NFL Week 6 Predictions: Opposite Day Edition

My game picks have not gotten off to a good start in 2016, but I’m still doing better than the Panthers and Cardinals. I am feeling a few underdogs in Week 6. This all started on Thursday night when I picked San Diego to beat Denver. As much as the Chargers tried to blow an 18-point fourth-quarter lead, they finally held on in the end. Let’s look at a few big ones this Sunday.

Carolina at New Orleans

It looks like Cam Newton is going to play in this one, but either way I like the Saints at home coming off the bye. Drew Brees should have a big game against this secondary, and remember, the Saints were a drive away from beating Carolina in each game last year. That even included a Luke McCown start where I believe he was 31-of-38 with a couple of drops. This offense had a lot of success against the stingy Panthers of 2015, and there’s no Josh Norman to make the game-saving pass defense this time. Sure, I hate backing the New Orleans defense, but it’s not like Carolina has been an efficient offense this season. As unfathomable as 1-5 sounds for Carolina, the Saints should come through at home and complete the NFC South sweep of the Panthers.

Kansas City at Oakland

Yes, Andy Reid is 15-2 after a regular-season bye, but that really doesn’t factor into my thoughts on this one. I expected Oakland’s offense to get off to a nice start due to the schedule. Now can they get better results against a team like the Chiefs? Kansas City’s defense has had as much variation as any in the league this year. They can be great one week, terrible the next, or even do so in the same game (Week 1’s 21-point comeback vs. San Diego). Jamaal Charles should see a bigger workload, and it’s not like Oakland’s defense has been impressive. On the other side of the ball, I think Marcus Peters is going to have to come up with another interception for the Chiefs, and Derek Carr is not shy about forcing some 50/50 balls that Peters can win. If the rest of the secondary can handle Oakland’s three wideouts, then this should be a winnable game for Alex Smith and the offense.

Atlanta at Seattle

Nice matchup. Basically another No. 1 offense vs. No. 1 defense type of game, but Seattle has faced the weakest set of offenses yet this season. Atlanta just got a great test in Denver last week, though the Seahawks will be a different challenge. Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman should not run wild as they did in Denver. Julio Jones still has another tough matchup with Richard Sherman, who can certainly keep him under 100 yards. I don’t see Atlanta cracking more than 24 points on the road here, but the biggest difference from last week is the fact that Atlanta’s defense will be seriously challenged unlike what they saw from Paxton Lynch in his first start. The bye week should have been great for Russell Wilson to heal more from his leg injuries, but he was playing very well with them in his last two games, both of which saw Jimmy Graham crack 100 receiving yards. Atlanta’s cornerbacks are a strength in its defense, but I think the Seahawks can negate that inside with Graham and Doug Baldwin. Tyler Lockett is also reportedly feeling healthier, and Christine Michael has taken over at running back. I think Seattle will be too much for Atlanta at home, though I am a little surprised about the spread being 6.5. I definitely can see a late Matt Ryan-led GWD in this one, though I’m still taking Seattle.

Dallas at Green Bay

This might be a good example of early-season statistics vs. opponent adjustments. The Packers have been excellent at stopping the run, but they’ve also played four pretty shite rushing attacks. The Cowboys are arguably the best right now with that OL and Ezekiel Elliott. Dallas’ offense is more efficient than Green Bay’s this season, and when he’s not playing the terrible Detroit defense, Aaron Rodgers still looks like the same quarterback from the last 12 games last season, which is bad news for the Packers. I’d be all over Dallas if this game was at home, but alas, you don’t know what you’ll get from young players on the road, and it sounds like Dez Bryant won’t be catching or not catching anything here on Sunday. I could see Dak Prescott’s no-INT streak ending in this one as he tempts history. That still doesn’t mean he can’t have a very nice game, but it really comes down to how well the Cowboys are running it, and if they’re getting pressure on Rodgers. He has been pressured quite a bit this season, and the Packers have struggled with the blitz. Dallas needs to be a little aggressive to pull this one out on the road, and I certainly believe it can.

