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NFL Week 4 Previews and Predictions, Straight Up and ATS

Some quick thoughts, insightful analysis and wild guesses on the NFL’s week four games.

 

Miami Dolphins (1-2) vs Oakland Raiders (0-3) in London ★★
Early game on CBS; Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts
Broadcast in south Florida, Tallahassee, Reno, northern California and southern Oregon

The Raiders played about as well as they are capable of playing last week and lost; the Patriots were their Super Bowl, and could have a bit of a letdown. The Dolphins on the other hand played very poorly last week, and should be motivated to improve on that performance. The wild card that’s holding me back is that Miami looked so awful last week that I am wondering if that was the real Dolphins, and week one was an aberration – so I am only going to give the Dolphins a slight lean in this game.
Pick • Dolphins 24, Raiders 20
Dolphins -3½
over 40½

 

Green Bay Packers (1-2) at Chicago Bears (2-1) ★★★★★
Early game on FOX; Kevin Burkhardt, John Lynch
Broadcast everywhere except Hawaii, Houston, Indianapolis, Michigan, Ohio, West Virginia, Pennsylvania (except Philadelphia), Baltimore, New Jersey, New York, New England and Florida

The Packers have been terrible in two road losses, but the cheese heads should snap out of their funk in this short road trip against their long-time division rival. The Bears are banged up, and losing CB Charles Tillman makes stopping Rodgers, Nelson and Cobb that much more difficult of a task.
Pick • Packers 27, Bears 24
Packers -1½
over 49

 

Buffalo Bills (2-1) at Houston Texans (2-1) ★★★
Early game on CBS; Spero Dedes, Solomon Wilcots
Broadcast in Texas, New York (except NYC) and New England

Both teams took a step back towards their rightful spots in the middle of the pack with their first losses of the season last week. The Bills looked better in defeat, and there’s no shame in losing to the Chargers. Both teams like low-risk ball control offense, so let’s look at the run defenses. Buffalo is allowing 83 yards per game (5th) and 3.3 yards per carry (6th); Houston is allowing 142 yards per game (25th) and 5.2 yards per carry (31st). I’ll go with the Bills in a slight upset on the road.
Pick • Bills 20, Texans 17
Bills +3
under 41

 

Tennessee Titans (1-2) at Indianapolis Colts (1-2) ★★
Early game on CBS; Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon
Broadcast in Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Illinois and eastern Washington

Don’t be fooled by Indy’s 1-2 record; their first two games were at Denver and against Philly. Andrew Luck has thrown for 370 yards twice already, and should have no problem against and should have no problem against the Tennessee defense. The Titans don’t have the firepower (14.3 points per game, 31st in the NFL) to keep up with the Colts’ offense, and a game plan of trying to play keep away with Shonn Greene and Bishop Sankey running the ball is an iffy proposition at best.
Pick • Colts 31, Titans 17
Colts -7½ (one unit)
over 46

 

Carolina Panthers (2-1) at Baltimore Ravens (2-1) ★★★★
Early game on CBS; Greg Gumbel, Trent Green
Broadcast in Pennsylvania (except Pittsburgh, Maryland, Delaware, DC, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, West Virginia, Ohio, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, New Mexico, Arizona, Las Vegas, most of Oregon and Washington, Alaska and Hawaii

The vaunted Carolina defense took a body shot that dropped them to their knees last week. Pittsburgh ran for a mind-boggling 264 yards against the Panthers, including two runs of more than 50 yards each. Now they get to face the Ravens, another physical AFC North team that has rediscovered their running game. Baltimore is averaging 4.6 yards per carry and 137 yards rushing per game, as they have moved away from a long-pass offense that yielded inconsistent results in favor of more of the ground and pound that worked so well for them over the last several years.

The Panthers have also been a team that relies on running the ball, but that could be a problem for them Sunday. Running backs Jonathon Stewart and Mike Tolbert were injured last week, and Cam Newton is still recovering from the rib injury he suffered in the preseason game against the Patriots. That would leave Carolina dependent on DeAngelo Williams, who missed last week’s game with a thigh injury. I think the Carolina defense will have a bounce-back game here, but it’s tough to back them to win straight up on the road with their injuries – though TE Greg Olsen and rookie WR Kelvin Benjamin will help keep it very close.
Pick • Ravens 23, Panthers 21
Panthers +3½
over 39

 

Detroit Lions (2-1) at New York Jets (1-2) ★★
Early game on FOX; Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston
Broadcast in Hawaii, New England, New York, Michigan, Toledo, Miami and West Palm Beach

The Jets’ defense has performed better than I expected they would thus far, thanks to the strong play from the defensive line (10 sacks, ranked 2nd by Football Outsiders) overcoming the deficiencies in their secondary (7 touchdowns allowed, zero interceptions). The big if is Detroit’s offensive line can give Matthew Stafford enough time for Calvin Johnson (questionable, ankle) enough time to get downfield and exploit New York’s corners.
Pick • Jets 23, Lions 20
Jets +2½
under 45½

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-3) at Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1) ★★
Early game on FOX; Thom Brennaman, David Diehl
Broadcast in Florida (except Miami and West Palm), Myrtle Beach, West Virginia, Ohio (except Toledo) and Pennsylvania (except Philadelphia)

Even if the Steelers have a bit of a letdown after last week’s big win at Carolina, I can’t picture Tampa Bay (31st in point allowed, 31.7; 29th in points scored, 15.0) keeping this road game close.
Pick • Steelers 31, Bucs 10
Steelers -7 (four units)
under 48½

 

Jacksonville Jaguars 90-3) at San Diego Chargers (2-1) ★★★
Late game on CBS; Andrew Catalon, Steve Tasker
Broadcast in New York City, Pittsburgh, Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville, Chicago, Michigan, Wisconsin, Colorado, Utah and southern California

The Chargers are coming off a pair of impressive wins, against defending champions Seattle, and then on the road against previously undefeated Buffalo. Jacksonville’s defense is awful, allowing 466 yards and 39.7 points per game. San Diego’s issues at running back may eventually catch up to them (they’re down to Donald Brown with Ryan Mathews out for a few more weeks with a sprained MCL, and Danny Woodhead on IR), but that won’t matter Sunday for Philip Rivers.
Pick • Chargers 38, Jaguars 14
Chargers -10½ (three units)
over 44½

 

Philadelphia Eagles (3-0) at San Francisco 49ers (1-2) ★★★★★
Late game on FOX; Joe Buck, Troy Aikman
Broadcast everywhere except Georgia, Alabama, Florida panhandle, Louisville, Tulsa, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota

The Niners have outscored their opponents 59-16 in the first half of their three games, then folded down the stretch by a total of 52-3 in the second half. Philly on the other hand is the first team in NFL history to rally from double-digit deficits in each of their first three games; they have been outscored 54-27 in the first half, then outscored the opposition 74-24 in the second half.

Chip Kelly’s uptempo offense is a matchup nightmare for an older defense like San Francisco’s, though the physical Niner defense is certainly capable of causing havoc with a beat up offensive line like Philly’s. Tight end Veron Davis is expected to return this week, which gives San Fran a boost. It’s tough to win when traveling across three time zones to play a solid team; Philadelphia’s good fortune runs out this week.
Pick • Niners 34, Eagles 27
Niners -4½
over 50½

 

Atlanta Falcons (2-1) at Minnesota Vikings (1-2) ★★
Late game on FOX; Chris Myers, Ronde Barber
Broadcast in Georgia, Alabama, Florida panhandle, Louisville, Tulsa, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota

The Atlanta offense ranks first in scoring (34.3 points per game), yardage (450) and passing yards (334) after posting 56 points in the first 43 minutes of last week’s shellacking over Tampa Bay. WR Julio Jones has rebounded very nicely from his second foot surgery. Jones lead the NFL with 365 yards receiving, is tied for third in receptions (23) and fifth in receiving touchdowns (3) after three weeks. Captain Munnerlyn will be tasked with covering Jones, who is six inches taller and 25 pounds heavier. Atlanta likes to use a three receiver formation, and Munnerln normally moves to the nickel in those sets; CB Xavier Rhodes has been very inconsistent, which could lead for a big day for Roddy White, Harry Douglas and Devin Hester as well.

