Last week, we opened up with a longer screed on the parity that seems to be at play this year in the NFL. That remains true as there are currently 20 teams with a .500 record or better. Four teams sit at 4-2, four at 4-3, five at 5-2 and one at 6-1. The race for playoff spots is still wide open at this point.
However, we have started to see the usual suspects emerge from the pack at bit. The Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots have recovered from slower than normal starts to now looking like their normal AFC title contending selves. The Chiefs are still hanging around despite two straight losses.
The NFC? Things are a little more uncertain. The Eagles have surprised the conference by flying out to a 6-1 start. The Vikings have relied on a dominant defense to carry Case Keenum and the offense to 5-2, while Drew Brees has actually gotten good play from his defense in recent weeks as the Saints are 4-2.
The point is, seven weeks in, we’re starting to see adjustments being made to fix the early season problems that teams like the Steelers and Patriots had. Can the top teams in the NFC currently keep up? Or will their flaws begin to bring them down. That’s something to watch for the next couple weeks. To the tiers!
No way we can lose – locks of the week: As you can guess, these will be the stone-cold locks of the week. The games I’m so confident about that I’d wager my life’s savings on them, if I had a life’s savings to wager.
Feeling pretty… pretty good: Not quite willing to bet the farm on this batch, but as Mr. Larry David would say, ‘I’m feeling pretty… pretty good’ about these games.
Heads or tails: These are your true toss ups: they can go one way or another, and you should pick with caution, even after heeding my expert advice.
All lines courtesy of Sportsline.
Miami Dolphins @ Baltimore Ravens (-3), Thursday 8:25 p.m.
Level of Confidence: Heads or Tails…Toss Up
ATS & Straight up: Dolphins
The Dolphins have been consistently below average on offense while being pretty good on defense so far this year. The Ravens have been remarkably similar in that respect. Hope you enjoyed the last couple of weeks offensive displays on Thursday night because this one has the feeling of a punt filled slog. As for picking the game? Flip a coin.
No way we can lose, locks of the week.
Minnesota Vikings @ Cleveland Browns (+9.5), Sunday 9:30 a.m.
ATS & Straight up: Vikings
I don’t know what Hue Jackson is doing with the QB position at this point. Rather than letting Kizer work through his struggles, he continues to yank him in the second half and then re-insert him as the starter the next week. It doesn’t seem to be working. What showed promise early in the season is now falling apart, and the Browns just lost their best offensive player, left tackle Joe Thomas.
The Vikings defense is one of the toughest in the league. We’ve seen odd results happen in London games before, but that doesn’t seem likely here.
Oakland Raiders @ Buffalo Bills (-2.5), Sunday 1:00 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Bills
The Raiders did seem to find their offensive mojo again last week rolling up 31 points against the Chiefs and perhaps more importantly, finally getting a big game from receiver Amari Cooper. Cooper, who entered last week with 17 catches for 146 yards, had 11 receptions for 210 and 2 touchdowns against the Chiefs. That’s huge, because if Cooper has returned to form alongside Michael Crabtree, this offense will be explosive.
But, this is a classic West Coast team struggle game. 1:00 p.m. start time, colder temps at game time (50 degrees expected) and potential for rain. The Bills defense has been one of the better units in the league in points allowed, ranking fourth at 16.8 PPG. The Raiders defense still struggles stopping teams, so give me the Bills at home.
Houston Texans @ Seattle Seahawks (-5.5), Sunday 4:05 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Seahawks
The Texans are coming off a bye with an offense and quarterback that has been red hot and they get left tackle Duane Brown back after he ended his hold out. Those are positive signs. The negative? They have to fly to Seattle to face a Seahawks defense that is generally terrifying and is likely to be even more aggressive when facing a rookie QB.
We haven’t talked as much about the Seattle defense this year as in year’s past, but they are leading the league in scoring defense (15.7 PPG), 3rd in opponent’s completion percentage (55.6%) and have allowed just 13 pass plays of 20+ yards this year (T-1st). Watson’s been good, but this may be the first “welcome to the NFL rook” game of his young career.
Feeling Pretty….Pretty Good
San Francisco 49ers @ Philadelphia Eagles (-12.5), Sunday 1:00 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Eagles
The 49ers were chugging along losing close games and getting promising performances from some of their young players until last week when the Cowboys blew their doors off 40-10. They allowed Zeke Elliott to gain 219 total yards and three total touchdowns with Dak Prescott adding 260 yards and four total TDs. The Niners defense has been devastated by injuries. 10 defensive players are on IR with another five that are listed as questionable for this week’s game in Philly.
That doesn’t bode well for going up against an Eagles defense that, pardon the pun, has been flying high this season behind the development of Carson Wentz. Wentz had maybe the best game of his career on Monday night completing 68 percent of his passes for 268 yards and four touchdowns. The Eagles did lose left tackle Jason Peters, which hurts, but against a beleaguered Niners defense, they should still be able to get the job done.