Indianapolis at Houston

Of course we get some AFC South slop in prime-time. This could even be the game that decides which team leads the division for the rest of the season given the direction the teams are heading. The Colts have been right there at the end of all five games, but only enter at 2-3, relying so much on Andrew Luck and T.Y. Hilton to perform miracles. The Texans are 3-2, but have played mostly poor football, and were exposed badly by the Vikings and Patriots. There is no J.J. Watt, but Jadeveon Clowney is stepping up nicely. Brock Osweiler was horrific last week and overall pretty bad this season. We also know the Texans don’t get much YAC, which killed the Colts last week against Brian Hoyer and the Bears. However, I think this is a game for Lamar Miller to finally break out and score his first touchdown as a Texan. The Colts are still soft against the run, because what else would you expect from Ryan Grigson building the defense? I really think the Texans are going to seize this opportunity at home in prime time to play their most complete game of the season, but I also kind of expect to see Luck flirt with another 17-21 point comeback in the second half. In other words, a typical Colts-Texans game in the years that Houston is quasi-competitive.

2016 Week 6 Predictions

Like I said, the Chargers came through for a change.

Winners in bold:

  • Browns at Titans
  • Steelers at Dolphins
  • Rams at Lions
  • Ravens at Giants
  • Panthers at Saints
  • Eagles at Redskins
  • Bengals at Patriots
  • 49ers at Bills
  • Jaguars at Bears
  • Chiefs at Raiders
  • Cowboys at Packers
  • Falcons at Seahawks
  • Colts at Texans
  • Jets at Cardinals
  • Week 1: 7-9
  • Week 2: 10-6
  • Week 3: 8-8
  • Week 4: 8-7
  • Week 5: 7-7
  • Season: 40-37

NFL Week 15 Predictions: Carolina Is the Worst 13-0 Team Ever

The only Week 15 game where both teams have a winning record is Denver (10-3) at Pittsburgh (8-5). Things are not set in stone with three games left, but this is the 25th game this season between teams who currently have a winning record. The home team is 16-8 (.667), and these two teams were actually involved in half of the losses thanks to splitting their season series (all road wins) with the Chiefs and Bengals.

That is not to say this week lacks games that should be competitive. There are just a lot of sub-.500 teams this season, but since they are close to being equal in quality, some games should be decent. I think Detroit at New Orleans could be a fun shootout on Monday night, for example. As for the battle for the AFC South between Houston and Indy where the Texans are 0-13 all time, it’s a shame these offenses are reduced to starting an ailing Matt Hasselbeck and a third-string T.J. Yates.

Broncos at Steelers: Best matchup of the season?

This game lost a little bit of its luster with Denver’s loss last week to Oakland, dropping them to the No. 3 seed for the time being, but it’s still a huge game that both teams really need to win if they want to reach their goals this season.

What better matchup could we see this season than the Pittsburgh offense against the Denver defense? This is arguably the best against the best with both units close to having full health. Obviously the Steelers don’t have Le’Veon Bell, Maurkice Pouncey or Kelvin Beachum, but Ben Roethlisberger is good to go with his cast of receivers, including a now confident (and competent) Markus Wheaton. The Broncos eased DeMarcus Ware back into action last week, and still have Von Miller to rush Ben and the cornerbacks to try covering these wideouts. Denver does have some safety injuries (T.J. Ward, Omar Bolden), so that could be a problem against the AFC’s best vertical passing game. But this is pretty close to getting these units at their best in Week 15. Definitely better health than what the Patriots and Broncos had in their meeting a few weeks ago.

Typically, we see the defense win in these matchups, but that’s usually in a playoff atmosphere where you already expect defense to get more leeway with the whistles and aggressive play. I really like the Steelers at home, and I don’t think they have to score 30 points to win, which is something they’ve done in five straight games for the first time in team history. The Broncos, no matter which quarterback is starting this year, just do not score many points (28th in points per drive). The Steelers can probably put up 24 points and feel great in this one, and I think this offense is more than capable of doing so right now with the variety of ways it can attack a defense. Martavis Bryant can score from anywhere on the field. Antonio Brown can usually get his in any given week. Heath Miller still brings a reliable pair of hands on the short passes as Ben’s security blanket. DeAngelo Williams has been very good in all phases of the game this season. They struggle a little in the red zone, but this offense can move the ball with the best of them, and you can argue Roethlisberger’s protection has been better than ever. They are basically running the Bruce Arians offense this season with all the vertical routes, which is a bit of a departure from Todd Haley’s more dink-and-dunk approach to the last three seasons. I still expect Roethlisberger to test this defense on the big plays with the safety injuries, and to try making them pay for their aggressive play with some play-action shots.

