Fade Material: NFL Week 10 Predictions

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison sits alone on the bench on the sidelines during the closing minutes of the Steelers NFL football game against the Baltimore Ravens in Baltimore, Maryland September 11, 2011. REUTERS/Joe Giza (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Most writers would be upset with a .500 week but I’m overjoyed. The two wins I mustered in Week 9 were two more than I had in Week 8 so…small victories, people.

The Giants and Dolphins won outright, while the Colts and Chargers pooled their money together to give me a big, fat 2-2 Sunday. That runs my season record to 15-21, which would be good if we were talking about my hits-to-at bats or competitions-to-attempts radios. But we’re not. We’re talking about my hideous record against the spread this season. The same hideous record that would still be hideous even if I went 4-0 this Sunday.

Ah, well. Here are a couple of losers for you on this glorious Sunday:

Saints @ Falcons, 1:00PM ET
Even if my life were dependant on it, I still couldn’t choose a side in this game. I would die starring off into space as the words “Saints” and “Falcons” bounced around in my head. The Saints have enough firepower to blow the Falcons out of the Georgia Dome this weekend but Atlanta is playing good defense at the moment, while New Orleans is not. So again, I’m lost when it comes to the side. The total, however, seems like a no-brainer. The Saints are averaging over 30 points per game and the Falcons have seemingly fixed their issues on offense. Assuming Julio Jones (hamstring) is fine after being added to Atlanta’s injury report on Thursday, I envision a high-scoring game this Sunday. While these two teams played to a 17-14 chess match last year in Atlanta, the over has hit in five of the last seven meetings between these two teams. Light ‘em up again, boys.

Steelers @ Bengals, 1:00PM ET
Had oddsmakers given the Bengals four points or even 3.5, I would have taken a hard look at Cincinnati or laid off the game completely. And had the Steelers actually been able to defend 92 yards and beaten the Ravens last Sunday night at home, I again would have leaned towards the Bengals. But with the spread only sitting at 3 and with the Steelers ticked off from their loss last week, I love Pittsburgh this week. The Bengals’ defense has played extremely well this season and I fully expect that trend to continue. But the last time Andy Dalton faced one of the top defenses in the league, the Bengals mustered just 8 points in a 13-8 loss to the 49ers in Week 3. James Harrison is going to be a monster to deal with on Sunday and I just don’t see Dalton making enough plays to win this game in the end. And if you like the Steelers to win, you like them by a field goal or more so I’m happy to lay the 3.

Giants @ 49ers, 4:15PM ET
Even though the Niners are 7-1 this is a classic letdown game for Tom Coughlin’s team. They’re coming off a huge win in New England and now have to fly cross-country to play a San Francisco team that will certainly be fired up to beat one of the NFC’s top teams. That said, I don’t like laying 3.5 points on the Niners with the way the Giants have played as underdogs this season. If New York was favored or playing some hapless team that has no business being in the game, I’d be all over said hapless team. Instead, I see major value in the total. Both of these teams have the ability to score but Frank Gore is hobbled and the Niners have played well defensively all season. As long as there aren’t a ton of big plays, I like the under.

Patriots @ Jets, 8:20PM ET
I’m probably going to look like a sucker for thinking this way, but I just don’t see Bill Belichick and Tom Brady losing three-straight games. Especially when that third loss would come at the hands of Rex Ryan and the Jets, who are playing great defensively right now but aren’t trustworthy offensively. New England’s defense played well until the final drive against New York last week and you know Brady is going to be as focused as ever. It’s not often that the Pats are underdogs so you might as well take advantage.

Last Week: 2-2
Season: 15-21

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2011 NFL Week 10 Point Spreads & Odds

New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan (R) talks to New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick after the Jets beat the Partriots during their AFC Divisional NFL playoff football game in Foxborough, January 16, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Four spreads of note:

Patriots +1 @ Jets, 8:20PM ET
This has got to be the most interesting spread on the board this week. The Jets opened at –1 at some books while others had them listed as a 2.5-point favorite. I would be shocked if the line didn’t flip to Patriots –1 by kickoff because everyone must have the same thought: Bill Belichick and Tom Brady aren’t going to lose three straight games. That said, Rex Ryan’s defense is playing championship caliber football right now. The Bills could do absolutely nothing offensively last Sunday against the Jets, and at home, no less. Plus, this is a revenge spot for Ryan and Co. so again, it’ll be interesting to see where the line moves from here.

