NFL Picks Week 10: Bleacher Report's Expert Consensus Picks
And then there were three.
The Denver Broncos' loss to the Indianapolis Colts in Week 9—after the Broncos handed Green Bay its first loss of the season the previous week—has whittled the number of undefeated NFL teams to three.
If you can say "whittled." It's the latest in any season in NFL history that three teams have all sat with goose eggs in the loss column.
It's been that kind of year in the NFL. Top-heavy. Sure, there are more undefeated teams in the league than ever before, but entering Week 9, all of five squads in the AFC had winning records.
One of those teams, the 5-3 New York Jets, will kick off Week 10 with an AFC East clash containing no shortage of subplots.
It's there we'll begin our look at Week 10, as prognosticated by the prescient pundits who post in these parts.
Sorry. Alliteration was listed on my word-of-the-day toilet paper.
Well, it's about time!
Last year, through a combination of shrewd examination, football savvy and luck, I correctly predicted the most NFL games of our little cabal.
OK, so it was mostly luck. FINE! Steal my joy! I don't CARE!
However, this season I've mostly languished in the middle of the pack. Not the worst record, mind you. But nowhere near the best.
In Week 9, however, fortune smiled on me. I had 10 correct picks in 13 games, allowing me to pick up some ground on season leaders Matt Miller and Mike Freeman, who have been jockeying back and forth for much of the year.
Gary Davenport: NFL Analyst 10-3 (83-49)
Mike Freeman: NFL National Lead Writer 7-6 (86-46)
Brad Gagnon: NFL Analyst 6-7 (81-51)
Matt Miller: NFL National Lead Writer 8-5 (86-46)
Ty Schalter: NFL National Lead Writer 8-5 (70-62)
Brent Sobleski: NFL Analyst 5-8 (81-51)
Mike Tanier: NFL National Lead Writer 8-5 (79-53)
Sean Tomlinson: NFL Analyst 6-7 (79-53)
Consensus: 7-6 (86-46)
Buffalo Bills (4-4) at New York Jets (5-3)
The Pick: New York Jets (6-2)
Given Rex Ryan's tenure as head coach of the New York Jets, one that began with two trips to the AFC Championship Game and ended with a trip to the unemployment line, it's hardly a surprise that many have wondered aloud what the bombastic Buffalo Bills head coach has up his sleeve for his old team Thursday night.
Well, in typical Ryan fashion, his press conference this week included everything from a Clemson helmet to comments on Jets quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's beard ("He's not a real handsome kid") to a Twitter beef with Jets safety Calvin Pryor.
However, as Brian Costello of the New York Post reported, Ryan insisted that he isn't treating his return to the Big Apple differently than any other game:
I know you guys don’t believe me, but it’s not entered my mind about all those other things [returning to MetLife Stadium]. We want to do everything in our power to win this game but not for any personal reasons. We want to win this game. I promise I’ll give you an honest answer after the game.
Uh-huh. And in completely unrelated news that I'm sure has nothing to do with any residual hard feelings with the Jets, Ryan named linebacker IK Enemkpali a captain for the game.
The same Enemkpali whom the Jets cut in August after he broke quarterback Geno Smith's jaw in a locker room fight.
Critics will call it classless. Supporters will call it Rex being Rex.
And in the end, our panel doesn't think it will matter, with three-quarters of the voters picking Gang Green to prevail in what's shaping up as a low-scoring, defensive affair.
Bills: Gagnon, Sobleski
Jets: Davenport, Freeman, Miller, Schalter, Tanier, Tomlinson
Detroit Lions (1-7) at Green Bay Packers (6-2)
The Pick: Green Bay Packers (8-0)
The cheese is falling!
After the Packers won their first six games, many pundits labeled Green Bay the best team in the NFC, if not all the NFL.
Now, after back-to-back losses that saw the supposedly potent Green Bay offense struggle mightily, it's panic time in Titletown—at least among fans and some members of the media. Head coach Mike McCarthy, for his part, told ESPN.com's Rob Demovsky he has no intention of hitting the big red button and reclaiming the play-calling duties he relinquished before the 2015 season.
"I’m as involved in the offense and defense and special teams as I can be," McCarthy said. "I watch more film and keep doing what I’m doing. My job responsibility, job descriptions have been defined. And that’s not going to change."
Luckily, in Week 9 the Packers are set to be inoculated against further losses by a surefire cure for all that ails a struggling NFL team: an NFL team that's struggling even worse in the one-win Lions, whom we last saw getting handed the most lopsided defeat on British soil since the Battle of Culloden.
