Ah yes. It’s that time of year. The leaves are turning, Walmart is starting to air Christmas commercials, and the Cowboys are the top headline in sports media. How does Jerry Jones manage to make his team a headline every single year? Well, like it or not, the Cowboys keep things interesting, and this year is no exception. Tony Romo is now officially healthy, and it’s decision time for a Cowboys organization with a real shot to make a deep playoff run. In Week 10, Dak Prescott will face off against the Steelers to prove he deserves the starting gig, we’ll witness a Super Bowl rematch, and the Panthers will continue their fight back into the playoff picture.
By Matthew Jarecki
Cleveland Browns at Baltimore Ravens
Line: Baltimore -10
Final Score: Cleveland 10 – Baltimore 28
2 Cents: I’ll spare everyone the pain, and make my thoughts about the Cleveland Browns quick. They might loose every game this year, and anyone playing quarterback for them should just duck for cover. This team needs about 3 years to become viable, but for that to happen, people in the Browns organization will need to trust their own process, and be patient with Hugh Jackson. As for the Ravens, they just cashed in their free victory for the season – one that 16 other lucky teams will have the pleasure of receiving from the Browns. It’s looking more and more like we’ll see a classic Ravens – Steelers showdown to determine the AFC North come week 16. The Ravens have historically been a second half team, and if they can figure out their running game, they could be dangerous down the stretch. People think of the Tomlin-Roethlisberger duo as dominant in the AFC North, but the Harbaugh-Flacco duo has reigned supreme in the past. Things are suddenly very interesting.
Kansas City Chiefs at Carolina Panthers
Line: Carolina -3
Predicted Final Score: Kansas City 17 – Carolina 24
2 Cents: The Chiefs are perhaps the most consistent team in the league: they don’t care who you are, they’ll come in and run the ball down your throat, and make it easy for Alex Smith to dink and dunk – an art he’s perfected. Unfortunately, this is perhaps the worst match up of the year for Kansas City because Carolina boasts a 1st ranked run defense and a top 5 linebacker core. Good linebackers are essential in stopping a Kansas City offense that forces defenses to run sideline-to-sideline. Luke Keuchly is up to the task. Not only will Carolina slow down the Chiefs – I expect the Panthers to run the ball right through that 30th ranked rush defense on their way to a controlling victory. Kansas City has the advantage at head coach, but they will be out classed at quarterback, in the running game, and on defense.
The Catch: Kansas City just activated Justin Houston, which tells me they know they need to make Cam Newton uncomfortable to have a chance. This game will be a dog fight for the first 3 quarters. If Kansas City can create a turnover, they have a chance to get out of Charlotte with a W.
Houston Texans at Jacksonville Jaguars
Line: Jacksonville -1 1/2
Predicted Final Score: Houston 14 – Jacksonville 23
2 Cents: Houston is the classic win at home, lose on the road team. I mean literally, they haven’t lost a game at home, and haven’t won a game on the road this year. Why, you’re asking? The answer, as it’s been for so many of the Texan’s woes this season, is Brock Osweiler. Very rarely do mediocre quarterbacks go into an opposing stadium and pull out a win, and unfortunately for the Texans, Osweiler has been mediocre or below thus far. The Texans have the advantage at head coach and running back this game, but the Jags have the advantage at quarterback, on defense, and they’ll be playing at home. I expect his talented Jags secondary to make Houston one-dimensional in this game, on their way to a much needed home victory.
The Catch: If Bortles turns the ball over, and the Texans can get the running game going, they’ll control this game and have a chance to come out with a victory despite Osweiler.
Denver Broncos at New Orleans Saints
Line: New Orleans -3
Predicted Final Score: Denver 21 – New Orleans 26
2 Cents: I really thought Denver would control the AFC West for one more year. As we learned last week, though, you just can’t bet against Derek Carr anymore. I have the Broncos stumbling for the second straight week as they go on the road against a potent New Orleans team. Why? Because this New Orleans team is almost an exact replica of the Raiders. Both teams have top 10 quarterbacks (and offenses), both teams have top 5 offensive lines, and both teams have putrid defenses. Listen, this Broncos team can’t keep up with the league’s top offenses anymore: their 3 losses have come against Atlanta, San Diego, and Oakland – all top 5 offensively. New Orleans will move to 5-4, and Broncos fans will start screaming for Paxton Lynch.
The Catch: The former world champion Broncos still have the defensive talent to dominate games. They’ll need to create a turnover or two to win this game.
LA Rams at New York Jets
Line: New York -2
Predicted Final Score: LA 24 – New York 21
2 Cents: While LA fans have clamored for Jared Goff, Jeff Fisher has been focused on fixing his defense – which is loaded with talent. Well, over the last two games, the Rams have allowed just 17 and 13 points to the Giants and Panthers. I don’t expect that to change against a Jets team sporting Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback, and a 30 year old Matt Forte at running back. The key factor in this game? The Rams still have playoff aspirations, while two of the Jets most important defensive players – Mo Wilkerson, and Sheldon Richardson – have illustrated their season is all but over the past two weeks. I don’t expect this formerly dominant Jets run defense to play up to their potential, and without that, this Jets defense just isn’t very good.
