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DENVER BRONCOS (7-1) at SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (4-4)
 
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Denver -7 & 59
Opening Line & Total: Broncos -7 & 58
 
The Broncos are well-rested coming off a bye week, but will not have head coach John Fox when they visit the Chargers on Sunday.
 
Fox is recovering from heart surgery and will be replaced by defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. San Diego lost 30-24 in overtime at Washington last week, but is 3-0 ATS at home this year. This game features the AFC’s top two quarterbacks in Denver’s Peyton Manning (2,919 pass yards, 29 TD, 6 INT) and Chargers QB Philip Rivers (2,473 pass yards, 17 TD, 7 INT). Manning threw for 579 yards, 6 TD and 2 INT in last year’s sweep of the Chargers, while Rivers struggled with just 499 yards, 4 TD and 6 INT. However, Rivers won't have to worry about Denver's top CB Champ Bailey, who is out with a foot injury. The only other significant injury in this game is Broncos TE Julius Thomas, who left the last game with a sprained ankle, but is expected to be ready for Sunday. Denver has been a great bet coming off a bye, going 14-1 ATS when playing with 2+ weeks of rest since 1992, but San Diego has a huge trend in its favor too, as any team after five straight games of forcing one or less turnovers facing an opponent after a game where they committed 3+ turnovers are a robust 43-15 ATS (74%) since 1983.
 
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The Broncos' offense leads the NFL in most major categories, including scoring (42.9 PPG), total offense (466.4 YPG), yards per play (6.4), passing offense (358.5 YPG), third down conversions (50.5%) and red zone efficiency (78.4%). They have been able to do this with a hurry-up attack that has been on the field for only 30:34 (14th in NFL). The only negative of this offense is a ground game averaging a mere 3.7 yards per carry (25th in league) and 107.8 YPG (17th in league). RB Knowshon Moreno has rushed for less than 50 yards in three straight games, but has contributed heavily as a receiver during this span with 160 yards through the air, having been targeted a whopping 22 times by QB Peyton Manning. The veteran signal caller has thrown for at least 295 yards and two touchdowns in all eight games this season, and has done so with a near equal distribution of targets to his top three wide receivers with 71 to Wes Welker (555 rec. yards, 9 TD), 70 to Eric Decker (669 rec. yards, 3 TD) and 68 to Demaryius Thomas (685 rec. yards, 6 TD). TE Julius Thomas has also had a breakout season with 451 receiving yards and 8 TD and despite spraining his ankle in the last game, it appears that he will play on Sunday. When it comes to stopping the run, the Denver defense has been outstanding, allowing a mere 81.5 yards per game (3rd in NFL) on 3.4 yards per carry (2nd in league). But defending the pass has been a different story with the Broncos surrendering 299.1 YPG (3rd-most in NFL). They did produce four interceptions against the Redskins in the last game, which was quite surprising considering they had only three picks in the previous five contests combined. But the secondary will have to step up because the Chargers also have an excellent passing game.
 
San Diego has thrown for 300 YPG (4th in NFL) on a hefty 8.4 yards per attempt (3rd in league) as QB Philip Rivers has already eclipsed 400 passing yards three times this season. Despite being without his two starting wide receivers (Danario Alexander and Malcom Floyd) for the majority of the season, Rivers has been able to complete more than 25 passes to five different players. TE Antonio Gates leads the team with 550 receiving yards, RB Danny Woodhead has a team-high 49 catches and WR Eddie Royal leads the club with seven touchdowns. But recently, it's been rookie WR Keenan Allen who has emerged as the top target, pulling in 31 catches for 497 yards and 3 TD over the past five games. The Chargers' run game has been inconsistent over the past four weeks with rushing totals of 32, 147, 158 and 69 yards. Top RB Ryan Mathews had back-to-back 100-yard games in two straight wins, but carried the football just seven times in last week's OT loss. But even though the Broncos' run defense has been pretty strong in recent years, Mathews has always had big performances against them with 503 rushing yards (4.6 YPC) and 3 TD in five career meetings. While the offense is in good shape, the San Diego defense has been pretty terrible all year in both defending the pass (8.5 YPA, 2nd-worst in NFL) and the run (4.9 YPC, 3rd-worst in league). The Chargers have also allowed opponents to convert 42.3% of third downs (27th in NFL), but surrender only 21.8 PPG (T-11th in league) because they are on the field for just 28:20 (6th-fewest in NFL). This defense has to start making plays though, with 0-to-1 takeaways in all eight games this season. The pass rush has also been weak with 0-to-2 sacks in five of eight contests, and if Peyton Manning doesn't see a lot of pressure, he will pick this team apart.
 
