Sunday's NFL Action
September 9, 2012
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NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (0-0) at TENNESSEE TITANS (0-0)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: New England -5 & 47
Opening Line & Total: Patriots -6.5 & 48
The Titans seek long-awaited payback when they host the Patriots on Sunday, the same team that beat them 59-0 in their last meeting in 2009.
New England led 45-0 at halftime that game, and that was before the addition of its star tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. The Patriots offense gets richer this year with deep threat WR Brandon Lloyd, Tom Brady's best outside weapon since Randy Moss' prime. Lloyd joins Gronkowski, Hernandez and dominant slot WR Wes Welker on an offense that threw for 313 yards per game in 2011. The Pats' makeshift offensive line is dealing with some injuries, but their young defense is a year older and wiser and should be somewhat improved. The Titans need RB Chris Johnson to find his old form, as second-year QB Jake Locker is a flawed passer right now. Their defense will have its hands full against Brady and Company, especially with a toothless pass rush (28 sacks last year) and a secondary that lost both CB Cortland Finnegan and S Chris Hope to free agency. Although the spread is pretty hefty, consider that Bill Belichick is 28-15 ATS (65%) as a road favorite of seven points or less as the Patriots head coach.
Brady has led his team to eight straight season-opening wins, which ties the fifth-longest such run in NFL history. In last year's Week 1 victory over Miami, Brady threw for a Patriots record 517 yards in a 38-24 victory. Brady threw for 380 yards and six touchdowns in the 59-0 blowout over Tennessee three years ago. While the passing game gets all the recognition, New England is also a decent running team when it wants to be. The Patriots averaged 110 rushing yards on 4.0 YPC in 2011, and that should improve this year with Stevan Ridley's emergence within this offense. Ridley is coming off a strong preseason where he rushed for 152 yards on 34 carries (4.5 YPC), establishing himself as the featured back in this offense. The much-maligned defense allowed 402 total YPG last season, but the addition of rookies DE Chandler Jones and LB Donta' Hightower helps shore up what could be a very good front seven that could take pressure off the secondary.
Locker won the starting job over Matt Hasselbeck in the preseason, but he didn't throw all that effectively, completing just 31-of-60 of his passes for 316 yards (5.3 YPA), 2 TD and 1 INT. Locker will be making his first career start on Sunday, but he did see significant action in 2011, completing 34-of-66 passes for 542 yards (8.2 YPA), 4 TD and 0 INT. For the Titans to hang around in this game, Chris Johnson will have to regain his 2,000-yard form from a couple years ago. Johnson posted a career-low 1,047 rushing yards (4.0 YPC) in 2011, but he did rumble for 128 yards in the blowout loss to New England back in 2009. WR Kenny Britt will not play on Sunday, as he'll be serving his one-game suspension, which allows rookie Kendall Wright to start opposite veteran Nate Washington in this passing offense.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (0-0) at GREEN BAY PACKERS (0-0)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Green Bay -5 & 46.5
Opening Line & Total: Packers -6.5 & 45
The top two seeds in last year's NFL playoffs open the season against one another on Sunday when the Packers host the 49ers.
San Francisco's elite defense will go head-to-head with Green Bay's explosive offense. The Niners' run defense is elite, but their secondary was susceptible at times and could be exploited by Aaron Rodgers and Company. San Francisco's offense should be a bit more aggressive this season, as they added big-play weapons in WRs Randy Moss and Mario Manningham and rookie RB LaMichael James. Green Bay has an aggressive secondary that forces tons of turnovers, but also gives up a plethora of big plays because of the gambles they take. The Packers rarely lose at Lambeau Field, going 21-3 SU and 17-6-1 ATS (74%) on their home field in the past three seasons. This trend also holds true in this series, as Green Bay is 13-1 SU (10-2-2 ATS) against the Niners since 1996, which includes five playoff meetings.
