Seattle at Cleveland
It’s hard to believe the Browns are favorites in this contest. Ten weeks ago, the Sports Gods on Las Vegas Blvd. had the Seattle Seahawks as a nine win team and the Cleveland Browns as a six win team. This week, the Browns are slight favorites, a good indication of how much respect they’ve earned on the Blvd. over the first half of the season. But that’s football these days, teams change quickly and you have to challenge your assumptions each and every week. Are the Browns a playoff team? Well, anything is possible in the NFL.
This Browns team does not look anything like the Browns teams of the recent past. This squad is having fun and scoring lots of points. Cleveland is averaging over 27 points per game. ‘Hard to believe this is the same offense that cut its starting quarterback (Charlie Frye, now with the Seahawks) after the opening weekend. As much fun as the offense has been, there has been little or nothing going on defense. The Browns are still dead last on defense, allowing 410 yards per game, including 140 yards per game on the ground. It’s not likely to get better this week as CLE is short of linebackers. If Cleveland is going to get the win this Sunday, they will have to outscore their opponent once again.
The Seahawks are much trickier to understand. Off a bye week, you’d hope they’d be healthier, if not better. RB Shaun Alexander has been missing in action all season and as a result, Seattle’s offense has sputtered. HC Holmgren sent a message to his offensive line by inserting Floyd “Pork Chop” Womack into the lineup at left guard. Womack’s is no condition to start, much less finish a game. That message is simple and easily understood: play better or lose your job. The good news is that Seattle gets its starting wide receiver corps back healthy for the first time in a long time. D. J. Hackett is available for the first time in seven weeks. WR Deion Branch (sprained foot) is a little more iffy, probably no better than 50-50 odds to play. Perhaps having a few more weapons on the field will spark the team.
I hate laying points with NFC teams against AFC squads, but I’ll have to buck the trend. Give me Seattle in a mild upset 34-31 in a game I like Over the total.
Denver at Detroit
If you watched Monday night’s game you know all you need to know about the Broncos: Denver’s defense is falling apart. The once proud Orange Crush defense has been down right offensive this season. The Bronco’s defense is giving up over 26 points per game and a whopping 166 yards per game on the ground. Denver’s secondary had been holding down the fort…until Monday night when QB Brett Favre and the Packers lit them up, including a game ending 82 yard bomb in overtime. No one was without blame. CB Champ Bailey got burned by Green Bay. Widely regard as the best CB in football, Bailey gave up a 79 yard pass on the first quarter. Dre Bly, the other Pro Bowl cornerback, surrendered that 82 yard touchdown reception in overtime. I think that heartbreaking loss took a lot out of this secondary and that may be all she wrote for Denver’s season
The Lions will have no qualms about testing the Broncos corners this week. The Lions are healthy, a rarity in the NFL, and Detroit is a tough out on Ford Field. If Denver tries to cheat a safety up into the box to help their run defense, the Lions will go up on top. If the Broncos play two-deep zone, Detroit will pound the ball with the running game.
The situation favors the home team. Denver is off a gut-wrenching home loss and now has a short week to prepare for a road game while the Lions are playing confident football, especially at home. Again, I hate laying points with an NFC team against an AFC opponent, but the Lions should win a shootout. Detroit wins 28-24.
Carolina at Tennessee
This should be a close, defensive game. The way I see it, both defenses have the edge.
Panthers QB David Carr is a sack magnet and Tennessee’s defensive line is better than their numbers would indicate. The Titans defenders are middle of the road in sacks, but if you’ve watched their games, Tennessee doesn’t blitz often, but they continually harass opposing quarterbacks. Tennessee is strong against the run as well, giving up just 64 rushing yards per game. If the Panthers can’t run the ball, QB David Carr is a dead duck. The Titans’ defense will throw everything but the kitchen sink at the pocket in hopes of generating a defensive score though a interception or Carr fumble. Unfortunately for the Panthers, Carr has reputation for not taking care of the football and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if he continued to make mistakes this week.
The Titans offense has its own issues. QB Vince Young was still hurting and had an awful game last week. If Tennessee can’t run the ball, the play-action passing game really struggles. Tennessee looks like an Under team for the rest of the season as they will try to grind out close games by running the ball and playing good rush defense. The only way that strategy works is if Young takes care of the football. Fortunately for Tennessee, Young seems to commit less mistakes than the opposing signal-caller.
This should be an ugly game. The AFC is the stronger conference, so I’m going to play the Titans to win the turnover battle. Tennessee wins a yawner 20-13.
San Francisco at Atlanta
Chaos reigns on both sidelines. Frustrated players on both teams have complained for months about the play-calling. Both teams have battled injuries. Both head coaches are under fire from players, management, and fans. This makes for an ugly, ugly game.
It’s been a month since the 49ers played a decent game. San Francisco has lost five straight and are 1-4 ATS during that streak. SF is dead last in offense, averaging just 220 yards per game. To make matters worse, QB Alex Smith and RB Frank Gore were both walking wounded at the end of last Sunday’s game. Smith’s shoulder separation is bothering him (you think?), and he probably shouldn’t have been on the field last week against the Saints. Unfortunately for SF, QB Trent Dilfer has been so bad that Smith had to play to give the team any chance of winning. RB Gore has an ankle sprain that is limiting his mobility. The 49ers running back has been a fantasy disappointment, with only 435 rushing yards this season. Neither player will be healthy this week, although they are likely to play. Expect poor game after poor game from the San Francisco offense until one or both of these key players gets healthy.
The Falcons (1-6) aren’t exactly lighting up the scoreboard either. This team would be last in the league in offense, if it weren’t for the 49ers. The Black Birds average just 13.6 points per game. The Falcons best receiver, TE Alge Crumpler will likely miss this week’s game. Crump Daddy is nursing a sore knee. None of the other Falcons receivers can catch a cold. QB Joey Harrington returns to the lineup after being replaced by QB Leftwich. That may not be a good thing. If you’re a Falcons fan, you’ve learned to close your eyes and pray every time Harrington drops back to pass.
The bye week was eventful. Atlanta went so far as to cut their starting nose tackle (Grady Jackson), to motivate the team, but that move may also leave them incredibly week up the middle. Backup NT Montavious Stanley has a knee injury and may not play. The Falcons signed NT Tim Anderson formerly of the Bills, as a back-up, but would prefer not to have to throw him into the fire right away.
Can it get much worse? Probably not. I see a lot more negatives than positives and that usually means an ugly game. I think the Under is the play here. Atlanta wins 16-13.
Upsets of the Week
Seattle, Buffalo and Arizona