Another week, and not a lot of change from the SportSmasher.com staff picks, we were excellent at picking winners outright (11-2) but mediocre when picking games against the spread (6-7) which is par for the course for the 2013 NFL Season. For once this week, I really like the favorites based on the matchups, which is probably a really good sign for the underdogs based on my season record against the spread. We are at midseason, if I am going to turn my luck around against the spread, it has to happen right now. Let’s get to the picks.
BYE WEEKS: New York Giants, Denver Broncos, Detroit Lions, Arizona Cardinals, San Francisco 49ers, Jacksonville Jaguars
Cincinnati Bengals @ Miami Dolphins (+3) I am excited for a Thursday night game for the first time in a few weeks, the Cincinnati Bengals (6-2) are one of the top teams in football, and look like a lock for the AFC North crown. They take on a flakey Miami Dolphins team (3-4), which has lost four games straight, since starting the season (3-0). The Bengals quietly have the ninth ranked offense in the NFL, and are allowing just 18.0 points per game defensively, which is good for fifth in the NFL, and that combination usually leads to a lot of victories. The Dolphins have really struggled offensively, and are ranked 30th in total offense, which is not going to help them produce points against a defense with the playmakers in the front seven like Cincinnati. Miami is ranked 13th overall in total defense, which will help them hang around in this game, but the Bengals offensive weapons like A.J. Green and Marvin Jones to make enough plays to secure a road victory.
THE PICK: Bengals (-3) FINAL SCORE: Bengals 24 Dolphins 17
SPORTSMASHER BEST BET: Bengals (-3)
Atlanta Falcons @ Carolina Panthers (-9) Things have gotten ugly for the Atlanta Falcons (2-5) due in large part to injuries to many of their key players, which have caused the Falcons to go drop from a Super Bowl Contender at the start of the year to a team which will be picking near the top of the 2014 NFL Draft. The Carolina Panthers (4-3) are one of the hottest teams in the NFL, they are the winners of three straight, and have the second ranked defense in the league this season. This team has turned into a legitimate playoff contender, but needs to win this game against a divisional rival at home, and cannot afford a letdown on Sunday. The Falcons have the worst rushing offense in the league, and although they got Steven Jackson back from an injury last week, he managed just six yards on eleven carries and should struggle similarly against the Panthers defense. I think the Panthers will dominate the Falcons in this game, and expect them to struggle similarly against the stout Panthers defense this weekend. Although Matt Ryan should be able to throw the ball with some success, but the Panthers enter this game with too much momentum to lose, however this spread is huge and with the Falcons getting a few players back I will take the points.
THE PICK: Falcons (+9) FINAL SCORE: Panthers 21 Falcons 13
Minnesota Vikings @ Dallas Cowboys (-10.5) The Dallas Cowboys (4-4) are coming off of a heartbreaking loss in the final seconds to the Detroit Lions last weekend, and they have already allowed four 400-yard passers this season, the most in a season in NFL History. The good news for the Cowboys is the Minnesota Vikings (1-6) come to town this weekend, and Christian Ponder will get the start at quarterback, and he threw for just 145 yards last weekend in a loss to the Green Bay Packers. The Cowboys have surrendered the most total yardage in the NFL, but the Vikings have the second worst offense in the league, and the 26th ranked defense in the league. I do not think that Christian Ponder has the arm talent to pick apart an awful Cowboys secondary downfield, and do not think that the Vikings can stop the Cowboys passing attack, so unless this is the monster Adrian Peterson game that we all know is coming I think the Cowboys roll. Keep an eye on the Brain Waters season ending injury for the Cowboys, the offensive guard had been a stabilizing force on the line for Dallas since they coaxed him out of retirement, and losing him could be a big blow.
THE PICK: Cowboys (-10.5) FINAL SCORE: Cowboys 31 Vikings 17
New Orleans Saints @ New York Jets (+6) The New York Jets (4-4) are much better at home than on the road, but the strength of the team is their defensive front seven, and they are going to need a huge effort from their secondary to slow down the explosive Saints passing attack on Sunday. The New Orleans Saints (6-1) have been one of the league’s best teams this season, as defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has turned their defense from the worst in NFL history last season, to the seventh best in the league. Rob Ryan will be coaching against his brother, head coach of the Jets Rex Ryan, in a family feud in this game. There is so doubt that Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith is a better player at home right now, as many young quarterbacks are at this stage of their careers, and Jets running back Chris Ivory should be motivated going up against his former team. I do not think it matters, the Saints passing game is too effective and will shred the Jets on Sunday, while the Saints defense will scheme Smith into a few rookie mistakes. The Jets may keep it close for a while, but eventually, the Saints will be too much and will win and cover.
