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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.
Headline: Motor City Extravaganza
Dallas receiver Dez Bryant and Detroit’s Calvin Johnson strike fear into the heart of NFL defenses, but are they the difference makers for Sunday’s NFC Showcase Showdown at Ford Field?
Thursday Night Football, October 24 8:25 PM ET – TV: NFL Network
Carolina Panthers 3-3 @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers 0-6
What else can go wrong for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this season? With all the losing and continuation of uncertainty going on, their starting running back Doug Martin (Shoulder) will most likely be out. Mike James, Tampa’s rookie runner the team selected in the 6th round out of Miami will get the go against a Panthers defense that’s been a solid unit at stopping the run, ranked 4th in the league. Carolina’s defense is led by linebackers Luke Kuechly and veteran Thomas Davis, both linebackers that have a nose for the ball. The defense has been playing with a high-motor and opportunistic approach. They’re creating turnovers, 9-interceptions, 7-forced fumbles, recovering 5 of them and got a defensive score last week on a 45-yard interception return by Captain Munnerlyn. With all the goodies I’ve thrown into that, they still have question marks in the secondary, and they need to stop Tampa Bay receiver Vincent Jackson, who’s starting to get into the flow of things with quarterback Mike Glennon. After a slow start in his first four games, the talented receiver has been dynamite over the last two weeks, 19-catches, 252-yards on back to back 100-yard receiving performances and 4-touchdowns. That was lacking before Josh Freeman was shipped away to Minnesota, but I like Carolina’s defense to continue its ball-hawking ways by stopping the run. That’ll keep Glennon in third and long situations favoring Carolina’s defense to create turnovers, setting up an offense led by a more poised Cam Newton, who’s distributing the football and managing the offense well. Most of all, Newton’s protecting the football by not forcing the issue, Glennon’s not.
Pick: Panthers 26, Buccaneers 17
Final Score: Panthers (4-3) 31, Buccaneers (0-7) 13
Sunday, October 27
1:00 PM ET
Cleveland Browns 3-4 @ Kansas City Chiefs 7-0 – TV: CBS
Brandon Weeden’s unproductive play has sent him to the bench. Backup quarterback Jason Campbell will start in his replacement against a Kansas City defense that’s been a living nightmare for opposing quarterbacks. Certainly, Weeden has earned his demotion by turning over the football and completing only 52.8 percent of his passes. Along the lines, the Browns have had misfortunes at quarterback. A season ending injury to Brian Hoyer, a quarterback that looked promising added more bitter-salt to the water. Adding more troubles to an important position, Willis McGahee’s lack of explosion at running back hasn’t done anything for the Browns running game as a replacement for the departed Trent Richardson. This season is turning out like the movie “The Replacements” for Cleveland. The way things are going for them, team owner Jimmy Haslam and general manager Michael Lombardi might call star-actor Keanu Reeves to play the role of Shane Falco at quarterback. Aside from all those bitter-blues of QB controversy, you can bank on Kansas City to continue their disciplined ways of operating an offense led by quarterback Alex Smith to continue to be efficient, and for running back Jamaal Charles to be effective both running and receiving. Nothing’s changing but the dates on the calendar for the Chiefs.
Pick: Chiefs 30, Browns 12
Miami Dolphins 3-3 @ New England Patriots 5-2 – TV: CBS
So where’s the cork in New England’s offense this season? Is it the injuries and lack of weapons for a good portion up to this point? You can say that’s about half of the problem, but the real issue has been the lack of having a balanced attack, keeping defenses guessing on the run and pass, something they did extremely well in 2012. With Rob Gronkowski back from injury at tight end, Tom Brady has his prime target that creates mismatches downfield, but Stevan Ridley needs to be part of the mix. The Patriots ran the ball 35 times in their week 6 win over the Saints, but threw the running game aside in their loss against the Jets with only 20 rushes, Ridley with 11 of them. We’re talking about a running back that ran for 1,263-yards a year ago here on a team that ran for 2,184-yards. Ridley’s had only one game where he carried the football 20 times this season. Hello? This is un-Patriot like, and they better be ready to bring some of that smash-mouth, gutting style to the park against a Miami defense that’s ranked 8th against the run. New England’s offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has a history of turning the lights off on the running game. Remember the 06 Championship game Patriots fans? With that being said, I expect him to turn the lights back on and get some balance going this week. As far as Miami goes of being a nitty-gritty team that keeps games close with a chance in the final quarter, something needs to give for their passing game. If their passing game is going to be anything in the avenue of frightening for opposing secondary’s, Mike Wallace and Ryan Tannehill need to come out of the closet, and offensive coordinator Mike Sherman better take them training-wheels off Tannehill’s throwing arm. He needs to draw up the playbook, dialing up chance-taking shots downfield to Wallace often. Wasn’t that the reason he was brought to Miami?