Lions: I refuse to pick a team whose offense is coordinated by a grown man named Jim Bob Cooter.
Packers: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Dallas Cowboys (2-6) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-5)
The Pick: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-2)
As the Associated Press reported (via Fox Sports), the Tampa Bay Buccaneers didn't just lose a game last week to the New York Giants.
They almost lost a piece of themselves:
After the Tampa Bay Buccaneers suffered a defeat marked by fumbles, penalties and just one touchdown, authorities say a south Florida man tried to set the team's oversized flag on fire.
Tampa police say it happened just after the New York Giants beat the Buccaneers 32-18 Sunday evening. A caller said someone was attempting to torch the $26,000 flag outside the Bucs' corporate offices, near Raymond James stadium. The red banner featuring a skull and two crossed cutlasses measures about 80 feet by 50 feet and hangs from a 15-story pole.
Police say the fire-retardant flag did not actually go up in flames, but a small part of it was damaged.
They say 32-year-old Daniel Justin Raboni of North Palm Beach was charged with felony criminal mischief and marijuana possession.
I get the feeling that the last two words of that story more or less explain the rest of it.
I also get the feeling that I'm trying to find something to say about a game featuring a pair of teams in a footrace to get to nowhere first.
Cowboys: Gagnon, Schalter
Buccaneers: Davenport, Freeman, Miller, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Carolina Panthers (8-0) at Tennessee Titans (2-6)
The Pick: Carolina Panthers (8-0)
Despite the fact that the Carolina Panthers keep right on winning games, the team just hasn't gotten a lot of run around the NFL.
They keep winning, but the Patriots are better. They kept winning, but the Packers were better. They kept winning, but the Broncos were better.
Well, the Broncos fell last week. So did the Packers. For the second game in a row. To the Panthers.
ESPN Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden told colleague David Newton it's high time people realized that the 2015 Panthers might just be the class of the NFC. Newton wrote:
A solid defense. A quarterback that can make plays with his arm and his legs. A productive running game. Sound special teams.
This was the 2013 Seattle Seahawks.
This also could be the 2015 Carolina Panthers.
“Seattle won a world championship and got back to the Super Bowl [last season] with a very similar style: great defense and a quarterback [who] can run around and make plays,’’ ESPN Monday Night Football analyst Jon Gruden said when asked if the Panthers (8-0) are a legitimate title contender.
“They beat Seattle in Seattle, so they’re for real.’’
In fact, throw in the Colts, and the Panthers have downed three of the four participants in last year's conference championship games.
They may not be racking up style points, but 8-0 is 8-0.
It's also the vote for this game.
Panthers: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Titans: Cheer up, Titans fans. Marcus Mariota looks like the real deal.
Chicago Bears (3-5) at St. Louis Rams (4-4)
The Pick: St. Louis Rams (8-0)
No, that's not how many games suspended or thousands of dollars fined Lamarcus Joyner of the Rams got for his much-ballyhooed hit on Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater last week.
For what it's worth, it was an unfortunate play, but it wasn't intentional. It's a case of too many people watching too many slow-motion replays. Football is not played in slow motion. Far from it.
That's the Rams' third-down conversion numbers over the past three games.
And that's not good.
As head coach Jeff Fisher told Fox Sports, he's well-aware that the team's third-down woes have to be addressed: "We’re not as productive as we’d like to be on offense. We made some bigger plays, we had more yardage, but when it came down to it we weren’t able to keep drives alive and that’s been a problem for us the last few weeks."
For all their issues on third down, though, the Rams possess an explosive running back in rookie Todd Gurley and a stout front four on defense. In addition the team has been a much tougher out this year at home than on the road.
In the opinion of our voters, that should be enough to get St. Louis past an up-and-down Bears team Sunday.
Bears: I was this close to taking them. They're not as bad as many people think.
Rams: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
New Orleans Saints (4-5) at Washington Redskins (3-5)
The Pick: New Orleans Saints (6-2)
Everything was going so well.
After pitching and lurching their way to a 1-4 start, the New Orleans Saints reeled off three straight wins. If they beat a one-win Titans team in Week 9, the Saints would have been above .500 for the first time since the conclusion of the 2013 season.
Well, that didn't come to pass, and head coach Sean Payton bemoaned what could have been while speaking with the Sports XChange (via United Press International) after the Saints fell to the Titans in overtime:
I felt early on we had our opportunities to get out ahead and score a few more, and all of a sudden, we got a turnover. There was a sequence of about two or three things that happened.
The second half comes and we struggle with some protections, we can't get off the field definitely, we get in field-goal range and we get a kick blocked. We fumble a return. We do those things that keep you from winning.
