September 23, 2012
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TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (1-1) at DALLAS COWBOYS (1-1)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Dallas -8.5 & 46
Opening Line & Total: Cowboys -7 & 45.5
The Cowboys look to get back on track Sunday when they host a Buccaneers team they have dominated over the years.
Dallas is 12-3 SU all-time against Tampa Bay, including four straight victories by an average margin of 15.3 PPG. The Cowboys offense looked excellent against the Giants in their opener (433 yards) before getting shut down in Seattle in Week 2 (296 yards). But QB Tony Romo could take advantage against a Tampa defense that allowed Eli Manning to throw for 510 yards in last week's 41-34 loss. The Bucs strongly prefer a clock-killing, run-first attack. It didn't work against the Giants in Week 2 (79 yards on 22 rushes), but the Cowboys struggled to stop the Seahawks' ground game last week (182 yards on 41 carries) and also allowed 82 rushing yards to a very weak Giants running game in the opener. Expect Dallas' offense to play much better than when it laid an egg last week against Seattle. Poor special teams play and ill-timed drops by the receivers, mainly TE Jason Witten, made the outcome of the game much worse that it should have been. The Bucs will be overmatched in this one, and when they give up big yardage, it spells doom. Tampa Bay is 0-6 ATS when it allows 400 to 450 total yards over the past three seasons. The average score in those games was Tampa Bay 15.3, Opponent 38.0.
Bucs QB Josh Freeman didn't do much in last year's 31-16 home loss to Dallas, completing 17-of-27 passes for 148 yards (5.5 YPA), 1 TD and 0 INT. His touchdown came in the third quarter when his team was trailing 31-7. Freeman was actually the leading rusher in last year's meeting with 37 carries, as LeGarrette Blount was the only other ball carrier, gaining a mere 21 yards on nine carries. However, this year's ground game has been paced by workhorse rookie Doug Martin, who has 44 of his team's 58 rushing attempts, gaining 161 yards (3.7 YPC) and one touchdown. The passing game has relied heavily on Vincent Jackson, who has received 20 of the 52 pass attempts this season. Mike Williams ranks second on the team in targets -- with eight -- scoring twice on those limited throws his way. Defensively, the Bucs were torched last week for 604 total yards, but they allowed only 301 yards in their season-opening win over Carolina. The rushing defense has been stout in 2012 though, holding two opponents to a combined 104 rushing yards on 38 carries (2.7 YPC). The Bucs have also forced five turnovers already during the young season.
Romo's career numbers against the Buccaneers are nothing short of amazing. In three games, he has completed 61-of-86 passes (71%) for 908 yards, 11 TD and zero interceptions. Romo has done a wonderful job of keeping all his receivers happy, as four players have between 12 and 15 targets this year. RB DeMarco Murray has caught all six of his targets, and has been strong rushing the football with 175 yards on 5.5 YPC. Although he's been bothered by a wrist injury, he will start on Sunday. Defensively, the Cowboys depth could be a bit on the thin side. S Gerald Sensabaugh (calf) is out, DT Kenyon Coleman (knee) is doubtful, and four others are questionable -- NT Jay Ratliff (ankle), S Matt Johnson (hamstring), DE Marcus Spears (ankle) and S Barry Church (thigh). During Dallas' four-game series win streak, the defense has held the Bucs to 13.8 PPG and 278 total YPG. Last year, Tampa Bay gained 190 total yards and held the football for just 22:01.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (2-0) at ARIZONA CARDINALS (2-0)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Philadelphia -3 (-115) & 42
Opening Line & Total: Eagles -4 & 44
Two undefeated birds fly into one another on Sunday afternoon when the Eagles visit the Cardinals.
