Titans, Jags Makes for Poor Viewing But Potentially Good …

Whis
Whis

Ken Whisenhunt takes his Titans to Jacksonville for a battle of 2-12 teams.

I am not the National Football League schedule-maker. I do not know the National Football League schedule-maker. Therefore, do not be upset with me because this is the match-up I have to discuss for you today. In fact, you should not just dismiss this game altogether.

For most football fans, they are poo-pooing this game tonight from merely a viewing standpoint and who could argue with them? These are two of the worst teams in the NFL after-all. However, those of us who may throw the occasional dollar at a few NFL games each week cannot just wave our hand at this game. Often, it is contests like this one that give us the best chance to call ourselves “winners.”

Tennessee (+3) at Jacksonville (O/U 40) – The Tennessee Titans invade Jacksonville for this Thursday night match-up between two teams who are both 2-12 on the current season. In essence, this game and the final one next week are about draft positioning. While no one wants to talk about those things or even admit that teams are thinking this way, the truth is that are.

Bortles

Blake Bortles is questionable with a foot injury so pay attention to that today.

In Northeast Florida, the Jaguars have their quarterback for the future in Blake Bortles. While has struggled, I think much of that is due to the lack of real weapons around him, He will get at least one more year before anyone can fairly judge his NFL career.

In Nashville, the Titans are going to find themselves in an interesting position draft-wise. Do they feel Zach Mettenberger is the QB of the near future or do they believe they need to consider taking one in the coming draft?

Both teams have significant issues well beyond the quarterback position though and that explains why both have come up empty so often this season.

Earlier this season when the two teams met in Nashville, the Titans hung on for a 16-14 win. Bortles played fairly well throwing for one touchdown and one pick but he was sacked six times. Under center for Tennessee was Charlie Whitehurst who managed a good game didn’t do anything to lose by any stretch.

The Jags were finding some success running the ball a few weeks back behind Denard Robinson but he’s out for the season. His departure left Blake Bortles as the team’s leading rusher.

Both teams will feature defenses that can get after the other team’s passer and they will also look to force turnovers as well. This game could very well come down to special teams where solid kicking and a return here or there to flip field position in one team’s favor.

Key Injuries: JAX QB Blake Bortles QUEST/Foot, TEN OT Taylor Lewan Did not practice yesterday with a foot injury.

Trends: Tennessee is 1-5 against the spread in their last six games on the road… The total has gone UNDER in six of Jacksonville’s last seven games with the Titans at home… The Titans are 1-3-1 ATS in their last five games at Jacksonville… The total has gone UNDER in four of the Jags’ last six games at home.

The Pick: With Bortles less than 100% I like the Titans getting the points and take the UNDER.

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Your Early NFL Lines Which Are Always Subject to Change

Reid
Reid

Andy Reid has the Chiefs rolling in the AFC West and now they head to Oakland for a Thursday night game.

Kansas City (-7) at Oakland – The Chiefs find themselves tied with Denver atop the AFC West at 7-3 although a home loss to the Broncos in week two gives Denver the edge. The Raiders are… The Raiders who haven’t won now in a calendar year.

Cleveland (+3) at Atlanta – The Browns laid a serious egg at home in losing to Houston Sunday while the Falcons have suddenly won two-straight and sit atop the NFC South at 4-6. If Brian Hoyer struggles to put points on the board in the first half, sound the Johnny Football alarm.

Tennessee (+10.5) at Philadelphia – This line could move substantially depending upon how the Titans did last night. Mark Sanchez came crashing back to Earth while getting buried in Green Bay Sunday. Look for the Eagles to get back to some normalcy at home.

Gray

I'm sure you all saw the performance of Jonas Gray coming didn't you?

Detroit (+5.5) at New England – The Lions put up a valiant effort in losing to the Cardinals in the desert and now face falling behind a hot Packers’ team in the NFC North. What more can be said for the Patriots who are getting it done in numerous ways?

Green Bay (-9.5) at Minnesota – Aaron Rodgers and the Packers take their high-scoring machine on the road to Minnesota where the Vikings are still struggling to find their way. What we have to be careful with here is the potential for a letdown.

Jacksonville (+14) at Indianapolis – I honestly don’t know what’s in the water in Jacksonville but it seems any QB that comes there just gets worse. The Colts will be ready for rookie Blake Bortles and they’ll be fired up after getting pounded by the Patriots.

