|Win or lose on Sunday, Josh Freeman has the best afro in the league. Top that Rodgers!!!|
In looking ahead to Week 10, here are three things that stand out to me…
1. “Prove It” Games – Cincinnati, San Francisco, and Buffalo were all major surprises this year. Still, despite their hot starts, some measure of doubt remains. Probably the team with the most to prove is Cincinnati, who has feasted on a shockingly easy schedule. This week’s home game against Pittsburgh will give them the opportunity to not only silence their doubters, but to seize control of their playoff destiny.
2. Thursday Night Football – I’m going to be in the minority on this one, but I’m not thrilled that Thursday night games start so soon. One of the great things about football is the scarcity of it. You get NFL football on Sunday and Monday…and that’s it! There’s no commitment the rest of the week, there’s no sense of obligation to invest more hours into it; Sunday and Monday is it. For whatever reason, it makes the games feel a bit more special. I like that feeling. I like the fact that I can compartmentalize my football into its neat slot, I like the fact that my anticipation for more football builds over the course of the week, and I like that I don’t feel NFL fatigue after the week is over. Now that there is an extra day, I’m afraid those feelings are going to subside.
3. Divisional Showdowns – Oakland and San Diego will play for the AFC West lead, New Orleans and Atlanta will compete for the NFC South lead, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati is a key AFC North matchup, Detroit and Chicago could help determine which team gets the Wild Card out of the NFC North, and the Pats-Jets game will separate the two teams in the AFC East. Now that we’re into Week 10, the races have been firmly established. With so few games left, any traction that teams can get from these games will give them a huge advantage going forward. My guess is that when teams look back on their season, this particular week will highlighted as the make-or-break point of the season.
As for the Week 9 picks...a fast start came to a screeching halt by the wild and crazy SNF and MNF games. Thankfully, I did my damage early by nailing the Jets upset of Buffalo and the Broncos upset of Oakland. (Can we please not mention the fact that I picked Cleveland to cover? Please???) Overall, I gained some ground…finally.
(Remember, Prince and I are going head to head with our picks. No prize has been determined yet, but ideas are happily accepted.)
Week 9 Results (point spread in parentheses)
Landrum: 9-5 (8-5)
Prince: 7-7 (8-5)
Week 9 Winner: Landrum +2
Results through Week 9 (point spread in parentheses)
Landrum: 78-52 (65-57)
Prince: 81-49 (66-56)
Overall Leader: Prince +4
Never before has a more mediocre group of QB’s done so much for one man. I picked Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow to come through on the road last week, knowing full well that a disaster would likely put me too far back of Prince to ever see the light of day. Was I worried, you ask? Actually, yes. Yes I was. Terrified even. Yet, here I stand, victorious once again. Don’t worry, I’m not getting used to the feeling. Let’s get to the picks!
Oakland at San Diego (SD -7)
Jon: San Diego (SD -7)
Prince: San Diego (SD -7)
In a game that has a 72% chance of setting an NFL record for most Pick Sixes in a single game, the question comes down to which QB will suck the least. In that regard, Carson Palmer has been sucking for some time, while Philip Rivers’ suckness (I made that up!) has been a recent development. Given how bad Oakland’s defense is, I wouldn’t be surprised if Rivers blew up in this one. Also, Darren McFadden’s questionable injury status, coupled with the fact that the Thursday game gives him two less days to rest, means Palmer will once again be asked to shoulder the burden. Not. Good.
New Orleans at Atlanta (NO -1)
Jon: New Orleans (NO -1)
Prince: New Orleans (NO -1)
After all the crap I’ve given the Falcons, a victory the Saints in this contest would give them sole possession of first place in the NFC South. I’d say that’s a pretty solid job of rebounding after their tough start! Given Atlanta’s reputation at home, and New Orleans unseemly 2-3 road record, picking the Falcons seems fairly logical. Sadly, that doesn’t seem to be one of my strong suits. I gotta go with my gut on this one and pick the Saints, if for no other reason than I just think they’re a lot more talented. Drew Brees will easily be the best player in this game, and I look for him to torch a bottom half of the league Falcons pass defense.
Pittsburgh at Cincinnati (PIT -3)
Jon: Pittsburgh (PIT -3)
Prince: Pittsburgh (PIT -3)
I probably shouldn’t be shocked about NFL “upsets” anymore, but I’ll be very surprised if Cincinnati finds a way to pull this one out. You may disagree with me, but my personal belief is that Cincy is the biggest fraud in the NFL. They’ve feasted on Cleveland, Jacksonville, Indianapolis, Seattle, and Tennessee so far, with their only “good win” coming at home against a potentially fraudulent Buffalo team. As I’ve said before, I like their future a lot…but I don’t think they’re good right now. Coming off a heartbreaking loss to their bitter rival, I’m sure the Steelers will be more than motivated to assert their superiority. Then again, I’ve been waiting for Andy Dalton to crumple under pressure for several weeks now. Either way, we should know a lot about Cincinnati after Sunday.