Philadelphia has turned it over nine times, but is 2-0 thanks to a high-powered offense, a very good defense and some timely playmaking. Arizona is coming off an upset in New England, beating the Pats despite just 245 yards of offense thanks to an improved D (four sacks of Tom Brady) and strong special teams (including a blocked punt). The Cards came to Philly last November and upset the then red-hot Eagles behind some John Skelton heroics. Skelton (ankle) will likely miss this game though as former Philly QB Kevin Kolb expects to start under center again. Arizona also beat up Michael Vick last year, sacking him twice, intercepting two passes and holding him to 128 passing yards. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Arizona's win against a Patriots team that had won 24 of 25 regular-season home games was that it had none of that fluky anatomy-of-an-upset kind of stuff like a huge turnover differential in favor of the underdog. The Patriots won the turnover battle, possessed the ball for longer than Arizona did and even benefitted from three field goals of more than 45 yards, yet the Cardinals still came out on top. One of the keys to Arizona having won nine of its past 11 games is the ability of its defensive line to get pressure on the opposing quarterback, which is something they should be able to do with relative ease against an Eagles offensive line that was already without five-time Pro Bowl LT Jason Peters (he ruptured his Achilles tendon during the offseason) and on Sunday lost C Jason Kelce to a torn knee ligament. Peters' replacement, King Dunlap, left Sunday's game with a hamstring strain, and won't play in Week 3. He was replaced by Demetress Bell, who wasn't even active for the prior week's game against the Browns.
Vick has already had an eventful season, leading his team to a pair of one-point wins with touchdowns in the final two minutes of regulation. Vick has thrown for more than 300 yards in both games, but has committed seven turnovers, including an NFL-high six interceptions. Vick also had trouble protecting the football in last year's 21-17 loss to Arizona, as he threw for just 128 yards on 34 attempts (3.8 YPA), 0 TD and 2 INT. Considering how well Philadelphia ran the football in that loss to the Cardinals (166 yards on 24 carries, 6.9 YPC), it would be best served to let Vick and LeSean McCoy try to win this game on the ground, even with a beat up O-line. Vick will be without his top WR in Jeremy Maclin, who re-injured his hip last game while throwing a block. DeSean Jackson is another injured wideout (hamstring), but he will likely play on Sunday. Look for WR Jason Avant (6 rec, 60 yards this year) to assume a bigger role in the offense, and for TE Brent Celek to continue to add to his team-high 19 targets. The Eagles defense looks pretty much intact, and it has been disruptive in two games, forcing six turnovers and allowing just 268 total YPG.
Kolb will be facing his former team for the first time, and looks to improve upon a subpar game in New England when he completed 15-of-27 passes for 140 yards, 1 TD and 0 INT. Star WR Larry Fitzgerald caught just one pass for four yards last week. The ground game has also been terrible with just 74 rushing YPG (5th-fewest in NFL). The two main running backs have both been atrocious as Beanie Wells has 58 yards on 21 carries (2.8 YPC) while Ryan Williams is even worse with 18 carries for 22 yards (1.2 YPC). The defense surrendered 387 total yards to the high-powered Patriots offense, but did not allow a touchdown until less than three minutes to play. Arizona does have a few noteworthy injuries in addition to Skelton, as TE Todd Heap (knee), G Adam Snyder (elbow), S Adrian Wilson (ankle) and S Rashad Johnson (hamstring) are all questionable for Sunday, with Wilson having the best chance of starting amongst the four players.
ATLANTA FALCONS (2-0) at SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (2-0)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: San Diego -3 (-115) & 47.5
Opening Line & Total: Chargers -3 (-115) & 47.5
A pair of unbeaten teams square off on Sunday afternoon when the Chargers try to beat the Falcons for the first time since 1988.
San Diego is 2-0 despite a rash of injuries. They torched the Titans last week despite being without TE Antonio Gates (ribs), RB Ryan Mathews (collarbone) and LT Jared Gaither (back). There's a good chance Mathews and Gates will be back for this game. The Falcons will present the first major test for San Diego's suspect secondary though, as WRs Julio Jones and Roddy White will present a far tougher challenge than Oakland's and Tennessee's injury-ravaged receiving groups did. The Falcons have fared very well against the AFC in recent years, going 14-4 SU and 13-4-1 ATS against AFC opponents since 2008. Atlanta has won five straight meetings in this series, but is just 3-2 ATS during this streak. The Falcons have been very good following a relatively low-scoring game with a more explosive offense the next time out. Since Mike Smith became the team's head coach five seasons ago, the Falcons are 21-10 ATS (68%) after playing Under the total. Smith has also prepared his teams nicely on a shortened week, going 32-20 ATS (62%) when playing with six or fewer days of rest.
