One of the most fascinating games of the season, with regard to powerful trends, will take place in St. Louis on Monday night when the Rams play host to the heavily favored Seattle Seahawks, who have the best record in the NFC.
The Rams seemingly will be overmatched, especially now that starting QB Sam Bradford is out for the season (knee) and has been replaced by journeyman Kellen Clemens, the same guy who was razzed in the preseason by Browns TV commentator Bernie Kosar, who said, “I can’t stand watching him play.”
However, here are a couple of fun trends that are working in St. Louis’ favor:
Over past 10 outings, teams that are playing their first MNF home game after a drought of at least four seasons are 9-1 ATS, perhaps thanks to a fan base that goes bonkers in a rare opportunity to stay up past its bed time. And, double-digit home underdogs are 17-2 ATS since Week 13 in the 2009 season, even winning outright four times.
But will anyone be attending? The baseball Cardinals are scheduled to host Boston in Game 5 of the World Series that night.
Now for a closer look at the Week 8 schedule, with point spreads and totals provided by the Las Vegas Hotel SuperBook:
PRO FOOTBALL – SUNDAY, OCT. 27
San Francisco 49ers (5-2) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-7), London
Time: 10 a.m. PST
Line: 49ers by 14½ (40½)
Facts: For the fifth time in eight games dating to 2007, the Londoners will be stuck watching a winless NFL team. Four weeks ago, they cringed while watching the 0-3 Vikings beat the 0-3 Steelers, 34-27… The Jaguars had only two possessions in the first half of Sunday’s loss to San Diego, but one was for 18 plays, matching the longest drive in the league this year. Alas, it resulted in a FG… SF has scored at least 32 points its past three games. No 49ers team has done that since 1997… Jacksonville did win something last week – the field position battle for the first time this season, with a 1-yard average edge over San Diego (24-23)… The Jags have 6 offensive TDs this year. There are three defenses in the league that are just two behind.
Analysis: With backup offensive tackles, the Jaguars’ running game has been awful, averaging 2.9 yards a carry. Defensively, their 153.3 yards allowed per game is the worst in the NFL the past two seasons. In this perfect storm of a game the 49ers lead the league with 12 rushing plays of 20-plus yards while Jacksonville has given up the most with 10. Jacksonville coach Gus Bradley’s dad died last Sunday and he stayed behind in the States the first part of the week. The Jaguars probably have had too many distractions to give the 49ers a scare the way they did in Denver two weeks ago, losing only 35-19 as a 26.5-point underdog.
Forecast: 49ers 28, Jaguars 6
Dallas Cowboys (4-3) at Detroit Lions (4-3)
Time: 10 a.m. PST
Line: Lions by 3 (51)
Facts: Lions RB Reggie Bush sat out drills Friday with a tweaked upper leg... Dallas OT Doug Free had a hat trick last week in Philadelphia, getting called for three false starts. Now he gets to play in an enemy dome… Flashback: In the 2006 season finale, the Lions won at Texas Stadium 39-31 as a 13.5-point underdog. Detroit hasn’t had a bigger upset victory since… The Lions had to replace both offensive tackles last week and still had no sacks against the Bengals despite 51 dropbacks by Matt Stafford. Corey Hilliard (knee) isn’t expected to play Sunday… Teams like Detroit, playing at home before their bye, are 4-18 ATS in this slot. But that didn’t stop Indy from upsetting Denver last week.
Analysis: Dallas’ defense had a dramatic turnaround in holding the host Eagles to a field goal in a 17-3 beatdown in Philadelphia last week. And that was without sackmaster DeMarcus Ware (doubtful, quad). But it seemed the Cowboys’ success wasn’t because of the pass rush, because it seemed Philly’s Nick Foles just couldn’t make a decision. Stafford, the league’s third-rated passer, surely will react more quickly. Plus, he’s been sacked only nine times in seven games, tied for the fewest among full-time starters this season. His favorite target, Calvin Johnson, appears to be in full health, too, catching nine balls for a norm of 17.2 a reception last week, good for 2 TDs. The home crowd also helps makes for a miserable day for Dallas.
Forecast: Lions 35, Cowboys 27
New York Giants (1-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (3-4)
Time: 10 a.m. PST
Line: Eagles by 5½ (51½)
Facts: Michael Vick is expected to return at QB for the Eagles after his hamstring injury. With Nick Foles out (concussion), their only other option is rookie Matt Barkley, who pitched 3 INTs in the fourth quarter of his debut last week vs. Dallas… The Eagles will be looking not to extend their nine-game home losing streak, including a preposterous 0-9 ATS mark… Philly opened with seven consecutive punts last week against a Dallas defense that was ranked 30th in the league… The Giants got 10 of their 23 points last Monday after opening possessions at the Vikings’ 3 and 10. They had a season-high 7 three-and-outs... New York leads the league with 7 return scores allowed, including Minnesota’s punt return last week. That’s its most since yielding 8 in 1999.