The Vikings meanwhile will be without three starters: QB Matt Cassel and RG Brandon Fusco are on IR, and TE Kyle Rudolph is out for several weeks with a sports hernia. Their running game is non-existent without Adrian Peterson, and the offense now ranks 28th in scoring (16.7 points per game), 29th in yardage (273) and 31st in passing (174). LT Matt Kalil has struggled in pass protection, and the offense is not built to win shootouts or come from behind to win. Although the defense has held its own – they held the Saints to 20 points last week – there’s just no way the Viking offense can keep up with Atlanta, even though the game is being played in Minnesota and outdoors.
Pick • Falcons 24, Vikings 13
Falcons -2½
under 47½ (one unit)

 

New Orleans Saints (1-2) at Dallas Cowboys (2-1) ★★★★
Sunday night game on NBC; Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth

A pair of teams with good offenses (Saints are 6th at 26.0 points per game, Cowboys 8th with 25.7) and below average defenses (New Orleans is 20th at 24.0, while Dallas is 18th at 23.0) means we should probably see a high-scoring game Sunday night. Dallas has transitioned to more of a running game with DeMarco Murray (5.1 yards per carry) leading the NFL with 385 rushing yards, 25 carries per game, and is tied for first with three rushing touchdowns. New Orleans lost Darren Sproles to free agency in the off season and Mark Ingram is out with a hand injury, that means Drew Brees (288 passing yards per game, 70.9% completion rate) will be throwing often to Jimmy Graham, Marques Colston, Brandin Cooks and Kenny Stills. Opponents have focused on trying to take away the deep pass, and Brees has capitalized by taking what the defense gives him. The net result is the highest completion percentage of any full-time NFL starter thus far this year, as well as the best third down conversion rate (61.5%) of any team in the league.
Pick • Saints 34, Cowboys 27
Saints -2½
over 53

 

New England Patriots (2-1) at Kansas City Chiefs (1-2) ★★★★★
Monday night game on ESPN; Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden

Kansas City had a big win at Miami last week, but after re-watching that game that appeared to be more about how poorly the Dolphins played than how well the Chiefs performed. Jamaal Charles will apparently return to at least share the backfield load, but I wonder how effective he will be coming back that quickly from a high ankle sprain. The Patriots have forced an NFL-best eight turnovers after three games, and the Chiefs have turned the ball over five times; Alex Smith has thrown three picks and lost a fumble, while RB Knile Davis has lost one of his three fumbles.

On the other hand the New England offensive line has been putrid. LT Nate Solder has been shaky, and it won’t get any easier with a matchup against OLB Tamba Hali. Rob Gronkowski has been slowly eased into action (on the field for 108 of 226 snaps), but says that he is ready for an increased role. The Patriots are capable of playing better than they have thus far, but it will be difficult to accomplish that on the road with an offensive line in flux at what will be an extremely loud Arrowhead Stadium.
Pick • Chiefs 23, Patriots 20
Chiefs +3½
under 45

 

Two-Team Teaser
Steelers (-1 vs Bucs) and Chargers (-4½ vs Jaguars) – three units
Steelers (-1 vs Bucs) and Falcons (+3½ at Vikings) – three units

Two-Team Parlay
Steelers (-7 vs Bucs) and Chargers (-10½ vs Jaguars) – two units

 

 

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2014 NFL Calendar and Key Dates for the New England Patriots

2014 New England Patriots Transaction Tracker

 

 

Thursday Night Football: New York Giants at Washington – Preview and Prediction

Thursday Night Football:
New York Giants at Washington
Preview and Prediction

 

Thursday Night Football
New York Giants (1-2) at Washington (1-2)
8:25 pm ET, September 25, 2014
FedEx Field, Landover MD
Airs on CBS and NFL Network
Washington favored by 3½

 

New York Defense versus Washington Offense

The New York defensive line matches up well against Washington. Although Trent Williams can neutralize Jason Pierre-Paul, there rest of the line battles favor the Skins. RT Tyler Polumbus will have his hands full trying to block Mathias Kiwanuka, especially on passing downs. DT Jonathan Hankins should win the matchup against injured interior linemen Shawn Lauvoa and Kory Lichtensteiger (or their replacements), causing timing problems for Kirk Cousins. Those injuries on the line are also going to make it difficult for RB Alfred Morris to get anything going, which could exacerbate the challenge of handling the pass rush.

Wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon versus Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie and Prince Amukamara is a tossup when you factor in the pass rush situation, but Washington does have one decided advantage. Tight End Niles Paul (18 receptions on 24 targets for 253 yards, 14.1 yards per catch, one touchdown, nine first downs) is a matchup nightmare for the Giants. New York will be without linebackers Jon Beason and Devon Kennard, leaving Mark Herzlich with the unenviable task of attempting to cover

Washington Defense versus New York Offense

Although the New York offensive line performed admirably against a very solid Houston defense last week, I would still give the edge to the Washington front seven. Bryan Orakpo will be able to play with a protective cast on his left hand; together with Ryan Kerrigan and Jason Hatchers those three have compiled seven sacks this year. Justin Pugh did a great job neutralizing J.J. Watt last week, but he may be facing an even tougher test against Washington’s pass rushers.

New York does hold a decided advantage in the passing game against the Washington secondary. Eli Manning and the receivers have looked a little bit better each week, and Washington is now without their only backfield playmaker, DeAngelo Hall. Tracy Porter is slowed down with a bad hammy, and Brandon Meriweather is very inconsistent when it comes to coverage.

The key may very well come down to the running game. Rashad Jennings ran for 176 yards last week and now has 381 yards from scrimmage in three games. If the Washington linebackers can limit his effectiveness and place Manning in some predictable third and long situations, the Giants will be in trouble.

Special Teams

Washington has struggled with special teams coverage, and ranks dead last in their special teams play according to Football Outsiders. Though New York punter Steve Weatherford has an ankle injury, the Giants also now have Quintin Demps returning kicks. Demps has a 27.4 yard average on 96 kickoff returns, including two touchdowns. New York holds the advantage over Washington in this department.

Injuries
Starters or players that receive significant snaps are in bold.

New York
WR Odell Beckham (Hamstring) – Out
LB Devon Kennard (Hamstring) – Out
LB Jon Beason (Foot/Toe) – Doubtful
CB Zack Bowman (Quad) – Questionable
OT James Brewer (Back) – Questionable
OT Charles Brown (Shoulder) – Questionable
P Steve Weatherford (Left Ankle) – Probable

Washington
QB Robert Griffin (Ankle) – Out
TE Jordan Reed (Hamstring) – Out
LB Akeem Jordan (Knee) – Out
NT Chris Baker (Ankle/Hip) – Questionable
DE Kedric Golston (Groin) – Questionable
DE Jason Hatcher (Hamstring) – Questionable
WR DeSean Jackson (Shoulder) – Questionable
DE Frank Kearse (Ankle) – Questionable
LG Shawn Lauvao (Knee) – Questionable
C Kory Lichtensteiger (Groin/Rib/Hip) – Questionable
CB Tracy Porter (Hamstring) – Questionable
S Trenton Robinson (Abdomen) – Questionable
LB Brian Orakpo (Finger) – Probable

In addition, CB DeAngelo Hall (Achilles) was placed on Injured Reserve and will miss the rest of the season.

Prediction

Usually I heavily favor the home team on these short-week Thursday games (home clubs are 3-0 both straight up and against the spread this season), but the close proximity between the two teams makes travel time for the Giants a non-factor. New York has won eight of the last ten games played at Washington, and under Tom Coughlin the Giants are 14-6 straight up against the Skins; of those twenty games just six have gone over the point total. To me Washington is the better team, but having one third of the roster injured is an obstacle that will just be too difficult to overcome this week.

