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The Thinking Man's Guide: NFL Week 10 Predictions

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The Thinking Man's Guide: NFL Week 10 Predictions
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Looks like credit is in order for NBC correctly predicting Houston (7-1) at Chicago (7-1) as the super marquee game for prime time of Week 10. It is the only Week 10 game between teams with winning records.

Now let’s see if we can get the correct game prediction, along with a look at two fallen comeback kings, Jacksonville’s attempt at a sweep and how the New Orleans Saints can knock off the undefeated Atlanta Falcons. 

Finally, since the election is over and it is time for some real changes around here, I will give a prediction for every single game for the first time this season.

But I will not budge on giving each game the same level of detail. Nope, not this party.

 


Texans at Bears: Conference powerhouses and…equivalents?


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Both teams are 7-1. They lead the league in scoring differential (Chicago Bears +116, Houston Texans +100). Both teams have one playoff win since 2007 and are looking for respect as an elite team.

Both have a quarterback with a questionable reputation in big games, which this certainly is even if it is out of conference. First-round byes are at stake.

  • Jay Cutler is 12-1 in his last 13 starts (2-1 against teams with winning record).
  • Matt Schaub is 11-1 in his last 12 starts (3-1 against teams with winning record).

What is the only loss for each? The 2012 Green Bay Packers, as Cutler threw four interceptions, and Schaub was blown out 42-24 at home.

Both teams have an elite defense led by a player on a campaign for Defensive Player of the Year, and with a trademark move. J.J. Watt has the swat, and Charles “Peanut” Tillman can punch a ball out with the best of them.

When they square off on Sunday night, each team will look at the other and see a lot of themselves. So which team has the advantage?

We know Chicago has the home-field advantage, where they are 4-0 this season. But let’s look at some new data from the Pro-Football-Reference Team Game Finder in regards to the Vegas spread. It apparently is not loaded for 2012, or at least does not show up in searches.

Chicago appears to be a 1.5-point favorite this week.

  • Since 2004, Chicago’s Lovie Smith is 7-5 in home games where he is favored against a playoff team, which we assume Houston is.
  • Conversely, Houston’s Gary Kubiak is 2-21 in road games where he is the underdog against a playoff team, which we assume Chicago is. Kubiak is 2-1 when the spread is 3.5 points or fewer.
  • From 2004-11, using teams who would both make the postseason, road underdogs are 93-156 (.373) straight up.
  • When the home team is favored by 2.0 points or less, the road team is still only 10-18 (.357).

Does it mean much for Sunday? Perhaps not, but it is some fun data to play around with.

Something not fun is playing the Chicago defense. The stats say they have allowed 120 points, but subtract out scores that were not their fault and that number drops to 104. Now subtract the ridiculous 48 points they have scored on return touchdowns, and the Bears have allowed a net of 56 points (7.0 points per game).

For comparison, the Houston defense has allowed a net of 98 points (12.3 points per game). While a respectable number, it cannot compare to the Bears.

This is also an incredible strength versus strength matchup: Houston’s league-best six giveaways against Chicago’s league-best 28 takeaways.

Chicago has multiple takeaways in every game this season. If you only expect Houston to turn it over once, then Chicago’s advantage decreases, unless the Bears turn it into their eighth return score of the season. Tillman potentially not playing would hurt.

If you are hoping for a close game between top teams, then this may not be the season for it as so many of the marquee games have been duds in 2012.

Both Chicago and Houston have played very few close games. The Texans are one of only two teams in the league (San Francisco) that have yet to have a fourth-quarter comeback or game-winning drive opportunity. Chicago had one, beating Carolina after trailing 19-7.

If the game is close, Cutler has been the more reliable quarterback. He is 13-15 (.464) in fourth-quarter comeback opportunities compared to 7-21 (.250) for Schaub. Worse, Schaub is 3-18 (.143) in the clutch against teams .500 or better. Cutler is 5-10 (.333).

This should be a great game, and I have to go with Chicago to pull out the win. Arian Foster should not have a huge game, putting more pressure on Schaub, and this Chicago defense just has an incredible knack for creating those takeaways.

But Cutler and his protection against Watt and the Houston defense will have no picnic either. This is going to be a defensive battle and hopefully a game that lives up to the hype.

 


Colts at Jaguars: Why Jacksonville will not get the sweep


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Last season the Indianapolis Colts were swept by the Jacksonville Jaguars for the first time ever. Then they lost in Indianapolis in Week 3 this season, which is still the only win Jacksonville (1-7) has all year.

That day it took 177 yards from Maurice Jones-Drew on the ground, and he will not play this time. While the Jaguars do not need him to have a solid running game, there is little chance they are as successful running the ball this time.

