Special To Gaming Today
Last week a lot of folks who tend to treat rookie QBs as albatrosses are walking around with empty wallets as the seven first-year passers went a collective 7-0 against the line – all as underdogs, and with five doing their work on the road.
Particularly impressive were Andrew Luck (Indianapolis) and Robert Griffin III (Washington), whose teams are in the thick of the playoff hunt. Although one of the newbie QBs played lousy enough to lose his job (Arizona’s Ryan Lindley) the other six are back for more this week, with four as solid favorites.
Maybe it’s getting carried away to make Seattle’s Russell Wilson a double-digit choice no matter how awful the Cardinals are. But this rookie situation bears watching.
On the weather front, it’s going to be raining all over the place if the meteorologists are telling the truth. Nothing substantial, it seems, but enough to make for uncomfortable conditions for the dome teams such as St. Louis (in Buffalo) and Detroit (in Green Bay). That Lions-Packers game could see some snow with temps in the low 30s.
Now for a closer look this week’s games:
PRO FOOTBALL – SUNDAY, DEC. 9
Baltimore Colts (9-3) at Washington Redskins (6-6)
Time: 10 a.m. PDT
Line: Redskins -2½ (47½)
Facts: Third-string QBs improved to 1-6 when Pittsburgh’s Charlie Batch beat the Ravens last week 23-20, ending their 16-game home win streak. • The Redskins, who had 207 ground yards in their MNF win over Giants last week, are the only team with three 200-yard rushing games. Baltimore has yielded 200 twice (KC, Dallas) and won both. All other teams giving up 200-plus are 5-18. • Baltimore will be without LB Terrell Suggs (biceps), in addition to already disabled DB Lardarius Webb and LB Ray Lewis.
Analysis: Veteran coach Mike Shanahan will be working to have his men ready on short rest, which shouldn’t be a problem considering Washington whipped Dallas 35-28 on three days rest two weeks ago. Baltimore, meanwhile, will be getting its first taste of RG III and rookie RB Alfred Morris (1,106 yards), who befuddled the Giants and Cowboys.. For the Ravens’ offense, QB Joe Flacco just completed a Mark Sanchez-like 47.3 percent of his passes vs. Pittsburgh. He’s not as good on the road.
Forecast: Redskins 29, Ravens 13
Kansas City Chiefs (2-10) at Cleveland Browns (4-8)
Time: 10 a.m. PDT
Line: Browns -6½ (38)
Facts: If the Browns win to reach 5-8, it will match their best 13-game start the past five years. • During the Chiefs’ AFC West title season in 2010, they were a 16-14 victor in Cleveland as a 3-point underdog. • The Browns are a favorite for the second straight game after 17 in a row as an underdog. • KC is 4-1 ATS as an ’dog of 6-plus points this season.• Browns rookie RB Trent Richardson, who averaged 6-plus yards a carry at Alabama in 2010-11, has a norm of 3.6 this season, the worst among the top 35 rushers.
Analysis: It’s likely that a Chiefs team that just buried one of its own (LB Javon Belcher) at midweek will be mentally drained and carry over the moment they had in upsetting Carolina 27-21 last week. Cleveland, meanwhile, has been playing like a team with playoff aspirations, beating Pittsburgh 20-14 and following that up with a no-nonsense, 20-17 victory at Oakland in which the Raiders scored a garbage TD in the final seconds. The Browns’ new owner apparently has his team on its toes.
Forecast: Browns 23, Chiefs 9
San Diego Chargers (4-8) at Pittsburgh Steelers (7-5)
Time: 10 a.m. PDT
Line: Steelers -8 (41½)
Facts: San Diego is 0-14 in the regular season in Pittsburgh, but 2-1 in the playoffs, including a 17-13 win in the AFC title game in 1994 as a 9½-point ’dog. • Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger returns to the huddle after sitting out 3 games (shoulder, ribs). Pittsburgh was 1-2 without him. • This is the Chargers’ third jet-lag game of the year. They lost early Sunday games this season at Cleveland 7-6 and Tampa Bay 34-24. • Since 2006, West Coast teams playing in the early Sunday time slot back East are 20-40-1 ATS.
Analysis: The Steelers have been finding ways to win. Four times this year they have rallied from double-digit deficits to win the past seven weeks, twice as an underdog. San Diego is the polar opposite, three times blowing a double-digit, second-half lead, including their historic collapse in Week 6 at home to Denver when the Chargers fell 35-24 after leading 24-0 at the half. Whereas Big Ben brings life back to the Steelers, the Chargers are waiting for the season to end.