Pick: Patriots 31, Dolphins 23
Buffalo Bills 3-4 @ New Orleans Saints 5-1 – TV: CBS
Saints tight end Jimmy Graham (Foot) has missed practice this week and his status is questionable. Coach Sean Payton has stated that Graham is day to day, but it looks like he may not suit up, and if he does, it could be on a limited basis. New Orleans gets back a key part of quarterback Drew Brees’ aerial-assault weapons, however. Receiver Lance Moore (Hand), who’s been missing in action since week 4, practiced fully this week and is ready to go. Moore has been a better than average target for Brees in recent seasons, and with Graham in danger of being absent, Moore will be an option for Brees in the slot on passing downs. The Bills have two recipes for victory. One will be getting after Drew Brees with Mario Williams rushing off the edge. Williams is off to his best start of in his 8-year career with 10-sacks, tied for second in the league with Kansas City’s Justin Houston. He had 2-sacks and a forced fumble last week in Miami, helping the Bills top the Dolphins 23-21 to earn their third win of the season. Two, Buffalo will need more than just Williams getting after the passer. They need the offense to be able to negate a loud crowd at Mercedes-Benz Superdome by establishing the run. Running back C.J. Spiller (Ankle) will most likely be out, but Fred Jackson (Knee) has stated that he’ll suit up as the featured back. He’ll need more than just the 36-yards he gained on 11-carries last week to help open up the pass. With no respect for the pass, expect Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan to send the kitchen-sink at Thad Lewis and crowd the box on Jackson. Interceptions, here they come.
Pick: Saints 37, Bills 20
@ Wembley Stadium, London
San Francisco 49ers 5-2 @ Jacksonville Jaguars 0-7 – TV: FOX
With quarterback Colin Kaepernick making plays with his feet, the 49ers offense is starting to look like the offense that led them to a Super Bowl appearance last season. Both Kaepernick and running back Frank Gore combined for 138-yards on the ground and 3-touchdowns, Gore with 2 and Kaepernick with a 20-yard scamper against a solid Titans defense in the “Music City” last Sunday. Not surprising to see San Francisco as one of the better rushing offenses in the league, ranked third, but on the passing side of things within the offense, the team may get receiver Mario Manningham (Knee) back in the lineup this weekend in the UK. Manningham began practicing last week and coach Harbaugh isn’t ruling him out against one of the worst defensive units the Jaguars sport. Jacksonville’s defense has allowed 31.7-points per game and 153.3-rushing yards per game, worse than any team in football. Doesn’t look like a difficult game-plan for 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman to put in place. The 49ers should be able to take care of a porous defense that won’t be able to get after Kaepernick or contain Frank Gore from gaining positive yardage on running downs.
Pick: 49ers 31, Jaguars 13
N.Y. Giants 1-6 @ Philadelphia Eagles 3-4 – TV: FOX
With Michael Vick (Hamstring) avoiding setbacks this week during practice, the Eagles get their main-man back under center to try to help right the ship after their horrific offensive performance against Dallas. Nick Foles and the Eagles offense along with the running game were inept at getting anything going, and they hope the legs of Vick extending plays ignites a spark against the Giants. They’ll need running back LeSean McCoy to get things going early on against a Giants defense that held the best runner in the game, Adrian Peterson to just 28-yards in their first win of the season. You can make a strong case for New York’s defense stopping Peterson due to the porous play of Vikings quarterback Josh Freeman stinking up the joint, but the addition of Jon Beason at linebacker has brought some volume to the Giants core at linebacker. Beason covers lots of ground in hunting down running backs, something the G-men need him to do from start to finish against the speedy and elusive McCoy. That’s a decent factor going for the New York defense, but they’re still having issues at getting after the quarterback. And offensively, the Giants are still scrambling for a running back that can handle a bulk of carries. Peyton Hillis ran for just 36-yards on 18-carries in his New York debut, Brandon Jacobs (Hamstring) is most likely out, and Michael Cox shows no signs of being a quality runner. Hillis is a physical style of runner that breaks tackles, but no burst of speed to strike fear in any defense, and if New York is strolling into Philadelphia with a one-dimensional offense, chances are Eli Manning will be throwing the football over 40 times, a situation not in favor of the turnover-prone Eli on the road.
