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Unbeatens face road traps

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NFL Week 5 Sunday
 
DENVER BRONCOS (4-0) at DALLAS COWBOYS (2-2)
 
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Denver -9 & 58.5
Opening Line & Total: Broncos -7 & 57
 
The high-flying Broncos look to roll past their third NFC East opponent in four weeks when they visit the Cowboys on Sunday.
 
Denver has won its four games by an average of 22.0 PPG and leads the NFL in scoring (44.8 PPG), total offense (484 YPG), kick returns (36.8 average) and third-down conversion rate (55.3%). QB Peyton Manning has thrown for an amazing 1,470 yards (368 YPG), 16 TD and 0 INT so far. Dallas has scored 33.5 PPG in two home wins, but was outscored 20-0 in the final 30 minutes of its loss at San Diego last week. The Broncos have four straight SU wins (3-1 ATS) in this series, beating the Cowboys 17-10 when they last met in 2009 in Denver. The Broncos are 13-2 ATS (87%) when favored over the past two seasons, but only 3-12 ATS (20%) after scoring 30+ points in three straight games since 1992. Dallas is 12-3 ATS (80%) at home after allowing 300+ passing yards since 1992, but the team is also 1-8 ATS (11%) at home after an ATS defeat in the past three years.
 
Denver has scored at least 37 points and gained at least 416 yards in all four games this season, going 3-0-1 ATS. It all starts with QB Peyton Manning, who is in the midst of a legendary season, completing 75% of his passes for 9.4 yards per attempt, both of which are career highs. He's been sacked only five times which is why the team has done so well on third downs, and why the Broncos also lead the NFL with 28.3 first downs per game. Manning has spread the ball evenly to each of his top three wideouts, Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Eric Decker, who have 37, 36 and 36 targets, respectively. Thomas has the most catches (29) and receiving yards (393) while Welker leads in touchdowns (six). Decker had a quiet season opener (two catches, 32 yards), but has hauled in 22 catches for 308 yards over the past three games. TE Julius Thomas is also enjoying a breakout season with 18 catches on his 23 targets, and his 7.2 yards after catch per reception is tied for second-best among all NFL tight ends. The Denver ground game has been average with 119 rushing YPG (15th in NFL) and 4.0 yards per carry (18th in NFL), but RB Knowshon Moreno (238 yards on 5.2 YPC, 3 TD) has been the standout ahead of RB Ronnie Hillman (120 yards on 4.8 YPC, 1 TD) and struggling rookie RB Montee Ball (123 yards on 3.2 YPC, 0 TD, 2 fumbles). Defensively, the Broncos have really stifled the run with a league-best 74 rushing YPG allowed. Part of that has to do with getting big leads that force their opponents to throw the football in catch-up mode, but their run-stop unit has allowed just 3.2 yards per carry, good for fourth-best in the NFL. The pass defense has been the team's one true weakness, allowing 316 passing YPG (3rd-worst in NFL) on 7.3 yards per attempt (9th-worst in league). This secondary will certainly get a boost once star CB Champ Bailey returns from a foot injury, but he's still listed as questionable for Week 5.
 
In the preseason, it was believed that Dallas wanted to run the football more and would do just that with new play caller Bill Callahan. Although the team has rushed for a hefty 4.6 yards per carry (7th in NFL), it ranks a subpar 19th in the league in rushing YPG (102). RB DeMarco Murray has been the featured back with 72 of his team's 89 rushing attempts (81%), gaining 356 yards on 4.9 YPC and 1 TD. While QB Tony Romo has done a superb job of not turning the ball over (1 INT in 152 pass attempts), the Cowboys are currently 21st in the NFL in passing yards (239 YPG) and 22nd in yards per attempt (6.3). This conservative passing game has produced career-low yards per reception rates for each of the top three receivers, WR Dez Bryant (12.3 average), TE Jason Witten (9.1 average) and WR Miles Austin (8.3 average). Austin missed last week's game with a hamstring injury and is doubtful to suit up for this game as well. Rookie WR Terrance Williams will likely start in his place despite losing a key fumble close to the goal-line in last week's loss to the Chargers. Defensively, the Cowboys have been a near mirror image of the Broncos, stuffing the run effectively (78 rushing YPG, 3rd in NFL), but getting burned through the air for 305 passing YPG (6th-worst in league) and 7.2 yards per attempt (23rd in NFL). The Dallas D has been helped by a smaller time of possession than most (27:53, 6th in NFL) and a great third-down conversion defense (33%, 4th in NFL).
 
SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (4-0) at INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (3-1)
 
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Seattle -3 & 44
Opening Line & Total: Seahawks -3 & 43.5
 
The Seahawks try to maintain momentum after an improbable victory in Houston when they visit the surging Colts on Sunday.
 
Last week, Seattle erased a 20-6 deficit midway through the fourth quarter and won 23-20 in overtime despite allowing 476 total yards. Indy had quite a two-game road trip it just completed, beating the 49ers and Jaguars by a combined 64 to 10 score. The Colts rushed for 154 yards in the win, marking their fourth straight game with at least 125 rushing yards, but RB Ahmad Bradshaw (neck) is doubtful, as he may need season-ending surgery. These teams split eight meetings since 1991 with Indianapolis winning 34-17 the last time they met in 2009. Both clubs have hugely favorable trends, as the Seahawks are 8-0 ATS when facing a team with a winning record over the past two seasons and 9-0 ATS versus good rushing teams (4.5+ YPC) in the past three years. The Colts are not only 8-1 ATS (89%) after playing on the road in the past two seasons, but are 11-2 ATS (85%) coming off a road blowout win of 21+ points since 1992.
 
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Seattle QB Russell Wilson has completed 62% of his passes for 787 yards (8.2 YPA), 6 TD and 3 INT, but four of those passing scores came against the lowly Jaguars. Last week Wilson completed just 12-of-23 passes, but was able to gain 77 yards on 10 carries, including some key scampers late in that game. Wilson and RB Marshawn Lynch (308 yards on 3.9 YPC, 4 TD) have been mostly responsible for the team's 144 rushing YPG (5th in NFL) that has led to a strong 32:50 time of possession (5th in league). But the Seahawks remain a balanced football team with 208 passing YPG on 8.0 YPA (6th in NFL). Wilson has used all of his receivers, but in different ways. WR Sidney Rice leads the club with 21 targets and is tied with TE Zach Miller for 2 TD catches, while WR Golden Tate has a team-high 13 receptions and WR Doug Baldwin leads them with 216 receiving yards. Seattle has been too sloppy with the football though, committing two turnovers in each of its past two games. While the defense has bailed them out with 13 takeaways (11 in past three games), the Seahawks must be concerned with how their vaunted secondary was picked apart by Matt Schaub for 355 yards on 7.2 YPA. But even with the subpar showing in Week 5, Seattle still ranks fifth in the NFL in both total defense (300 YPG) and yards per play allowed (4.7), while placing second in both scoring defense (11.8 PPG) and scoring margin (+15.5 PPG).
 
Colts QB Andrew Luck has had a decent second season so far with 64% completions for 915 yards (7.2 YPA), 5 TD and 2 INT, while also rushing for 7.9 yards per carry and a pair of touchdowns. Although his team won two straight road tilts, Luck is much more comfortable at home where he's 8-2 with 15 TD and 6 INT in his career, compared to 6-4 with 13 TD and 14 INT on the road. Luck continues to seek out WR Reggie Wayne the most (33 targets), but he hasn't forgotten about WR T.Y. Hilton (29 targets), WR Darrius Heyward-Bey (20 targets) and TE Coby Fleener (18 targets). With RB Ahmad Bradshaw not likely to suit up, RBs Trent Richardson and Donald Brown will have the unenviable task of trying to run through a fierce Seahawks defense. Richardson has rushed for just 2.9 YPC in his two games with the Colts, but Brown is averaging a hefty 9.2 YPC on his 13 rushing attempts. The key in this game will be ball control and not making mistakes, something this offense has thrived on all season with a 32:42 time of possession (6th in NFL) and a total of just two turnovers in four contests. Defensively, Indy has forced eight turnovers so far while generating an excellent pass rush with 11% sacks per attempt (3rd in league). The Colts defense has been on the field for just 27:17 (4th-fewest in NFL) leading to a mere 12.8 PPG allowed (4th in league) and 17.3 first downs allowed (5th-fewest in NFL).
 
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (4-0) at CHICAGO BEARS (3-1)
 
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: New Orleans -1.5 & 50
Opening Line & Total: Chicago -2 & 48
 
The struggling Bears defense faces another major test when the undefeated Saints pay a visit to Soldier Field on Sunday.
 