Pick • New York 20, Washington 17
New York +3½ (two units)
Under 46 (one unit)

 

College Football

Texas Tech at Oklahoma State
The Cowboys are the better team, but I think Kliff Kingsbury’s Red Raiders keep it within two scores. They’ll be motivated after being blown out by Arkansas, and Oklahoma State is without QB J.W. Walsh.

Pick • Texas Tech (+14½) (one unit)

 

The views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the publisher of this website. Neither the author nor this website promote or advocate gambling. This is solely for entertainment purposes only. If you or someone you know has a gambling problem, please call 1-888-ADMIT-IT.

 

 

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2014 NFL Calendar and Key Dates for the New England Patriots

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Thursday Night Football:
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons
Preview and Prediction

 

Thursday Night Football
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-2) at Atlanta Falcons (1-1)
8:25 pm ET, September 18, 2014
Georgia Dome, Atlanta GA
Airs on CBS and NFL Network
Falcons favored by 6

 

Atlanta Defense versus Tampa Bay Offense

After two games the Falcons rank last in yardage (472 per game), 27th in points allowed (27.0), 26th in rushing yardage (154.5), 29th in passing yards (318) and are last in yards per pass attempt (9.0). As bad as the Atlanta defense has been, the Tampa Bay offense has been just as inept. They are averaging 298 yards per game (28th), 15.5 points per game (27th), 169 passing yards per game (31st), 6.5 yards per pass (22nd), and are one of five NFL teams with more interceptions than touchdown passes.

Last week QB Josh McCown completed nine of his first ten passes, but that one misfire was an interception on a poor decision on first and goal at the Rams’ two-yard line. For the rest of the game head coach Lovie Smith was over conservative, not throwing a single pass in the red zone; McCown threw just six passes after the first drive of the second half. Given Smith’s pedigree – he’s actually even more conservative than mentor Tony Dungy – expect the Bucs to run, run, and then run some more. In three career games against the Falcons, RB Doug Martin has rushed for 239 yards and three touchdowns. Martin missed last week’s game and underwhelmed in week one – though much of that can be attributed to a strong Carolina defense and an in-transition Bucs’ offensive line. Tampa area fans are already calling for his backup, Bobby Rainey, to take over as the starter. Last week Rainey rushed for 144 yards (6.6 ypc) and three touchdowns; in his only career matchup against Atlanta last season, he ran for a career-high 163 yards and scored three touchdowns.

Tampa Bay Defense versus Atlanta Offense

Lovie Smith’s zone defense counts on pressure from the front four getting the opposing quarterback off his point, but their best player, DT Gerald McCoy, will likely miss this game with a hand injury sustained last week. MLB Mason Foster is also out, leaving them a bit vulnerable up the middle; former Patriot Dane Fletcher will get the start in Foster’s place. With McCoy out the Bucs will need to get pressure from the edge, but one starting DE (Adrian Clayborn) was placed on IR six days ago and the other (Michael Johnson) has been slowed down with an ankle injury. Johnson will be facing rookie LT Jake Matthews, an interesting matchup worth keeping your eye on.

With the Bucs injuries noted above, Matt Ryan should have the time he needs to plant his feet and step up and make passes the way he did in week one when he went 31-43 for 448 yards, 3 touchdowns and no picks against the Saints. If the Bucs decide to bring extra pressure Ryan will carve them up with his quick release and football smarts. Roddy White is questionable with a hamstring injury, but that still leaves Julio Jones, Harry Douglas and Devin Hester at wide receiver. In two games against the Bucs last year Douglas had 13 receptions on 16 targets, for 283 yards and two touchdowns. I am expecting plenty of three and four wide sets if White is available to play; Douglas and Hester will create huge mismatches against the Tampa Bay defense.

Special Teams

The Bucs had a short field goal blocked as well as a punt blocked last week. That’s tough for any team to overcome, and much more so when the club is as conservative in their play calling as Lovie Smith is.

Injuries

Tampa Bay Buccaneers
DL Da’Quan Bowers – Abdomen – Full Participant – Probable
C Evan Dietrich-Smith – Back – Limited Participant – Probable
T Demar Dotson – Hamstring – Full Participant – Probable
LB Mason Foster – Shoulder – Did Not Participate – Out
DE William Gholston – Shoulder – Full Participant – Probable
DE Michael Johnson – Ankle – Limited Participant – Questionable
G Logan Mankins – Knee – Limited Participant – Probable
RB Doug Martin – Knee – Limited Participate – Questionable
DT Gerald McCoy – Hand – Did Not Participate – Questionable
CB Bradley McDougald – Knee – Full Participant – Probable
TE Austin Seferian-Jenkins – Ankle – Did Not Participate – Out

Atlanta Falcons
WR Julio Jones – Ankle – Full Participant – Probable
T Jake Matthews – Ankle – Full Participant – Probable
LB Prince Shembo – Knee – Full Participant – Probable
WR Roddy White – Hamstring – Did Not Participate – Questionable

Prediction

While two games is certainly not a large enough sample size to reach any conclusions, it should be noted that on Thursday nights thus far this season the home team is 2-0 straight up, 2-0 against the spread, and have covered by an average of 16½ points. That is not good news for the Bucs, who could be looking at an 0-3 start with three losses in-conference and an 0-2 division record. If the Bucs could not get a win in two home games against backup quarterbacks, how realistic is it to expect to get a victory on the road against Matt Ryan and the Atlanta offense?

Pick • Falcons 28, Bucs 20
Falcons +6 (one unit)
Over 44½ (one unit)

 

 

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Week 3 NFL Television Schedule: Patriots-Raiders surprisingly gets decent coverage

When the NFL first announced their schedule (with much fanfare, it’s an event!), I figured this game would be broadcast in New England, the Bay Area, and nowhere else. Surprisingly it is getting a decent amount of distribution, despite the lack of drawing power that the Raiders provide thanks to having done nothing since 2002. It may also have something to do with CBS having no compelling games this week, with the best games either being on FOX or kicking off later.

 

Oakland Raiders at New England Patriots
Early game on CBS; Greg Gumbel, Trent Green
Broadcast in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia (except Savannah), southern Florida (Miami, West Palm, Fort Myers, Tampa and the Panhandle – but not Orlando to Jacksonville), Alabama, Missouri (except St. Louis), Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, Minnesota, Colorado, Reno, northern California, Alaska, Hawaii
Patriots favored by 14½ with a point total of 46½

 

Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons
Thursday Night Football on CBS and NFLN; Jim Nantz, Phil Simms
Falcons favored by 6½ with a point total of 44½

 

San Diego Chargers at Buffalo Bills
Early game on CBS; Andrew Catalon, Steve Tasker
Broadcast in southern California and western New York
Bills favored by 2½ with a point total of 44½

 

Dallas Cowboys at St. Louis Rams
Early game on FOX; Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston
Broadcast in Texas (except Houston), New Mexico, Oklahoma, Kansas, Arkansas, Missouri, southern Illinois
Cowboys favored by 1½ with a point total of 45

 

Washington at Philadelphia Eagles
Early game on FOX; Joe Buck, Troy Aikman
Broadcast in New England (except Boston and Providence), New York (except NYC and Buffalo), Pennsylvania, southern New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, DC, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, western Tennessee, southern California, Hawaii
Eagles favored by 6½ with a point total of 50½

 

Houston Texans at New York Giants
Early game on CBS; Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts
Broadcast in New York (except Bills Nation), northern New Jersey, northeastern Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, New Mexico, Arizona, Las Vegas, Utah, Wyoming, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Montana, North Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan
Texans favored by 2½ with a point total of 42½

 

Minnesota Vikings at New Orleans Saints
Early game on FOX; Chris Myers, Ronde Barber
Broadcast in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Georgia, Florida panhandle, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana
Saints favored by 9½ with a point total of 51

 

Tennessee Titans at Cincinnati Bengals
Early game on CBS; Brad Johansen (who?), Chris Simms (huh?)
Broadcast in Cincinnati, western West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky
Bengals favored by 6½ with a point total of 43½

