October 7, 2012
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ATLANTA FALCONS (4-0) at WASHINGTON REDSKINS (2-2)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Atlanta -3 (-115) & 52
Opening Line & Total: Falcons -3 & 49.5
The high-flying Falcons look to start their season with a fifth straight victory when they visit the Redskins on Sunday.
Robert Griffin III gets his toughest challenge yet against a Falcons defense that's playing very well under first-year coordinator Mike Nolan, allowing just 19.0 PPG. Atlanta has effectively contained Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers so far this year, and they're coming off a game against a dual threat quarterback (Cam Newton), beating Carolina last week. Griffin has already led the 'Skins to two road wins, but they played terribly in their only home game so far, a 38-31 loss to Cincinnati. Their suspect pass defense will have its hands full against WRs Roddy White and Julio Jones. The Redskins have allowed 979 passing yards in the past three weeks versus the likes of Sam Bradford, Andy Dalton and Josh Freeman. Atlanta's QB Matt Ryan is playing miles better than any of these three guys, and is probably the league MVP right now. The Falcons are also running the football much better the past two weeks with 240 yards on 5.3 yards per carry. Griffin will get his yards, but the Falcons have forced 12 turnovers in four games (leading to 43 points), and will likely cause some of the young Washington players to give up the football. Also, Mike Smith is 18-6 ATS (75%) following an ATS loss since he took over as the Falcons head coach.
Atlanta has scored at least 27 points in each of its four victories, thanks mostly to Matt Ryan who leads the NFL in QB rating (112.1) by completing 69.4% of his passes for 1,162 yards, 11 TD and just 2 INT. He has spread the wealth of passes mostly between three players, targeting Roddy White, Julio Jones and TE Tony Gonzalez in excess of 30 times each this season. That has resulted in each of the three players scoring three touchdowns this year. RB Michael Turner has really picked up his game in the past two games, following up dud performances in Weeks 1-2 (74 yards on 28 carries) into two productive ones (183 yards on 27 carries, 69 yards on five catches). Turner exploded on the Redskins when he last faced them in 2009, rushing for 166 yards and 2 TD. The Falcons have been better than expected in defending the pass (207 YPG allowed, 8th in NFL), especially after losing starting CB Brent Grimes for the season in Week 1 with an Achilles injury. However, the run-stop unit has been one of the worst in football, allowing 146 rushing YPG (fourth-most in NFL).
Griffin's statistics are truly remarkable for a rookie quarterback on an average team. He has scored eight touchdowns already, completing 69.4% of his passes (same rate as Ryan) for 1,070 yards (8.6 YPA) and just one interception in 124 pass attempts. He and fellow rookie Alfred Morris (376 rushing yards, 4.6 YPC, 4 TD) have comprised 89 percent of the league's second-best rushing offense (171 YPG). Unlike Atlanta, which has three main receivers, the Redskins have seven players with at least seven catches so far this year. TE Fred Davis leads the team with 15 catches, but has not yet scored a touchdown. WR Pierre Garcon is their most explosive weapon, but his injured foot is still causing him to play a limited snap count. Washington's defense has had an awful time trying to stop its opponents. The Redskins rank second-to-last in passing defense (326 YPG), allowing 20 gains of 20-plus yards already this season. They have also been unable to put forth a strong pass rush, tallying just seven sacks over the four games.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (3-1) at PITTSBURGH STEELERS (1-2)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Pittsburgh -3.5 (even) & 43
Opening Line & Total: Steelers -3.5 & 44
The two Pennsylvania NFL teams square off Sunday at Heinz Field when Pittsburgh hosts Philadelphia.
The Steelers had issues in their two road games losing both games after holding fourth-quarter leads. But they shut down the Jets in their only home tilt and should have S Troy Polamalu (calf) and OLB James Harrison (knee), their two best defensive players, back in the lineup. Michael Vick continues to take a ton of hits. The Eagles have barely eked out their three wins, though last week's win over the Giants was turnover-free after they gave it away 12 times in their first three games. Philly has gained 400-plus yards of offense in its three wins; the Steelers haven't allowed 400-plus at home since November 2010, a span of 15 games. The Eagles aren't as good as their 3-1 record indicates, as they've been outscored by 17 points through the four games. Expect the Steelers to bounce back like they've been able to do in recent years: Pittsburgh is 9-0 ATS after a loss since the start of the 2010 season, outscoring opponents by an average of nearly 20 points per game over those nine contests. RB Rashard Mendenhall is also expected back from injury, and this team is tough to score on at home, allowing 9.3 points per game in taking nine of its past 10 home games.
