It’s a peculiar week of matchups in the NFL, with New England’s No. 1 offense facing Seattle’s top-ranked defense and Arizona’s No. 31 attack unit butting heads with Buffalo’s No. 31 tacklers.
Over the past 20 years, teams that finished No. 1 in offense and No. 1 on defense met that season nine times, with defense winning five. But in somewhat of a surprise, the “over” has come through in seven instances.
As for past matchups featuring 31 vs. 31, good grief, who cares?
And speaking of the Bills’ lousy defense, a wacky trend has developed involving teams that rank 24 and worse in total defense. Teams coming off games against those teams have gone 11-22-1 vs. the line in their next game.
It’s likely that the inflated scores they put up against those mushy defenses then result in a point spread that leans more in their favor the next week. For instance, this season teams are 0-4 ATS off games against both the Saints’ last-rated unit and the Titans’ 29-rated squad.
Thus, San Diego (after facing New Orleans) and San Diego (after Tennessee last week) might be worth a look Sunday. On the other hand, teams are 18-15 ATS after facing teams ranked in the top nine on defense, including 3-1 after San Francisco and Houston. Thus, the Bills and Jets might be in line for a better-than-expected outing.
Just a thought.
Now for a closer look at this weekend’s games:
PRO FOOTBALL SUNDAY, OCT. 14
Cincinnati Bengals (3-2) at Cleveland Browns (0-5)
Time: 10 a.m. PDT
Line: Bengals -2½ (44)
Facts: The only team in history to open 0-5 and finish with a winning mark was Buffalo in 1962 (7-6-1). The Bills failed to reach the postseason. • This is the first rematch of the season. In Week 2, host Cincinnati won 34-27 as a 7-point pick. • Cleveland is 7-3-1 ATS on its 11-game losing streak. • The Browns sacked Andy Dalton six times in that Week 2 meeting, their highest total the past three seasons. • Cincinnati knocked a yard off its per-carry yield to 4.4 after holding Miami to 68 yards on 35 rushes last week.
Analysis: The Browns, fearing for their paychecks with a new owner ready to take over, get back CB Joe Haden, who’s had his feet up while serving a four-game NFL sentence for violating the PED policy. In the one game he played, he helped Cleveland fluster Philly’s Michael Vick, getting one of the Browns’ 4 INTs. Plus, LB D’Qwell Jackson (concussion) is expected to return. The Giants took advantage of his absence in their comeback from a 14-point deficit last week.
Forecast: Browns 23, Bengals 20
Indianapolis Colts(2-2) at New York Jets (2-3)
Time: 10 a.m. PDT
Line: Jets -3½ (43)
Facts: Colts QB Andrew Luck hasn’t faced a defense ranked better than 19. New York’s is tied for 20. • The Jets will be holding their breath that center Nick Mangold (probable) won’t be hobbled by his injured ankle. • Indy, which trailed 21-3 last week vs. Green Bay, matched the biggest comeback by a team this season with a 30-27 triumph. It was the Colts’ first win after trailing by 10-plus since beating the Jets 17-16 in the AFC title game in 2009. • Jets QB Mark Sanchez is keeping his job yet another week.
Analysis: This game could take an eternity with the league’s two most inaccurate QBs (Sanchez 48.2 pct; Luck 54.2) lobbing incompletions throughout. For New York, though, it escapes the schedule meatgrinder that fed them San Fran and Houston in Weeks 4-5. Indy, meanwhile, can’t possibly retain the emotion it had in rallying past GB to win for HC Chuck Pagano, who’s battling leukemia. This season teams are 2-8 ATS the week after overcoming a 10-point deficit.
Forecast: Jets 19, Colts 13
Kansas City Chiefs (1-4) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-3)
Time: 10 a.m. PDT
Line: Bucs -4½ (40)
Facts: KC, which has a -15 turnover margin, is on pace to obliterate the mark for worst differential (-30) set by the 1965 Steelers. • Tampa Bay is yielding a league-worst 345.3 passing ypg. Horrors! No team has ever given up even 300 in a season. Chiefs QB Brady Quinn seems to have found a soft place to land for his first start since 2009 (Matt Cassel, out/concussion). • KC had 214 ground yards vs. the Ravens last week, the most for a losing team since Denver had 216 last season in KC .
