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Divisional Battles - Week 7
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NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (5-1) at NEW YORK JETS (3-3) Line & Total: New England -4 & 44
Opening & Total: Patriots -6 & 43.5
AFC East rivals meet for the second time in six weeks when the Patriots visit the Jets on Sunday afternoon.
New England scored with 0:05 left to edge the Saints 30-27 last week, while New York had only 267 total yards in a 19-6 home loss versus the Steelers. The Patriots are still hoping for TE Rob Gronkowski (forearm) to play, while Jets fans are hoping for fewer miscues (minus-11 turnover margin). New York turned the ball over four times in its Week 2 loss in New England, and that 13-10 decision gave the Patriots six straight regular-season wins in this series (4-2 ATS), and gave QB Tom Brady a 19-5 SU record versus the Jets as a starter. But for Sunday, New England has major defensive injuries in this matchup with DT Vince Wilfork (ankle) and LB Jerod Mayo (pectoral) both out for the season, and top CB Aqib Talib (hip) listed as questionable. Both teams will likely be missing their top receivers, as Patriots WR Danny Amendola is dealing with a concussion and Jets WR Santonio Holmes is still bothered by a hamstring injury. Bill Belichick is 20-9 ATS (69%) as a road favorite of 3.5 to 7 points, and 35-18 ATS (66%) in October as the Patriots head coach, but the Jets are 6-3 ATS (67%) as a home underdog under head coach Rex Ryan and 16-4 ATS (80%) at home after a home loss since 1992.
New England's offense continues to struggle with just 4.9 yards per play (25th in NFL) and 20.8 PPG (22nd in league). The passing game has been particularly frustrating, as the club has thrown for just 5.7 yards per attempt (3rd-worst in NFL). Another huge negative is the Patriots' woeful red-zone offense (40.9%, 3rd-worst in league) that includes an NFL-worst 33% goal-to-go efficiency. QB Tom Brady has not had a season with more sacks than TD passes since 2006, but this year he has absorbed twice as many sacks (16) as he's thrown touchdowns (eight). If TE Rob Gronkowski (forearm) can finally return to the field, his touchdown acumen (39 TD in 43 career games) will really help this red-zone efficiency. Rookie WR Kenbrell Thompkins has caught four of the eight Brady TD passes this year, but only one has been less than 15 yards. The Jets did a nice job stopping the Patriots through the air in Week 2, holding Brady to 19-of-39 completions for 185 yards (4.7 YPA). The New England ground game has been decent this season with 121 rushing YPG (11th in NFL) on 4.1 YPC (16th in NFL), but it was horrible against New York, gaining just 54 yards on 24 attempts (2.3 YPC). Top RB Stevan Ridley managed just 40 yards on 16 carries in that game (2.5 YPC), but he has been much stronger in his past two contests with 149 yards on 31 carries (4.8 YPC) and two touchdowns last week. The Patriots defense has really shined all year, but will be tested without possibly their three best defenders in DT Vince Wilfork, LB Jerod Mayo and CB Aqib Talib. The unit is allowing just 16.2 PPG (4th in NFL) despite a pedestrian 348 total YPG allowed (14th in NFL). They have kept points to a minimum with 12 takeaways, including four against the Jets in Week 2. New England also recorded a season-high-tying four sacks in that win versus New York, but managed just one sack in last week's win over the Saints.
The Jets have been up and down all season, due mostly to the erratic play of QB Geno Smith. In his six games, his quarterback rating has been 80.6, 27.6, 89.9, 79.2, 147.7 and 48.8 last week. All totaled, Smith's 74.7 passer rating (59.5% completions, 7 TD, 10 INT) ranks 27th among all 35 qualified NFL quarterbacks. His lowest rating of the year came against New England in Week 2 when he completed just 15-of-35 passes for 214 yards, 0 TD and 3 INT. Smith has not been helped by a revolving receiving corps with Holmes missing the past two games, starting TE Kellen Winslow suspended for PEDs and WR Clyde Gates placed on IR earlier this week with a shoulder injury. The only active player with multiple touchdown catches this season is backup TE Jeff Cumberland, who has just 11 receptions, but two have been in the end zone. The Jets did a nice job of running the football in their Week 2 loss to the Patriots, gaining 129 yards on 32 carries (4.0 YPC). RB Chris Ivory led the team with 52 yards on 12 carries (4.3 YPC) that night, but he has been limited by a hamstring injury and has totaled just 12 carries in the four games since that meeting. RB Bilal Powell is the main ball carrier with 360 yards on 4.1 YPC this year, but he has been terrible in the past two games with a mere 68 yards on 21 attempts (3.2 YPC). Defensively, no team has been better than New York at stuffing the run, as the unit is allowing an NFL-best 2.97 YPC and 75.7 rushing YPG (2nd in NFL). The passing defense has also been strong with 6.2 YPA allowed (8th in league), but this team seriously needs to generate some turnovers to help out the offense. In the past five games, the Jets have recorded just one takeaway. The secondary, which has one interception all season, could be missing both CBs Dee Milliner (hamstring) and Kyle Wilson (head) on Sunday.