If the Steelers play a smart game offensively and avoid the turnovers, I really don’t see how Denver’s offense scores enough points to win. They will have to rely on short fields here, and a return score. The Pittsburgh defense certainly gives up a lot of plays and it’s not hard to throw for 300 yards on them, but the turnovers have been coming again this season after a historic drought. Thanks, regression to the mean. Brock Osweiler is a sack machine with his indecisiveness and lack of experience, which are a bad recipe behind an offensive line that clearly stinks. I could see big days for the likes of Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and James Harrison. The Steelers are no slouches against the run either, and Denver’s running game has been very hit or miss all season. Demaryius Thomas has killed the Steelers on some huge plays in past meetings, but he won’t get the kind of defensive looks afforded to Tim Tebow in that playoff game, and I can’t even picture him turning a bubble screen into 10 yards these days, let alone a long touchdown. He has to catch the ball first, and that has been a problem. I could see Emmanuel Sanders wanting to have a huge game against his former team, but his talents are being wasted a bit in an offense that has been so unsuccessful at throwing deep this season. While Peyton Manning kept overthrowing Sanders for much of the year, Osweiler barely even tries throwing the ball over 15 yards. When he does, it’s almost always an incompletion outside of that one drive against the Patriots where he hit two bombs on the way to a go-ahead touchdown. You can tell which people are paying attention to the games and which are watching highlights when they talk about Osweiler’s arm and the deep ball. He’s not helping them in this area at all. He’s gone 22 drives without a touchdown drive. The Broncos need to get Manning back, but a healthy Manning in 2015 may just be a pipe dream at this point.

Final score: Steelers 24, Broncos 16

It Doesn’t Take a Giant to Knock Off an Undefeated — Just the Giants

If you’re a Giants fan, you can celebrate some of the best wins in NFL history, and these were usually done against true giants in seasons where New York was really about average at best. No one really expected any of this to happen.

1934: The 8-5 Giants with their middling statistics beat the dominant 13-0 Bears by a 30-13 final in the 1934 NFL Championship Game.

1998: The 5-8 Giants with Kent Graham at quarterback shocked the 13-0 Broncos, eventual winners of back-to-back Super Bowls by a 20-16 final in Week 15.

2007: The underdog Giants used the greatest drive in NFL history to down the 18-0 Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, holding them to just 14 points in a 17-14 win.

2011: The Giants were outscored by 6 points in the regular season, but played Green Bay very tough in Week 13. In the NFC Divisional Round, the Giants stunned the Packers again in Lambeau with a 37-20 win. Green Bay was 13-0 at one point and 15-1 going into that game.

Maybe this history is what has a lot of people surprisingly on the Giants’ side this week as they host 13-0 Carolina. Maybe it’s the fact that this middling Giants squad has let five games slip away in the fourth quarter this year, including what should have been a win over the superior Patriots.

Count me in on the upset talk.

First, Carolina is just not as good as your usual 13-0 team. Pretty much every advanced statistical metric does not have Carolina as the best team in the NFC, let alone the NFL this year. They certainly don’t compare to the teams I mentioned above, and I really don’t see them as better than the 2005 Colts or 2009 Saints, both of which lost after 13-0 starts themselves.

For all the talk about how soft the 1972 Dolphins’ schedule was — and it sure was — has anyone really looked at Carolina’s schedule? I mean, really look at this thing.

I made a tweet in September about the Falcons’ schedule, which obviously has most of the same games as Carolina, back when Atlanta was a bit more impressive than the Panthers to start the season.

ATLtweet

People love to bring this up on Sundays as Atlanta keeps losing even though I said I’m not predicting 16-0, but they’re missing the point. I picked out the right schedule, but wrong team for 16-0. You know how we make all those jokes about this year’s AFC South and NFC East? Well that’s half of Carolina’s schedule. This schedule is the main reason the Panthers have a very good shot at 16-0, and this Giants team is really the last big obstacle in their way assuming they go all out with starters in the final weeks.

