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We provide the best and most educated National Football League picks based on relevant statistic and resources, along with: key injuries, Historical results, and accurate comparisons.
Thursday Night Football, September 26 8:25 ET – TV: NFL Network
San Francisco 49ers 1-2 @ St. Louis Rams 1-2
I’m trying to figure what happened to both of these squads last week. Was it more of a bad performance, or did they run into something better than what the football world thinks? Rams quarterback Sam Bradford headed into the Dallas game not being sacked for four consecutive games dating back to last season until last week (6 times) with no comfort in the pocket. 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick had another rough outing last week completing only 13 of 27 pass attempts for 150-yards. The concern heading into the season for San Francisco’s offense was being without receiver Michael Crabtree (Achilles), a sure handed pass-catcher that Kaepernick is missing running shallow crossing routes. Tight end Vernon Davis (Hamstring) missed the Colts game, but is on the verge of returning on a limited basis. One thing’s for sure, 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s eyes have to be full of expressed excitement watching film on what the Cowboys running game did to the Rams defense on Sunday. That should be the emphasis of what really makes this offense set the tone behind the best run-blocking offensive line in the game. More importantly, that aspect will help get your quarterback out of a slump. The Rams offense needs more production out of the running game. Bradford threw the ball 55 times against the Falcons in week 2. I don’t think that’s the solution for the Rams and Bradford to win a good chunk of games. Balance is needed in these kinds of divisional marquee matchups, and the 49ers have more of that to use against the Rams defense. Time for the 49ers to feed the Dog, running back Frank Gore the rock with a mixture of play-action, read-option full of exotic formations to drive a struggling St. Louis defense into an abyss. That’s what 49ers football is and should be about.
Pick: 49ers 31, Rams 19.
Final Score: 49ers (2-2) 35, Rams (1-3) 11
Sunday, September 29
Baltimore Ravens 2-1 @ Buffalo Bills 1-2 – TV: CBS
Ravens running back Ray Rice’s (Hip) status is up in the air for the Ravens upstate New York this weekend. I would hint to fantasy owners of Rice that even if he plays, expect him to be limited. Quarterback Joe Flacco got a major insurance cover up in Rice’s absence against the Texans last week as the defense and special teams came to the rescue for him. Since the Ravens opening night humiliating loss to the Denver Broncos on national television, the defense has rebounded not allowing a touchdown for two consecutive games. Buffalo’s defense is coming off a putrid performance allowing 182-yards on the ground and 331-yards through the air against Geno Smith and the Jets. Bills rookie quarterback EJ Manuel was sacked 8 times and went a dismal 19 of 42 last week in New York. Clearly, the Bills have protection issues on passing downs, and I see Haloti Ngata, Chris Canty and Arthur Jones, three beefy down lineman of the Ravens D-line getting a push upfront to free up the outside rush for outside linebackers Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs. Manuel will have to make plays with his feet outside the pocket, something that won’t favor him and the Bills offense in this matchup.
Pick: Ravens 24, Bills 16
Cincinnati Bengals 2-1 @ Cleveland Browns 1-2 – TV: CBS
Brian Hoyer gets the nod again under center for the Cleveland offense. Nothing looked promising for the Browns to pull out a win on the road in Minnesota, but they zapped the naysayers with trick plays and Hoyer connecting big with receiver Josh Gordon 10 times for 146-yards and a score. What stood out most was connecting with tight end Jordan Cameron for two scores, the other Cameron touchdown came on a fake field goal pass from Spencer Lanning. And with starting quarterback Brandon Weeden nursing his right thumb, expect the Browns to stay with the hot hand if Hoyer continues to connect the dots with Gordon and Cameron. I’m not expecting the same big-plays that took place in Minneapolis from their offense and special teams this weekend, however. Going up against a strong Bengals D-line presents more of a challenge that could shut down the hopes of a positive outlook for Cleveland, and I’m not going to throw aside the fact that running back Trent Richardson is no longer with the team, a vital part the Browns will need to open up the passing game against a feisty opportunistic Bengals defense. The Bengals are much more suited to gain positive yardage on first down with running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis getting the hard fought yards and rookie Giovani Bernard as a change-of-pace runner that’s also a valuable check-down option for quarterback Andy Dalton on passing downs.