St. Louis at Cleveland (CLE -1)
Jon: St. Louis (STL +1)
Prince: St. Louis (STL +1)
Sam Bradford is too good to suck forever. Last week’s performance was certainly disappointing, but it’s also somewhat understandable given his injury and his lack of rapport with Brandon Lloyd. There are no excuses this week. Not even against a solid Browns pass defense. The Rams are much more talented and, given Cleveland’s woeful offense, even a field goal might be enough to win this thing.
Buffalo at Dallas (DAL -4.5)
Jon: Buffalo (BUF +4.5)
Prince: Dallas (DAL -4.5)
Does everyone remember that Eagles game from two weeks ago? Yeah, remember how awful that was? Well, look for more of that this week. The end result won’t be nearly as ugly, but Buffalo has the right personnel to light up a thin Cowboys defense. For starters, the Cowboys have had major issues playing the run in recent weeks, and they don’t have the type of talent or athleticism at LB to contain a dynamic player like Fred Jackson. For another, Ryan Fitzpatrick’s talents are far better suited for playing indoors than playing outside in the Northeast. While I’m obviously concerned about Steve Johnson blowing up on us, I’m specifically monitoring David Nelson’s performance. Dallas is extremely ineffective in zone defense, and physical possession guys like Nelson always seems to thrive. Back in his Giants days, Steve Smith used to hammer Dallas twice a year with this style, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see Nelson have a nice game. Add in Miles Austin’s injury and the fact that Buffalo’s defense is noted for their ability to force turnovers (hello, Tony Romo), and you have the makings of another Dallas letdown.
Jacksonville at Indianapolis (JAX -3)
Jon: Indianapolis (IND +3)
Prince: Jacksonville (JAX -3)
Yes, I’m picking the Colts. Believe me; I’m just as surprised as you are. This is the Colts best, and maybe only, real chance to win a game. We all know it, and I’m sure all the players know it. Also, for the first time all year, they won’t necessarily be at a QB disadvantage since Bln Gbbrt is every bit as bad as Curtis Painter. I doubt anyone in the organization wants to finish 0-16 and I’m banking on a strong effort.
Denver at Kansas City (KC -3.5)
Jon: Kansas City (KC -3.5)
Prince: Denver (DEN +3.5)
As fun as it is to revel in Tebow’s victory, the reality is that he’s still struggling to throw the ball. Sure, he looked better against Oakland, but the Raiders dropped at least 2 INT’s during that game. Not that KC is a dynamo or anything. All I can figure is that the Chiefs players and coaches didn’t practice or prepare all week because they thought it was their bye week. Whatever happened, I can’t imagine them playing that awful two weeks in a row…especially at home. The Chiefs have a nice group of cornerbacks and I expect Tebow to turn it over a few times.
Washington at Miami (MIA -4)
Jon: Miami (MIA -4)
Prince: Miami (MIA -4)
Now that Miami is out of the Luck Sweepstakes they might as well win a few games, right? And what better way to get on a winning streak than to play John Beck?! Remember, the Dolphins originally drafted Beck and cut him within one season. I mean, if you can’t play QB for the Dolphins…
Arizona at Philadelphia (No Line)
There’s no line for this game thanks to Kevin Kolb’s injury status. Not that it really matters since Kolb and Skelton are basically the same thing…except one got a $65 million contract! Kolb’s status is still up in the air right now, but I sincerely hope he comes back for this one. You can’t ask for better drama than Kolb’s quest for redemption back in Philly! Couple that with John Beck’s return to Miami, and you’d think we were watching Desperate Housewives or something!!! Also, the Eagles will kick the crap out of the Cardinals.
Houston at Tampa Bay (HOU -3.5)
Jon: Tampa Bay (TB +3.5)
Prince: Houston (HOU -3.5)
Nine weeks of football and I still feel like I don’t know a single thing about either team. Is Houston actually good or are they schedule frauds? Other than their victory over Pittsburgh, the Texans have pretty much feasted on the dregs of the NFL by defeating Indy, Miami, Tennessee, Jacksonville, and Cleveland. A 1-3 record against teams over .500 certainly doesn’t paint the picture of an elite NFL team. But what about Tampa Bay? Are they the team that lost by 45 at San Francisco or are they the team that beat New Orleans one week later? Given their inconsistencies from week to week, it’s pretty much impossible to figure out which Buccaneer team will show up on Sunday. Still, they’ve held tough this year despite a brutally difficult schedule. Houston will be their seventh opponent with a record over .500! Given that, and the fact that their wins over Atlanta and New Orleans stack up better than Houston’s meager resume, I’m inclined to think they’ll have a good showing at home.
Tennessee at Carolina (CAR -3)
Jon: Carolina (CAR -3)
Prince: Carolina (CAR -3)
I’ve been burned by Carolina several times this year, including their most recent loss to Minnesota, so I’m understandably tepid in stating my “confidence” in the Panthers to come through. Still, I have no reason to think Tennessee will put up a fight in this one. The Titans have been an absolute shell since losing Britt in Week 3, having failed to top 17 points in three of their five games since. The two that they put up points in: Cleveland and Indianapolis. Color me unimpressed. Cam Newton has improved every week and the Titans porous run defense should have their hands full with the Panthers potent and versatile running attack.