DALLAS COWBOYS (3-3) at PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (3-3) Line & Total: Philadelphia -2.5 & 56
Opening Line & Total: Eagles -2.5 & 57
The Eagles look for a third straight victory when the hated Cowboys come to town Sunday.
Dallas snapped a two-game losing skid with a 31-16 win over the Redskins last week, but lost starting RB DeMarco Murray to a knee injury. Backup QB Nick Foles threw for 296 yards and 3 TD (two to DeSean Jackson) to lead Philly to a 31-20 victory in Tampa Bay, improving his team to 3-0 (SU and ATS) versus NFC opponents this year. With QB Michael Vick still sidelined with a hamstring injury, Foles will get the call again. These teams are 10-10 SU versus one another in the past 20 meetings, but the Cowboys swept the Eagles last year. They scored 76 points in the two wins behind 512 passing yards, 5 TD and 0 INT from QB Tony Romo, who is in the midst of an excellent season with 14 TD and 3 INT. There are negative trends for both teams in this contest, as over the past three seasons, Dallas is just 4-14 ATS (22%) after an SU win and 8-18 ATS (31%) versus conference opponents. However, in the past two seasons, the Eagles are a woeful 6-15 ATS overall (29%), including a winless 0-9 ATS at home.
Dallas ranks second in the NFL with 30.5 points per game, and places seventh in both yards per play (5.9) and yards per pass attempt (7.3). While the total yards are slightly above average (350 YPG, 13th in league), the team has been able to keep point totals high with a 65.2% red-zone efficiency (4th in league). Because the Cowboys have gained just 85 YPG on the ground, reaching 100 yards just once all year, the loss of top RB DeMarco Murray isn't a huge blow. However, unproven rookie backup RB Joseph Randle may not be ready for a full workload having just 11 carries for 17 yards this season, which all came last week against Washington. Dallas will continue to air out the football with QB Tony Romo whose 108.6 passer rating ranks third in the NFL, as does his career-best 70.2% completion rate.  Helping Romo carve up the Eagles last year was star WR Dez Bryant who caught nine passes for 185 yards and 3 TD in the two victories. This season, Bryant already has 34 catches for 459 yards and six scores. TE Jason Witten (340 rec. yards, 3 TD) has also enjoyed facing the Eagles over the years, tallying his fourth career 100-yard effort against them last December when he recorded a game-high 108 receiving yards on six catches. The defense has not kept pace with the offense in 2013 though, allowing 413.2 total YPG, the third-highest number in the NFL. A poor third-down defense (42.3%, 25th in NFL) has led to the club allowing 23.8 first downs per game (4th-worst in league). Dallas has also struggled to stop the run, surrendering 4.4 YPC (25th in NFL). The unit needs to do a better job creating turnovers too with just six takeaways over the past five games, but it won't be easy with a thin D-Line unit that could be missing DEs DeMarcus Ware (quad), George Selvie (shoulder) and Edgar Jones (groin).
New head coach Chip Kelly's fast-paced offense continues to wear down opponents with 179 rushing YPG on 5.4 YPC, both NFL-leading numbers. However the lack of huddles has led to a poor time of possession (26:22, 3rd-worst in NFL), and this club has been terrible in the red zone with a 45% efficiency rate (T-27th in NFL). QB Nick Foles has done a nice job under center this year, completing 67.2% of his passes for 542 yards (8.9 YPA) with 6 TD and 0 INT. More than 30 percent of the Eagles' targets have gone to dynamic WR DeSean Jackson, who has 34 catches for 589 yards (17.3 average) and five touchdowns already. Jackson has averaged 77 receiving YPG in eight career meetings with Dallas, but has found the end zone only once. The NFL's top rusher, RB LeSean McCoy (630 rush yards in 2013), has run for 624 yards in six career games against the Cowboys, but has failed to score a touchdown in five of those meetings. In addition to his running prowess this season, McCoy has also shined in the passing game with 16.1 yards per catch (tops among all NFL running backs) on his 15 receptions. While the offense has done its fair share of gaining gobs of yardage, the defense has been torched all season. Philly is surrendering 420 total YPG and 25.3 first downs per game, both of which rank last in the entire league. The unit's third-down conversion rate is weak (42.5%, 26th in NFL), which has contributed greatly to its 33:37 defensive time of possession (4th-most in league). The Eagles have had a positive turnover margin just once in the past four games, but that was against the turnover-riddled Giants. The only new significant injury to Philly's defense is S Patrick Chung, who is questionable with a neck ailment.
