Fade Material: NFL Week 15 Predictions

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady scrambles for two yards on a keeper in the first quarter against the Indianapolis Colts at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts on December 4, 2011. The Patriots defeated the Colts UPI/Matthew Healey

A personal thank you goes out to the Bengals and Panthers for blowing decent leads at home versus the Texans and Falcons last week, and to the Bucs and Raiders as well, who never bothered to get off their respective planes in Jacksonville and Green Bay. With their powers combined, the Bengals, Panthers, Bucs and Raiders contributed to my 0-4 Sunday in Week 15. That hideousness dropped my season record to 24-29-2 with just three weeks to go to try and get over .500. The true season starts now, folks. It’s time for me to make my own version of a playoff run…

Redskins @ Giants, 1:00PM ET
September 11, 2011, the Giants walk into FedEx Field and walk out with a 28-14 loss to the Rex Grossman-led Redskins. October 9, 2011, the Giants host the Seahawks after nearly losing to the Cardinals in Arizona the week before and are crushed by Seattle, 36-25. October 30, 2011, the Giants barely squeak by the then-winless Dolphins, 20-17. November 20, 2011, the Giants lose 17-10 as a 6-point favorite to the Vince Young-lead Eagles. Whenever you think the Giants should win, run the other way. They’ve played down to their competition all year and while I realize the NFC East is on the line for NY, the Skins have already proven that they can beat the Giants and have nothing to lose. They’ve also been more competitive with Grossman at the controls than John Beck so while I don’t think Washington will win, I like the Skins to keep things close.
THE PICK: REDSKINS +6.5

Saints @ Vikings, 1:00PM ET
The Vikings nearly knocked off the Lions last Sunday thanks to Joe Webb and they’ll have Adrian Peterson back this week against a New Orleans team that hasn’t looked sharp on the road this year. But unless Peterson transformed into the second coming of Deion Sanders over these past couple of weeks, then Minnesota will have a hard time keeping up with Drew Brees today. The Saints’ passing game versus the Vikings’ pass defense is one of the biggest mismatches of Week 15. I’m hesitant to lay 7.5 points on the Saints when they’ve been pretty average on the road this year but they should open up things today at the Metrodome.
THE PICK: SAINTS –7.5

Jets @ Eagles, 4:15PM ET
The Jets would be the sixth and final seed in the AFC if the playoffs were to start today but the problem is that the playoffs don’t start today. And with Tennessee, Cincinnati and San Diego still nipping at New York’s heels, Rex Ryan and Co. need to play their best football today in Philly. While I don’t trust Mark Sanchez as far as I can heave him, the Jets’ running game looks like it’s finally starting to take shape and Ryan’s defense should give Michael Vick fits. Given how inconsistent the Eagles have been this season, three points seems like a gift.
THE PICK: JETS +3

Patriots @ Broncos, 4:15PM ET
I fully expect Denver’s defense to play well again this week but eventually the Patriots will figure things out and score their 20-plus points. The question is whether or not Tim Tebow and the Broncos will be able to keep pace. At this point it’s probably foolish to doubt Denver’s ability to pull off the upset but I think the Pats will serve the Broncos a very rude awakening today.
THE PICK: PATRIOTS –7.5

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2011 NFL Week 15 Primer

New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan works on the sideline during the first half of their NFL football game against the Washington Redskins in Landover, Maryland, December 4, 2011. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

MARQUE MATCHUP: Patriots vs. Broncos, 4:15PM ET, Sunday
For the Broncos, this matchup with the Patriots is more than just about this game. It’s about seeing how well they stack up against one of the best in the AFC. Granted, during the Broncos’ current six-game winning streak they’ve beaten the Raiders, Jets, and Chargers, who are three teams still vying for a playoff berth in the conference. But Tom Brady and Co. is obviously a different animal. If Denver’s defense can’t keep guys like Brady and Rob Gronkowski in check, will Tim Tebow and the Bronco offense step up? Will Tebow be able to make plays through the air? Will his receivers win their individual matchups and actually catch the ball? Even though Denver now has the inside track to a playoff berth, doubts still remain about Tebow’s ability to win when he usually doesn’t even warm up until the fourth quarter. This will be a great test for a Denver team that still has plenty to prove.