Vick's numbers are pretty poor right now, throwing 4 TD and 6 INT (72.7 QB rating). Much of this has to do with him being knocked to the turf a league-most 44 times already. However, his best receiver, Jeremy Maclin, finally appears to be 100 percent recovered from his hip injury he suffered in Week 2, as he is not even on the team's injury report this week. Maclin's improved health should also help WR DeSean Jackson see less double-teaming. Maclin's return to the field last week helped Jackson have a great game against New York, catching six passes for 99 yards and a touchdown. RB LeSean McCoy is dealing with a sore knee, but he will start on Sunday. McCoy is coming off his best game of the season, rushing for 123 yards on 23 carries (5.3 YPC) in the win over the Giants. Defensively, the Eagles have been sound in both defending the pass (207 YPG, 7th in NFL) and also the run (92 YPG, 12th in NFL). However, the team has forced just one turnover in the past two games, after taking away six footballs in the opening two weeks of the season. A couple of key injured defenders should also be ready for this one with CB Nnamdi Asomugha (eye) and S Colt Anderson (knee) both listed as probable.
Ben Roethlisberger has played extremely well in 2012, completing 68.3% of his passes for 904 yards (284 YPG), 8 TD and just one interception. However, the Eagles sacked him eight times when they last met in 2008, and he has already taken nine sacks in his three games this year. Part of that is because of an injury-riddled offensive line, and part of that is because defenses have been teeing off on Roethlisberger because the Steelers are having so much trouble running the football with 65 rushing YPG (3rd-fewest in NFL) on a league-low 2.6 yards per carry. The probable return of Rashard Mendenhall coming off knee surgery can only help. He rushed for 928 yards and 9 TD last season. On defense, Polamalu and Harrison look to shore up a run defense that allowed 119 yards on just 21 carries (5.7 YPC) to Oakland in the last game. Harrison is also one of the better pass rushers on the team, and his absence is a big reason why the Steelers have a mere five sacks in three games. Pittsburgh has been one of the league' best passing defenses, allowing just 190 yards per game (3rd in NFL), but the team has given up a subpar 48.5% third-down conversion rate.
DENVER BRONCOS (2-2) at NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (2-2)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: New England -6.5 & 52.5
Opening Line & Total: Patriots -6.5 & 52
The Peyton Manning-Tom Brady rivalry resumes Sunday afternoon when Denver visits New England, a matchup of 2-2 teams coming off lopsided victories.
While Bill Belichick and the Patriots defense once had Manning's number, Manning (with the Colts) has beaten them in five of his past seven meetings, SU and ATS. Manning is coming off his best game with the Broncos, going 30-for-38 for 338 yards, 3 TD and no turnovers in a win over Oakland. The Pats offense looked human before Brady and Company exploded for 45 second-half points in last week's win in Buffalo. Wes Welker was worked back into the game plan, and the Pats' 52 points came despite two lost fumbles and two missed field goals. The New England offense is finally clicking and the Denver defense is still not very good. Manning simply can't keep up with the Pats at this point in his career. Also consider that road teams - excellent offensive team (>=370 YPG) against a team with a poor defense (335 to 370 YPG), after outgaining opponent by 200+ total yards in their previous game are 5-23 ATS (18%) since 1983.
Although Peyton Manning hasn't had great success in Foxboro, he has exploded in his past three visits to Gillette Stadium, completing 86-of-125 passes (69%) for 1,043 yards (348 YPG), 9 TD and 5 INT. He's also coming into this game with great confidence after his Week 4 explosion, where he didn't take a single sack. Although Manning got all the headlines, the running game was also outstanding last week with 165 rushing yards, including 112 on just 19 carries (5.9 YPC) by Willis McGahee. Denver's defense has been much improved under new defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, allowing just 88 rushing YPG (9th in NFL) and 221 passing YPG (13th in league). Last year, the team allowed 126 rushing YPG (22nd in NFL) and 232 passing YPG (18th in league). Houston is the only team that has rushed for more than 75 yards against the Broncos this year, and is the only club that gained at least 210 yards on them through the air.