But even with the rushing yards, the game came down to Cecil Shorts taking a pass over the middle 80 yards for a stunning touchdown with 0:45 left. It was the 20th time since 1981 a team took over in the final minute of the fourth quarter and scored a game-winning touchdown.

It erased another comeback and game-winning drive for Andrew Luck, which he is becoming special at doing. It is the only game-winning drive in Blaine Gabbert’s career.

In that game, Jacksonville generated less pressure against Luck than any defense that has played the Colts this season. Luck has also been outstanding operating under pressure the last two weeks, including his record-setting performance against the Miami Dolphins.

This is the first time Luck will play defense for the second time, and the Jaguars will have to come up with a different approach, because Luck’s current level of play is further along than it was in Week 3.

The Colts as a team are playing much better with a 4-1 record under interim coach Bruce Arians. While all of their wins have been close, they at least have wins to speak of.

Jacksonville has lost five straight and has failed to score more than 15 points in four games. Gabbert has only thrown for 260 yards twice in his career while Luck has done it six times in eight games.

The quarterback matchup appears to be no matchup, and the Colts have improved on the ground while Jacksonville has failed to crack 70 yards rushing in each of their last five games.

If there is a poor stat for the Colts, it would be their three takeaways in eight games, which ties the 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers for the fewest takeaways through eight games in NFL history.

It would be easy to say the Colts take care of business, but keep in mind this is not the Peyton Manning-led Colts. It is still a young team going through a lot of emotional highs and lows, and this is a quick turnaround after a huge win on Sunday.

We know road teams do not fare well on NFL Network’s Thursday night game, producing just a 14-31 (.311) record since 2006.

But if you think a team is several games better than another, then the home-field advantage disappears. Right now, the record says the Colts are 5-3 and a better team than Jacksonville.

They may very well play another close one, but how can you bet against Luck at this point? This will be his first prime-time game and a good chance to showcase what is quickly becoming a special season.

Colts win by 10 points.


 

Chargers at Buccaneers: Closing time


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Things change fast in the NFL. Philip Rivers was once revered as a borderline-elite quarterback. Josh Freeman was once a young rising star in his second season.

They have quickly turned into yesterday’s news after bad seasons in 2011 full of turnovers and a failure to win close games.

Now with both teams at 4-4, these playoff hopefuls will battle it out to get back on track with a winning record.

Freeman started his career with a large collection of close wins for the young Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was 7-6 at fourth-quarter comeback opportunities to begin his career, which is elite territory, especially for a second-year player.

But after a crushing overtime loss to the Detroit Lions in 2010, Tampa Bay missed the postseason despite their 10-6 record. Last season they were 4-2, but lost their final 10 games of the season before starting 1-3 in 2012.

After that 7-6 start, Freeman is 1-9 in his last 10 comeback opportunities, including seven straight losses (0-4 in 2012).

If that sounds bad, look at Rivers. He was a solid 11-17 (.393) at fourth-quarter comeback opportunities from 2006-09 and was one of the most feared quarterbacks late in games.

But after a playoff loss to the New York Jets, Rivers has not won a big game since, and the San Diego Chargers have been just woeful in close games, going 2-14 in their last 16 comeback opportunities.

Here is a look at the decline for Rivers in game-winning drive opportunities, or drives where he has the ball in the fourth quarter or overtime, tied or trailing by 1-8 points.

It is an abysmal record and pitiful stats in regards to turnovers (13 of them since 2010) and lack of scoring.

San Diego is 4-4, but half of those wins are against the Kansas City Chiefs, which are only worth about 0.53 wins on the black market. The Bucs beat  Kansas City too, and they have been piling on the points and actually rank No. 5 in the league in scoring (28.3 PPG). So Rivers better take advantage of a porous pass defense to keep up.

It is a long trip from San Diego to Tampa Bay, and the game starts at 1 p.m. EST. Since 2006, San Diego is 4-6 in road games with a 1 p.m. EST kickoff, though they have only played one such game since 2009. It was a 27-21 loss to the Jets last season.

With Doug Martin running wild, Freeman in a zone and deep threat Vincent Jackson playing his former team, I look for the Buccaneers to outscore San Diego, and for Freeman to outplay Rivers in the clutch.

Tampa Bay moves to 5-4.


 

Falcons at Saints: How can the Saints pull it off?


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Normally a 3-5 team is considered dead for the playoffs, seeing as how only seven teams starting 3-5 since 1990 have actually made it to the postseason (the first of those teams being the 1990 New Orleans Saints).

But the 2012 Saints are unique for a 3-5 team because they have one of the best quarterbacks in recent NFL history in Drew Brees, who is on pace for another 5,000-yard passing season.

However, he brings with him a defense that has allowed at least 420 yards in all eight games this season; an NFL record for futility. Previously, no defense had ever allowed even 375 yards in eight straight games to start a season.