Pick: Eagles 27, N.Y. Giants 20
Dallas Cowboys 4-3 @ Detroit Lions 4-3 – TV: FOX
Dez Bryant, you started all of this. All the rickety-yacking going on about who’s the better receiver between Dallas’ Dez Bryant and Detroit’s Calvin Johnson is all a bunch of nonsense to me. They’re both on the extraterrestrial-meter in terms of talent with no need of throwing in the statistical factors to prove their worth. Surely, any team going up these talented beast-like athletes is always in the game-plan for defensive coordinators, but that’s not what I’m looking at between these two squads in this matchup. I’m looking for the “Little Extra Guys,” the x-factor like players that are quietly making a difference in winning games outside of the talent that gets most of the attention on ESPN’s First Take. And those guys are Cowboys slot receiver Cole Beasley and Detroit’s number 2 running back Joique Bell. Beasley’s a receiver that’s getting separation on nickel corners going across the middle and then breaking to the outside. That’s given Tony Romo an extra option on third down to help move the sticks when the Cowboys use spread formations in trips, etc. with the speedy Beasley becoming a reliable target. Bell, for Detroit is second on the team in receptions with 26. The Lions like to use spread formations as well and Bell as on option out of the backfield. Looking back at the Cowboys loss to San Diego and how the Chargers exploited the Cowboys defense with Danny Woodhead by lining him up in the slot, forcing linebacker Bruce Carter to go toe-to-toe with Woodhead, got him burned on two wheel-routes. Bell doesn’t have that kind of speed, and is more of a hard-nosed style of runner, but Reggie Bush can create those kinds of miss-matches as a receiving option. That’s where I think Detroit’s offensive coordinator Scott Linehan is looking into on how to formulate a miss-match outside of Calvin Johnson that’ll have a safety over the top on him, the same with how Detroit will shadow Dez Bryant. But, when I look at who’s defense is getting after the quarterback better to force bad-throws, Dallas’ defense has been stout at closing in on the pocket by getting pressure up the middle, a thanks to Jason Hatcher, who by the way is having a Pro Bowl type of season. George Selvie, a 4th year player out of South Florida has filled the void of the absent Anthony Spencer on the opposite side of DeMarcus Ware (Quad) who isn’t optimistic that he’ll play this weekend. DeMarco Murray (Knee) has been limited in practice this week, but is expected to play. Joseph Randle did a decent job as Murray’s replacement last week in Philadelphia, but with Murray back in the lineup, the Cowboys passing game is better suited in style of running to dictate the pass. I like the way Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford is putting trust in his receivers. He’s throwing the ball in tight spots, letting his receivers know that he trust them to grab it, and of course, he’ll toss one of them super-high rocket fly-ball to center field throws to Johnson in triple coverage. The main difference to me in this NFC-Showdown is the Cowboys and Romo having a little extra to work with on passing downs, a defense that slightly has more play-makers that’s getting after the ball-carrier, and special teams, the silent-killer of this Cowboys team this season.
Pick: Cowboys 27, Lions 23
4:05 PM ET
N.Y. Jets 4-3 @ Cincinnati Bengals 5-2 – TV: CBS
We have a battle in the trenches here. Both teams sport one of the better defensive fronts in the game that creates havoc upfront in getting after the quarterback and closing running lanes on the opposition. Make no mistake, the Jets like to ground and pound with running backs Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell. Ivory carried the football 34 times for 104-yards last week, helping the Jets defeat New England 30-27 in overtime. Powell should get more carries than what he got last week (3) with a mixture of carries between him and Ivory, a smash-mouth game-plan to try to keep quarterback Geno Smith in better passing situations. The Bengals offense will need to be effective running the football as well with Giovani Bernard and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Green-Ellis, the more power-style of runner needs to step things up in this matchup. He hasn’t been as effective as the Bengals need him to get the right change-of-pace flow kicking in for the Bengals running game. The main difference between these two clubs is what they can do on passing downs, and I like the fact that Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and star-receiver A.J. Green are starting to connect the dots, stretching defenses for big passing plays. The Jets offense is more of a methodically ran offense that will use more of intermediate routes, and I like the chemistry Geno Smith is building with tight end Jeff Cumberland. If receiver Santonio Holmes (Hamstring) can heal at 100 percent in the later stages of the season, the Jets could have a solid enough corps at receiver with him, Stephen Hill and Jeremy Kerley, but I’m not seeing enough stretching of the field within the passing game, and Geno Smith will have to beat Cincy’s defense with his feet. In a defensive field-position battle, the offense that has more weapons in the passing game will deliver the decisive score late in the fourth quarter, the Bengals.
