San Francisco 49ers vs. Arizona Cardinals Preview, Pick & Odds

In week-three of the NFL, the San Francisco 49ers (1-1) visit the Arizona Cardinals (2-0) to play a late afternoon game. The 49ers lost last week to the Bears 28-20 after beating the Cowboys in week one 28-17. In week one, the Cardinals, who were at home, squeaked by the Chargers 18-17. Last week they travelled to the East to play the New York Giants. The Cards won 25-14. In this week’s game, Frisco is favored by 3 points. It does look to be a close one.

San Francisco is a team with a whole lot of potential and some major questions. One question is at quarterback where people must be wondering if Colin Kaepernick is the right man for the job.

San Francisco utilizes a strong running attack. RB Frank Gore (29 ATT 129 YDS 4.4 AVG) anchors the rushing game. Quarterback Kaepernick, now in his fourth season, is second in rushes, averaging 4.5 yards per carry for a total of 75 yards. Kaepernick has had trouble with his passing game, tossing 3 TDs and 3 INTs. He’s been sacked five times. Wideout Anquan Boldin leads the team with 10 catches, 133 total yards, and a 13.3 average.

On defense, the 49ers are seventh versus the run and 14th against the pass. Defensive end Justin Smith has three of the club’s four sacks, while linebacker Patrick Willis leads the team in tackles with a total of 14. Willis also made one of the team’s three interceptions. San Francisco also has one forced fumble for a TD and one blocked kick.

If the 49ers can create havoc with their defense and use their ground game effectively, they can certainly beat the Cardinals.

The Cardinals look like a fairly average team on offense and better than average on D, especially versus the run. Arizona has a complicating situation in this game, as starting QB Carson Palmer will not play due to a shoulder injury.

Filling in for Palmer will be Drew Stanton. Stanton came in when Palmer got injured last week and completed 48.3% of his passes. In that game, he was sacked four times. Receiver Michael Floyd (6 REC, 138 YDS, 23.0 AVG) is the team’s primary go-to guy in the air, while Andre Ellington (24 ATT, 144 YDS, 5.1 AVG) anchors the running attack. Look for the Cardinals to run more than pass in this game and for Stanton to try to exploit any holes he may find in San Francisco’s pass coverage.

Linebacker Larry Foote, who leads the team with 16 tackles total, is the main man on defense. He also has one interception. There are four players on D who are in double digits in the total tackle stats. LB Kenny Demens has two forced fumbles, both of which have been recovered by the Cardinals.

If the game comes down to a field goal, Arizona kicker Chandler Catanzaro has the edge, as he’s gone six for six. For the 49ers, Phil Dawson is two of three.

Both teams post strong defenses against the rush. The team that wins will be able to run successfully, and will also find key moments to connect on passes. Even though the cards can create turnovers, the fact is the 49ers have an edge in this area; especially due to the fact that Arizona’s starting QB, Palmer, is out. That 3-point edge for San Francisco is fairly accurate.

Indianapolis Colts vs. Jacksonville Jaguars Prediction, Pick & Odds

It’s a battle between two winless teams this Sunday at 1 p.m. when the Indianapolis Colts (0-2) visit the Jacksonville Jaguars (0-2). It is very early in the NFL season to say this, but for the Colts this is a must win situation if they want a decent chance at making the playoffs. Very few teams have ever gotten to the post season in the NFL after losing their first three games. If Indy does not make it to the postseason this year, it will be the third straight time that they have missed a shot at the Super Bowl.

It’s been rough going for Indianapolis this season, losing 31-24 to Denver the first week, and then last week, in their home owner, losing to the Eagles 30-27 after building a substantial lead into the third quarter. Although it seems as though this game should be an easy win for Indy, it seems as if nothing is easy this year.

QB Andrew Luck has tossed five touchdown passes, but he has also given up three picks. He’s got a solid and talent group of guys catching the ball, including wideouts Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton and running back Ahmad Bradshaw. Bradshaw has caught two TD passes and he’s run for another score. Although Indy had some good rushes versus the Eagles, their primary way of gaining yardage is with the pass. They should be able to air it out against the Jags, however Luck has to make better decisions when passing.

The Colt defense needs some work. They virtually fell apart last week in the third and fourth quarters. They are 29th against the pass and 17th when defending against the run. The leading tacklers on defense are all in the secondary, and that says something about how well the guys in the front and middle are doing.

