The topsy-turvy NFL season continues in Week 6 with three teams having at least a share of first who were bottom feeders in their divisions in 2012.
Kansas City, Cleveland and even Philadelphia at 2-3 will be trying to make it the 11th straight season there has been a worst-to-first franchise.
And, all eyes also will be glued to Denver to see if the Broncos can cover the biggest spread in almost half a century against a Jacksonville team that is down both offensive tackles and their first-team quarterback.
Here’s a closer look at this week’s games. Point spreads are provided by the Las Vegas Hotel SuperBook:
PRO FOOTBALL - SUNDAY, OCT. 13
Oakland Raiders (2-3) at Kansas City Chiefs (5-0)
Time: 10 a.m. PST
Line: Chiefs by 8 (40½)
Facts: The Raiders have won six in a row in KC, matching the longest current road winning streak by one team against another… Chiefs QB Alex Smith had the league’s best completion percentage last year while with SF at 70.2 (for passers who started at least half their team’s games). This year’s he’s 21st at 58.2. His counterpart Sunday, Terrelle Pryor, is sixth (68.3 percent)…KC has the league’s top defensive passer rating (62.3) and a league-high 21 sacks, but included among their foes have been QBs Blaine Gabbert and the remarkably erratic Eli Manning.
Analysis: The Chiefs are on an amazing run to start the season, but still they aren’t playing terribly great on offense behind Smith, who somehow has connected on only 10 or his past 20 throws to RB Jamaal Charles. How hard is it to hit a running back? Plus KC has had the good luck of playing two winless teams (Jags, Giants) a team playing its third game in 11 days (Eagles) and a Titans team last week that had to resort to Buffalo reject Ryan Fitzpatrick as its starting QB. This week they are fortunate Oakland’s top RBs, Darren McFadden and Rashad Jennings, are questionable with hamstring woes. But the Raiders should still stay close.
Forecast: Chiefs 21, Raiders 17
Philadelphia Eagles (2-3) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-5)
Time: 10 a.m. PST
Line: Eagles by 2½ (45½)
Facts: In Philadelphia’s two victories, it opened nine drives in enemy territory, scoring five TDs and a FG. In their three losses, the Eagles didn’t have any short fields… The Eagles are facing a 0-4 team on the road for the second straight week. Last Sunday, they beat the Giants, 36-2… Mike Glennon makes his second start at QB for the Bucs. He committed three fourth-quarter turnovers in his first outing, a 13-10 loss to Arizona… Philly QB Nick Foles likely will be making his seventh start. The only one he won happened last year in Tampa when the Eagles, who were 7½-point underdogs, prevailed 24-23 on Foles’ TD throw as time expired.
Analysis: The Eagles have been bragging about their speed all week, especially WR DeSean Jackson, who’s averaging 18.8 yards a catch on 28 receptions. They indeed have the edge there. For Tampa Bay, making Glennon comfortable in the pocket is a prime concern, but they took a hit this week when guard Carl Nicks again will be sidelined by a staph infecton. Even considering the Bucs are off a bye, there’s just too much turmoil surrounding this team to go with the winless guys who are staring at their seventh 0-5 start in history.
Forecast: Eagles 31, Buccaneers 21
Green Bay Packers (2-2) at Baltimore Ravens (3-2)
Time: 10 a.m. PST
Line: Packers by 2½ (48½)
Facts: The last time the Packers visited Baltimore, in 2005, the Ravens won 48-3 as a 3.5-point choice, Green Bay’s worst loss the past 33 seasons… Ironically, 10 weeks earlier, GB beat New Orleans 52-3, which was biggest rout by anyone that year… Green Bay LB Clay Matthews will be out a month with broken thumb. He missed four games last year and the Pack went 3-1 (3-1 ATS, too)... Only the Jaguars have a worse rushing average than Baltimore’s 2.8 a carry… The Ravens’ Joe Flacco had only one INT in 32 throws last week at Miami a week after pitching five in a loss at Buffalo. He’ll be facing a team that has the league’s fourth-worst defensive passer rating.
Analysis: Green Bay’s two victories this season have come against the Redskins and limping RG3 and against a Lions team playing without WR Calvin Johnson. And whereas the Pack is down a man on defense, the Ravens are likely to bolster their lineup with the return of WR Jacoby Jones (probable, knee) and the addition of recently acquired OLT Eugene Monroe, who was a stalwart with Jacksonville before they threw their valuables overboard. He’ll likely replace Bryant McKinnie, who reportedly hasn’t been pushing away the Little Debbies.
