NFL WEEK 10: Week 10 kicked off with a bang on Thursday night, as the Panthers and Steelers combined for 73 points in a game that was quite entertaining despite the lopsided result– Pittsburgh 52, Carolina 21. The Steelers have now won five straight and are starting to look like the Super Bowl contender that many predicted they would be, despite the ongoing absence of All-Pro tailback Le’Veon Bell.
Carolina, meanwhile, is still in decent shape at 6-3, but the NFC playoff race is going to be a dogfight this year: Chicago, Minnesota, Green Bay, Philadelphia, Washington, Seattle, and Atlanta all have four losses or fewer– in addition to the Saints and Rams, who have managed to stay above the fray– so it’s certainly possible that a 10-6 team gets frozen out.
Over in the AFC things are a bit less muddled, with Kansas City, New England, Pittsburgh, and Houston in good shape atop their respective divisions, the 6-2 Chargers looking every bit like a Wild Card team if they can’t catch the Chiefs in the West, and then you have a decent team in Cincinnati (5-3), and some deeply flawed teams that nevertheless may be able to squeak in should a team like the Bengals falter: Miami (5-4), Tennessee (4-4), Baltimore (4-5), Jacksonville (3-5), and Indianapolis (3-5).
It can all change in a hurry, of course, and there will surely be one team who isn’t listed above that will make a run over the next few weeks. But there’s no doubt that the good teams and bad teams have largely separated themselves over the past month– just look at this week’s lines, where seven of Sunday’s 12 games feature point spreads of 7 or more.
Let’s dive into this Week 10 slate and see if we can dig up a few winners:
Washington Redskins @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (TB -3, 50.5)
Recommendation: Tampa Bay -3 at 1.99
The Bucs burned me last week, as their porous defense was trampled by Cam Newton and the Panthers to the tune of 42 points and 407 total yards. But I’m back up on the horse because I really believe this is a great spot for them— a home game against a Washington team with a punchless offense. The Redskins have now scored fewer than 24 points in five straight games, and last week they could manage just 14 points against an Atlanta defense that has been nearly as bad as Tampa’s this season (the teams rank 28th and 29th, respectively, in total yards allowed). And if things weren’t already bad enough, the offense lost three starters to injury last week— two linemen and receiver Paul Richardson, all of whom will miss the remainder of the season.
For all of Tampa’s faults on defense, they have one of the NFL’s most explosive offenses, a unit that has produced 26 points or more in 7 of the team’s 8 games thus far. It’s an offense that has been at its best when Ryan Fitzpatrick has been under center, and FitzMagic gets the start again on Sunday, so we can expect the terrific Tampa receiving corps to terrorize a Washington secondary that surrendered 350 passing yards and 4 touchdowns last week. I just can’t envision a Redskins offense that has been stuck in the mud for weeks and is now weakened from a personnel standpoint keeping pace in this one. The Bucs will pick up their fourth win of the season, and I don’t expect it to be particularly close.
Detroit Lions @ Chicago Bears (Chi -6.5, 43.5)
Recommendation: Detroit +6.5 at 2.02
After winning their last two games by 46 combined points, the Bears are riding a wave of public enthusiasm unseen since the Lovie Smith days. But is it time to Sell High with this team? Lest we forget, those last two wins have come against the Jets and Bills, two bad teams led by two of the league’s worst starting quarterbacks. The Lions, for all their faults, will have the edge at quarterback in this game, as Matt Stafford is far more accomplished than Mitchell Trubisky, who can be erratic and inaccurate when forced to make plays from the pocket. This week Trubisky will be facing a Detroit secondary that ranks 4th in the NFL against the pass, surrendering just 215 yards per game through the air, and has allowed just 10 passing touchdowns this season, the third-best mark in the league.
So I’m expecting the Bears to be fairly conservative on offense here, leaning heavily on the running game and limiting Trubisky’s exposure. We know Stafford can sling it, and though the Chicago defense has been good statistically, the secondary has had problems at times– in Weeks 6 and 7, for instance, they surrendered 657 combined passing yards and 6 passing TDs. And while there’s no shame in getting burned by Tom Brady, as was the case in Week 7, allowing Brock Osweiler to put up 380 yards and 3 TDs in Week 6 is… concerning, to say the least. If the Lions can keep Stafford upright, he can do some damage down the field in this game. And if that happens, will Mitch Trubisky be forced out of his comfort zone and asked to make plays with his arm, from the pocket? That’s the blueprint for success for Detroit here, and I don’t think it’s unrealistic. Gimme the Lions and 6.5 points in what I see as a prime Buy Low/Sell High opportunity.
Buffalo Bills @ New York Jets (NY -7, 36.5)
Recommendation: New York -7 at 2.02
I don’t imagine a whole lot of people are real fired up for this game– these teams have a combined record of 5-13, neither has won a game in nearly a month, and both offenses have been struggling mightily. Jets rookie quarterback Sam Darnold hurt his foot last week and will not play in this game, but I think that could be a blessing in disguise for the New York offense– Darnold seemed to have hit the proverbial “rookie wall” over the past few games, and last week was a low point, as he threw 4 interceptions in a 13-6 loss to Miami. He’ll be replaced by the veteran Josh McCown, who had some really good moments last season and could inject some life into a stagnant offense.
Unfortunately for the Bills, they don’t have a capable, veteran quarterback like McCown to turn to. Because of injuries to rookie Josh Allen and midseason acquisition Derek Anderson, the Bills have been forced to play young Nathan Peterman, who has objectively been one of the worst QBs in the NFL over the past two seasons. Peterman has been so bad that Buffalo coach Sean McDermott has refused to commit to playing him this week, leaving open the possibility that the Bills will go with Matt Barkley, who was just signed off the street ten days ago and hasn’t appeared in an NFL game since 2011. Regardless of who is under center, the situation is bleak for a Buffalo offense that has scored just 33 combined points in the team’s last four games– all losses. The Jets have a capable defense that held Miami to 168 total yards last week, while the Bills D has collapsed after a decent start to the season, surrendering 103 combined points over the past three weeks. This game is more of a mismatch than most realize.
Seattle Seahawks @ Los Angeles Rams (LA -9, 50.5)
Recommendation: Los Angeles -9 at 1.97
The Rams finally tasted defeat last week, falling to the New Orleans Saints 45-35 in a game that lived up to its billing. The secondary has definitely been exposed a bit in recent weeks, and it figures to be a point of vulnerability going forward— at least until Aqib Talib gets back. But it’s still a talented defense overall, especially up front, where a dominant line led by Defensive Player of the Year frontrunner Aaron Donald can make life miserable for opposing QBs and generate negative plays in the running game. Seattle has been the most run-heavy team in the league over the past six weeks, so this won’t be a game where the L.A. secondary is tested like it was against New Orleans or Green Bay.
When these teams met back in Week 5, for instance, Seahawks QB Russell Wilson attempted only 21 passes and finished the game with fewer than 200 yards through the air. But the ‘Hawks hung tough in that game before eventually losing a 33-31 thriller, and based on some of the picks and predictions I’ve heard this week, some folks are definitely a bit squeamish about laying a 9-point number here. I sense a blowout coming, however— the Rams offense is just so, so explosive, leading the NFL in yards per game and ranking third in points scored (33.2 ppg). Seattle, on the other hand, ranks 26th in total offense, and has a defense that is surrendering 4.8 yards per rush, worse than all but three teams in the league. That means Todd Gurley should feast here, and when Gurley is rolling, the L.A. offense is next-to-impossible to stop. Look for the Rams get back on track with a resounding home win.