NFL WEEK 10: We’re on to the second half of the season now, when the weather gets cold and the playoff talk heats up. There are really only three teams— Cleveland, San Francisco, and the New York Giants— that have been effectively eliminated from playoff contention, though that list will grow with each passing week. Teams like Tampa Bay and Indianapolis are certainly on life support at the moment, and others, such as Denver and Green Bay, are playing so poorly that any talk of the postseason seems about as realistic as Roger Goodell accepting a pay cut (…as Jim Mora’s famous rant rings through the ears).
Week 10 is a little light on the marquee matchups, and it’s worth noting that 10 of the 14 games on the slate will feature at least one team that is starting a backup quarterback— if we denote “backup” as a player who wasn’t starting in Week 1 and wouldn’t be playing if it weren’t for injuries and/or poor performance. I know quarterback turmoil is a near-constant in the NFL, but it seems like 2017 has been an especially tumultuous year for the position.
Speaking of tumultuous, our own fortunes have soured a bit over these past couple of weeks, as bad beats and poor decisions have conspired to lighten our bank account and produce the special kind of frustration known only to those who put their faith in their own ability to predict the future. But the great Tom Watson once said that the past has absolutely no bearing on the present, unless, that is, you’re on a hot streak. When asked to explain this logical contradiction, he said simply- “I make the rules.”
With that in mind, here are a few recommendations for Week 10:
LOS ANGELES CHARGERS @ JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (Jax -4.5, 41.5)
Recommendation: Los Angeles +4.5 at 1.82
Somebody break up the Jags! The team that has been the laughingstock of the NFL for the past decade now looks like a legitimate playoff contender, with three wins in their past four games to improve to 5-3 on the year. They’ve been doing it the old fashioned way, with great defense and a quality running game. No team is allowing fewer points than Jacksonville (14.6 ppg), and no team has rushed for more yards (166.5 ypg). That’s a pretty good combination.
But it bears mentioning that one of the main reasons why the Jags lead the league in rushing is their quarterback situation– Blake Bortles is not to be trusted due to his carelessness with the football, and he’s surrounded by possibly the worst collection of pass-catchers in the entire NFL. Also, as good as the Jacksonville defense has been in the secondary, they have had problems against the run, as only five teams are currently allowing more rushing yards per game.
This week the Jags host a Los Angeles team that is perhaps the single-most underrated squad in the NFL– the Chargers have been playing like a playoff team for the past month, with their only loss over the past four games coming against New England. They have a quality defense that ranks 7th in the league in points allowed (19.0 ppg) and features dynamic young pass-rushers who will make life miserable for Bortles, and they have a balanced offense that is loaded with elite talent at the skill positions and a is led by a future Hall of Fame quarterback. Plus, they’re coming off a bye. This is a classic Buy Low/Sell High situation, and I think the Chargers have an excellent chance to win this one outright.
NEW YORK JETS @ TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (NY -2.5, 42.5)
Recommendation: Tampa Bay +2.5 at 1.94; Tampa Bay moneyline at 2.14
The Jets have exceeded all expectations this season, but that’s partly because expectations were so low. They really haven’t been playing very well for the past month, losing three straight games prior to beating Buffalo last Thursday. Their offense isn’t scaring anybody, and their defense ranks in the bottom-half of the league in nearly every major statistical category and has surrendered 21 points or more in each of the team’s past four games.
The Bucs, meanwhile, have been one of the NFL’s most disappointing teams. Starting quarterback Jameis Winston has been replaced by Ryan Fitzpatrick, but Winston had really been struggling with injury-related poor performance in recent weeks, so the change could be a blessing in disguise for the offense. Fitzpatrick has performed well when given the opportunity this season, and he’ll have plenty of motivation to succeed against the Jets, a team he led for the past two years. More helpful than “motivation”, though, will be the fact that the Jets start two rookies in the secondary. And Fitzpatrick can always hand it to Doug Martin, who should find plenty of room to operate against a New York defense that ranks 26th against the run, surrendering 121 rushing yards per game. I’m just not sure that a Jets team that is 1-3 on the road this season, with their only win coming against the hopeless Browns, should be favored in this situation. I’ll take my chances with Tampa Bay.
DALLAS COWBOYS @ ATLANTA FALCONS (Atl -3, 50.5)
Recommendation: Atlanta -3 at 1.85
Dallas is starting to get it rolling now, with three straight wins to improve to 5-3 on the season. But I’d be careful about drinking the Kool-Aid too early— star running back Ezekiel Elliott will now begin his 6-game suspension after a court ruled in the NFL’s favor on Thursday, and the secondary still has issues that will be exposed against the league’s better passing attacks. That secondary has surrendered over 260 passing yards in each of the team’s past two games, and they’re sure to be tested this week when they travel to Atlanta to face Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Co.
I know, I know… the Atlanta offense isn’t nearly as good this season as it was last year, right? That’s the constant refrain we’ve heard from the “experts” over these past few weeks, and when you look at the numbers it becomes clear that, indeed, these Falcons have experienced a drop-off in production when compared to last season. But that doesn’t mean they’re “struggling” or in any way inept— the Falcons still rank 7th in the NFL in total offense, and Ryan is 6th in passing yards. And they seem to be ramping it up a bit, as Ryan threw for 313 yards against a tough Carolina defense last week and is starting to look for the uncoverable Jones with increasing frequency, with Jones getting 38 targets in the team’s past four games.
Something tells me that we’ll see the Atlanta passing attack firing on all cylinders against the vulnerable Dallas defense this week. And the under-reported Falcons storyline this season has been the play of the defense, a unit that has long been regarded as a weakness but currently ranks 10th in the NFL in yards allowed and has held 7 of 8 opponents this year to 23 points or fewer. Don’t be shoveling dirt on these Falcons just yet— I expect them to beat the Cowboys this week.
MIAMI DOLPHINS @ CAROLINA PANTHERS (Car -9, 39.9)
Recommendation: Under 39.5 at 1.89
The Panthers are starting to look like a playoff team after winning back-to-back games to improve their record to 6-3, and they’re a heavy favorite here against a Miami team that has lost two straight and ranks last in the league in points scored, averaging just 14.5 per game. But the Carolina offense has issues of its own, as Cam Newton is dealing with a serious shortage of reliable receivers and therefore has been unable to generate much in the passing game. The Panthers are averaging just 18.7 points per game this season and they haven’t scored more than 20 points in nearly a month, which makes backing them as a 9-point favorite a dicey proposition.
That’s especially true because the Miami defense is a top-10 unit that is particularly good against the run, limiting the opposition to just 3.7 yards per carry. You’re not going to make a living running it between the tackles against Ndamukong Suh and Co., so Carolina will need to find creative ways to move the ball down the field. Of course, “creativity” isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the Carolina offense, which is part of the reason why the Panthers are averaging just 13.3 points per game over the past three weeks. Fortunately for them, the defense has picked up the slack, and that defense should absolutely smother a Miami offense that struggles to run the ball consistently and is led by (gulp) Jay Cutler. Cutler will need to avoid the costly turnovers in this one, but if he does, the Dolphins have a chance to hang around and keep it close. I’m not willing to throw any money at Cutler, however, and I think the Under is probably the safer play here anyway.