns steal a road win, they pull even in the loss column with the Bengals in the race for the AFC North. Cleveland is playing some very good defense this season, and Jason Campbell has looked competent at quarterback since being picked up. The Bengals have the better team, but I’m not confident in them and I think the Browns are worth a shot at (+200) to complete an improbable sweep of the season series.
San Diego (-125) Miami (+105): Thirty-two years ago, these two teams played one of the great playoff games in NFL history, won by the Chargers 41-38 in overtime. This game won’t remind anyone of that epic battle, even if San Diego is playing competent ball. The Bolts are a playoff longshot given their schedule and they can’t afford to lose this one to an organization in disarray.
NY Jets (-105) Buffalo (-115): TheSportsNotebook featured the Jets earlier this week, and I like what they’re doing defensively and in the running game with Chris Ivory. Buffalo has been a handful at home, knocking off Baltimore and nearly upsetting Kansas City, but I’m going to lean the Jets to pull it out.
Oakland (+225) Houston (-310): The Raiders and Texans are a combined 5-13, but neither is really as bad as their record looks. Oakland does a good job running the ball and stopping the same. Houston is playing decent defense themselves and Case Keenum has given this franchise a jolt at quarterback. Even so, this is way too stiff of a moneyline to take a team that’s only won twice all year. I have to play it safe and pick the Raiders.
Detroit (-135) Pittsburgh (+115): I hate picking the Lions to win on the road two weeks in a row, especially a potential letdown spot after the big win in Chicago last Sunday. But Pittsburgh inspires no reason for confidence and there’s not much moneyline value associated with them.
From a matchup standpoint, Detroit defends the run well and the ability to get Le’Veon Bell going on the ground has usually been a litmus test of Steeler success. The fact Pittsburgh is 3-6 tells you that hasn’t happened very often and I don’t see it taking place on Sunday.
Green Bay(+185) NY Giants (-220): It’s games like this that make you feel like the Giants’ season is really coming together. They take advantage of a soft schedule to win three straight and get themselves off life support and back to 3-6, good enough to contend in the woeful NFC East. Now they get a crack at Green Bay without Rodgers. New York has to be the pick here.
Minnesota (+430) Seattle (-565): Seattle is at home where they have arguably the best home-crowd advantage in the NFL. Minnesota shows one of the league’s sharpest distinctions between home and road performance, especially when going outdoors. It’s not hard to figure why Seattle is Week 11’s biggest moneyline favorite, and even though losing on these prices has killed me this season, this number is actually cheap given Minnesota’s low odds of winning.
Atlanta(-115) Tampa Bay (-100): The Buccaneer may have gotten on the board last Monday Night with their first win in a game against Miami. But the fact Tampa had to struggle to beat a team in turmoil speaks poorly to their ability to do much more. Atlanta is still just a 2-7 team, but I’ll take them in this battle of NFC South has-beens.
Arizona (-340) Jacksonville (+280): Arizona is quietly lurking in the NFC playoff race at 5-4, though they’d have to catch either the San Francisco/Seattle runner-up or the New Orleans/Carolina runner-up, so the odds are the Cards get squeezed out by the need to include a bad NFC East team in the postseason bracket. What Arizona does do exceptionally well is stop the run and that bodes well as they travel across the country to face Maurice-Jones Drew.
New England-Carolina is the Monday Night Game, and we’ll take a look at on game day in a separate post.
If you like mediocre NFC football, you’re going to love the major TV games for NFL Week 8. Of the eight teams in the four key national spots (Thursday, late Sunday afternoon, Sunday night and Monday), five of them are NFC teams that are .500 are lower. It’s time for Washington, St. Louis, Carolina, Minnesota and Tampa Bay to bask in the national spotlight.
The networks can at least breathe a sigh of relief in having Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and possibly the best team in the NFL with Seattle to fill out the card. But it’s an ugly week as TheSportsNotebook’s NFL analysisbreaks down the TV schedule of Week 8.