 

Baltimore Ravens at Cleveland Browns
Early game on CBS; Spero Dedes, Solomon Wilcots
Broadcast in Maryland, DC, Delaware, Virginia, western Pennsylvania, Ohio (except Cincinnati)
Ravens favored by 1½ with a point total of 41½

 

Green Bay Packers at Detroit Lions
Early game on FOX; Kevin Burkhardt, John Lynch
Broadcast in Florida (except Jacksonville and Tallahassee), Ohio (except Cincinnati), Ohio, Michigan, Chicago, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Alaska
Lions favored by 1½ with a point total of 52½

 

Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars
Early game on CBS; Tom McCarthy, Adam Archuleta
Broadcast in Orlando, Jacksonville, Savannah, Indiana, Illinois (except St. Louis)
Colts favored by 6½ with a point total of 45½

 

San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals
Late game on FOX; Thom Brennaman, David Diehl
Broadcast in Boston, Providence, New York City, Buffalo, Jacksonville, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Nashville, Houston, Reno, Arizona, California (except San Diego)
Niners favored by 2½ with a point total of 44½

 

Denver Broncos at Seattle Seahawks
Late game on CBS; Jim Nantz, Phil Simms
Broadcast everywhere except Florida, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, Arizona
Seahawks favored by 4½ with a point total of 48½

 

Kansas City Chiefs at Miami Dolphins
Late game on CBS; Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon
Broadcast in Florida, Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska
Dolphins favored by 4½ with a point total of 41½

 

Pittsburgh Steelers at Carolina Panthers
Sunday night game on NBC; Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth
Panthers favored by 3½ with a point total of 41½

 

Chicago Bears at New York Jets
Monday night game on ESPN; Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden
Jets favored by 2½ with a point total of 45½

 

 

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NFL Week 2 Previews and Predictions

The Pats-Vikings game is available in most television markets even though it is an early game, but there are two head-scratchers in terms of the decision making that went into choosing which game to broadcast.

Houston will see the Jacksonville-Washington game, apparently because the Jaguars are a division rival of the Texans. Seriously, does anybody in Houston really care whether the Jags are on television or not, or look forward to seeing them when they can’t watch their Texans play?

The other is Tampa, where the CBS station there has apparently reverted to the idea that the Dolphins are the second-favorite team in that area. While that may have been true thirty years ago when the Buccaneers were still in their infancy and the Dolphins were still enjoying the benefit of being the state’s only NFL team for ten years, it is absolutely not the case now. All one has to do is check out what gear people are wearing, logos and bumper stickers on vehicles, or sports bars catering to out of town fans to see that is not the case. After the Bucs, the fan favorites in the Tampa Bay area are the Steelers, Patriots and Giants, followed by a second tier that includes the Bears, Eagles, Browns, Bills, Lions and Jets. The Dolphins may not even rank in the top ten in number of fans, yet CBS and the local affiliate ignores this reality and broadcasts Miami games whenever they can.

End of rant; here are some quick thoughts on the week two NFL games.

New England Patriots at Minnesota Vikings ★★★★★
Early game on CBS; Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts
Broadcast in New England, Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, Illinois, and everywhere west of the Mississippi River except for eastern Texas

Minnesota dumped Leslie Frazier and his outdated Tampa-2 defense in the offseason, replacing him with Mike Zimmer as the new head coach. Zimmer has installed a more aggressive defense, mixing things up by bringing extra players to the line of scrimmage and calling stunts and overloading on one side of the line. Their defense starts six former first round draft picks (DT Sharrif Floyd, rookie SLB Anthony Barr, Pro Bowl WLB Chad Greenway, FS Harrison Smith and CB Xavier Rhodes), and has been bolstered by the addition of veteran free agents NT Linval Joseph and CB Captain Munnerlyn. Bottom line is that this Minnesota defense is vastly superior to the one that ranked dead last in the NFL in 2013, allowing 30.0 points per game. Unless New England’s offensive line gets their act together and performs much better than they did last week, that’s a huge problem for the Patriots.

The Patriots need to scrap the 3-4 and go back to the 4-3; the 4-3 is much better suited for the personnel on their roster, and will best take advantage of the talents of guys like Chandler Jones. RB Adrian Peterson is inactive for the Vikings, but that is somewhat offset by the Pats best coverage linebacker, Jamie Collins, also being declared out with a thigh injury.

This game could easily go either way, but I’m thinking that the New England coaching staff will make enough adjustments to put their players in a better position to win individual battles this week.
Pick • Patriots 24, Vikings 23
Vikings +6 (one unit)
under 48½

 

Detroit Lions at Carolina Panthers ★★★★
Early game on FOX; Chris Myers, Ronde Barber
Broadcast in Michigan, Wisconsin, Chicago, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, western Virginia, North Carolina and South Carolina

Are the Lions that good, or is it just that the Giants are that bad? As good as Matthew Stafford (22/32/346, 2 TD, 0 INT), the fact Detroit averaged just 2.5 yards per carry and committed eight penalties for 85 yards against a clearly inferior team is enough to pump the brakes on this bandwagon. Cam Newton returns for this game, and Luke Keuchly and the Carolina defense will be the difference for a home victory for the Panthers.
Pick • Panthers 24, Lions 17
Panthers -2½ (one unit)
under 44½

 

Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills ★★★
Early game on CBS; Tom McCarthy, Adam Archuleta
Broadcast in New York (except New York City), Miami, Fort Myers and Tampa

Both teams are feeling good after coming off upset victories in week one, but injuries to the Dolphins’ defense that could have a major impact for this game. Miami is depleted at linebacker, with Dannell Ellerbe (hip) out for the season, Koa Misi (ankle) doubtful, and Philip Wheeler (thumb) questionable after missing last week’s game. EJ Manuel was solid, throwing only six incompletions (16/22/173, 1 TD, 1 INT), and the Bills will stay on the ground with CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson attempting to take advantage of the situation at linebacker. New Miami offensive coordinator Bill Lazor’s up-tempo offense was much more effective running the ball (191 yards, with 134 from Knowshon Moreno) than they were passing: Ryan Tannehill was barely over 50% (18 of 32 for 178 yards), and will need to do better for the Dolphins to win on the road.
Pick • Bills 23, Dolphins 20
Bills +1
under 43½

 

Jacksonville Jaguars at Washington ★★
Early game on CBS; Spero Dedes, Solomon Wilcots
Broadcast in Orlando, Jacksonville, Savannah, eastern North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, DC, Philadelphia

Washington scored a measly six points against Houston last week, while the Jaguar defense racked up five sacks and forced three turnovers. Sure, the Eagles put it together in the second half, but Griffin (can we please call him by his two-syllable last name, rather than his three-syllable marketing-driven nickname?) looks as if he can neither throw nor run.
Pick • Upset Special – Jaguars 20, Redskins 17
Jaguars +6½
under 43½

 

Dallas Cowboys at Tennessee Titans ★★★
Early game on FOX; Joe Buck, Troy Aikman
Broadcast in eastern Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, San Francisco

Tennessee won as an underdog last week, but I’m not ready to jump on the Jake Locker bandwagon. The Titans rolled up 405 yards in a 16-point victory over the Chiefs, while the Niner defense forced four Dallas turnovers, including three picks off Tony Romo. I’m expecting the Dallas offense to bounce back this week; however, their defense still has a long ways to go.
Pick • Titans 28, Cowboys 27
Cowboys +3½
over 48½ (one unit)

 

Arizona Cardinals at New York Giants ★★
Early game on FOX; Kevin Burkhardt, John Lynch
Broadcast in New England (except Boston and Providence), New York (except Buffalo), New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, Delaware, Arizona, West Palm Beach FL