Carolina’s 2015 schedule has been an unbelievable combination of bad teams and drawing decent teams at the perfect moment. I can think of at least 30 teams from this century that could have went 16-0 against this schedule. Just take a look.

Week 1 at JAX (W 20-9): lousy team that started 1-5. Offense and Blake Bortles only started picking things up after Week 8 bye. Panthers relied on big 4Q to clinch win.

Week 2 vs. HOU (W 24-17): made a panic move to start Ryan Mallett. This team trailed 42-0 and 41-0 in road games early this season. Got better starting in Week 8. Panthers needed a red-zone stop to beat them.

Week 3 vs. NO (W 27-22): Drew Brees has missed one game due to injury in his career. It was this one. Luke McCown went 31-of-38 with 3 drops and Carolina still needed a Josh Norman INT in end zone to hold onto 5-point win.

Week 4 at TB (W 37-23): Jameis Winston was turnover prone early in season & TB has a bad defense. Buccaneers started playing better in Week 8, but still a young .500 team at best. First game of the season where Carolina didn’t need 4QC stop.

Week 6 at SEA (W 27-23): Seattle came in at 2-3 with 3 blown 4Q leads, something they’ve done 5 times this year. Carolina needed 9-point 4QC for win. This is the worst Seattle team since 2011, but they have just started playing some great football over the last four games. I would pick Seattle to win a playoff game in Carolina right now.

Week 7 vs. PHI (W 27-16): Sloppy game on SNF against a disappointing Philadelphia team. Defense was playing much better than offense at the time. Now? You never know what to expect from them.

Week 8 vs. IND (W 29-26 OT): Andrew Luck made some of the worst plays of his career, yet nearly pulled off a 17-point 4QC in Carolina in regulation. Panthers needed to become first team in NFL history to win after trailing in OT. Like Seattle, this is the worst Colts team since 2011.

Week 9 vs. GB (W 37-29): Again, the Panthers nearly blew a 23-pt 4Q lead, but Aaron Rodgers threw an interception in the red zone at the end. The Packers started 6-0, but lost four of five after the bye week and were clearly in a funk. Normally, beating SEA/IND/GB would mean something, but this is also the worst GB team since 2008.

Week 10 at TEN (W 27-10): Titans are just a lousy 3-10 team with an especially bad defense.  Carolina took care of business.

Week 11 vs. WAS (W 44-16): Washington has been spanked on the road by superior teams several times this season. Another game where Carolina, which started playing better in recent weeks, dominated an inferior opponent.

Week 12 at DAL (W 33-14): This became a lost season for Tony Romo, who suffered another collarbone injury. This is the worst Dallas team since maybe 2004.

Week 13 at NO (W 41-38): The Saints (5-8) are in the running for the worst passing defense in NFL history. At least Brees was back this time, and the Panthers needed a late 4QC/GWD and another final-drive stop to get the win.

Week 14 vs. ATL (W 38-0): The Falcons basically took their ball and went home after an embarrassing loss in NO in Week 6. Once 5-0, Atlanta has not won since Week 7’s 10-7 barnburner over Zach Mettenberger and the Titans. When you need a 4QC to sweep the 2015 NFC East, we should have known better than to accept that 5-0 as legit. And guess who the Panthers get in Week 16?

Now does 13-0 make sense? I’ll freely admit that Cam Newton has played at an MVP level since Week 9. There has been a colossal difference in how he played in Weeks 1-8 vs. Weeks 9-14, but not changing is the fact that this schedule is Charmin soft. I think some of those old Carolina teams with Jake Delhomme, Steve Smith and Julius Peppers could have went 13-0 against this schedule.

So here come the Giants, who are certainly an average team themselves, but I still like them in this matchup.

