My first big week of the year finally has me closer to .500 as the only games I missed last week where the Titans, Browns, and Giants (so to me that's a win!). A 9-3-1 week is a good start. Let's see if I can keep it going in another big time week.
Cleveland Browns (+10) at Baltimore Ravens
Too many points.
Houston Texans (+1.5) at Jacksonville Jaguars
The Texans are better than the Jaguars, who are really struggling this year in large part because of Blake Bortles regression and I would expect that to continue this week as the Texans can get after the passer a little bit with the continuously improving Jadeveon Clowney and Benardrick Mckinney. The Texans also have a decent rung are and a few nice weapons on offense, but have to overcome Osweiler's ineptitude. Still it's only 1.5 points and I will take the better defense who is also coming off a bye.
Kansas City Chiefs (+3) at Carolina Panthers
This is a big game for both teams. If the Chiefs win they will take over first place from the Raiders who on a bye because they will share the same record and the Chiefs beat the Raiders earlier in the year. The Panthers really started poorly, but have won two in a row and match up well with the Chiefs strengths and weaknesses. The Chiefs can't throw the ball down the field, which is the Panthers' biggest weakness. I also think the Panthers are playing for their season here, while the Chiefs are traveling East for a 1 p.m. game against an out of conference opponent.
Denver Broncos (+2.5) at New Orleans Saints
The Broncos don't move the ball all that well, but they do score a decent amount of points. They do that through a good defense and getting good field position. Von Miller is a terror of the edge and can wreck any game plan. I think the Broncos are a little bit more balanced and a little bit of a better then the Saints team and they're getting points. I'll hesitantly side here with the defending Super Bowl champs.
Pick: Broncos win outright
Los Angeles Rams (+1.5) at New York Jets
The Jets turn the ball over every game regardless of the type of defense and this week they go up against a good one. The Rams are top 11 in all major defensive categories. I also expect Todd Gurley to break out sometime. The Jets seem like a team that's collapsing, and Mr. .500 Jeff Fisher needs a win to get back into range of hitting his 7-9 and 8-8 goal for the season.
Pick: Rams win outright
Atlanta Falcons (pick 'em) at Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles defense is tough, but this will be a big test for them. I also think the Eagles strength on offense is the run game, which happens to be the Falcons strength on defense. I think the Falcons are the better team and will win outright. The Eagles problem is also going to be that their wide receivers are just not good enough to challenge the Falcons quality cornerback duo of Alford and Truant.
Minnesota Vikings (+3) at Washington Redskins
The Washington team is tough and the Vikings are reeling. Kirk Cousins has been great after a very shaky start. The Redskins defense is vulnerable but the Vikings have become completely inept on offense.
Pick: Washington (but come on Minnesota get it together you still have some NFC East opponents to face -- and the Eagles have your draft pick you're my second-favorite team this year).
Green Bay (-2.5) at Tennessee Titans
The Titans are a very solid team. They run the ball well. They get after the quarterback pretty well (23 sacks on the year) they score a decent amount of points. But they turn the ball over too much (Mariota has 7 fumbles and 4 lost) and don't create enough turnovers. I think the Titans biggest problem though is they just don't have enough stars yet, and stars win you NFL football games. They don't have anyone who can take over games.
Chicago Bears (pick 'em) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Chicago Bears are better with Jay Cutler than without him despite how much they had to admit that and the Bears are getting healthier as both Jeffery and Cutler are returning to action and playing well. They have a quirky profile of a losing team They outgain their opponents pretty healthy on both he ground and through the air (half a year per play, they pressure the quarterback pretty well. The turnover ratio isn't bad, They just lose games. Something's missing.
Miami Dolphins (+4) at San Diego Chargers
I like the Dolphins here, maybe I'm crazy, but the Dolphins are morphing into a tough, physical football team right in front of her eyes lead by Jay Ajiayi the sports most fascinating breakout star. The England born Ajayi was not even active the first game of the season and then wasn't given much of a chance the first few games then exploded. Now he's rushing like e the league's best running back. The Chargers are also a team that loses games they should win. I think they'll win, but it'll be close.
San Francisco 49ers (+13) at Arizona Cardinals
Double-digit margins in divisional games are always tough for me to swallow. Divisional games can be so whacky (for example the Eagles can't get the ball down field all year--play the Giants and every offensive play is a huge gain...). Cardinals are coming off the bye and clearly the better team, but I'll take the points.
Dallas Cowboys (+2.5) at Pittsburgh Steelers
Running games travel. Defense travels and like it or not somehow this Dallas team has a tough defense. With Minnesota struggling Dallas has been the best team NFC. The Steelers are Jekyll and Hyde
Seattle Seahawks (+7.5) at New England Patriots
The Seahawks are the anti-Bears and Chargers. They find ways to win games they should lose. I don't know if they'll beat the Patriots, but this is way too many points.
Cincinnati Bengals (+2.5) at New York Giants
This is an interesting game, and it could be a game again where it matters less of who you play, but more of when you play them. The Giants caught the Vikings at a time when they were at their very best and they will be doing the same here as the Bengals are about to get on track. The team's record isn't great, but they have had one of the more difficult schedules in the league up to this point. They beat the Jets, lost to Pittsburgh on the road, lost to Denver, beat Miami, lost to Dallas and New England, beat the Browns, tied Washington (in London) so despite their 3-4-1 record they have not been a terrible tam. They are 6th in total offense (fourth in pass yards, and seventh in rushing yards, but have struggled on defense. Andy Dalton is playing well with 67 completion percentage, 8.2 yards per passing attempt (which is very good), and a 98 passer rating. And he recently got back the dynamic and terrific Tyler Eifert. The big problem for the Bengals as been their pass protection has been poor. Dalton has been sacked 25 times this year.
The other issue for the Bengals is on defense where they lack speed and have been vulnerable in coverage this year over the middle and against running backs (sound familiar Giants fans). The Bengals have been good against No. 1 wide receivers (fifth in the league in Football Outsiders metrics), but 29th vs tight ends and 24th vs running backs. This is not an area of strength for the Giants.
The thing that also would make me nervous about the Bengals is that Eli Manning doesn't like pressure applied in his face and Geno Atkins is one of the best in the league at generating pressure from the defensive tackle position.
I think the Bengals are going to right the ship here and I hope it starts next week, not this week, but they are coming off a bye and have some favorable matchups against the Giants.
I also still haven't seen the Giants perform well enough in prime time (though you could say the same about the Bengals). I hope the Giants take this one, but it has me nervous and I'll take the points.