Analysis: The Giants’ pass rush has been anemic and shown a distinct lack of hustle, with linemen making a hit and just dancing in place. As one ex-Giant said on TV this week, he doesn’t think the team has generated momentum for a closing rush but merely relieved that the pressure of winning even one game has eased the tension. The problem siding with the Eagles is Vick’s health. Without him, Philly has a QB who’s been a scout-teamer all season and can’t run the option. That in effect will cause the Giants to choke down on RB Shady McCoy. Until Vick can prove he won’t break down on his first dash to the sideline, the Giants look good with the points.
Forecast: Eagles 21, Giants 20
Cleveland Browns (3-4) at Kansas City Chiefs (7-0)
Time: 10 a.m. PST
Line: Chiefs by 7½ (39)
Facts: Browns QB Jason Campbell, who’s 31 of 40 as a starter in his nine-year career, takes over for beleaguered Brandon Weeden. Campbell had one start last year for Chicago, guiding the Bears to 143 yards of total offense in a 32-3 loss at San Fran, the fourth fewest yards total by any team the past two seasons… Against Houston’s top-ranked defense last week, the Chiefs were 1-for-4 scoring TDs on goal-to-go possessions... Last year in Cleveland, the Browns beat the Chiefs 30-7, Cleveland’s most lopsided victory the past 10 years… Since 2007, KC is 5-16 ATS as a home favorite … Ironic flashback: In Week 7 last year, Browns RB Trent Richardson was benched in a loss to Indy, the team he was traded to last month.
Analysis: There’s going to be a mismatch in the trenches with KC’s league-leading sackers (35) facing a Cleveland unit that has yielded 27, tied for second. And it’s not that Campbell isn’t mobile, but maybe with all his rust he’ll have a tough time going through his progressions against a Chiefs team that ranks first in defensive passer rating (but against a relatively weak/inexperience collection of QBs, such as Ryan Fitzpatrick and Case Keenum). Compounding the Browns’ problems is that speedy WR Josh Gordon reportedly is in a funk over the possibility of being traded before next week’s deadline.
Forecast: Chiefs 20, Browns 3
Buffalo Bills (3-4) at New Orleans Saints (5-1)
Time: 10 a.m. PST
Line: Saints by 11 (49)
Facts: New Bills QB Thad Lewis was 15-for-19 last week throwing to receivers not named Stevie Johnson, who caught only six of 13 targeted throws for 61 yards… With Sean Payton in charge, the Saints have come out of their bye with high-octane victories the past three outings, including a 49-24 win in 2011 against the eventual Super Bowl champion Giants…This is the second straight week Buffalo is facing a team off a bye. Last Sunday, though, the Bills won in Miami 23-21… In Buffalo’s last visit to the Superdome in 1998, they won 45-33 after racing to an early 28-0 lead… Bills RB C.J. Spiller is doubtful (ankle).
Analysis: Buffalo has been credited for playing all foes tough this year, and that indeed has been the case. In three of their losses, the Bills rallied from double-digit deficits to erase the lead before falling. In their other defeat, Buffalo blew a double-digit lead in prime time at Cleveland. Meanwhile, Saints TE Jimmy Graham missed drills this week with his injured foot and remains questionable. And if that creates any hesitation for QB Drew Brees, a Bills defense that has generated a league-best 12 INTs and 23 sacks, tied for fourth best, could help make a game of it.
Forecast: Saints 30, Bills 23
Miami Dolphins (3-3) at New England Patriots (5-2)
Time: Patriots by 6½ (45½)
Line: This is the first time in four years the Dolphins aren’t stuck playing at New England in December… In 2008, Miami gave the host Patriots their worst loss of the past decade, winning 38-13 when the Dolphins introduced their wildcat package to a befuddled Bill Belichick… The Patriots were tops in the league with a 48.7 percent third-down conversion rate last year. Now they’re 28th at 33.3 percent after going 1-for-12 last week vs. the Jets… New England TE Rob Gronkowski caught eight of 17 targeted throws for 114 yards in his season debut last week… Ryan Tannehill , the most-sacked QB in the league, now is nursing a sore shoulder. No wonder, since he’s gone down 26 times.