BALTIMORE RAVENS (3-3) at PITTSBURGH STEELERS (1-4) Line & Total: Pittsburgh -1.5 & 41
Opening Line & Total: Steelers -2 & 40.5
The Steelers try to carry momentum from their first win when they host the rival Ravens on Sunday.
Neither team has been able to run the football this season, with both clubs gaining less than 75 rushing YPG and ranking among the bottom three NFL teams in yards per carry. Baltimore lost 19-17 to the Packers last week, rushing for 47 yards on 22 carries, while Pittsburgh wasn’t much better (73 yards on 26 carries) in a 19-6 win at the Jets. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger did not face the Ravens last year, but is 9-4 as a starter against them. This series is an even 10-10 SU since 2004, but the road team has produced three straight SU wins. Both clubs have some positive trends for Sunday's encounter. Since 1992, Baltimore is 13-4 ATS (77%) away after being outrushed by 75 or more yards in its previous game, and all NFL road teams with poor rushing offenses (90 rush YPG or less) are 32-9 ATS (78%) in the past five seasons. But since 1992, Pittsburgh is 49-30 ATS (62%) in October games, and 57-33 ATS (63%) in weeks 5 through 9.
Baltimore's rushing offense has been dreadful, as evidenced by its 2.7 yards per carry. Top RB Ray Rice has never rushed below 4.0 YPC in his career, but this year he's gaining just 2.8 YPC on his 71 attempts. Despite Pittsburgh's usually stout run defense, Rice has rushed for 864 yards (96 YPG) and 5 TD in nine games in this series since 2009. The Ravens haven't done a great job throwing the football either with 6.7 yards per pass attempt (18th in NFL). QB Joe Flacco has tossed more picks (eight) than touchdowns (seven), and has already absorbed 19 sacks (3.2 per game). He hasn't been outstanding versus the Steelers in his career either with a 5-7 record, 54.7% completion rate, 202 passing YPG, 12 TD and 9 INT. Flacco will continue to lean on dynamic WR Torrey Smith who leads the AFC with 568 receiving yards despite having just one catch in last week's loss to Green Bay. Baltimore's defense has allowed 353 total YPG (17th in NFL) and 21.5 PPG (13th in league), which are surprisingly high numbers considering it is tied for the league lead in red-zone efficiency (25%) and ranks fourth in third down conversions (31.2%). A minus-3 turnover ratio is partially to blame for the defense not ranking better in scoring defense. OLB Terrell Suggs is having a huge season though, recording 7.5 of his team's 22 sacks, which is the second-highest total in the NFL behind only the Chiefs. Suggs' pressure has been a key with a banged-up defensive line that includes two questionable players for this week, DT Terrence Cody (knee) and DE Chris Canty (groin).
Pittsburgh's rushing offense has been stalled all season with 61.0 YPG (2nd-worst in NFL) on 3.1 YPC (3rd-worst in league), but rookie RB Le'Veon Bell is bound to improve from last week's 34 yards on 16 carries in which head coach Mike Tomlin said Bell actually ran very well, but that he had no holes to run through against a tough Jets defense. The Steelers did a solid job of rushing against the Ravens last year (230 yards on 4.3 YPC) with backs much less talented than Bell. Offensively, QB Ben Roethlisberger has been steadily improving with a passer rating above 90 in each of the past three games where he's completed 70% of his passes for 1,053 yards (351 YPG), 4 TD and 3 INT. Four Steelers have seen at least 20 targets over the five games, led by WR Antonio Brown's 41 catches for 498 yards, but WR Emmanuel Sanders (301 rec. yards), WR Jerricho Cotchery (16.5 yards per catch) and TE Heath Miller (15 catches on 20 targets) have all done a nice job getting open. The Pittsburgh defense has given up just 311 total YPG (6th in NFL) and 5.0 yards per play (9th in league), but has been unable to provide steady pressure on the quarterback with an AFC-low seven sacks this year. Before last week's two interceptions against the Jets, Pittsburgh had not forced a turnover in any of its first four games. Injuries have been a problem all season, and both DE Brett Keisel (ribs) and LB Jarvis Jones (concussion) are listed as questionable for Sunday's game.

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