Analyzing the Four NFL Teams That Were Bounced From the Playoffs

Harrison
Harrison
Despite being 37, James Harrison was the Steelers best pass rusher. Will he be back?

Now we get to the heart of the National Football League Playoffs. Next weekend, the Divisional Playoffs begin and for whatever reason this part of the playoffs has always brought the most excitement and the most thrilling games. I do not know why but over the last 20 years or so that’s just how it has played out.

The match-ups were finalized yesterday as Dallas and Indianapolis both won to advance. The Colts will travel to Denver where another Andrew Luck-Peyton Manning duel awaits. Dallas will travel to Green Bay where the “Ice Bowl” may very well be re-lived as temperatures are forecasted to be extremely cold as of this writing.

The half of the brackets were filled out on Saturday in wins by Baltimore and Carolina. The Ravens now travel to New England where they have been a thorn in the side of the the Patriots for several years now. Carolina will take their dinged up quarterback Cam Newton to Seattle where a crazy-loud crowd awaits.

Let’s address today however, the teams that are preparing for the NFL Draft and the offseason now.

In Arizona, fans can only ask “what might have been” had Carson Palmer or even Drew Stanton been healthy enough to play on Saturday. No disrespect to the young man, but Ryan Lindley isn’t an NFL quarterback and I’m not entirely sure rookie Logan Thomas is either. Head Coach Bruce Arians will no doubt look for depth at several positions, most notably at QB.

The Cards must also deal with the potential of Larry Fitzgerald moving on as it’s doubtful the team can afford him.

In Pittsburgh, the offense appears to be intact but the offensive line could use some upgrades. The defense is the biggest question heading into the offseason as the futures of Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor and James Harrison are in limbo. Polamalu and Taylor are likely done but the 37-year old Harrison claims he wants to return. Considering he was their most consistent pass rusher, it might not be so bad.

That said, the secondary in Pittsburgh is bad and that will be addressed in the draft and free agency. The biggest issue with the defense however is coordinator Dick LeBeau who at 77 might be ready to finally call it a career.

The Cincinnati Bengals dropped their fourth straight playoff game under Andy Dalton and while Marvin Lewis seems to have been in the Queen City forever, he still hasn’t won a playoff game either. Don’t be surprised if a change is made there. Sometimes you have to make a change to get over the hump.

In Dalton’s defense, he was without his top two weapons in A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham yesterday but the 0-4 playoff record and huge contract won’t care. The Bengals are in need of some change and it’s coming.

Lastly is the Detroit Lions who saw their biggest weakness come back to haunt them in Dallas as their offensive line was exposed at the worst possible time. The Lions’s offseason issues will begin with Ndamukong Suh who will be a free agent. The Lions must decide if the headaches he brings with his dirty play are worth the money.

Obviously the Lions need to shore up the offensive line but Matthew Stafford is starting to find himself in some dubious company as he might be the best QB not to win a playoff game.

All four of these teams are capable of returning to the playoffs next season especially if expansion from 12 to 14 happens as many expect, but all four must make significant changes in order to past the Wild-Card round.

NFL Officiating Just Keeps Getting Worse

Gay
Gay
William Gay was essentially flagged for taunting his own teammate.

The Pittsburgh Steelers had just made a crucial stop on third down forcing the Kansas City Chiefs to punt this past Sunday. This was a huge game for both teams. A win by the Steelers gave them a playoff spot for the first time since 2011. A win by the Chiefs would keep their dwindling playoff hopes alive.

The play in question was made by the Steelers’ fine inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons near the Pittsburgh sideline. He had just made an excellent, open-field tackle to prevent the first down and you could see the emotion as he crawled forward and start to get to his feet.

Behind him was his teammate, cornerback William Gay, who proudly stood behind Timmons with his arms crossed in a pose that said, “Not in our house!”

Then a penalty flag came flying in… What on Earth could this be for? The play was over. The only Chiefs player in the vicinity was half-way back to his sideline when the flag came in. The call was made by the official on the Steelers’ side of the field and immediately he ran to the head referee to state what the penalty was.