Cincinnati (+2.5) at Houston – The Bengals may have saved their season with a big win at New Orleans and now face a Texans’ team that is suddenly just a game behind the Colts. Rookie Alfred Blue filled in for Arian Foster with a big day on the ground which helped Ryan Mallett in his debut.

NY Jets (+4.5) at Buffalo – The Jets ended their eight-game losing streak by beating the Steelers and now head to Buffalo where the Bills are clinging to life in the AFC at 5-5. A loss ends any chance of the Bills making the postseason while a win keeps them alive.

Tampa Bay (+6) at Chicago – Jay Cutler finally used the weapons around him to his advantage in beating Minnesota. Meanwhile the Bucs seem to be playing better and better and are getting good performances from young guys.

Arizona (+6.5) at Seattle – Let’s put it this way; the Seahawks cannot afford to lose. They are 6-4 while the Cardinals are 9-1. Not only would a loss end any reasonable chance at a division title but probably a playoff spot as well. Don’t forget, the Cards won in Seattle last year.

St. Louis (+5.5) at San Diego – At 4-6, you’d think the Rams would already be out of contention for the playoffs. Don’t tell them that though as they have played teams very tough in recent weeks and knocked off Denver this past Sunday. For the Chargers, they survived the Raiders but they’re looking up at both Kansas City and Denver in the AFC West.

Miami (+7) at Denver – The Broncos are dealing with injuries to both Emmauel Sanders and Julius Thomas and Miami is playing well. Can Ryan Tannehill survive the pass rush?

Washington (+7.5) at San Francisco – The Redskins seem near an implosion right now and a west coast road trip won’t help any.

Dallas (-3) at NY Giants – At 3-7, the Giants will be left to pay spoiler in the NFC East. Dallas is coming off a bye which had to be good news for Tony Romo.

Baltimore (+4) at New Orleans – Both teams will be looking for wins to stay alive in their respective divisions and the Saints are no longer infallible at home.

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Odds for the AFC South Division for 2014

Luck

 

Luck

Andrew Luck should have the Colts in the top spot in the AFC South in 2014.

The AFC South is on tap today!

Indianapolis -200 – Talk about having everything in place for a division title… The Colts have Andrew Luck in his third year and let’s be honest, he needs to produce another playoff win or two as he was one horrendous choke job by Kansas City from being 0-3. The biggest question I have regards Trent Richardson. If he can be  the running back he’s capable of being then the Colts will be tremendous. If not, they could struggle to remain balanced.

Last time we saw the defense, the Colts were getting run over by LeGarrette Blount and the Patriots in the divisional round of the AFC Divisional Playoffs. The unit has to be better and has to create pressure on opposing quarterbacks as well. I don’t find the schedule that difficult other than the final four games three of which are on the road in Cleveland, Dallas and Tennessee.

Season Projection: 11-5

Clowney

The Texans hope Jadeveon Clowney plays a great 'Robin' to J.J. Watt's 'Batman.'

Houston +200 – Hard to believe a team that finished 2-14 last year is the second favorite to win the division. The Texans and new coach Bill O’Brien will enter 2014 with a clear plan in place. With Ryan Fitzpatrick the QB, the running game has to be good because Fitzpatrick can’t win games with his arm. The other clear plan is to attack on defense and the selection of Jadeveon Clowney with the first overall pick was a clear indication of that.

Clowney has already flashed his explosiveness and will create an incredibly scary tandem with J.J. Watt. If they can create enough pressure on opposing quarterbacks to the point where the secondary can just ‘ball-hawk’ then look out. The Texans schedule is not difficult but they do have five of their first eight games on the road and some of those stops include Dallas and Pittsburgh.

Season Projection: 8-8

Tennessee +700 – This is the make or break year for quarterback Jake Locker who has battled injury and sub-par play so far in his career. What’s going for him though is the fact that new head coach Ken Whisenhunt knows how to get the most out of quarterbacks. He did it with Ben Roethlisberger and he did it with Kurt Warner in Arizona. Can he now work his magic with Locker?

The defense wasn’t atrocious by any stretch finishing in the middle of the pack overall, in rushing and in passing. They have the ability to keep things close is the offense can be balanced and take care of the football. The schedule features a fairly ugly stretch in November when the Titans have three road games in four weeks. Those trips are to Baltimore, Houston and Philly with a home against the Steelers.

