Special to Gaming Today
This could be the week to keep an eye on the winless teams in the league, for Tampa Bay, Jacksonville and the NY Giants all seem to have solid chances to end their skids.
In the case of the Giants, they’ll be playing in a Monday night game against 1-4 Minnesota that surely has ESPN execs spitting up their cocoa.
Jacksonville, meanwhile catches a traveling San Diego team coming off a Monday Night game victory against Indianapolis and facing a monster trip back East. And as for Tampa Bay, well, maybe their chances are never so great, but it will at least face a decimated and demoralized – but well-rested – Falcons squad that will at best be scratching for a wild-card berth.
Now for a closer look at this week’s games:
PRO FOOTBALL – SUNDAY, OCT. 20
New England Patriots (5-1) at New York Jets (3-3)
Time: 10 a.m. PST
Line: Patriots by 3½ (43½)
Facts: The Patriots were held to a league season-low nine first downs in a 13-10 home win over the Jets in Week 2… The Patriots will be facing rookie QB Geno Smith for the second time in five weeks. Last year, in their second game against Miami rookie QB Ryan Tannehill, NE won 28-0… Patriots TE Rob Gronkowki (arm) finally has the doctors’ permission to play... The Jets are 3-7 against NE in the Rex Ryan era (5-5 ATS), but have lost five in a row, including the infamous Butt-Fumble game in Jersey last season, 49-19... NYJ just signed return specialist Josh Cribbs. He was cut by Oakland this summer for being too slow and for fumbling… Smith’s 27.6 passer rating in the previous meeting is the second worst for any starting QB in a game this season.
Analysis: The Patriots have been short-handed on offense most of the season while WR Danny Amendola (out, concussion/groin) and RB Shane Vereen (wrist) sit out. These days they also are dogged by defensive injuries to key components. Out are hole-plugging NT Vince Woolfork (IR) and leading tackler Jerod Mayo (chest), not to mention the hip injury to top DB Aqib Talib (questionable). In a game that could be decided by a field goal again, the Jets are the pick to stay close. New York’s stout run defense, which holds foes to 3.0 yards per carry, is best in the league.
Forecast: Patriots 21, Jets 20
San Diego Chargers (3-3) at Jacksonville Jaguars (0-6)
Time: 10 a.m. PST
Line: Chargers by 7 (45½)
Facts: Jacksonville WR Justin Blackmon (questionable, hamstring/groin) was the most targeted receiver in any game this season with 20 last week in Denver, resulting in 14 catches for 190 yards… Both QBs could be distracted. The wife of the Jags QB Chad Henne just had their first child. Meanwhile, the wife of SD’s Philip Rivers is expecting their seventh any moment. Edge in experience: Rivers… The Chargers are 2-7 ATS in early Sunday “jet lag” games over three times zones since 2006, but did win at Philadelphia 33-30 as a touchdown underdog in Week 2... Over the previous 10 seasons, West Coast teams in that jet lag spot coming off a MNF game are 1-4 ATS, 0-5 SU.
Analysis: In their current winless state, the Jaguars can’t afford to let their minds wander when preparing for a foe. But they couldn’t help but do so in order to prepare for their trip to London to face San Francisco next week. They board the plane Monday. Not to mention all the baby stuff that’s consuming Henne’s time. Otherwise, the Jaguars would warrant a solid shot. But what’s also hurting is that their prime weapons through the air, Blackmon and WR Cecil Shorts (questionable, shoulder), might not play. Therefore, it’s too dicey to go with a team that’s lost each of its games by double digits this season and one that’s emotionally drained after its spread-beating game in Denver.
Forecast: Chargers 31, Jaguars 13
Houston Texans (2-4) at Kansas City Chiefs (6-0)
Time: 10 a.m. PDT
Line: Chiefs by 6½ (40)
Facts: With Texans QB Matt Schaub out with a leg injury, second-year QB Case Keenum drew the short straw and will get his first pro start. It will come at Arrowhead vs. a Chiefs team that enters Week 7 with the league’s best defensive passer rating, most sacks (30) and most takeaways (18)… KC fans broke the decibel record for noisiest stadium last week during the Chiefs’ 24-7 win over Oakland. But that set the mark only because there were no devices on hand in Houston to measure the hoorays when Schaub went down… The Texans are the only team at 0-6 ATS this season. In their previous two years, they were 22-12-1, including playoffs.