“Taunting, number 22 (Gay). That’s a 15-yard penalty and first down Kansas City.” Ballistic doesn’t do enough to describe Mike Tomlin’s reaction. His player was just called for taunting his own teammate as Gay was directly facing Timmons the whole time. The Chiefs’ player didn’t even know what was going on behind him, yet the flag came.

Lynch
Apparently grabbing your crotch isn't a flag in the NFL.

But then later on Sunday night, the Seattle Seahawks were pulling away from the Arizona Cardinals when running back Marshawn Lynch broke free on a long touchdown run. As he approached the end zone, Lynch did a 180, leaped into the air and grabbed his genitals. His actions were clearly directed at the chasing Cardinals’ players yet guess what?

No flag.

The two situations could not have been more different. If you showed people each video and then asked them to choose which one received a taunting flag, the overwhelming majority would have said the Lynch crotch grab.

This is the problem the National Football League has created for its’ officials. It started with the assault on taking the violence out of the game several years ago. This season it continued with the “illegal contact” BS on defensive backs and now it has emerged in targeting players for taunting the opposition.

Officials are so uncertain of what to call now we have started to see more and more troubling flags like the one Sunday in Pittsburgh. Quite frankly, little can be done to address the subjective nature of calls that come for “targeting” or “leading with the helmet.” But something can be done to make these erroneous taunting calls go away.

Officials need to address the situation first before even thinking about reaching for the flag. Is the player directly aiming his intentions at the opponent? Is there more than one person involved in the alleged taunt? Perhaps officials should answer those questions first before throwing the yellow napkin.

The flip-side could also go a ways towards helping the officials. If the NFL would allow players to celebrate together, especially after a score, players would be more likely to not taunt because the celebrations would mean more to them.

I’m not naive however, I know the “No-Fun League” would never hear of such celebrations coming back. That’s fine as long as they can figure out when a player is celebrating and not taunting his own teammate.

Wednesday Bullets to Power You Through the Day

Floyd
Floyd
Is unbeaten Floyd Mayweather Jr finally headed for a showdown with Manny Pacquiao?

It’s been a few weeks since I gave you my patented bevy of random bullets from the sports world so without further ado let’s get on with it.

-While it appears that we are a step closer to the long awaited match between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, Jr, I still can’t help but wonder what might have been. Five years ago this could have been a bout that could have saved boxing but instead, arguments over money continue to hamper a once-proud sport. Ya, this will draw money if it happens but it will be a shadow of what it could have been.

-The Dallas Cowboys are 10-4 and have a game advantage on the Philadelphia Eagles. Sunday night though star running back DeMarco Murray suffered a broken hand that led to surgery on Monday. The question is, should they rest Murray or play him with a playoff spot still not yet sealed? If it’s me, I rest him. You have more than enough talent to get a win over Indy or Washington without him.

-For all of the things that the National Basketball Association has going right for it, once thing that needs to be addressed is tanking. There is no way the Philadelphia 76ers haven’t been built for total futility this season. This isn’t to say the current players aren’t trying but this team could have been better and it isn’t.

Harbaugh
I just don't think Jim Harbaugh will pass up the huge payday awaiting him in the NFL.

-I have a feeling Michigan fans are in for really bad news. Despite rumors yesterday that with Jim Harbaugh out of the playoffs he’d be coming to Ann Arbor, I’m not buying it. His services will never be more in demand by NFL teams than they are now and that means a pretty price tag. I just don’t see him giving that up to return to college coaching.

-Yankees’ General Manager Brian Cashman says that as of right now Alex Rodriguez will be penciled in as the team’s designated hitter. A-Rod is of course coming off his year-long suspension.

-There were two plays in the NFL on Sunday that epitomized just how pathetic the league has gotten in their protection of quarterbacks. In Seattle, a 49ers players unloaded on Russell Wilson as he let the ball go. The tackler put his helmet right in the chest of Wilson and was flagged. This was nothing however compared to the Steelers’ Jason Worilds who sacked Atlanta’s Matt Ryan with what can only be described as a “perfect form tackle.” Ryan should have been flagged for not seeing Worilds coming to his play-side in my opinion.