The best way to beat the Giants is to throw all over them. They don’t rush the passer, yet they still have 25 takeaways, second in the league. Carolina is not a prolific passing team. They struggle to move the ball that way some times, whether it’s Newton overthrows or Ted Ginn drops. Greg Olsen is a little banged up this week, but he’s still probable. Jonathan Stewart is out, so you have some lesser players in the backfield. The Giants are middle of the pack at stopping the run, but they’re not likely to get killed in that area by this backfield.

The Giants have a passing game that can be prolific and spread the field with multiple weapons, including the hottest one in the game (Odell Beckham Jr.). I doubt Josh Norman completely shuts him down. Eli Manning just had a virtuoso performance on Monday night, and we’ve seen him get hot for a month stretch at a time (every four years it seems). He can score the points necessary to win this one. The teams that gave Carolina the most trouble had the passing game to do it. It’s not like the Giants are going to try winning with Rashad Jennings averaging 3.5 YPC and Andre Williams not scoring touchdowns.

New York’s two worst performances this season were on the road against division rivals (WAS, PHI). They were still in every other game this year. I expect them to be in this one with the chance to seal the win in the last minutes again.

Final score: Giants 28, Panthers 24

If the Giants fall short again, maybe they’ll just get another crack in January. We’ve seen this movie before.

2015 Week 15 Predictions

Of course I got the Tampa Bay game wrong on Thursday night. I’m 3-11 at picking Buccaneer games this season. Hey, maybe I’ll pick them to lose to the 15-0 Panthers in two weeks…

Winners in bold:

  • Jets at Cowboys
  • Falcons at Jaguars
  • Panthers at Giants
  • Titans at Patriots
  • Bears at Vikings
  • Texans at Colts
  • Bills at Redskins
  • Chiefs at Ravens
  • Packers at Raiders
  • Broncos at Steelers
  • Browns at Seahawks
  • Dolphins at Chargers
  • Bengals at 49ers
  • Cardinals at Eagles
  • Lions at Saints

Season Results

  • Week 1: 10-6
  • Week 2: 6-10
  • Week 3: 14-2
  • Week 4: 11-4
  • Week 5: 9-5
  • Week 6: 8-6
  • Week 7: 10-4
  • Week 8: 10-4
  • Week 9: 8-5
  • Week 10: 4-10
  • Week 11: 9-5
  • Week 12: 8-8
  • Week 13: 11-5
  • Week 14: 10-6
  • Season: 128-80 (.615)

NFL Week 8 Predictions: The Undefeated Teams

I was going to save this space for a rant about the bunk that is “does more with less,” but we have some pretty good games worth talking about this week instead.

Packers at Broncos

I thought about doing a formal preview for this game, but there’s just not enough history between the two given they’re in different conferences. You also don’t want to get too wrapped up in the numbers after just six games, which is what I’m probably about to do next.

Clearly, this is a step up in competition for both teams, who both had a bye week to prepare. Green Bay’s offense hasn’t seen a defense like Denver’s. Denver’s defense hasn’t seen an offense like Green Bay’s. I’m not going to make the mistake I made in previewing Super Bowl 48 where I thought the matchup of the lesser unit of each team (DEN D, SEA O) would be the deciding factor. Let’s stick with the strength vs. strength deciding how this game will play out.

These teams actually rank first (GB) and second (DEN) in points allowed with just one point separating them. However, Green Bay ranks seventh in Pts/Dr and 22nd in Yds/Dr. That’s a bit odd, but it’s possible because the Packers allow the third-fewest points per red zone trip. Denver’s offense has struggled in the red zone this season, ranked 30th. Denver may need to hit some big plays or take advantage of some great field position to crack this defense in the red zone. That’s how Philip Rivers turned a 500-yard passing game into just 20 points in GB. They tighten up down there. Surprisingly, the Packers go three-and-out on offense more than just five teams. Unless Aaron Rodgers takes advantage of Denver’s aggressiveness with a ton of hard counts to draw offsides and free plays, I think it’s going to be very hard for Green Bay to rack up points in this one.

