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Reply To: NFL Week 3 – Previews, Articles, Info. Sunday 9/27/15

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MIKE O’CONNOR

San Diego (+2.5) 22 MINNESOTA 21

The Chargers moved the ball well last week against the Bengals but couldn’t stop the Bengals offense in their loss in Cincinnati. The Chargers allowed 391 yards at 6.5 yppl and weren’t any good defending either the run or the pass- they allowed 177 rushing yards at 5.2 ypr and 214 passing yards at 8.2 yps. They’ll face a Vikings team in this game that clobbered Matthew Stafford and the Lions offense last week, allowing just 5.3 yps and completely eliminating the Detroit ground game (38 yards at 2.4 ypr). This was is stark contrast to their opening night loss in San Francisco where they looked like a completely different team, getting pounded at the point of attack on both sides of the ball in allowing the 49ers to dominate on the ground. So, it all depends on which team shows up for Minnesota.

The match-ups indicate continued success on the ground for the Vikings as the Chargers allow 150 rushing yards at 5.0 ypr but I don’t envision the Vikings passing the ball well in this game (Bridgewater is averaging just 150 passing yards at 5.5 yps). On the other side, the Chargers offense is predicated on the skill of quarterback Philip Rivers and the San Diego passing offense (averaging 306 passing yards at 8.1 yps – good for #3 in the league) and should be able to move the ball against an improving Viking defense.

My ratings favor the Vikings by just a ½ point and the Chargers qualify in a 488-390-25 general situation that has me leaning their way.

Tampa Bay (+6.5) 17 HOUSTON 19

The Bucs played well last week in their 26-19 road victory, outgaining the Saints 333 total yards at 5.6 yppl to 324 yards at 4.8 yppl for New Orleans. They were also somewhat fortunate as they were playing against a compromised Drew Brees, who bruised his rotator cuff and wasn’t effective in this game. The Tampa defense looks to be improved and registered 4 sacks while generating 3 turnovers and limited the Saints to 7 points through 3 quarters before giving up two 4th quarter touchdowns. Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston improved off of his Week 1 start, passing for 194 yards at 8.1 yps without an interception.

The Texans dropped to 0-2 with their loss in Carolina and had real trouble generating offense, totaling just 300 total yards of offense at 3.7 yppl. With starting left tackle Duane Brown inactive with a hand injury, they moved swing tackle Chris Clark into the starting lineup there, but shifted right tackle Derek Newton to left guard and Adams to right tackle. Then they lost Adams during the game to a serious knee injury that forced them to put undrafted rookie Kendall Lamm at right tackle. Needless to say, the offensive line is a mess and it doesn’t look like running back Arian foster will be back this week either.

This looks like a defensive battle to me and 6.5 points is too many to lay with an anemic Texans offense facing an improving Tampa defense. My rating favor the Texans by 6.2 points but the Bucs benefit from a 90-152-5 contrary situation as well as a 47-113-3 statistical match-up indicator that plays against Houston while qualifying in a 47-17-2 momentum situation of their own. I’ll lean with the Bucs plus the points.

New Orleans (+3.5) 22 CAROLINA 20

With the uncertain status of Saints quarterback Drew Brees, this game is off the board at most shops but I do see Carolina by 3.5 at a couple of places as of early Thursday morning. That number is assuming Brees plays, which he said on Wednesday he has every intention of doing, so at that number there is value on the Saints. I’m going to monitor this one and come back when there is clarity on the quarterback but for now I like the Saints.

BALTIMORE (-2.5) 25 Cincinnati 21

The Ravens are in not quite in panic mode after starting the season 0-2, but should have some sense of urgency to get their first win in this home divisional game against the Bengals. After losing Terrell Suggs in the opener, the Ravens struggled badly last week against a Raiders offense that was terrible in Week 1, allowing 37 points and giving up 449 total yards at 6.9 yppl. Meanwhile, the Bengals offense, enjoying the return of tight end Tyler Eifert and wide receiver Marvin Jones this season, has been impressive. Cincinnati rolled up chunks of yardage last week both on the ground and in the air against the Chargers defense in their 24-19 win and will provide a difficult match-up for the Ravens in this one.

Part of the Ravens issue this season so far is that they are only converting 25% of their third downs (#29 ranking) and have only scored touchdowns on 28.6% of their red zone opportunities (#30) while allowing opponents to convert 53.3% of their third downs (#29 ranking). Baltimore is in the middle of the pack in net yards per play (#13) so some of those rates may very well regress back towards the mean, which would certainly help their cause.

My ratings favor the Ravens by 3 ½ points and I like the spot for Baltimore but there are situations of nearly equal value in this game on each team that essentially cancel each other out, so I’ll just offer a lean on the Ravens minus the small number.