Season Projection: 7-9

Jacksonville +1400 – Head Coach Gus Bradley has a tough choice to make in terms of the quarterback position. Does he stay with veteran Chad Henne knowing what that he’ll get some big plays but also turnovers or will he go with rookie Blake Bortles? The original plan was to sit Bortles this season but he has been so impressive so far in the preseason that he’s making the choice difficult.

Regardless of who is at the helm, they need the running game to get going and take pressure off of the passing game. The defense is coming together nicely in Jacksonville but I think it’s a couple of studs away from really making a serious dent in the division. The Jags have a brutal opening schedule with three of four on the road in Philly, Washington and San Diego plus a visit from Pittsburgh.

Season Projection: 5-11

Overall: I just don’t know how the Colts lose this division outside of a significant injury to Luck. Take them and don’t look back.

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AFC Division Winner Odds for 2014

Gronk
Gronk

Rob Gronkowski's health may be the difference for New England's success in 2014.

I gave you the odds on NFC Division winners on Sunday and today it’s the AFC’s turn. I’ll tell you right now I’ve got two big surprises for you. Lets get to the AFC.

AFC East

New England -250 – The window on Tom Brady getting his elusive fourth Super Bowl title is closing. Even if Rob Gronkowski is healthy, does he Brady have enough weapons to get another division title?

Miami +450 – The biggest question is whether or not the Dolphins can survive the early season without center Mike Pouncey. Related to that, have they gotten past the Richie Incognito situation?

NY Jets +750 – Don’t laugh, but this team could challenge for a playoff spot. Why? Because of defense and a running game and more experience at quarterback.

Buffalo +850 – The Bills suffered a horrible blow when LB Kiko Alonso went down last week with a knee injury. My question for Buffalo is can E.J. Manuel stay healthy and take advantage of a ton of weapons?

PICK: NY Jets

AFC North

Cincinnati +200 – Andy Dalton will have even better regular season success under new coordinator Hue Jackson. Can that translate into postseason success? If it doesn’t, Dalton could be gone.

Pittsburgh +200 – The Steelers haven’t missed the playoffs in three consecutive seasons since the late 1990′s. If they can get more pressure defensively and find a legitimate #2 receiver then anything is possible.

Baltimore +250 – The pending Ray Rice suspension might not be that big of a deal considering Rice didn’t play well in 2013. Still, can the Ravens play well on both sides of the ball consistently enough to win the North?

Cleveland +500 – Josh Gordon won’t see the field in 2014. Johnny Manziel continues to make partying a priority. There is talent in Cleveland but I don’t think this is the year it comes together.

PICK: Cincinnati

Luck

In his third year, expectations are higher than ever for Andrew Luck in Indianapolis.

AFC South

Indianapolis -140 – Everyone talks about Andy Dalton’s playoff woes, but Andrew Luck is a miracle comeback away from being 0-2 himself. The Colts need to shore up the run defense and get something out of Trent Richardson before we can hand them the division.

Houston +260 – Bill O’Brien will have this team competitive I guarantee that. The defense may be the funnest in the league to watch but will the quarterback play be enough?

Tennessee +475 – I think Ken Whisenhunt is a really good coach and I believe he will get this team in the thick of the South race. The issue is of course QB, but if Jake Locker can stay healthy, he will play better under Whisenhunt’s tutelage.

Jacksonville +1,400 – I really do like the direction the Jags are headed but I don’t see this year being the one for them to win. Chad Henne makes to many mistakes for the young team to overcome.

PICK: Indianapolis

AFC West 

Denver -275 – The Broncos should survive the post-Super Bowl hangover due to veteran leadership but Denver has a brutal schedule that could cause problems. How much does Manning have left in the tank too?

Kansas City +500 – I fully expect the Chiefs to slip a bit this year and it could be worse if Alex Smith doesn’t get the contract he desires. Andy Reid always has tough teams but this will be a step back in 2014.

San Diego +550 – Philip Rivers continues to carry the mantle of ‘only first round QB from the 2004 draft not to win a Super Bowl.’ Manning and Roethlisberger each have two and Rivers’ isn’t getting any younger. The good news is that if the defense plays well, he could get his shot.

Oakland +1,800 – The Raiders continue to be the team that just can’t put things together and this season won’t be much different.

PICK: San Diego

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‘Safe’ Bets for Your NFL Weekend

Johnson
Johnson

Can Chris Johsnon take advantage of the Jaguars' 30th ranked run defense?

Normally when you talk about a bet or wager being safe, you’re talking about it being a pick that you feel good about. It probably isn’t going to cost you a whole lot either so in other words, you feel safe about it.

