A couple of games last week I'm disappointed in myself for picking. I picked the Lions because "London games have gone the opposite way I expect so far this season," which is always a poor idea. Look at the matchups, take the team that is better if the point spread is low and live with the results. Bad decision Jesse, yet I still ended up with a not losing week at 6-6-2 but I'd like to be better. Let's see if I can bounce back here.
Cleveland Browns (+11) at Cincinnati Bengals
Sometimes when the backup quarterback comes in for one game coaches are able to devise game plans that give the opposing defenses fits. This could definitely be true for a team that has a quarterback that is unique like Johnny Manziel. On top of that the Browns, while not a good team are a pretty tough team that is good on special teams. I don't think they can win this game because the Bengals are a very good team, but I do think there is a chance that this game is close so I'll take the points. Having said that I haven't been great with the Thursday night games.
[Editor's Note: This one didn't work out so well for Jesse. Final score: Bengals 31, Browns10]
Oakland Raiders (+4.5) at Pittsburgh Steelers
This Raiders team is different than many Raiders teams of the past. In fact, I'm not even sure that the Raiders should be the underdogs here. According to Football Outsiders DVOA the Raiders are actually a slightly better team (8th overall) than the Steelers are (10th). Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, Latavius Murray offense have been dynamic playmakers. Michael Crabtree looks more like the player everyone thought he would be after being drafted by the 49ers than he ever did in San Francisco actually leading the team in receptions. On defense Aldon Smith, Malcolm Smith, Khalil Mack (Mack is PFF No. 1 rated overall 34 OLB), and Charles Woodson gives the team a collection of playmakers on defense. The Steelers have been good in their own right especially on defense where they are finally in the top 10 again after a few years of struggles. Still, I think these two teams are pretty evenly matched and it would not surprise me if the Raiders won outright so I can't give 4.5 points.
Jacksonville Jaguars (+6.5) at New York Jets
The Jets are actually a really good team. They have playmakers on both sides of the ball, they have good offensive and defensive lines, they are playing a team that is really terrible. They are coming off a couple of losses I think the Jaguars are in trouble here and I don't see the Jets playing this game that close. Of course that could always change if neither Fitzpatrick or Smith are available.
St. Louis Rams (+2.5) at Minnesota Vikings
This is an intriguing game that could play very fast as both teams are looking to complement the run game with the pass and not the other way around. The Rams are actually slightly better at stopping the run and running the ball then the Vikings are. Both teams create a lot of pressure on the football. Both teams really play very similarly it's strength on strength in this game and it's a big game and I actually think one of the most intriguing games of the week. I like the Vikings a little bit more than I like the Rams so I'm going to take the home team to win this one.
Miami Dolphins (+3) at Buffalo Bills
The Bills the past two years were one of the best pass rushing teams in the entire league, probably the best pass rushing team in the league. This year they are middling pass rushing team, which is surprising because their secondary is actually improved with the addition of Ronald Darby. And Rex Ryan has a history of generating pressure. It's a weird thing. The Dolphins looked incompetent under Joe Philbin who rightfully deserved to be fired (and never should have been hired) and now they look like the fairly talented team they are. But, I think the Bills are going to win this game. They are getting healthy with Karlos Williams returning, Tyrod Taylor returning, Leodis Mckelvin coming back, they are desperate, teams generally have shown up in big spots for Rex Ryan, they are coming off a bye and I think over the bye week the Bills will have figured out how to rush their passer they are too talented to be struggling this much in that department, and they are in front of their home crowd. They need to win this game. The past three weeks says that the Dolphins are playing better football, but I think it's a perfect storm here for the Bills.
Tennessee Titans (+8) at New Orleans Saints
Teams that are playing in their first game under an interim head coach always exceed expectations. It just happens. They are at their best. The Titans strength this year is pass defense. They have an underrated pass rush, athletic linebackers who can run in space (where the Saints killed the Giants last week), and good coverage corners. The Titans are not a good football team, but they will be motivated this week and their strengths and weaknesses line up well with the Saints (they play the pass well, and their offense struggles but should be okay against a bad Saints defense), and again under interim head coaches teams just have a way of coming out firing on all cylinders.