CLEVELAND (-3.5) 23 Oakland 18

The Raiders offense exploded last week to the tune of 37 points on 449 total yards at 6.9 yppl against a Baltimore defense that just the week prior held Peyton Manning and the Denver offense to 19 points. The Raiders were productive on the ground (98 rushing yards at 5.4 ypr) and especially in the air (351 passing yards at 7.5 yps) as without Terrell Suggs bringing the heat, Carr had time to survey the field and make accurate downfield throws. The problem was the Raiders defense, which allowed 33 points by the way of 493 total yards at 7.0 yppl and now on the season are giving up an average of 445 yards at 6.7 yppl. They certainly aren’t facing an offensive juggernaut in the Browns but with an explosive weapon in the passing game (wide receiver Travis Benjamin – 6 receptions for 204 yards (34.0 avg) and 3 touchdowns) facing a bad Raiders secondary, there could be some big plays.

Josh McCown will make the start as he returns after clearing the concussion protocol and should provide a minor upgrade over Johnny Manziel and should have some success against an Oakland pass defense ranked 30th in the league. On the other side, Carr and the Raiders offense will find passing the ball more difficult than last week against a Browns pass defense that is pretty good (allowing an average of 199 yards passing at 5.9 yps).

While the Raiders won last week, they have an inverse relationship in their yppl numbers as they relate to some of the stats that contain luck – they rank #31 in the league in net yards per play but have had success on third down (#9 offensively and #11 defensively) and in the red zone where they have converted 80% of their trips into touchdowns. That doesn’t bode well moving forward. Meanwhile, the Browns have been both bad and unlucky.

My ratings favor the Browns by 3.2 points and there are situations going both ways but based on the Raiders luck scores and bad yppl numbers I’ll lean with the Browns.

Jacksonville (+13.5) 19 NEW ENGLAND 31

The Jags put their first win of the year on the books last week in an impressive performance against one of the preseasons’ trendier choices to ascend in 2015, the Miami Dolphins. Jacksonville played well offensively, producing 397 total yards at 6.1 yppl with a balanced attack and defensively they shut down the run (allowed just 42 rushing yards at 2.6 ypr). They had problems slowing down the Dolphins passing game (allowed 344 yards at 8.3 yps) and that does not bode well in this game facing Tom Brady and a New England passing offense that is averaging 366 passing yards at 7.7 yps. On the other side, the Patriots throttled the Bills in Buffalo, jumping out to a 37-13 lead before Buffalo closed the gap with a few scores late in the 4th quarter to make the final score look closer than the game actually was.

New England has given up a lot of yardage on the ground (allowing 147 yards at 5.7 ypr) so look for the Jaguars to try to run the ball with rookie T.J. Yeldon, control the clock, and keep Brady on the sidelines. The Jags have also been good at defending the run, allowing an average of just 74 yards at 3.0 ypr, while the Patriots are averaging 71 rushing yards at 4.1 ypr, although that’s not really the Patriots game offensively.

My ratings favor the Patriots by about 14 ½ points and there are situations going both ways, with the stronger ones slightly favoring the Jags. I’m going to pass.

San Francisco (+6) 20 ARIZONA 25

After an opening night pasting of the Vikings in San Francisco, the 49ers fell back down to earth last week in Pittsburgh, trailing 29-3 at halftime before adding garbage yards and scores in the second half. Their defense was abysmal, allowing 457 total yards at 9.5 yppl and this week face a balanced Cardinals attack that is clicking on all cylinders. In fact, for the first time in years, the Cardinals have a ground game. Rookie David Johnson in a limited role so far has provided a burst for an Arizona attack that is averaging 119 rushing yards per game at 4.8 ypr. In addition, quarterback Carson Palmer looks like he is back to form after missing most of last season (averaging 246 passing yards at 8.8 yps). I expect that Arizona will move the ball well in this game.

On the other side, the 49ers will need to generate offense on the ground but that will be a difficult task against an Arizona defense that is allowing an average of 82 rushing yards at 3.4 ypr. If there is not the threat of a consistent ground game, Colin Kaepernick will be forced to make things happen on his own behind a an offensive line that has a Pass Blocking Efficiency rating of 66.3, last in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus.

My ratings favor the Cardinals by 8.4 points but the 49ers qualify in a general 488-390-25 situation. No real value here but a slight lean to the 49ers based on the situation.