Forecast: Ravens 27, Packers 23
Detroit Lions (3-2) at Cleveland Browns (3-2)
Time: 10 a.m. PST
Line: Lions by 3 (44½)
Facts: These teams met four times for the league title from 1952-57, but this is the first time in 10 meetings both enter with a winning record… Teams coming off a Thursday night game (Cleveland) have gone 7-1 ATS this seasons.… In Detroit’s 22-9 loss in Green Bay, its best starting field position was its 21, matching the worst for any team this year. The lone other time that occurred was in Week 2 when the Lions spent the day pinned in during a loss at Arizona… Browns QB Brandon Weeden got credit for the win in relief of Brian Hoyer vs. the Bills, but is 0-2 as a starter this year.
Analysis: Will Lions WR Calvin Johnson play after sitting out last week’s grim loss to GB? He’s questionable (knee), but did practice Friday. And with fellow receiver Nate Burleson already out (arm), a lot of the weight falls on Mr. Unreliable, Reggie Bush, who’s performed well this year but is a muscle pull waiting to happen. The Browns, meanwhile, have had their best defensive games against the more immobile Joe Flacco and Andy Dalton, so Matt Stafford is an inviting target. He went down five times last week.
Forecast: Browns 17, Lions 16
Carolina Panthers (1-3) at Minnesota Vikings (1-3)
Time: 10 a.m. PST
Line: Vikings by 2 (44)
Facts: This is the first of three games the Panthers will play against teams coming of a bye. matching their total the previous eight seasons… The Vikings almost surely will be giving QB Matt Cassel his second straight start, depending on Christian Ponder’s ribs (questionable). Cassel led the Purple to a 34-27 win in London two weeks ago against Pittsburgh… Carolina’s Cam Newton was sacked seven times in the Panthers’ 22-6 loss at Arizona. That’s nothing new. He went down seven times in Denver last year in a 36-14 loss.
Analysis: The Vikings look like they’ll be getting back a pair of starters in the secondary with CB Chris Cook (groin) and safety Jamarca Sanford (hamstring) listed as probable. On the other side, the Panthers’ woes at guard helped result in the team scoring only a pair of field goals in their loss at Arizona. Considering Carolina has the league’s third-rated defense and Cassel isn’t a proven winner, the score should be close. But the noisy dome and Vikings’ pass rush make the difference.
Forecast: Vikings 19, Panthers 13
St. Louis Rams (2-3) at Houston Texans (2-3)
Time: 10 a.m. PST
Line: Texans by 7½ (42)
Facts: QB Matt Schaub, a shaky pick by Houston coach Gary Kubiak to start this week, has four pick-6s this season, two shy of what Peyton Manning totaled for the season 12 years ago in Indianapolis. The record for a team is eight in a season, set by Miami in 2004… FYI: The Rams have scored off five INTs the past two seasons, tied for second most in the league… In 2009, the Texans beat the Rams 16-13 in St. Louis as a 14-point favorite. No team has been that heavy a road choice since… Texans TE Owen Daniels (leg fracture) is out three to four weeks. He’s had 24 catches and three TDs.
Analysis: The Texans’ ferocious pass rush was negated last week when the 49ers threw only 15 times in their 34-3 win in San Francisco. The Rams, meanwhile, didn’t get many style points for their 34-20 victory over a Jaguars team led by the worst quarterback in the league, Blaine Gabbert. If not for an 83-yard INT return on a throw that looked like a hot-air balloon landing, St. Louis would have been the first team not to cover against the Jaguars this season. Houston should be able to keep Schaub out of trouble by mushing along behind RBs Arian Foster and Ben Tate.
Forecast: Texans 28, Rams 7
Pittsburgh Steelers (0-4) at New York Jets (3-2)
Time: 10 a.m. PST
Line: Pick-em (41)
Facts: The Steelers, who haven’t forced a turnover, have a minus-11 differential and are well on their way to breaking the NFL mark of minus-30 they set in their horrid 2-12 season of 1965… Pittsburgh leads the series 16-4, but the Jets have dominated recently, going 3-4… Rookie QB Geno Smith will be going against a Pittsburgh team that is 7-1 (6-2 ATS) against first-year starters the past three seasons... Jets RB Bilal Powell, with 330 rushing yards, already has two carries of 20-plus yards. New York had a total of only five last year.
Analysis: Pittsburgh not only is coming off a bye, but is facing a team that played on the road last Monday and will be without its top WR again, Santonio Holmes (hamstring). And during that bye Steelers coach Mike Tomlin had his club stressing fundamentals and putting full focus on their profession and not video games and such. For one week at least, Pittsburgh shows its mettle against an overachieving team that might not react well to feeling the pressure of suddenly being a playoff contender.