THE POTENITAL (NOTEWORTHY) UPSET: Redskins over Giants, 1:00PM ET, Sunday
While the victory did come at home, Washington has already beaten New York once this season. Eli Manning threw one interception and no touchdowns while Rex Grossman completed 21-of-34 passes for 305 yards and two scores in the Redskins’ 28-14 victory in Week 1. The Skins have lost two in a row and eight of their last nine but they’re clearly a more competitive team with Grossman under center than John Beck. The Giants are currently the owners of first place in the NFC East by virtue of their win over the Cowboys last Sunday night. But the Giants have made a habit out of playing down to their competition all season. Even with a playoff berth on the line, Tom Coughlin’s squad always seems primed for an upset.

THE GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY: DALLAS COWBOYS
The Cowboys have a chance to beat the Bucs on Saturday night and then sit back on Sunday and hope the Redskins can upset the Giants to give them a one-game lead again in the NFC East. There’s simply no excuse for Dallas to lose to Tampa Bay. The Bucs have lost seven in a row and are coming off a defeat in which they allowed 41 points to a horrendous Jacksonville offense. Raheem Morris is now on the hot seat and the Bucs don’t have the weapons to slow the Cowboys down on either side of the ball. True, Tampa will have home field advantage but how many Bucs fans will show up to Raymond James on Saturday night to root on a 4-9 team? The Bucs have a hard enough time filling their stadium when the team is good, nevertheless spiraling out of control. If Dallas can win, it puts all the pressure on New York to produce a victory at home the following day against a Washington team that’s slightly better than its record would indicate.

PUT UP OR SHUT UP: NEW YORK JETS
Some were ready to write the Jets off when they lost 17-13 to the Broncos back on that Thursday night in mid-November. But they’ve quietly rattled off three straight wins against inferior opponents in Buffalo, Washington and Kansas City, respectively. Their latest victory (a 37-10 shellacking of the Chiefs) has allowed them to take control of their own destiny in the AFC. If the playoffs were to start today, the Jets would own the sixth and final seed in the conference. But with Tennessee (7-6), Cincinnati (7-6), Oakland (7-6) and even San Diego (6-7) still very much alive, New York can ill-afford to suffer any losses. They’ll travel to Philadelphia this Sunday to take on an Eagles team that has been a mixed bag all season. You don’t know whether or not they’ll come out completely flat and disinterested or focused and inspired. That’s why if Rex Ryan wants people to start believing in “Gang Green” again, the Jets better come out this Sunday and beat a Philadelphia squad that for all intents and purposes is just riding out the rest of its schedule. Given how poorly the Eagles have defended the run this year, this is a great opportunity for Shonn Greene and the Jets to establish the run, play great defense and walk out of Philly with a victory.

Is Tom Brady playing with a lack of confidence?

Brady

The Patriots’ 20-17 overtime loss to the Broncos in Denver on Sunday is a perfect example of how the stat sheet doesn’t tell the whole story.

Tom Brady threw for 215 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions on 19-of-33 passing today. That’s a solid stat line and if someone were only looking at those numbers, they’d attribute New England’s loss to something other than its quarterback.

But all is not right with Brady. His offensive line gave him plenty of time today and yet he never got into a rhythm in the passing game, which isn’t the first time I’ve written that about Brady in 2009. He never seemed to get on the same page as his receivers and he overthrew an open Randy Moss (who finished with only one catch) at least twice.

Brady has always been a fiery player, but he seems to express his frustrations more openly this season. It’s almost like he’s trying too hard to be the player he was before his knee injury and isn’t allowing the game to come to him. He knows he’s missing open receivers and he’s not shaking the bad plays off as quickly as he once did. His confidence seems to be down and it has made the Pats incredibly vulnerable.

That said, New England’s loss in Denver today could hardly be pinned solely on Brady missing the mark in the passing game. Kyle Orton shredded the Patriots’ pass defense for 330 yards and two touchdowns on 35-of-48 passing. Say what you want about Orton, but he’s 26-12 as a starter despite having only two 300-plus passing games over his career. That’s a testament to how well he manages the game and limits mistakes.

It was good to see Eddie Royal (10 receptions, 90 yards) finally snap out of his early season funk and turn in a complete game. If he can build off this, he’ll give Orton another weapon in the passing game and help take attention off of Brandon Marshall, who once again came up huge with a fourth quarter touchdown.

If the Broncos could crash at any point and their 5-0 start would be nothing but a distant memory. But if their defense continues to play as well as it has, then they’ll cruise to an AFC West title, which seemed highly unlikely just five weeks ago.

NFL Week 5 Best of Previews

Brady

Here are quick-hit previews of the top four games on the Week 5 schedule in the NFL.