Analysis: Last week, Houston came close to hitting bottom for this season with their 38-13 home loss to a weak Rams team, the most lopsided defeat for any favorite this season. But it’s not like Houston doesn’t have a glimmer of hope in this game, considering KC is giving up an atrocious 5.1 yards a carry and Houston has the potent RB tandem of Arian Foster and Ben Tate. But chances are KC will stack the line and dare the newbie QB to throw. And forget about audibles in that noisy venue.
Forecast: Chiefs 23, Texans 6
Cincinnati Bengals (4-2) at Detroit Tigers (4-2)
Time: 10 a.m. PST
Line: Lions by 2½ (47)
Facts: Lions WR Calvin Johnson (questionable, knee), had only 25 yards receiving last week at Cleveland and sat out the previous game in Green Bay. He was limited in late-week drills… Cincinnati was 12-5-2 ATS on the road dating to late 2011 before this season with QB Andy Dalton. They’re 0-2-1 in 2013, including a dreary 17-6 loss in Cleveland in Week 4 as a 3-point choice a week after beating Green Bay... Detroit RB Reggie Bush is on pace to have a 1,001-yard season. That would end the Lions’ eight-year drought without a 1,000-yard runner, the longest current mark for any team... The Lions have given up four rushes of 40-plus yards this season, twice as many as any other team and one more than they yielded in all of 2012.
Analysis: On the surface the Lions’ 31-17 victory in Cleveland last week seemed solid, but somehow Detroit found itself down by 10 in the third quarter to a Brandon Weeden-led team. That’s a big demerit there. Plus, until Johnson proves he’s capable of having a breakout game and making life difficult for defenses, Detroit remains questionable. For Cincinnati, rookie RB Giovani Bernard has indeed given the Bengals a spark that steers attention away from WR A.J. Green and the team’s strong tight ends. That should be enough this week.
Forecast: Bengals 21, Lions 17
Buffalo Bills (2-4) at Miami Dolphins (3-2)
Time: 10 a.m. PST
Line: Dolphins by 7 (42½)
Facts: Even with a bye week, Miami’s Ryan Tannehill remains the most-sacked QB in the league with 24 entering Week 7. Provided he survives, he’s on pace to break the record of 76 set by David Carr with Houston in 2002. Buffalo, meanwhile, entered the week with 21 QB traps, third most in the NFL… Buffalo backup QB Thad Lewis, fresh off the practice squad, directed the Bills’ comeback from a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit last week against Cincinnati, before falling in OT. No team has dug out from a bigger fourth-quarter hole this season… From 1970-79, the Dolphins had a record of 20-0 against the Bills. But since 1987 it’s 33-23 for the Bills.
Analysis: Miami’s defense remains horrible when foes get inside the 10, allowing a league-worst 9-for-9 TD rate on first-and-goal possessions. With Buffalo’s reputable running game behind mainly Fred Jackson (4.6 a carry, four TDs) that should be enough to keep the Bills at least close. And with the Bills’ D-line leading the charge on Tannehill, Buffalo could be a high-reward money-line choice. But taking the safer road, figure on the Bills merely staying close.
Forecast: Dolphins 23, Bills 21
Chicago Bears (3-2) at Washington Redskins (1-4)
Time: 10 a.m. PST
Line: Pick-em (50½)
Facts: In last week’s Redskins loss in Dallas, 31-16, Washington wasn’t able to overcome a Cowboys punt return score, Dallas’ 19-yard edge in average starting field position and a week-high 12 penalties, resulting in 104 yards… Chicago, meanwhile, couldn’t cover against the Giants last week despite a +3 turnover edge, an INT return score and 12-yard edge in average drive launch point… Dating to 1989, the Redskins are 10-2 in the series… Redskins WR Pierre Garcon caught only six of 15 targeted throws for 69 yards in Dallas last week. That’s the fewest number of receptions by anyone this year on 15-plus targets… Washington DB DeAngelo Hall had 6 INTs in 2010, but four came in one game against Bears QB Jay Cutler.