We’ve followed our usual approach of putting the moneyline beside each team in parentheses–the odds of an outright win, measured in betting units of $100.
And the entertainment value of this column comes from the picks made against that line. I’m in the midst of a carnage that makes me feel like a Vikings quarterback right around now. I’ve lost four of seven weeks, including each of the last two. In terms of the bottom line, last week’s (-655) bloodletting, leaves me in a (-1865) hole for the year.
Carolina (-280) Tampa Bay (+230) (Thur, 8:25 PM ET, NFL): This Thursday night matchup won’t exactly deter those of us who are critical of the NFL for insisting on forcing a game every week into this spot. Cam Newton’s played two straight good games and Tampa Bay deals every day with rumors of Greg Schiano’s firing.
But the Panthers are nothing if not inconsistent, the Buccaneers do have some talent on the defensive side. I’d like to take a shot with the home underdog here, but without Doug Martin in the lineup, I don’t see how Tampa gets any offense going. It’s likely a Carolina win, and another ugly Thursday affair.
Washington (+435) Denver (-570) (4:25 PM ET, Fox): Denver’s defensive flaws were put on display last Sunday night in Indianapolis, while Washington’s have been on display all year. The Redskins do appear to have RG3 back in rhythm, and he’s found a new target in Jordan Reed. The Washington quarterback has a sense for the big moment and the national stage against Peyton Manning qualifies. I expect the Redskins to put up a lot of points.
The issue will be whether Peyton just outguns the Redskins, and given how bad the Washington defense is at tackling, it’s easy to see Manning just picking this defense apart with precision passing and letting receivers like Julius Thomas do their damage after the catch. Washington has to turn Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo loose on blitz packages from the outset and just keep coming.
I think Washington is worth the underdog price, and not just because I’m a fan. I didn’t feel the ‘Skins were worth it in Green Bay in Week 2, but with a healthy RG3 and maybe a little extra intangible edge from Mike Shanahan returning to Denver an upset is at least possible enough to merit a shot at (+435).
Green Bay (-400) Minnesota (+320) (8:30 PM ET, NBC): There was a time when Minnesota on their homefield was a bad matchup for Green Bay–like Week 17 of last season when the Vikings played their way into the playoffs. But the Minnesota defensive front isn’t what it was in 2012, and Green Bay now has a running game with Eddie Lacy that can slow the pass rush against Aaron Rodgers.
Those two reasons alone make the Packers worth the hefty price tag, and then add in all of the Viking chaos right now. Christian Ponder has clearly lost the confidence of the organization, but has to start with Josh Freeman having a concussion. Adrian Peterson isn’t playing well and is coming off a personal tragedy. Some strange things have happened to the Packers in the Metrodome, but Sunday night shouldn’t be one of them.
Seattle (-580) St. Louis (+440) (Mon, 8:30 PM ET, ESPN): Seattle comes into this game with a lot of prep time, having played last Thursday night in Arizona. The combination of the Seahawks’ running game and Russell Wilson’s mobility will serve to neutralize the Rams’ biggest strong, which is their ability to get consistent pressure off the edges in the 4-3 defense.
Against this, St. Louis throws Kellen Clemens to the wolves in his first start of the year, with Sam Bradford now sidelined the rest of the season. This game screams mismatch, and I’ll take the Seahawks. Game 5 of the World Series is scheduled for Monday in St. Louis–how many locals will actually choose the Rams over the baseball Cardinals?
Two games in the early 1 PM ET window will be seen by large chunks of the country…
Miami (+215) New England (-260) (1 PM ET, CBS): Cameron Wake has to have his best game of the year for the Miami Dolphins. If the defensive end can generate some heat, the Fish can keep Tom Brady off balance and continue the rough season the Patriot quarterback is going through. If not, it’s going to be dependent on Ryan Tannehill to keep pace with the New England offense and that’s not a place where you want to be.
I picked New Englandto lose in key games to New Orleans and Atlanta that they won. I took them to win over the Jets and Bengals in road games they lost. Inspired by that track record, I’m confidently picking the Patriots to win and sending all of New England into despair.