MIAMI (-2.5) 23 Buffalo 19

The Bills were beaten soundly last week against the Patriots as their defense allowed 511 total yards at 7.0 yppl as the Patriots jumped out to a commanding 37-13 entering the 4th quarter before the Bills added some garbage yards and points. Part of the problem is that the Bills are still feeling out their personnel offensively and are developing their identity. It all starts with the quarterback and after playing lights out in Week 1, Taylor fell apart last week in a big spot. Belichick had a plan in place to attack Taylor and force him into quick decisions and so he blitzed nearly half the time. He mitigated Taylor’s mobility by playing his defensive ends wide and closing down rushing lanes quickly. As a result, Taylor passed for only 189 yards at 5.0 yps while taking 8 sacks and throwing 3 interceptions. He’ll have to play much better this week for the Bills to have a shot in this game. I don’t think it would be a shock to see the Bills run the ball 40+ times in an effort to limit pressure on Taylor and also to take advantage of a Miami rush defense that has allowed an average of 143 yards at 4.2 ypr.

Last week, the Dolphins lost in Jacksonville, throwing the ball effectively (344 passing yards at 7.6 yps) but couldn’t do anything on the ground (42 rushing yards at 2.6 ypr). The game plan should also be clear for the Dolphins – pass the ball early and often with the hope of setting up the run. Buffalo has only allowed an average of 62 yards rushing per game while Miami is averaging just 58 rushing yards at 3.5 ypr. If Tannehill gets some protection, there may be some opportunities against the Bills pass defense that will likely be missing safety Aaron Williams.

My ratings favor the Dolphins by 3.2 points but there are situations going both ways in this one. The Dolphins will likely take a page out of the Belichick manual and blitz Taylor to force some mistakes as the book is now out on him. I’ll lean slightly with the Dolphins minus the short number.

SEATTLE (-14) 29 Chicago 14

The Bears lost at home last week to the Cardinals, 48-23, as Carson Palmer threw four touchdown passes and Arizona benefitted from a defensive and a special teams touchdown to coast to victory. Meanwhile, Seattle lost in Green Bay and are now 0-2 on the season and in need of a win. The Bears look like they’ll be shorthanded offensively with Jay Cutler likely out (hamstring) and wide receivers Alshon Jeffery (hamstring) and Eddie Royal (back/hip) missing practice on Wednesday. Jimmy Clausen takes over at quarterback and is a downgrade, especially if Jeffrey and Royal can’t play. Travelling to Seattle to face an 0-2 Seahawks team is not the ideal start for a backup quarterback and he’ll face a Seattle defense that will now have safety Kam Chancellor back after he ended his holdout this week.

Seattle should be able to run the ball against a Bears defense that is allowing an average of 126 rushing yards at 4.6 ypr and when Seattle decides to throw, they’ll face a Bears pass defense that is allowing 8.0 yps (26th in the league). Chicago won’t have much success offensively unless running back Matt Forte gets on track but he may find that difficult facing a Seattle rush defense that is very good and has allowed an average of 102 yards per game at 3.8 ypr this season.

My ratings favor the Seahawks by 15.2 points and there are no situations on this game. I’ll lean with the Seahawks minus the points.

DETROIT (+3) 21 Denver 24

The Broncos were fortunate to get past the Chiefs last Thursday night and only did because of really good luck. As I mentioned in my Kansas City/Green Bay write-up, not only did Jamaal Charles fumble in the final minute and have it returned for a touchdown to win it for Denver, which is obviously highly improbable, but overall Kansas City suffered from a -4 turnover differential (fumbling 3 times and losing all 3 while Denver didn’t fumble once), didn’t convert a single third down (0 for 7) and were just 25% in the red zone (1 for 4), while the Broncos were 100% (3 for 3). The Chiefs were +1.1 in net yards per play overall and if not for some really bad luck would have won that game. The Broncos were not good on offense, generating just 299 total yards at 4.3 yppl. They had no run game to speak of (61 yards at 2.8 ypr) and Payton Manning and the Broncos pass offense was only able to produce 238 passing yards at 5.0 yps.

This week they’ll take on a Detroit team that was roughed up last week in their loss in Minnesota, with quarterback Matthew Stafford getting the worst of it. It appears that he’ll play this week but he may be compromised in this game and may rush things when faced with a strong Broncos pass rush. So far this season, the Broncos are only allowing 135 passing yards at 4.3 yps (#2 ranking) so Stafford is going to have his work cut out for him. He’ll need the threat of a ground game to be able to pass the ball but the Lions run blocking has not been good as they are only averaging 54 rushing yards at 3.5 ypr (28th in the league).

While the Broncos have been lucky, the Lions have been both bad and unlucky (Detroit is dead last in the league in net yppl) and have only converted 39.1% of their third downs (#21 ranking) while allowing opponents to convert 52% of the time. My ratings favor the Broncos by 2.8 points and there are no situations that apply to this game so it’s a toss-up to me.