SOMETHING STRANGE IS happening in Wisconsin. The Packers have a run game. Despite ranking just 26th in attempts, Green Bay have ran for 564 yards this season (13th), an amount that sees them on pace for their first 2,000 rushing yard season in ten years.
The biggest difference for the Packers has been the triple threat of James Starks, Eddie Lacy and Johnathan Franklin — not to mention the use of wide receiver Randall Cobb in the backfield — who between them are averaging over five yards a carry, a huge improvement on the 3.9 ypc Green Bay averaged over the past three seasons.
Maybe the improvement is down to the fact they face the league’s best rush defence (in terms of yards allowed) week in and week out in training, though they have played a game less than most of their rivals for that title.
This week they face a Ravens defence that ranks sixth in yards allowed per game (89.8) and who have their home form to thank for somehow topping the AFC North despite looking nothing more than ordinary this season.
The defending Super Bowl champions will once again rely on their defence Sunday — their 19 sacks are second only to the Chiefs 21 — as both their passing (8 interceptions to 5 touchdowns) and rushing game (2.8 yards per attempt) have struggled to get going this season.
Verdict: The Packers hold all the advantages on offence in this game but Maryland is tough place to go. Ravens by 3.
New Orleans Saints @ New England Patriots (-2.5)
I can only assume the Patriots are favourites going into this game because whoever set the odds hasn’t seen either team play this season. New England were the worst 4-0 team I’ve seen in a long time and after last week’s loss on the road to the Bengals — in which the home side did everything possible in the latter stages to hand the game to the Patriots — they finally got the loss they’ve deserved for some weeks.
This game was, of course, supposed to be the one in which Tom Brady equalled Drew Brees’ record of 54 consecutive games with a touchdown pass. However, the Patriots’ lack of real receiving options finally came back to haunt them and Brady’s streak drowned in the biblical rain that fell in Cincinnati last Sunday.
In beating a stubborn Bears outfit last weekend, the Saints, however, proved themselves to be a legitimate 5-0 side and, once again, credit must got to Rob Ryan and the changes he has made to the New Orleans’ defence as well as the impact of a returning Sean Payton.
Verdict: The Patriots may have the second best scoring defence in the league (only allowing 14 points per game) but they’re missing some key components. Saints by 5.
Indianapolis Colts (-1.5) @ San Diego Chargers
In beating the Seattle Seahawks last weekend, the Colts not only proved they can challenge for a playoff spot — they must be favourites to win the AFC South now — but that Andrew Luck’s partnership with TY Hilton (the two combined for 140 yards and two touchdowns) could be an awful lot of fun to watch this season.
Trent Richardson is still working his way through the Colts’ playbook but he will fancy his chances against a Chargers defence ranked 24th against the run and who have lost two of their last three to sit bottom of the AFC West.
The Chargers looked terrible on offence against the Raiders, turning the ball over five times and, against a Colts defence that have already forced ten turnovers this year, Philip Rivers and company will have to take better care of the football than they did late on Sunday night/Monday morning. With two 5-0 teams in the division, a loss here could virtually end their season.
Verdict: The Colts are perfect on the road this year and I expect that to continue on Monday night. Indy by 5.
New York Giants @ Chicago Bears (-7.5)
Cincinnati Bengals (-7) @ Buffalo Bills
Detroit Lions (-2.5) @ Cleveland Browns
St Louis Rams @ Houston Texans (-7.5)
Oakland Raiders @ Kansas City Chiefs (-9)
Carolina Panthers @ Minnesota Vikings (-2.5)
Pittsburgh Steelers @ New York Jets (-2.5)
Philadelphia Eagles (-1) @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Jacksonville Jaguars @ Denver Broncos (-26.5)
Tennessee Titans @ Seattle Seahawks (-13.5)
Arizona Cardinals @ San Francisco 49ers (-10.5)
Washington @ Dallas Cowboys (-5.5)
*Note the team in bold has been picked to beat the spread, not necessarily win the game.
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