Pick: Bengals 27, Browns 17
Chicago Bears 3-0 @ Detroit Lions 2-1 – TV: FOX
I’m all wired up on speed-dial due to the Marc Trestman/Jay Cutler being handcuffed to the headset/playbook thing going on in chi-town. What a difference coaching makes in this league, particularly when you have a head coach that has a major influence on his quarterback. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler isn’t just looking to his prime receiver Brandon Marshall’s way. The targets have been heading towards Alshon Jeffery, another big body on the opposite side of Marshall. Jeffrey’s injuries have plagued him from being worked into the Chicago offense, and with him healthy, he and Cutler are becoming more familiar week by week. Mainly, Cutler has more targets and a much improved offense line than what he had last season. As for the Lions, losing receiver Nate Burleson (Broken Arm) has the rumor-mill leaning towards Detroit possibly in the works of wheeling and dealing for a sidekick on the opposite side of star receiver Calvin Johnson. What’s most important is running back Reggie Bush’s health. Bush (Knee) looks ready to return this week in a battle for first place in the NFC North, and the good thing cooking in Detroit’s kitchen at running back is having a number 2 back like Joique Bell that runs with authority with the ability to catch out of the backfield. The bad thing is tight end Brandon Pettigrew is falling off the face of the football earth. Rookie Joseph Fauria and Tony Scheffler appear to be Matthew Stafford’s options at tight end in the redzone, but Pettigrew needs to start chiming in for this offense. Look for Bears defensive coordinator Mel Tucker to have his defense focused in on containing Reggie Bush from breaking free into the open field, and to keep Detroit’s passing game from stretching the field for big plays.
Pick: Bears 26, Lions 19
N.Y. Giants 0-3 @ Kansas City Chiefs 3-0 – TV: FOX
Anybody home McFly? The Giants without a shadow of doubt need a trip back to the future. Look, I get the fact of the offseason not going smoothly for head coach Tom Coughlin’s squad, and the injuries on the offensive line, at running back and on the defensive side of the ball. But, even the respect I have for a tough quarterback like Eli Manning is with two Super Bowl MVP’s stamped on his resume, he needs to start playing like it. I understand that stats aren’t the main thing of evaluating a players worth, but he’s turning over the football at alarming rate, more than any quarterback in the league over the last three seasons. Let me repeat, (more than any quarterback in the league). It’s time for offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride to shuffle his cards a bit as far as protection schemes go. Why? Eli and the Giants offense face the league leading sack-monsters (15) of the Kansas City defense anchored by a giant in the middle at defensive tackle Dontari Poe, two speed-rushers on the outside linebackers Justin Houston (7.5-sacks leads the league) and Tamba Hali. Middle linebacker Derrick Johnson is stout at getting after the ball-carrier, and the backend of the defense features a top-notch safety Eric Berry. Somebody hide the cake from these hungry big boys. They smell an injured-depleted Giants offensive line and an offense with no balance due to a lack of running game. Not looking good for the G-men here.
Pick: Chiefs 27, N.Y. Giants 16
Arizona Cardinals 1-2 @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers 0-3 – TV: FOX
With leading receiver Vincent Jackson’s (Rib) status uncertain and Mike Glennon getting the go for the benched Josh Freeman at quarterback, the disarrayed Bucs look to turn things for the better in front of their home crowd. Tampa Bay offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan likes to stretch the field vertically. Glennon, a third round pick is a huge body with a 6 foot 7 frame and a strong arm. Let’s just say a change of pace was needed. Freeman was putrid in his reads and careless with the football. Nevertheless, I expect the training wheels to be on Glennon for him not to take too many chances threading the needle. So you do the things that help you, like turning to the running game, and the Bucs have the right guy to feed the football to. Running back Doug Martin and the Tampa Bay offense needs to get the running game going early on. Defenses have been bearing down in the box with a lack of respect to the Buccaneers passing game due to the porous play of Freeman. Don’t be surprised if Martin’s number is called for about 25 plus plays. If there’s anything positive going on with head coach Greg Schiano’s team outside of the drama, it’s the defense playing with an aggressive attitude flying around the ball. And I see them derailing Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer into mistakes.