-Watching Army-Navy never gets old. It isn’t just the tradition and the rivalry either. If you’ve been around long enough, then you know how exciting option football can be.

-I had a lot of people laughing at me for picking the Bills to beat the Packers last weekend but I could just see it coming. The Packers and Aaron Rodgers had been so hot, especially at home and with Buffalo’s very strong defense I just thought it was a perfect storm. A blind squirrel finds a nut once in awhile right?

-Michigan State Junior Quarterback Connor Cook Stated yesterday that he will be returning to East Lansing for his senior season. Cook has been considered one of the top junior QBs in the country since his rise last season in leading the Spartans to the Rose Bowl. In my opinion, I think this is the right move for him.

-I’m old enough to know that everyone has different tastes and likes and dislikes but I don’t know how anyone can watch ESPN’s First Take. Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayless are like nails on a chalkboard to me.

Early NFL Lines as the Playoffs Come Into Focus

Murray
Murray
I expect the Cowboys to get DeMarco Murray involved early and often in Chicago.

Here’s an early look at your NFL Lines for week 14. Picks in BOLD

Dallas (-3.5) at Chicago – The Cowboys were humbled before a national TV audience on Turkey Day and now hit the road for another Thursday nighter. Look for them to get back to the running game in Chicago.

Baltimore (+3) at Miami – The Ravens dropped a stunner at home to San Diego and now travel to Miami where the Dolphins are fighting for a playoff spot with these same Ravens. Best match-up here is the Ravens’ offense versus the Dolphins’ D.

Tomlin
Mike Tomlin's Steelers in a 'must-win' situation in Cincinnati on Sunday.

Pittsburgh (+3.5) at Cincinnati – It’s this simple for the Steelers; they have to win or the playoffs are all but out for a third straight season. The Bengals have won three-straight road games and will be happy to return home.

Indianapolis (-3) at Cleveland – Will it be Johnny Football or will Cleveland Coach Mike Pettine stay with Brian Hoyer? You can bet the Colts are prepping for both while their offense just keeps humming along behind Andrew Luck.

Houston (-4) at Jacksonville – If J.J. Watt doesn’t finish in the top three for league MVP then there’s a huge problem. He has scored five touchdowns this year and his play on the DL is only getting better. The Jags are coming off an amazing comeback win over the Giants though and will have some momentum.

NY Giants (EVEN) at Tennessee – You have my sympathies if you have to watch this game Sunday. The Giants and Titans are a combined 5-19 and have not won in 13 straight games.

Carolina (+9.5) at New Orleans – The Panthers have lost six straight and are no longer a threat in the brutal NFC South. The Saints got a much-needed win in Pittsburgh to stay even with Atlanta atop the division.

Tampa Bay (+9.5) at Detroit – The Buccaneers are better than their 2-9 record in my opinion. They’ve lost some tough games as evidenced by Sunday’s one-point loss to Cincinnati so I don’t think the Lions should treat this as a cakewalk by any stretch.

St. Louis (-2) at Washington – I’ll join the chorus in saying the Redskins are better without RGIII at QB right now. They just are, it’s that easy. The Rams might be the hottest team in the NFL and are coming off of a massive shutout over Oakland.

NY Jets (+4.5) at Minnesota – The Vikings have played well at home even in defeat and now the Jets come in with Rex Ryan on the hottest seat in the league.

Buffalo (+9) at Denver – Four weeks ago I would have said the Bills have a great shot to win this game because the Broncos really didn’t have a running game. Now that they do, Buffalo will have to respect that and in turn their pass rush will slow down.

Kansas City (+1.5) at Arizona – The Chiefs have dropped two-straight as have the Cardinals. This is a monster game for both teams in terms of playoff implications. A loss by Kansas City pretty much ends their chances of the postseason while a Cards’ loss brings Seattle right back into division title contention.

San Francisco (-7) at Oakland – The Raiders certainly led us on didn’t they? A week after beating Kansas City, they got throttled by St. Louis and didn’t score a point. The Niners need a win to stay alive in the NFC playoff chase.

