NFL Week 8 Predictions: Saints in Primetime and Losing My Fandom

The NFL’s Week 8 schedule is pretty solid, so here are some thoughts on a few key games.

Packers at Saints: Prime-time Advantage?

I’ve always been better at predicting the AFC than the NFC, but the 2014 Saints have especially let me down this year. I had this team pegged for a first-round bye with an improved defense and Drew Brees finally winning his first MVP. Instead the Saints are 2-4, Rob Ryan’s defense is terrible and Brees has made some really poor throws in crucial spots. The Saints are also 0-3 at upholding one-score leads in the fourth quarter.

You might think Sunday’s game with Green Bay is a must win, but the whole NFC South has been a huge letdown this season. Look at how bad the Carolina defense has regressed. The Falcons were supposed to be improved, but look arguably worse than last year in recent weeks. Tampa Bay has already had two of the worst performances in recent time by an NFL team. At this rate the division will have a 7-9 winner stealing a playoff game (at home even) from a more deserving club. Hell, it might even come at the expense of the Seahawks.

If the Saints are going to climb back into things, they’ll do it with a statement win at home over a hot Packers team. In case you’ve been living under a rock, the Saints, and especially Brees, have been deadly in prime-time games in the Superdome:

BreesSD

That’s special stuff. The Saints are great at home in general, but some of their best games have come under the bright lights.

I expect Brees to have another fine day, but I don’t expect the Saints to stop the Packers enough when Aaron Rodgers has the ball.

Final prediction:  Packers 38, Saints 31

Bears at Patriots: Upset Alert?

I can’t figure out the 2014 Bears either. They’re 0-3 at home and aren’t scoring enough points despite one of the best supporting casts in the league and a coach, Marc Trestman, I want to believe is the right guy for the job. After last week’s loss to Miami, I find it hard to pick Chicago many more times this year. Heading to New England, I really don’t see a win, but let’s play the ebb-and-flow game.

The Bears just had a miserable loss and there’s some tension in the locker room apparently with Brandon Marshall mouthing off last week. Brian Urlacher has criticized Jay Cutler this week by saying he’s only elite in salary, which is a very true statement. The Bears aren’t in a good spot now, but I believe in talented teams turning things around. This isn’t asking for JaMarcus Russell to suddenly play well on a rotten Oakland team. I’m just looking for Cutler, Marshall, Jeffery, Forte and Bennett to score 24+ points on a New England defense missing the likes of Jerod Mayo and Chandler Jones. Let’s not forget the Patriots have barely squeaked by the Raiders and Jets at home this year. This team isn’t dominant. Chicago has the weapons to make this a high-scoring game and if the Bears can win the turnover battle, I think they’ll win the game.

But it’s still Jay Cutler and that’s why I expect multiple interceptions in Foxboro and a 3-5 record for the Bears. But it would be so New England to have a shocking home loss to be followed up with a win over the best team in the league next week (Denver).

Final prediction: Bears 20, Patriots 27

Colts at Steelers: Who Do I Really Like?

The Colts and Steelers are meeting for just the fifth time since the 2003 season. It was actually during their 2002 meeting, a 28-10 Pittsburgh win, that I started to appreciate the Colts with Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy. I guess I had enough of the Kordell Stewart  “run, run, incomplete pass, punt” offense and was drawn to Manning’s passing and no-huddle offense approach. So you might think I’m conflicted with which team to root for this weekend. That’s been true in the past, especially in the 2005 playoffs — one of the toughest days of my football-viewing life — and the 2008 meeting.

But on Sunday, I frankly don’t care who wins the game. You can say I’m outgrowing my fandom, and the consistent stream of .500 results from the Steelers has done a good job of accelerating that. I’m not going to drop the line of “I have 32 favorite teams now because I’m a writer”, because that’s a bunch of bullshit. But really, I don’t care who wins this one. I just want to see a good game and I think this can be one with both teams scoring in the 20’s.

These teams have changed quite a bit since the 2011 meeting, which I only bring up because it was the night Curtis Painter almost beat the Steelers and Jonathan Scott tried to block Dwight Freeney with his ass.

