Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Atlanta Falcons -7
Pick: Falcons -7
Both of these NFC South franchises are headed in the wrong direction this season, and while I think it is clear the Buccaneers know their season will not end with a postseason berth – the Falcons have yet to give up hope.
Touted as Super Bowl contenders to start the season, the Falcons’ year has largely been derailed due to injuries. All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones is out for the season. Roddy White has been hobbled all year long, as well. Running back Steven Jackson has missed several weeks with a sore hamstring, not to mention injuries on the offensive line and defense.
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Atlanta is coming off a much needed bye week and have lost three straight games. Their last contest was a 30-28 loss to the New York Jets. It was a heartbreaking loss, especially at home as the Jets won the game with a field goal in the final seconds. The Falcons outgained New York by almost 100 yards but could not convert enough in the red zone to match the Jets. Matt Ryan threw for 319 yards and two touchdowns in the loss.
The injury list, as we discussed above is lengthy for the Falcons. Roddy White is unlikely to play but may suit up just to keep his consecutive game streak alive as he has done all season. He is a non-factor in this matchup. It looks like running back Jason Snelling will play this week after suffering a concussion in Week 5, and will continue to split duties with Jacquizz Rodgers.
Defensively they will be without linebackers Sean Witherspoon and likely Akeem Dent. A notable offensive line loss is left tackle Sam Baker who is all but certain to be out this Sunday.
Without much of their starting lineup at receiver, Matt Ryan will have to go with Harry Douglas as his number one option followed by unknowns Drew Davis and Kevin Cone. Tight end Tony Gonzalez will be relied on heavily in the passing game if the Falcons trot out this lineup.
Still winless the Buccaneers head to the Georgia Dome hoping to grab win number one. After cutting clubhouse cancer and former franchise quarterback Josh Freeman, the team has moved on to rookie quarterback Mike Glennon.
Glennon has looked terrific in limited action, throwing for 273 yards and two touchdowns in a start last week against the Eagles. Though Tampa lost the game 30-21, he gave them a chance to compete and connected several times with receiver Vincent Jackson. V-Jack had a season best 114 yards and two touchdowns in the loss.
While the defense has improved from last season, especially against the pass, the offense is dead last in the NFL in passing yards and running back Doug Martin has yet to been able to get it going like he did in his rookie season. He is still getting decent numbers on the ground but has scored just one touchdown on the year and has gone over the 100 yard rushing mark in a game just once this season.
Injury wise, Mike Williams looks to return from a hamstring injury that held him out last week against Philly. He will be slotted opposite Vincent Jackson. Left guard Carl Nicks will miss this week’s game due to surgery from a staph infection. His loss is critical. Nicks is their best offensive lineman, this loss hurts Tampa both in the run game and in pass protection.
Why do I like the Falcons, you ask? Even with all their injury trouble, I still think they are far superior team than the Buccaneers. Most notably, I doubt the ability of Mike Glennon, and I think this game could be trouble for the young quarterback.
Putting up close 300 yards and two touchdowns against Philadelphia’s defense isn’t an exclusive club and though the Falcons have been poor defensively this season, they are nothing compared to the ineptitude of Eagles’ squad. This is a massive game for Glennon, the pressure will be on, and it is also one that the Falcons coordinators have had two weeks to prepare for, as well. We have to remember that he is still a rookie and putting up points against one of the worst defenses in the NFL doesn’t prove all that much.
I also like Matt Ryan’s chances of putting up decent numbers, despite having his receiving core depleted. Even if Roddy White sits, he has an ageless reliable option in tight end Tony Gonzalez and the ability to throw balls out of the backfield to Snelling and Rodgers.
In addition, Darrelle Revis is beginning to scare me less and less each week. He may not even be playing man coverage most of the time anymore due to Tampa’s schemes, and was beat last week for two touchdowns and 64 yards when facing off against DeSean Jackson. Also, I doubt he is 100 percent. Their secondary is nothing remarkable without a healthy (or properly utilized) Revis.
While these two teams are only separated by one game difference, the mentality is quite different. The Falcons are still holding out hope for a playoff berth, despite dismal odds. While the Buccaneers have already set their sights on next year.
Atlanta can’t lose this game in front of their home fans. Matt Ryan and Mike Smith know this and will prepare for this game like it is the biggest one of the season, because right now, for them, it is. I expect them to be solidly prepared after the bye and take it to the Buccaneers.
Houston Texans at Kansas City Chiefs -7
Pick: Texans +7
Talk about two teams headed in the opposite direction. The Chiefs undefeated season so far is the talk of the NFL, but I for one am just as shocked to see the Texans playing as badly as they are this year.
Like Atlanta, Houston was talked about as a possible Super Bowl contender to start the season, but judging by how things have gone so far, those dreams are firmly in the rearview mirror. Desperately needing a win coming into this week, the Texans are faced with an extremely tough matchup and a rookie quarterback behind center.
Matt Schaub been a disappoint to say this least this season and struggled again in last week’s loss against the St. Louis Rams at Reliant Stadium. Schaub failed to throw an interception in the loss, (yay!) but was largely ineffective, as usual, before exiting the game with a knee injury. T.J. Yates came into backup Schaub and promptly threw two picks, sealing the victory for the Rams, a 38-13 blowout.