Forecast: Steelers 26, Chargers 12
Tennessee Titans (4-8) at Indianapolis Colts (8-4)
Time: 10 a.m. PDT
Line: Colts -5 (48)
Facts: Colts rookie QB Luck has a 55.5 completion percentage, a touch ahead of NYJ’s Mark Sanchez (55.0). Ouch! But he did lead the Colts to 2 TDs in the final 3 minutes in a 35-33 win at Detroit last week. • In their Week 8 meeting in Nashville, the Colts won 19-13 in OT, which was Luck’s first road win since Stanford shredded Oregon State last year.• In Indy in Week 15 of 2011, the Colts and then-QB Dan Orlovsky put a dagger into the Titans’ playoff hopes with a 27-13 victory as a 6½-point underdog.
Analysis: The Tennessee offensive line has been devastated by injuries this season, which contributed to second-year QB Jake Locker being sacked six times last week against the Texans. Just this week RT David Stewart and RG Steve Hutchinson went on IR. So, it doesn’t look like Tennessee RB Chris Johnson will be seeing many holes. On Indy’s side, the Colts were energized yet again with the news Coach Chuck Pagano likely will be back with the team after his so-far successful fight against cancer.
Forecast: Colts 34, Titans 20
New York Jets (5-7) at Jacksonville Jaguars (2-10)
Time: 10 a.m. PDT
Line: Jets -3 (38)
Facts: NYJ’s 32-3 home victory over Jacksonville in Week 2 last year triggered the end of the “Josh McCown era.” He had 59 passing yards and four INTs. Chad Henne starts these days.•The Jets’ 7-6 victory vs. Arizona last week matched the lowest-scoring game in the league this season. In 2008, their 56-35 win over the Cardinals was the league’s highest-scoring. •Jacksonville WR Cecil Short, who averages 19.2 yards a catch, is doubtful (concussion). And, RB Maurice Jones-Drew, last year’s rushing champ, remains out indefinitely.
Analysis: Since the Jets’ no-turnover victory in St. Louis three weeks ago, they’ve had nine the past two games, their worst back-to-back stretch since committing 11 in 2005 under the guidance of QBs Brooks Bollinger and Vinny Testaverde. No wonder Fireman Ed has handed in his gear. But since the Jaguars run primarily a 4-3 defense, and not the 3-4 that flummoxed Sanchez last week, the ex-USC standout has a chance to come out looking like a winner.
Forecast: Jets 24, Jaguars 14
Chicago Bears (8-4) at Minnesota Vikings (6-6)
Time: 10 a.m. PDT
Line: Bears -3 (39)
Facts: The Bears, who beat the Vikings 28-10 two weeks ago, are going for their record seventh straight victory in the series that dates to 1961. Chicago also is 6-0 ATS on this streak. • The Bears’ had a +16 turnover edge during a 7-1 start, but have been -2 since in going 1-3. • The Vikings have lost twice the past five weeks despite having 240-plus rushing yards. All other teams with that many yards have gone 9-1.• Chicago will be without LB Brian Urlacher (hamstring) and DB Tim Jennings (shoulder).
Analysis: Even before Urlacher and Jennings got hurt, Chicago was deep into a defensive nose dive. In their first six games, the Bears held foes to below 100 yards rushing five times, giving up no more than 106 in their next 6. Every team has had at least 114, topped out by Seattle’s 176 last week. And now comes Adrian Peterson, the league’s rushing leader. Also, that decimated Bears’ offensive line will have its hands full. Last year in the Metrodome, a healthier grouped yielded seven sacks.
Forecast: Vikings 24, Bears 17
Atlanta Falcons (11-1) at Carolina Panthers (3-9)
Time: 10 a.m. PDT
Line: Falcons -3½ (48)
Facts: The Falcons beat the Panthers 30-28 as a 7-point pick in Week 4 after blowing a 10-point second-half lead. Atlanta’s last-second winning FG came after it drove 77 from its 1-yard line in the final 59 seconds. • The Falcons have scored at least 30 points in five straight wins vs. Carolina.• Since the Panthers beat the Saints 35-27 in Week 2, they have gone 0-5 ATS in Charlotte.• Atlanta struggled to fend off New Orleans last week 23-13 despite a +4 turnover edge.
Analysis: The humiliation can’t run any deeper for the Panthers after losing at KC 27-21 last week and then finding out they helped make the Chiefs’ QB, Brady Quinn, the AFC’s Offensive Player of the Week. And, whereas Atlanta is looking at the big picture and can earn the top NFC seed by winning only 2 of its final 4 games, it’s all-in for Carolina , which has only meaningless games against San Diego , Oakland and New Orleans remaining.