In this particular case, I’m using the term ‘safe’ because you need to go with games that aren’t impacted by other, perhaps earlier games. Why? Because so much is riding these games for teams in other locales.

For example, the Pittsburgh Steelers play the featured late game on CBS on Sunday in Green Bay. Personally, I’d stay away from this game because the mindset of the Steelers and maybe Packers, could already be determined. Because the Steelers need so much help to stay alive, they will more than likely know by the time they kick-off in Lambeau whether they are still alive or not. This will depend on the earlier games of course.

For Green Bay, only Minnesota will have played by the time the Packers kick-off so their fate will still be in their hands. The Detroit Lions kick at 4:05ET and the Chicago Bears don’t play until Sunday night.

Therefore, the games you want to focus on are the ones that have little bearing on others because that can play a significant factor in a team’s mental approach. Here are the ‘safe’ games I like this week.

Tennessee (-6) at Jacksonville – Chances are the stands in Jacksonville will be quite empty for this AFC South match-up. Both teams are out of the playoff race and will affect absolutely no one in terms of the playoffs. In fact, this game may mean more in terms of the NFL Draft coming up in May.

The Jaguars announced that wide receiver Cecil Shorts is on the injured reserve list and he’s going to be missed. He led the team with 66 receptions and three scores. Jacksonville is a game behind the Titans who are 5-9 and they would love nothing better than to hop Tennessee in the standings and finish second in the AFC South. That thought months ago seemed like a pipe dream.

The Jags are 1-6 against the spread in their last seven home games and are 6-13 against the spread in their last 19 games in Jacksonville. The problem is that they don’t stop the run (30th) and don’t run it well either (30th). I will however take them and the six points.

Brees

Brees must shake the poor numbers when playing outdoors in order to beat the Panthers.

New Orleans (+3) at Carolina – While this game has tons of playoff implications for both teams as well as a few others, it’s a 1pmET start so the two teams will have nothing to concern themselves with other than each other. It was just two weeks ago that the Panthers came into New Orleans as hot as any team in the NFL. They ended up losing 31-13.

Should Carolina win this game, they will take a game lead over the Saints with one game to play. That means a Panthers’ win over Atlanta in the final week would give them the division. New Orleans plays Tampa Bay. If both teams tie atop the division, the division record then conference record will break the tie. Both of those are just a game apart.

The Saints laid a serious egg in St. Louis last week while the Panthers defeated the New York Jets. I’ve gone through Drew Brees’ stats when he plays outdoors versus indoors and they aren’t pretty. The Saints are 1-4 against the spread in their last five trips to Carolina and the Panthers are 7-2-1 against the spread in their last ten games overall.

I really like the Panthers giving the three.

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A Tour Around the NFL for Week Five

Brady
Brady

The Pats' and Tom Brady take their unbeaten record on the road to Cincinnati today.

Before we get to far let’s hope that Thursday’s game in Cleveland was not a harbinger of things to come for today. The Browns lost quarterback Brian Hoyer for the season with a torn ACL while the Buffalo Bills lost their QB, E.J. Manuel, for a few weeks. In both cases, the signal-callers were trying to get extra yardage using their feet and ended up taking hard hits which resulted in their injuries.

What of course follows is the never-ending discussion about running quarterbacks. Both Hoyer and Manuel should have either gotten down or stepped out of bounds sooner but you can hardly blame them for wanting to get every yard possible. It’s what the game is all about from the time we play it as kids.

Unbeatens Hit the Road

New England, New Orleans, Kansas City and Seattle all hit the road today and take their unbeaten records with them. The Patriots roll into Cincinnati where the Bengals are coming off a horrible performance in a loss in Cleveland. The Pats enter with a road victory in Atlanta and increasingly better passing game.

Tom Brady appears to be getting more comfortable with his young receivers and may get Danny Amendola back today. Tight end Rob Gronkowski is still out by the way. The Pats are favored by one and a half on the road in Paul Brown Stadium. I think they get turnovers from Andy Dalton and cover.

New Orleans travels to the Windy City today to play a Bears team that was beaten pretty soundly in Detroit. The question for the Saints anytime they leave the friendly confines of the SuperDome is what will the offense look like in the elements? Often over-looked in the Saints 4-0 start is the much improved defense under Rob Ryan.

