History has shown us that you can go ahead and put the New England Patriots, Cincinnati Bengals and Carolina Panthers in the playoffs. All three won easily in Week 9 to improve to 8-0, the first time in league history there have been three unbeaten teams this late in the season. That the Pats handled the Redskins and the Bengals did the same to the Browns wasn't a surprise, but the Panthers throttling Green Bay for most of that game was.
Entering this season, 21 teams started a season 8-0 during the Super Bowl era. All of them made the playoffs, 12 advanced to the Super Bowl and eight of those teams won the Super Bowl. The lone unbeaten to fall in Week 9 was Denver, which appeared to be caught in a letdown game at Indianapolis (the various sportsbooks had a great Sunday because favorites like Denver, Atlanta and Green Bay all lost straight up and were heavily backed). That's the Colts team I think we all expected to see this season. The Patriots are now the heavy Super Bowl favorites at +225 at Bovada. Green Bay has risen to +750.
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And my new favorite player is Eagles offensive tackle Lane Johnson. I'm sure by now you have seen that Deadspin report of the beating Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy gave to his former girlfriend. That wasn't new news, but the site released some pretty graphic photos. Johnson clearly saw them before facing Dallas on Sunday and had this to say after Philly's win: "Any time I had a chance to put a little extra mustard on a block (on Hardy), I tried."
Here are some Week 10 games and opening lines that caught my eye. As usual, I won't touch on the Thursday night game, my Sunday featured game (most likely Cardinals-Seahawks) or the Monday nighter.
Browns at Steelers (-4.5, 41): Pittsburgh simply can't catch a break. The Steelers of course lost star running back Le'Veon Bell for the season in Week 8, the same game that Ben Roethlisberger returned from a knee injury he suffered in Week 3. Now Big Ben is hurt again, this time a foot sprain. He's going to miss at least this game, but the Steelers have the bye week after that, so maybe it's just this one. Pittsburgh originally feared it was a Lisfranc injury, which is very serious. Landry Jones should be the starter against Cleveland. Will the Browns have starting QB Josh McCown? They did little offensively behind Johnny Manziel last Thursday in Cincinnati with McCown out with sore ribs. It looks like McCown will return and start. Pittsburgh and Cleveland split last season, each winning at home. Key trend: Pittsburgh 6-4 ATS in past 10 as home favorite in series. The pick: I'll take the points if McCown plays. Go "under" for sure.
Vikings at Raiders (-2.5, 42.5): The big question here is whether Minnesota quarterback Teddy Bridgewater plays. He was knocked out cold on a dirty hit by the Rams' Lamarcus Joyner, a friend of Bridgewater's, during Minnesota's 21-18 win on Sunday. Bridgewater will now have to go through the NFL's concussion protocol. If he can't go, Shaun Hill would start. Don't look now, but the Vikings are tied with Green Bay atop the NFC North. Oakland staged a nice comeback Sunday in Pittsburgh but lost 38-35 largely because the Raiders couldn't guard Antonio Brown. Derek Carr threw for 301 yards and four scores in the loss. Also monitor the status of Raiders running back Latavius Murray here. He ran for 96 yards on 17 carries before leaving in the third quarter with concussion-like symptoms. Key trend: Oakland is 3-7 ATS in past 10 as home favorite. The pick: Raiders and under regardless.
Lions at Packers (-11.5, 47.5): Is it time for Packers backers to worry or is the team's two-game losing streak simply a matter of playing two very good teams away from Lambeau Field? Probably a bit of both. This starts a stretch of four straight NFC North games for the Pack (also at the Vikings, home against the Bears on Thanksgiving and at Detroit) over an 18-day stretch. The Packers did nothing offensively two Sundays ago in Denver and had only 133 total yards in the first half of Sunday's loss at Carolina . That offense woke up in the second half, but it was too late. It's the first time the Packers have lost consecutive games that Aaron Rodgers started at quarterback since early in the 2010 season. The sad-sack Lions are off their bye week as they look for their first win in Wisconsin since 1991. It's their first game since team president Tom Lewand and GM Martin Mayhew were fired. Coach Jim Caldwell will join them as soon as this season is over. Key trend: Green Bay is 6-4 ATS in past 10 as home favorite in series. The pick: Packers and over.
Patriots at Giants (-7, 54.5): I'm thinking this one has a bit more meaning for Tom Brady than most games this season considering that Brady would have six Super Bowl rings instead of four if not for two Super Bowl upset losses to Eli Manning's Giants. Just as they did in the highly-anticipated 2007 regular-season finale, the Patriots bring an undefeated record to East Rutherford, N.J. The Giants nearly pulled off the upset then and would do so in Super Bowl XLII. Brady is 2-1 over his regular-season career against the Giants, most recently losing a 24-20 decision Nov. 6, 2011, at Gillette Stadium. The teams also have played in the preseason finale each of the past 11 years. The Patriots have lost running back Dion Lewis to a season-ending torn ACL. He had been a nice surprise, rushing for 234 yards and two scores while catching 36 balls for 388 yards and two TDs. Key trend: New York 4-6 ATS in past 10 as home dog. The pick: Patriots and over.
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