Arian Foster had a fantastic day running the football and catching balls out of the backfield and amassed a total of 198 yards from scrimmage. That was the lone bright spot for the Texans in this one. Despite gaining 200 more yards of offense than the Rams, Houston turned the ball over four times and was 1 for 6 in red zone touchdown conversions.
Houston’s defense has been much maligned this year, but part of their struggles are the poor situations they are put in due to the turnover prone offense. They actually rank number one against the pass but have struggled against the run this season.
On the flip side, Andy Reid’s formula for winning is unblemished so far. The dink and dunk passing game has worked wonders for check down champion, Alex Smith. Smith has a made a living throwing the ball 10 yards or fewer this season and handing it off to Jamal Charles.
Charles in for a monster workload this season and it is easy to see why. He is a dominant force against many opposing defenses and helps chew up valuable clock time, keeping the ball away from opposing offenses.
However, make no mistake, the main reason for Kansas City’s success so far this season has been their defense. They are a ball hawking squad who forces turnovers and rushes the passer like none other in the league. They have 30 sacks on the season, including a remarkable 10 sacks against the Raiders last week, in a 34-7 rout of Oakland.
I know the Chiefs are a talented team but forgive me for not totally jumping on the bandwagon. They are 6-0, but every single one of these wins has come against a .500 team or worse. Three of the wins came against the Jaguars, Giants and Raiders who combine for just two wins and a whopping 16 losses.
Alex Smith is limited talent wise and has yet to have to play from behind all season. I have zero faith in Smith in leading a comeback attempt and the first time the Chiefs are losing by a considerable margin in the 2nd half, (it hasn’t happened yet) things will start to unravel offensively for KC.
Quarterback Case Keenum downgrades the whole offense for the Texans, but how much worse can it get compared to Schaub/Yates led attack? Also, Keenum brings some mobility to the position for Houston that may be desperately needed, especially against the Chief’s tough pass rush. He will be able to escape outside the pocket, use his legs, and make some throws on the run, unlike the statuesque Matt Schaub or T.J. Yates. It wouldn’t be shocking to me if Keenan steals the job from Schaub if he puts up a strong performance in this game.
Defensively, the Texans just have to take away the run and their excellent pass defense will do the rest. I am amazed how Alex Smith gets away with this “passing game” on a weekly basis, and it is going to come to an end soon.
The Texans are not the Raiders while their quarterback will be inexperienced; we have to remember that it is just one player. This is a veteran team that is not ready to throw in the towel on their season just yet.
Cleveland Browns at Green Bay Packers -10
Pick: Browns +10
After dropping their first two games and jettisoning running back Trent Richardson to the Colts, the Browns promptly ripped off three straight wins and were the talk of the NFL for a few weeks. At 3-3, the Browns are still much in the AFC North divisional race and will face their toughest test so far at Lambeau Field.
Spark plug Brian Hoyer led this team to three victories until going down with a knee injury in a Thursday Night Football game against Buffalo on October 3rd. Unfortunately for the Browns, Hoyer tore his MCL and will miss the rest of the season. Season incumbent starter and second year pro Brandon Weeden will instead get the reigns back.
Weeden performed well in relief of Hoyer after his injury against Buffalo but was rather dismal in last week’s 31-17 loss against Detroit. The offense shouldn’t be downgraded too heavily with Weeden at the helm, rather than Hoyer, but it is still a significant drop-off. Luckily, the Browns have plenty of skill players with talent, such as wide receiver Josh Gordon and tight end Jordan Cameron.
Cleveland’s defense is what has truly kept them in games all year and is a top 10 unit against both the pass and run. Joe Haden is one of the best cornerbacks in the league and will mark up Packers wide out Jordy Nelson in this one.
The Packers are coming into this game as hobbled as I can remember. Though they gutted out a 19-17 victory against the defending Super Bowl Champions Baltimore Ravens last week, there were several key losses for Green Bay.
Most notably was Randall Cobb, who could miss the rest of the season with a broken leg. James Jones will also likely sit this week with a sore knee; even if he does play he will likely be on a strict snap count to avoid further injury. That leaves Jordy Nelson as the only starting wide receiver left for Rodgers.
The defense is also hurt. Linebackers Clay Matthews, Nick Perry and Brad Jones will all likely miss this week’s game, leaving an already poor defense even more vulnerable.
In just a week, the Packers have been dealt a severe blow to their offense with the loss of Cobb and with many other injuries on both sides of the ball – they are hurting. Just like Tom Brady has been less effective this year without Gronkowski and Amendola, I see the same thing happening to Rodgers. Sure, he is probably the best quarterback in the NFL, but he is not Superman. If he doesn’t have his regular targets to throw to, it is going to throw him off a bit. Let’s also not forget to remember that he isn’t facing a particularly advantageous matchup, Cleveland’s defense has been excellent this year.
The injuries on the Packers defense give me hope that Weeden should at least be able to keep this one close. Josh Gordon is a tough cover for any defense, let alone a poor Packers secondary. He should have a field day, provided Weeden gets him the ball. The Browns should even have some success with their rather pedestrian run game against Green Bay’s injured defensive front and linebacker core.
The writing is on the wall for a Cleveland cover in this one. 10 points are way too many to give, especially in a situation where one team is relatively healthy, and another has been ravaged by injuries. I’m taking the points with the Browns.
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