The Catch: Ryan Fitztragic has the ability to switch to his alter-ego, Ryan Fitzmagic, at the most inexplicable times. He will need to play well for the Jets to win.
Atlanta Falcons at Philadelphia Eagles
Line: Atlanta -2
Predicted Final Score: Atlanta 21 – Philadelphia 24
2 Cents: This is my upset of the week, folks. In this match up, we have the Falcons feeling good about themselves coming off of an easy win over Tampa Bay, and the Eagles, hungry to bounce back after a tough divisional loss to the Cowboys. The Falcons have struggled against strong defensive fronts such as the Chargers and Seahawks, and Philadelphia’s front has the ability to ruin Matt Ryan’s day. In fact, when playing at home, the Eagles have allowed a total of 23 points to opposing offenses: that’s absurd. Atlanta, will score their points – their offense is too explosive to contain for a whole game – but the Eagles will score more. Carson Wentz has 5 TDs to 2 INTs when playing at home, and he’ll be passing against the league’s 29th ranked defense. Eagles bounce back in a much needed week 10 victory.
The Catch: Atlanta’s offense has so many options it’s ridiculous. If Philadelphia can’t pressure Matt Ryan, Atlanta wins this game.
Chicago Bears at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Line: Chicago -2
Predicted Final Score: Chicago 28 – Tampa Bay 27
2 Cents: Wasn’t it cute when Brian Hoyer came in as the back-up for the Bears, and everybody said he was better than Jay Cutler. Listen, folks, there’s a reason Cutler was drafted 11th overall, and Hoyer went undrafted. Cutler is undoubtedly a top 10 talent in the NFL – he’s just quirky, and doesn’t want to be a leader in the locker room. I’m not here to tell you Cutler is a great quarterback, I just want to illustrate that when push comes to shove, the cream rises to the top in the big league’s. Like when Cutler led his team to victory against a dominant Vikings defense in week 8. It seems that the recent benching has lit a fire under his ass, and Tampa Bay’s weak defense will bear the brunt of that this week in a match up that favors the Bears. Chicago is a surprising 12th against the pass, and 10th against the run. Tampa Bay is at a disadvantage at head coach, on defense, and at this point, at quarterback.
The Catch: Jay Cutler has the ability to be very impressive, but he also has the ability to put up a real stinker. This game falls on his shoulders, and that could be really bad for Chicago.
Green Bay Packers at Tennessee Titans
Line: Green Bay -3
Predicted Final Score: Green Bay 27 – Tennessee 24
2 Cents: I’m not reading much into their latest losses to two of the league’s top 10 offenses. I’ll take a page out of Aaron Rodgers’ playbook and tell everybody to “relax”. Green Bay will get back on track this week against a good, but not great, Titans squad that just hasn’t found themselves yet. Green Bay will score points, and they still boast a top 3 run defense, so I expect them to stifle Tennessee’s impressive rushing attack just enough. The Titans aren’t built to win these types of games yet: Mariota just isn’t ready to put his team on his back without making crucial mistakes, and they have one of the weakest coaching situations in the league.
The Catch: Last week against San Diego, Marcus Mariota showed us glimpses of what he can be, but he threw a crucial pick late in the game to seal the deal for the Chargers. If he can eliminate those mistakes, things could get interesting this week versus a mediocre Green Bay secondary.
Minnesota Vikings at Washington Redskins
Line: Washington -3
Predicted Final Score: Minnesota 21 – Washington 17
2 Cents: Minnesota will bounce back this week after a 3 game losing streak in which their offense was the main source of their woes. Minnesota’s defense is still dominant, giving up an average of only 20 points in their 3 losses this year, and they’re due for a couple turnovers. Lucky for them, Kirk Cousins averages an interception per game, throwing 4 in his last 5 games. Here’s the deal: Minnesota has a better head coach, a better defense, and they’re now officially desperate after losing 3 straight. I just don’t see Washington playing with the same level of urgency as the Vikings, and that spells trouble for a less talented Washington team.
The Catch: We still don’t know if Minnesota’s fixed their offensive line, and if it looks anything like it has over the last 3 games, the Vikings could be in trouble against a Washington squad that ranks 7th in total sacks.
Miami Dolphins at San Diego Chargers
Line: San Diego -4
Predicted Final Score: Miami 17 – San Diego 27
2 Cents: For one more week, I refuse to call this Miami team anything but an anomaly. They’re just not very good, folks: they don’t play defense, the “Jay Train” is slowing down, and they have the youngest coach in the league. I know, I know, they beat the Steelers, Bills, and Jets. That’s nice and all, but this week they’ll face a Chargers squad that’s 8th against the run, and generates one of the best pass rushes in the NFL with Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. The story of this game will be the Dolphins’ inability to keep up with the league’s 5th ranked total offense. Expect Ryan Tannehill to show his true colors (a turnover machine), as he plays catch up with the Chargers.