Analysis: In last week’s games, Washington didn’t look as bad as the score indicated, even holding Dallas to a season-low 213 yards of total offense and rushing for 216 yards. The Bears, meanwhile, have major injury issues on defense, with MLB D.J. Williams out, as well as two DLs. Brian Urlacher must be doing cartwheels. Last week, for instance, the gosh-awful Giants offense had three touchdown drives of 80-plus yards against Chicago, which was one more than NYG had its previous four games total.
Forecast: Redskins 31, Bears 21
Dallas Cowboys (3-3) at Philadelphia Eagles (3-3)
Time: 10 a.m. PST
Line: Eagles by 3 (56)
Facts: This game is for supremacy in the NFC East. It’s a good thing they’re not in the AFC West, however, or they’d be bottom feeders at 0-3 Both teams have lost to Kansas City, Denver and San Diego, who have a combined mark of 15-3. Dallas’ wins have come against foes with a cumulative 4-13 record; the Eagles’ wins against foes at 1-1… The Eagles have the longest home losing streak in the league at eight games (0-8 ATS, too). Four times they were defeated as a favorite… Flashback: In 1966, four weeks after Philly was crushed by Dallas 56-7, the Eagles beat the visiting Cowboys 24-23 despite having only 80 yards of total offense.
Analysis: The Cowboys took a brutal injury hit last week against Washington, with RB DeMarco Murray suffering a knee injury (doubtful) and DE DeMarcus Ware (doubtful, quad) knocked out. Ware’s pass-rushing skills are vital to the health of Monte Kiffin’s defense, which probably won’t be able to cope with Philly’s speed. And as has been blared over TV all week, Chip Kelly’s Oregon teams averaged better than 60 points a game when facing Kiffin’s unit at USC the previous three seasons. Unless Dallas QB Tony Romo and WR Dez Bryant play out of their skulls, it looks like an Eagles day.
Forecast: Eagles 38, Cowboys 30
St. Louis Rams (3-3) at Carolina Panthers (2-3)
Time: 10 a.m. PST
Line: Panthers by 7 (42)
Facts: Three QBs had their best games of the season against St. Louis this year (based on passer rating)… Cam Newton’s 143.4 rating last week for Carolina at Minnesota came thanks to 3 TD passes and no INTs. It was the fourth best mark for any QB this season…This is the first time in three weeks the Rams, who have had back-to-back one-sided wins over the Jaguars and Texans, are facing a team not coming off a loss of 30-plus points… St. Louis had return scores off a fumble and INT in its rout of Houston last week. The bad news is that, dating to Week 15 last season, teams are 1-7 ATS in their next game following games when having two non-offensive TDs… The Panthers had a 15-play TD drive at Minnesota. Incredibly, there have been 20 drives of 15-plus plays in the league this year, but only two ended in TDs.
Analysis: Both teams are coming off upset thrashings of foes on the road, with Carolina beating Minnesota 35-10 and St. Louis handling Houston, 38-13. The St. Louis win, though, might have been more of a fluke, considering the Rams really couldn’t get Houston off the field with the Texans holding an edge in plays run 73-41, the biggest gap for any team this season. Plus, it was only three weeks ago St. Louis was held to 188 yards of offense at home by San Fran.
Forecast: Panthers 24, Rams 14
Tampa Bay Bucs (0-5) at Atlanta Falcons (1-4)
Time: 10 a.m. PST
Line: Falcons by 7 (43)
Facts: Atlanta will be without WR Julius Jones for the first time. Before he suffered his foot injury, he was leading the league in receiving. And partner Roddy White (questionable, hamstring/ankle) has been largely ineffective and will miss the first game of his nine-year career. And then, guess what? RB Steven Jackson is still out, too (hamstring) after getting injured in Week 2… Since coach Greg Schiano’s Bucs opened last season 6-4, they have gone 1-11 (2-9 ATS), with their sole victory coming in the 2012 finale against the host Falcon JVs, 22-17… Atlanta is in jeopardy of being swept in its three-game home stand. Last season, Detroit and KC suffered that fate.