Brady is 8-4 all-time versus Manning, including a 2-1 record in the playoffs. Last season, Brady lit up Denver in the postseason, throwing for 363 yards and six touchdowns. He also burned the Broncos for 320 passing yards and 3 total TD in a 41-23 win in the mile-high altitude last December. Last week, Brady orchestrated six straight touchdown drives in Buffalo. New England had great balance on offense, as both RBs Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden surpassed 100 yards rushing and WR Wes Welker and TE Rob Gronkowski had more than 100 receiving yards against the Bills. Although New England's pass defense has allowed a whopping 722 passing yards over the past two weeks, the team has forced 11 turnovers on the season, including six in Buffalo.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (3-1) at NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (0-4)
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: New Orleans -3 (-120) & 54
Opening Line & Total: Saints -4 & 54
The Saints are in dire straits, looking for their first win of the season as they welcome the surprising Chargers to the Bayou on Sunday night.
Typically slow starters, San Diego has jumped out to a 3-1 record as they've committed multiple turnovers in a game just once through four games. They haven't quite been explosive on offense, but QB Philip Rivers and especially RB Ryan Mathews will have a chance to get going against a Saints defense that is the NFL's worst (463 total YPG allowed). They have allowed 400-plus yards in each of their four games. New Orleans had a chance to steal a win in Green Bay last week, but lost on a late missed field goal. That gives the Saints four defeats of eight points or less this year. Despite the horrible September for New Orleans, there are several trends favoring the Saints this week. They are 13-3 ATS off a road loss over the past six seasons and 16-8 ATS in dome games since the start of 2010. Also, over the past five seasons, any team coming off a road game in which each team scored 24+ points are 88-49 ATS (64%) in post-September games. Finally, underdogs coming off a double-digit win against a team that just played in a contest with 50+ points are 22-52 ATS (30%) since the start of 2008. The Chargers have beaten up on bad Tennessee, Kansas City and Oakland teams this season while getting trounced at home by the Falcons.
Rivers bounced back from rough Week 3 game against Atlanta (45.2 QB rating, 4.6 YPA, 0 TD, 2 INT), by completing 18-of-23 passes (78%) for 209 yards, 2 TD and 1 INT in the 37-20 win over Kansas City last Sunday. RB Ryan Mathews had another solid day as he works his way back from a broken clavicle, compiling 61 rushing yards (4.4 YPC) and 21 receiving yards. RB Jackie Battle is sharing the rushing workload for now, but he gained just 39 yards on 15 carries (2.6 YPC) at Kansas City. On the defensive side of the ball, San Diego's secondary is hurting, with just three healthy cornerbacks. But the Chargers have really stopped the run effectively all season, allowing just 79 rushing YPG (5th in NFL). The defense also forced six Chiefs turnovers in last week's win.
Saints QB Drew Brees has thrown a touchdown pass in 47 straight games, tying the record set by Johnny Unitas in 1960. The last time he faced his former team was 2008 when New Orleans and San Diego met in London. Brees threw for 339 yards and 3 TD that day, leading his team to a 37-32 win. He's also coming off his best performance of 2012, posting a 109.0 QB rating (446 pass yds, 3 TD, 0 INT) against Green Bay. It helped to have a healthy Marques Colston back on the field, as the duo connected nine times for 153 yards and 1 TD. One of the reasons New Orleans has allowed 32.5 PPG and 167 more yards than any other NFL team is the lack of a pass rush. The Saints have just six sacks, which is the fourth-lowest total in the league. Injuries have also been a big factor to the front seven. LB David Hawthorne (hamstring) and DE Turk McBride (ankle) are doubtful to play on Sunday, while DT Brodrick Bunkley (illness) and LB Jonathan Casillas (neck) are both questionable. S Roman Harper (hip) is also questionable to suit up in Week 5.