Not a big fan of backing west coast teams when they play an early game on the east coast, but on the other hand it is very difficult to find a solid reason to back the Giants. Carson Palmer didn’t seem to have a good grasp of the offense early last year, but he performed much better in the second half of the season. Arizona also gets a boost with the news that RB Andre Ellington will be able to play rather than missing six weeks with a foot injury.
Pick • Cardinals 27, Giants 17
Cardinals -1½ (two units)
over 42½

 

New Orleans Saints at Cleveland Browns ★★★★
Early game on FOX; Kenny Albert, Daryl Johnston
Broadcast in western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio (except Cincinnati), southern Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana

The New Orleans defense wasn’t bad last year, but Matt Ryan (31/43/448, 3 TD, 0 INT) made them look bad last week as Atlanta totaled 568 yards of offense in week one. Cleveland’s defense seemed to regress from 2013 as well, as the Steelers scored 30 points with 503 yards of offense, averaging 7.5 yards per play. New Orleans is notorious for playing so poorly on the road, and unlike last week’s game, this one is not only away but also outdoors on a natural surface. This is no cakewalk for the Saints, but I’m not going to go so far and say the Browns will win.
Pick • Saints 24, Browns 20
Browns +6½
under 48½

 

Atlanta Falcons at Cincinnati Bengals ★★★
Early game on CBS: Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon
Broadcast in western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio (except Cleveland), Kentucky, Tennessee (except Nashville), South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana

The Falcons come crashing back to earth as they go on the road and face a very legitimate defense.
Pick • Bengals 30, Falcons 20
Bengals -4½ (one unit)
over 48½

 

St. Louis Rams at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Late game on FOX; Dick Stockton, Kirk Morrison
Broadcast in Florida (except Miami and West Palm Beach), southern Illinois and Missouri

While the Bucs lost last week, that was against one of the NFL’s best defenses (Carolina). The Rams on the other hand looked like they are early favorites to have the number one pick in the 2015 NFL draft. These two teams combined to score just 20 points while allowing eight sacks, and Tampa Bay gained just 21 yards rushing on 13 carries.
Pick • Bucs 17, Rams 13
Rams +6
under 38 (one unit)

 

Seattle Seahawks at San Diego Chargers ★★★★★
Late game on FOC; Thom Brennaman, David Diehl
Broadcast in Boston, Providence, Buffalo, DC, Atlanta, Miami, Minneapolis, Montana, Idaho, Nevada, California (except SF), Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Hawaii

San Diego was limited to 52 yards rushing last week, and now they face a stout Seattle defense. While the NFL is a passing league, becoming too unbalanced can lead to predictable situations that this Seahawk defense can take advantage of. One area that San Diego may look at is at whoever Seattle has covering San Diego’s tight ends and slot receivers. After Richard Sherman and Byron Maxwell, at cornerback Seattle is dealing with Jeremy Lane (placed on in-season injured reserve), and Tharold Simon (knee) not being available Sunday. Even though it is on the road and without their 12th man, I still like the Seahawks to win a close one here in what looks like it may be the best game of the week.
Pick • Seahawks 24, Chargers 20
Chargers +6
under 45

 

Houston Texans at Oakland Raiders
Late game on CBS; Andrew Catalon, Steve Tasker
Broadcast in Texas (except Dallas) and northern California

New head Bill O’Brien has an opportunity to win his second game in two weeks, which is as many as the Texans won all last year. The Houston defense is starting to look like they did two years ago while the Raiders, well, looked like the Raiders as rookie QB Derek Carr threw for just 151 yards on 32 passes.
Pick • Texans 20, Raiders 17
Texans -2½
under 40 (one unit)

 

New York Jets at Green Bay Packers ★★★
Late game on CBS; Greg Gumbel, Trent Green
Broadcast in New England, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania (except Pittsburgh), West Virginia, Michigan, Wisconsin, northern Illinois, Minnesota, North Dakota, Miami and West Palm Beach

Sure, Green Bay lost by 20 points last week – but that was against the best team in the NFL (Seattle) at the toughest stadium in the league for a road team to win. Even if Eddy Lacy (concussion) is not available, Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay receivers should pick apart that weak Jet secondary. The Jets have a good offensive line and one of the league’s best defensive line, but that’s it. Beating Oakland at home by five points is not impressive and nothing for Jet fans to crow about.
Pick • Packers 31, Jets 17
Packers -8 (three units)
over 46

 

Kansas City Chiefs at Denver Broncos ★★★
Late game on CBS; Jim Nantz, Phil Simms
Broadcast in Maryland, DC, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Texas (except Tampa, Miami and west Palm Beach), Pittsburgh, Ohio, Indiana, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, southern Illinois, Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, Dallas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, New Mexico, Arizona, southern California (except San Diego), Colorado, Utah, Las Vegas, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Hawaii

Since the midway point of the 2013 season, when they started facing legitimate starting quarterbacks, the Kansas City defense has been absolutely torched. Now they get to go on the road and face the league’s best offense – without two of their best defensive starters (LB Derrick Johnson and DT Mike DeVito).
Pick • Broncos 38, Chiefs 24
Broncos -11½
over 50½ (one unit)

 

Chicago Bears at San Francisco 49ers ★★★★★
Sunday night game on NBC; Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth

If the Bears could not beat Buffalo at home, how can they be expected to defeat San Francisco on the road? The Bears’ run defense was not good last year, and they gave up 193 rushing yards last week. Jay Cutler threw two picks in week one, but with Niner corners Tramaine Brock (toe) and Chris Culliver (concussion, stinger) hurting, he and WRs Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery could be in for a big game. Things don’t get much easier for the Bears; this game starts an eight-game stretch in which Chicago has to go on the road six times.
Pick • Niners 30, Bears 24
Giants +7
over 47½ (one unit)

 

Philadelphia Eagles at Indianapolis Colts ★★★★★
Monday night game on ESPN; Mike Tirico, Jon Gruden

Granted it was at Denver, but I am not at all impressed with the Colt defense. Philly slept walked through the first half before outscoring Jacksonville 34-0 in the second half. I think the Eagles will cover, and have a good chance of winning this game straight up even though they are on the road. This should be an entertaining, high-scoring game.
Pick • Colts 30, Eagles 28
Eagles +3
over 52½ (one unit)

 

 

The crystal ball has been very cloudy thus far, but the season is still young. Last week was tough with the top play being a four-unit loss (Saints minus 3 at Falcons), and Thursday night went not the way I expected at all as Baltimore crushed Pittsburgh. The season is till young though … enjoy the games (responsibly).

 

 

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Thursday Night Football:
Pittsburgh Steelers at Baltimore Ravens
Preview and Prediction

 

Thursday Night Football
Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0) at Baltimore Ravens (0-1)
8:25 pm ET, September 11, 2014
M&T Bank Stadium, Baltimore, MD
Airs on CBS and NFL Network
Ravens favored by 2½

Last week Pittsburgh seemed to be cruising to an easy blowout win, leading Cleveland 27-3 at halftime. In the second half the Browns utilized an uptempo no-huddle offense which the Steelers were unable to stop, and the game appeared to be headed to overtime before Ben Roethlisberger looked like his old vintage self, leading the Steelers to a game-winning fourth quarter drive.

Baltimore lost 23-16 at home to Cincinnati last week in a game that had far more negatives than positives for the Ravens. Baltimore’s poor clock management at the end of the half cost them a field goal, their receivers dropped six passes, Bernard Pierce averaged just 2.8 yards per carry and was benched after losing a fumble, and Joe Flacco threw 27 incomplete passes. The Ravens called 65 pass plays compared to just 20 running plays, an imbalance that is going to allow opponent pass rushers to tee off on Flacco and create unfavorable down and distance situations. While he Baltimore defense did Cincinnati to settle for six field goal attempts, they created zero turnovers, zero sacks, allowed Andy Dalton to pass for over 300 yards, and with less than five minutes to play the secondary broke down for a game-winning 77-yard touchdown pass reception.

Neither team’s defense distinguished themselves last week, but Pittsburgh did look better on offense. Running Back Le’Veon Bell had a whopping 197 yards from scrimmage, Roethlisberger completed 68% of his passes and threw for 365 yards, and wide receiver Antonio Brown had 116 yards and a touchdown.