Falcons QB Matt Ryan has been on the mark with a league-best 117.6 QB rating. He has completed 70.1% of his passes for 518 yards, 5 TD and 0 INT in the two victories. Ryan's top three receivers all have 16+ catches, with WR Roddy White the team leader in yards (189) while WR Julio Jones and TE Tony Gonzalez have each scored two touchdowns. Ryan last faced San Diego in 2008 when he threw for 207 yards and 2 TD in a 22-16 road win. Atlanta's success through the air in 2012 has made its once-formidable ground game rather ordinary. RB Michael Turner is averaging a pathetic 2.6 yards per carry, gaining just 74 yards on 28 attempts. Turner was arrested for DUI after the Monday night win over Denver, but should not face any discipline from the league as a first-time offender. Other than Ryan (4.9 YPC), the rest of Atlanta's team is averaging a collective 2.5 yards per carry with 107 yards on 42 attempts. Defensively, the run-stop unit has been less than stellar, allowing 135 rushing YPG (25th in NFL), but was much better against Denver (4.4 YPC) than against Kansas City (4.6 YPC) in Week 1. The secondary is still adjusting to starting CB Brent Grimes on IR (Achilles), but this team continues to make big plays, forcing seven turnovers and not committing a single one so far this season.
Despite not having his two best offensive weapons in Week 2, San Diego QB Philip Rivers still shined with three touchdown passes, all to backup TE Dante Rosario. Rivers has been locked in over the first two games of 2012, completing 74% of his passes for 515 yards, 4 TD and just 1 INT. Although TE Antonio Gates was a late scratch for Week 2 because of bruised ribs, he should be able to start on Sunday. The ground game has certainly missed Mathews, who broke his collarbone in the preseason. But all signs point to him being on the field Sunday to help his Chargers team that has rushed for a paltry 3.1 yards per carry. However, on the other side of the football, San Diego's run-stop unit has been impenetrable in the first two weeks of the season, allowing a mere 83 yards on 30 carries (2.8 YPC). The pass defense improved from Week 1 when the Raiders threw for 276 yards on 6.0 YPA. Despite trailing big most of the game, Tennessee managed just 174 passing yards (5.8 YPA) last week in the 38-10 blowout.
HOUSTON TEXANS (2-0) at DENVER BRONCOS (1-1)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Houston -2 & 44.5
Opening Line & Total: Pick 'em & 46
After a pair of easy wins, the Texans face their biggest challenge of the season when they visit the Broncos on Sunday afternoon.
Houston is staking its claim to be the AFC's best defense, but it will be in a chess match with Peyton Manning. While Manning's arm strength isn't back (leading to 3 INT last Monday in Atlanta), he's still capable of manipulating defenses with the best of them. Denver nearly came back to beat the Falcons despite four early turnovers. Denver's run defense will be in for a challenge against Houston's elite running game. They dominated a good Jacksonville D for 216 rushing yards last week, on the road. Houston is averaging 39 minutes of possession per game, a potential advantage in keeping their defense fresh in Denver's thin air. The Texans are for real, allowing a franchise-low 117 yards against Jacksonville last week. Over the past two seasons, they are a whopping 12-3 ATS (80%) against AFC opponents, and 13-3 ATS (81%) in games played on a grass field. Also, home teams where the line is +3 to -3 coming off a September road loss after closing the previous season with 4+ losses in its final five games are 20-46 ATS (30%) since 1983.
The Texans have outscored their first two opponents 57-17. Last week, they used a two-man rushing attack to pummel Jacksonville, as Arian Foster had 110 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries, and Ben Tate rushed for 74 yards and two scores on just 12 carries (6.2 YPC). Houston also had a solid performance from QB Matt Schaub who completed 26-of-35 throws for 195 yards and helped his team rack up a whopping 43:17 time of possession. Six different players each had at least three catches. In the teams' most recent matchup in Denver two years ago Schaub had a big day with 310 passing yards (70% completions), 1 TD and 1 INT. TE Owen Daniels had eight catches for 73 yards and a touchdown that day, and was targeted a team-high nine times in last week's win in Jacksonville. Houston's defense has been outstanding, posting league-best numbers in scoring defense (8.5 PPG), total defense (196 YPG) and passing defense (124 YPG). The Texans have forced five turnovers but have not committed a single one on offense. Two injuries that could affect this great defense are LB Brooks Reed (hip) and DE Antonio Smith (ankles), who are both listed as questionable. The good news is that LB Connor Barwin (elbow) has been upgraded to probable.