Pick: Bengals 21, N.Y. Jets 17
Pittsburgh Steelers 2-4 @ Oakland Raiders 2-4 – TV: CBS
The Steelers defense has allowed one touchdown the last two games, and their 4-sacks against the Jets and Ravens matched the total from their first four games. They haven’t allowed more than 83-yards rushing in each of the last two games after allowing an average of 122.8 in the first month of the season. That’s been the bright side of gaining a sense of restored confidence, and seeing the running game come to life last week against the Ravens by rushing for 141-yards as a team, is a key pedigree for the Steelers offense to spark better things as we near the halfway point of the season. 93 of those yards came from rookie running back Le’Veon Bell on 19-carries. The Steelers offense needs the running game to be effective to open up the pass for Ben Roethlisberger, who doesn’t have lots of ammo at receiver to work with like he did yesteryear. The Raiders have a feisty defense of their own. The addition of Charles Woodson at safety has ignited the secondary that likes to use man-to man coverage and manufacture pressure up front. Linebacker Nick Roach has an eye for the ball-carrier at middle linebacker, and will be used to blitz on passing downs and third and shorts to blitz the runner. Having Heath Miller healthy at tight end for Pittsburgh’s offense is a valuable asset for Roethlisberger on third down, and when the team is in the redzone. The Raiders offense has been bright-spotted by Terrelle Pryor and the read-option, but when in the redzone, he’s going to need to use his arm instead of his legs. That’s not going to work on Pittsburgh’s defense, and unless Oakland’s defense can get Roethlisberger to thread the needle when they blitz, Ben will be able to extend plays with improvising throws. The “Burger Eater Man Number 7” does just that late in the 4th quarter to lead the Steelers to their third straight victory.
Pick: Steelers 20, Raiders 16
4:25 PM ET
Washington Redskins 2-4 @ Denver Broncos 6-1 – TV: FOX
Redskins head coach Mike Shanahan returns to the place that made him famous in winning back to back Super Bowls in the 97-98 seasons with the Denver Broncos. He had a top-flight running game with Terrell Davis running the football, a top-flight tight end Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe, and the legendary John Elway at quarterback. Elway is now the vice president of football operations for the Broncos, who grabbed a future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning from Indianapolis. Manning and the Broncos offense has lit up opposing secondary’s through the air, ranked first in the league averaging 361-yards per game. Shanahan has a young and talented quarterback with Robert Griffin III, a solid running back Alfred Morris, and now a tight end Jordan Reed that’s given the offense a solid target on passing downs. Reed has good hands, and what I like most about him is his route-running ability on being able to beat a nickel corner in the slot on a double-move. Washington will be able to move the football on Denver’s defense, but the downside of things is defensive Coordinator Jim Haslett’s defense that’s giving up big-plays galore. Washington gave up 34-points last week on defense with backup Josh McCown at quarterback playing most of the game for the injured Jay Cutler, the other score they gave up was on special teams, another porous area of the team. Their defense ranks first in the league in giving up quick-scoring drives, drives in which your defense gives up a score in three or less plays, and that spells death going up against the league’s best passing attack. Mainly, Denver’s defense has been the best in the league at stopping the run, and when the Redskins get in the redzone, they’ll be able to contain Washington’s running game, a vital part that will result in more field goals than touchdowns, the difference maker in this ball game.
Pick: Broncos 41, Redskins 30
Atlanta Falcons 2-4 @ Arizona Cardinals 3-4 – TV: FOX
I have to give two thumbs up to Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan. He’s completing 70.1-percent of his passes with 13-touchdown passes and only 3-interceptions without his prime targets running routes for him. Roddy White (Ankle) is likely to miss his miss second straight game, Julio Jones (Foot) is done for the season, and he’s working with the Harry Douglas, the teams usual number 3 receiver as his prime target, who had a huge performance on the road in Tampa Bay last week with 7-cathes for 149-yards and a 37-yard touchdown grab. Atlanta gets back an important part of the offense in the backfield with Steven Jackson (Hamstring) who looks ready to get a heavy work-load against a hard-nosed Cardinals defense, ranked 7th in the league in yards per game allowed on the ground. How effective Jackson is will determine the Falcons chances of being able to move the sticks on third down. Arizona’s secondary features one of the games top cornerbacks that will man up on the oppositions best receiver with Patrick Peterson. The norm would be to keep everything underneath, not getting beat over the top by Matt Ryan’s arm that will take chances downfield. The Cardinals running game has been putrid, and the offensive line hasn’t given quarterback Carson Palmer enough time in the pocket, a big reason why he’s turning over the football at an alarming-rate, 13-interceptions, and was sacked seven times by the Seattle defense in the desert last Thursday. Seattle’s defense is much better than what Palmer and the Cardinals offense has in store this time around. The Falcons defense is ranked at the bottom of the pack in terms of getting after the quarterback, only 14-sacks and only 5-turnovers generated by the defense. Even with the struggles on the Cardinals offense line, I like their chances to protect the football better and for Larry Fitzgerald, who’s about 80 percent healthy from his hamstring to connect big with Palmer.