Seattle (EVEN) at Philadelphia – A possible NFC Championship Game preview here? The Seahawks have suddenly turned on the defense and that’s not good for Mark Sanchez who can be a turnover machine.

New England (-3.5) at San Diego – Best game of the week features teams who right now would be in the playoffs. The Pats headed west immediately after losing to Green Bay so the time change and weather will not be a factor.

Atlanta (+11.5) at Green Bay – There is not a hotter quarterback on the planet than Aaron Rodgers, especially at home. The Falcons can score points but their defense is in for a long day at Lambeau.

Several NFL Games for You to Think About for Tomorrow

Johnson
Johnson
Calvin Johnson returns in the nick of time as the Lions host the red-hot Dolphins.

I’m giving you some extra time to mull over these NFL games for tomorrow so consider carefully.

Miami (+3) at Detroit (O/U 43.5) – This is the most intriguing match-up of the week because Miami is red-hot and the Lions are winning close games and get back Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush. The Lions have one of the best defenses in the league but now they face Ryan Tannehill is playing perhaps the best football of his career right now.

The Dolphins are playing great defensively as well illustrated by their 37-0 waxing of San Diego last week. This one may likely turn on turnovers and whether the Miami offense can handle the crazy fans sure to be in Detroit tomorrow.

Trends: The total has gone UNDER in 10 of Miami’s last 15 games… Detroit is 3-7 against the spread in their last 10 games at home… Miami is 5-2 straight up in their last seven games on the road… The Lions are 1-5 in their last six games against the Dolphins.

The Pick: I love the Dolphins getting the three and I’ll take the UNDER.

Gore
Frank Gore has guaranteed a playoff trip for his Niners. Now he has to deliver.

San Francisco (+6) at New Orleans (O/U 49) – Could two teams be any different despite the fact they have the same 4-4 records? New Orleans leads the NFC South after winning two-straight while the 49ers are staring up in the NFC West standings at both Seattle and Arizona. Because their division is the worst in football, there is less pressure on the Saints to win this one.

San Francisco has to face the reality that falling another game behind the Cardinals would mean a division title is out of the question. Therefore they have to play well in order to beat the Saints in the Superdome. If they go with large doses of Frank Gore I think they can pull this one out but that’s always a big “if.”

Trends: The 49ers are 10-4 straight up in their last 14 games on the road… The total has gone OVER in four of the Saints’ last six games against San Francisco… The Niners are 5-10-1 against the spread in their last 16 games against the Saints… New Orleans is 7-2 SU in their last nine games against the 49ers.

The Pick: I like the Niners getting the points in a game of much needed urgency. Take the UNDER as well.

Atlanta (-3) at Tampa Bay (O/U 46) – This game was a “pick’em” game early in the week and frankly this one is tough to call because Atlanta can’t win on the road and Tampa can’t win at home. When Matt Ryan gets outside of the Georgia Dome his numbers slip dramatically so why should we think differently here?

I think the running game of Tampa Bay is the difference today.

Trends: Atlanta is 0-5 straight up on the road in their last five games… Tampa Bay is 3-8 against the spread in their last 11 games… The total has gone UNDER in four of the Falcons last six games at Tampa Bay… The Bucs are 0-5 SU in their last five home games.

The Pick: I like the Bucs getting the points and I’ll go with the UNDER.

Other Games I like This Week

Pittsburgh (-6) at NY Jets – Until the Steelers offense hits a speed bump I’ll take them to cover.

NY Giants (+10) at Seattle – In their last eight games against Super Bowl winning QBs the Seahawks are 8-0. Enter Eli Manning and take the Seahawks to cover.

Chicago (+7.5) at Green Bay – More than a TD dogs are tough to pass on but I will here because the Packers have Jay Cutler’s number. Take the Pack to cover.

Early NFL Lines Offer a Few Road Favorites

Dalton
Dalton
Andy Dalton and the Bengals host Cleveland in a key AFC North game Thursday night.

Road favorites aren’t uncommon but this week we have three plus a “pick’em” game so you’ll need to do your homework and I’ll do my best to help later this week.