Pick: Buccaneers 20, Cardinals 16
Indianapolis Colts 2-1 @ Jacksonville Jaguars 0-3 – TV: CBS
I give points of Kudos to Colts defensive coordinator Greg Manusky and his defense on their performance in San Francisco. Surely, good teams and contenders have bad weeks, but thumping the 49ers in their house is something we need to look at. With Trent Richardson now part of the mix along with hard-nosed runner Ahmad Bradshaw, the Colts have balance on offense with runners the opposition needs to account for. Bradshaw (Neck) is out this week, however. Another key part of the Colts offense is that quarterback Andrew Luck is doing it with his feet, not just completing passes at a high percentage. They have two runners that have a good deal of influence on dictating the passing game and offensive line. The passing game hasn’t been anything up to what we’d expect, but you can bank on things to start opening up more for Luck to start lighting up the scoreboard as the weeks go on from here. If Jacksonville’s offense had any sugar to throw in the punch, I might give them a shot at making this game close, but they don’t. Pick: Colts 31, Jaguars 17
Seattle Seahawks 3-0 @ Houston Texans 2-1 – TV: FOX
Texans running back Arian Foster (Calf, Chest, Thumb) has been slowed a bit due to being nicked up. His longest run so far, only 16-yards while second runner on the team Ben Tate is averaging 6.8-yards per carry in differential to Foster’s 3.9. Tate’s longest run, 60-yards, and it looks like he’ll be part of the mix again as Foster is in the process of not being overused by head coach Gary Kubiak. Seattle’s defense is the fastest group in the game that fly’s around the ball laying bone-crushing hits on their opponents. The concern on the offensive side of the ball in Houston has been the O-lines inability to get a push upfront to create running lanes, and they better be on key against Seattle’s ball-hawking defense that rarely allows runners to break free into the open field. They need to keep quarterback Matt Schuab upright and not put him in third and long situations to move the sticks against the best secondary in football led by Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman. I expect both squads to commit to running the football on first down in a field position battle that will come down to the offense that can punch it in the endzone rather than kick field goals. Here’s the most important factor in this matchup to me: with left tackle Russell Okung (Toe) out, Paul McQuistan has moved from left guard to Okung’s spot. In this battle, I think Seattle will need Okung out there trying to stop the outside rush coming from outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus. Putting a halt on J.J. Watt is already an issue for any offensive line standing in his way on the edge. Everything will be in the works for hard-fought yardage, and I think the Texans come out on top with a game winning drive on Randy Bullock’s leg in a slobber-knocker.
Pick: Texans 19, Seahawks 16
@ Wembley Stadium, London – TV: CBS
Pittsburgh Steelers 0-3 @ Minnesota Vikings 0-3
Poor Greg Jennings who goes most of the offseason jibber-jabbering his former quarterback Aaron Rodgers only to end up in Minnesota that has a major problem at quarterback with Christian Ponder throwing him the rock. Ponder (Ribs) is out giving the way under center to Matt Cassel to throw him the ball. Maybe Cassel stays the starter? Here’s Jennings’ numbers up to this point: 11-catches, for 160-yards and a goose-egg in touchdowns. My bet would be if he was still Rodgers’ option in Green Bay, he would’ve found the endzone at least 3 times with roughly 10 more grabs. Traveling to the UK has to take lots out of a team with a major time-zone differential to the United States, and I think the tougher team, Pittsburgh still has the moxy behind Ben Roethlisberger’s arm to make key third down completions against a dismal Vikings secondary.