Dallas (+140) Detroit (-165) (1 PM ET, Fox): As impressive as the Dallas defense was in the shutdown win at Philadelphia last week, the Cowboy offense still has problems and it’s asking a lot for this team to win two straight road games against comparable opponents. Detroit’s loss at home to Cincinnati last week was disappointing, but it’s also tough to see the Lions losing two straight in Ford Field to comparable opponents. That’s why I pick Detroit.
And the rest of the card will be seen by mostly local audiences…
NY Jets (+215) Cincinnati (-260): It’s too bad CBS doesn’t have the doubleheader this week, because this game, along with Miami-New England, deserve some wider exposure. The Jets are up to 4-3 and the Bengals are leading the AFC North at 5-2. It’s tough to see New York winning two big games in a row though, especially with this one on the road.
Buffalo (+415) New Orleans (-540): The Saints have had two weeks to stew over blowing that game in Foxboro in the closing seconds of Week 6 and are coming off a bye, playing at home. The Bills are due for a letdown after a nice win over the Dolphins. New Orleans is worth the stiff price tag. Atlanta (+120) Arizona (-140): Roddy White is still up in the air as to whether he’ll play, and Arizona is playing at home with some extra prep time after playing last Thursday night. I get why they’re favored, but I’m picking the Falcons. If White is in the lineup, I think Atlanta is still significantly better. Without White, I think Matt Ryan can get the ball to Harry Douglas and Tony Gonzalez enough times to win a tight battle.
Cleveland (+295) Kansas City (-360): Jason Campbell gets the call in Cleveland, as the Browns are committed to moving past the Brandon Weeden era as fast as possible. It’s hard to believe Kansas City as an 8-0 team, but another easy home game gets them there.
Pittsburgh (-125) Oakland (+105): I loved what I saw from Le’Veon Bell in the running game for Pittsburgh last week, and I’m ready to believe they can keep it going. That’s enough for them to win in Oakland and the price is cheap.
NY Giants (+185)Philadelphia (-220): We’ll see if Eli Manning’s ability to make it through the Monday night win over Minnesota without throwing an interception carries over against a better team on the road. I’m a little skittish about the high price on the Eagles, but Michael Vick will be back and the offensive atrocity they put on against the Cowboys last week was likely an aberration.
San Francisco (-1400) Jacksonville (+850) (London): There have been two games in London. First, it’s the Steelers-Vikings when both teams were 0-4. Now it’s the Jaguars. If I were the Brits, I’d be asking the U.S. if we’re still bitter about that whole Stamp Tax thing. The Niners are nicked up almost everywhere, and the combination of this huge price tag and the variable of the overseas trip is enough to give one brief pause. After that pause one says “get real, this is the Jaguars”, and dutifully picks San Fran.
Six teams have byes this week, accounting for the lighter schedule. Chicago is off in the NFC, three AFC South teams (Indy, Houston, Tennessee) are catching their breath and San Diego has also hit its schedule break.
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.
The undercard… 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.
The winless New York Giants try to avoid national TV humiliation, a possible Super Bowl preview in Foxboro, a battle for first place in the NFC East that underscores divisional weakness and a Monday night battle that conjures up memories of playoff battles in the late ’00s.
TheSportsNotebook’s NFL analysislooks at the four main national games of Week 6 that most everyone will see, and then runs through some moneyline predictions on the rest of the card.
My picks last week got sunk by Atlanta going down at (-550) and turning a modestly profitable week into one with an ugly (-415) bottom line. It’s how I’ve managed to win three of the five weeks, yet still be in a (-1015) hole for the year. When those big favorites nail you, it’s tough to recover
NY Giants (+280) Chicago (-340) (Thur, 8:25 PM ET, NFL): The Giants are a turnover machine going against a defense that knows how to take the football. The Giants have an injury-battered offensive line that should allow Julius Peppers and his mates to get untracked with sacks. And they’re traveling to play on a short week against a pretty good team coming off a loss.