Cleveland (+6) at Cincinnati – The AFC North is a logjam and all four teams are above .500. I expect a great effort from the Browns who I like getting those points.

Dallas at Jacksonville (in London) – There is no line yet because of the situation with Tony Romo.

Miami (+3) at Detroit – This should be one of the best games of the day. Will a hot Miami team handle a rested Lions’ team getting Megatron and Reggie Bush back? I like the Fins getting the points.

Orton
Can Kyle Orton and the Bills upset the Chiefs this Sunday?

Kansas City (-1.5) at Buffalo – The Bills are one of the hardest teams to figure out this year especially at home. If Kyle Orton can get protection I like the Bills getting the points.

San Francisco (+4.5) at New Orleans – What a brutal loss for the Niners on Sunday. Now they have to play in New Orleans against the surging Saints. I like the Saints to cover.

Tennessee (+10) at Baltimore – The Titans no doubt paid attention to the Steelers’ destruction of the Ravens’ secondary. The problem is that Zach Mettenberger isn’t exactly Ben Roethlisberger so take the Ravens even giving ten.

Pittsburgh (-4.5) at NY Jets – This is a situation where normally the Steelers play down to the competition. The Jets are reeling and their secondary is a mess as is their offense. Take the Steelers to cover on the road.

Atlanta (Pick’em) at Tampa Bay – Flip a coin here right? Personally I think Atlanta’s Mike Smith is a dead man walking so let’s see how his team rebounds following the bye. I like the Bucs to win at home.

Denver (-11) at Oakland – The Raiders get the honor of hosting Denver following the Broncos loss at New England. Tony Sparano has these guys playing hard but the talent just isn’t there. Take the Broncos to cover.

St. Louis (+7) at Arizona – In recent weeks, St. Louis has beaten Seattle and San Francisco so now they go for the trifecta. The problem for the Rams is that neither of those teams is playing as well as the Cardinals are. I like Arizona to cover at home.

NY Giants (+9) at Seattle – The Seahawks really disappointed me last week. Double-digit favorites over Oakland and they couldn’t close the deal. This week will be more of the same. Take the Giants and the points.

Chicago (+7) at Green Bay – The NFC North rivalry returns to the frozen tundra where the Packers are leading the division along with Detroit. The Bears have been a huge disappointment in recent weeks and Jay Cutler has struggled to the point where frustration has settled in. Take the Packers at home to cover.

Carolina (+5.5) at Philadelphia – Cam Newton is coming off of a poor performance at home in the loss to New Orleans while it looks like Mark Sanchez will get his first start in quite a while with Nick Foles out with a clavicle injury. The Panthers just haven’t proven any sort of consistency to me this year so I like the Eagles to cover.

Two Great Rivalries are the Focus of Today’s NFL Late Games

Manning Brady
Manning Brady
The two long-time rivals meet for the 16th time in Foxboro today.

St. Louis (+10) at San Francisco (O/U 44) – The Rams head west giving up 30 points per game and now have to play the Niners who are scoring only 22 points per game. Obviously something will give here.

I have no doubt that San Francisco Head Coach Jim Harbaugh has paid close attention to the surging Cardinals and somewhat dysfunctional Seahawks in his own division. Dropping a game here could be a death blow if Arizona continues playing well.

Trends: St. Louis is 8-14-1 against the spread in their last 23 games against San Francisco… The total has gone UNDER in in five of the 49ers last seven games at home… The Rams are 0-4-1 straight up in their last five games at San Francisco… The 49ers are 5-1 SU in their last six games at home.

The Pick: Look for a lot of Frank Gore early and Colin Kaepernick off of him. Take the Niners to cover and the OVER.

Denver (-3.5) at New England (O/U 54) – Tom Brady and Peyton Manning hook up for the 16th time in their careers and this time around Manning’s Broncos are favorites on the road in a place where Brady doesn’t lose very often.

The biggest injury concern I have in this game is that New England will be without defensive end Chandler Jones who is out with a hip injury. His ability to get to Manning and create problematic throwing lanes will be sorely missed.

My gut feeling tells me the Bill Belichick and the Pats will establish the run early to keep Manning and his receiving weapons on the sidelines.

