I’ve never been one to toot my own horn, but the trumpets are blaring from my end this week after going a perfect 4-0 in week 3, along with staying alive in my survivor picking. Not wanting to rest on my laurels though, I’m back with 4 more picks that should help you out Sunday, as I attempt to go for another undefeated week. What am I thinking this week? Let’s find out.
The Giants re-established themselves as a team to be reckoned with in the NFC last week as they cruised to victory against the supposedly all-powerful Philadelphia Eagles. The defense bothered Michael Vick all night, and Eli Manning found a new favorite target in little known Victor Cruz. That win made it two in a row for the Giants, who seem to have recovered from an opening day loss to the Redskins. The Cardinals, meanwhile, are moving in the opposite direction as losers of their last two, including a yawn-filled 13-10 loss to their NFC West colleagues Seattle. Kevin Kolb has taken longer to adjust to his new team than many had expected, and while he has been decent, Kolb has thrown for an equal amount of touchdowns as interceptions in his last two games. The Giants defense has only given up 3 touchdowns through the air on the season thus far, and although are still dealing with some injuries, should have no problem dealing with Kolb now that they more or less shut down Vick a week ago. Meanwhile, Manning seems to be getting things together for his team, and Arizona are allowing a generous 275 yards passing per game. They aren’t a whole lot better defending against the run, giving up almost 123 running yards per game, which should be something power running duo Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs look to take advantage of throughout the game. All number aside, the Giants are simply the better team, and so in a line that is virtually a pick’em situation, I see no reason to get cute here. If you want further motivation, how bout this: New York is 7-2 ATS in their last 9 as a road favorite of a field goal or less, and are an impressive 21-7-1 ATS in their 29 games played in October. After losing the week before, Arizona is a weak 2-5 ATS, and have won only 6 of 20 ATS when they give up less than 15 points the week before. The Giants have all the momentum, the better quarterback, the better receiving group (yes Larry Fitzgerald is a beast, but who else is there in Arizona?), the better rushers, and the better defense. And they need to win by less than a field goal to cover. Seems pretty straightforward to me, take the Giants.
To be honest, I can’t remember the last time I ever picked the Bears to win anything for me. Last year I refused to take them seriously even as they almost made it to the Super Bowl. But I’ve come around since then, or at least when the Bears are playing at Soldier Field. There is no question the Panthers are a much improved team from last year, but it would be tough for them to be any worse. Cam Newton has been a revelation in his rookie year, but he proved himself a mere mortal last week against an unimpressive Jacksonville team. The Bears defense is a whole lot more formidable than the Jags’ unit, and expect them to force Newton into some bad decisions on Sunday. Carolina ranks near the bottom of the league in rush defense, so expect a heavy dose of Matt Forte in this one. Although Forte has been hit and miss running the ball, he has been lethal as a receiver this year, with 22 receptions for 287 receiving yards in 3 games. In addition, Jay Cutler has thrown for over 300 yards in 2 of the 3 games this year, and should face less constant pressure than he has against some of the other defenses he’s faced thus far. The Panthers have been getting a fair amount of praise this year for their play, and its become reflected in their point spreads. But let’s keep in mind they lost to a pretty rotten Arizona team, and barely snuck by a Jaguars team being led by Blaine Gabbert in his debut game. Sure, the Panthers are improving, but the Bears are a top 5 team in the NFC, and will be trying to make a loud statement in this one after opening their season off with a wonky 1-2 record. The Bears have only lost 1 in their last 6 ATS as a favorite, and are 7-3 ATS in games played on grass. Conversely, the Panthers are 0-4 ATS in their 4 games on the road, and are 1-5 in their last 6 as an underdog. Carolina will have considerably more wins than they did last year, but against a top defensive team like the Bears at Soldier Field, Cam Newton will make everyone realize that despite the gaudy pass yardage totals, he is still a rookie capable of making rookie mistakes.