THE PICK: Saints (-6) FINAL SCORE: Saints 27 Jets 16
***REXRATED BEST BET: SAINTS (-6)*** (I hope I’m wrong)
Tennessee Titans @ St. Louis Rams (+3) The St. Louis Rams surprised many experts on Monday Night Football last week, when they ran the ball down the Seahawks throats and amassed 199 rushing yards, but fell just short of a victory and lost 14-9. The Rams lost starting quarterback Sam Bradford to a season ending ACL tear two weeks ago, and they are now quarterbacked by Kellen Clemons, who was an unimpressive 15-31 for 158 yards in the loss to Seattle. The one bright spot for the Rams is their excellent pair of defensive ends, Robert Quinn and Chris Long, who have a combined 15.5 sacks this season. The Tennessee Titans (3-4) have been one of the more underrated teams this season, quarterback Jake Locker returned from a hip injury against the 49ers two weeks ago after missing three weeks with a hip injury, and the he should be feeling even healthier following the Titans bye week. The Titans quietly have the eighth ranked defense in the NFL this season, and against Kellen Clemens, I expect them to perform well and win this game as the Rams will struggle to move the ball.
THE PICK: Titans (-3) FINAL SCORE: Titans 23 Rams 10
SPORTSMASHER BEST BET: TITANS (-3)
Kansas City Chiefs @ Buffalo Bills (+4) Something about this line screams “sucker bet” to me, the Kansas City Chiefs (8-0) are the NFL’s last unbeaten team, but have failed to cover spreads at home during each of their previous two games against inferior opponents. The Chiefs defense is excellent at generating pressure, they lead the NFL with 36.0 sacks, and they should force Bills quarterback Thad Lewis into some bad situations on Sunday. Do you know who is second in the NFL in sacks? It’s the Buffalo Bills (3-5) with 27.0 sacks, the pass rush has been a strength of the Bills this season, but offensively they have not been able to overcome injuries to quarterback EJ Manuel and running back C.J. Spiller. I do think that the Bills are on the right track, and I think they could play spoiler later this season, once Manuel returns from a knee injury. So if I am wrong, call me a sucker, but I just do not think that the Bills offense has enough healthy talent to move the ball against the Chiefs defense, while a big game from Jamaal Charles should lead the Chiefs to another victory. I considered picking the Chiefs and taking the points in this game, maybe a three point win, but in the end I cannot see Thad Lewis keeping this game close.
THE PICK: Chiefs (-4) FINAL SCORE: Chiefs 23 Bills 10
***REXRATED BEST BET: CHIEFS (-4)***
San Diego Chargers @ Washington Redskins (+1) This line surprised me, the Washington Redskins (2-5) are not a good football team right now, quarterback Robert Griffin III still does not have any confidence in his surgically repaired knee and the defense flat out cannot tackle. The Redskins blew a 21-7 lead against the Denver Broncos last weekend, surrendering 38 unanswered points, because they were unable to tackle the Broncos wide receivers after short receptions and screen passes. The San Diego Chargers (4-3) meanwhile are one of the NFL’s most underrated teams right now, quarterback Philip Rivers is playing at an extremely high level, and the Chargers defensive front seven has been excellent this season. The Chargers won two straight games heading into their bye last weekend, and seem to be playing with some momentum, I think they get a big road win against a Redskins team with zero momentum this weekend and keep their long shot playoff hopes alive.
THE PICK: Chargers (-1) FINAL SCORE: Chargers 27 Redskins 23
SPORTSMASHER BEST BET: CHARGERS (-1)
Philadelphia Eagles @ Oakland Raiders (+1) The Philadelphia Eagles (3-5) looked like they might have the best offense in the NFL under new head coach Chip Kelly during the first week of the NFL season, but since then, their offense has been atrocious. The Eagles offense has managed just three points over the past two games, and some of this can be blamed on injuries to starting quarterback Michael Vick and his backup Nick Foles, which have forced rookie Matt Barkely to take a significant amount of snaps. Vick will be out this week, and Foles status is uncertain, so Barkely may be the starter against Oakland. The Raiders (3-4) look like they have found a future star in quarterback Terrelle Pryor, an incredible athlete who is both the team’s leading passer and leading rusher. Pryor cannot turn the franchise around alone though, and this offseason the Raiders need to focus on surrounding him with talent and getting him some help. Quietly the Raiders have the fifth ranked defense in the NFL this season, and they are surrendering just 21.4 points per game, both impressive numbers. I think that the Eagles will again struggle offensively, while Pryor will make a few big plays, and the Raiders will get their second win in a row.
THE PICK: Raiders (+1) FINAL SCORE: Raiders 20 Eagles 16
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Seattle Seahawks (-17) The Seattle Seahawks (7-1) have been one of the league’s best teams this season, but they just lost wide receiver Sidney Rice, leaving them thin at the position until Percy Harvin returns from an injury in a few weeks. It will not matter on Sunday, Seattle has the best home field advantage in football, and the winless Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-7) are coming to town. The Bucs are starting a rookie quarterback in the toughest and loudest environment for an away team to play, they seem to have quit on head coach Greg Schiano, who is a strict disciplinarian which rarely works in the professional ranks. The Seahawks still have the fourth ranked defense in the NFL, efficient young quarterback Russell Wilson, and monster running back Marshawn Lynch. The Buccaneers are in trouble.