Trends: Denver is 1-4 against the spread in their last five games against New England… The Patriots are 8-17 straight up in their last 25 games against the Broncos… The total has gone OVER in four of Denver’s last five games against New England… The total as gone OVER in eight of the Patriots’ last nine games at home.

The Pick: Take the home underdog Pats and the OVER too.

Lynch
Expect to see early doses of Marshawn Lynch in today's game against the Radiers.

Oakland (+14.5) at Seattle (O/U 43) – Heavy doses of Marshawn Lynch plus the play-action ability of Russell Wilson equals too much for the Raiders. Oh and need I mention the struggling Raiders’ offense against a defense searching for its’ groove?

Trends: Oakland is 1-5 straight up in their last six games on the road against the Seahawks… Seattle is 19-2 SU in their last 21 games at home… The total has gone OVER in seven of the Raiders last eight games when playing on the road in Seattle… The Seahawks are 2-4 against the spread in their last six games.

The Pick: Seattle will pull away late so take them to cover and take the OVER.

Baltimore (-1) at Pittsburgh (O/U 47.5) – The best rivalry in pro football goes primetime again as the Ravens invade Heinz Field. Both teams stand at 5-3 but the game is arguably ore important to the Steelers because they stand 1-2 in the division with two games remaining and both are with Cincinnati.

The Ravens are 2-2 in the division with tonight’s game and then a date with Cleveland remaining so it’s vital for the Steelers to get the win and even the season series with Baltimore at a game apiece.

The Steelers come off an offensive explosion in the win over Indy last week while the Ravens dropped a tough game in Cincinnati to the Bengals who own two victories over the Ravens this season.Look for Baltimore to take shots early against an average Steelers’ secondary while Pittsburgh will look to Le’Veon Bell to carry the load

Trends: Baltimore is 2-3-2 against the spread in their last seven games on the road in Pittsburgh… Pittsburgh is 11-4 straight up in their last 15 games against the Ravens in Pittsburgh… The total has gone OVER in four of the Ravens’ last six games… The total has gone OVER in nine of Pittsburgh’s last 13 games.

The Pick: The Ravens have the Steelers number of late. Take them to cover and the OVER.

Here’s Your Early Look at NFL Lines for Week Nine

Graham
Graham
A healthy Jimmy Graham would be a welcome sight for Saints' fans.

Tuesday means I’m giving you an early look at the National Football League schedule and who is favored and who is not. Here’s you’re sneak peek.

New Orleans (-1) at Carolina – The Saints got a much-needed win over Green Bay and now can take over first place with a win over the Panthers. Were the Saints in any other division, they may have been left for dead, but not this one.

San Diego (+2.5) at Miami – Very interesting game here with the Chargers getting ten days to prepare for a Dolphins’ team that has struggled offensively but is playing very well defensively. This is a monster game for both teams in terms of their respective divisions.

Jacksonville (+11.5) at Cincinnati – The Bengals appear to have righted their listing ship with a tight win over Baltimore on Sunday. They had gone 0-2-1 in their previous three games. Jacksonville got that all important first win over Cleveland but then was just awful in losing to Miami. A.J. Green may return for the Bengals as well even though I don’t think they’ll need him.

Tampa Bay (+6) at Cleveland – I think the Browns got a significant wake-up call after they beat rival Pittsburgh and then lost to Jacksonville. They got past the Raiders Sunday and now entertain the Buccaneers who are about as bad as it gets right now.

Washington (+2.5) at Minnesota – Depending on what happened last night in Dallas, we could see Robert Griffin III return, Kirk Cousins get another shot or maybe Colt McCoy again. The biggest thing about this game however might be the protests going on outside regarding the Redskins’ nickname.

Foles
Nick Foles and the Eagles look to bounce back in Houston.

Philadelphia (-2.5) at Houston – The Eagles hit the road again following a tough loss at Arizona on Sunday. The Texans will not be an easy challenge as they typically play well at home. If the Eagles can put the clamps on Arian Foster then they should win going away.