The same issues that have dogged the Saints all season were in full effect against Tennessee. Poor pass protection. Even worse pass defense.
And yet, in a season filled with teams hovering right around the .500 mark, this flawed Saints squad remains very much in the wild-card hunt.
As such, we're not ready to take the Kirk Cousins' side of this week's quarterback duel with Drew Brees just yet.
Saints: Davenport, Freeman, Miller, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Redskins: Gagnon, Schalter
Miami Dolphins (3-5) at Philadelphia Eagles (4-4)
The Pick: Philadelphia Eagles (7-1)
This was what Chip Kelly wanted when he traded for quarterback Sam Bradford.
As Jeff McLane of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote, in last Sunday night's 33-27 overtime win over the Dallas Cowboys, Bradford finally looked like the signal-caller who could realize Kelly's vision and guide his offense:
Bradford hadn't exactly overcome some of the problems he had early on with turnovers, seeing the field and feeling the pocket during the month leading up to last week's bye. But you could see his comfort in the offense grow with each outing.
It wasn't until Sunday night, though, that Bradford resembled the quarterback that Kelly had likely envisioned when he dealt Nick Foles and a second-round draft pick to the Rams. He protected the football, he was repetitively accurate and he was clutch down the stretch.
"It's a great win for our team, most important," Bradford said after the game. "I'll look at the film. It's obviously nice to come out and play the way I did tonight. But in this league you can't get too high, you can't get too low."
It wasn't a win that fixes all that ails the Eagles. Philly has to stop starting so slowly (it's been outscored 40-7 in the first quarter in 2015). The secondary remains vulnerable. And rookie revelation Jordan Hicks was lost for the season to a torn pectoral muscle.
But the Eagles appear to be trending upward in an NFC East that's looking like a two-team race. And the bloom has come off Dan Campbell's rose for a Dolphins team that has now dropped two ugly games in a row.
Eagles: Davenport, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Jacksonville Jaguars (2-6) at Baltimore Ravens (2-6)
The Pick: Baltimore Ravens (8-0)
The 2015 campaign has been nothing short of a disaster for the Baltimore Ravens. Injury after injury. Heartbreaking loss after heartbreaking loss.
Yet, coming out of the team's bye, head coach John Harbaugh insisted to Jamison Hensley of ESPN.com that the Ravens can become the first team since the current playoff system was implemented to make the postseason after a 2-6 start:
Of course we can. We’re planning on it. We’re very optimistic about what’s in front of us, our future. [We] love our players, love the way they work, love the enthusiasm that they had today coming back and getting ready for Jacksonville. We’ll take it one day at a time, one game at a time.
Of course, Hensley then proceeded to put the deep freeze on Harbaugh's optimism:
The Ravens have a 9 percent chance of reaching the playoffs, according to ESPN's analytic website FiveThirtyEight. The probabilities are based on 20,000 simulations.
To put this into perspective, Donald Trump has the same odds of winning the United States presidential election, according to PredictWise. In other terms, you have a better shot at getting accepted into Duke (13.4 acceptance rate) than the Ravens have of getting into the postseason.
And yet, the Ravens still have a better shot at making another playoff run than our voters gave the Jaguars this Sunday.
If you see a Jacksonville fan, give them a hug.
And snap a photo. There are companies who might pay you money for proof that they aren't a myth.
Jaguars: It almost isn't fun to pick on the Jaguars anymore. Almost.
Ravens: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Cleveland Browns (2-7) at Pittsburgh Steelers (5-4)
The Pick: Pittsburgh Steelers (6-2)
The Pittsburgh Steelers just can't catch a break in 2015.
The team lost starting tailback Le'Veon Bell to a suspension, then got Bell back just in time for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to hurt his knee. Big Ben returned a month later, just in time for Bell to suffer a season-ending knee injury of his own. DeAngelo Williams filled in admirably against the Oakland Raiders in Week 9, only to see Roethlisberger go down again, this time with a sprained foot.
With the Steelers set to take off Week 11 with a bye, the hope is that Roethlisberger will miss only one game. In fact, as ESPN.com's Jeremy Fowler reports, Roethlisberger hasn't been officially ruled out yet, although the quarterback doesn't sound like a player who is preparing to take the field Sunday against the Browns.
"I can walk on it," Roethlisberger said. "I'm not running around or anything. But the smart thing to do, from what the [doctor] has told me and the trainers, is to kinda keep ice on it and get the swelling out of it and just kind of rest it, let it heal."