Analysis: There was a distinct difference in the Patriots’ attack last week with Gronkowski bashing his way through the Jets’ secondary. But he was a little out of sync at times, missing a few passes while he was in the clear, including one near the end zone. And what likely also will help NE’s Tom Brady is that Dolphins DE Cameron Wake, who had 15 sacks last year, still is wrestling with a knee injury that has contributed him not having a sack since getting 2.5 in Week 1. Miami, meanwhile, has dropped three straight games and has lost its strut. Maybe next week they’ll get it back.
Forecast: Patriots 30, Dolphins 20.
New York Jets (4-3) at Cincinnati Bengals (5-2)
Time: 1:05 p.m. PST
Line: Bengals by 6 (41)
Facts: Cincinnati has won its past two games, both on the road, after blowing double digit leads… New York is 9-1 in this series since 1992… Cincinnati’s heralded pass rush didn’t get a sack in 51 dropbacks by Detroit’s Matt Stafford last week. Only one other time this season did a team throw more passes without getting sacked… New York’s penalty-aided 14-play drive to a FG in overtime last week against New England was its longest of the year… The Jets held NE to 9 yards in six midgame possessions last week, even scoring on an INT return… The Jets have the league’s top rushing defense, allowing 3.1 a carry, but still haven’t faced a top-10 ground game. The Bengals’ norm of 3.7 a carry ranks 23rd.
Analysis: The Bengals are 3-0 at home this year and have flustered Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers and NE’s Tom Brady along the way. In fact, against Cincinnati, Rodgers had his worst passer rating of the past three seasons (64.4). Brady had the worst over his past four years (52.2). So, NYJ rookie Geno Smith should be in for a rough afternoon. Bengals QB Andy Dalton, meanwhile, is coming off the best game of his career, with 3 TD throws and no INTs at Detroit in a 27-24 victory. His norm of almost 11 yards a throw was impressive.
Forecast: Bengals 28, Jets 13
Pittsburgh Steelers (2-4) at Oakland Raiders (2-4)
Time: 1:05 p.m. PST
Line: Steelers by 2½ (40)
Facts: The Steelers have lost three of the past four meetings despite being the favorite each time, including 34-31 at Oakland last year as a 3.5-point choice. In 2009, Oakland QB Bruce Gradkowski threw 3 TD passes in the final 8:21 to lead a 27-24 Raiders upset as a 14.5-point road underdog. … In two of the Raiders’ past three games, they gave up 7 sacks to Washington and 9 in KC. … The last time the Steelers faced a mobile quarterback such as Oakland’s Terrelle Pryor was two weeks ago when they flummoxed the Jets’ Geno Smith in a 19-6 victory. ... The Raiders are 0-10 the past 10 seasons coming out of a bye and 1-9 ATS. That spread-beating win came last year as a 9-point underdog in Atlanta, losing, 23-19 and forcing Matt Ryan into five INTs.
Analysis: Oakland was without its center in the sackfest at Kansas City, but Stefen Wisniewski is expected back after an extra week of rest. That’s especially good news for Pryor. On the other side, rookie RB Le’Veon Bell is getting lots of the credit for Pittsburgh’s recent resurgence after a 0-4 start, but he has only a 3.6 rushing norm on 51 carries with a long of 11. That’s nothing to get excited over. The Steelers still are a mess offensively, with only one TD drive of 80-plus yards. That speaks volumes.
Forecast: Raiders 23, Steelers 19
Washington Redskins (2-4) at Denver Broncos (6-1)
Time: 1:05 p.m. PST
Line: Broncos by 11½ (59)
Facts: This is the biggest over/under number the past two seasons… Washington had four TD drives of 80-plus yards against Chicago last week, tying for the most by any team this year… Flashback: In Super Bowl 22, Washington beat Denver 42-10, scoring 35 points in the second quarter. That stands as a playoff scoring mark for any period… Denver had six consecutive possessions against Indy last week without a score. The Broncos hadn’t had that long a drought since going seven straight to open the game at San Diego last year... The Redskins had 45 points on offense last week despite an average starting field position on their 19. On the other 15 occasions a team had an average launch point inside its 20 this season, no one scored more than 24 offensive points.
Analysis: The Redskins were gouged by Chicago backup QB Josh McCown last week, the highest-rated passer in the UFL three seasons ago. So what’s Peyton Manning going to do against a secondary that probably will be missing its starting safeties? On the other hand, what’s Redskins QB Robert Griffin III going to do to a Broncos secondary that’s yielding 319.9 yards a game? At this pace, Denver, would shatter the record for yards allowed in a season before reaching the finale. Washington’s stout running game, led by with Alfred Morris’ 5.2 yards a carry, helps D.C. stay close.
