NFL Picks Week 15: Betting Predictions for Sunday and Monday Games
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Straight Up: Cincinnati
Against the Spread: Cincinnati -5.5
Over/Under: Under 40
Andy Dalton led a masterful 15-play TD drive in Week 14. He finished his last game 16-of-28 for 189 yards and a TD. RB Cedric Benson contributed 91 yards. A.J. Green had five big receptions.
But the Bengals settled for four FGs inside the red zone.
Then the Cincy defense blew a nine-point lead in the last period. Pacman Jones was flagged for holding in the end zone in the last few seconds and Houston QB T.J. Yates completed his first fourth-quarter comeback win.
As bad as the 2011 Colts are, at least we know why. They lost their core player.
Even with injuries, I do not know why the Rams are so bad. You can’t blame the defense on injuries to A.J. Feeley and Sam Bradford.
The defenders looked fired up in Seattle. They also looked lost. And the scores reflect that.
Steven Jackson continues to be over 30 percent of the entire Rams offense. It’s a good thing that he is world class.
The only other bright spot is that it looks as if the Sam Bradford/Brandon Lloyd passing combo can become a top-notch tandem.
If they can play in the same offensive system next year after coach Tony Spagnuolo is fired.
And if Bradford can stay healthy. He is doubtful for this Sunday. Uh-oh.
Here's what I wrote last week when both Bradford and second-stringer A.J. Feeley were in doubt:
The new quarterback for the St. Louis Rams is…Tom Brandtsater. Brandstater hasn’t even been with the team all year. They've just signed him off and onto the practice squad when Bradford has been too hurt to suit up. The man does not even have a team headshot. He’s a sophomore QB out of Fresno State. He doesn’t have any NFL stats. Great.
I don’t know where the Rams are headed, but the Bengals should be able to take care of business on the road this week.
New Orleans Saints at Minnesota Vikings
Record Books on Three!
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Straight Up: New Orleans
Against the Spread: New Orleans -6.5
Over/Under: Under 51
Who will start at quarterback for the Vikings? Christian Ponder’s hip pointer has him questionable and Joe Webb was quite respectable last weekend.
I think that Tim Tebow’s success is a good thing for Webb. Webb played QB in college, but the Vikes drafted him as a WR. However, Webb made such an impression in his first training camp that Minnesota moved him back to the QB depth chart.
Webb is the same body type as Tebow and is a similarly gifted athlete, without the hype. With the Tebow system working in Denver, Minnesota is probably more willing to work with Webb’s skill set than they might have been pre-Tebow.
In the meantime, with Adrian Peterson still questionable and Sydney Rice on I-R in Seattle—Percy Harvin appears to be the only thing resembling an offense up north. He catches, he runs and he returns kicks. But he cannot win alone.
The Vikings’ Jaren Allen will probably make it a mission to get at least one Drew Brees sack. He’ll need about five for Minnesota to win this game.
In case you have not been following the Drew Brees saga (or in case you’ve been blinded by the Aaron Rodgers' MVP hooplah), No. 9 now has 40 straight games with at least one TD pass. He and Johnny Unitas are the only two QBs ever to accomplish this. Unitas holds the record with 47—during a time when nobody passed the ball much.
Week 14 also marked Brees’ 10th straight game with over 300 passing yards. This ties him with another QB of note: Peyton Manning.
Can’t we just name Brees and Rodgers co-MVPs and call it a day?
The Saints struggled on grass in the first half last week before putting the Titans away. They only scored 22 points.
Against the weak Vikings’ secondary and on turf, I expect Nawlins to be back over 30 points.
In addition to two great WRs, a wonderful young TE and the tremendous and elusive Darren Sproles, Brees also has a better rushing attack this season.
Pierre Thomas, Mark Ingram (questionable), Chris Ivory and Sproles alternate to create the eighth best running squad in the league. That’s not bad for a team that passes first and asks questions later. (First in the league in passing, by the way.)