After Williams gashed the Raiders for 225 total yards last week, it isn't a stretch to think Pittsburgh feels confident riding him to a win over the Browns, who sport far and away the NFL's worst run defense in 2015.
Well, except for the fact that, as Fowler relayed, Williams is nursing a bum flipper, too.
Like I said, the Steelers just can't catch a break—at least not a good one.
Browns: Davenport, Tanier
Steelers: Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tomlinson
Minnesota Vikings (6-2) at Oakland Raiders (4-4)
The Pick: Oakland Raiders (5-3)
We are halfway through the 2015 NFL season, and the Oakland Raiders are a .500 football team. It's been a few years since that sentence was uttered aloud.
In fact, Elliot Harrison of NFL.com ranked the Raiders inside his top 10 in Week 10 despite last week's 38-35 setback in Pittsburgh:
Frustrating loss in Pittsburgh, but we got another reminder that this football team -- especially when it comes to quarterback Derek Carr -- is no fluke, given that the Raiders nearly overcame several self-inflicted wounds. Carr lofted a beauty to Michael Crabtree to keep them in it with less than two minutes left. Ultimately, poor technique cost Oakland a 57-yard catch-and-run to Antonio Brown that led to the Steelers' game-winning kick. Of immediate concern is running back Latavius Murray, who left his best game of the season with a possible concussion.
Of course, the Minnesota Vikings have done the Raiders one better. Compliments of Green Bay's loss at Carolina and the Vikings' win over the Rams, Minnesota sits tied atop the NFC North at the halfway mark. However, the victory came with a setback, as Harrison noted:
Not sure if you saw Mike Zimmer's press conference after Sunday's win over the Rams, but the Minnesota head coach looked -- to put it mildly -- pissed about Teddy Bridgewater's concussion. In slow motion, the hit by Rams corner Lamarcus Joyner appeared to be a cheap shot. In real time? Bridgewater's slide was a bit tardy, with barely enough time for Joyner to adjust. Close call. The Adrian Peterson- Todd Gurley competition was not as close, at least not statistically. Peterson basically said, "Tap the brakes, young fella; I'm still pretty good," outrushing the rookie, 125 yards to 89, despite facing the best defensive line in pro football. Are Vikings fans thinking wild card or NFC North title right now?
This game is essentially a battle of who comes back from their concussion. But the loss of Bridgewater would, in the eyes of our voters, be a much bigger blow than no Murray for the Silver and Black.
Speaking of things we haven't said for a while, chew on this one: Vikings-Raiders is one of the best games of this week.
Vikings: Davenport, Miller, Tomlinson
Raiders: Freeman, Gagnon, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier
New England Patriots (8-0) at New York Giants (5-4)
The Pick: New England Patriots (8-0)
The New England Patriots may be one of the three remaining unbeaten teams in the National Football League, but last week's win over the Washington Redskins came at a high price.
Starting tailback Dion Lewis, who emerged as a key offensive contributor for the Patriots during their 8-0 start, tore his ACL and will miss the rest of the 2015 season.
Chris Wesseling of NFL.com expects that the Pats will turn to a committee attack to replace Lewis' production:
LeGarrette Blount's role is certain to increase, but this will remain a committee attack with snaps doled out as the matchup and game situation merit.
When Lewis was forced out of Sunday's game, veteran special teamer Brandon Bolden assumed the passing-down chores. It didn't take long for Brady to call Bolden's number out wide, identifying linebacker Perry Riley as a liability in coverage on an 18-yard touchdown reception.
While Bolden has held down a roster spot with a jack-of-all-trades utility, second-year back James White is closer to mastering Lewis' functionality in situations that call for an uptempo spread attack.
White was a healthy scratch versus the Redskins because Lewis was healthy. When Lewis missed the Jets game in Week 7, though, White played 43 snaps compared to Blount's eight and Bolden's zero. The plan for that matchup called for one of the pass-heaviest approaches in recent memory.
It's that last part that should scare New York Giants fans. No team in the NFC has been more porous against the pass this season than the Giants, who are allowing a gaudy 308 yards per game.
It is a matchup with Eli Manning and the Giants, who twice have shown to be the kryptonite for Tom Brady and the Patriots in the Super Bowl.
But those Giants teams could rush the passer. This one cannot. And against Brady, in the midst of arguably the best season of his career, that's a recipe for disaster.
Patriots: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Giants: The defense is just too leaky for any upset special here.
Kansas City Chiefs (3-5) at Denver Broncos (7-1)
The Pick: Denver Broncos (8-0)
There hasn't been a more nitpicked undefeated NFL team in history than the 2015 Denver Broncos.