Baltimore at Seattle (BAL -7.5)
Jon: Baltimore (BAL -7.5)
Prince: Baltimore (SEA +7.5)
It seems like predicting a Baltimore Ravens game is as impossible as predicting the weather…in 2015. But hey, let’s give it a shot, shall we?! The question is whether the Ravens can bring the same intensity they had for Pittsburgh into their game against Seattle. Their less than stellar showings against Tennessee, Jacksonville, and Arizona suggest that’s far from a slam dunk. After all, how Joe Flacco performed in last week’s game is certainly not an indicator of how Joe Flacco will perform in this week’s game. He’s basically the stock market. Given this, I seriously considered taking SEA +7.5. It’s a big line, it’s the Ravens, and it’s in Seattle. Makes sense, right? Then I remembered Tarvaris Jackson. Against the Ravens.
Detroit at Chicago (CHI -2.5)
Jon: Chicago (CHI -2.5)
Prince: Detroit (DET +2.5)
There are good reasons to pick either team and I can see any number of results from this game. Detroit easily handled their first meeting, but a large part of that was due to Javhid Best’s random 163 yard game. That’s not to say the Lions offense is incapable of scoring (obviously not true), but it’s safe to say Maurice Morris won’t be duplicating Best’s career best game. Overall, the two teams seem to heading in opposite directions. Detroit has struggled mightily as of late, while Chicago has seemingly found their groove. The offensive line has played significantly better and Matt Forte, currently the NFL’s 2nd leading rusher, is shredding defenses on a weekly basis. Even if the Lions do get at Cutler (a good bet), Forte should be able to find plenty of running room against the NFL’s 28th ranked run defense. I expect a good game, but Chicago’s ability to grind it out and control the clock seems like a solid recipe for taking down the Lions.
New York Giants at San Francisco (SF -3.5)
Jon: New York (NYG +3.5)
Prince: San Francisco (SF -3.5)
If San Francisco wants to quiet the few remaining skeptics (of which I am one) then this is the type of game they need to win. At home against a division leader with a championship QB playing the best football of his career represents a huge opportunity to make a statement. Even though I’m picking against them, they certainly have a lot of advantages. The East Coast to West Coast thing is certainly a factor, as is the Giants bottom of the league run defense. Don’t think Frank Gore is excited to go up against a mix-and-match group of Giants defenders? Then again, the Giants have a fair amount of advantages too. While San Fran has the #1 run defense in the league, that won’t matter much against a pass happy Giants team. As I mentioned before, Eli Manning is playing the best football of his life and he’d be a legit MVP candidate in any non-Aaron Rodgers related league. Furthermore, it looks like star WR Hakeem Nicks will be back. The Giants trio of Nicks/Manningham/Cruz matches up VERY well against the 49ers secondary, which I still hold to be light on talent. Overall, I think the Giants matchup well against San Fran, and I have a sneaking suspicion that the ‘Niners weakness against the pass will be exposed.
New England at New York Jets (NYJ -1)
Jon: New England (NE +1)
Prince: New England (NE +1)
At this point, I’m starting to think I pick New England out of habit. After all, if I’m going to call teams like Cincinnati and Houston frauds, then I have to apply the same logic to New England. The pass defense is really, really bad. Awful even! What’s worse, the vaunted Patriots offense has stopped being productive and the lack of a true downfield threat is clearly holding them back. There was a time when “genius” Bill Belichick would instantly solve their problems, but those days seem long gone. The fact is that the defensive problems have been going on for some time and Belichick’s personnel decisions have been mostly bad. Their once sterling draft reputation is down the tubes, their free agent moves have been busts, and the random releasing of key players (James Sanders, Brandon Meriwether) has left the team painfully thin. This isn’t meant to be an obituary of the New England Patriots run of greatness; it’s meant to be an honest take on a franchise I’ve gone out of my way to praise. That having been said, the sky isn’t falling quite yet. Remember, their losses come against Pittsburgh, the Giants, and the Bills. It’s not like they’re dropping games to Kansas City and Miami. Tom Brady is still a great QB and they still have more than enough talent to win their division. Even with the pass defense, beating the Jets shouldn’t be a problem. Unless, of course, you think Mark Sanchez is the right guy to take advantage of the secondary? No, I don’t either.
Minnesota at Green Bay (GB -13.5)
Jon: Green Bay (GB -13.5)
Prince: Green Bay (MIN +13.5)
13.5 is an awful big spread, but I don’t have the stones to pick against Aaron Rodgers at home. Sure, Minnesota kept their first game competitive, but Green Bay seemed to have Ponder figured out by the second half. With the way Rodgers puts up points, I seriously doubt Ponder will play well enough to keep this one as close.