The Saints' Oline is impressing me with both run blocking and decent pass protection.
That’s more than I can say about the Vikings O-line. Regular readers will know how disgusted I am with this group’s total (and perennial) inability to protect their quarterback.
Washington Redskins at New York Giants
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Straight Up: New York
Against the Spread: Washington +7.5
Over/Under: Over 46.5
Rookie runner Roy Helu is climbing the charts in D.C. He has three consecutive 100-yard games and topped 126 last weekend. We’ll see how he does against Big Blue’s D.
Last Sunday was a big day for Redskins’ wide receivers. Fourth-stringer and return specialist Brandon Banks threw a left-handed TD pass about a thousand yards down the field, and third-stringer David Anderson scored his first NFL TD.
It was cute; they had to show Anderson where to go jump into the stands. Santana Moss had a great day and Donte Stallworth is at last reliably productive.
I have to give Rex Grossman credit: He’s got heart. A lot of heart. No matter what happens, he is in there fighting. He finished 19-of-32 for 252 yards, two TDs and one INT.
However, the ‘Skins’ couldn’t do much about the Tom Brady/Rob Gronkowski connection last week. I’m sure Eli Manning and Christian Ballard were taking note. But Ballard isn’t Gronkowski, so Manning will need all of his offensive weapons.
Including the RBs. It’s hard to tell about the Redskins’ rush D when the last team they played was the Pats. The Pats don’t actually run the ball. Against their religion or something.
I’m sure that (if Ahmad Bradshaw can manage to not break curfew and get benched again) the Giants will try to get that running game going early. Particularly since Washington has the 31st-ranked rush D. Hmmmm.
Tennessee Titans at Indianapolis Colts
Is it 2012 yet?
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Straight Up: Tennessee
Against the Spread: Tennessee -6.5
Over/Under: Under 41
I don’t know if Matt Hasselbeck’s calf will allow him to play, but if it's Jake Locker don't be too alarmed because: 1) he has performed far beyond expectations in his relief outings; and 2) it is the Colts.
Or perhaps they’ll start Locker and keep No. 8 in reserve in case the kid starts to flounder. It might be wise to rest Hasselbeck for a playoff run—if they can hang in there in the AFC Wild Card race with the Jets and Baltimore/Pittsburgh.
No, it’s not likely—but it is definitely possible.
I believe that Matt Hasselbeck is the best thing that ever happened to Jake Locker. No one has ever questioned Locker’s athleticism. But many teams wouldn’t touch him because he was only in the 50 percent range in college completions.
I don’t know if Locker is one of those kids created to blossom at the pro level or whether being around uber-accurate Hasselbeck has rubbed off. Yep, Locker is lucky.
The WRs are better than I had thought earlier this year, due largely to the emergence of sophomore Damien Williams. The USC product has five TDs in 10 games started this season.
Nate Washington proved last week that he can still catch, but his back injury will bear watching.
You’ll notice that I haven’t mentioned RB Chris Johnson. It’s not an oversight, it’s that this man is all over the map and I don’t know what kind of day he will have.
You would think that a Pro Bowl running back would have a field day against the Colts’ run D. But CJ is simply not himself this year.
Defensively, the team has not been so lucky. They have three linebackers and a starting cornerback listed as questionable.
This defense played very well against the prolific Saints, but seemed to wear down in the fourth. Of course, I’d wear down chasing a Drew Brees offense too.
Now that the Colts are starting Dan Orlovsky under center, Indy’s offense is a bit better. Not enough, but a bit.
The Colts might want to anticipate a lot of blitzing and pressure packages. Will the Titans defense raise up their ferocious D to stuff the Colts RBs and pancake whoever plays QB this Sunday? They absolutely might—I’m not totally sure that they can.
Did you know that over the past month, Indy has only given up 18.7 points per game? Well, that’s downright decent. Too bad the offense has only been scoring 17.7 points. You do the math.
