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Week 7 NFL Picks

A resurgent defense and throwback LeSean McCoy lead the Bills and their four game win streak to Miami to meet their old rival. Speaking of, where’d all the rivalries go? (Photo by USA Today)

Last Week:  8 – 7 – 0
Season:    52 – 40 – 0

Thursday Recap

Bears 10 at Packers 26
The Packers won by double digits and Aaron Rodgers threw for 300+ yards and 3 touchdowns. All is well in Packerland. Or not. Rodgers threw 56 passes Thursday night. After completing 39 of them, all he had to show for it was 326 yards. Huh? Matt Ryan has four games of more than 326 yards this season. The most completions he threw in any of those games was 28, and that was when he threw for 503 yards. Drew Brees has two 400+ yard games this season and didn’t need more than 34 completions to get there. Brian Hoyer threw for 300+ yards in four consecutive games. He surpassed 30 completions in a game once in that span. What I’m trying to say is the Packer offense is still a mess. They dinked and doinked their way to victory Thursday over a bad team. That won’t work against a decent team, let alone a good one. Look at Rodgers’ average yard per attempt; 5.82. That’s right in line with where Rodgers has been all season. He’s surpassed 6 yards per attempt only twice in six games this year. For reference, Rodgers averaged 6.68 per attempt in 2015, and that was nearly an entire yard less than his previous career low of 7.53.

Thursday’s victory over the Bears was the most boring 56 attempt game in the history of football. Almost every pass was within spitting distance of the line of scrimmage. I don’t want to watch Rodgers play toss. I want to see him launching rockets 40 yards downfield. This whole Rodgers funk has me depressed. He’s only 32. This can’t be the end of the road. I hope (and do believe) Rodgers’ recent struggles are due to a lack of explosiveness on the outside, but only time will reveal whether that’s true or not. Until then, we’ll be tortured with the Packers completing passes on 1st and 2nd down and somehow still facing a 3rd and 4.

London (9:30AM ET)

Giants “at” Rams
I still don’t know what to make of either of these teams. I do know that Eli Manning and Case Keenum are essentially the same quarterback at this point in time. I’d show you the stats to prove my point but I’d rather you just believe me and we move on. No? Ok, fine. Both quarterbacks have their teams at an underwhelming 3-3. Eli Manning has 8 touchdowns to go along with 6 interceptions and 2 fumbles. Case Keenum has 7 touchdowns to go along with 6 interceptions and 1 fumble. Both average 7.7 yards per attempt with completion percentages in the 62-64 range. Neither owns a QB rating worth noting (85 for Keenum and 88 for Manning), and both make you insanely nervous in the 4th quarter of a close game. GIANTS If I were Charles Barkley; Giants -3

Early Games (1:00PM ET)

Saints at Chiefs
I stump for Andy Reid pretty much any opportunity I get. I know he hasn’t won a ring yet, but Reid is, in my humble opinion, the best coach in the NFL outside of Bill Belichick. In 18 seasons, Reid’s had only three losing seasons. He’s missed the playoffs only six times. In the parity circus that is the NFL, that’s an impressive accomplishment. What Reid has done through five games in 2016 is yet another testament to his coaching. The Chiefs have been without their most dominant defensive player (Justin Houston) and their All-Pro running back (Jamaal Charles) is still working his way back from a knee injury. Kansas City has remained competitive and with a favorable schedule the rest of the way, appears primed for another playoff appearance, which would be their third in four years under Reid. CHIEFS If I were Charles Barkley; Chiefs -6.5

Colts at Titans
Here’s your weekly reminder that the AFC South is garbage. It’s the only division in football without a positive point differential among its four teams. Only one other division has less than two (NFC South). Never before has a furious 4th quarter comeback on National TV been ignored as much as the Texans’ rally against the Colts last week. I love football. I turned that game off at halftime it was so bad. Everyone loves to rail on the Colts and how their front office has failed Andrew Luck by not surrounding him with talent or a competent defense. Why do the Saints get ignored in this regard? New Orleans is essentially the Colts of the NFC, only with a better quarterback and perhaps the most overrated coach in the sport. TITANS If I were Charles Barkley; Titans -3