Steelers –3 @ Bengals, 1:00PM ET
I’m really surprised that the line for this game didn’t open at 3.5. I know the Bengals are at home and are 6-2, but the last time they played a top-notch defense they were held to 8 points at home by the 49ers. Judging by the public betting numbers that are listed at sites like The Spread.com, it appears everyone is on Pittsburgh and why not? They’re the more experienced team and they’re coming off a loss to Baltimore so you know Mike Tomlin and Co. are ticked off. Unless oddsmakers are assuming this will be a three-point game either way, why not put the line at 3.5 and try to generate more two-sided action? In other words, I like the Steelers because I don’t have to worry about the hook. There’s very little value in Cincinnati outside of the fact that they’re a home dog.

Saints –1 @ Falcons, 1:00PM ET
The Saints opened as 2.5-point favorites at most books and now the game is down to a pick’em at some places. New Orleans is still the better team on paper but Atlanta has won three straight, are at home, and the Saints are just 2-3 on the road this year. Also, the Falcons still have a bad taste in their mouths from when several New Orleans players took photos on Atlanta’s logo after the Saints won in the Georgia Dome last season. This game should tell us a lot about the direction of the NFC South and I’ll tell you what, the Falcons’ defense has played very well the past couple of weeks. Don’t assume that Drew Brees is going to light them up in thier own house. This should be a great game.

Giants +3.5 @ 49ers, 4:15PM ET
Unlike the Steelers-Bengals game where I thought the line should be 3.5, I’m wondering why this spread isn’t 3 on the nose. Is this is a trap game where oddsmakers want you to overvalue New York because of the hook? The Giants are coming off a huge win against the Patriots and some are waiting for the 49ers to fall, so why is there extra motivation to take New York (i.e. if you take the Giants, you also get the hook so why not ride Big Blue)? I don’t get it. Either way, I see more value in the total. I have a hunch this is going to be a low-scoring game. I could see Eli Manning struggling against a stingy San Francisco defense and New York’s D answering the challenge of slowing a hobbled Frank Gore. The total (42.5) is set right based on how these two teams have scored this season, but I like the under.

2011 NFL Week 10 Point Spreads:

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Jets/Patriots reaction

New York Jets head coach Rex Ryan heads into the locker room after the team defeated the New England Patriots in the AFC division playoff game at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts on January 16, 2011. The Jets defeated the Patriots 28-21. UPI/Matthew Healey

Dan Wetzel, Yahoo! Sports: The more lines Ryan spits out the more his players line up, shoulder to shoulder, ready to back him. He was coming into the belly of the beast this time, a playoff game in the same building against the same crew that had humiliated him 45-3 in early December. Ryan and his guys don’t retreat though, they reload. Not once did they think that game would impact this game. Not for a second did they anticipate a repeat result. Ryan didn’t change the game plan, his players said. He just demanded the guys actually follow it. This time the physical Jets defense manhandled the Patriots’ small skill players, making it difficult to run routes and get free and move up and down at will. Nothing was going to be easy this time, they promised; no more 5-foot-7 dudes skipping down the center of the field.

Jackie MacMullan, ESPNBoston.com: Ryan declared earlier in the week this game was all about him and the “almost” HC of the NYJ. The Patriots brethren snickered in unison at the bombastic New York coach. It was laughable to consider he was on the same level as their resident genius, Bill Belichick. Wasn’t it? Who’s laughing now? Ryan and his oft-maligned quarterback, Mark Sanchez, advance to the AFC Championship Game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, while the shell-shocked Patriots are left to ponder how a superlative regular season was so swiftly reduced to rubble on their home field. Go ahead and predict a Steelers romp next week if you like, but keep in mind that Gang Green has now dispatched of Peyton Manning and the Colts, and Brady and the Patriots in consecutive weeks — winning both games on the road.

Ian O’Connor, ESPNNewYork.com: Sanchez had thrown seven interceptions over his two previous trips to Foxborough, the last trip ending in complete disgrace, and yet there he was making himself at home in Brady’s living room Sunday, so comfortable he might as well have raided the cover boy’s fridge. When the Patriots decided to make a game of it on an 80-yard touchdown drive at the end of the third quarter, Sanchez made a personal stand that belied his age (24) and experience (not much). He knew he needed to answer Brady’s drive, and so on the very first play of the fourth quarter he found Jerricho Cotchery for a 58-yard gain to the New England 13. On third-and-4, with the Patriots needing to hold the Jets to a field goal, Sanchez delivered what Edwards would call “maybe his best throw of the season.” The throw went to Santonio Holmes in the corner of the end zone, and Holmes made the kind of catch he made to win Super Bowl XLIII for the team he’ll face next week.