Seattle Seahawks at Chicago Bears
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Straight Up: Seattle
Against the Spread: Seattle +3.5
Over/Under: Over 35.5
I’m starting to like the Seahawks secondary. They’re a little like lanky high school basketball players who haven’t quite figured out what to do with all of their limbs. But they are a game bunch with a bunch of talent.
I hate to speak poorly of a young backup QB, but Caleb Hanie is simply not getting it done. Of course, he doesn’t have much in the way of ball catchers either. That situation was hardly helped by the recent arrest of Sam Hurd on drug charges. Talk about "criminally stupid."
He does have a good-not-great running back in Marion Barber, but Barber had one of those “days like this” your mama warned you about.
The tanking of DaBears without Jay Cutler is certainly showing in abstentia how essential he is to this offense. I want to give him credit for it, too. But why was it Caleb Hanie over there talking to Barber going into the final drive? I give up.
People need to give Chicago’s defense some respect. I don’t care how old they are, that is a collection of major talents playing in concert with tremendous power and discipline.
Lovie Smith had the guts to revamp his secondary mid-season. And it has worked. Charles Tillman continues to be a football vacuum cleaner. He has three forced fumbles and two INTs.
Rookie Chris Conte is fitting right in, SS Major Wright is hearing his name called a lot recently. As a group, they are still 23rd in the NFL, but the run D has improved to rank ninth.
They’ll need every bit of that ranking to try and handle Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch. Just when they’re good and tired from trying to tackle “The Beast,” Justin Forsett will start killing them in short receptions.
Not to mention that Leon Washington will be out to prove that Bears return specialist Devin Hester is not the only guy who can break one.
Attention kickers: Do not aim that ball anywhere near either one of these returners or you may end up trying to make a tackle. And we know how much kickers love to tackle.
In a weird way, this game is evenly matched. Tarvaris Jackson is probably a little better QB than Hanie, Lynch is a much better runner than almost anyone and the Chicago D is still better than the young Seahawks.
I have to go with the ‘Hawks and Marshawn Lynch (plus FB Michael Robinson) versus the Bears' lack of production.
Green Bay Packers at Kansas City Chiefs
Welcome back, running game!
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Straight Up: Green Bay
Against the Spread: Green Bay -13.5
Over/Under: Over 45.5
Here we go. Greg Jennings sprained his knee and Charles Woodson is still coming off the concussion. Will they play?
Rodney Harrison said on NBC Sunday Night Football, “If you start having players get injured, it’s time to pull them and rest them—because they’re tired.”
Fortunately, Green Bay shouldn’t need Jennings to beat the beleaguered Chiefs, even at Arrowhead.
It would take a monumental mental collapse for the Packers to lose this game.
Here’s a bit of trivia for you: Aaron Rodgers is the third NFL QB to complete two touchdown passes in 13 straight games. I’ll give you a wild guess as to the identify of the other two. Initials T.B. and P.M. Yeah, Rodgers has arrived in the stratosphere.
Romeo Crennel takes over the Chiefs. Well, that’s just as well, since there is no remaining offense to coach. Crennel has done a wonderful job with this young defense, especially after losing super safety Eric Berry.
This could honestly be extremely ugly. Tyler Palko only got the ball to Dwayne Bowe a handful of times last week and supposed pounding RB Jackie Battle fizzled badly against the Jets D.
Because Crennel is no fool, he is on record that Kyle Orton will start if healthy. Duh. That's the only reason I am picking the over.
Bottom line: The Chiefs have no offense and the Packers have the best offense.
Carolina Panthers at Houston Texans
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Straight Up: Carolina
Against the Spread: Carolina +6.5
Over/Under: Over 45
All hail, T.J. Yates! If you missed this game, let me just say that Cincinnati and Houston value Yates so much that his family could only get tickets in the nose-bleed section.
On the one hand, I love the fact that both he and his family seem to lack the usual entitlement rampant among NFL players and their entourages. On the other hand, how embarrassing is that for the Texans? Oh, your family is flying to Cincy for the game? Sure, let ‘em get their own tickets.