Forecast: Broncos 41, Redskins 38
Atlanta Falcons (2-4) at Arizona Cardinals (3-4)
Time: 1:25 p.m. PST
Line: Cardinals by 2½ (46)
Facts: The Falcons have gone 1-6 against the Cardinals in Arizona… Atlanta had 18 rushes for 18 yards last week in their 31-13 victory over Tampa Bay, the second lowest rushing total for a winning team the past four seasons... Arizona’s Carson Palmer was sacked seven times last Thursday in a 34-22 loss to Seattle, tied for third most in a game this year… Atlanta has the league’s 31st-rated defensive passer rating. The Falcons were fifth last year… QBs have fumbled nine times against the Cardinals, losing six – both highs in the league. But Atlanta’s Matt Ryan is one of two regular QBs (Philip Rivers) who hadn’t had even one this year in starting each game.
Analysis: Atlanta fared well without its top two receivers last week, with Harry Douglas stepping in for Roddy White and Julio Jones and getting seven catches for 149 yards in a 31-13 win over Tampa Bay. Topping that off is that this week the Falcons are hopeful Steven Jackson (probable, hamstring) makes his first appearance since Week 2. On a side note, Atlanta is playing its first road game in five weeks, after having three home games wrapped around a bye. Over the past five seasons, the refreshed teams in this slot have gone 12-5 ATS in their first away junket in more than a month.
Forecast: Falcons 21, Cardinals 16.
Green Bay Packers (4-2) at Minnesota Vikings (1-5)
Time: 5:30 p.m. PST
Line: Packers by 9 (47½)
Facts: The Vikings have come full circle at QB, with Christian Ponder, the starter for Weeks 1-3, back in the lineup after QB Josh Freeman (concussion) butchered his only Purple start with 33 incompletions and an INT… The Vikings are coming off a MNF loss to the 0-6 Giants. Previously, Minnesota lost to 0-9 Tampa Bay (2001) and to 0-12 Detroit (1983)... Minnesota has had back-to-back games with 13 and 14 rushing plays. No team has had consecutive games with less than 15 carries since Chicago in 2011… The Packers are 0-5 ATS on the road dating to late last season… Minnesota is coming off a 23-7 loss on MNF against the Giants in which it didn’t score an offensive point. Teams off MNF games are 4-9 ATS dating to Week 16 last year.
Analysis: Vikings RB Adrian Peterson had 508 yards rushing against Green Bay last year, including 99 in a wild-card playoff loss at Lambeau, but has admitted he’s been hesitant running on an injured hamstring (probable) of late. Kiss that 2,000-yard season goodbye. This should make life easier for a Packers defense that’s missing LB Clay Matthews (thumb), but may get back LB Nick Perry (questionable, foot). Offensively, Green Bay has been getting good mileage from rookie RB Eddie Lacy, who heads a revitalized running corps.
Forecast: Packers 31, Vikings 14
PRO FOOTBALL – MONDAY, OCT. 28
Seattle Seahawks (6-1) at St. Louis Rams (3-4)
Time: 5:40 p.m.
Line: Seahawks by 11 (42½)
Facts: This summer at the LVH SuperBook, the Seahawks were the morning-line 3.5-point favorite… St. Louis is 4-0 ATS as a double-digit home dog since midway in 2009, even beating New Orleans 31-21 two seasons ago as a 13.5-point underdog. In the 2011 finale, Clemens, who is 4-8 as a starter in his career, was QB when the Rams fell at home to SF 34-27 as a 12.5-point underdog… Good news for Seahawks: Teams off Thursday games are 9-3 ATS this season… Seattle’s Russell Wilson, meanwhile, is the league’s No. 7-rated passer. But he’s No. 1 when it comes to fumbles with 8, including 3 last week, losing 2... The Rams’ pass-rush combo of DE Robert Quinn and LB Alex Ogletree have teamed for 7 forced fumbles, the highest total for any team duo this season.
Analysis: Nope, it’s too early for WR Percy Harvin to makes his debut in Seattle’s lineup, but it’s getting close. In the meantime, the Seahawks and their second-rated defense should have Clemens’ head on a swivel and cause at least a couple of turnovers. But Wilson will have his giveaways, too, and that could be a wash. St. Louis gets to play tough behind the running of rookie bowling ball Zac Stacy, who’s averaging 4.3 yards a carry.
Forecast: Seahawks 21, Rams 14
Last week: 10-5 ATS; 10-5 SU
Season total: 49-56-2 (.467) ATS; 59-48 (.551) 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].