CAROLINA PANTHERS (5-3) at SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS (6-2)
 
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: San Francisco -6.5 (-115) & 43.5
Opening Line & Total: 49ers -7 (-105) & 42.5
 
The NFL’s two hottest teams go toe-to-toe Sunday when the Panthers visit the 49ers on Sunday afternoon.
 
Carolina has won four in a row (SU and ATS) by an average score of 33 to 12, while San Francisco has won five straight (SU and ATS) by an average score of 35 to 12. Both teams have scored at least 30 points in all the wins and both have at least an even turnover margin for each contest during their win streaks as well. Sunday will be the first time this series features either mobile QB Cam Newton or Colin Kaepernick, but the Panthers have owned the Niners since entering the NFL, going 14-3 SU (10-7 ATS), including 7-1 SU (5-3 ATS) at Candlestick Park. While both clubs are relatively free of injuries, the well-rested Niners are in better shape coming off a bye week and with the probable additions of both WR Mario Manningham (knee) and DE/LB Aldon Smith (19.5 sacks last year) returning from a suspension. Both of these clubs have extremely favorable betting trends, as Carolina is 8-0 ATS after allowing 99 rushing yards or less in two straight games since the start of 2012, while San Francisco is 14-5 ATS (74%) as a favorite of 3.5 to 9.5 points over the past three years.
 
Panthers QB Cam Newton has played outstanding football during his team's win surge, completing 72.3% of his passes for 916 yards (8.2 YPA), 7 TD and 2 INT, while rushing for 128 yards and three more touchdowns. Carolina's ground game has been productive all season (130.1 YPG, 8th in NFL) and is even stronger with RB Jonathan Stewart back healthy. He made his season debut last week and picked up 43 yards on nine carries (4.8 YPC) plus another 22 yards on three receptions. He and top RB DeAngelo Williams (519 rush yards, 4.1 YPC, 1 TD) should continue to share carries for this team. But there's no big change in the passing game with Newton spreading the wealth to his top three wide receivers (Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and Ted Ginn) and top TE Greg Olsen. Each of these four pass catchers has gained more than 350 yards through the air with at least two touchdown grabs. Carolina's excellent ground game, lack of turnovers and outstanding third-down conversion rate (47%, 3rd in NFL) has led to an NFC-best 34:01 time of possession. Not being on the field very long has really helped this Carolina defense which ranks second in the NFL in scoring (13.3 PPG allowed) and third in total defense (299.9 YPG). The Panthers have also been very stingy in the red zone (39% efficiency, 3rd in NFL) because they stop the run so effectively with 79.1 rushing YPG allowed (2nd in league). Carolina has also shown the ability to make plays with at least one takeaway in all eight contests, including 3+ forced turnovers in four of the past six games, including four last week.
 
The Niners offense has really clicked since its 27-7 loss to the Colts in Week 3, scoring 35, 34, 32, 31 and 42 points. QB Colin Kaepernick has been the catalyst of the offensive surge in these five wins both with his arm (8.6 YPA, 6 TD, 1 INT) and his legs (165 rush yards, 6.4 YPC, 3 TD). Speaking of rushing, long-time Niners RB Frank Gore has also run extremely well for his team, picking up 476 yards on 4.5 YPC and 6 TD during the win streak. San Francisco now leads the NFL in rushing (153 YPG), which has set up the passing game nicely (7.6 net YPA, 6th in league). The addition of WR Mario Manningham should help free up top targets WR Anquan Boldin (551 rec. yards, 2 TD) and TE Vernon Davis (518 rec. yards, 7 TD) even more. The return of pass-rushing monster DE/LB Aldon Smith makes this already monstrous defense (4.99 yards per play, 6th in NFL) more ferocious. Smith's constant quarterback pressures will keep the passing yards (220.5 YPG allowed, 8th in NFL) to a minimum. San Francisco's defense has really struggled in the red zone (64%, 5th-worst in NFL), but it has given up just 18.1 PPG (4th-fewest in league) due in large part to a stingy 33% third-down efficiency rate (3rd in NFL). The Niners have also done a nice job forcing turnovers with 13 takeaways during the five-game win surge.
 
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (4-5) at GREEN BAY PACKERS (5-3)
 
Sportsbook.ag Line & Total: Green Bay -1 & 47
Opening Line & Total: Packers -2.5 & 47
 
After a record-setting performance on the road last week, Eagles QB Nick Foles will try to stay hot on Sunday afternoon at Lambeau Field against a Packers team that will be missing star QB Aaron Rodgers.
 