After Yates’ fourth-quarter game-winning drive, I think that perhaps we can get Mom and Dad a pass to the luxury suite. Yates may be the first North Carolina Tar Heel ever to start under center in a NFL game, but I think the Texans have a real QB there. He threw for 300 yards and two TDs.
True to rookie QB form, Yates found his TE early and often: Owen Daniels had seven receptions for 100 yards.
Yates had to win this game since the Bengals defense held Arian Foster to 41 yards. Now, once you add in Ben Tate, the Texans did come away with 100 yards rushing. Even with the third-string QB, this offense performed well against a good D.
Significant honorable mention goes to defender Connor Barwin, who has stepped in for Mario Williams, and has harassed every opposing quarterback since cracking the starting lineup.
Oh, and congratulations on winning the AFC South and making the playoffs for the first time ever.
The Carolina Panthers completely imploded in the second half last Sunday. Up until halftime Cam Newton and DeAngelo Williams threw, rushed and scored at will for three quarters. Newton even made Atlanta’s best defender, John Abraham, look like a fumble-footed rookie.
And then they had to play the second 30 minutes.
Let’s not forget that Olindo Mare missed a key FG. How sorry is the Panthers front office to have let John Kasay end up in New Orleans?
I'm picking Carolina because I think that the Texans will have a letdown after clinching their first playoff berth and because defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is having surgery this week.
Miami Dolphins at Buffalo Bills
No--I'll go the other way
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Straight Up: Miami
Against the Spread: Miami +.5
Over/Under: Due to all of the injuries, I can't find a line here. The Buffalo defense is so bad in general and so bad against the run (almost 160 yards per game on the ground allowed over the last three weeks) that I have to predict about 40 points scored. So...Under 41
Introducing interim Dolphins head coach Todd Bowles. He used to be the Assistant Head Coach/Secondary coach. His name sounded familiar, and then I realized he had played DB for the Redskins back in the day.
Bowles has been coaching for 20 years and probably feels ready to move up the career ladder. He’ll get the de riguer “Rooney Rule” interview, but I think his kids will be a different school next year.
Bowles is going to be keeping the seat warm while GM Jeff Ireland’s new mission is to find a franchise QB. Can’t you just hear Bill Parcells now?
Forget next season, you need a QB for Sunday. Matt Moore sustained a head injury, due in no small part to the absence of Jake Long at LT. Miami QBs were sacked nine times on Sunday.
Brian Daboll’s offense turned the ball over three times. And once again, Daboll neglected Reggie Bush early in the game.
Perhaps someone should point out to Daboll that Bush is averaging 4.6 yards per run and 6.6 yards for his 40 receptions. He has a total of six TDs and 41 first downs on his 2011 resume. And I swear he wasn’t on the field for even half of the touches until November.
The running game should be a point of emphasis for a Miami team now on its third QB. The WRs are coming along and Brandon Marshall is a legit star.
But Marshall just got into another scrape with the law by not paying a cab fare that was over $142. Furthermore, the incident happened after Marshall left a Miami hotel very early in the morning. Like not on the waking-up part of the day, more like the end-of-a-party part of the day.
Let’s face it, backup QB J.P. Losman is not Jim Kelly just because they both played for Buffalo at one time.
Speaking of Buffalo, Ryan Fitzpatrick completed only 13 out of 34 passes and threw two INTs last week.
The Bills have lost their running back and one of their WRs as well as half of their defense—and it shows. I had hoped that perhaps former first round pick C.J. Spiller was coming around. But he managed only 46 yards last week. Ugh.
If the weather is reasonable, I’ll take the Dolphins. Otherwise, I would have to give the nod to home field and the team that didn’t just fire their coach.
Detroit Lions at Oakland Raiders
The real deal at QB
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Straight Up: Detroit
Against the Spread: Detroit +1.5
Over/Under: Over 47.5 The weather will be cloudy but decent and the Raiders have given up 33 points per game in the last month.