Vikings at Eagles
I kind of like the Eagles chances here. Yes, the Vikings defense is great, probably the best in the NFL. On the other hand, Sam Bradford and the offense won’t light up the scoreboard. A few big plays here or there and you can steal a game from the Vikings. More importantly, I think the Eagle defense can wreak havoc on Minnesota’s limited offense and provide Carson Wentz some prime opportunities to score. I’m not sure if this is homerism leaking through or my belief that Sam Bradford will ultimately be what dooms Minnesota. Maybe it’s both. Either way, I’m not as scared of the Vikings as I probably should be, and I like the Eagles as home dogs coming off two embarrassing outings. EAGLES If I were Charles Barkley; Eagles +3

Browns at Bengals
The Bengals are tough to figure out. They pretty much dominated the Patriots for the first 35 minutes last week but once again struggled in the red zone and were ultimately undone by a few costly mistakes, most notably a defensive holding call that kept the Patriot offense on the field just before the half and a 3rd quarter safety that essentially sucked the life out of the Bengals. There was a stretch Sunday from the end of the 1st quarter through the start of the 3rd where the Bengals scored 14 points, ran 35 plays, totaled 229 yards and controlled time of possession 20:05 to 4:38. And still they managed to lose by 18 points. There are reasonable explanations for Cincinnati’s slow start. Their losses are to teams with a combined 18-6 record. Though they rank 28th in red zone percentage, they’ve been without their tight end who was 5th in 2015 in red zone receptions, 3rd in red zone receiving yards, and 2nd in red zone touchdowns. With Tyler Eifert last season the Bengals were 23 percentage points better in the red zone and ranked 6th in the league. With the schedule softening, expect the Bengals to string together some wins. BENGALS If I were Charles Barkley; Bengals -10

Redskins at Lions
Washington has won four in a row and I’m still trying to figure out how they’re not 1-5. Just kidding. Kind of. If you go back and look at three of their victories, they’ve had some fluky things bounce their way. Back in Week 3, Eli Manning threw two of the worst 4th quarter interceptions you’ll ever see. Like, directly to a Redskins defender. I’m pretty sure he had money on Washington. A week later the Browns had a 20-17 lead late in the 3rd quarter with a 1st and 10 inside the red zone. Fumble. On their next possession while driving into Washington territory; fumble. Next possession? Interception. In Week 5, CJ Mosley of the Ravens returned an interception back to the one-yard line before fumbling it through the end zone. Washington ball. Eventually things will stop bouncing the Redskins way, or so I hope. LIONS If I were Charles Barkley; Lions -1

Raiders at Jaguars
Rant time. Like everyone else, I want my coach to go for it on 4th and short in most situations, especially from the goal line. But I’m not a coach. I’m an ignorant fan sitting on my couch. Coaches should know better. I’m looking at you, John Harbaugh. Trailing 13-17 late in the 3rd quarter, the Ravens faced a 1st and goal from the 3. After three consecutive run plays, Baltimore had only advanced to about the 2 foot line. Harbaugh opted to go for the score and the Ravens were stuffed. Here’s my issue with the call: The Ravens have the best kicker in football. Anyone watching that game knew it would be close the rest of the way and likely boil down to whomever had the ball last. Sure enough, Baltimore had the football with 15 seconds left at the Giants 24 yard line after a roughing the passer penalty on 4th down. A 41 yard field goal is a chip shot for Justin Tucker. Unfortunately, Baltimore trailed by four instead of one because Harbaugh opted not to take the 3 points earlier in the quarter. When you have the NFL’s best kicker, you hang around in games as long as possible and hope you have a chance to win with a field goal. RAIDERS If I were Charles Barkley; Raiders +1

Bills at Dolphins
What happened to NFL rivalries? Perhaps I’m alone on this but it feels like the NFL lacks those intense, hate-fueled rivalries that make for great viewing. Obviously, it’s been a while since Bills-Dolphins was a headline rivalry, but even the most recent rivalries have faded away. Ravens-Steelers cooled with the retirements of Ed Reed and Ray Lewis. Patriots-Jets died off when Rex Ryan’s teams became incompetent. The NFC East rivalries have lost a lot of their luster because the division has been so volatile of late. Many years the division lacks one good team, let alone two. The NFC South rivalries are alike in this regard, too. Cardinals-Seahawks is fine and all, but lacks the punch of those Seahawks-49ers bloodbaths from a few years back. If I had to choose, I’d say the Vikings-Packers is the best bang for your buck in the rivalry department, and even there we’re grading on a scale. As a whole the NFL lacks intriguing rivalries right now. Maybe that’s why TV ratings have fallen off. BILLS If I were Charles Barkley; Bills -3