Analysis: Kansas City’s Jamaal Charles, the NFL’s leading rusher (551 yards) goes against a TB defense that’s yielding 3.2 a carry, third best in the league. Maybe that’s why teams go to the air as much as they do. Whereas the Bucs’ pass offense has been stagnant, with key offseason acquisition Vincent Jackson catching only 16 of 38 targeted throws, KC could actually get a boost from Quinn, who looked OK in his brief relief role last week. Then again, anyone’s an upgrade over Cassel, the league’s No. 32-rated passer.
Forecast: Chiefs 28, Bucs 17
Oakland Raiders (1-3) at Atlanta Falcons (5-0)
Time: 10 a.m. PDT
Line: Falcons -9 (48½)
Facts: In 2008, the Falcons outgained the host Raiders 309 yards to -2 in the first half en route to a 24-0 win. • Oakland, averaging 60.8 ypg rushing, is on track to become the first team to fall short of 1,000 in a non-strike season since the 1963 Jets. • The Raiders are allowing enemy passers to complete 71.5% of their passes, second worst rate in the league. Atlanta’s Matt Ryan is fifth on the QB chart with a 68.3 rate. • Oakland is 0-6 ATS coming off its previous six bye weeks.
Analysis: This marks the first of four jet-lag games this year for Oakland, which will be playing an early Sunday game after crossing three time zones. The Raiders are 2-6 ATS in this spot since 2009, excluding their 35-13 loss at Miami in a Week 2 late-afternoon game. The Falcons, meanwhile, need only to avoid dreaming ahead to next week’s bye. That hasn’t been much of an issue in the previous four years of the Mike Smith regime, with Atlanta going 3-1 both SU and ATS before napping.
Forecast: Falcons 37, Raiders 20
Dallas Cowboys (2-2) at Baltimore Ravens (4-1)
Time: 10 a.m. PDT
Line: Ravens by 3½ (44)
Facts: Cowboys QB Tony Romo, who entered 2012 with the NFL’s second best career passer rating, dropped from 14 to 23 on this year’s chart after his 5-INT game vs. Chicago. • The previous meeting in 2008 saw Baltimore and Joe Flacco beat the Cowboys 33-24 as a 5½-point underdog in Dallas’ final game at Texas Stadium. • Dallas is coming off a bye, but teams with the extra rest are only 31-28-2 ATS the past 3 years vs. teams with normal rest. • Baltimore has a league-best 14-game home win streak, but is 6-7-1 ATS.
Analysis: Despite the stench from a 34-18 loss to the Bears before the bye week, Romo has bounced back from horrible games. In 2007, for instance, he pitched 5 INTs at Buffalo then had 22 TD throws and only 6 INT’s his next 8 games as Dallas went 7-1. But he didn’t have the awful O-line he has now, which seems to never know the snap count. That alone should give Baltimore a big edge here.
Forecast: Ravens 30, Cowboys 20
Detroit Lions (1-3) at Philadelphia Eagles (3-2)
Time: 10 a.m. PDT
Line: Eagles -3½ (47½)
Facts: For the second straight week, Philadelphia faces a team off a bye. In Week 5, the Eagles lost 16-14 in Pittsburgh, but improved to 1-4 ATS. • Flashback: In 1933, the puniest crowd in Philly history (1,750) was on hand when these franchises first met. The Eagles lost 25-0. • The Lions have allowed six return TDs. The most anyone yielded in 2011 was 7. • The Eagles have gone two consecutive games without a sack. Last year, in sharing the league lead with 50, they had only one such game.
Analysis: Both teams have turned sour this year, with Eagles QB Michael Vick having more turnovers (11) than three-quarters of the teams in the league. Sadly for Detroit, the Lions are tied for last in takeaways with 3. And what’s with the Mathew Stafford-Calvin Johnson pass-catch connection? At this stage last season, they had teamed for 8 scores. They’ve had 9 in their past 16 games, but only 1 this year.
