As we head into week 7 of the 2016 NFL season, one thing is certain: all but 2 divisions remain wide open. While the Patriots and Falcons look to have a stranglehold on their respective divisions, nothing else is decided as we approach the halfway mark. With Big Ben out for at least a month, can the Bengals or Ravens rise up? Does Denver still own the AFC West? Has the window closed for the Cardinals? What’s up with Carolina? Things are starting to get interesting.
By Matthew Jarecki
Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers
Line: Green Bay -8
Final Score: Chicago 10 – Green Bay 26
2 Cents: This game turned into what too many NFL games are turning into these days: A sloppy, one sided football game with a major imbalance at quarterback. Matt Barkley, who’s been in the league since 2013, looked like a guy with a good arm who’d hopped off his couch and stepped into an NFL game. What’s up with these USC quarterbacks? More importantly, what’s up with the drop off in skill level among NFL quarterbacks? Aside from about 3 teams in the league, if the starting quarterback goes down, a formidable team turns into a semi-pro sh*t show. It’s a bad look for America’s highest rated league, which looked impenetrable when Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Big Ben, and Drew Brees were in their prime. Speaking of quarterbacks, Aaron Rodgers, who’s been under-fire in the media, stepped up and did what he should do as the league’s most talented thrower: beat a mediocre team by double digits. The Packers have their work cut out for them with an up-and-coming Vikings squad leading the NFC North, but this was a step in the right direction. As for the Bears, I’m sorry… I’m so, so sorry.
New York Giants at LA Rams (In London)
Line: New York -3
Predicted Score: New York 24 – LA 21
2 Cents: While the Rams (and Case Keenum) have largely over-performed thus far, the Giants have largely under-performed. You’d think that with a two time Superbowl-winning quarterback, a top-5 receiving core, and an off-season of big free agent signings on defense, this Giants team would sit atop the NFC East. Instead, the Giants find themselves at the bottom of their division, behind two rookie quarterbacks and Kirk Cousins. The media wants to pin the Gaints’ struggles on Odell Beckham Jr (and his “net antics”), but the real problems in New York are Eli Manning’s decline, head coach Ben McAdoo’s incompetence, and a struggling (but talent-rich) defense. As far as the numbers for this game go, it ain’t pretty for either team. These teams are almost identical defensively, sitting at 15th and 17th in yards allowed per game, however LA has a notable advantage in turnovers created. Offensively, the Giants are averaging only 3 more points per game than the Rams, but they are moving the ball at a higher rate, averaging 63 more yards per game. The Giants will win this ugly game because they have the better quarterback, the better receiving core, and because their 3rd ranked offensive line will contain this explosive Rams D-line.
The Catch: The Rams chance at winning this game lies in getting Todd Gurley going, playing ball control offense, and creating a few turnovers on defense. Eli Manning has thrown 6 interceptions through 6 games.
Cleveland Browns at Cincinnati Bengals
Line: Cincinnati -10
Predicted Score: Cleveland 17 – Cincinnati 24
2 Cents: Sometimes it makes me sad that I have to talk about the Browns every week. This week isn’t like that; I’m strangely interested in this game. Did you know that Cody Kessler’s thrown for 4 TD’s to 1 interception through 3 games this season (one of which he left early)? We could be looking at the next Andy Dalton here, guys! All jokes aside, Hugh Jackson has this kid playing well, and that’s about as much hope as Browns fans have had this season, so, congratulations… I guess. Cincinnati is basically the same team they’ve been for the past 4-5 years. They’ve just had the misfortune of playing the Broncos, Steelers, Cowboys, and Patriots in their first 6 games. I’ll give this Bengals team credit for being consistent: they consistently beat mediocre teams, and they consistently lose important games. This week the Bengals will beat another bad team, because they have the better quarterback (for now), the better head coach (for now), and the better defense.
The Catch: Look out for this game on my Vegas 3. Hugh Jackson knows Andy Dalton’s limitations better than anybody, and the Browns play well in-division. This game has “almost upset” written all over it.