They will face a difficult task in dealing with a much more deliberate passing offense under Marc Trestman but they will also see large doses of Matt Forte as well. Like New England, the Saints are favored by a point and a half on the road but I think Chicago bounces back today and gives the Saints their first loss.

Smith

Smith leads the unbeaten Chiefs into Tennessee today.

The Chiefs take their 4-0 record to Nashville where the Titans await without quarterback Jake Locker. Ryan Fitzpatrick gets the start and while he can put up decent numbers he can also be a turnover machine. Alex Smith has been extremely efficient and resourceful at quarterback for KC and he has had the benefit of a good running game behind him as well.

The Chiefs’ defense is ranked seventh in the league but the more impressive number is that they give up a league best 10 points per game. The only concern I have for them is that they tend to give up yards on the ground and playing Chris Johnson doesn’t help that cause. Regardless, I like the Chiefs today who are favored by three points.

Seattle has arguably the toughest task today going into Indianapolis where the Colts typically play very well at home. They also get the ‘good’ fortune of drawing another 1pm Eastern Time start which for west coast teams is rarely a good thing. The Seahawks needed a late touchdown in their opener at Carolina to win and will probably need some of that late magic again as they did last week in Houston.

A favorite by three points today, the Seahawks will ride their defense and hope that Russell Wilson plays a little better than last week. Seattle also gets linebacker Bruce Irvins back from his four-game suspension so that will only help the NFL’s top-ranked defense. I think the Colts get the win today based only on the fact that they’ve been a little lucky on the road so far this year.

 

 

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My How Things Can Change in One NFL Weekend

Harbaugh and Kaepernick
Harbaugh and Kaepernick

Jim Harbaugh and Colin Kaepernick found a new way to torcht eh Green Bay defense on Sunday.

The great thing about the beginning of the National Football League season which really is different than most other sports is that by and large, each fan base thinks it has a shot to make the playoffs. In the NFL, making it to the playoffs is the number one goal. Once in the tournament, anything can happen.

Then come the moments after that first game ends.

If you’re in New York today, you’re wondering how you’re Giants could turn the ball over six times and still have a chance to beat Dallas before ultimately falling to the Cowboys. On the other side of MetLife Stadium, New York Jets’ fans were prepared for one of the worst seasons in their history. It still could happen, but for one day, the Jets behind rookie quarterback Geno Smith knocked off the favored Buccaneers to go 1-0.

If you are in any city in the AFC North today you have one bit of good news. Your team is tied for first place. The bad news is that your team is also tied for last place as all four teams are 0-1. Baltimore and Cincinnati at the very least looked respectable at times while Cleveland and Pittsburgh are now vying with Jacksonville for the worst opening day performance.

Pouncey

The Steelers lost the game and their all-pro center Maurkice Pouncey for the season.

Not only did the Steelers drop the opener at home to Tennessee but they also lost three players to season-ending injuries. Terrible Towels are still wiping away tears of a season that had much more promise than this.

If you’re in Green Bay today you’re wondering if anything has changed about your defense. In last season’s playoffs, the Packers were torched by the feet of San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick. On Sunday, Kaepernick let his arm do the talking as he threw for 412 yards en route to 34 points in the win. The Green Bay offense behind a big game from Aaron Rodgers kept them in it until the end but it had to be déjà vu for Packers’ fans.

If you’re in Detroit today then you have to be as giddy as a kid in a candy store. Your defense gives up a 77-yard touchdown run to Adrian Peterson on the first play of the game but the team rebounded for a ten-point win. Lions’ fans aren’t exactly used to being 1-0 right now. If they’re giddy over the win imagine the excitement over Reggie Bush’s big day.

Maybe you’re in Seattle today where your Seahawks are a prohibitive favorite to go to the Super Bowl. Your team is 1-0 but your running game was left non-existent and it took a late touchdown pass to win over Carolina. Are you concerned or are you just glad you got a win on the road?

Are you in Arizona today? So much excitement surrounds your team with a new head coach and a quarterback that can actually deliver the ball to your all-pro wide receiver. Your defense is young and athletic and creates turnovers too. Unfortunately, the Cards blew a lead in the fourth quarter and lost to St.Louis by three.

Another great thing about the NFL season is that all of this can be forgotten over the course of one game in week two. A team that lost in week one can even the record and feel good doing so while a team that is 1-0 can easily be brought back to Earth with a loss. The two other options of course are that some teams will go 2-0 while some will go 0-2. Fans in those cities a week from today will have significantly different feelings than they have today.

Such is life in the NFL.

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