NFL WEEK 7: Despite all the uncertainty and schedule realignment that has taken place in this most unusual year, we’re almost halfway through the NFL’s regular season, with most teams set to play their seventh game this week. So far, so good… but something tells me the real difficulty still lies ahead. Not with the virus, which has proven benign for all but the oldest and most unwell among us, but with the effects that the league’s virus protocol will have on the season when the games get more important and the time to reschedule them grows more scarce. It’s difficult to envision a scenario where positive tests don’t affect the postseason in some way, so the question becomes whether the NFL has the flexibility to continually reschedule everything, including the Super Bowl, or whether they’ll make a team forfeit, or… I can’t really think of any other options offhand, but I’m sure they exist.
At any rate, we may as well enjoy it week by week, and we’ve got some interesting matchups to sink our teeth into in this Week 7. The headliner is in Tennessee, where the AFC’s only remaining unbeatens will do battle when the Steelers come to town to face the Titans. It will be interesting to see if Derrick Henry is able to get loose against the NFL’s second-ranked run defense, particularly in light of longtime Steeler Ryan Clark’s derogatory comments about Henry’s style and “courage”, which were widely disseminated by national media on Friday. Something tells me Clark, a former Pro Bowl safety who now works as a commentator for ESPN, didn’t do Pittsburgh’s current safeties any favors by poking the bear, but as a fan I’ll never complain about a little extra spice! Watching Henry rag-doll some 180-pound DB never gets old, anyway.
You know what else never gets old? Winning all of our bets on an October Sunday, as was the case last week. Unfortunately Dallas let us down (in a big way.. yikes!) on Monday night, so there’s still room for improvement. Let’s see if we can pull off the clean sweep with these four:
Green Bay Packers @ Houston Texans (GB -3.5, 57)
Recommendation: Houston +3.5 at 1.9
The Packers entered last week’s game in Tampa having won all four of their previous games, with each win coming by a touchdown or more. The Texans, meanwhile, have lost 5 of their 6 games and have already seen their head coach fired. But all is not what it seems at the surface– the Houston offense has caught fire since Tim Kelly began calling the plays, piling up 66 points and 900 total yards in the last two weeks. Deshaun Watson should be able to keep it rolling against a Green Bay defense that was shredded last week and will be missing two key contributors in the secondary in cornerback Kevin King and safety Darnell Savage. I expect Aaron Rodgers to bounce back after an awful Week 6 performance, but the “truth” of this Packers offense is somewhere between last week’s ineptitude and the brilliance of weeks prior, as they feasted on a diet of poor defenses for the season’s first month. This one will be a shootout, no doubt, and I’m not as sure as some that Watson will be outgunned and outclassed. Throw in 3.5 points, and you’ve got yourself a bet.
San Francisco 49ers @ New England Patriots (NE -2.5, 44.5)
Recommendation: San Francisco +2.5 at 2.04
After a good start, the new-look New England offense has ground to a halt, producing just 22 combined points over the team’s past two games. Cam Newton was back under center last week and looked awfully uncomfortable, throwing for a mere 157 yards on 25 attempts and tossing two INTs. And Newton seems to be the team’s only reliable running threat after injuries decimated what was supposed to be a deep Patriots backfield, so moving the ball– either on the ground or through the air– will be a struggle against a San Francisco defense that ranks 5th in the league in yards allowed. On the other side of the ball, Niners quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is coming off his best performance of the season in the team’s 24-16 win over the Rams, and the return of Deebo Samuel has given the offense a different dimension. The Patriots have lost back-to-back games and they haven’t dropped three straight since 2002, which goes a long way towards explaining why they’re a public favorite at sportsbooks around the world this week. But as much faith as I have in Belichick, I think he’s outmatched in this one, and he can’t rely on the empty shell of Gillette Stadium to factor in the outcome. The wrong team is favored here.
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Los Angeles Chargers (LAC -7.5, 49.5)
Recommendation: Los Angeles -7.5 at 2.0
I kicked myself for not betting on Detroit as a 3-point favorite in Jacksonville last week– what an absolute gift, one that my second-guessing and “suspicious line” posturing preventing me from taking advantage of. I’m determined not to make the same mistake again, and this one seems nearly as obvious, though I presume the juicy 7.5-point number will be enough to lure some poor suckers into throwing money at the Jags. I can almost assure you that those people will not have actually watched the Jags over the past couple of weeks, for if they had, they’d know that they could make their money last a bit longer by flushing it down the toilet one bill at a time. As a Jacksonville resident, I am subjected to the misery on a weekly basis, and I can assure you that there is no ray of light, no positivity, no reason to expect something different against a Chargers team that has a functional defense and a rookie QB who has set the world on fire thus far. That quarterback, Justin Herbert, is coming off a bye and facing a defense that has been stunningly bad this season, surrendering 30.2 points and 415 yards per game, and will be without its best player, LB Myles Jack, who is nursing an ankle injury. Look for Herbert to pick up his first win as a starter, and to do it in resounding fashion.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers @ Las Vegas Raiders (TB -3.5, 52.5)
Recommendation: Tampa Bay -3.5 at 1.99
The Raiders enter this game in the most unusual of circumstances, as their entire starting offensive line and starting strong safety have been placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list and have been unable to practice all week. Assuming tests come back negative between now and Sunday, all linemen except right tackle Trent Brown, who tested positive, are expected to be active for the game, though safety Jon Abram will have to sit along with Brown, which certainly won’t help the Raiders slow down a Tampa offense that has really begun to hit its stride, putting up 76 combined points in the team’s last two victories. The emergence of Ronald Jones has taken some pressure off the Tom Brady-led passing attack, but with Chris Godwin and Mike Evans now both healthy again– not to mention the impending arrival of Antonio Brown– I expect Brady to start putting up some monster numbers. The Raiders have been consistently underestimated this season, but considering their issues defensively– they rank 24th in total defense and 25th against the pass– and the fact that Tampa has the NFL’s top-ranked rushing defense, which will make things extra difficult for Josh Jacobs, this just doesn’t feel like a good matchup for Jon Gruden’s team. Gimme the Bucs.