Chicago has allowed 278 passing YPG on 8.0 yards per attempt this season, which doesn’t bode well facing New Orleans QB Drew Brees, who is averaging 359 passing YPG with 10 TD so far this season. The Bears defense does lead the NFL with 14 takeaways though, and the offense has been rolling all season with 31.8 PPG and 352 total YPG despite turning the ball over four times in two of their past three games. Chicago’s four-game series win streak ended in 2011 at the Superdome when Brees threw for 270 yards and three touchdowns in a 30-13 thrashing. While the Bears are relatively healthy for Sunday, the Saints are coming off a short week and could be missing RB Mark Ingram (toe), WR Lance Moore (hand), CB Keenan Lewis (leg) and S Roman Harper (knee). New Orleans is 11-2 ATS (85%) versus poor passing defenses (235+ passing YPG allowed) in the past three seasons, but is just 2-4 ATS (33%) in its past six road games. Chicago is 7-3 SU in its past 10 home games, but is only 1-5-2 ATS in the past eight contests at Soldier Field. The Bears are also a dismal 4-19 ATS (17%) after scoring 25+ points in two straight games since 1992.
 
Drew Brees is a big reason why his Saints rank second in the NFL in time of possession (34:16) and fourth in total offense (420 total YPG). He has completed 67% of his passes for 1,434 yards on 8.6 yards per attempt, numbers which all rank among the top-four quarterbacks in the league. The one negative is that Brees has absorbed 12 sacks in his four games. TE Jimmy Graham continues to be nearly impossible to cover. He already has 27 catches (on 42 targets) for 458 yards and 6 TD. He has scored a touchdown in all four games and has a current streak of three games of 100+ receiving yards. RB Darren Sproles also topped the century mark last week with 114 yards on seven catches (16.3 average), while scoring both on the ground and through the air. Despite the Saints' potent passing attack, their run game has been dismal with 81 rushing YPG (25th in NFL) on 3.4 yards per carry (27th in league). This lack of a reliable short-yardage back is why New Orleans possesses a poor red-zone efficiency (44%, 26th in NFL) and goal-to-go efficiency (57%, T-24th in league). Four rushers have between 16 and 29 carries, with RB Pierre Thomas the only player above 100 yards (101) and rookie RB Khiry Robinson having the best average with 4.7 YPC. The Saints defense has undergone a truly remarkable turnaround from last season when they allowed an NFL-record 440 total YPG. Under new defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, that number has been trimmed to 305 YPG this season, good for 6th-best in the NFL. The key to this improvement has been a league-leading 25:43 defensive time of possession and 16.8 first downs per game allowed (4th in NFL). The Saints have also produced 10 takeaways already this season, including four in their Monday night win.
 
Jay Cutler has been very comfortable in the offense of new head coach Marc Trestman, as he has received much better protection from his offensive line. After being sacked 2.83 times per game from 2010 to 2012, Cutler has hit the deck just six times in four contests (1.50 per game) in 2013. However, the veteran signal caller regressed last week with three sacks taken and three interceptions thrown in the loss at Detroit. But Cutler will be happy to return home where he's completed 68% of his passes for 534 yards (7.5 YPA) and 5 TD to go along with 3 INT. While WR Brandon Marshall is his top receiver in targets (41), catches (27), receiving yards (348) and yards per catch (12.9), three others have also seen more than 25 targets this season, WR Alshon Jeffery (32 targets), TE Martellus Bennett (32 targets) and RB Matt Forte (26 targets). Forte has also done an excellent job carrying the football with 320 yards on 4.6 YPC and three scores. On the defensive side of the ball, Chicago's aggressive defense has forced at least three turnovers in every game this season, but in doing so, continues to give up too many big plays. The Bears have surrendered 8.0 yards per pass attempt (4th-most in NFL) and 6.1 yards per play (5th-most in league). Not allowing the Saints playmakers to get deep down the field will be a key in containing this potent offense.
 

  
HEADLINES
ASA: Week 1 Lines and Bets
Lawrence: Handicapping Win Totals
Stoffo: Preseason Report - Coaches
Rogers: Home 'Dog Breakdown
Stoffo: Preseason Report - AFC
Stoffo: Preseason Report - NFC
Seahawks RB Lynch ends holdout
Flowers enjoying fresh start with Bolts
RB White off to impressive start with Pats
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