I’m giving Carson Palmer a totally unsolicited piece of advice. Do not throw the ball anywhere near Lions DB Alfonso Smith. Smith grabbed two INTs on Sunday and turned one of them into a touchdown.
Alfonso was considered a risky pickup by Detroit in the character department, but he appears to have grown up and grown into a good CB. That’s fortunate, considering how many Lions DBs are questionable at best for Sunday.
Ndamukong Suh has finished his suspension and should be back on the field this week.
I’m sure that the Raiders running backs are thrilled with that piece of news. That means Michael Bush and Rock Cartwright. Every other Silver and Black RB is hurt.
The WRs aren’t in much better shape, with Louis Murphy and T.J. Houshmandzadeh the only ones not in the infirmary. Darius Heward-Bey did play last week, but he is still questionable.
People have been very hard on Carson Palmer. How is he supposed to run an offense with third-string RBs and WRs and a center who is in and out of the lineup on a seemingly daily basis? Let’s be fair here.
Matthew Stafford may not have much in the way of a running game, but he does have Calvin Johnson and Nate Burleson to throw to. And, if they get blanketed, there are always the touchdown-scoring TEs Brandon Pettigrew and Tony Scheffler.
Amazingly enough, RB Kevin Smith is practicing again and has been upgraded to questionable. Detroit needs him badly if they are to contend for one of the Wild Card slots.
Take the time to watch this game just to see Matthew Stafford throw the football. "Zip" doesn't even begin to describe it. Fighting a broken index finger, Stafford apparently only needs three fingers and a thumb to throw the ball 60 yards. Truly dazzling.
Cleveland Browns at Arizona Cardinals
Naw, he doesn't look like he has a concussion or anything. Please.
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Straight Up: Arizona
Against the Spread: Arizona -6.5 (I am amazed that this is not higher now that McCoy is doubtful and Joshua Cribbs has a groin injury.)
Over/Under: Under 37 It is supposed to rain. If it clears up, change to the Over.
I don’t know how much more anyone can expect Colt McCoy to take. Receivers drop balls, the runners can’t get traction and apparently pass protection is totally optional.
Then the team lets you go back in the game when, if Colt’s Dad is telling the truth and why wouldn’t he be, you have a concussion? What do you want from this kid? You’re already getting blood, not to mention multiple drives all the way down the field.
I just don’t want to see him sustain either permanent physical or psychological damage. Come on, Mike Holmgren.
Okay, now that I’ve said my peace, let’s discuss the running backs. Pat Shurmur said he was resting Montario Hardesty in order to use him last Thursday. I’m sorry, did I miss the part of the game where Hardesty was used?
And how about we occasionally don’t give Hillis the ball when he’s in the lineup? I’m just saying that if I know it’s going to be a Hillis one-cut rushing attempt, don’t you think that the defense knows that?
As for rookie WR Greg Little—is it too late to bring back stick’em?
When one run by Chris Ogbannaya and Brad Maynard’s punting are the highlights of the night things need to change.
Well, with Seneca Wallace under center, expect a lot of short passing, some Wildcat and some trick plays. He had better not get hurt because third-stringer Thaddeus Lewis is on one injury report with an "undisclosed injury." However, he isn't on any other lists that I've been able to find. Hmmmm. Whatever that means, it can't be good.
Meanwhile in Arizona, what is Kevin Kolb’s status? Does it matter? Can’t we just call Kolb a failed experiment and start John Skelton?
RB Beanie Wells is probable so he will get the most touches of any Cardinal. They'll ride him as far as the weak Cleveland run D will let them. The Browns' have allowed almost 190 yards per game on the ground in the last three weeks. Yikes.
And then they'll throw it to Larry Fitzgerald. If coach Ken Whisenhunt lets Skelton throw it too often, though, it will end up in the hands of excellent Cleveland corner Joe Haden.