Pick: Steelers 20, Vikings 10
4:05 PM ET
N.Y. Jets 2-1 @ Tennessee Titans 2-1 – TV: CBS
Titans quarterback Jake Locker is playing mistake-free football, and he’s making clutch game-winning throws. The Titans have been a disciplined group in the early stages of 2013, and that has to have head coach Mike Munchak thrilled. The Titans defense has been the more impressive side of the team, 9-sacks and 5-turnovers led by defensive coordinator Greg Williams’ opportunistic aggressive-approach. The Jets defense has been creating havoc as well on defense, 12-sacks and 5-forced fumbles. Sheldon Richardson has been a force at defensive tackle in the middle of the Jets D-line. That will be a vital factor. How will the Titans offense take Richardson out of his game? I expect Titans offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains to run the ball with Chris Johnson outside the tackles away from Richardson on some sweeps. Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith seems to be gaining some confidence in taking shots downfield, but expect Titans D-coordinator Greg Williams to have his bunch lined up to throw some blitz-packages his way to force him into mistakes. That’ll be the difference maker to me in this one in Nashville, a city full of music, country style.
Pick: Titans 16, N.Y. Jets 13
4:25 PM ET
Washington Redskins 0-3 @ Oakland Raiders 1-2 – TV: FOX
You would think the Redskins defense would be better than what it’s been with Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo rushing off the edges, but that hasn’t been the case. Their defense has been dreadful enough to give up record-setting yards. They may catch a break this week out west facing a Raiders offense that isn’t equipped to light up the sky with their passing game, but they will continue to stay honest within their strengths running the football with Darren McFadden, and stick with the read-option with quarterback Terrelle Pryor (Concussion) who will play according to head coach Dennis Allen. The Redskins have an offense that’s committed to the run as well. They’ll need to establish the run early on with bruising running back Alfred Morris to negate a wild and crazed Oakland crowd. The one thing that stands out in this contest to me is watching Robert Griffin III heave the ball deep last week even though it resulted in defeat. He has more weapons at his disposal to work with on passing downs than Pryor has. That will help Washington get off the winless column with a hard fought W at the Coliseum.
Pick: Redskins 26, Raiders 21
Philadelphia Eagles 1-2 @ Denver Broncos 3-0 – TV: FOX
Something un-Manning like: He’s complaining about playing on a short week? Isn’t this a guy that understands the game can treat you cruel? Or is it, really? Then you have Eagles head coach Chip Kelly’s statement towards Peyton: “We got to play in a parking lot? We’ll go play in a parking lot. We don’t care.” Aside from all the yacking going on, playing in the thin air of Colorado should come at a disadvantage for Chip Kelly’s up-tempo offense running things like a fire-drill. So you decide who really has things in place for the better, and until a defense can show me they can pressure Peyton Manning consistently for four quarters, you’re in the Dog-House trying to stop him from dissecting you to death with a beast-like receiving core that features receivers Wes Welker, Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and tight end Julius Thomas. See Peyton, it’s not so bad man.
Pick: Broncos 38, Eagles 24
Dallas Cowboys 2-1 @ San Diego Chargers 1-2 – TV: FOX
The Chargers play host to a Dallas defense that’s second in the league in sacks (13) with a banged up offensive line. Right tackle D.J. Fluker (Concussion) was the only starter practicing this week and is listed as probable. Left tackle King Dunlap (Concussion) is questionable, left guard Chad Rinehart (Toe) is doubtful, center Nick Hardwick (Shin) is probable and right guard Jeromey Clary (Collarbone) is doubtful. The Cowboys will be missing receiver Miles Austin (Hamstring) in the midst of a trade rumor all week long that team owner/general manager Jerry Jones is looking to shop him around. Rookie receiver Terrance Williams will take Austin’s spot as quarterback Tony Romo’s second option at receiver. That’s the health side of the deal between these two clubs. As far as the game goes, the Chargers defense better come to the party with a resurged Cowboys running game in the house, and talented receiver Dez Bryant running routes against a defense that’s allowed 470-yards a game passing. The Cowboys defense hasn’t allowed much against the run (ranked 2nd in the league) and the Chargers rushing attack has shown no signs of life with nothing in the works of electrifying coming from running back Ryan Mathews. The matchups are in favor of Dallas at the line scrimmage, and I see them taking full advantage of a depleted Chargers offensive line that will have trouble keeping quarterback Philip Rivers upright from DeMarcus Ware buzzing in his ear like a killer-bee for four quarters.