Denver’s defense has pretty much shut down every offense its played so far. Only Minnesota was able to crack 20 points, and that included some good field position off of Manning interceptions and a big run by Adrian Peterson on fourth down. Green Bay probably needs more than 20 to win in Denver, but not a lot more. The Packers have been fairly mortal on offense in the last three games. Eddie Lacy hasn’t had a great season by any means. Rodgers doesn’t have the same vertical prowess without Jordy Nelson, and he hasn’t even tried to replace that part of the offense with his other receivers. This passing game is more reliant on YAC. Rodgers is scrambling more than he ever has this season, so he could be a problem for an aggressive Denver defense when he leaves the pocket. Shane Ray is out, but DeMarcus Ware should return to action. The Broncos will need Ware and Von Miller to provide good pressure in this one, but I really do think Rodgers will use his legs a lot if the Denver secondary is doing its job in coverage against the receivers. If Rodgers is holding onto the ball, then Denver will have a good chance to add on to its high sack total (26 in six games).

Denver’s offense has been a mess for various reasons this season. Some of those things are not fixable, because it’s not like they can find a good tight end or experienced slot WR in Week 8. They have to tough it out with what they have, but there’s enough here to be playing much better than they have. I recall an old NFL Films clip of Mike Holmgren saying “He’s gotta know he’s fucking up out there” in reference to a young Brett Favre. Gary Kubiak might be saying the same thing about an old Peyton Manning this year, who has 10 interceptions. Clearly that part can’t continue, and I don’t think it will since so many of the plays are mental and situational more than they are physical problems. Cutting down the picks is one step forward. Another is giving more carries to Ronnie Hillman, who has clearly outplayed C.J. Anderson this season. Demaryius Thomas has to stop dropping big passes, and his track record suggests that should also happen. This offense is close to putting it together, but keeps shooting itself in the foot with mistakes. I expect a sharper performance at home after some time to regroup against a Green Bay defense that you can definitely move the ball against. We’ve seen some productive games on the ground and through the air against them already.

Green Bay has not excelled in this type of environment. Since 2012, the Packers are 1-9 in road games against playoff teams. In case you were wondering, Rodgers started all 10 games as none of those were when he missed time in 2013 (broken collarbone). At 6-0, Denver looks destined for a playoff spot. However, the lone win in that stretch for GB was in Houston in 2012 against a team coached by Gary Kubiak and Wade Phillips. Rodgers threw six touchdowns on Sunday Night Football. He’ll be fortunate to get to half that total in this one, but at least that is doable for him. I don’t think the Broncos have played great offensive competition so far, though the reason I like them is because they’re at home. Green Bay’s offense just isn’t that lethal on the road, where they’ve only played twice so far. Unlike last year when the Broncos were so dominant early in the season thanks to playing five of their first seven games at home, this year’s team has been on the road for four of the first six games, including four of the last five. Mile High is always a tough place to win and I think we get a few more points out of this one than expected, but I see Denver closing in the end on defense again.

Final score: Broncos 28, Packers 20

Bengals at Steelers

Under Marvin Lewis, the Bengals are 5-7 in Pittsburgh and just 2-11 at home against the Steelers. It’s one of those weird splits, but I truly do believe the Bengals get up for these games in Pittsburgh. They have enough motivation for this one to continue their 6-0 start and silence the return of Ben Roethlisberger by dropping the Steelers to 4-4. That wouldn’t lock up the AFC North, but it would damn near come close to doing so on the first day of November.

I think the Steelers have the better offense when everyone’s healthy, which looks to be the case for the first time since the end of last season. However, the Bengals have the better defense, and their offense is humming along very well this year. Andy Dalton has yet to have a bad game and he had his best game against the Steelers yet in Week 14 last season. I think his receivers have very favorable matchups against a defense that will be missing Stephon Tuitt and Will Allen. Pittsburgh’s defense has certainly exceeded expectations, only surrendering more than 23 points to the Patriots. However, I think the Bengals are the best offense the Steelers have seen since the Patriots. Dalton is protected well behind a line that has only allowed six sacks and he gets rid of the ball quickly. Tyler Eifert is giving this offense a new dimension down the seam and in the red zone that it’s lacked in recent seasons. That is somewhere I see the Steelers struggling to defend here, especially with health issues in the secondary. A.J. Green might feast here too.