Granted, the Broncos aren't undefeated anymore, and after last week's loss in Indianapolis, the doubting Thomases redoubled their efforts. Some yahoo here at Bleacher Report wrote that "if the Broncos don't fix what ails their ground game, it may end up costing them a lot more than a relatively meaningless regular-season game on a fall Sunday in Indiana."
I hate that guy.
Manning couldn't take it back, and he didn't get the ball back Sunday. It was his NFL-worst 13th interception.
Manning is on pace to throw 26 interceptions, which would be the most since he threw 28 as a rookie. He is on pace to throw nine touchdown passes, which would be the lowest mark of his storied career.
The 17-year veteran has said every interception has a story. At the Broncos' midway point, the main story is how Manning's interceptions are preventing the offense from taking the next step.
And the thing is, both those points have merit. Manning is turning the ball over far too often. The Broncos have struggled mightily with running the ball this year. Both could mean a short playoff run come January.
But this isn't January. It's November. And against a Chiefs team that has even more problems than it did when the Broncos won in Kansas City in Week 2, Denver should get back on the right track.
Chiefs: Yes, Andy Reid has a great record coming out of the bye. No, it won't matter Sunday.
Broncos: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Arizona Cardinals (6-2) at Seattle Seahawks (4-4)
The Pick: Arizona Cardinals (4-4) ***COIN FLIP***
It's do-or-die time for the Seattle Seahawks, at least where the NFC West is concerned. Lose to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday night, and the Seahawks would not only drop back below .500, they'd also fall three games back of the Redbirds.
As Bob Condotta of the Seattle Times reported, Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll hammered home that message during the team's bye week, while simultaneously reminding his players that the team is still very much in it:
There’s a lot of work to be done. But regardless of what had happened in the first half, we would go after every game to win every single football game down the stretch here and see how far we can take it. And that’s exactly where we are right now. That’s added pressure I guess when you look at it from one point of view, but that’s the only way we know. So we’re going to go after it. You can only do that by one championship game at a time, and we’re going to go after every one of them. Starting with Arizona.
Of course, as Bob McManaman of AZ Central wrote, the stakes of this game weren't lost on the Cardinals and head coach Bruce Arians during their bye week, either:
Finding a way to beat the Seahawks at CenturyLink Field is the No. 1 task. Arians and his coaches spent all day Monday finalizing game plans and scouting reports in preparation to welcome the players back to work on Tuesday for a “bonus day” of practice.
The Cardinals beat the Seahawks in Seattle in 2013, but they didn’t have quarterback Carson Palmer available for either game last season. Palmer is healthy this year and ranks second in the NFL in touchdown passes (20) and fifth in passing yards (2,386). He’s also third with a 110.2 passer rating.
The game is a true Sunday night showcase, and one that split our voters right down the middle.
Cardinals: Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson
Seahawks: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller
Houston Texans (3-5) at Cincinnati Bengals (8-0)
Winner: Cincinnati Bengals (8-0)
The month of November is set to be all about exorcising demons for Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton.
In Week 9, Dalton exorcised last year's sloppy loss to the Cleveland Browns, tossing three touchdown passes in a 31-10 win that kept the Bengals perfect on the season.
After that victory, Amy Nelson of the MMQB spoke to Dalton about his relationship with fans in the Queen City, who booed him at an appearance at the 2015 MLB All-Star Game:
He called the relationship with fans as “a little up and down,” over the years. “I think there have been some people who have supported me, and I think there have been some people who have doubted some things, but that’s just kind of how fans are,” Dalton said.
I asked him about being booed. He noted that it wasn’t everybody, which it wasn’t. Dalton told me that whoever was booing was “wrong.”
“It’s unfortunate because of the way things have happened here; the amount of success that we’ve had has been good,” he said. “Obviously we’re not satisfied with what’s gone on the last four years. Obviously the amount of wins we’ve had has been big. Since [the booing] happened, so much support has come my way, and whoever did it was wrong.”
Monday represents a chance to exorcise even more demons in another chance to show Dalton can win after the sun goes down. It's a chance for a measure of revenge against the franchise that bounced Dalton's Bengals from the playoffs during his first two seasons in the league, the Houston Texans.
If Dalton passes that exam as our panel expects, next Sunday night brings a litmus test against one of the NFC's top contenders in the Arizona Cardinals.
No pressure, Andy.
Texans: This team and the squads that beat Cincinnati in the 2011 and '12 playoffs aren't close to the same.
Bengals: Davenport, Freeman, Gagnon, Miller, Schalter, Sobleski, Tanier, Tomlinson