Pick: Cowboys 27, Chargers 17
Sunday Night Football in America 8:30 PM ET – TV: NBC
New England Patriots 3-0 @ Atlanta Falcons 1-2
Without tight end Rob Gronkowski (Back, Forearm), the Patriots have been running plays without using multiple tight end sets, a key element that has stifled defenses with quarterback Tom Brady connecting big on. Gronkowski is still listed as questionable, while reports out of Boston say he’s tentatively expected to play. Receiver Danny Amendola (Groin) is also listed as questionable with the feel coming from team officials that he still needs another week to be ready to go. Luckily for New England, the defense has been blessed by the “Football Gods” facing a rookie quarterback week 1 EJ Manuel, week 2 Geno Smith and last week Josh Freeman, a quarterback that’s been benched. Things get much more difficult for their defense facing Matt Ryan and a desperate for a win Falcons team that takes care of business at home that’ll be in early-season playoff-mode. With Steven Jackson out, the Falcons will continue to share the wealth with Jason Snelling and Jacquizz Rodgers in the backfield between 30-touches, carrying or catching out of the backfield. Receiver Roddy White’s (Ankle) has had a significant negative effect on his game, and it doesn’t look like he’s near where he wants to be health-wise, but I like Ryan to connect big with Julio Jones and for tight end Tony Gonzalez to finally grab a TD pass against a Patriots defense that’ll be zapped in differential to the previous first three weeks.
Pick: Falcons 34, Patriots 27
Monday Night Football, September 30 8:30 PM ET – TV: ESPN
Miami Dolphins 3-0 @ New Orleans Saints 3-0
Pressuring an elite quarterback like Drew Brees is a must for any opponent, and Miami will need their best defensive player and pass-rusher Cameron Wake. Wake nearly missed the entire game last week against the Falcons due to a mild MCL sprain. He is listed as questionable, and if he does suite up in the big easy, he most likely will play on a limited basis. Defensive tackle Paul Soliai (Knee) is also listed as questionable with limited practice time this week. Those are two key components of the Miami D-line that need to be in full-effect to pressure the pocket and disrupt the timing of Brees and New Orleans’ prolific passing game. Miami is a nitty-gritty team that keeps games close by moving the football methodically. Running back Lamar Miller is still waiting to breakout, and they need some bread and butter from him to keep Ryan Tannehill out of third and long situations against a new-look Saints defense, the Rob Ryan version that likes to manufacture pressure by blitzing opposing quarterbacks. The positive side of Tannehill’s game is spreading the football around, seeing the field and going with the sure read. He spread the ball around to 9 different Miami receivers last week. In this game, he’ll need more than just high percentage throws. A need of chances downfield is a must, and I think he does take chances, but the silver-lining comes down to which defense can generate more pressure to force the quarterback to make bad throws. With Wake not a 100 percent, Brees stays upright enough to exploit Miami’s defense with a few favorable one-on-one matchups.
Pick: Saints 34, Dolphins 23.
Massimo’s Weekly Record:
Week 1: 11-5
Week 2: 12-4
Week 3: 8-8
Bye: Green Bay Packers 1-2, Carolina Panthers 1-2
You can follow Massimo Russo on Twitter @MassimoRusso19 and SilverandBlueReport.com @SilverBlueRpt