While yards do not lose games, the Saints also give up a lot of points to everyone but the Eagles, who stunk in the red zone on Monday night.

So how can the Saints pull off the upset at home against an undefeated Atlanta team?

Well, they will have to win a shootout, and that is what the Saints are built to do, and only what Atlanta has recently tried to build themselves into.

The Saints are 10-2 against Atlanta since Brees joined in 2006. They have scored at least 20 points all but once, winning 17-14 in Atlanta in 2010.

Atlanta is a great closing team, allowing just three fourth-quarter comeback wins since 2008. Guess who owns two of the three? Brees and the Saints.

The last meeting was a 45-16 rout when Brees broke the record for most passing yards in a season. Atlanta remembers the loss, and the Saints should look back on the win and what went so well.

Matt Ryan is 2-9 when the opponent scores more than 28 points, and it will likely take at least that many from Brees and the offense to get this win. New Orleans had a poor outing in Denver, but has scored at least 24 points in 16 of its last 18 games.

The Falcons are the 25th team since 1940 to start 8-0 or better. When these teams lose, it almost never is to a losing team. The “Start” is how many games the team won to start undefeated before their first loss. The “Record” is the record of the first opponent who beat them coming into the game, and their final regular season record in parenthesis.

Only five teams with a losing record coming into the game pulled off the upset, and only three teams finishing with a losing record did it. The most notable would be the 1990 Los Angeles Rams heading into San Francisco with a 3-7 record and knocking off the 10-0 San Francisco 49ers.

You see Brees’ name on the list in 2005 when he went into Indianapolis and led an upset over the 13-0 Colts. He can join Tony Romo as the only quarterbacks in NFL history with two wins over undefeated teams 7-0 or better.

If there is a team that has Atlanta’s number, it is New Orleans. Facing a must-win game in the Superdome, why not pick the Saints this week to end what has hardly been a dominant 8-0 start by the Falcons?

If Oakland, Carolina and Dallas can push this team in Atlanta, then the Saints should be able to do the same in New Orleans. The common link among those three teams who have lost is a shady history of closing games.

Carson Palmer throws big picks, Cam Newton is 1-13 at comebacks and the Cowboys have many issues.

The Saints have Brees, and when he’s on his “A” game, there are few better. Keep him upright enough, and the Saints can believe they are going to dig themselves out of this hole and make the playoffs.

Expect points, drama and the quarterback with the ball in his hands last with an opportunity to win (no misleading kneel down junk) to come through.

I think it will be the one who can’t sing and needs NyQuil to fall asleep.

 

 

Hurry-up predictions


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For the record, my season picks have turned out to the tune of 85-47 (.644).

Patriots over Bills – We know even if the New England Patriots fall behind by 21 points they can rip off 45 in a row against Dave Wannstedt’s defense. Should be another bloodbath.

Broncos over Panthers – Likewise, Peyton Manning could wipe out a 17-point deficit in the fourth quarter in Carolina if he wants to. John Fox gets a comfortable win.

Giants over Bengals – Upset alert, but the New York Giants should have enough offense to take care of the quality-win-lacking Cincinnati Bengals.

Lions over VikingsMatthew Stafford has led two late game-winning drives this season in which he threw for 75 (Seattle) and 80 yards (Rams). Christian Ponder has had two full games in which he only threw for 63 (Seattle) and 58 yards (Cardinals). He also will not be getting return touchdowns to beat Detroit like earlier this season.

Ravens over Raiders – Carson Palmer will fall behind, proceed to put up good numbers to make the game close, then blow it again with a pick.

Dolphins over Titans – The Tennessee Titans have allowed 308 points in nine games. A few of the only teams in NFL history to do worse were in their first season in the NFL, and did not make it to a second (1950 Baltimore Colts and 1952 Dallas Texans). Big game coming for Ryan Tannehill.

Seahawks over Jets – Seattle is 4-0 at home. Just imagine how low Mark Sanchez’s completion percentage will be on the road against that pass defense.

Cowboys over Eagles – I had to flip a quarter for the blunder bowl, and it landed in the trash can, so I will just say the Cowboys because I know they actually have scored more than 24 points in a game this season.

49ers over Rams – Good luck to the Rams in their challenge of scoring 10 points in this one.

Steelers over Chiefs – The Steelers somehow lead the league in total defense (yards per game allowed), yet rank 21st in points per drive allowed. Both numbers should improve in this one.

But Pittsburgh, you do not want to be the first team to trail in regulation to Kansas City. This will be a rout as long as Todd Haley does not get cute as he looks to embarrass the team that fired him.

 

Scott Kacsmar writes for Cold, Hard Football Facts, NBC Sports, Colts Authority, and contributes data to Pro-Football-Reference.com and NFL Network. You can visit his blog for a complete writing archive, and can follow him on Twitter at @CaptainComeback. 

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