1. Patriots (3-1) at Broncos (4-0), 4:15PM ET
Several pundits have remarked that the Patriots are back after beating the Falcons and Ravens in back to back weeks. But some of their struggles still remain. For the most part, Baltimore marched up and down the field on New England’s defense in Week 4 and if it weren’t for a couple of key drops in the red zone, the Ravens could have walked out of Foxboro with a victory. The Broncos need to pressure Tom Brady for four quarters and not stop what has worked for them the first four weeks. Offensively, Knowshon Moreno will have the opportunity to shine today in his first start and as long as Kyle Orton doesn’t turn the ball over, Denver could pull off the small upset.

2. Bengals (3-1) at Ravens (3-1), 1:00PM ET
Who would have thought this would be a big game in Week 5? The Ravens are still seething from their loss to the Patriots last weekend and will look to take it out on an underrated Bengals team. Cincinnati’s 3-1 record is no fluke – they beat the Packers in Green Bay and the defending champion Steelers at home. While they didn’t play well last week in an overtime with over Cleveland, the Bengals proved that they could still wind up victorious even when they make mistakes. Carson Palmer and company won’t get away with turning the ball over today, however. The Ravens feast off turnovers and Cincinnati’s defense will be challenge to slow down Joe Flacco, Ray Rice and the potent Baltimore offense. This game will be a great test to see where the Bengals are.

3. Falcons (2-1) at 49ers (3-1), 4:05PM ET
Nobody wants to define either of these teams. Before the Falcons lost to the Patriots in Week 3, many people thought they were an elite squad. Plenty of pundits want to crown the 49ers a legitimate playoff team, but they need to sustain momentum and beat a good Atlanta team at home. Even without Frank Gore, this is a game San Francisco can control. The Falcons have had issues stopping the run and if the Niners can get Glen Coffee going early, it could open things up for Shaun Hill and the passing game. Mike Singletary’s defense has been great up to this point and if they sell out to stop Michael Turner and the Falcons’ running game, they better be prepared to double team tight end Tony Gonzalez and slow Matt Ryan in the passing game. This should be a fun matchup throughout.

4. Texans (2-2) at Cardinals (1-2), 4:15PM ET
It’s time for one of these teams to step up. The Texans have more than enough offensive weapons to make a playoff run but their defense has issues stopping the run and keeping opponents out of the end zone. The Cardinals have dinked and dunked their way through the first three games but Kurt Warner needs to start testing defenses vertically or else this team will continue to struggle. This is actually a good matchup for Houston because Arizona doesn’t pose much of a ground threat and the Texans have a decent pass defense. If the Cards can’t get Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower going, they will have trouble building and sustaining a lead today. And if they can’t take control of this game, they’ll be at risk of once again losing at home, where they were so dominant last year.

2009 NFL Picks & Predictions: Week 5

Here are my top four plays against the spread for Week 5 in the NFL. (Fade at will.)

Steelers (2-2) at Lions (1-3), 1:00PM ET
The Lions are in trouble for a couple reasons, although none bigger than not having rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford (knee injury) run their offense. Stafford is expected to be sidelined for Detroit’s game against the defending champs this weekend, which means Daunte Culpepper will get the start. Even without Troy Polamalu, the Steelers defense should handle everything Culpepper throws their way and generate a turnover or two. This is another big test for Rashard Mendenhall. If he follows up his 165-yard effort against the Chargers last week with a dud against the lowly Lions, then the Steelers’ ground game is right back where it started at the beginning of the season (i.e. in trouble). That said, Ben Roethlisberger should have no issues moving the ball through the air against Detroit’s 25th ranked pass defense. Will this be the game Pittsburgh finally plays all four quarters and step on an opponent’s throat?
Odds: Steelers –10.5.
Prediction: Steelers 34, Lions 14.

Patriots (3-1) at Broncos (4-0), 4:15PM ET
The Broncos aren’t going to move the ball against the Patriots as well as the Ravens did last week, but they should have more than enough weapons in Brandon Marshall and Knowshon Moreno to keep the chains moving and give their defense time to rest. Speaking of Denver’s defense, as long as Elvis Dummervil and company continue to generate pressure, the Broncos should pull off the upset as home dogs this Sunday. The Patriots’ issues are far from solved and Bill Belichick knows his team has to go week-to-week and game-by-game. New England has struggled in Denver over the years, covering the spread just five times in its last 20 visits to the Mile-High City. This will be a great test for the Broncos defense to see where they’re at, and I think they harass Tom Brady just enough to earn a victory.
Odds: Patriots –3.5.
Prediction: Broncos 20, Patriots 17.

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