Forecast: Panthers 28, Falcons 24
Philadelphia Eagles (3-9) at Tampa Bay Rays (6-6)
Time: 10 a.m. PDT
Line: Buccaneers -7½ (48)
Facts: These foes met 7 times from 1999-2003, including the playoffs, but this is only their third get-together since.• Philadelphia won 33-14 in 2009 as a 15½-point pick. The Eagles haven’t been that big a favorite the past 10 years. • This marks the sixth straight game the Eagles are facing a team that didn’t have a winning record entering the game, but they’ve lost them all. • Bucs WR Vincent Jackson (probable, calf) averages an NFL-high 20.3 yards a catch. Philly is yielding 12,5 a reception, the fourth worst rate.
Analysis: As the Eagles’ ship continues to take on water, Coach Andy Reid continues to throw the deck chairs overboard to save his job. This week it was line coach Jim Washburn, a week after cutting DE Jason Babin, which came on the heels of ousting DC Louis Castillo. Like all that’s going to make a difference for a team that has a -18 turnover differential. To perhaps rub salt in the Eagles’ feathers, the Bucs are honoring their 2002 Super team, which trampled the Eagles in the NFC title game along the way.
Forecast: Buccaneers 34, Eagles 14
St. Louis Rams (5-6-1) at Buffalo Bills (5-7)
Time: 10 a.m. PDT
Line: Bills -3 (42)
Facts: Buffalo won the last meeting 31-14 as a 9-point choice in 2008. The Bills haven’t been that big a favorite in any other game the past eight years.• St. Louis , a league-worst 3-13 ATS last season, is 8-4 this year and tied for best in the NFL. The Rams have a chance to become the third worst-to-first team in this category the past five years (Baltimore 2007-08; Detroit 2009-10). • St. Louis rookie CB Janoris Jenkins has three defensive return TDs the past two weeks and is tied for third on the Rams’ scoring list.
Analysis: The Bills’ defense has quietly become a force after a miserable start that included yields of 580 and 621 yards in back-to-back losses in Weeks 4-5 vs. the Patriots and 49ers. Since then, Buffalo has given up only 310.7 yards a game, which would rank them fourth in the league over a whole season. St. Louis, meanwhile, didn’t score an offensive TD last week vs. SF and might not cotton to the possibly wet and windy conditions in Buffalo vs. a team that ripped Jacksonville with 242 ground yards last week.
Forecast: Bills 27, Rams 17
Dallas Cowboys (6-6) at Cincinnati Bengals (7-5)
Time: 10 a.m. PDT
Line: Bengals -3 (45½)
Facts: Over the Cowboys’ just concluded 3-game home stand, they went 2-1, but 0-3 ATS against teams led by rookie QBs who combined to throw 7 TD passes and 1 INT. • In 2008, the last times the teams met, Dallas won 31-22 as a 16½-point home pick. That ties for the fourth biggest spread the past five years. • Dallas has rallied from double-digit deficits to win two of the past three weeks, vs. Cleveland and Philadelphia.•For the past two seasons, Cincinnati reached this juncture with a 7-5 mark. In both cases, their victories came against foes with a combined 28-58 record.
Analysis: Again, all eyes are on Dallas RB DeMarco Murray (probable, foot), who was in and out of midweek drills and probably shouldn’t be counted on to seriously to help QB Tony Romo beat back a Bengals defense that leads with league with 39 sacks and has yielded only one TD the past three weeks. Without Murray at full strength, Romo will be in deep trouble if he’s asked to drop back 50 times behind his patchwork line.
Forecast: Bengals 28, Cowboys 16
Miami Dolphins (5-7) at San Francisco 48ers (8-3-1)
Time: 1:05 p.m. PDT
Line: 49ers -10½ (39)
Facts: Refs have marched off at least 10 penalties against SF three times in its past five games. In their previous 19 outings, the law-abiding 49ers never had that many infractions.• Miami will be without standout OLT Jake Long (triceps), injured last week vs. NE. That’s a green light for SF’s Aldon Smith, who has a league-best 17.5 sacks. • SF will be facing rookie QB Ryan Tannehill. In its only previous game this year vs. a first-year passer, SF held Seattle’s Russell Wilson to a subterranean passer rating of 38.7 in a 13-6 win.
Analysis: San Fran’s Colin Kaepernick makes his fourth straight start at QB, and if not for a silly left-handed pitch near his goal line last week that went for a Rams TD, he’d be on a 3-game winning streak. Defensively, the 49ers should find harassing Miami’s newbie passer a lot easier without Long anchoring the line. As for motivation, one slip could cost San Fran the No. 2 seed and a bye week if Chicago or Green Bay runs the table.