THE PICK: Seahawks (-17) FINAL SCORE: Seahawks 38 Buccaneers 7
Baltimore Ravens @ Cleveland Browns (+3) The defending champion Baltimore Ravens (3-4) have struggled with injuries while also teaching many new players their system this season, which are the primary reasons for their slow start and poor record. They are coming off of a bye week, they will be healthier in Cleveland this weekend, and the new players should have a better grasp of their roles. The Cleveland Browns (3-5) have an excellent young defense in place, but they are on their third starting quarterback of the season, veteran Jason Campbell. I think that Jason Campbell will distribute the ball to young playmaking wide receiver Josh Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron, and the Browns defense will keep them in the game, but ultimately the healthiest Ravens team we have seen this season will pull away and cover this spread on the road.
THE PICK: Ravens (-3) FINAL SCORE: Ravens 23 Browns 17
Pittsburgh Steelers @ New England Patriots (-7) This game comes down to one factor for me, the New England Patriots run defense has really struggled to stop the run since nose tackle Vince Wilfork and inside linebacker Jerod Mayo went down with season ending injuries, and the Steelers will relentlessly try to run the ball up the middle with bruising rookie tailback Le’Veon Bell. The think that the Patriots (6-2), who just traded for massive nose tackle isaac Sopoaga, know that the Steelers will need to run the ball against them to have a chance and will find creative ways to limit the rushing attack. Tom Brady has had accuracy issues this season, but now that tight end Rob Gronkowski is fully back and shaking off the rust and Danny Amendola appears healthy for the time being, I think the offense will pick up the pace. Also note that tailback Shane Vereen, who was excellent for the Patriots early this season, also returns from injury this week. The Pittsburgh Steelers (2-5) have struggled to score points this season, and if they get down early, we know they cannot play from behind and win a shootout against the Patriots. The Steelers will not be able to make this game ugly, which they would have to do to keep it close.
NOTE: A reader just pointed out to me that Shane Vereen is eligible to practice with the Patriots, but cannot play until week eleven. I was wrong on that one. Nice catch.
THE PICK: Patriots (-7) FINAL SCORE: Patriots 31 Steelers 17
Indianapolis Colts @ Houston Texans (+1) I was a little surprised by this line, the Indianapolis Colts (5-2) have been red hot, and I expected them to be bigger favorites on Sunday Night Football against a floundering Texans team. The Houston Texans (2-5) will start Case Keenum at quarterback, as starter Matt Schaub has been benched, and his future in Houston is in doubt. The Texans do have the top rated defense in football, which is surprising, until you remember how many interceptions that were returned for touchdowns the Texans quarterbacks have thrown this season. I think that the Texans defense is getting too much respect here, the Colts defense is ranked 11th in the league itself, and they will make things difficult on Keenum as he makes his national television debut. The Colts will miss Reggie Wayne, who they lost for the season with a knee injury, but I expect other receivers like T.Y. Hilton to step up and fill the void. It will be a close game, but in the end, the Colts are the better team.
THE PICK: Colts (-1) FINAL SCORE: Colts 20 Texans 17
***REXRATED BEST BET: COLTS (-1)***
Chicago Bears @ Green Bay Packers (-11) Tough break for the Monday Night Football crew, at the start of the season it looked like they were going to get an entertaining duel between Aaron Rogers and Jay Cutler, but now Cutler is out for at least a month with a groin injury and Josh McCown will get the start for the Bears at quarterback. The Bears (4-3) are uncharacteristically terrible defensively, and rank 27th in the NFL in opponent’s passing yards per game, which is not a good thing when you are taking on the NFL’s fifth best passing offense on the road. The Packers are also having a lot of success running the ball, rookie running back Eddie Lacy is a legitimate rookie of the year candidate, and the team ranks third in the NFL in rushing yards. I do not think the Bears will be able to stop the Packers, and while they may have some success running Matt Forte early, the Packers will eventually get ahead which will force Josh McCown to throw. Packers win this one easy.
THE PICK: Packers (-11) FINAL SCORE: Packers 35 Bears 16
Against The Spread (6-9-1) Outright (6-10)
SportSmasher Best Bets (1-2) RexRated Best Bets (2-1)
Against The Spread (7-8-1) Outright (13-3)
SportSmasher Best Bets (0-3) RexRated Best Bets (1-1-1)
Against The Spread (7-8-1) Outright (11-5)
SportSmasher Best Bets (1-2) RexRated Best Bets (1-2)
Against The Spread (7-8) Outright (10-5)
SportSmasher Best Bets (2-1) RexRated Best Bets (0-3)
Against The Spread (5-9) Outright (10-4)
SportSmasher Best Bets (1-2) RexRated Best Bets (0-3)
Against The Spread (5-9-1) Outright (10-5)
SportSmasher Best Bets (2-1) RexRated Best Bets (2-1)
Against The Spread (6-9) Outright (9-6)
SportSmasher Best Bets (0-3) RexRated Best Bets (1-2)
Against The Spread (6-7) Outright (11-2)
SportSmasher Best Bets (1-2) RexRated Best Bets (1-2)
Against The Spread (49-67-4) Outright (80-40)
SportSmasher Best Bets (8-16) RexRated Best Bets (8-15-1)