The 49ers are coming off a 14-4 season where they reached the NFC Championship game and posted a 12-5-1 ATS record (71%), which was topped only by New Orleans (13-5 ATS). QB Alex Smith did a great job protecting the football, throwing just five interceptions in 445 pass attempts, and leading his team to a league-best +28 turnover margin in 2011. His top two targets were WR Michael Crabtree and TE Vernon Davis, who both have more room to operate with the offseason additions to the receiving corps. But make no mistake that San Francisco is a run-first offense, throwing the second-fewest passes in the league last year at 28.2 per game. James joins veteran Frank Gore and second-year pro Kendall Hunter in a backfield that rushed for 128 yards per game last season, which ranked eighth in the NFL. Defensively, the Niners placed second in the league in scoring defense (14.3 PPG) and fourth in total defense (308 YPG), including a league-best run-stop unit both in terms of rushing yards (77 YPG) and yards per carry (3.5 YPC). LBs Patrick Willis and NaVorro Bowman anchor this unit in the middle, while DE Justin Smith is the pass-rushing threat up front. The one big injury concern for San Francisco for Week 1 is star kick returner Ted Ginn Jr. who is questionable with an ankle injury.
Rodgers is coming off a record-setting season in terms of QB rating (122.5) as he threw for 4,643 yards, 45 TD and just 6 INT in his 502 pass attempts. WRs Jordy Nelson and Greg Jennings combined for 2,212 receiving yards and 24 TD last year, while TE Jermichael Finley caught eight touchdown passes. The rushing offense gained just 97 YPG last year (27th in NFL), but the hope is that free-agent Cedric Benson can chew up yards with his north-south power running this year. Defensively, the Packers love to gamble and try to take the football away. They led the NFL with 31 interceptions that was a big part of their +24 turnover margin, which ranked second in the league behind San Francisco. However, this big-play defense also comes at a price, as Green Bay allowed a league-high 412 total YPG. The Packers, who finished 15-1 (11-5 ATS) last year, start the season relatively healthy with the exceptions of LB Desmond Bishop (I.R., hamstring) and RB James Starks, who has been ruled out of this game with his turf toe injury.
PITTSBURGH STEELERS (0-0) at DENVER BRONCOS (0-0)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Denver -2 & 46
Opening Line & Total: Broncos -1.5 & 45
The Peyton Manning era begins Sunday night when his Broncos host the revenge-minded Steelers.
In a rematch of Denver's Wild Card victory a year ago, the Broncos offense will look completely different with Manning under center. There are questions surrounding Manning though, like his arm strength after missing last year following multiple neck surgeries, as well as Denver's ability to keep up with his audibles and adjustments. The Pittsburgh defense looked a half step slow late last year and will be without FS Ryan Clark (sickle cell traits). OLB James Harrison is coming off a knee scope. Offensively, the Steelers have a new play-caller in Todd Haley and are just getting holdout WR Mike Wallace into the fold. Denver's John Fox is 10-26 ATS (28%) in home games in the first half of the season in his head coaching career, which should continue as the Steelers will be plenty motivated to revenge last year's postseason loss in Denver. While that Pittsburgh team was completely banged up, this one will be much fresher to start the season. The Steelers have the ability to pressure Manning as the veteran QB plays his first meaningful game in more than 20 months.
Haley is expected to take some of the pressure off battered QB Ben Roethlisberger with a more run-heavy offense. Top RB Rashard Mendenhall is feverously working his way back from a torn ACL in Week 17 last year, but will not be ready in time to play in the season opener. RB Isaac Redman has also been hampered by groin and ankle injuries in the preseason, but is expected to start and carry the ball 15-to-20 times. Although the Steelers offense ranked 12th in the NFL in total yards (372 YPG), they scored just 20.3 PPG, which tied them for 21st in the league. With Wallace holding out for the majority of training camp, Antonio Brown was the main target in the passing game and is poised for a monster year now that Wallace is back to garner most of the attention from opposing secondaries. Pittsburgh led the league in both scoring defense (14.2 PPG) and total defense (272 YPG), and hasn't faced a Manning-led offense since 2008, when he threw for 240 yards and 3 TD in a 24-20 win with the Colts.
Manning was brought in to drastically improve a Denver offense that ranked 25th in scoring (19.3 PPG) and 23rd in total offense (317 YPG) in 2011. He reunites with Colts teammate TE Jacob Tamme, but Manning is still building chemistry with a young starting WR duo of Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas. The Broncos running game led the NFL with 165 YPG last season, but a good chunk of those yards came from departed QB Tim Tebow running the football. With Manning being a classic pocket passer, the rushing yards in 2012 will come mainly from Willis McGahee and rookie Ronnie Hillman. Denver has some great athletes that help comprise its 4-3 defense, most notably DE Elvis Dumervil, LB Von Miller and CB Champ Bailey. The Broncos surrendered 24.4 PPG last year (24th in NFL) and allowed 358 total YPG (20th in league).