Pick: Cardinals 20, Falcons 17
Sunday Night Football in America 8:30 PM ET – TV: NBC
Green Bay Packers 4-2 @ Minnesota Vikings 1-5
Watching Josh Freeman throw incomplete passes in New York on Monday was like listening to a broken record. “Pass Incomplete” was all you heard over and over again from ESPN’s Monday Night play-by-play announcer Mike Tirico. Freeman threw 33-incomplete passes on 53-attempts as the Vikings offense was never able to sustain drives. To make matters worse for Freeman, he was diagnosed with a concussion and isn’t expected to be cleared in time to play Sunday. That leaves Minnesota head coach Leslie Frazier to go back to his opening day starting quarterback Christian Ponder to try to turn things around for a struggling Vikings offense. The running game was non-existent against the Giants. Adrian Peterson ran for 28-yards on 13-carries, a non-Peterson like performance that will usually sting the Vikings chances of winning. This week, Peterson and the Vikings running game get a Packers defense that’s been fantastic against the run, ranked third in the league allowing only 79-yards per game. Surely, the running game opens up the pass, but the Vikings as a team are ranked 30th in team passer rating, and it doesn’t help Peterson’s chances when you have a defensive coordinator like Green Bay’s Dom Capers that smells blood like a shark in the ocean. He’ll get his group to crowd the box to stuff the run, knowing that Minnesota’s passing game lacks any potential to stretch a defense. Oh, Greg Jennings, watching Aaron Rodgers complete passes on the opposite sideline will have him wishing he was still in Green Bay. Then again, maybe he figured that out after the first few games.
Pick: Packers 30, Vikings 17
Monday Night Football, October 28 8:30 PM ET – TV: ESPN
Seattle Seahawks 6-1 @ St. Louis Rams 3-4
With quarterback Sam Bradford (ACL) done for the remainder of the season, the Rams turn to Kellen Clemens, not Brett Favre or Tim Tebow. Reports have it that the Rams contacted Favre to come out of retirement and he declined. There was also speculation of the team going after Tebow. Can you imagine the “Hoopla” had Favre said yes or had Tebow been brought along? Could’ve been something along the lines of a story-book season for Jeff Fisher’s team in the making, but that’s just nothing more than a fantasy. I mean, did the Rams expect Favre, given his age, to get off the couch? And I don’t expect Clemens, a 2nd round draft pick by the Jets in 2006 to lead the Rams to lots of W’s. As for the NFC’s Top-Dog Seattle, this has the making for fantasy-owners of their defense to get lots of points. Why? The Rams only hope is having a better than average game running the football. Zac Stacy has brought some electricity to the Rams running game, and he should get a good work-load, but Seattle’s defense just doesn’t let the opposition gain positive yardage on first down running the ball. Russell Wilson should continue to make plays with his feet, and continue his efficient passing-ways, while running back Marshawn Lynch plows his way through the defense like the “Human Wrecking Machine” that he is. We’re getting closer to Percy Harvin (Hip), who may be activated to play. Barring any set-backs, Harvin will give a balanced offense a standout weapon at receiver that can stretch the field. The more the merrier for Seattle, while St. Louis’ season looks like it’s heading down the drain. Wait a minute, trap-game for Seattle? Na.
Pick: Seahawks 29, Rams 13
Bye: Chicago Bears 4-3, Tennessee Titans 3-4, Indianapolis Colts 5-2, San Diego Chargers 4-3, Baltimore Ravens 3-4, Houston Texans 2-5
You can follow Massimo Russo on Twitter @NFLMassimo and SilverandBlueReport.com @SilverBlueRpt