It didn’t work out on Monday, but I think this is the first time I’m picking against the Steelers in back-to-back home games. Indianapolis is better on both sides of the ball and has been playing better coming into this game. I expect the Colts will have a good day offensively as long as they control their turnovers. The real matchup is the Pittsburgh offense against Indianapolis’ surprisingly good defense. Two areas I see as a concern are handling the Colts’ blitz on third down and throwing deep. They don’t have Robert Mathis so they’re being really creative with sending guys from anywhere to get pressure, and it’s been working. The Steelers haven’t protected Ben Roethlisberger well (statement pasted from a clipboard) and this could be a game where he takes 5+ sacks (also from a clipboard). Ben’s deep passing has been lacking the last few weeks in regards to his sideline throws. He’s not keeping them in bounds. He did hit a nice one down the seam to Martavis Bryant on Monday, but I think he’s going to have a hard time on those throws against Indy’s cornerbacks, who are playing very well right now.

Final prediction: Colts 27, Steelers 23

NFL Week 8 Predictions

I had Denver on TNF, but again I would have been screwed on the point spread. That’s the first time in 15 meetings Peyton Manning has beat the Chargers by more than 11 points, and the first time he’s beat them by more than 8 points without a defensive touchdown.

Winners in bold:

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

Really tough call with Vikings-Bucs. Teddy Bridgewater definitely had an easy time with a bad defense (ATL) and struggled with the good ones (DET/BUF). The Bucs are a rotten one, but I’m leaning on home-field, bye week improvements and a big game from Gerald McCoy here. I also think Mike Glennon is solid. It’s the defense that’s the bigger problem, which is the opposite of what you should have expected in Tampa Bay this season.

Season Results

  • Week 1: 8-8
  • Week 2: 9-7
  • Week 3: 11-5
  • Week 4: 8-5
  • Week 5: 11-4
  • Week 6: 9-5-1
  • Week 7: 10-5
  • Total: 66-39-1
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NFL Week 7 Predictions: Peyton Manning and the TD Record

If you’ve been following along on Twitter this week, you probably know I’ve had a major PC problem. I had some files backed up, but fortunately I was able to back everything up yesterday. So I haven’t lost any of the data I spend much of my time working on as a career and hobby. I’ll have a better PC this week, but for now I’m going to be brief on this week’s preview.

The Passing TD Record

Week 7 has a real solid schedule, but obviously the highlight game is SNF: 49ers at Broncos. Out of the 64 AFC-NFC matchups this year, this is one of the most likely to be a rematch in February. These teams have been among the best the past few years and this should be a competitive one, prime-time blowouts be damned.

There’s also some major NFL history at stake with Peyton Manning needing three touchdown passes to surpass Brett Favre (508).

Why is it major? There aren’t many more satisfying plays for a quarterback than to throw a touchdown pass. Throw a bunch of them and you’re going to have plenty of highlights and wins.

It’s also a record that rarely changes in NFL history. Here’s a chronology of the TD pass record since the start of the modern era in the NFL (1950):

  • 1950 (start of season) – Sammy Baugh, the first quarterback to ever throw 100 TDs, had 168 (retired with 187)
  • 12/10/1961 – Bobby Layne tied Baugh with his 187th TD pass
  • 9/23/1962 – Layne set record with 188th TD pass (finished with 196)
  • 12/1/1963 – Y.A. Tittle (we have to exclude his 1948-49 AAFC stats) tied Layne with his 196th TD pass and surpassed him with his 197th (finished with 212)
  • 9/18/1966 – Johnny Unitas tied and surpassed Tittle with four touchdowns against the Vikings (finished with 290)
  • 12/20/1975 – Fran Tarkenton tied and surpassed Unitas with two touchdowns against the Bills (finished with 342)
  • 11/20/1995 – Dan Marino tied Tarkenton at 242.
  • 11/26/1995 – Marino surpassed Tarkenton with four touchdowns against the Colts (finished with 420)
  • 9/23/2007 – Brett Favre tied Marino at 420.
  • 9/30/2007 – Favre surpassed Marino with two touchdowns against the Vikings (finished with 508)

Manning will be only the 8th quarterback in the post-WWII era to hold the record. With his finish to be determined, Drew Brees and Andrew Luck may be the only active players with a realistic shot to catch Manning some day.