If the Colts want to win, even against a team like Jacksonville, they have to commit to playing a full 60 minutes of football. Forty minutes just won’t cut it. They really need to exploit the Jaguars’ weak defense from the start.

The best thing about this game as far as the Jags are concerned is that it’s their home opener. Jacksonville has played its first two contests away. Their first game was a 34-17 lost to the Eagles, and their second was a 41-10 drubbing by the Redskins. Might some home cooking help this team?

Jacksonville puts one of the worst offenses in the NFL on the field. QB Chad Henne has a completion rate of 53.6% with his average yards per completion being an extremely low 6.5. Although he has thrown three touchdown passes, Henne has also tossed one interception and been sacked 13 times. The running game is almost nonexistent and the pass attack is ineffective.

Equally weak is the Jacksonville defense. They are ranked 26th versus the pass and 28th against the run. Linebacker Paul Posluszny, a quality player, leads the team with 19 tackles total (15 solo, 4 assisted). Also looking good are defensive ends Andre Branch and Ryan Davis. Each player has two of the eight sacks levied by the Jags.

It is very hard to win when a team has little to no offense. The frontline of the Jaguars offers Henne little to no protection, and they cannot open the lanes for the running game. Jacksonville has to remedy the problems upfront before anything positive can happen on offense.

If Indy cannot beat the Jags, then they have no business being in the playoffs. With their passing attack alone, the Colts should dominate this game. They are the favorite by 7; it should be 14.

Oakland Raiders vs. New England Patriots Prediction, Pick & Spread

The Oakland Raiders (0-2) travel across the country to play the New England Patriots (1-1) for a 1 p.m. start on Sunday in week three of the NFL season. In each of their losses, the Raiders have scored a total of 14 points, as they went down to the New York Jets and the Houston Texans. In week one, New England was surprised by Miami, losing 33-20, while in the second week, the Pats hammered the Vikings 30-7.

This is a year when you can’t expect much from Oakland. They have a decent amount of rebuilding to do on offense and need a lot of help in stopping the run on defense.

It says something about a NFL team when their quarterback leads the team in passing and rushing. But that’s the way that it is with the Raiders. Rookie QB Derek Carr has gained 57 yards in 5 attempts for an average of 11.4 yards per carry. His passing record includes 3 TDs and 2 picks. His top two receivers, James Jones and Mychal Rivera, have more fumbles (4 with 3 lost) than touchdowns (3).

There are five players who have double digit tackle numbers, three are linebackers and the other two are in the secondary. This is a team that is solid against the pass (2nd), but they cannot stop the run (32nd). Safety Tyvon Branch leads the team with a total of 19 tackles, while linebacker Sio Moore is second with 18.

This looks to be a tough trip for Oakland, a team that has been on a long and winding road in this early part of the season. Perhaps they can beat the Patriots with their defense?

It’s no secret that Tom Brady is getting older. He’s leading the 27th ranked passing game in the league. The running game at 16th isn’t much better. However, the Pats proved against the Vikings last week that they are capable of putting a lot of points on the scoreboard.

Tom Brady is completing just 55.8% of his passes. That’s well below what he is capable of, and you should see that percentage rise over the season. This week he goes up against a team that has one thing going for it, pass D. Expect the Pats to wear down Oakland with their running attack, which features Steven Ridley (33 ATT, 122 YDS, 3.5 AVG) and Shane Vereen (13 ATT, 76 YDS, 5.8 AVG). Receiver Julian Edelman (12 rec, 176 YDS, 14.7 YPC) also has 30 yards in three carries. Tight end Rob Gronkowski continues to be a big force as a pass catcher. Each of the four players named has scored a touchdown this season.

The New England secondary has improved a lot since last season. The squad has a total of five interceptions. The defense has also made seven sacks. LB Jerod Mayo has notched two sacks and 19 tackles total, while LB Dont’a Hightower, who also has two sacks, has posted nine tackles. Overall, this is a tough defense that can shut down opponents.

The Pats play at Gillette Stadium where they rarely lose. If the game comes down to a field goal, placekicker Stephen Gostkowski is five of five with four of those scores coming from between 40 and 49 yards.

The Patriots are 15.5-point favorites. From what’s on paper that may seem right on target. But New England will win by the margin they need to and not according to what handicappers think. Brady may have some problems with the Oakland secondary, but New England has a lot of weapons, and the Raiders cannot defuse them all. Look for a New England win.