Manning has always loved facing Houston, winning 16 of 18 career meetings and completing 70.4% of his passes for 5,122 yards (285 YPG), 42 TD and just 8 INT. However, he has not faced this Texans defense since Wade Phillips took over and transformed them into one of the best stop-units in the NFL. Manning had his problems with turnovers last week as all three picks came in the game's first eight minutes, but still finished 24-of-37 (65%) for 241 yards and 1 TD. He and Demaryius Thomas were on the same page all night as Thomas caught eight passes for 78 yards and 1 TD. Denver's running game also improved greatly from Week 1, tallying 24 more yards on the same amount of carries. Willis McGahee ran for 113 yards and two scores against Atlanta. Defensively, the Broncos have been excellent in stopping the run so far, allowing a total of 142 yards on 54 carries (2.6 YPC). The passing defense has also been strong, yielding just 5.5 yards per pass attempt. Denver could be without LB Von Miller, who is questionable with a hip injury, and two members of the secondary are also labeled as questionable, CB Chris Harris (ankle) and S Quinton Carter (knee).
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (1-1) at BALTIMORE RAVENS (1-1)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Baltimore -3 (even) & 49.5
Opening Line & Total: Ravens -3 (even) & 49
The Ravens seek payback Sunday night in an AFC Championship Game rematch with the Patriots, who have won all six regular-season meetings since Baltimore relocated from Cleveland.
The Pats are coming off their worst game in recent memory, looking completely out of sorts against Arizona after losing TE Aaron Hernandez to a high ankle sprain. Hernandez won't play in this one, as he's out 4-to-6 weeks. The Ravens are playing with a chip on their shoulder after they felt they were robbed in Philly last week, and because of their AFC title game loss in New England. The Ravens have lost their past two SU to the Patriots (both in Foxboro), but got an ATS win and a push. They're 3-1-1 ATS against the Pats since 2007. Baltimore's no-huddle was a hit in its opener at home against Cincy (44 points, 430 yards), but was less effective in Philly last week (23 points, 325 yards). The Ravens under John Harbaugh have tended to play well against good opponents at home and play well early in the season. Harbaugh's Baltimore teams are 11-2 ATS as a home favorite of 7 points or less, and they're also 13-4 ATS in the first month of the season. The Ravens haven't lost back-to-back games since 2009, winning 13 straight games following an SU defeat. Meanwhile, New England's offensive line appears to be a unit that's in relative shambles at the moment.
Patriots QB Tom Brady has certainly been flustered by this Ravens defense in his career, winning all four regular season meetings, but completing just 56% of his passes for 979 yards (245 YPG), 4 TD and 3 INT. He has also faced them twice in the postseason, completing 58% of his throws for 393 yards (5.0 YPA), 2 TD and 5 INT. Although Brady will probably throw the football 30-to-35 times, New England needs to establish the running game to leave town with a victory. The Patriots have outrushed the Ravens 223 to 215 in the past two wins, and with Stevan Ridley carrying the offense this year (196 rush yds, 5.0 YPC), they will look to chew up yards against this stout Baltimore defense. With Hernandez out, veteran TE Kellen Winslow was signed to take his spot on the roster. However, Hernandez's targets will likely go to Wes Welker, who has been on the field much less this season than what he's used to seeing. Welker had six catches for 53 yards in the 23-20 win in the AFC Championship in January. Despite an offense out of sync (5-for-15 on third downs last week), the Patriots defense has performed above expectations so far, ranking second in the NFL in total defense (265 total YPG) and fourth in scoring defense (16.5 PPG), while forcing four turnovers in two games.
The Ravens were denied a trip to the Super Bowl last year when Lee Evans dropped a TD pass in the closing seconds before Billy Cundiff missed a game-tying, 32-yard field goal at the end of regulation. QB Joe Flacco played pretty well in that heartbreaking loss, completing 22-of-36 passes for 306 yards, 2 TD and 1 INT. He's also been strong during two regular-season losses to New England, completing 54-of-82 passes (66%) for 549 yards, 4 TD and 1 INT. Flacco is looking to bounce back from a subpar performance in Philly though, when he was 22-of-42 for 232 yards (5.5 YPA). Another player that has given the Patriots trouble is RB Ray Rice, who has 278 total yards over two regular-season meetings and 237 total yards and 2 TD in two postseason meetings. Defensively, Baltimore has done a great job turning New England over, forcing nine Patriots miscues in the past three meetings. They also forced four Eagles turnovers last week, but still allowed Philly to rack up 486 total yards, the most Baltimore has allowed in a loss since 1998.