Rodgers broke his collarbone in Monday night’s home loss to Chicago and will miss the next 4-to-6 weeks of action. Backup Seneca Wallace will get the start in his place. The Eagles are in much better shape under center with Foles matching an NFL record last week with seven touchdown passes, while throwing just six incomplete passes, in a 49-20 rout in Oakland. With Wallace struggling in relief of Rodgers last week, Green Bay may try to keep the ball on the ground with Eddie Lacy and James Starks after the team rushed for 199 yards on 6.9 YPC versus the Bears. Despite missing Rodgers, the Packers should have a key player returning this week in pass-rushing OLB Clay Matthews who hasn't played since Week 5 because of a broken thumb. Since 2003, these clubs have met eight times, with the final margin of victory being a touchdown or less in six of these contests. Philadelphia won the first five games during this span, but Green Bay has prevailed three straight times (SU and ATS) with wins by 3, 7 and 5 points. The Eagles are 9-1 ATS versus incredible offenses (29+ PPG) in the second half of the season since 1992, but the Packers are 12-2 ATS after and ATS loss in the past three seasons.
 
Eagles QB Nick Foles has been unbelievable on the road this season, completing 63-of-88 passes (72%) for 948 yards (10.8 YPA), 13 TD and 0 INT. He has led the team to three straight victories away from home (SU and ATS) where they have scored 36, 31 and 49 points. WR DeSean Jackson has been the top target with 50 catches for 823 yards and 6 TD, but it was No. 2 WR Riley Cooper who exploded last week for 139 yards on five catches (27.8 avg.), including three touchdown grabs. While Philly is now averaging 8.3 yards per pass attempt (6th in NFL), the ground game has been even better this season with 147.9 rushing YPG (4th in league) on 5.0 YPC (3rd in NFL). But RB LeSean McCoy (777 rush yards, 3rd in NFL) has been struggling to run the football in the past three weeks with just 49.0 rushing YPG on a paltry 3.3 yards per carry. The faced-past Eagles offense ranks last in the league in time of possession (25:06), but has still racked up 413.2 total YPG (4th in NFL). However, this has not really helped the defense that has surrendered 419.3 total YPG, 307.8 passing YPG and 24.3 first downs per game, which all rank last in the NFL. Philly has helped itself out with 10 forced turnovers in the past five games, but it needs a more consistent pass rush, generating a mere 10 sacks over the past six contests. Look for the Eagles to install some more blitz packages to try to rattle Seneca Wallace on Sunday.
 
Although QB Seneca Wallace is 33 years old, he has logged just 21 NFL starts, going 6-15. Since 2009, he is 1-8 as a starter with a mere 5.98 yards per pass attempt, 9 TD and 7 INT. Even with the Bears stacking the box in Monday's game, Wallace managed only 114 yards on 11-of-19 passing with 0 TD and 1 INT. This is unacceptable considering how talented his wide receivers are, led by Jordy Nelson (716 rec. yards, 7 TD), and the now-healthy James Jones who returned to action last week after missing two games with an injured knee. Jones logged just 28 snaps against the Bears, but he'll likely see a lot more playing time on Sunday. But there's no need to force the issue through the air with rookie RB Eddie Lacy playing so well. Lacy has rushed for more than 80 yards in each of his past five games, totaling 545 yards on 4.6 YPC with three touchdowns. RB James Starks gives the team a nice change-of-pace option, as he's averaged a hefty 6.0 YPC on his 47 attempts this season with touchdown runs in each of the past two weeks. A bigger commitment to the run should also help the club improve its poor red-zone efficiency (48.4%), which ranks tied for 23rd in the NFL. The Packers are even worse in red zone defense with a 68.0% rate, which ties them with the Browns for last in the league. But the unit will certainly benefit from the return of OLB Clay Matthews (45.5 sacks in 62 career games), as the Packers have recorded just seven sacks over the past three games, and have intercepted only three passes all season. In the past five contests, Green Bay has totaled two takeaways, and if it doesn't force more Eagles mistakes on Sunday, it could be a long afternoon.
 

  
HEADLINES
Mejia: NFC Preseason Wrap
Mejia: AFC Preseason Wrap
Lawrence: Trends to Watch - September
Lawrence: 2014 NFC Season Preview
Marshall: Ravens rising up
Lawrence: 2014 AFC Season Preview
ASA: NFC North Notebook
ASA: NFC South Notebook
Marshall: Philadelphia Hype
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