Even though Chicago lost to New Orleans at home, I like the way Jay Cutler played and now he gets a crack at a team with a heckuva lot more problems. This game is a referendum on the Bears’ ability to stay focused and take care of business at home. The price is high, but the pick is Chicago.
New Orleans (+125) New England (-145)(4:25 PM ET, Fox): New Orleans continues to play some really good defense and the New England passing game without Rob Gronkowski remains a work in progress. The Patriots are playing some pretty good defense themselves, and while the Saints look Super Bowl-caliber and Drew Brees is playing efficiently, they aren’t blowing out the scoreboard lights. In short, a Brees-Brady battle might have more defense involved than one might expect at first glance.
It’s hard for me to go against the Patriots on their homefield coming off a loss, but I’m just so totally sold on New Orleans right now that I can’t pass on them at a dog price.
Washington(+195) Dallas (-235)(8:30 PM ET, NBC): Redskins defensive coordinator Jim Haslett better have spent his team’s bye week working on tackling, because it’s going to be necessary against a Dallas offense that just dropped 48 on Denver, even if the Cowboys came up short in that game. Washington also needs to have some creative ways of stopping blitz packages–such as running traps, misdirections, or…dare I say it, the read-option with RG3?
The ‘Skins won both games against the Cowboys a year ago and it’s hard to see them making it three in a row. But not quite as hard as (+195) might suggest. As pathetic as it sounds, the ‘Skins can take first place in the NFC East with a win here and I’m going to pick them to get it. Not only because they’re my troops, but I see the offense coming on strong with the bye week and some continued strengthening of the knee for RG3.
Indianapolis-San Diego (Mon, 8:30 PM ET, ESPN): These teams played in some great playoff games in 2007 and 2008, both won by the Chargers and San Diego also stopped Indianapolis’ push for an undefeated season in 2005. Of course Mike McCoy and Chuck Pagano were a long way from their current posts as head coaches for the Bolts and Colts respectively.
The moneylines on this game aren’t posted yet, which is strange because the pointspread is up at (-1.5). The Colts are getting some good run-pass balance with now with the addition of Trent Richardson, they’ve got Andrew Luck playing well and they have wins over San Francisco and Seattle.
Unless you think they’re going to have an emotional letdown after the Seahawk win–a not unreasonable notion–than the Colts merit a bigger edge over the Bolts. I’ll take Indy to win and just bill myself (-125) if they lose, which based on the pointspread is more than fair.
TheSportsNotebook’s moneyline picks on the rest of the Week 6 games…
Green Bay (-140) Baltimore (+120): Baltimore–Fox will show this game to a lot of the country in the 1 PM ET window. Pittsburgh (+110) NY Jets (-130): Pittsburgh–this is CBS’s top game, with Jim Nantz and Phil Simms on hand for the broadcast. Steelers-Jets might have been worthy of that status back in 2010 when it was the AFC Championship Game matchup, but now it’s merely a sign of how badly the network got hosed on this week’s schedule.
Oakland (+310) Kansas City (-380): Kansas City Cincinnati (-300) Buffalo (+250): Buffalo Carolina (+100) Minnesota (-130): Minnesota St. Louis (+290) Houston (-350): Houston Philadelphia (-120) Tampa Bay (+100): Philadelphia Detroit (-140) Cleveland (+120): Detroit Tennessee (+510) Seattle (-700): Seattle Jacksonville (+2100) Denver (-6600): Denver Arizona (+390) San Francisco (-500): San Francisco
As you can see, I’m on a lot of hefty favorites again this week. Is this me never learning, or taking an easy (+100) where it exists. Let’s find out.
TheSportsNotebook’s NFL analysis has previewed the four nationally televised games of Week 5, including last night’s Buffalo-Cleveland game. Now we’ll take a look at the 10 games on Sunday that constitute the undercard, that will be shown to more regional audiences.
This Sunday is one where the undercard games are, more often than not, the better games on the schedule, making one wonder about the wisdom of those who make up the TV schedule.
