NFL Week 10 is a strange week for CBS to have the doubleheader. The network carries the AFC, and the four teams with byes include two of the AFC’s best (New England & Kansas City) and two of the AFC’s surprise playoff contenders (Cleveland & NY Jets). But when you have Peyton Manning in your conference, there’s going to be game worth watching, and Denver-San Diego leads up the TV schedule in the late Sunday afternoon slot.
TheSportsNotebook’s NFL analysis will break down the Sunday games according to their prominence on the TV slate and then conclude with Monday Night’s yawner between Miami and Tampa Bay. All games are picked on the moneyline, the odds for an outright win. Last week, Aaron Rodgers’ injury meant I took a loss with Green Bay at (-500) and that left me (-385) for the week, which in turn dropped me to (-2025) for the year. I feel like my beloved Redskins, who lost on Thursday night in Minnesota–in deep, and getting deeper.
Sunday’s national games…
Denver (-290)-San Diego (+240) (4:25 PM ET, Fox): This will be the first game the Broncos have to play without head coach John Fox, who is recuperating from a heart condition in Charlotte. Denver defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio will serve as the interim boss. Del Rio has head coaching experience, taking the Jacksonville Jaguars to the playoffs in 2007.
Del Rio will have the luxury of keeping his focus on the defense, since Peyton Manning can run the offense regardless of who’s on the sidelines. And Manning should have every opportunity for a big game on the road. San Diego ranks in the lower third of the NFL against both the run and pass. Furthermore, they have no notable pass rush threats that might rattle Peyton’s cage.
What San Diego does have is the ability to move the football, with Philip Rivers completing over 72 percent of his passes and making a run at Comeback Player Of The Year. Rivers on his home field is as capable as anyone of getting into a scoring shootout with Peyton and living to tell about it.
Furthermore, San Diego has shown up and been competitive each week, and at 4-4, they are in a mesh of teams very much alive for the final playoff spot in the AFC (assuming the Denver/Kansas City runner-up grabs one wild-card berth). The Chargers are going to need a big home win if they’re going to make it, and this one would qualify.
Denver is a seven-point favorite and given San Diego’s propensity to fight teams tough, especially at home, I think that’s excessive, and that’s reflected in a moneyline that’s a little bloated, especially given this is the first game the Broncos have to play without Fox. I think this game comes down to a field goal either way and will pick the Chargers to spring the upset.
Dallas (+230)-New Orleans (-280) (8:30 PM ET, NBC): By the time kickoff comes on Sunday night, the Cowboys could be in position to take firm control of the NFC East. At 5-4, Dallas has already seen division rival Washington lose its sixth game on Thursday night. Philadelphia may do the same on the road at Green Bay in the afternoon. If the Cowboys pull an upset in the Bayou and take a two-game lead, it might be time to call the NFC East race early.
But when you have a defense that ranks 31st against the pass and are still dealing with a defensive line that’s all banged up, you aren’t exactly in an ideal position to take on Drew Brees on his homefield. The Saints took a tough loss last week to the Jets, but it was in the Meadowlands and New York has also beaten the Patriots. Dallas has, as usual, teased with its possibilities, but they are not as good as the Jets.
What’s more, New Orleans is more likely to get pressure on Tony Romo than Dallas is on Brees. The Saints can get heat with Cameron Jordan at defensive end, or on the opposite side of the ball with Junior Galette coming from his outside linebacker spot.
I expect Romo to play well and the teams to move it up and down the field, but that means the defense that come up with just a few big plays–the sack that stops a drive being a good example–is going to win the game. And since I just I made New Orleans my midseason choice to win the Super Bowl, I’m not going to pick against them on their homefield in prime-time.
Two games in the 1 PM ET window that will be seen by large parts of the country…
Cincinnati (-125)-Baltimore (+105): I don’t know what to make of the Ravens. I want to say they’re being undervalued, and they’ll turn around their season, currently stuck at 3-5. I also know I’ve been saying they’re undervalued all year and I keep getting burned, with last week’s loss at Cleveland being close to the final straw.
The problem is I do know what to make of Cincinnati, and I don’t feel they’re a team you can confidently bet as a road favorite. Geno Atkins is done for the year with a torn ACL, and while the Bengals have other talented lineman–Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap on the edges, there were few in the game who could pressure from the interior like Atkins.
Baltimore is still playing good defense, strong against the run and good enough against the pass. They’re at home, and with Cincinnati at 6-3, it’s a must-win game for the Ravens. Those are the reasons I’m digging in my heels and taking Baltimore one more time. And there’s one more reason–if the Bengals win they take firm control of the AFC North and shift the conversation to their Super Bowl hopes. The history of this organization suggests that’s exactly the time they get beat.
