Just when you thought the NFL season was hitting its mid-schedule doldrums, several instances over the past weekend have sent teams into a state of flux (and NFL teams do not like flux). Both Denver and Houston have lost their head coaches (John Fox for the Broncos, Gary Kubiak for the Texans) due to medical issues that have sent the team scrambling to assistant coaches to fill the gap. Then there is the turmoil that is going on in Miami, with the Dolphins under investigation regarding the Jonathan Martin/Richie Incognito situation.
While the Texans and the Dolphins might not be contenders for the playoffs, the situation in the Mile High City is what many are watching. It may be next season before Fox can rejoin the team (if he takes the time to recover properly) and, as such, their run towards the Super Bowl may be hampered (home team in CAPS, choice for game in BOLD, lines from the Mirage in Las Vegas).
Washington Redskins vs. MINNESOTA VIKINGS (+1.5)
The Vikings actually put on an excellent display last week in coming up short against the Dallas Cowboys in their game (many thought they should have won it outright). Under former starter/backup/starter again in QB Christian Ponder, the Vikings looked against the ‘Boys like they were finding themselves. That is going to be difficult to continue over the next few weeks as Ponder’s security blanket, TE Kyle Rudolph, is out with a broken foot (he still has RB Adrian Pete1rson to rely on, though).
The Redskins, stunningly, are only 1½ games back of the Cowboys for the NFC East division lead. QB Robert Griffin III has been slowly rounding into his rookie season form and might take the ‘Skins on a run reminiscent of last season. I believe that Washington is going to win this game, but it is going to be a 1-point affair, thus I will pick the Vikings to cover the spread.
Seattle Seahawks (-6.5) vs. ATLANTA FALCONS
The Seahawks go east once again and, in breaking that curse of “West coast team playing on East coast time,” the ‘Hawks have gone 3-0 in those games. There are some in the NFL, however, who have watched their last couple of games (barely squeaking out a win at St. Louis and an overtime victory at home against the hapless Tampa Bay Buccaneers) and are questioning whether they have the ability to go all the way. They should add another victory this week over an injury-plagued Falcons squad that is on the verge of slipping out of the playoff picture after being touted in the pre-season as a Super Bowl contender.
Detroit Lions (-2) vs. CHICAGO BEARS
This is an important game this weekend as the victor will likely seize control of the NFC North. I am surprised that there is a line on this game because of the questions about Bears QB Jay Cutler’s status for the game. Although backup Josh McCown led the Bears to a win against arch-rival Green Bay last weekend, the actual starter for the Lions game has yet to be named. I’d like to be able to quantify this pick when the starter is known (Cutler starting might give me reason to take the Bears) but, at this time, I’ve got to go with “Megatron” (otherwise known as Calvin Johnson), QB Matthew Stafford and the rest of the Motor City Kitties for the win and the cover.
Philadelphia Eagles vs. GREEN BAY PACKERS (-1.5)
It’s a “Battle of the Backups” this weekend at Lambeau Field as the Eagles, behind QB Nick Foles and his monster 7 TD game against the Oakland Raiders, head into Cheese Country to face a Packers team that will be without QB Aaron Rodgers due to his broken collarbone suffered against the Bears (backup QB Seneca Wallace will be under center this Sunday).
There are several big questions that will decide this game. Can Wallace run the offense as efficiently as Rodgers has in leading the Pack to a three-way tie atop the NFC North? Can the Packer defense thwart the running attack of the Eagles? Can Foles duplicate his passing success from the Raider game? My answers are Yes, Yes and No, leading me to take the Packers and give up the points in this matchup.
Jacksonville Jaguars (+12) vs. TENNESSEE TITANS
There is only one reason I take the Jags in this game against the Titans. Coming off a bye week, they are rested and should have had time to prepare for this tilt against the Titans. The Titans are going to win this game, but it won’t be the rout that the oddsmakers are thinking it will be. I expect Tennessee to win by 10 points (where the line began), but the extra two points is a bit much.
St. Louis Rams vs. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (-9.5)
The Colts were nearly stunned by the Texans in the Sunday night game last week and they’re not going to let that happen again, especially at home. Rams RB Zac Stacy has been a nice surprise and QB Kellen Clemens has been an adequate replacement for Sam Bradford. Going up against what should be an angry Colts team, however, they won’t have enough firepower to keep up with QB Andrew Luck.