Washington Redskins at Detroit Lions
Line: Detroit -1
Predicted Score: Washington 27 – Lions 28
2 Cents: Vegas has this game exactly right. These two offenses are on a roll right now, and it should make for an exciting match up on Sunday. Kirk Cousins and his Redskins have won 4 straight, and Cousins is probably on the verge of asking the media if “they like that” again. Unfortunately for Kirk, he’ll have to wait, because this week the Skins will run into Matthew Stafford, who’s having a career year and starting to look like a #1 overall pick. Over his last two games Stafford has 7 TD’s to 0 interceptions. Cousins, on the other hand, has 3 Interceptions in each of his last three games. That will prove to be the difference between these two teams, which are largely the same defensively. Washington fairs slightly better against the pass, and Detroit fairs slightly better against the run. In what is sure to be a shootout, Stafford’s talent and decision making will prove superior, and it will be the winning difference.
The Catch: Matt Jones ran wild over a Philadelphia defense that’s been stout against the run. If Washington plays ball control offense against Detroit, it could create rhythm problems for this Lions offense that desperately needs to figure out the running back situation.
Oakland Raiders at Jacksonville Jaguars
Predicted Score: Oakland 24 – Jacksonville 21
2 Cents: It’s very interesting to juxtapose these two young teams. Oakland has the league’s worst defense, but also has one of the league’s most productive young QB’s in Derek Carr, who’s thrown 12 TD’s to just 3 interceptions. Jacksonville, who is a top 10 defense, has Blake Bortles: talented, under-coached, and under performing with 8 TD’s to 7 interceptions. Jacksonville is especially good against the pass, allowing an average of just 218 yards per game compared to Oakland’s 313 yards per game. Jacksonville only gives up 3.8 yards per carry on the ground, compared to Oakland’s 4.8. This is a complete mismatch defensively. So why do I have Oakland winning by a field goal? Jacksonville doesn’t play well against top quarterbacks: they’ve given up 27, 38, and 27 points to Aaron Rodgers, Phillip Rivers, and Andrew Luck respectively. Oakland will simply outscore this Jacksonville squad that ranks 29th in yards gained per game, 20th in points per game, and averages just 71 rushing yards per game. A quick nugget: Oakland has a +5 turnover differential compared to Jacksonville’s -4.
The Catch: Jacksonville has a real chance to win this game, and they’ll undoubtedly slow down this Raiders’ high-flying offense. The outcome will lie on the shoulders of Blake Bortles, who will need to take advantage of the league’s worst defense to get the W.
New Orleans Saints at Kansas City Chiefs
Line: Kansas City -6
Predicted Score: New Orleans 27 – Kansas City Chiefs 24
2 Cents: This is my upset of the week, although that’s strictly referring to Vegas, who has Kansas City winning by a touchdown. I have a feeling the public wouldn’t consider New Orleans a heavy underdog. Either way, let’s break down the numbers. New Orleans is 2nd in the league in yards/game, and points per game. Kansas City, on the other hand, is 15th and 16th in the same categories. Defensively, we all know New Orleans is bad, ranking 31st in yards allowed per game, and last in points allowed per game. Kansas City, though, doesn’t have the shut-down defense that’s complimented their dink and dunk offense in years past. KC ranks 14th in yards allowed per game, 10th in points allowed per game, and is good but not great against the pass. When facing similarly explosive offenses, the Chiefs have given up 27 points (vs Chargers) and 43 points (at Steelers). New Orleans wins this game by simply outscoring a run-first Chiefs team.
The Catch: Kansas City has held 3 teams to 12 points or less this season, has a +5 turnover differential, and is playing at home in the always-rowdy Arrowhead Stadium. Kansas City also can control time of possession if their 3-headed monster of a backfield gets going.
Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins
Line: Buffalo -3
Predicted Score: Buffalo 31 – Miami 17
2 Cents: Miami ran all over Pittsburgh, and probably gave their fans a glimmer of hope, which is unfortunate, because they’re about to crash back down to earth this Sunday against Buffalo, who’s on a 4 game winning streak. See; even the Miami media is jumping on the Dolphins hope-train after Ryan Tannehill’s had his best performance of the year (which included throwing no touchdowns). With only a 3 point spread, you rest assured that this game’s going in my Vegas 3. Buffalo’s got the most rushing yards in the league, is averaging a league-high 5.6 yards per attempt, and is averaging the most rushing yards per game. In a time when the NFL is at it’s most pass-happy, Buffalo’s going against the grain, and it’s leading them to big wins. To make things worse for Miami, they are the league’s 31st ranked rushing defense. Buffalo is creeping into the conversation as one of the league’s best defenses, and has a 2nd ranked +8 turnover differential. Expect Tannehill to throw a few picks as the Bill’s win big for their 5th straight week.