I just don’t see how Baltimore can be properly and focused on this game in a short week, with the ongoing Ray Rice distraction. It doesn’t get any easier for the Ravens either, as they play five of their next seven games on the road. Nine of the last ten regular season games games between these two rivals have been decided by three points or less, but I’m not expecting that trend to continue; a blowout victory by the Steelers would not be shocking at all.

Pick • Steelers 27, Ravens 20
Steelers +2½ (two units)
Over 43½

 

 

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This and That (Train Wreck)

With all that has transpired in the last few days, we need my friend Zeus to put the current state of the NFL and Patriots Nation into proper perspective.

This and That (Train Wreck)

After much anticipation, Sunday was a rough day but what followed on Monday was even worse. I’d much rather talk about football than the other b.s. that’s been going on but I guess that’s just not the way life works anymore.

1. Opening Day found the local fans a bit overwrought, with the stubborn drought of sports related adrenaline continuing unabated since the winter. It’s been a more than a decade since the Patriots dropped their opener, so the game proved to be nerve jangling to say the least. I spent a good bit of the fourth quarter pacing in front of the gigantic television shrieking obscenities, something that I fear has prompted our new neighbors, a lovely young couple from the UK, to seek alternative housing arrangements. (Sensing my obvious distress, they wanted to get help but couldn’t decide between calling 911 or an exorcist.)

The outcome plunged New England into a pit of black despair. Any strengths we hoped that the team possessed had quickly evaporated. And our darkest fears about aging, infirm, unathletic players and senile, incompetent coaches had grown exponentially to become far worse than even the most dire pessimist might have imagined. Such torpor will continue at least until the next decisive victory.

2. Cant’ Block, Can’t Tackle, Can’t Win – Schemes and game plans can’t overcome poor fundamentals, mental errors and stupid penalties. After a respectable (and perhaps underrated) first half, the wheels came off in Miami. The third quarter alone was as bad as anything we’ve seen since Rod Rust’s team played that way on a weekly basis. It was an odd twist that the more Dolphin players left with injuries, the better Miami played, prompting the question as to whether they were playing the right guys in the first place. That’s two loses in a row at Miami. Let’s not forget that at home last year, the Patriots had to come back from a 17-3 halftime deficit to win 27-17 in a game that Miami had under control. A disturbing trend against an AFC East rival to say the least…

3. Not Ready for Prime Time – Was Bill Belichick’s biggest objective in preseason getting his team to September in one piece, perhaps prioritizing health over preparation? Given the assorted torn ligaments, dislocated joints, shattered bones and vibrating crania being reported league-wide throughout training camp, it’s hard to argue with this approach. So players like Gronkowski, Mayo, Easley and Dobson saw little or no action, while healthy veterans (Brady, Revis) played only sparingly. It’s fair to wonder if the lack of preseason game action was a contributing factor in the uneven play we observed Sunday, not so much from a conditioning standpoint, but with respect to the team’s ability to execute on a cohesive basis. It’s a tough choice, but if you’re going to try to win a War of Attrition, you might as well show up with as many able bodies as possible.

4. Half and Half – The Patriots were not alone in what appeared to be a nearly league wide epidemic of Trick or Treat Football that saw teams play well in one half and abysmally in the other. Much like the Patriots, many teams were not ready to play 60 minutes of football on Opening Day.

5. Roger Goodell took over as NFL Commissioner on August 8, 2006 as a self-professed hard-ass. Goodell’s justice is characteristically harsh, haphazard and capricious. He has taken a hard line with players for indiscretions large and small. He stomped on the Patriots for a technical rule violation that even he acknowledged provided little if any competitive advantage. His excessive punishments in Bountygate required intervention from his retired predecessor, Paul Tagliabue, who vacated all of Goodell’s player suspensions.

Might the players who have been on the receiving end of Goodell’s autocratic dictates be wondering what happens when The $44 Million Man publicly screws up in such a monumental fashion? What little credibility Goodell still had with the rank and file is shot to hell. Today’s NFL demands discipline and accountability, but I guess that only applies to The Hired Help.

6. Train Wreck – The NFL is at the pinnacle of its popularity and profitability. Were the league a publicly traded stock, Warren Buffet would be buying by the boatload because the business right now is so fundamentally sound that no amount of mismanagement could possibly derail the cash-laden freight train. The sad fact of the matter is that the owners regard this unprecedented success as giving them carte blanche to do whatever they want whenever they want. Ethical or criminal misdeeds by the owners themselves are barely recognized, let alone punished. Business partners such as the broadcast networks are treated like servants and the ticket buying fans are a mere afterthought. Every possible aspect of the game is being monetized and sold to the highest bidder, even the Super Bowl half-time show.

It is hubris of the highest order.

Mark Cuban is right – The Hogs Are at the Trough and they are getting fatter by the minute. The fatter they get, the stupider they get. It’s a huge train wreck waiting to happen.

7. Shame – Ray Rice’s disgraceful assault on Janay Palmer speaks for itself. I hope the Rices get the help they need and I think it is counterproductive to say that a 27 year old man doesn’t deserve a second chance. However, Rice and his enablers are off to a terrible start. Knowing what actually happened, the attempt by Rice, his despicable attorney, the Baltimore Ravens and the NFL to foist any degree of culpability for the assault onto the victim was a cowardly and cynical a thing as I have seen in my lifetime. The stink from this shameful act will not go away any time soon.

 

A very special thank you to Zeus for his much needed unique perspective and analysis.

 

 

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NFL Week One Previews and Predictions

Some quick thoughts on the week one NFL games.

New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins ★★★★★
Early game on CBS; Greg Gumbel and Trent Green
The Patriots should be able to take advantage of a weak Miami interior offensive line to put pressure on Ryan Tannehill. Look for the Patriots to create mismatches against Dolphin safeties Louis Delmas and Jimmy Wilson.
Pick • Patriots 23, Dolphins 17
Patriots -3½
under 47½
Final Score: Dolphins 33, Patriots 20 … Dolphins cover by 16½ … over by 5½

 

New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons ★★★★
Early game on FOX; Kevin Burkhardt and John Lynch
The Falcons still have a ways to go before they are back to being as competitive as they were from 2008-2012; they have some recognizable names on offense, but their defense is awful. I’ll be interested in seeing how first-round pick WR Brandin Cooks performs in the New Orleans offense.
Pick • Saints 34, Falcons 21
Saints -3 (four units)
over 52½
Final Score: Falcons 37, Saints 34 … Falcons cover by 6 … over by 18½

 

Minnesota Vikings at St. Louis Rams ★★
Early game on FOX; Kevin Burkhardt and John Lynch
Let the Shaun Hill era begin for St. Louis. The Rams have a good defense, but no offense. Not a strong feel one way or the other for this game.
Pick • Rams 17, Vikings 13
Vikings +4
under 43½ (two units)
Final Score: Vikings 34, Rams 6 … Vikings cover by 32 … under by 3½

 

Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers ★★★
Early game on CBS; Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts
The Steelers have beaten the Browns at home ten straight times, and I would expect that to become eleven by Sunday evening. However, Pittsburgh’s offense has looked anemic and out of synch in preseason, which could be a problem against an underrated Cleveland defense.
Pick • Steelers 20, Browns 17
Browns +7
under 42 (two units)
Final Score: Steelers 30, Browns 27 … Browns cover by 4 … over by 15

 

Jacksonville Jaguars at Philadelphia Eagles ★★★
Early game on CBS; Andrew Catalon and Steve Tasker
I’m always hesitant to go with a double-digit favorite, but there’s probably only one Jacksonville player, guard Zane Beadles, who could start for Philadelphia. The Jags may end up being better than they were the couple of seasons, but that’s not saying much.
Pick • Eagles 34, Jaguars 20
Eagles +10
over 49½ (two units)
Final Score: Eagles 34, Jaguars 17 … Eagles cover by 7 … over by 1½