Ravens at Jets
It’s been a rough three weeks for the Ravens. After a 3-0 start, the Ravens have dropped three straight. What’s worse, the Ravens held leads in the final minutes in two of those losses and blew a golden opportunity to swing the game in the other. In Week 4 against the Raiders, Baltimore scored to go up 27-21 with 3:36 to go in the 4th quarter. They would go on to lose by one. Against the Redskins a week later, linebacker CJ Mosley picked off a Kirk Cousins pass and ran it back to the Washington one yard line where he fumbled the football out of the end zone. Possession swung back to Washington. Instead of taking a 17-13 lead with six minutes to go in the 3rd quarter, the Ravens found themselves in a 16-10 hole. In Week 6 the Ravens again scored a late touchdown, this time scoring with 2:04 to take a 23-20 lead. Forty seconds later Baltimore trailed by four. It’s hard to win in the NFL if your defense can’t close. RAVENS If I were Charles Barkley; Ravens

Afternoon Games (4:05PM ET)

Buccaneers at 49ers
Colin Kaepernick wasn’t awful last week in Buffalo, but I think it’s a problem when someone’s thought while watching your quarterback play is, “Oh yeh, I forgot Kaepernick can’t throw the football.” With Carlos Hyde likely out with a shoulder injury, more of the offensive load will fall on Kaerpnick. In 2012 that was a good thing, in 2016, not so much. BUCCANEERS If I were Charles Barkley; Buccaneers -1

Chargers at Falcons
I couldn’t have been more impressed with the Falcons last week. Rallying from a 17-3 2nd half deficit against Seattle’s defense in Seattle is impressive enough, but to do it by scoring 3 touchdowns in one quarter was shocking. I know Matt Ryan threw an interception with four minutes remaining while nursing a one-point lead, but I thought the pass was catchable. Maybe not. Should the Falcons have been throwing on 1st down in that situation? Maybe not, but when you can’t trust your defense you’re forced to stay aggressive. Regardless, Atlanta’s performance in Seattle proved they belong among the elite in the NFC. FALCONS If I were Charles Barkley; Falcons -6.5

Patriots at Steelers
The Ben Roethlisberger injury robbed us of Week 7’s premiere matchup. I know the Steelers have two atrocious losses on their resume already, but Mike Tomlin’s teams always lay a few stinkers throughout the season. With that said, the Steelers largest margin of defeat a year ago was 10 points. It was their only double-digit loss of the season. Through six weeks in 2016, the Steelers have already lost by 31 and 15. It’s early, but that does raise some flags. In both losses the Steelers were unable to stretch the field. Against the Dolphins it appeared Pittsburgh fell too in love with the passing game, throwing the football 39 times despite Le’Veon Bell averaging over 5 yards per rush. The Roethlisberger injury may benefit Pittsburgh down the road if it helps them realize Bell and the ground game is their greatest asset to stretching the field, much like the Carson Palmer injury gave the Cardinals new perspective. PATRIOTS If I were Charles Barkley; Patriots -8

Sunday Night (8:30PM ET)

Seahawks at Cardinals
As I just mentioned, it took a Carson Palmer injury for the Cardinals to hitch their offensive wagon to David Johnson. They certainly haven’t regretted that decision. Prior to Palmer’s injury, Johnson was averaging 16 rushes and 75 yards per game. He also scored three touchdowns in those four games. In the two games since Palmer’s injury, Johnson has averaged 24.5 rushes and 134 yards per game. He’s also put up 5 rushing touchdowns in two games. Carson Palmer is still a fine quarterback but his injury forced the Cardinals to realize David Johnson is their most lethal threat and the key to a potent offense. SEAHAWKS If I were Charles Barkley; Seahawks +2

Monday Night (8:30PM ET)

Texans at Broncos
There are many on the Denver defense that believe they are the biggest reason Houston handed Brock Osweiler a contract worth $72 million. Without them, Osweiler would’ve had struggled to stay afloat when thrust into the starting role in 2015. Through six weeks, it’s hard to argue the Bronco defense is wrong. Aside from some brief stretches of competence, Osweiler has been mostly horrible this season. It’s not like he doesn’t have weapons. Osweiler has an All-Pro receiver on one side and perhaps the NFL’s most explosive rookie on the other. If the Texans were completely honest and could redo history, I’d bet they pass on Osweiler and pay Brian Hoyer a fraction of what they gifted Osweiler. BRONCOS If I were Charles Barkley; Broncos -9

*****

If I were Charles Barkley;
Last Week: 3 – 10 – 2
Season:    40 – 48 – 4

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