If last week was my week of underdogs, it seems this week is just the opposite. At all times, I’m looking for the best value I can find, often stemming from the public’s overreaction to the prior week’s results. In this case, we have a battle of two teams that are yet to win a single game between them, with both losing by 3 points last week. The Chiefs almost mounted an improbable comeback against the heavily favored Chargers, while the Vikings blew a 20 point second half lead to fall to the Lions in overtime. Let’s be clear though: the Chiefs’ near victory was considerably due in larger part to the ineptitude of San Diego to make intelligent decisions, rather than any big thing K.C. were doing right. Meanwhile, let’s realize that for Minnesota to be leading Detroit by 20, and shutting them out for the first half, required some very impressive play. Yes, they unraveled in the end, but they showed they are capable of scoring and playing solid defense. The Chiefs, in 3 weeks of play, have not looked like they would have the first idea of how to win a game; they were happy enough keeping it close for once. Adrian Peterson has been his usual beast self this year, and I don’t foresee the Chiefs being able to stop him after Ryan Mathews ran wild last week. Donovan McNabb certainly hasn’t been good, but he has steadily improved from his Minnesota debut where he threw 39 yards. On the other side of the ball, Matt Cassel’s horrific play has led many to wonder why the Chiefs haven’t landed someone like David Garrard, but perhaps the reason is they are hoping to be the winners in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. (That, or maybe Garrard would rather not play than be in the mess that is Kansas City’s football team). Cassel is yet to hit the 200 passing yards mark this season, and has thrown 3 touchdowns compared to 5 interceptions. The Chiefs are without their best and most dynamic player in Jamaal Charles, and are also sorely missing Eric Berry on defense. It doesn’t appear that much is going to go right for Kansas this year, and eventually Minnesota will start winning games, so this seems like the week to do it. The Chiefs are 1-4 ATS in their last 5, and 3-8 in their last 11 played on grass. Minnesota isn’t as bad as their record indicates, but Kansas City definitely is. Minny should be able to take this by considerably more than the 1.5 of the spread.
Completing my clean sweep of predictions for the favorite, we have the Saints over the Jags by more than a touchdown. It is not often that I’d suggest betting on such a heavy road underdog, but the Saints are one of the best teams in the league, and the Jaguars are, well, the Jaguars. The Siants proved their mettle last week in a comeback win against the powerful Texans, as Drew Brees and his offensive crew looked unstoppable. The Jags, meanwhile, came up short against Carolina, giving Cam Newton his first career win. Newly installed Blaine Gabbert didn’t look too bad given the fact it was his first game starting in the NFL and that it was played in practically a monsoon, but he is still probably a year away from being a legitimate NFL quarterback. The Saints have had 3 very tough opponents to open the year in the Texans, Bears and Packers, and have come away with a 2-1 record. They only need to ensure they don’t let off the gas pedal against a far less formidable foe. Drew Brees is up to his usual tricks, throwing for 1059 passing yards and 9 touchdowns thus far. There is also speculation that Marques Colston will be returning to his receiving corps, but even if he doesn’t, Brees has plenty of targets in Lance Moore, Robert Meachem, Jimmy Graham, Devery Henderson and Reggie Bush 2.0, aka Darren Sproles. Mark Ingram looked the best he has thus far on the ground for the Saints last week, and between him, Pierre Thomas and Sproles, the Saints have a nice running game to complement their vaunted passing attack. Meanwhile, outside of dynamo Maurice Jones-Drew, the Jags don’t have a whole lot of anything. The best thing that can be said of them is that their defense is streets ahead of anything they put out there last year, but they definitely still lack speed and a shutdown defensive back. The Jags got crushed by the Jets in the only other game they’ve played against a legitimate ‘good’ team, and I don’t really see this one being any different. Gabbert may throw for a touchdown or two, but by that time the Saints will likely already have staked themselves to an extensive lead. Helping to prove the point that the Jags struggle against solid teams is the fact that they are 2-9 ATS versus teams with winning records, and 0-4 ATS as an underdog. The Saints, meanwhile, are 10-4 on the road against teams with a losing home record. Yes, its a little unorthodox to seemingly totally alter my strategy after having a perfect week, but remember, its less about picking favorites or underdogs than it is about picking value, and these 4 games are dripping with just that.