Los Angeles Chargers @ New England Patriots (-7.5), Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Straight up: Patriots
The Patriots did look good on Sunday night against the Falcons. The defense held Atlanta to just seven points and the offense was able to move the ball despite the fog enveloping Gillette. That said, the Falcons did have three red zone opportunities that they failed to capitalize on. The Chargers offense has been middling (19.6 PPG, 20th) but the bigger reason I’m picking them to cover is the defense.
The Chargers defense is fourth in the league in sacks (23), 8th in scoring defense (18.7), and 5th in passing yards allowed (). The Patriots have had problems protecting Brady this year, giving up 18 sacks and 38 QB hits. They’ll need better protection against Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram coming off the edges. Belichick is a master strategist and I don’t doubt that the Pats get the win, I just think the Chargers keep it within seven.
Indianapolis Colts @ Cincinnati Bengals (-10.5), Sunday 1:00 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Bengals
The Bengals haven’t been good by any stretch of the imagination. But, the Colts have been dreadful. They got shut out by the Jaguars last week (the Jags defense is good) and Jacoby Brissett likely needed a long ice bath after getting sacked 10 times. Brissett has been serviceable at times against defenses that aren’t overly intimidating (Titans, 49ers, Browns) but then has struggled against better pass defenses (Seahawks, Jaguars).
The Bengals defense ranks third against the pass allowing just 177.7 yards per game through the air, opposing passers complete just 57.8 percent of their passes and the Bengals have 18 sacks. This, combined with a Colts defense that is as porous as always, leads me to believe that it could be another long day for the Colts.
Chicago Bears @ New Orleans Saints (-9), Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Straight up: Saints
John Fox’s dream game plans have come true the past two weeks, winning with defense and the running game. Last week, it was literally the defense doing everything as safety Eddie Jackson scored a pair of defensive touchdowns that were the difference against the Panthers. The Bears defense has been pretty stellar this season allowing 300 or fewer yards in five of their seven games. When they’ve lost games it’s because they’ve lost the turnover battle (outside of Week 1 against Atlanta).
The Saints defense is still not a fearsome unit and they’re allowing opponents to gain 114.2 yards per game on the ground, which is music to John Fox’s ears. Expect another heavy dose of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen trying to shorten the game and keep the Bears in it. That’s accomplished and they stay within the nine points.
Denver Broncos @ Kansas City Chiefs (-7), Monday 8:30 p.m.
Straight up: Chiefs
The Chiefs have lost two straight to tumble from the top of the league to now having everyone question whether they are true Super Bowl contenders. The defense is problematic, ranking 28th in pass yards allowed at 271.7 yards per game, 19th in scoring (23 PPG), and really seem to be missing Eric Berry. They do get to face a Broncos offense that couldn’t muster a point against the Chargers last week, but this Chiefs defense isn’t on the same plane as the Chargers. These AFC West battles are always contentious and, while I think the Chiefs get the win, the Broncos keep it within a touchdown.
Heads or Tails…..Toss Up
Carolina Panthers @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-2.5), Sunday 1:00 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Panthers
Honestly, I have no idea what to make of the Panthers offense at this point. Cam Newton, despite a career-high completion percentage, is on pace for the most interceptions of his career (currently has 10). Last week was a train wreck, with the offense mustering just three points and turning the ball over three times. But, this week they get to face a Tampa Bay defense that ranks 25th in scoring defense (25.2), 30th in pass yards allowed (294.8), and they’ve mustered just seven sacks (32nd).
The Panthers defense on the other hand, are second in sacks (24), 4th in pass yards allowed (180.7), and 11th in scoring defense (19.9). Panthers on the road.
Atlanta Falcons @ New York Jets (+4.5), Sunday 1:00 p.m.
Straight up: Falcons
The Falcons offense hasn’t looked quite right this year. They’ve also lost to each of the other three AFC East teams they’ve played so far. Now, on the road for the second straight week, against a defense that has been decent this year, could be another slow day. New York’s last two losses have come by a combined 10 points and at home in front of their crown, I think they keep it to a field goal.
Dallas Cowboys @ Washington Redskins (+2.5), Sunday 4:25 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Cowboys
The Cowboys seemed to find their groove on the ground against the 49ers last week, now we get to see if that carries over against a Redskins unit that allows less than 100 yards per game (94.5). The defense for the Cowboys has been the issue this year, allowing 23.7 points per game, but if you take out the dreadful 49ers and Giants offenses that they shut down, that number rises to 32.3 in their four other games. I’d expect this game to be a shootout, but one that the Cowboys eventually put away late.
Pittsburgh Steelers @ Detroit Lions (+3), Sunday 8:30 p.m.
ATS & Straight up: Steelers
The formula for success for the Steelers is clear: run the ball with Le’Veon Bell. When Bell has had 25+ carries this season, the Steelers are 4-0. Ben Roethlisberger is fading, but Bell has been picking up the slack with his performances. The Lions defense has been good against the run (94.3 YPG) but I’d expect Bell to keep getting carries until he breaks a long run. Pittsburgh continues their winning streak.
Straight up: 11-3
Straight up: 59-46