Forecast: Eagles 27, Lions 20
St. Louis Rams (3-2) at Miami Dolphins (2-3)
Time: 10 a.m. PDT
Line: Dolphins -4 (38½)
Facts: In St. Louis’ only previous outdoor game, they fell 23-6 in Chicago. Conversely, they are 3-1 indoors (4-0 ATS).• Miami averaged 1.9 yards on its 35 runs last week vs. a Bengals team that yielded a norm of 5.4 its first 4.• Rams WR Danny Amendola (shoulder, out) was leading the league in receptions with 32.• Rams QB Sam Bradford was 7-for-21 passing last week, the only starter to complete only a third of his throws in a game this year.
Analysis: Both teams have flourished defensively and struggled on the other end. The Rams, who had 9 sacks last week, have the league’s third-best defensive passer rating and might benefit from facing the league’s No. 30 passer in Ryan Tannehill. At least he has RB Reggie Bush. Miami, allowing a league-low 2.7 yards a rush, faces a team that had only 12 first downs last week and hasn’t had a rushing TD. In a game that might become a field goal battle, “Legatron” for the Rams gets the nod.
Forecast: Rams 18, Dolphins 15
New England Patriots (3-2) at Seattle Seahawks (3-2)
Time: 1:05 p.m. PDT
Line: Patriots -3½ (44½)
Facts: New England, behind QB Tom Brady, showed its dominance vs. Denver last week in a 31-21 win by setting set a franchise mark with 35 first downs. • The Seahawks and their NFC West buddies all have winning records. There hasn’t been an all-winning division/conference at the end of a season since 1935. • Patriots WR Wes Welker was targeted 15 times last week, catching 13. All other NE receivers were thrown to 16 times. • In Seattle’s past 25 full-fledged possessions, it has one TD drive – 27 yards at Carolina.
Analysis: This is a matchup between the Patriots’ No. 1-rated offense against the league’s No. 1 defense. But it’s not quite the classic encounter the rankings suggest. The Patriots haven’t faced a defense that’s currently ranked in the top 10. The Seahawks have gone against a collection of misfit offenses, none ranked in the top 15. So Brady should own a whopping edge over Seattle rookie QB Russell Wilson who has to go against a scheming Bill Belichick.
Forecast: Patriots 28, Seahawks 13
Buffalo Bills (2-3) at Arizona Cardinals (4-1)
Time: 1:05 p.m. PDT
Line: Cardinals -4½ (43½)
Facts: Buffalo has given up an average of 600.5 yards a game the past two weeks. It has been reported that that’s the largest two-game yield since 1950 by the NY Yanks, a team that was sold back to the league after the 1951 season. • Arizona already was without first-team RB Beanie Wells, and now Ryan Williams (shoulder) is out. • Arizona QB Kevin Kolb has been sacked 17 times the past two weeks and has dropped from third on the passer chart to 16h.
Analysis: There’s no ground game in worse shape than Arizona’s, at a league-low 2.7 ypg and now relying on its third option, LaRod Stephens-Howling, who’s probable with a hip injury. Buffalo, meanwhile, which has given up 52 and 45 points in lopsided losses the past 2 games, spent the week in Arizona after playing in San Francisco on Sunday. No doubt there were some bonding experiences and players-only gatherings that will give the Bills a morale boost for one week at least.
Forecast: Bills 26, Cardinals 24
Minnesota Vikings (4-1) at Washington Redskins (2-3)
Time: 1:25 p.m. PDT
Line: Redskins -1½ (no total)
Facts: The Vikings earned one of their three victories last season by beating the Redskins in D.C. 33-26 as a 6-point underdog. But QB Christian Ponder (concussion) and RB Adrian Peterson (knee) were KO’d. • Washington yielded 241 rushing yards in that game, the only time the past 2 seasons a foe has eclipsed 200 ground yards. • The Redskins lead the league in punts blocked (2) and missed FG tries (5). At least HC Mike Shanahan gave the boot to PK Billy Cundiff this week.
Analysis: Robert Griffin III (questionable, concussion) is expected to start at QB for the Redskins despite his injury from last week. Even when he had a clear head, the Skins were worst in the league converting on third down, which has been putting added pressure on a defense that saw two standouts put on IR two weeks ago – DE Adam Carriker and LB Brian Orakpo. The Vikings definitely enter with more rah-rah spirit.