Not even that will translate into a win for the Browns.
New York Jets at Philadelphia Eagles
Oh, okay, so if I'm not Tom Brady there won't be a penalty?
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images
Straight Up: New York
Against the Spread: New York +3.0
Over/Under: Over 43.5
I’ve been burned many times this year by the schizo Eagles. They are so inconsistent it’s maddening.
Michael Vick has returned to the fold and played better than I thought he would on Sunday, finishing with 208 passing yards on the night. And 167 of those came in the first half!
LeSean McCoy is still the only reliable scoring machine for Philly, and he motored into the end zone twice.
The biggest story for those of us who like justice is that Juan Castillo’s defensive players were dominating demons of destruction against the Dolphins.
The Iggles held Miami to 204 total net yards and they gained 57 yards on punt returns.
That, my friends, is a balanced attack.
Defensively, the Eagles wrecking crew of Justin Babin and Trent Cole will be hunting anything that moves on the New York offense. Yikes.
As for Gang Green—you may finally have a running back. I have not been a Shonn Greene fan, but the past two weeks proved that New York wasn’t completely insane to draft No. 23.
In his first two years in the league, Greene scored four total TDs. In 13 games this year, he has scored six TDs. And he has not lost any fumbles. Now, that is a starting RB.
If they can lean on Greene, LaDanian Tomlinson’s fresh legs can continue to give them a much-needed change of pace.
The rest of the offense is clicking now, too. QB Mark Sanchez was 13-of-21 for 181 yards and two TDs. There you go.
Aside from losing Safety Jim Leonard to another injury, Sunday was a good day for the J-E-T-S. They put up 28 points in the first half and held KC to a total of 10 points all day.
My only quibble is—why were your starters in that game in the fourth quarter? Reckless endangerment and coaching ego, I’m sure.
The Jets should be able to beat the Eagles. And they need it more than Philly does.
New England Patriots at Denver Broncos
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Straight Up: New England
Against the Spread: Denver +7.5
Over/Under: Under 46.5 (For Denver to win ATS, their D must keep it reasonably low-scoring)
The Washington defense disrupted Brady so much that he threw an interception in the end zone. And he threw it while standing stock still in a firm pocket with plenty of time. No wonder the offensive coordinator yelled at him.
The Patriots secondary struggled, which allowed Washington’s offense to score at a level unheard of this season. The consequence? Tom Brady felt pressure to score points, was rattled, was intercepted.
That’s a vicious cycle that every AFC team is going to try and replicate in the upcoming playoffs.
None of the above may ultimately matter as long as TE Rob Gronkowski is playing for New England. In Week 14, he broke the NFL scoring record for all TEs. I have yet to see a team shut him down. He’s a cross between Antonio Gates and Tony Gonzalez, with Jason Witten’s reliability.
I’m gong to digress for a moment in order to beg the officials not to keep treating No. 12 as if he were made of glass. I thought Washington linebacker London Fletcher was going to explode, he was so angry at a blatantly bad unsportsmanlike penalty last week. Just because it’s Brady, doesn’t mean that you can’t touch him (on the shoulder and before he started to slide). Please.
Then there’s Tim Tebow. I live in Los Angeles and my guests were very unhappy that we got stuck with the Denver/Chicago game instead of being able to watch the Chargers last weekend.
They were further displeased by the 0-0 score for most of the game.
And then we hit the fourth quarter. And you know what happened.
After virtually no production for three quarters, Tebow finished the winning effort with 285 yards, 236 of which were through the air. Against the Chicago Bears.
I don’t know what to expect from No.15 versus this somewhat suspect Patriots secondary. You would think that he would do well, but Tebow's success or failure seems to be entirely of his own making: He either throws the ball accurately or he doesn’t. Pressure doesn’t seem to affect him.
It does affect some of the WRs, who dropped a few last week.
Ideally for Denver, RB Willis McGahee will have success on the ground. Rookie Redskin runner Roy Helu put up 126 yards on the New England defense in Week 14. So McGahee could have another big day.