I never ever like picking the Bengals in a big game, but I just feel like they’re the more complete team, coming off a bye, and they are playing better than the Steelers have this season. They should win. I know I’ve also seen enough games where Roethlisberger has returned form injury and looked rusty. You can’t look rusty when Geno Atkins and company are rushing, and this is the first game Roethlisberger will start with Alejandro Villanueva as his left tackle. He was beat by Tamba Hali for two big sacks in the fourth quarter last week. Sure, Antonio Brown should get back on track, Heath Miller won’t be a ghost again and Martavis Bryant is always a big-play threat, but no one has cracked 24 points on the Bengals yet this season. I think that continues here and they get another quality win.

Final score: Bengals 29, Steelers 22

Colts at Panthers

Maybe I’m just doing a better job of avoiding it, but I’m glad this wasn’t the week where we pretend Cam Newton has always been better than Andrew Luck based on the last two months. We have several seasons to look at and see that Luck is clearly a superior player who doesn’t need as much around him to succeed. This year, he has yet another flawed roster around him despite the offseason additions. The major difference is he’s playing the worst football of his career, and it’s showing in the results for both his team’s record and his statistics. The team’s really in no worse shape than it was from 2012-14, but the difference was Luck played at a level high enough to overcome those flaws. Is it injury? That’s always my first thought when a very good player is playing poorly, and Luck has missed two games with a shoulder injury. Something’s not right, and I don’t expect it to get right against a tough Carolina team.

Simply put, Cam Newton is playing at nowhere near a MVP level, but I’m sure we can focus on that ridiculousness another week. As the 2015 Colts should show, just having “names” around you at the skill positions means nothing for a QB if you’re not playing well yourself. You still have to make the plays. The Colts have been one of the worst offenses in the league, but they have a fighting chance in this one just because the Panthers aren’t good enough to drop one of those 35-45 point games on them. The Panthers are the more physical team and that’s a huge problem, but I like the Colts defense enough in this one to slow them down and keep the game at least manageable for Luck to pull out a GWD. However, I don’t expect it to happen on Monday night. If they want to shut T.Y. Hilton down with Josh Norman, then go ahead, because in theory Donte Moncrief, Andre Johnson and the very quiet tight ends should have matchup advantages. But hell, has this not been the case each week this season for the Colts? The pieces seem to be there, but the results are not.

And it all starts with how the quarterback is playing.

Final score: Colts 16, Panthers 24

2015 Week 8 Predictions

I had the Patriots winning 31-17 on TNF, and they actually spanked Miami 36-7. OK.

Winners in bold

  • Lions at Chiefs
  • Chargers at Ravens
  • Cardinals at Browns
  • 49ers at Rams
  • Titans at Texans
  • Bengals at Steelers
  • Buccaneers at Falcons
  • Vikings at Bears
  • Giants at Saints
  • Jets at Raiders
  • Seahawks at Cowboys
  • Packers at Broncos
  • Colts at Panthers

Season Results

  • Week 1: 10-6
  • Week 2: 6-10
  • Week 3: 14-2
  • Week 4: 11-4
  • Week 5: 9-5
  • Week 6: 8-6
  • Week 7: 10-4
  • Season: 68-37 (.648)

NFL Week 16 Predictions

The Saints cannot be trusted on the road. The Patriots rarely lose two games in a row.

These are two talking points battling with my gut when picking some of the top games in a loaded Week 16. Regardless of venue, I know the Saints have favorable matchups against that Carolina secondary, which was predictably torched by Drew Brees two weeks ago in the Superdome. I know more talented versions of New England’s offense have struggled with Baltimore’s defense, and the Ravens have had one of the toughest home venues for any visitor. Most of the past meetings were in Foxboro.

So should I just trust my gut on these two games and trust the superior QBs to make up for last week’s shortcomings, or is there something off about both matchups that really does favor the home teams?

The “Saints are so bad on the road” thing has gotten too out of hand this week. Lest we forget the Saints are a league-best 24-15 (.615) on the road since 2009 (New England is second at 23-16; tied with Philadelphia). That’s hard to ignore.