Forecast: 49ers 24, Dolphins 10
New Orleans Saints (5-7) at New York Giants (7-5)
Time: 1:25 p.m. PDT
Line: Giants -4½ (53)
Facts: For a season-high third time, the Saints are facing a team coming off a bye. New Orleans lost both previous times, at Green Bay and home vs. San Fran. • The Giants, meanwhile, are 3-4-1 ATS after byes under coach Tom Coughlin. • Drew Brees threw five INTs and had no TD throws last week in a loss at Atlanta. He’s still the man, though, unlike the situation in Arizona. • New Orleans has won the past three meetings 30-7, 48-27 and last season by 49-24, which was the Giants’ most lopsided loss in a Super season.
Analysis: QB Eli Manning and the Giants should be productive against a Saints defense that has improved to the extent that it no longer is on track to give up more yards per game than any team in history. On the other side, the Giants’ aren’t that stupendous either, ranking No. 22 despite not facing an offense that ranks better than No. 8 in the league. New Orleans is 7. And with temps expected to be relatively mild and with minimal wind, the Saints shouldn’t be affected too much outdoors.
Forecast: Giants 30, Saints 28
Arizona Cardinals (4-8) at Seattle Seahawks (7-5)
Time: 1:25 p.m. PDT
Line: Seahawks -10 (36)
Facts: Arizona rookie QB Ryan Lindley had five INTs and no TD passes in last week’s 7-6 loss at the Jets. Unlike the Saints’ Brees, though, such a performance cost him his starting job. John Skelton takes over. • Arizona beat Seattle in the opener 20-16, which was QB Wilson’s first start for Seattle.• Arizona has scored 17 points or fewer in each outing of its eight-game losing streak. Seattle fans know the feeling, having watched the Seahawks go the entire 1992 season without topping 17.
Analysis: Arizona had only 5 first downs last week, matching the worst for anyone the past 5 years. Skelton takes over the league’s worst-rated offense now that Jacksonville released its death grip on the spot. The Cardinals, though, should receive at least a tiny boost from former Fordham start, who was this year’s opening-day QB and was 6-2 as a the No. 1 guy last year. It’s likely the Cardinals won’t win, but with their secondary, which has the league’s second-best defensive passer rating, games tend to be close.
Forecast: Seahawks 16, Cardinals 10
Detroit Lions (4-8) at Green Bay Packers (8-4)
Time: 5:30 p.m. PDT
Line: Packers -7 (51)
Facts: The Lions have lost 21 straight road games to the Packers. That ties a record that they share with themselves. Dating to 1939, the Lions also have lost 21 in a row in Washington.• Detroit was just swept on a 3-game home stand, blowing leads in the final 2 minutes each time. • In last year’s finale in GB, a 45-41 Packers win with the temp at 19 at kickoff, the teams combined for 1,133 yards – 8 off the NFL record. • Green Bay had the league’s longest drive the past 2 seasons when it held the ball 11 minutes last week on an 18-play march to a FG vs. Minnesota.
Analysis: Although the Lions are the bottom feeders in the NFC North, they tend to play the Packers tough, as witnessed by their close-call 24-20 loss three weeks ago and that score-fest in 2011. Green Bay, meanwhile, is ailing, with DB Charles Woodson out yet again and pass-rusher supreme Clay Matthews still resting his hamstring. Without Matthews last week, the Packers didn’t have a sack for the first time this season.
Forecast: Packers 28, Lions 27
PRO FOOTBALL – MONDAY, DEC. 10
Houston Texans (11-1) at New England Patriots (9-3)
Time: 5:40 p.m. PDT
Line: Patriots -3½ (51½)
Facts: The Texans, the league’s only unbeaten road team, are looking to complete a sweep of their three-game road trip. The last squad to end up perfect away from home for a season was New England in 2007. • Last week’s 23-16 Patriots victory in Miami ended their nine-game “over” streak. • Speaking of sweeps, if Houston beats NE it would give it victories over the other three AFC division front-runners, not to mention a road win over NFC North co-leader Chicago. • The Tom Brady-led Patriots are the highest-scoring team in the league, amassing 45-plus points four times. Houston, meanwhile, has yielded 30+ in two of its past three games, but won both.
Analysis: Houston, much like Atlanta, has only one loss but has struggled mightily. Jacksonville took the Texans to overtime, as did Detroit. Those teams have a combined 6-18 record. Then last week Houston couldn’t put away the Titans (4-8) despite a +6 turnover edge and two TD drives that opened in the red zone. For starters, ex-rushing champ Arian Foster has a norm of 3.9 yards a carry, down from 4.4 last season and 4.9 when he led the league in 2010 with 1,616 yards. What gives? And what’s going on with the passing game? Usually passing to a tight end is a gimme, but Schaub was only 3-for-10 on throws to Owen Daniels last week against the league’s worst-rated pass defense.
Forecast: Patriots 35, Texans 24
Last week: 8-8 ATS; 8-8 SU
Season total: 97-90-4 (.519) ATS; 108-83-1 (.565) SU
“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].