NY Jets (+9.5) at Kansas City – Rex Ryan wasted no time in announcing that Michael Vick would get the start against the Chiefs following Geno Smith’s brutal performance against Buffalo. Ryan is as close to a dead man walking as anyone could be right now so he needs to get something going immediately or he’s gone before the season ends.

Arizona (+4) at Dallas – The Cowboys played last night and barring an enormous injury things should be set up for the game of the week with the 6-1 Cardinals. The formula will be simple for Dallas; run the ball and limit the Cards’ offense. This should be a great game.

St. Louis (+9.5) at San Francisco – The Rams looked to be on the right track when they beat the Seahawks but then they played poorly in losing to Kansas City. Now they head to San Francisco where the 49ers are getting healthy and seem to be putting any issues with Head Coach Jim Harbaugh behind them.

Denver (-3) at New England – Stop me if you’ve heard this but Peyton Manning and Tom Brady are meeting once again an the media will do everything to not fall all over themselves. Actually this should be a great match-up where both QBs will need to find the mismatches at the line of scrimmage. Hard to believe the Pats are underdogs at home where Brady rarely loses.

Oakland (+15) at Seattle – I expected a bit more from the Tony Sparano-led Raiders but the talent just isn’t there. While I think the Seahawks still have some issues, they should roll over Oakland.

Baltimore (+1.5) at Pittsburgh – The Ravens beat the Steelers in week two and have a 2-2 divisional record. Pittsburgh is 1-2 in the division and still has two games remaining with Cincinnati. These two almost always play games to within a field goal and I expect this to be no different.

Indianapolis (-3) at NY Giants – The Colts look to rebound from their 51-34 loss to Pittsburgh while the Giants come off the bye week. You can pretty much pencil in a 300-yard passing game for Andrew Luck who seemingly does it every week, but now the Colts’ defense appears to be a weakness. Can the G-Men take advantage at home?

Really Good Match-Ups in Your NFL Late Games

McCoy
McCoy
LeSean McCoy and the Eagles invade Arizona for a battle of 5-1 teams.

As is usually the case, the National Football League offers us some great games in the late time slots so let’s get to them.

Philadelphia (+3) at Arizona (O/U 48.5) – There are several god games on the Sunday schedule but I’m hard-pressed to find a better match-up than this one. Both teams are 5-1 but the Cards lead their division while the Eagles find themselves behind the surging Cowboys who are 6-1.

The match-up to watch is when the Eagles are on offense against the Cardinals’ defense. The secondary for Arizona is among the best in the league and they’ll depend on the front seven to limit LeSean McCoy and get pressure on Nick Foles.

Key Injuries: PHI Darren Sproles Quest-knee, ARI Calais Campbell, Quest-knee

Trends: Philadelphia is 6-2 straight up in their last eight games on the road… Arizona is 7-1 SU in their last eight games at home… The total has gone OVER in seven of the Eagles’ last 10 games when playing in Arizona… The Cardinals are 4-1-1 against the spread in their last six games against Philly.

The Pick: I like Philly getting the points and the OVER.

Luck
Andrew Luck has been red-hot and now plays a vulnerable Steelers' defense.

Indianapolis (-3.5) at Pittsburgh (O/U 49) – The Colts enter this game as hot as any team in the league. They shut out Cincinnati last week and have beaten AFC North leader Baltimore as well. Andrew Luck has put himself in the MVP conversation with spectacular play.

The Steelers have been inconsistent all season winning every other game on the schedule to stand at 4-3. They won Monday night over Houston with a three-minute barrage that ended with 24-straight points. Outside of that, they didn’t play particularly well.

Key Injuries: IND Reggie Wayne OUT Elbow, PIT Marcus Gilbert Doubt Concussion

Trends: Indianapolis is 3-6 against the spread when playing on the road in Pittsburgh… The Steelers are 11-2 in their last 13 games against the Colts… The total has gone OVER in five of the Colts’ last seven games when playing in Pittsburgh… The Steelers are 7-3 straight up in their last 10 games.

The Pick: The Steelers tend to play to the level of their competition so I expect a good game but take the Colts to cover and I like the OVER.