The Catch: Jay Ajayi went off for over 200 yards on the ground last week. Buffalo has been mediocre against the run. Ajayi is Miami’s only shot to keep this close.
Baltimore Ravens at New York Jets
Predicted Score: Baltimore 27 – New York 14
2 Cents: What the hell happened to the Jets? The Fitzmagic wore off, that’s what. As we discussed earlier, when a team’s starting QB goes down, they can go from good to semi-pro real quick. In the Jets’ case, their starting QB wasn’t injured, he just turned back into himself. We’ve seen this story before with Fitzpatrick, but that doesn’t make it any less tragic for all you Jets fans out there. This week, the Jets will start Geno Smith, which basically means they’ve given up on their season, and will use the remaining games to evaluate talent. The Ravens, meanwhile, are right in the thick of the AFC North. They still have a Superbowl winning QB/head coach combination in place, and their defense is more than formidable. The Ravens will use this game to get back on track, and tie the Steelers for 1st place in the AFC North.
The Catch: This Jets team has lost big in their last 4 games, and NFL teams can only be pushed so far before they pull out a huge upset. We saw this last week in the Pittsburgh – Miami game. There’s lots of talent in both sides of the ball for New York. If their defensive line can get back into last years form, they could control this game.
Minnesota Vikings at Philadelphia Eagles
Line: Minnesota -3
Predicted Score: Minnesota 24 – Philadelphia 10
2 Cents: The Eagles were a nice story to start off the season, with their rookie QB/head coach combination going 3-0. Now its week 7, the Eagles have lost 2 straight, and they’re facing their toughest test of the season by far. Talk about a reality check. Get this: the Eagles have only faced one defense inside the top 20 so far this season. I’m telling you right now, Minnesota rolls ’em. But hey, don’t listen to me, listen to the numbers. Minnesota’s defense is 1st in the league in points allowed, 2nd in yards allowed per game, and only one team has scored more than 14 points against them (Tennessee scored 16). Philadelphia’s defense isn’t too shabby, ranking top 10 in yards allowed per game, allowing just 207 passing yards per game, and acquiring a +6 turnover differential. The problem for the Eagles is that Carson Wentz looked like a rookie last week against a very mediocre Washington defense, and it’ll get much harder this week.
The Catch: Minnesota is not exactly a high powered offense. They rank 30th in the league, gaining only 302 yards per game, and have scored points off of turnovers. For Philadelphia to have a chance, Wentz needs to take care of the ball, and Philadelphia needs to have success on the ground.
Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans
Line: Tennessee -3
Predicted Score: Indianapolis 28 – Tennessee 27
2 cents: This feels like a “last-minute, game winning drive by Andrew Luck” type of game. PSA: all numbers point to Tennessee winning this game. In the last few weeks we’ve seen the Titans shift their offense from conservative run-heavy, to cutting Marcus Mariota loose. I don’t see that stopping against a Colts defense giving up a 30th ranked 411 yards per game. All of that being said, for the second week in a row, I’m betting against the hard evidence, and putting my money on the intangibles of Andrew Luck. I’ll learn my lesson eventually.
The Catch: The catch this week isn’t even a catch: it’s a reality. Tennessee is a top 10 offense and defense, they have a top 5 offensive line, and Mariota looks to be finding his way.
San Diego Chargers at Atlanta Falcons
Line: Atlanta -6
Predicted Score: San Diego 27 – Atlanta 30
2 Cents: The story of the season for the Atlanta Falcons will be their slow ascension from one the league’s worst defenses, to a formidable one that can make enough stops to let their league-best offense win games late in the season. Currently, Atlanta ranks 10th in the league with 5 interceptions. Those turnovers will be the deciding factor this week against a commanding Chargers offense. This game will be a shootout in it’s purest form, with the league’s 1st and 3rd ranked scoring offenses going head to head. In the end, Atlanta’s play-makers will prove to be too much for this depleted Chargers team that’s lost Jason Verrett, Manti Te’o, Keenan Allen, and Danny Woodhead in a 6 game stretch.