 

Oakland Raiders at New York Jets
Early game on CBS; Jim Nantz and Phil Simms
Why in the world would CBS send their top broadcasting crew to announce the worst game of the week? Even though I can find no compelling reason why the Jets should win, I can’t back a west coast team playing an early game on the east coast with a rookie quarterback.
Pick • Jets 20, Raiders 17
Raiders +6½
under 41½
Final Score: Jets 19, Raiders 14 … Raiders cover by 1½ … under by 8½

 

Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens ★★★★★
Early game on CBS; Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts
The Ravens ranked just 20th in point differential last year, so it’s tough to back them against a quality team like Cincinnati. However, Baltimore but will be fired up for their home opener; they will be looking for revenge after losing to the Bengals in week 17 last year to be eliminated from the playoffs.
Pick • Bengals 23, Ravens 20
Bengals +1½
under 43½
Final Score: Bengals 23, Ravens 16 … Bengals cover by 8½ … under by 4½

 

Buffalo Bills at Chicago Bears ★★★★
Early game on FOX; Kenny Albert and Daryl Johnston
While the Bears are the better team, this is one of those cases where the lesser team matches up pretty well. Buffalo is committed to running the ball, and last season Chicago had one of the NFL’s worst run defenses.
Pick • Bears 24, Bills 20
Bills +7
under 47½
Final Score: Bills 23, Bears 20 … Bills cover by 10 … under by 4½

 

Washington at Houston Texans ★★
Early game on FOX; Thom Brennaman and David Diehl
The Texans are a better team than their 2-14 2013 record would indicate. Their defensive line is very good, and should be able to take advantage of a soft Washington offensive line.
Pick • Texans 24, Skins 17
Texans -2½
under 44½
Final Score: Texans 17, Washington 6 … Texans cover by 13½ … under by 21½

 

Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs ★★★
Early game on CBS; Kevin Harlan and Rich Gannon
New Tennessee coach Ken Whisenhut put together a solid defense in Arizona; I expect the Titans to improve this season. The Kansas City defense was exposed down the stretch last year, but Jake Locker and Shonn Greene don’t cause sleepless nights for opposing defensive coordinators.
Pick • Chiefs 23, Titans 20
Titans +3½
under 45
Final Score: Titans 26, Chiefs 10 … Titans cover by 19½ … under by 9

 

Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers ★★
Late game on FOX; Chris Myers and Ronde Barber
Cam Newton is injured, and he has an entirely new set of wide receivers this year. Tampa Bay has a new defensive-minded head coach, and they will be without their offensive coordinator calling plays today. The Bucs offensive line will be improved with the addition of Logan Mankins, but it may take a few games for that unit to gel and work together as one cohesive unit. That all adds up to a low scoring game, with turnovers playing a big role in the few scoring opportunities that occur.
Pick • Bucs 16, Panthers 13
Panthers +4½
under 39 (one unit)
Final Score: Panthers 20, Bucs 14 … Panthers cover by 10½ … under by 5

 

San Francisco 49ers at Dallas Cowboys ★★★★
Late game on FOX; Joe Buck and Troy Aikman
The vaunted 49er defense will take a step back, with linebackers NaVorro Bowman and Aldon Smith unavailable. The Dallas defense was historically bad last year, and doesn’t appear to be improved at all.
Pick • 49ers 31, Cowboys 21
Niners -3½
over 49½
Final Score: Niners 28, Cowboys 17 … Niners cover by 7½ … under by 4½

 

Indianapolis Colts at Denver Broncos ★★★★★
Sunday night game on NBC; Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth
With the exception of Andrew Luck, the Colts are collectively an old team that is slowing down. Their middle of the road defense is without Robert Mathis, who is suspended for the first four games of the season.
Pick • Broncos 35, Colts 24
Broncos -7½
over 54½
Final Score: Broncos 31, Colts 24 … Colts cover by ½ … over by ½

 

New York Giants at Detroit Lions ★★★
Early Monday night game on ESPN; Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden
After a horrible start to the 2013 season, the Giants won seven of their final ten games. The Lions were handed a golden opportunity to win the NFC North last year when injuries decimated the Packers and Bears, and let that slip through their hands as they lost their last four games and six of the last seven – much of that due to turning the ball over 34 times.
Pick • Giants 27, Lions 24
Giants +6½ (one unit)
over 46½
Final Score: Lions 35, Giants 14 … Lions cover by 14½ … over by 3½

 

San Diego Chargers at Arizona Cardinals ★★★★
Late Monday night game on ESPN; Chris Berman and Trent Dilfer
Injuries to defensive end Darnell Dockett and safety Tyrann Mathieu will make it difficult for Arizona to defend against a San Diego offense that has plenty of weapons.
Pick • Chargers 27, Cardinals 24
Chargers +3½
over 44½
Final Score: Cardinals 18, Chargers 17 … Chargers cover by 2½ … under by 9½

 

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Week One NFL Television Schedule

Week One NFL Television Schedule

While the Pats-Dolphins game is CBS’ marquee game, it is not going to get a whole lot of distribution since CBS has no late game and must squeeze six games into one time slot. For some unknown and baffling reason CBS is sending their top broadcasting crew to do a game between the Jets and Raiders – two clubs that are not expected to make the playoffs, combined to go 12-20 last year, and have no marquee names to market the game. The good news is that the Pats-Dolphins game gets CBS’ number two broadcasting crew – but while in seasons past that meant having to listen to Dan Dierdorf, that is no longer the case since he has retired been replaced. Trent Green will serve as the analyst, while Greg Gumbel will call the play-by-play.

 

Thursday Night

Green Bay Packers at Seattle Seahawks
8:30 pm ET on NBC; Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth
Seahawks favored by 5½ with a point total of 46½

 

Early Sunday Games on CBS

New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins
Greg Gumbel and Trent Green
Broadcast in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Buffalo NY, Florida (except Jacksonville to Orlando), Alabama, southern Mississippi, Texas (except Dallas and Waco), New Mexico, Arizona, eastern Nevada (Las Vegas), Utah, western Idaho, northern Oregon, eastern Washington (Spokane), eastern North Dakota (Fargo, Grand Forks), Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, northern Illinois, Indiana (except South Bend), Alaska, Hawaii.
Patriots favored by 5 with a point total of 47½

Cleveland Browns at Pittsburgh Steelers
Ian Eagle and Dan Fouts
Broadcast in Pennsylvania (except Philadelphia), Rochester NY, Ohio (except Dayton and Cincinnati), West Virginia, western Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, most of Georgia (including Atlanta), Waco TX.
Steelers favored by 6½ with a point total of 41½

Cincinnati Bengals at Baltimore Ravens
Spero Dedes and Solomon Wilcots
Broadcast in Delaware, Maryland, Washington DC, eastern Virginia, eastern Kentucky, Cincinnati OH, Dayton OH.
Ravens favored by 1½ with a point total of 43½

Tennessee Titans at Kansas City Chiefs
Kevin Harlan and Rich Gannon
Broadcast in Tennessee, western Kentucky, northern Mississippi, Arkansas, Missouri, southern Illinois, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, western North Dakota (Bismark), Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, eastern Idaho.
Chiefs favored by 3½ with a point total of 43½

Jacksonville Jaguars at Philadelphia Eagles
Andrew Catalon and Steve Tasker
Broadcast in Philadelphia PA, Jacksonville FL, Orlando FL, Savannah GA, Dallas TX.
Eagles favored by 10½ with a point total of 52½

Oakland Raiders at New York Jets
Jim Nantz and Phil Simms
Broadcast in New York (except Rochester and Buffalo), New Jersey, California, Reno NV, southern Oregon.
Jets favored by 5½ with a point total of 39½

 

Early Games on FOX

New Orleans Saints at Atlanta Falcons
Kevin Burkhardt and John Lynch
Broadcast in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, North Carolina (except Raleigh), South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio (except Toledo), Louisiana, Arkansas, Kansas, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, California, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Hawaii.
Saints favored by 3 with a point total of 51½