Minnesota Vikings vs. New Orleans Saints Prediction, Pick & Spread

The Minnesota Vikings (1-1) fly to New Orleans to play the Saints (0-2) in a 1:00 PM EST matchup this Sunday.  The Vikings have made headlines for all the wrong reasons so far this season, and will head into the game without start running back Adrian Peterson, who is beginning an indefinite suspension after being charged with several offenses related to physical abuse of a child.

Given Peterson was one of the few effective weapons in a weak Viking offense, his absence means the Saints defense will be able to focus more on multi-talented wide receiver Cordarelle Patterson, who is a danger to score via the pass, on the ground and on kickoffs.  Minnesota will seek to establish the run with Matt Asiata, who is more of a straight forward, bruising back who likes to run between the lines.  Productive efforts by TE Kyle Rudolph and WR Greg Jennings will give QB Matt Cassel some options as he looks to free Patterson to make some big plays.  A stronger offensive line would help, as Cassel has been sacked six times in the first two games.  Better judgement from Cassel, who has thrown four interceptions, is also needed.

The Vikings will be facing a Saints team who comes into their home opener in an ornery mood following two last- second losses against Atlanta and Cleveland to start the season.  New Orleans is also without their starting running back, though for more conventional reasons, as Mark Ingram is set to miss the next month with a broken hand.  Most of the carries should fall to Khiry Robinson, though Pierre Thomas should also see increased activity.

Regardless of whether or not the run is established Saints QB Drew Brees will look to air it out to stud receivers Jimmy Graham and Marques Colston.  Tight end Graham has amassed 200 yards receiving  and a pair of scores through the first two games.  The Saints are so deep on offense that Colston didn’t even catch a ball in week two, as Brees looked toward rookie Brandin Cooks and the veteran Thomas.  Further down the depth chart sit Kenny Stills and Robert Meachem, both of whom have big play ability.

The Saints will look to tighten up a pass defense which was torched for 448 yards by Matt Ryan in the first week (an Atlanta record) and which emboldened a much weaker Cleveland team that still chose to throw 40 times in Week 2.

The Viking defense has been pretty good overall, as they dominated a St. Louis Rams squad that was missing start QB Sam Bradford in Week One, before holding Pats pivot Tom Brady to 149 yards in Week Two but falling victim to a short field thanks to four Cassel interceptions.

Whatever the spread is, pick the Saints to beat it in what should be a win by double digits.

Milwaukee Brewers vs. Pittsburgh Pirates Prediction

Milwaukee staggers into this pivotal weekend with a 6-11 September record and 3.5 games to make up against the Buccos for the second wild card.  Matt Garza (8-8, 3.74) gets the ball against Edinson Volquez (12-7, 3.27).  Both pitchers have it together of late.  Garza is 2-1, 2.64 in his last six starts while Volquez is 2-0, 1.85 in recent assignments.

Given that Garza has spent most of his career in the AL, few Pirates have extensive histories against him.  Andrew McCutchen is hitting .250 with a home run in 12 at bats while Gabby Sanchez and Travis Snider are hitting .364 and .300 respectively.  Light-hitting Clint Barmes has two four-baggers in 15 at bats against Garza.

Across the diamond, a few members of the Brew Crew have fared quite well against Volquez, led by Carlos Gomez, who has three homers and a .321 average.  Jonathan Lucroy (.308), Scooter Gennett (.500) and Ryan Braun (.317) are other top performers while Rickie Weeks has hit Volquez at a .368 clip with two homers in 19 at bats.  On the flip side, Mark Reynolds is 1-12 and Juan Segura 0-15.

I like the run Volquez is on but there are too many Brewers who hit him well.  Take Milwaukee.

San Francisco Giants vs. San Diego Padres Pick

The Giants head into the weekend games 2.5 games behind the Dodgers for the NL West title with a game in hand.  They are two games up on Pittsburgh and 5.5 up on fading Milwaukee for one of the two wild card berths.  Meanwhile San Diego hasn’t had anything to play for in weeks.

This one should be a no-brainer you say?  Not so fast.  The Giants send converted reliever Yusmeiro Petit to the bump.  Petit, 2-1 with a 3.80 ERA in 4 2014 starts, faces hard luck Andrew Cashner, who is 4-7 in 2014 (albeit with a 2.20 ERA, such is the San Diego offense) but 2-1 with a 1.85 ERA in five starts since coming off the DL.