We’ll start with six games that would be attractive in any of the marquee spots, from the national late afternoon game to either Sunday or Monday in prime-time. All games, as usual, are picked on the moneyline. I’ve won three of four weeks, including last week’s (+360), but a disastrous Week 3 has me at (-600) for the year.
New England (-115) Cincinnati (-105): This will be the first full game for the Patriots without Vince Wolfork anchoring that defensive line. It’s also going to be a challenge for the Pats to find Tom Brady enough time to find his emerging young receivers. There’s a lot of reasons to like Cincinnati to win this game at home, but I’m very disgusted with the Bengals after last week’s loss to the Browns. The difference in the moneylines is not substantial, so I’ll take New England.
New Orleans (-115) Chicago (-105): We’re watching the transformation of Chicago into an offense-first team, and of New Orleans to one that might be not be defense-first, but at least has defense as a part of the equation for the first time since 2009. It’s no coincidence that the Saints won a Super Bowl that year and they have a chance to do it again this year. I’ll pick them to get this win on the road.
Seattle (-145) Indianapolis (+125): No two teams were more hyped in the offseason than the 49ers and Seahawks. Now Indianapolis has the chance to knock off both in the first five weeks of the schedule, and this one’s at home. Seattle’s coming off that emotional comeback win in Houston last week and on the road for a second straight week. I like the Colts even if everything was equal, and getting (+125) adds to the attraction.
Detroit (+270) Green Bay (-340): This is a big-time game for both teams. A Detroit win, on top of last week’s home win over Chicago, and the Lions are the team to beat in the NFC North. And it would drop the Packers to 1-3. But Green Bay has had two weeks to get ready for this game, and while I expect Aaron Rodgers to run for his life most of the afternoon, #12 at home in a must-win game is not someone you bet against. It’s a risk at this price, but I’ll take the Pack.
Baltimore (+125) Miami (-145): Miami has the chance to show that Monday Night’s disaster was more about the Saints than it was about the Dolphins. Baltimore has the chance to show it can play a good football game against a good team for four quarters ,something they haven’t done yet this year. The lack of a running game in Baltimore is alarming and without that, the Dolphins are going to be comfortable teeing off.
I’m taking the Fish in what we’ll call a “sea change pick”. I liked the Ravens and did not like the Dolphins, but the early evidence suggests it’s time to rethink both.
Kansas City (-150) Tennessee (+130): Jake Locker is out 4-6 weeks and while the Titans win with running the ball and defense, Locker had delivered some clutch play. At least backup Ryan Fitzpatrick got extensive starting experience in Buffalo. Fitzpatrick’s long-term track record tells you that mistakes will come, but it also tells you he’s capable of looking really good for a week or two. This will be one of those weeks, as Tennessee hands Kansas City their first loss.
Then we have four undercard games that truly deserve the label…
Philadelphia (+105) NY Giants (-125): The Eagles have at least looked like a competent football team even if their defense is lacking. The Giants have done nothing well, and after picking them four straight weeks, I give up. I’ll take the Birds.
Carolina (-130) Arizona (+110): My disgust level with Arizona’s narrow escape at dysfunctional Tampa last week can’t be underestimated. For that reason alone, I’m picking the favored Panthers.
San Diego (-230) Oakland (+195): San Diego has been good to me this year. I’ve picked them all four games and though they are 2-2, they’ve been moneyline underdogs each week, meaning it’s been profitable. But now the market has caught up, and this is a really hefty line for a road game in odd circumstances–it will kick off at 11:35 PM EST on NFL Network, because the Oakland A’s have the stadium the day before and it takes 24 hours to get the field ready.
The Chargers are also missing Malcolm Floyd and Dwight Freeney, while Terrelle Pryor will come back for the Raiders. That (-230) is just way too much exposure on a game I can see going either way, so I’m picking Oakland.
Jacksonville (+450) St. Louis (-600): We’ll see if the return of Justin Blackmon make any difference for Jacksonville. But what does it say about the Jaguars that they’re the biggest underdog on the board this week, even against the Rams?