If Brady gets so mad he yells at people and if the Denver D can keep him angry and unsettled enough to keep the score down, then Tebow has a chance.
The Denver defense is 24th overall, 24th against the pass and 20th against the run. I’m guessing Tom Brady will load it up to Gronkowski, Deion Branch and Wes Welker.
Ultimately, I have to go with the more experienced QB. But it could be close on the Tebow factor alone.
Baltimore Ravens at San Diego Chargers
Simply the Best
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Straight Up: Baltimore
Against the Spread: Baltimore -2.5
Over/Under: Under 44.5
The Baltimore Ravens scored on an early bomb to rookie Torrey Smith. And that was pretty much it for the passing game. By the third quarter, Baltimore’s offensive strategy was—run it. Even on first down.
Of course, if I had Ray Rice and Ricky Williams, I'd run it to. Check out my review of Rice and the other most versatile RBs in the League.
Rice topped 1,000 yards for the season and Ricky Williams is closing in on the 10,000-yard mark.
The Chargers have been without a real running back since they let LaDanian Tomlinson go and without any rushing game since they let Darren Sproles scoot off to the Big Easy.
Sure, they spent a big draft pick on Ryan Matthews. I was less than thrilled with his production early on. But I believe that Mr. Matthews may be finally figuring out the pro game. Last Sunday he became the first Charger since Tomlinson (in 2007) to have three consecutive 100 yard games. That’s more like it.
Even better news for embattled San Diego QB Philip Rivers is that TE Antonio Gates appears to be healthy again. He scored twice last week.
The Bolts special teams even got in the act as Safety Eric Weddle took a faked punt on a rush for a first down.
The result of this awakening on offense? Rivers went 24-of-33 for 240 yards and three touchdowns. I am quite sure that Sunday was the only fun Rivers has had all year.
I hate to spoil his fun, but the Ravens have allowed less than nine points per game over the past month. Nine.
Pittsburgh Steelers at San Francisco 49ers
Must stay clean
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There aren't any odds available due to Roethlisberger's ankle injury. I'm picking this assuming that he will play. If he doesn't, take San Francisco. See my article on Big Ben and the 11 most difficult NFL players to tackle.
Straight Up: Pittsburgh
Against the Spread: Pittsburgh +.5
Over/Under: Under 36 (San Francisco has given up 12.3 points per game in the last three weeks. Pittsburgh? 6.3 points)
Ben's ankle is bad news for the Steelers, but the good news is that Center Maurkice Pouncey is probable. It may be good news for backup QB Charlie Batch, but it's good news.
How on earth can Ben Roethlisberger keep playing through all of those injuries. Readers, you know that No. 7 is hardly my favorite NFL player (much less human). But my hat is totally off to him in the toughness department. You know it’s bad when the network pulls out the old anatomy chart to chronicle your injuries.
The man could not walk and he played the entire second half while hopping! And played well. Yes, they started running the ball a whole lot more. But I didn’t see any fumbles or screwups from the Steelers QB. Wow.
On the other side of the ball, LB James Harrison is going to retire broke if he doesn’t stop leading with his head instead of using it. His hit on Colt McCoy was not late, because Colt did technically have a few steps there to brace for impact. But launching the top of your helmet into a QB’s facemask? Come on. Well, we won’t see Mr. Harrison this week due to suspension.
For the Niners, it will be about how many sacks that O-line gives up. Alex Smith is having a true career resurrection. But he’s been sacked 39 times this year, and he won’t make it to the postseason if that doesn’t stop.
I think the game plan will be Frank Gore running for San Fran and passing to Mike Wallace/Antonio Brown for Pittsburgh. If Ben can't play, there will be a shift to running with Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman.
The Steelers are sixth in the NFL in rushing defense and the 49ers are first in the League in fewest points allowed.
As long as Smith survives, this should be a fun game to watch.