Kevin Blackistone, Fanhouse: It wasn’t until Tom Brady failed to convert a fourth-and-long Sunday at the Jets’ 34-yard line with about five minutes left and down by 10 points that I thought about the priest. I saw him swaddled in a heavy camouflage jacket in the raucous throng outside the Patriots’ Gillette Stadium an hour before kickoff. He must have come to administer last rites to the Bill Belichick & Brady bunch. For when those final minutes expired and the scoreboard showed the Jets won, 28-21, it marked the second consecutive one-and-done in the playoffs for Belichick & Brady, their third playoff loss in a row and their fourth playoff loss in their last six postseason games since beating San Diego in an AFC Divisional playoff matchup in 2007. The dynasty is dead. The Jets were the vultures picking at the carrion. We now know for certain that the Patriots dynasty ended in 2008 Super Bowl when the Giants canceled the Patriots’ bid for an undefeated season. The Patriots haven’t been the same since.

Beligenius outsmarts himself with fake punt

New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick walks on the field during warm ups before the AFC division playoff game against the New York Jets at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts on January 16, 2011. UPI/Matthew Healey

Bill Belichick is widely regarded as the best head coach in the league, and with good reason. Some even go so far as to say he’s the best head coach in the history of the league. That’s going a little too far (in my opinion) because Belichick has a tendency to outsmart himself. Here’s an example:

Down 7-3 with 1:14 to play in the second quarter, the Pats faced a 4th-and-4 on their own 38-yard line, and Belichick dialed up a fake punt that failed miserably. The Jets took over, and four plays later, Braylon Edwards was carrying two Patriots into the endzone to give the Jets a 14-3 lead going into halftime.

I understand what Belichick was going for — he was trying to steal momentum and continue the Pats’ final drive. But his team was only down four heading into halftime and was going to get the ball first in the second half. Why risk giving the Jets even more momentum by potentially giving them the ball in your own territory? It looked from the replay that had Patrick Chung caught the ball cleanly, he may have gained the first down, extending the drive. But there’s always a chance that a risky play is going to fail, and that one did.

The Jets are like a sorta-hot girl who thinks she’s really hot, but isn’t entirely sure, so she constantly needs to spur conversation about how hot she is. She’s not sure she’s as hot as her (really hot) best friend, so she needs that affirmation. When she gets it (via an 11-point lead at halftime), she gains confidence and becomes a real pill to deal with. At that point, even Tom Brady won’t be able to score with her.

If New England had simply punted the ball away, the conservative Jets would probably have been content with their four-point lead, but the doubts would still linger. If Brady and Co. drove down the field on the first possession of the second half and took the lead back, all of those old insecurities would return to the surface.

Instead, the Pats went for it on 4th-and-4 and essentially gave the Jets a field goal with a shot at a touchdown. When Edwards carried those two defenders into the endzone, the Jets’ self-esteem went through the roof.

From New England’s point of view, it seemed to be a frustration call, and those rarely work out. They couldn’t believe how they were struggling offensively in the first two quarters and felt like they should be able to put points up on the board on that final drive. But they didn’t consider the downside of a botched fake punt, and it might have cost them a win.

NFL Morning After Reactions: Patriots, Titans, Cowboys & more

Here’s a look at what local NFL beat writers and columnists have to say following their teams’ performance on Sunday.

– Steve Serby of the New York Post writes that Jets’ rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez “outswaggered” the Pats’ Tom Brady.

– Gil LeBreton of the Star-Telegram writes that the Cowboys’ offense spoiled Jerry Jones’ new stadium party.

– Mike Mulligan of the Chicago Sun-Times says that Jay Cutler’s signature game saved the Bears from defeat on Sunday.

– Damon Hack of SI.com says that the Patriots showed a rare loss of composure in their defeat to the Jets.

– David Climer of the Tennessean compiles a list of troubling signs for the 0-2 Titans.

– Tim Sullivan of the San Diego Union-Tribune wonders if the Chargers can be fixed after their loss to the Ravens and their near-loss to the Raiders in Week 1.

– Tom Oates of Madison.com writes that the Packers’ offensive line (which struggled mightily on Sunday against the Bengals) could ruin the season for Green Bay.

– Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post can’t help but think that head coach Jim Zorn has low expectations for the Redskins.

– Never afraid to hand out criticism, Jason Whitlock of the Kansas City Star writes that the Chiefs coaching performance against the Raiders was embarrassing.

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