The Catch: As we saw last Thursday, it’s never smart to count a guy out who’s coaching for his job. Mike McCoy knows he’s on the hot seat, and he showed us something in that Thursday night victory over Denver.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers at San Francisco 49ers
Line: Tampa Bay -1
Predicted Score: Tampa Bay 27 – San Francisco 24
2 Cents: Tampa Bay has so much potential, but they can’t get out of their own way. San Francisco has very little potential, but have actually been able to put up points this season, a signature of Chip Kelly offenses. In fact, San Francisco is scoring 3 more points per game than Tampa Bay thus far. That’s where the positives end for this 49ers team, though. They’re starting an underweight Colin Kaepernick, they’re last in the league in yards gained per game, and their defense ranks 27th in the league. Like I’ve said all season, this 49ers team is one of the worst rosters in the league, and it will show on Sunday against a Bucs team that has weapons. I expect Tampa Bay, who’s coming off a bye, to clean things up, run the ball down San Francisco’s throat, and go over the top a few times to Mike Evans.
The Catch: Colin Kaepernick has been to a Superbowl, and has potential to be explosive. It will be interesting to watch him in his second week in Chip Kelly’s system.
New England Patriots at Pittsburgh Steelers
Line: New England -8
Predicted Score: New England 34 – Pittsburgh 13
2 Cents: A moment of silence for the loss of the best game of the year, please. OK, thank you. I was so excited to drown myself in grease while watching Big Ben and Tom Brady duke it out on Sunday afternoon. I guess there’s still Chinese food, though. When the Steelers announced Roethlisberger would be out for 2-6 weeks, a little part of me died. Now, we’re looking at a New England team that’s averaging 34 points per game with Brady, facing a guy named Landry Jones. Tom Brady will do what he pleases against this 28th ranked Pittsburgh defense, while Bill Belichick toys with the Steelers second year passer. Goodell was already having a bad week, and a big win for the Patriots will only make it worse.
The Catch: There’s nothing that will make the Steelers win this game, but we learn a lot about the true value of Mike Tomlin without his All-Pro signal caller.
Seattle Seahawks at Arizona Cardinals
Line: Arizona -1 1/2
Predicted Score: Seattle 28 – Arizona 24
2 Cents: This is the game of the week. Arizona is averaging 30 points per game since making the switch from a pass-first offense, to a David Johnson-first offense in week 5. This guy is amazing. Johnson’s averaged 134 yards per game, with 5 touchdowns since week 5. Unfortunately, he’ll be running into the league’s second-best run defense, which is allowing only 3.3 yards per rush. As the focal point of Arizona’s offense, Johnson will get a lot of attention from Seattle’s defense. That spells trouble for an old looking Carson Palmer who’ll be throwing into the league’s 5th ranked pass defense that has 5 interceptions in 5 games. This sounds like a blowout, but Arizona’s defense isn’t far behind Seattle, allowing just 10 more yards per game, accruing 8 more turnovers than Seattle, and ranking 2 spots ahead of Seattle in passing defense. With both defenses rolling, two of the league’s best head coaches facing off, and stars on both teams, this will be a hell of a game. To me, though, Russell Wilson is better than Carson Palmer right now, and that will be the winning difference.
The Catch: The Cardinals are 8-3 in prime time games under Bruce Arians, and have the formula to beat this Seattle team. If Carson Palmer can take care of the ball, this will be an all-timer.
Houston Texans at Denver Broncos
Line: Denver -9
Predicted Score: Houston 17 – Denver 20
2 Cents: On one hand, I can’t believe that Denver, who’s offense has been declining since week 5, is favored by 9. On the other hand, it is Brock Osweiler, and Gary Kubiak does know his former quarterback’s limitations better than anyone. But I also think that Bill O’Brien knows his quarterback’s limitations, and will use his other big name off-season signing, Lamar Miller, to keep this game close. Denver is giving up a 15th ranked 4 yards per carry. Mark my words: this game will be taken completely out of Brock Osweiler’s hands, and Miller has the wheels to carry the load. Unfortunately for Houston, they give up more yards per rush than Denver, and the Broncos have 2 workhorse backs in C.J. Anderson and Devontae Booker. The Broncos will win this game with the better quarterback, the better defense, and home-field advantage.
The Catch: Whoever wins the rushing battle will win this game. Lamar Miller is more talented than both of Denver’s running backs, but can he carry his team to a win by himself?