Forecast: Vikings 27, Redskins 19
New York Giants (3-2) at San Francisco 49ers (4-1)
Time: 1:25 p.m. PDT
Line: 49ers -6½ (45½)
Facts: The 49ers, coming off 34-0 and 45-3 victories, are the first team with consecutive wins by 30+ since New England in 2010. • FYI: Over the previous 10 years, teams are 2-6 ATS in their next game after such back-to-back blowouts. • Counting last week’s 41-27 home victory vs. Cleveland, the Giants have rallied from 14 behind twice this year to win. No other team has two comebacks from double-digit holes. • In SF’s 27-20 regular-season triumph last season vs. the Giants, it had a 16-yard edge in average starting field position (35-19).
Analysis: The 49ers have been yearning for this rematch of their 20-17 OT loss to New York in last year’s NFC title game. Two lost fumbles on punt returns foiled a 49ers team that had the second highest regular-season TO differential in league history. SF has the league’s leading passer Alex Smith, but the Giants have savvy Eli Manning weighed down by two Super Bowl rings. The Giants’ cool won’t be able to stop a 49ers pass rush that got to Manning 6 times in that playoff showdown.
Forecast: 49ers 34, Giants 24
Green Bay Packers (2-3) at Houston Texans (5-0)
Time: 5:30 p.m. PDT
Line: Texans -3½ (47½)
Facts: 2008 flashback: The Texans won in Green Bay 24-21 as a 7-point underdog with the temperature at kickoff of 3 degrees. No visiting team has won a game in colder conditions since. • Green Bay is on the second leg of a 3-game road trip, having lost last week in Indianapolis, 30-27. The last such three-game journey in 2010 saw the Packers sweep through the NFC playoffs to the Super Bowl. • Conversely, Houston is starting a 4-week stretch in which it plays 3 home games wrapped around a bye. • The Texans will be without their leading tackler, LB Brian Cushing, for the first time (knee, IR).
Analysis: What happened to the 2011 halcyon days when Aaron Rodgers would lead the Packers to a first-possession TD and then continue to roll up the score. Last season, Green Bay tied for first with Houston, coincidentally, with 8t first-drive TDs. This year it’s been punt, punt, punt, punt, punt – and not likely to get better against a Texans defense rated third in the league. The Packers not only will be without top WR Greg Jennings, but their No. 1 RB Cedric Benson is on IR and TE Jermichael Finley is questionable (shoulder).
Forecast: Texans 27, Packers 17
PRO FOOTBALL MONDAY, OCT. 15
Denver Broncos(2-3) at San Diego Chargers (3-2)
Time: 5:40 p.m. PDT
Line: Chargers -1½ (49½)
Facts: The visiting Broncos will be fighting for a share of first place against AFC West-leading San Diego, which can take a 2-game lead with a victory.• Denver WR Demaryius Thomas leads league pass-catchers in receptions of 20+ yards with 11, but also with fumbles (3). • The Chargers blew a 10-point third-quarter lead in falling to host New Orleans last week 31-24. • San Diego has allowed a league-high 10 TD drives of 80+ yards, as many as it allowed all last season.
Analysis: Only a questionable penalty against the Chargers last week in New Orleans kept San Diego from scoring on an INT return to take a 17-point lead in the Superdome and knocking the stuffing out of a winless Saints team. This explains why two Saints reportedly were seen delivering a fruit basket to game officials after the game. Denver was atrocious in trying to get off the field against the Patriots, allowing 3 TD drives that included 7 first downs apiece. Over the past 2 seasons, no defense yielded even 2 such drives in a game.
Forecast: Chargers 35, Broncos 20
Last week: 8-6 ATS, 8-6 SU
Season total: 36-39-2 (.480) ATS; 39-38 (.506) SU.
Idle: Panthers, Bears, Jaguars, Saints
“Popular” Bob Christ has been forecasting NFL games for more than 30 years. His work has appeared in newspapers from coast to coast in Canada and the U.S. Contact him at [email protected].