Green Bay (+1) at New Orleans (O/U 56) – Remember when Packers’ Quarterback Aaron Rodgers told the fans to “R-E-L-A-X?” He was mocked by some for that but all he and the Packers have done since then is win. Winning has been important with good play of Detroit who is atop the division with them. Rodgers has been spectacular in the last few weeks and now he gets to go up against a Saints’ defense that has been abysmal through the first six games.

Last week, New Orleans blew a 13-point lead in the final four minutes to the Lions. Part of that was the defense and part of that was the offense. Drew Brees will be happy to be at home as the Saints have spent most of the early part of the season on the road.

Key Injuries: GB Sam Shields Doubtful Knee, NO Jimmy Graham Quest shoulder

Trends: The total has gone OVER in six of Green Bay’s last seven games… New Orleans is 8-1-1 against the spread in their last ten games at home… The Packers are 6-3 straight up in their last nine games against the Saints… The total has gone OVER in five of New Orleans’ last five games against Green Bay.

The Pick: Take the Packers because the Saints just haven’t proven anything to me yet and take the OVER.

Bonus Pick: Oakland (+6.5) at Cleveland (O/U 43.5)  Take the Browns to cover and the UNDER

An Apology and Another Idea About Money in the NFL

Vaught-Hemingway Stadium
Vaught-Hemingway Stadium
Could the NFL play a regular season "neutral site" game in a place like Ole Miss?

There are times when I find myself so enamored with getting you some good betting information that I make a mistake or two. Usually it’s a missed bit of punctuation or a double up on a word in my haste to get the information to you. Yesterday however I committed a pretty egregious error that I’m a bit embarrassed about for a couple of reasons.

First I gave you everything you needed to know about the Arkansas State at Louisiana-Lafayette game. The only problem is that the game isn’t being played tonight. It was played Tuesday night. I completely read the date incorrectly. Worse yet was I thought for sure the Red Wolves would win in Lafayette but nope. The Rajun Cajuns prevailed 55-40. Please accept my apologies…

On to the topic of the day.

I read with great interest an article at Peter King’s MMQB website about the potential for expansion to Europe that quickly turned to a discussion about the length of the regular season. Jenny Vrentas wrote about getting the idea for this regular season change from a reader who commented on an article of hers about NFL expansion to London.

The reader suggested a regular season of 19 weeks with a 17-game schedule. Each team in the league would have eight home games, eight away games and one neutral site game. Obviously with 17 games in 19 weeks, there would be two bey weeks for each team. On the surface, it looks like a good idea but it has flaws and lacks originality.

Cowboys Texans
Where would the Cowboys and Texans play each year for a neutral site and would it even make sense?

First of all, the idea of two bye weeks has already been done. In 1993, all NFL teams had two bye weeks. The regular season at the time was 16 games and that’s the way it remained. On this particular issue therefore, it isn’t exactly revolutionary.

One of the major flaws of the proposal is how do we determine who plays who at neutral site games? Right now, NFL schedules are based upon a rotation between divisions across the conferences, one division within the conference, two games against division opponents and then two in-conference games based upon order of finish the previous year.

So for example, the Pittsburgh Steelers are playing the NFC South this year (four games), the AFC South (four games), in-division opponents (six games) and then Kansas City from the West and the New York Jets from the East. That adds up to 16 games. Now let’s say we add a 17th game. How do we determine who that neutral site game is against and where shall it be?

Would it be fair for the Steelers to play the Eagles perhaps? What if they are the defending NFC Champs and the Steelers are coming off of a 3-13 season? Plus, where would you play that would be “neutral?”

Many in the NFL would like to see regional rivalries like the one I mentioned played every year. Dallas vs Houston, San Francisco vs Oakland, the Jets vs the Giants and so but how do you balance the schedule to make it as fair as it is now? Also, what do you do with a team like Atlanta? Who would there regional rival be or Buffalo for that matter?

The overriding problem with any such addition to the current schedule flies in the face of everything that the NFL currently stand for which is “player safety.” Playoff expansion, regular season expansion, blah, blah, blah. If they would just admit these ideas are about money above all else I’d at least have a little respect for their honesty.