Forecast: Steelers 26, Jets 14
Cincinnati Bengals (3-2) at Buffalo Bills (2-2)
Time: 10 a.m. PST
Line: Bengals by 6½ (41½)
Facts: Buffalo will be going with Thad Lewis at QB for injured rookie EJ Manuel (out, knee). He was just promoted from the practice squad… The Bills had won 10 straight games in this series until the Bengals prevailed in 2011 by 23-20… The Bengals will be facing a Bills team coming off an extended rest after playing last Thursday… Cincinnati is 0-2 on the road this year, including a 24-21 season-opening loss in Chicago when the Bengals blew an 11-point second half lead. The Bills meanwhile, are 2-1 at home and 3-0 ATS.
Analysis: How good can Lewis really be if he was listed behind rookie free agent Jeff Tuel, who heaved a pick-6 in last week’s late relief role. Actually, Lewis might not be bad at all. In his only career start, for Cleveland in last year’s finale, he was 22-for-32 for 204 yards with one INT and a TD against Pittsburgh’s No. 1-rated defense. And with the Bills he’s got standout RBs C.J. Spiller (questionable, ankle) and Fred Jackson to help. And the Bills might not have to score much, either, since Cincinnati’s had one TD the past two weeks and QB Andy Dalton will be going against a Bills secondary that’s getting reinforcements from injury, including Jairus Byrd.
Forecast: Bills 19, Bengals 14
Tennessee Titans (3-2) at Seattle Seahawks (4-1)
Time: 1:05 p.m. PST
Line: Seahawks by 13½ (40½)
Facts: Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch and Russell Wilson ran for 102 yards apiece in a 34-28 loss at Indianapolis last week. The last time two 100-yard rushers were on the losing team was when KC’s Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis did so last year in Week 16 at Indy… Tennessee QB Ryan Fitzpatrick will be making his second straight start for injured Jake Locker (hip). His first five drives last week resulted in 3-and-outs. He also had two INTs, which were two more than Locker had in his four starts.
Analysis: Seattle still is hurting along the offensive line, with both starting tackles out. But it looks like they’ll be getting back center Max Unger (questionable, arm). And considering how they plowed through a solid Indy defense for 218 ground yards without Unger, things can only get better, especially at home. Can’t see Fitzpatrick flourishing with his soft-toss throws into the teeth of this Seahawks defense.
Forecast: Seahawks 30, Titans 13
Jacksonville Jaguars (0-5) at Denver Broncos (5-0)
Time: 1:25 p.m. PST
Line: Broncos by 27 (54)
Facts: According to this week’s Gold Sheet, teams favored by 20-plus points are 34-30-2 ATS since 1957. The last such game occurred in Week 13 of 2011 when the Patriots were 20.5-point picks over visiting Indy and won, 31-24... One of Denver’s most devastating non-Super Bowl losses occurred in the 1996 postseason when the Broncos, in John Elway’s 14th season, were upset by the Jaguars 30-27 in Denver. Jacksonville was a 14-point underdog… Flashback: In 2000, an 0-6 Bengals team beat Denver 31-21, rushing for 407 yards, a total that hasn’t been matched in the league since… Denver’s norm of 489.8 yards a game is 22.7 better than the record-setting Saints of 2011.
Analysis: There’s hope for the Jaguars, even if some of it might be pity. Last year, the Broncos’ prolific offense had its lowest yardage output of the season (333) against Tampa Bay’s 29th-rated defense and a pass defense that ranked last. Plus, the good news/bad news for Jacksonville is that QB Blaine Gabbert is out (hamstring) and has been replaced by veteran backup Chad Henne, and that WR Justin Blackmon returned from his suspension in fine form last week against St. Louis. The combination of Henne, Blackmon and Cecil Shorts, the Jags’ leading receiver, should enable Jacksonville to score two to three TDs – enough to get a backdoor cover.
Forecast: Broncos 42, Jaguars 20
Arizona Cardinals (3-2) at San Francisco 49ers (3-2)
Time: 1:25 p.m. PST
Line: 49ers by 10½ (41½)
Facts: Arizona has allowed one TD over its past two games, victories over Tampa Bay and Carolina, who have a combined 1-7 mark… In Weeks 2-3, conversely, the 49ers were held to one TD total before erupting for 35 and 34 points their next two outings. … Arizona QB Carson Palmer continues to have a wretched season, with nine INTs and only five TD throws. He’s the league’s 30th-rated passer. Three of the four players listed below him have lost their starting jobs... San Fran workhorse RB Frank Gore has quietly re-established himself as a potent weapon by averaging 6.6 yards a carry and 105 yards a game his past three outings. In Weeks 1-2, he had 30 a game and 2.0 a rush.