But what happens when we only look at road games against teams finishing the season with a winning record? Then the Saints are 7-8 (.467), which is still the best winning percentage since 2009. They are on a 1-6 stretch, but four of the losses were last year without Sean Payton. From 2009-11 the Saints were 6-2 with a 42-34 loss decided on the final play in Green Bay (2011) and a 30-24 loss in December in Baltimore (2010). Yes, this does not include outdoor playoff losses to the 7-9 Seahawks (2010) and 13-3 49ers (2011), which certainly fuel the narrative.

The Saints clearly do not put on many dominating displays against quality teams like they do in the Superdome, but this team can play on the road and the Panthers are nowhere near as tough of a matchup like Seattle was. I still expect a tough, close game with the NFC South title on the line. I expect Carolina to show much more offense than two weeks ago, but I have changed my mid-week pick and am going with the Saints to get this one now.

Final prediction: Saints 24, Panthers 20

The team that does drop significantly on the road against a quality opponent is the Patriots, who are just 3-11 (.214) with six straight losses, including three this year that ended with Tom Brady throwing a game-ending interception inside the 30-yard line. Post-ACL injury, rarely has Brady done well on the road against a quality opponent, yet leave it up to NFL Network’s Deion Sanders to say Brady can play anywhere while Peyton Manning needs home-field advantage.

Brady also has a career history of under-performing against Baltimore’s defense. He has 8 TD, 10 INT in eight career meetings. This is not one of the best Baltimore defenses he will see, but it’s not a bad one and it did just hold down the Lions pretty well on Monday. It sounds like Aaron Dobson will be back for the Patriots, so it won’t just be a bunch of white slot guys controlling the offense, but there still isn’t a tight end threat or any real deep-ball threat. It’s also being reported that Nate Solder and Kenbrell Thompkins are out, so that makes it harder on the Patriots.

Baltimore has done well in the past to limit the YAC for Wes Welker, so I doubt Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola will go off the way they have against Buffalo and Miami this year. Then again, those were division opponents who should have known what to expect by now. I have a bit more faith in John Harbaugh’s staff — Ravens have played the Patriots as well as anyone in recent years.

The Baltimore offense worries me with the lack of a running game and the way Joe Flacco has played most of the season. If they can turn it on again for the Patriots — there are some favorable matchups down the field — then I can see this being a successful day, but it’s going to hinge more on the defense keeping the score down.

If this game’s not close, then something’s really off. Both teams (along with Chicago) have played a league-high 11 games decided by one score this season. Both have had some absurd wins in the last few weeks alone. Baltimore (8-6) needs this game even more than the Patriots right now. I’m going to give it to them, but I know what picking against the Patriots usually leads to.

Final prediction: Patriots 20, Ravens 23

NFL Week 16 Predictions

I have no real confidence in the Steelers/Packers, Cowboys, Dolphins and Bears/Eagles, so this should be an interesting week. Also, for some reason — oh yeah, the defense — I’m feeling a bad vibe over Denver in Houston. Matt Schaub starting raises the probability of an upset. That Denver defense needs more stops. Houston plays almost everyone close and has lost 12 in a row (8 failed GWDs).

Winners in bold:

  • Colts at Chiefs
  • Cowboys at Redskins
  • Broncos at Texans
  • Buccaneers at Rams
  • Dolphins at Bills
  • Browns at Jets
  • Vikings at Bengals
  • Titans at Jaguars
  • Saints at Panthers
  • Giants at Lions
  • Cardinals at Seahawks
  • Raiders at Chargers
  • Steelers at Packers
  • Patriots at Ravens
  • Bears at Eagles
  • Falcons at 49ers

Season results:

  • Week 1: 11-5
  • Week 2: 12-4
  • Week 3: 8-8
  • Week 4: 9-6
  • Week 5: 9-5
  • Week 6: 11-4
  • Week 7: 10-5
  • Week 8: 10-3
  • Week 9: 8-5
  • Week 10: 8-6
  • Week 11: 9-6
  • Week 12: 7-6-1
  • Week 13: 11-5
  • Week 14: 10-6
  • Week 15: 8-8
  • Season: 141-82-1

If the Chiefs have another impressive showing against the Colts, then this might be the team to watch out for in the playoffs. It could be another case of things coming together at the right time, namely the offense starting to produce and the chances of the defense getting back to where it was to start the year.