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NFL WEEK 10: A compelling Thursday nighter kicked off this Week 10, as the Colts erased a 4-point halftime deficit to beat AFC South rival Tennessee on the road and pull to even in the division, with both teams now sitting at 6-3. Philip Rivers had his best game in a Colts uniform, but it was the stingy Indianapolis defense that ultimately made the difference by shutting out the high-scoring Titans in the second half, and if the Colts are going to make a deep postseason run, it will be the defense, and not the Rivers-led offense, that carries them.

Speaking of the postseason, we still don’t know exactly what it’s going to look like this year: in March the NFL approved changes to the playoffs that included 7 teams from each conference getting in, as opposed to 6, and granted a first-round bye only to the 1-seed in each conference, instead of the 1 and 2 seeds. However, a few days ago the league announced that they’re open to expanding the playoff field to 8 teams in each conference, 16 total, as a contingency if games are lost due to COVID. That means a whole bunch of teams who would normally be considered “out of it” at this point in the season– for instance, 6-loss teams like Carolina, Atlanta, and Houston– are still very much alive. While that may draw the usual complaints about cheapening the regular season, it does guarantee us an entertaining next few weeks as half the league jockeys for playoff position.

Our own luck soured in a catastrophic Week 9, but it was only our second losing week of the season, and confidence is high in a quick recovery thanks to a Week 10 slate that features several green-lighters. Here are my four favorites:

Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Carolina Panthers (TB -6, 50.0)

Recommendation: Tampa Bay -6 at 1.91

The Bucs put forth an embarrassing performance last week, losing 38-3 to New Orleans in a nationally-televised game. It was the low point of Tom Brady’s brief Tampa Bay tenure, but the Bucs are a veteran team and there aren’t many players in NFL history who have been better at responding to humiliating defeats than Brady: since 2003, Brady led-teams have suffered a total of 20 double-digit losses. In the following game, those teams are 18-2 overall and a a cool 17-3 against the number, with an average margin of victory of 14 ppg (h/t Sharp Football Analysis). Brady has elite skill-position talent at his disposal, moreso now than ever with Antonio Brown on board, and this week he’ll be facing a young Carolina defense that struggles to pressure the passer and has given up nearly 30 ppg in the team’s six losses. On the other side of the ball, the Panthers will be without All-Pro RB Christian McCaffrey after he injured his shoulder last week, so Teddy Bridgewater will be forced to carry the offense against a fierce Tampa D that ranks 4th in the NFL in yards allowed and 2nd in sacks. These teams met back in Week 2, with McCaffrey in the lineup for Carolina, and the Bucs waltzed to an easy 31-17 win. I expect a similar result this time around.

Los Angeles Chargers @ Miami Dolphins (MIA -1, 48.5)

Recommendation: Los Angeles moneyline at 2.06

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. So… what about a third time? Jump in the river? Seppuku? These are the dilemmas I’ll be faced with should Tua do it again, as I’ve bet against the Dolphins in each of the past two weeks with unfortunate results. The rookie passer threw for just 93 yards in Miami’s Week 8 victory, with the defense and special teams leading the way, but he was considerably better last week, going 20/28 for 248 yds and 2 TDs in leading a 34-31 win over Arizona. Still, the Dolphins offense is in a tough spot here– down Myles Gaskin and forced to use an uninspiring RB-by-committee, Tua will be asked to shoulder a heavy lead against a veteran Chargers defense, and given the way his counterpart, L.A.’s Justin Herbert, has been playing over the past few weeks, it’s likely going to take more than 28 attempts or 248 yards to get the job done this week. Herbert has been superb, averaging over 306 pass yards per game in 7 starts this season, and he should have plenty of room to operate against a Miami defense that was forced to put front-seven starters Christian Wilkins and Kyle Van Noy on the COVID/Reserve list this week. The Chargers are a much better team than their 2-6 record would indicate, as 5 of their 6 losses have come by 5 points or fewer, and they’re a good bet to win this one outright.

Seattle Seahawks @ Los Angeles Rams (LA -2.5, 54.5)

Recommendation: Los Angeles -2.5 at 1.92

Russell Wilson has played the best football of his career this season in dragging a deeply flawed Seattle team to 6 wins, but cracks have begun to form and the dam is starting to break, as the Seahawks have lost 2 of 3 despite Wilson’s heroics. And the injury report continues to provide bad news: the ‘Hawks are once again expected to be without their top two RBs; starting center Ethan Pocic is out, to be replaced by a player making his first career start (good luck with Aaron Donald, bud!); and a defense that has allowed more passing yards than any in NFL history through 8 games will be without both its starting cornerbacks. You think Sean McVay and Jared Goff are salivating over this matchup?? The Rams are coming off a bye, so McVay has had an extra week to figure out ways to exploit this eminently exploitable Seattle D, and frankly the Seahawks are just out of answers on that side of the ball: they’ve tried just about everything schematically, and with their best players watching from the sidelines, their deep flaws are laid bare anytime they face a halfway competent offense. Pity Russell Wilson, and back the Rams.

Minnesota Vikings @ Chicago Bears (MIN -2.5, 43)

Recommendation: Chicago +2.5 at 1.91

After a rough start to the season the Vikings have picked up some momentum, winning back-to-back divisional games to stay afloat in the playoff race. Their formula for success has been simple: ride Dalvin Cook, and then ride him some more. Cook has rushed for 369 combined yards in the team’s last two victories, and when you run the ball like that, all the talk surrounding an underperforming Kirk Cousins and a leaky defense is quieted somewhat. But this week things won’t be so easy on the ground, as Cook and the Vikes travel to Chicago on Monday night to face a defense that is one of the NFL’s very best. The Bears have proven stout against some of the league’s top backs, holding the likes of Alvin Kamara, Todd Gurley, and Derrick Henry well below their season averages on the ground. Given the limitations of the Minnesota passing attack– Kirk Couins is averaging a mere 238 pass ypg this season, with a 15/10 TD-to-INT ratio– you know the Bears are going to gang-up on Cook and extinguish all daylight. And when Cook has been held in check, the Vikings have had trouble winning ballgames, because their defense isn’t stopping anybody– they surrender 29.3 ppg and Seattle is the only NFC team to have allowed more yards. Even Chicago’s punchless offense should be able to find paydirt a couple of times, which may be enough in what projects to be a low-scoring affair.