Analysis: If San Francisco can score 34 points against Houston and its top-rated defense, Arizona shouldn’t expect to be able to do much better. But Kaepernick is going to have to let ‘er rip more often, since the Cardinals’ are yielding 3.3 yards a rush, which stands third in the league. But since the Cardinals’ rush offense is as awful as Palmer’s throwing, that’s where SF and its attacking defense should dominate. And if that’s the case, look for Palmer to add to his total of seven INTs thrown in enemy territory.
Forecast: 49ers 27, Cardinals 9
New Orleans Saints (5-0) at New England Patriots (4-1)
Time: 1:25 p.m. PST
Line: Patriots by 1½ (50½)
Facts: Reports are that TE Rob Gronkowski won’t be making his 2013 for the Patriots after all. Is he turning into the Derrick Rose of the NFL? Flashback: In 1986, New England beat the Saints in New Orleans 21-20 despite rushing 18 times for 2 yards... New Orleans has made the leap from second worst defense of all time (440.1 yards a game yielded) to tied for 11th best this year behind coordinator Rob Ryan. However, his team has played three of its five games against squads ranked among the four worst offensively. New England’s is rated 17th.
Analysis: With the weather forecast indicated clear skies on the horizon, that’s a big boost for the Saints and QB Drew Brees, who aren’t used to throwing around mushy footballs. The Patriots were largely inept offensively last week it their 13-6 loss to Cincinnati, which wasn’t an aberration. Only three weeks earlier, New England was held to league season-low nine first downs in a 13-10 victory over the Jets. New Orleans may not be as prolific scoring as in past years, but should have enough, especially with RBs Pierre Thomas and Darren Sproles eager to pick up the offensive scraps when Brees isn’t making TE Jimmy Graham the league’s leader in receiving yards.
Forecast: Saints 27, Patriots 21
Washington Redskins (1-3) at Dallas Cowboys (2-3)
Time: 5:30 p.m. PST
Line: Cowboys by 5 (53½)
Facts: The Redskins are 6-0 ATS the past six seasons as an underdog in Dallas, but winning SU only once, last year 38-31 on Thanksgiving as a 3-point dog… In 1995, visiting Washington derailed eventual Super champ Dallas 24-17 as a 17.5-point underdog. There hasn’t been a bigger upset since… Dallas’ Tony Romo threw for 506 yards last week in the 51-48 loss to Denver. The last time a QB had more yards in a loss was Detroit’s Matt Stafford in 2011 when he had 520 in a 45-41 defeat at Green Bay... Cowboys WR Miles Austin says he’s good to go.
Analysis: The making of another scoring free-for-all is in the works with a healing QB Robert Griffin III returning after a bye week for Washington against a defense that has had one sack total the past two games and allowed QB Peyton Manning to generate 517 yards of total offense last week. And speaking of bad defense, through four games Washington is on pace to have the second-worst rate of yards allowed in league history with 440.2. That’s 10 yards off the Baltimore Colts’ 1950 norm.
Forecast: Cowboys 35, Redskins 34
PRO FOOTBALL - MONDAY, OCT. 14
Indianapolis Colts (4-1) at San Diego Chargers (2-3)
Time: 5:40 p.m. PST
Line: Colts by 1½ (50½)
Facts: When the Colts visited San Diego in the 2007 regular season, Peyton Manning threw a career-high six INTs in a 23-21 loss, two off the league record… Chargers QB Philip Rivers continues to chug along without a fumble. He has seven games last year with at least two, a league high… Indianapolis is fourth in the league with a 4.7 average per rush. But if you took away newcomer Trent Richardson’s 51 carries (3.0 norm) that norm flies up to 5.6, which would tie the Colts for No. 1in that category... Speaking of RBs, San Diego’s Ryan Mathews is expected back after suffering a concussion after only three rushes against Oakland last Sunday night.
Analysis: The Chargers didn’t look nearly as bad as the score indicated against the Raiders in their 27-17 setback, holding them to 72 net yards in the second half in an effort to erase a 21-point fourth-quarter deficit. And one of Rivers’ INTs was as good as a punt on third down, so give him a break there. After all, he’s completing 73.7 percent of his throws, second only to Peyton Manning. Taking into account the MNF crowd enthusiasm and the fact this could be a trap game of sorts for Indy (between Seattle and Denver), and the Chargers have the offensive wherewithal to knock off the Colts, who if not for a blocked FG attempt last week, might have been run out by the Seahawks.
Forecast: Chargers 31, Colts 23
Last week: 7-7 ATS; 8-6 SU
Season total: 32-43-2 (.427) ATS; 40-37 (.519) 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].