Updating a table (click to enlarge) I first compiled months ago, here’s a look at the most TD passes in NFL history based on minimum distance (yards gained):

minTDdist

The table is easy to read and only includes regular-season touchdown passes. Peyton has thrown 111 touchdowns that gained at least 30 yards, the most of any quarterback ever.

If Manning’s next TD pass is at least 34 yards, he’ll break seven ties in the 2-34 range. He has a good shot to retire with his name in first on 1-40 yards. He also needs one 70+ TD pass to break that tie with Favre, but those are very rare.

Manning has 24 games with Denver with 3+ TD passes, so I think he’ll get it over with on Sunday night.

Final prediction: 49ers 20, Broncos 27

NFL Week 7 Predictions

Of course I had the Patriots on TNF, but that was much closer than expected.

Winners in bold:

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

Road teams ruled last week, but I like many of the home teams this week (but not the homers that come with them).

Season Results

  • Week 1: 8-8
  • Week 2: 9-7
  • Week 3: 11-5
  • Week 4: 8-5
  • Week 5: 11-4
  • Week 6: 9-5-1
  • Total: 56-34-1

NFL Week 6 Predictions: Brady, Benny and the Jets

With respect to a locked-in Philip Rivers and the improving Andrew Luck, I’ve known the AFC of the last decade to be dominated by three quarterbacks: Peyton Manning, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger.

They’ve represented the AFC in 10 of the last 11 Super Bowls. On Sunday, they all face a familiar AFC foe with history well in their favor.

  • Tom Brady is 22-2 against Buffalo with 54 TD, 19 INT (100.1 PR).
  • Ben Roethlisberger is 18-1 against Cleveland with 28 TD, 13 INT (97.7 PR).

Those records are as good as it gets for a quarterback against a divisional opponent, but what does it really tell us? I find three main takeaways:

1. Despite many changes around them over the years, Brady and Roethlisberger have been two of the league’s best quarterbacks and will both be in the Hall of Fame. They play consistently well against a lot of different teams.

2. The Bills and Browns are two of the NFL’s most consistent losers. The Bills haven’t been in the playoffs since 1999 and the Browns 2.0 have one playoff season (lost to the Steelers for the third time in 2002).

3. Then there’s the makeup of these teams. Brady and Roethlisberger usually enjoy good defenses, while the Browns and Bills have struggled to find a quarterback capable of scoring many points. So these meetings turn into a lot of easy wins for Ben and Brady. Even when they don’t play well, it’s usually a win (see Week 17 last year for both).

If there was ever a time when Brady and Roethlisberger could both lose to their helpless rivals in the same season, it’s on Sunday.

Both will be on the road. Steelers-Browns is the first rematch of the 2014 season. Cleveland erased a 24-point deficit in the second half in Week 1 and nearly won in Pittsburgh. The Bills have roughed up Brady in the past, holding him under 5.6 YPA in both meetings last year (Doug Marrone’s first season as coach).  The problem is the New England running game usually stomps all over Buffalo’s poor run defense, but some are still skeptical of the offensive line this year.

These games could be very intriguing with first place in the AFC East on the line in Patriots-Bills. I’m not sold that Kyle Orton is ready to deliver against a defense that’s good at creating turnovers. In Cleveland, I think Roethlisberger will have a solid day leading the offense. Joe Haden has not been able to stop Antonio Brown in past meetings and they could pick on the rookie Justin Gilbert again. The problem is on defense. The Steelers don’t create turnovers while the Browns have been protecting the ball very well. The Browns are effective on the ground and with using play-action passing — two things that have plagued the Steelers of recent years.

I know better than to pick against the Patriots again. As for the other game, it’s just not in my nature to pick the Browns over the Steelers even if I think there’s a good chance the Browns take this game at home.

Final predictions:

Patriots 20, Bills 13

Steelers 24, Browns 21

Then there’s Peyton Manning and the Broncos against Rex Ryan’s Jets, losers of four straight. This one has the ingredients for a Denver blowout. The Jets are the 4th defense since 1940 to allow at least 12 touchdown passes and no more than one interception in the first five games of a season. How can they contend with Denver’s receiving corps, especially after Demaryius Thomas got on track with a huge game last week? Shut down Demaryius and the Broncos still have Emmanuel Sanders, who has caught 32-of-42 passes for 435 yards. His implementation into the offense has been immediately effective and highly efficient. Welker’s working his way back from a concussion and suspension. Then of course there’s Julius Thomas, who already has seven touchdowns. The Broncos can’t run the ball well, but that’s not what they’re going to rely on to beat the Jets.