Analysis: New Bucs QB Mike Glennon sure isn’t being eased into his role as the team leader, heaving 86 passes in his first two starts and completing 58.1 percent of them, which is far better than predecessor Josh Freeman, whose rate was a league-low 45.7. However, Glennon is averaging only 9.3 yards a completion, which is more than 4 yards shy of Freeman’s norm. The thinking here is if the Falcons could make the Jets’ Geno Smith look like a Pro Bowler two weeks ago on Monday Night Football, Glennon might do enough to help a Bucs team thrive. After all, he has plenty of weapons, including workhorse RB Doug Martin and WR Vincent Jackson. But taking the conservative way out, just beating the line is the way to go.
Forecast: Falcons 26, Bucs 24
San Francisco 49ers (4-2) at Tennessee Titans (3-3)
Time: 1:05 p.m. PST
Line: 49ers by 3 (40)
Facts: Tennessee QB Jake Locker (questionable, hip) has been working feverishly to return this week. In his absence, the Titans have gone 0-2 behind backup QB Ryan Fitzpatrick – but those losses were to 6-1 Seattle and 6-0 KC… In Fitzpatrick’s last 13 possessions, he directed the Titans to six points and hurled 4 INTs… San Francisco will be headed to London on Monday to face Jacksonville next Sunday. In the seven-year history of these cross-Atlantic games, the combatants have gone 4-10 ATS (5-9) the week before the trip… Even more ominous for Titans: Teams playing a home game before their bye week are 3-17 ATS the past two seasons.
Analysis: The Titans have been going through a meat-grinder of a schedule, already having faced five of the top six-rated defense in the league. In essence, then, they’ll be taking a step down in class to face the 49ers’ ninth-ranked unit. The wild card in this game though is if Locker will play, and if so, for how long. And with RB Chris Johnson averaging only 1.9 yards a carry his past three games with a long of 8 yards on 37 carries, Tennessee isn’t worth the gamble if it has to ride the back of Fitzpatrick, who’s a master of the chuck-and-duck technique.
Forecast: 49ers 27, Titans 16
Cleveland Browns (3-3) at Green Bay Packers (3-2)
Time: 1:25 p.m. PST
Line: Packers by 10 (46)
Facts: When these teams met in Green Bay in the 1965 NFL title game, won by the Packers 23-12, it was the only championship matchup in history pitting teams that had been outgained in the regular season. Cleveland hasn’t been back in the title game since… If games were only 30 minutes long, the Browns would be 6-0… Green Bay was 3-for-3 scoring TDs on first-and-goal situations in their opener at San Fran, but since have gone 4-for-10… The Packers have the league’s worst defensive passer rating but luckily will be facing the league’s 27th-rated passer, Brandon Weeden.
Analysis: This is a pretty steep spread to cover for a Packers team that’s without standout OLBs Clay Matthews and Nick Perry, in addition to top receiver Randall Cobb (broken fibula). But the equalizer might be that Weeden is starting for the enemy. He’s 0-3 as a starter and has had more than his share of boneheaded decisions that only last month cause Cleveland’s hierarchy insert career backup Brian Hoyer (out, knee) as the new main man. Anyway, sturdy Packers RB Eddie Lacy and his running pals should find some easy going against a Cleveland defense that’s yielded a league-high eight rushing scores.