Cashner has enjoyed pretty good success against most of the Giant batters in his career.  Hunter Pence, such a key part of the Giants attack, is 1-12 in his career against Cashner.  The one Giant who gives Cashner trouble is Buster Posey, who is 5-12 with two homers against him.  Posey is also on a roll, and against a weak San Diego offense one home run might be enough.  Still, if Cashner can deal with him, he has a good shot at the W.

Given that Petit is a reliever, no Padre hitter has an extensive history against him, though Seth Smith does have a home run in three at bats.  Will Venable is 0-5.

In weighing a reliever getting stretched as a starter and at risk of fatigue against a healing, wanna-be ace with something to prove, I’ll take the Padres at home.

LA Dodgers vs. Chicago Cubs Preview & Pick

The Los Angeles Dodgers lead the San Francisco Giants by 2.5 games in the National League West and are within a game of the best record in the National League which brings home field advantage throughout the NL playoffs.  The Cubs are seven games out of the cellar.

Felix Doubront gets the call for the Cubbies against Roberto Hernandez.  Doubront has used the extra rest between starts to fashion a 2-1 record and 1.50 ERA in three starts since coming over from Boston in late July.  Hernandez, often described as crafty, which is writer speak for “I don’t know how he wins games”,  has limped to a 2-3 record and 4.76 ERA since his trade to the Dodgers.

Given both starters experience in the American league, neither has much of a history against the opposing hitters so we look at who’s hot heading into the matchup.  On the Cubs side, the pickings are slim, as aside from Jorge Soler, who has hits in eight of his last nine starts and is hitting .368 16 games into his career, there are mini-streaks from Luis Valbuena, Chris Coghlan and Arismendy Alcantara.

Dee Gordon has two hits in five consecutive starts heading into Friday’s game and has stolen three bases in his last four games, Yasiel Puig is 7 for his last 18 with three multi-hit games and Hanley Ramirez, who returned to the lineup Friday after a few days of rest, was 7-12.

Doubront may be fulfilling promise but he’s facing a lineup full of hot bats, while Hernandez is, well, Hernandez.  Look for this game to go to the bullpens early and for the Dodgers to win a high-scoring affair.

Detroit at Kansas City Preview & Prediction

This folks, is the game of the weekend.  Two stud pitchers facing off with their teams a half-game apart in the fight for the playoffs.  Max Scherzer (16-5, 3.26) faces James Shields (14-7, 3.15).

Both pitchers have a lengthy history against their foes.  Scherzer is 10-5 with a 3.74 ERA in 20 career starts against Kansas City while Shields has a 7-5 record and a 4.11 ERA in 18 starts against Deroit.

Scherzer limps into the matchup a bit, as he is 2-1 with a 4.46 ERA in his lastsix starts while Shields is on a roll, with a 3-1 record and 2.57 ERA in his last six appearances.

Three Royals have hit multiple homers in their careers against Scherzer.  Alex Gordon leads the way with three homers and a .389 average, while Sal Perez has a pair to go along with a 1.024 OPS in 27 PA.  Josh Willingham has a pair of round trippers in 22 AB.  In their own ways all three are struggling, as Gordon  (6-23) and Perez (5-24) are slumping a pit and Willingham’s power has been sapped of late.

Scherzer also has good success in his career against Eric Hosmer (.206 average), Lorenzo Cain (0-15) and Billy Butler (no homers in 54 AB).

Rajai Davis (.111) and Ian Kinsler (.208) are the only Tigers who really struggle against Shields, and Davis may not even play.  Many Tigers have had decent histories when facing Shields.  Alex Avila is hitting .300 with a pair of homers, and J.D. Martinez has one of his own to go with a .333 average in 15 AB.  Victor Martinez is at .295 and Torii Hunter .322 (though neither has hit for power).   Miguel Cabrera has a .365 average, two homers and a career 1.056 OPS against Shields and comes into the matchup on a roll in September, with a .469 average, 1.351 OPS and six homers in 64 at bats.

Normally when a hot hitter faces a hot pitcher I go with the pitcher, but Cabrera’s the kind of hitter that can carry a team for weeks.  Given his history against Shields and his current hot hitting, I’m going with the Tigers in this one.