Buffalo Bills at Chicago Bears
Kenny Albert and Daryl Johnston
Broadcast in New York State (except New York City), Toledo OH, Michigan, Indiana, northern Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa.
Bears favored by 6½ with a point total of 47½

Washington at Houston Texans
Thom Brennaman and David Diehl
Broadcast in Connecticut, Pennsylvania (except Philadelphia and Pittsburgh), Washington DC, Virginia, West Virginia, Texas, Oklahoma (except Tulsa), Arizona.
Texans favored by 3 with a point total of 45½

Minnesota Vikings at St. Louis Rams
Dick Stockton and Kirk Morrison
Broadcast in southern Illinois, Missouri (except Kansas City), Tulsa OK, Nebraska, Minnesota, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana.
Rams favored by 4 with a point total of 43½

Later Games

San Francisco 49ers at Dallas Cowboys
4:25 pm ET on FOX; Joe Buck and Troy Aikman
Broadcast everywhere except North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida (except Miami, West Palm Beach), Savannah GA, New Orleans LA, Beckley WV.
49ers favored by 4½ with a point total of 51

Carolina Panthers at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
4:25 pm ET on FOX; Chris Myers and Ronde Barber
Broadcast in North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida (except Miami, West Palm Beach), Savannah GA, New Orleans LA, Beckley WV.
Buccaneers favored by 2½ with a point total of 39½

Indianapolis Colts at Denver Broncos
8:30 pm ET on NBC; Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth
Broncos favored by 7½ with a point total of 55½

New York Giants at Detroit Lions
7:00 pm Monday 9/8 on ESPN, WABC-New York, WXYZ-Detroit; Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden
Lions favored by 5½ with a point total of 47

San Diego Chargers at Arizona Cardinals
10:20 pm ET Monday 9/8 on ESPN, KUSI-San Diego, KTVK-Phoenix; Chris Berman and Trent Dilfer
Cardinals favored by 3 with a point total of 45

 

 

As for Thursday night’s game, I think Seattle will win in a close, high-scoring game. Even if Richard Sherman is able to limit Jordy Nelson, that still leaves a now-healthy Randall Cobb (80 receptions for 954 yards and 8 TD in 2012), Jarrett Boykin (49 catches for 681 yards last year), as well as RB Eddy Lacy (35 receptions in 2013) to account for. Seattle nickel back Jeremy Lane has moved up in the depth chart with the departures of Walter Thurmond and Brandon Browner, and he is limited due to a groin injury. If Lane can’t go then Pete Caroll may have to shift free safety to the slot, or insert Marcus Burley (who was acquired in exchange for a 7th-round draft pick) into the lineup.

However, the effect of the crowd at the C-Link for the season opener on a night the championship banner will be raised is something you just can’t overlook. I’m slightly leaning towards the Packers plus 5½ points and over 46½ total points, but for this game my wallet is staying in my pocket.

Prediction: Seahawks 27, Packers 24

 

 

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This and That (Good Golly Miss Molly)

Just in time before the kickoff of the 2014 season, Zeus graces us with his presence and his unique perspective of the current state of the NFL.

 

1. Thank God it’s time for real football. – Happy to see preseason arrive; much happier to see it go… What a relief to finally be able to watch a real football game where the best players play and there’s a game plan designed to actually try to win the game. Might coaches be using preseason games more to evaluate talent and less to prepare the real players for regular season competition? Just another reason that four preseason games are way too many …

2. Good Golly Miss Molly! – Was it Adderall (The Dog Ate My Homework excuse for drug test failures) or did somebody dose Wesley’s mint julep with Molly juiced with enough speed to separate him from both his senses and handfuls of $100 bills? Welker’s sense of bewilderment and outrage seems genuine, but we’ve seen the same act from people like Lance Armstrong and Ryan Braun. Positive tests are not accidents and the fact is that the offenders are not likely to be forthcoming about what actually happened.

Still, the NFL drug policy makes little sense. Maybe the league should just focus on PEDs, letting the criminal justice system deal with marijuana and various other controlled substances. The collectively bargained drug policy is unnecessarily punitive in its application of suspensions and fines where treatment and counseling are far more likely to be of therapeutic value. Maybe someone can educate me as to precisely who is better off now that the league has suspended Josh Gordon indefinitely for having trace amounts of The Evil Weed in his bloodstream.

3. Will Gronk Play? – It’s amusing to watch Bill Belichick industriously stuff the cat that Gronk let out back into the proverbial bag. It is too bad Gronk shot his mouth off – I was looking forward to a reenactment of the 2007 Randy Moss Sandbag Caper. You may recall that after tweaking a hammy early on, Moss spent the bulk of the 2007 training camp in virtual witness protection, resulting in unfounded rumors about how the bad blood between the team and Moss would likely result in the release of the enigmatic receiver. For the record, Moss burned the jets on opening day with nine receptions for 181 yards and a touchdown. We’ll see if Gronk can put on a similar show on Sunday.

4. Value – The conventional wisdom is that you can’t have one guy be coach and GM because the coach’s survival instincts will create short term needs that will overwhelm the longer term perspective of the GM. So it’s at least interesting that Bill Belichick is so willing to defer the gratification of the New England Patriots. From the outside, it seems that the Patriots have imposed a strict discipline that requires performance and compensation to be in balance.

Many believe that the Patriots traded Logan Mankins because they are cheap, but that’s tantamount to saying that Bill Belichick is more concerned with Bob Kraft’s profits than winning football games. Does anybody really believe that?

It’s not about money, it’s about value. That is the philosophy that determines who stays and who goes. As players age, they become less athletic and more prone to injury. The combined effects of these two inevitabilities can be surprisingly sudden. Once it is determined that a player’s production no longer justifies his compensation, something’s gotta’ give. It’s tempting to make exceptions for long time stalwarts like Logan Mankins. But in the end, it is the enforcement of this discipline over the past 14 years that has allowed the Patriots to remain among the NFL elite.

5. Uneasy Lies the Head that Wears the Crown – The notion that you’re only as good as your last game has created the impression that the Seahawks are the second coming of the 1985 Bears. So while the Hawks did indeed thrash the overmatched Broncos (who turtled at the first hint of adversity) in the Super Bowl, they also beat the 49ers in the NFC Championship game by the thinnest of margins.

One of the hardest things to overcome in sports is success. Pete Carroll lost two NFL head coaching jobs because of his unwillingness or inability to hold people accountable. It will be no surprise if Seattle opens the season on a tear, but sustaining that through the long haul of a 16-game season and the playoffs that follow is another thing altogether. There’s a reason no team has repeated since 2004. Maybe the Seahawks are good enough to overcome the distractions and complacency that accompany a championship. Time will tell.

6. The 2014 Festival of the Yellow Flag was supposed to include a crackdown on offensive pass interference. The so-called Competition Committee may well have legislated the screen pass out of existence with phony downfield blocking fouls. How dumb of me to imagine that the focus would instead be on pick plays. Of course, cleaning that up would have the unacceptable side effect of deflating the stupendously bloated stats of the league’s most precious asset, The Gigantic Forehead. So that’s Out of the Question.

7. The Professional Sports League That Cried Wolf – One of the problems with throwing a flag on just about every play is that fans will almost universally regard even the most blatant infractions with contempt. The bright side is that the paying customers will now be able to while away the hours required to watch an entire game hooting at the tormented Zebras, who will no doubt need significant professional help to endure the resulting trauma.

8. Pinocchio – It is NFL officiating chief Dean Blandino’s job to put a Happy Face on the weekly cavalcade of officiating screw-ups. How much does Dean get paid for lying through his teeth? It was Blandino who publicly declared Wes Welker’s blindside hit on Aquib Talib in the AFC Championship game to be legal because it was “almost simultaneous” with the pass reception. This newly invented fiction qualifies for the Creative Prevarication Hall of Fame. It was a bald faced lie.

 

 

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2014 NFL Calendar and Key Dates for the New England Patriots

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