Geno Smith has to start at quarterback, because we know Michael Vick isn’t the answer for any NFL team. Regardless, the Jets need a miracle to win this game to avoid a 1-5 start. I just don’t see any reasonable manner in which they pull this one off. Manning has done very well against much better Ryan defenses in the past.

  • Peyton Manning vs. Rex Ryan as Ravens DC/Jets HC (2005-10): 5-2 record, 126/197 (64%) for 1,738 yards, 8.82 YPA, 13 TD, 2 INT, 109.9 PR

One of the losses was the “Curtis Painter Game” in 2009. The second was in the last meeting, 17-16 in the 2010 AFC Wild Card, after the Jets scored on a last-second field goal.

Since 2009, 17 of the 18 teams to beat Manning scored at least 26 points. That 17-16 Jets game is the outlier. 

That’s also the last time Ryan had a winning team. To beat Manning’s Broncos, you have to score a lot of points and/or shrink the game by being efficient and effective on offense. That’s not the Jets.

Final prediction:

Broncos 34, Jets 14

NFL Week 6 Predictions

I had the Colts on Thursday, and for a change we actually had a good game I get to write about.

Winners in bold:

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

I had a lot of road teams, so I ended up changing some 50/50 picks at the last second to go with Vikings and Bengals at home.

Forget DeMarco Murray’s rarefied rushing company to start this season. Forget Russell Wilson’s rushing numbers on Monday night. I will be shocked if Marshawn Lynch isn’t the dominant player in Sunday’s big game against Dallas and its 32nd-ranked run defense. Don’t count the Cowboys out. Tony Romo led Dallas to a win in New Orleans (13-0 at the time) in 2009 and also knocked off the 9-0 Colts in 2006. Those are big wins, and yes, they really happened. This could be a good one, but who really wants to bet against Seattle at home right now?

Season Results

  • Week 1: 8-8
  • Week 2: 9-7
  • Week 3: 11-5
  • Week 4: 8-5
  • Week 5: 11-4
  • Total: 47-29

NFL Week 5 Predictions: End of an Era?

Nothing fancy to write about today. I’m just hoping for a few prime-time games that aren’t total bloodbaths. Seahawks-Redskins gives me little hope on Monday — Richard Sherman pick-six alert — but the Bengals-Patriots is most interesting given the first four weeks of this season.

In any other year I would guaran-damn-tee a New England win. Forget that the Bengals are 3-0, playing very well and coming off a bye week. This is New England. This team doesn’t lose two in a row and they almost never lose at home.

However, is this still that New England? It really hasn’t looked that way so far. Every run eventually ends. If the Patriots lose in ugly fashion at home to the Bengals, we might be looking at the end of an era. Then again, the AFC East, which has mostly stockpiled wins over Oakland, is so dreadful the Patriots may still end up with a home playoff game out of this.

The NFL schedule makers probably never imagined Week 5 would feature the only undefeated teams, Arizona and Cincinnati, would be on the road to face Peyton and Brady. Given past history, you expect we won’t have a 4-0 team for only the second time since 1990 (last time: 2010).

I can trust Manning to have a strong game off the bye, and for Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware to give the mad-bombing Drew Stanton fits. I like Denver this week. I usually trust the New England winning machine, but what has this team shown this year to make us really think they should win this game? Sure, the Bengals usually disappoint in any big spot, but when one era ends, another usually begins.

The Bengals could use this win as much as the Patriots to change longstanding perception.

With each passing moment we drift further away

Closer to our chosen paths.

But I can’t help remembering what was…what might have been

Hopesfall – The End of an Era

NFL Week 5 Predictions

I had the Packers winning big, so for once I would have made a good TNF bet against the spread.

Winners in bold:

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

Yes, I picked against the Patriots. My apologies, Cincinnati.

Season Results

  • Week 1: 8-8
  • Week 2: 9-7
  • Week 3: 11-5
  • Week 4: 8-5
  • Total: 36-25