Washington Redskins (+14) at New England Patriots
The Patriots look like an unstoppable juggernaut and Tom Brady is playing the best football of his career. The Redskins are a tumbling, fumbling, bumbling franchise. They ruined their savior RG3, they can't keep good coaches, they don't know how to properly use the Salary cap in general, but the one thing they do have is a talented front 7 on defense. It's not going to be enough to win the football game, but I'm banking on them keeping it close. And part of that is my belief that the Patriots have to slow down at some point, don't they?
Pick: Betting against Tom Brady is stupid, but 14 points against a tough, physical football team seems like too much for me. Redskins cover the spread
Green Bay Packers (-2.5) at Carolina Panthers
I'm not sure what to think about this game. Every week the Panthers keep winning football games. You watch them and you think how are they winning football games? They don't have anyone to throw the football too, they look ugly for long stretches of the game, but what they do have is a very talented front seven. Their linebackers are the best in football, Josh Norman is playing as well at the cornerback position as everyone, and they are the best running team in football. The Packers are not winning games you think they would be as they are 28th in passing offense and they are beating people on defense. I don't think this is a great matchup for the Pack-attack, but they still have Aaron Rodgers and anything within three points I generally lean towards Rodgers.
Atlanta Falcons (-7) at San Francisco 49ers
Blaine Gabbert is absolutely awful. The 49ers have no one to pass the ball to. Carlos Hyde is not at full strength. I know Matt Ryan is not as good away as he is at home, but this shouldn't be that close. The Falcons need to get back on track.
New York Giants (-2.5) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
I like the Giants here for a couple of reasons, the biggest being that I'm a complete homer! For the plus side of the Giants there is the fact that despite how poor the defense has been they do create a lot of turnovers and Winston, though playing better is still a young quarterback who is certainly prone to turning the ball over and could create a scoring opportunity for the Giants in this game. Winston also has been sacked a lot compared to the number of pass attempts he has, has he's been sacked 14 times in only 210 attempts, (Eli has been sacked 12 in 300 attempts). I also think the Buccaneers strength in the passing game are big physical wide receivers and the Giants cornerbacks have good size, so that's not a huge concern. The Buccaneers also run the ball well, and the Giants have been competent against the rush (though very inconsistent) so that's a favorable matchup. But really it comes down to this Eli Manning v.s Jameis Winston? Who do you expect to win that game?
(If you're looking for a detailed analysis of why the Giants could struggle after I take off my homer glasses, I can also give you that). The strength of the Buccaneers on defense are the fast coverage linebackers and the Giants like to utitlize a short passing game. The Buccaneers linebackers have the speed and ability to limit yards after the catch which is what the Giants passing offense tries to rely on. The Buccaneers big physical WR could cause problems for DRC who is a speed, fast guy with a reputation of not being super physical and undersized Jayron Hosley. They also have Austin Seferian-Jenkins who is a big fast tight end that could cause problems and they utilize their backs well in the pass game (also causes the Giants problems). The Buccaneers have one of the best pass rushing defensive tackles in the entire league and pressure up the middle is Eli's Krypotnite, The Buccaneers swarm to the football and do a great job of ripping it out and creating strip sacks which Eli has struggled with in the past. These are all reasons the Giants game could turn out to be poorer than expected, but I do think they will be all right. Eli is good on the road especially in favorable conditions and the Buccaneers defense is young he should be able to use his quarterback savvy to cause them some problems. The Giants also seem to be getting healthier which should help as well.
Denver Broncos (-5) at Indianapolis Colts
The Colts can't block the worst pass rushing teams how will they handle the best pass rushing team in the league? They won't.
Philadelphia Eagles (-2.5) at Dallas Cowboys
Matt Cassel is terrible and the Eagles are starting to figure some things out, I'm rooting for a tie, but I think the Eagles front will give the Cowboys a lot of problems. But perhaps I'm underestimating the Cowboys line and they will neutralize the Eagles, in which case they have a chance.
Chicago Bears (+4) at San Diego Chargers
I actually think the Bears are equally talented to the Chargers. Both teams will have big offensive adjustments as Matt Forte is out and the Chargers will be without Kennan Allen. But like I said I think the Bears are not worse than the Chargers and I could see them winning the game outright so I'll take the points.