Philadelphia (+105)-Green Bay (-115): These two teams made the biggest quarterback news last week, for precisely the opposite reasons. Nick Foles tied an NFL record with seven touchdown passes for the Eagles. Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone for the Packers. Initially, Rodgers was expected to miss three games and I wrote an optimistic outlook for Green Bay based on that. Now the report has changed to 4-6 weeks, and even if it’s only four weeks that includes a Thanksgiving visit to Detroit that the Packers desperately need Rodgers for.
That’s for further down the line though. What’s relevant here is that Green Bay is on their homefield and a matchup that can work well for them. In spite of Foles’ heroics last week, this is still the quarterback who couldn’t lead his team in the end zone once against Dallas, and the focus of the Philly offense is still LeSean McCoy. Green Bay is one of the best in the NFL at stopping the run, and they can run it well themselves with Eddie Lacy.
The Packers also get some good injury news with the return of outside linebacker Clay Matthews. Green Bay needs someone who can create big plays, either sacks or forced passes that become interceptions and Matthews is as good as anyone in the league.
There’s still the quarterback problem for Green Bay–for all of the deserved hype about Philadelphia’s defensive woes, most of that is because they are the worst in the NFL against the pass, something Seneca Wallace is unlikely to exploit. It’s been a long time since the Packers had to win by grounding and pounding, but I think they’ll fight their way to an ugly home win on Sunday.
Two NFC games that would be worthier than Philly-Green Bay for some national attention…
Detroit (-110)-Chicago (-110): Jay Cutler returns for Chicago in a game that features the two teams that have suddenly become the co-favorites in the NFC North with the injury to Rodgers. Whether Cutler’s return is a good thing is debatable–Josh McNown played well in his absence.
More pertinent to this game is whether the revived Julius Peppers that was seen on Monday Night in Green Bay will be present for this game. Peppers finally got a pass rush, and that’s what the Bears are going to need against Matthew Stafford. This game is listed as a pick-’em, and I’m going to default to the home team and go Chicago in a close one.
Carolina (+210)-San Francisco (-250): This is Carolina’s chance to prove their four-game win streak isn’t just about cashing on a weak part of the schedule. The 49ers are playing good defense, running the ball well, and it appears Colin Kapernick has moved past some of his early season struggles. Plus, the game is in San Francisco.
I believe the Panthers’ turnaround is legitimate–you don’t win four in a row against anyone in the NFL without playing some good football, and they’ve got a good defense of their own, good pass rushers and Cam Newton seems to be settling in. But somewhere, there’s a happy medium, between de-legitimizing Carolina’s win streak and saying they’ll win on the road in Frisco. I don’t see the latter happening on Sunday.
The rest of the Week 10 card…
Seattle (-230)-Atlanta (+190): A rematch of a great divisional playoff game from 2012, and one where the Falcons come in licking the wounds of a lost season, while the Seahawks try and get healthy on the offensive line. Last week I gave Atlanta their last benefit of the doubt and picked them over Carolina. The Falcons lost 34-10. I’ve got to go Seattle this time around.
Jacksonville (+485)-Tennessee (-650): Tennessee is sitting on 4-4, and in position to make a playoff run and maybe even make Indianapolis sweat in the AFC South. The Titans can’t afford to look past the league’s worst team.
St. Louis (+335)-Indianapolis (-420): The Rams are showing a nice running attack with Zac Stacy, and the Colts have the league’s 12th-ranked rush offense themselves. Neither team defends the run particularly well, so that should give us some kind of idea where this game is heading. I’m going to take a shot with the Rams for an upset. I think the game will be close, and the moneyline price makes it worthwhile.
Oakland (+270)-NY Giants (-330): I know the Giants have won a couple games in a row and Oakland has to do the whole travel across the country for an early kickoff routine. But is that really enough to merit making New York one of the week’s big favorites on the moneyline? In spite of my doubts, I guess I’m part of the reason, because I’ll be pretty surprised if Oakland wins the game.
Buffalo (+135)-Pittsburgh (-155): E.J. Manuel returns to the fold for a Buffalo team that’s running the ball well with C.J. Spiller and playing adequate defense. They’ve also beaten Baltimore and nearly took down Kansas City lost week. Both of those games were at home, and now they the Bills have to show they can handle a bad Pittsburgh team on the road. I’ll take Buffalo at the underdog price.
Houston (+125)-Arizona (-145): Case Keenum is showing some moxie as the new Texans quarterback, and Arizona is showing some fight in the NFC playoff race, hanging in at 4-4. This is another game where the prices are close enough that I’m going to just default to the home team. Eventually Keenum has to throw his first interception of the year and a secondary with Patrick Peterson would be a logical candidate to get it.
MONDAY NIGHT (8:30 PM ET, ESPN): Miami (-140)-Tampa Bay (+120): The Jonathan Martin story has blanketed the national media this week, with the reports of hazing gone too far against the second-year Miami offensive tackle. If Tampa Bay can’t get a win at home against a team with all these distractions, then Greg Schiano needs to be fired on the spot.