The Catch: Miami’s only chance in this game is Jay Ajayi. He’ll have to play out of his mind for a Dolphins victory.
San Francisco 49ers at Arizona Cardinals
Line: Arizona – 3 1/2
Predicted Final Score: San Francisco 13 – Arizona 27
2 Cents: Arizona is only a 3 1/2 point favorite? What is going on here? This is my blowout of the week. Arizona’s defense is 2nd in total yards allowed per game, they’re top 10 against the pass and the run, and they’ve created a 6th ranked 15 turnovers this season. Oh yeah, and they’ll be defending a washed Colin Kaepernick. I know, I know, Kaepernick threw for 400 yards against the league’s 25th ranked defense, but this Arizona secondary is in a whole different league. I expect Arizona to control this game with David Johnson, who’ll be running against the league’s worst rushing defense. The NFC West stays very interesting..
The Catch: I think our #prayforKaep hashtag might have actually made a difference for the former Super Bowl-level quarterback. Or maybe he was just playing catch up against a putrid Saints secondary. Either way, he’s the 49ers only shot at keeping this one close, as is always the case for this San Francisco team.
Dallas Cowboys at Pittsburgh Steelers
Line: Pittsburgh -2
Predicted Final Score: Dallas 28 – Pittsburgh 27
2 Cents: Dak Prescott playing for his job against a desperate Pittsburgh team? Yeah, you can bet this is my game of the week. I’m expecting back problems after this game, as I won’t be leaving the couch for at least 3 hours. Everybody and their mother has Pittsburgh “upsetting” Dallas in this game (if you can even call it an upset), and I totally get it. Big Ben is healthy, Dallas has a depleted defense, and Pittsburgh is desperate after losing 3 straight. I’m going to take it upon myself to give everyone a reality check, though: these aren’t the 2008 Steelers, and these aren’t the same old Cowboys. The Steelers are now officially the most inconsistent team in the NFL, their defense allows a 24th ranked 374 yards per game, and they rank 21st in time of possession. Compare that to a Dallas squad that’s the most consistent team in the league right now, has a defense that allows a 10th ranked 332 yards per game, and ranks 1st in time of possession. I’m sorry, but this is a mismatch. Oh, you think Pittsburgh’s offense is too powerful for Dallas to keep up with? Sorry, Dallas ranks 4th in the league with 27 points per game compared to Pittsburgh’s 23. The last reason the Cowboys win this game? Dak Prescott is playing for his job, and as I’ve said for weeks, that brings urgency to a Cowboys team that could otherwise become complacent.
The Catch: I practically never bet against a desperate team with a top 5 quarterback, and there’s a reason: they almost never lose. This game will come down to the wire.
Seattle Seahawks at New England
Line: New England – 7 1/2
Predicted Final Score: Seattle 24 – New England 28
2 Cents: How about this? We get Dallas at Pittsburgh, and then an hour later we get Seahawks – Patriots? NFL schedule – makers, you’ve done well. My first prediction is that there will be record highs in girlfriends/wives being mad at their significant others starting at 4 o’clock eastern on Sunday. My second prediction is that this game will be just as intense as the 2015 Super Bowl — which is the last time these two teams played. The Hawks will be looking for revenge, and having retained many of their core defensive players, they have a real shot. This game will have a completely different look than that Super Bowl game, though, as the Seattle offense now runs through Russell Wilson, and that defense has taken a slight step back. Unfortunately for this feisty NFC West squad, they face the high task of trying to win in Foxborough, a feat only one team has been able to accomplish this season — and that was with the great Tom Brady absent. The Patriots will win their toughest game of the season because they’re coming off a bye week, and they have a slight advantage at head coach and quarterback.
The Catch: Pete Carroll’s teams get up for games like this, and they always find away to stick around until the end. You can bet this game’s going in my Vegas 3
Cincinnati Bengals at New York Giants
Line: Cincinnati -1
Predicted Final Score: Cincinnati 23 – New York 24
2 Cents: It’s tough to follow up a MNF game like the one we had last week, but this game should at least be watch-able. In this match up, we get two B to B+ quarterbacks, two defenses that have potential, but haven’t been playing well, and two head coaches at a crossroads. Ben Mcadoo is trying to prove that he can be a head coach, rather than career coordinator, while Marvin Lewis, a veteran, is trying to prove that he can get his teams over the “playoff hump”. Fortunately for Mcadoo, his team simply matches up better against Lewis’s reeling Bengals. The Giants have a slight advantage at quarterback, they have home field advantage, and their defense ranks top 10 against the run, allowing just 3.6 yards per carry. It looks like all that off-season spending on defense is finally paying off for a Giants defense that’s only allowed 18 points per game in their last 3. Both teams will score points, but the Giants defense will shine through in the 4th quarter.
The Catch: Cincinnati has 7 interceptions on the year, and they’ll be facing a turnover-prone Eli Manning.