Every Friday, the National Football Post’s Matt Bowen picks all of the games on the NFL schedule.
Kansas City (1-6) at Jacksonville (3-4)
Current Line: Jaguars -6 ½
It is hard for me to pick the Chiefs—even with a Jacksonville team that can’t figure out what they want to do on offense. Last week, Maurice Jones-Drew had 177 rushing yards—on eight carries. I can only hope that MJD becomes the center of the game plan going up against a poor-tackling Chiefs defense at home. Not a marquee matchup by any means, and I see MJD going over the 150-yard mark in total offense as the Jags take care of KC at home.
Baltimore (4-3) at Cincinnati (5-2)
Current Line: Ravens -3
Last week, the Ravens handled a good Denver team at home because of the game plan—25 passes from Joe Flacco and 35 rushing attempts as a team. They controlled the clock and were able to wear down one of the league’s best defenses in the Broncos. But, I don’t expect Cincy to get away with what has put them in first place in the AFC North—Cedric Benson. To beat the Ravens again, Benson needs to see over 20 carries and Carson Palmer needs to protect the football. I see Benson getting his 20-plus carries, but the Baltimore defense makes a play in the fourth quarter to swing this game. I am taking the Ravens.
Houston (5-3) at Indianapolis (7-0)
Current Line: Colts -9
Can an upset happen in Indy? I like how the Texans have been able to slow down their game plan and work the ball down the field with play action and the running game. And when you add in their defensive front seven that is continually stopping the run, you have to give them a shot to win on the road. I still see Peyton Manning making enough plays to win this game, but the injuries in the Indy secondary will be too much with Andre Johnson in the second half. Yes, I am calling for the upset, as the Texans finally become real contenders in the AFC. Take that Lombardi.
Washington (2-5) at Atlanta (4-3)
Current Line: Falcons -10
The Falcons did enough to take the Saints down to the wire, but they are playing for a wild card now, and we have to call them a contender after Michael Turner showed us that he can still get to the edge in the running game and produce. The secondary of Atlanta is still a concern, but I don’t see Jason Campbell and the ‘Skins making enough plays to win on the road. Greg Blache's Redskins defense will keep this club in the game, but I see Turner wearing them down in the fourth quarter in the Georgia Dome. Take the Falcons at home.
Green Bay (4-3) at Tampa Bay (0-7)
Current Line: Packers -10
Exactly the type of game that a banged-up Packers squad needs after the letdown against the Vikings. I can’t see Tampa—with rookie Josh Freeman at QB—making enough plays in any facet of the game to hang with the Pack for four quarters, and look for the Bucs’ secondary to take the brunt of this beating. Greg Jennings and Donald Driver have big games for Green Bay as they get back on track and let go of the Vikings loss. I am going with Green Bay on the road in an easy win.
Arizona (4-3) at Chicago (4-3)
Current Line: Bears -3
More than a must win for Chicago. If the Bears want to be considered as a wild card contender they have to win at home, and I can’t see Lovie Smith sitting back in Cover 2 against Kurt Warner—because he is too good for that. Look for Lovie to send pressure and try to force Warner to get rid of the ball early. Neither team has been impressive running the football, and with Anquan Boldin nursing an injury, the Bears will take this one at home. Jay Cutler throws two TD passes and the Bears score a TD in the kicking game to put away ‘Zona in the second half.
Miami (3-4) at New England (5-2)
Current Line: Pats -10 ½
The best matchup of the day on paper. I expect a chess match of sorts between Belichick and Sparano when it comes to game plans. Expect the Dolphins to have multiple new packages out of the wildcat and to pressure early on defense to try and build a lead—and try to win by running the ball with Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams. But, Belichick will win this battle, as the Pats contain the wildcat and get up early on Miami, forcing them to play from behind—which is exactly when they struggle. Brady grinds out the second half by making plays on third downs to keep the Dolphins off the field, and the Pats go to 6-2, taking command of the East yet again.
Carolina (3-4) at New Orleans (7-0)
Current Line: Saints -13 ½
If the Panthers want to pull the upset, the ground game needs to continue to produce a big number and their defensive secondary has to respond like they did against Warner and the Cards. But, even then, do they have the firepower to keep pace with Drew Brees and the Saints’ offense? I don’t see it, and I also don’t see the Panthers’ Cover 2 scheme making plays on Brees. Gregg Williams’ defense could have a field day versus Jake Delhomme and the Saints roll at home—where they will be tough to beat all season—and move to 8-0.
Detroit (1-6) at Seattle (2-5)
Current Line: Seahawks -10
The Seahawks have been nothing short of disappointing, but the Lions are walking that same line after falling at home to the Rams last Sunday. If Calvin Johnson can get on the field, the Lions and Matthew Stafford should be able to make enough plays to stay in this game. But even saying that, Seattle has enough weapons to score points at home. Not a matchup that is going to decided anything in January, but I am taking the Seahawks at home as the Lions drop another one.
Tennessee (1-6) at San Francisco (3-4)
Current Line: Niners -4
The question here is simple: are the Titans a better team with Vince Young? In my opinion, they are a better team if the QB protects the ball, and I don’t see V.Y. doing that on the road against a good Niners defense. Alex Smith and Michael Crabtree have been a nice story over the last two weeks, but the wins aren’t there. This Sunday, they get it done, and Frank Gore outperforms Chris Johnson in a battle of two of the league’s best running backs. I am taking San Fran to get back in the NFC West race.
San Diego (4-3) at NY Giants (5-3)
Current Line: Giants -5
An interesting matchup of two teams we thought would be sitting easier at this point in the season, but a crucial game for both clubs. It is hard to pick the Chargers on the road against a Giants team that should be able to produce in the running game, but I never count out the Chargers offense with Philip Rivers. But, the running attack of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw keep Rivers and the San Diego offense on the bench as they pound the Bolts’ defensive front in the second half. I am taking a much more physical Giants team at home.
Dallas (5-2) at Philadelphia (5-2)
Current Line: Eagles -3
The Cowboys have found a true playmaker in WR Miles Austin and Tony Romo hasn’t looked better as Dallas is putting up big numbers, but does that last in Philly against a defense that is causing turnovers and giving McNabb and his weapons good field position? I like where Dallas is headed as a team, but until someone shows me they can prevent McNabb from making big plays down the field, I am sticking with the Eagles. The best game of the day ends on a Philly interception off of Romo in the red zone—and the Eagles take over first place in the NFC East.
Monday Night Match Up
Pittsburgh (5-2) at Denver (6-1)
Current Line: Steelers -3
Quietly, the Steelers have come back into the big picture and their win over Minnesota two weeks ago showed us that Dick LeBeau’s defense can still make game-changing plays. I love Big Ben’s game and I think this is a clear-cut playoff team. But, even in saying that, I still see the Broncos finding a way to move the ball at home and using a game plan that allows them to win—stop the run on defense and expose the corners with Brandon Marshall. It will be close, but Kyle Orton moves the Broncos down the field to set up the winning FG as time expires.
Last week vs. the spread: 7-6
Overall vs. the spread: 22-17-1
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