Oakland Raiders (+7) vs. NEW YORK GIANTS
Although they got blitzed by the Eagles last week, the Raiders still have the sixth ranked rushing defense in the league. In an intriguing article in the Wall Street Journal last week (prior to the Eagle game), the Raider offense was pointed out as being one of the most confounding in the league; while QB Terrelle Pryor isn’t the gunslinger that past Raiders’ QBs have been, his running game leads to preparation issues for opponents. This game will be extremely close and I expect the Raiders to cover the spread at the minimum against a Giant team that is a shadow of its former self.
Buffalo Bills vs. PITTSBURGH STEELERS (-3)
This is another game that, like the Lions/Bears match, will be affected by who starts. Bills’ QB E. J. Manuel has been cleared for action but it isn’t known if he will take the field this Sunday or not. Although the Steelers have been putrid to this point in the season, they will have their hometown fans to back them up. If Manuel doesn’t start, I take the Steelers; if he does, then I would have to take the points and the Bills. Right now it doesn’t look like Manuel will be on the field, hence the pick.
Cincinnati Bengals (-1.5) vs. BALTIMORE RAVENS
The Bengals slight stumble last week against the Miami Dolphins has tightened up what was looking like a runaway for Cincy in the AFC North. Cleveland is only two games back and the Ravens only a half-game more. I would expect to see the Bengals get back on track (divisional games are always important if the final standings are close) and, since the Ravens can’t seem to run the ball anymore with RB Ray Rice (29th ranked rushing attack), they should be able to leave Crabcake City with the W.
Carolina Panthers vs. SAN FRANCISCO 49ers (-6)
This is one of the more intriguing matchups of the weekend. The Panthers, currently riding a four game winning streak, hold down the final playoff spot in the NFC at this time. The 49ers, coming off a bye week, are looking to regain their status as one of the elite teams in the NFC this season. With that extra time to prepare for QB Cam Newton and their eighth ranked rushing attack, I would expect the ‘Niners to be able to take this game and cover the spread, although it isn’t going to be easy.
Houston Texans vs. ARIZONA CARDINALS (-2.5)
While it may look like a dull game, this one could actually be pretty exciting. The Cardinals are only a game back in the wild card race and any stumble by the teams in front of them would move them up the ladder. The Texans nearly knocked off Indianapolis last weekend (after defensive coordinator Wade Phillips took over following head coach Gary Kubiak’s mini-stroke), but it took a huge game out of WR Andre Johnson to get them there. Houston may be without RB Arian Foster for this game and I don’t think that Johnson can duplicate his performance of last weekend. Therefore, I’ll take the Cardinals and give up the points in what should be a heated battle.
Denver Broncos vs. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (+7)
I don’t see the Chargers winning this game outright at home, but I do see them keeping the score closer than the spread. This will be a true test for the Broncos, with head coach John Fox not on the sidelines and former Jacksonville head coach Jack Del Rio taking on the interim position. QB Peyton Manning should keep the team running in the right direction, but not by the spread that’s indicated.
Dallas Cowboys vs. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (-7)
This is not going to be a good situation for the Cowboys. The Saints are coming off their bye week and, after the loss on the road against the New York Jets two weeks ago, will be looking for someone to take their frustrations out on. The NFC East leading Cowboys could use a win on the road (they are 1-3 so far this year), but they aren’t going to be able to take this one down against Drew Brees and company.
Miami Dolphins (-2.5) vs. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
Even with all the turmoil after the Martin/Incognito situation that has cast some bad looks on the Dolphins organization, they have been able to do fairly well. A win over Cincinnati a week ago has kept them afloat and there is little reason to think that the 0-8 Buccaneers will be able to mount any opposition to them. Tampa head coach Greg Schiano may be entering his final eight games as the Bucs’ coach as he seems to have rubbed his players the wrong way (unlike in Miami, where the players have seemed to rub each other the wrong way).
Last Week: A bit of a disappointing weekend, going 6-7. While not terrible, it’s not a way to make any money if you’re less than .500 with your picks. Fortunately, the winning Week 8 schedule can keep us afloat right now.
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