Forecast: Packers 26, Browns 10
Baltimore Ravens (3-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (1-4)
Time: 1:25 p.m. PST
Line: Steelers by 2½ (41)
Facts: Yes, Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger plans to play in this game. Over his 10-year career, he’s missed 17 games, but six absences were against Baltimore, including both last season… The past five regular-season meetings between the teams in Pittsburgh have been decided by three points… The Ravens had a league-high eight three-and-outs in their 19-17 home loss to Green Bay last week. Two weeks earlier, Baltimore drives stalled at Buffalo’s 10-, 10- and 3-yard lines in a 23-20 loss to the Bills… Baltimore has had one short field all season on 84 possessions. And that one ended with an INT.
Analysis: That was a nice Steelers’ win last week against the Jets, 19-6, that broke their yearlong losing streak that included an oh-fer in exhibitions. But Pittsburgh finished 2-5 last year, too, so the decay goes well below the enamel. Thus, that victory last week, which came after a bye and against a team with a rookie QB off a MNF game, doesn’t cure the ills of a team that’s next to last in sacks with 7 and has allowed their own guy to go down 18 times, which tied for fifth most entering Week 7. Now they’ll be facing a Super Bowl MVP under center. And what happened to that Heinz Field mystique? The Steelers have lost five of their past six at home.
Forecast: Ravens 20, Steelers 10
Denver Broncos (6-0) at Indianapolis Colts (4-2)
Time: 5:30 p.m. PST
Line: Broncos by 6½ (57½)
Facts: In 2010, Denver had the worst-rated defense, allowing 390.8 yards a game. Now they’re yielding 407.5, but are only fourth worst… Indy’s recently acquired RB, Trent Richardson is averaging 3.2 yards a carry this year, even worse than the 3.6 norm he had last year in Cleveland… Broncos LB Von Miller, who had 18.5 sacks last season, third in the league, returns from his six-game suspension… Denver, behind former Indy star Peyton Manning, has scored at least 35 points in each of its six games. The Broncos would need to average only 32.5 points the rest of the way to break New England’s season record of 589.
Analysis: A lot of analysts have said Colts owner Jim Irsay’s negative comments about the team’s weak postseason performances under Manning will get Denver’s QB riled. They’re probably right. But what’s not going to help the Colts either is that they are on a short week after their 19-9 drubbing in San Diego on MNF and that their butter-fingered receivers are ruining drives orchestrated by Andrew Luck. And sure, veteran Colt Robert Mathis is a top-notch QB chaser, but he doesn’t have much help. If Denver can focus on pushing him clear of Manning, it should be a long day for Indy defenders, who don’t have the most talented bunch of linebackers, either.
Forecast: Broncos 41, Colts 28
PRO FOOTBALL – MONDAY, OCT. 21
Minnesota Vikings (1-4) at New York Giants (0-6)
Time: 5:40 p.m. PST
Line: Giants by 3 (47)
Facts: The last time a 0-6 team was this big a favorite was in 2009, when Tennessee was a 3-point choice over Jacksonville and won, 30-13... Minnesota’s Josh Freeman, who has 12 INTs and 4 TD throws his past 7 starts, becomes the third starting QB for the Vikings this season, following Christian Ponder and Matt Cassel. (FYI: Arizona used four last year)… Vikings RB Adrian Peterson had only 10 carries for 62 yards vs. Carolina last week. He never had fewer than 16 carries in his near record-breaking season in 2012… In case Giants coach Tom Coughlin and the Giants part ways anytime soon, it would not be the quickest non-retirement divorce between a championship coach and his team. In 1952, LA Rams boss Joe Stydahar, whose team won the title in 1951, resigned in a huff one game into the next season because of a feud with a top assistant.
Analysis: The Giants are coming off an extended break after their 27-21 loss in Chicago last Thursday, in which they beat the line despite a -3 turnover differential. Teams with the luxury of such a rest are 8-2 ATS when facing a team on normal downtime this season. And with all the extra hours, the Giants went out and signed bulldozing RB Peyton Hillis, who’s had many homes the past several seasons during his perpetual battle with injuries while begging for a better contract. For this week, the Giants look good to snap their streak.
Forecast: Giants 28, Vikings 19
Last week: 7-8 ATS; 9-6 SU
Season total: 39-51-2 (.433) ATS; 49-43 (.533) 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].