Last Week: 4-4; Season: 30-40-2
As we head into Week 10 of the NFL season, there are currently 20 teams within two games of first place in their respective divisions. The consistent parity makes each week exciting -- and totally unpredictable.
At least, that's my excuse for still being 10 "games" under .500 in this season's "Bet On It" picks. But hey, 4-4 last week! Champagne for everyone!
We've reached the point of the season where the NFL takes over Thursday nights -- a time of the year that surely has its supporters (more football!!!) despite the fact that the teams involved probably don't love having to play after the short week. But if nothing else, Thursday night NFL games mean we are closing in on the end of the regular season, so the stakes are raised.
Here's what you can expect to happen in Week 10:
• Michael Bush and Mike Tolbert will combine for at least 250 yards rushing
Thursday night games have a bit of a history of being ugly on the eyes, and with Carson Palmer and Philip Rivers handing out interceptions at a frightening rate, Week 10's Raiders-Chargers game has the potential to go down that road.
Oakland will be without starting running back Darren McFadden, while San Diego's Ryan Mathews could be limited -- meaning Bush and Tolbert will carry the load. Few teams in the league would be in as good of hands if their starting running backs went down.
Bush has averaged 97.5 yards over his past two games. Tolbert, meanwhile, ran for 83 yards against Green Bay last week and gets to face an Oakland defense that allowed approximately 14,000 yards rushing to Tim Tebow and the Broncos in Week 9.
The tight ends on these two teams should be no secret. Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez is one of the best -- if not the best -- at the position in the history of the NFL. And New Orleans' Jimmy Graham has developed into an absolute stud in his team's prolific passing attack.
Both players could find some wide-open spaces Sunday afternoon. The Falcons will have their hands busy trying to shut down New Orleans' wide receivers, which should free up the middle of the field for Graham. On the other side of the ball, Roddy White and Julio Jones will stretch the field, while Michael Turner provides problems underneath -- a combo that should give Gonzalez plenty of one-on-one matchups.
• Blaine Gabbert will throw multiple TD passes
Sunday against the Colts will be start No. 7 for Jacksonville's rookie. As of yet, he has failed to throw more than one touchdown in a single game. That streak ends Sunday.
Why? Well, long story short, the Colts can't play defense -- Indy is last in the league, allowing 31.4 points per game. Maurice Jones-Drew probably will find some running lanes, too, which should give Gabbert more of a chance through the air.
• Chris Johnson will rush for 100 yards
This feels a bit like predicting Earth will collide with the moon, but hear me out.
Johnson, finally and mercifully, showed some signs of life last week against Cincinnati. He finished with just 64 yards on the ground but averaged 4.6 yards per carry. Carolina is allowing 133.3 yards rushing per game, too, so the numbers work in Johnson's favor.
Tennessee's defense hasn't been great lately either, so the Titans will want to keep Cam Newton and that explosive Panthers offense on the sideline -- meaning lots of run plays for Johnson and Javon Ringer.
• Philadelphia will pick off at least three passes
Sure, the Eagles are the NFL's biggest disappointment and standing with one foot in the ground in the playoff race, but a visit from the 2-6 Cardinals should open the door for at least a temporary bounce back.
If Kolb can't go, John Skelton gets the nod. He pulled off a come-from-behind win over St. Louis last week, but Philadelphia's defense is a totally different animal -- and one in need of a big performance.
• Devin Hester will have at least one 50-plus-yard return
There's a good chance that if Hester gets 50 yards downfield on a kick or punt return, he's going to the house, so consider that a little bonus prediction.
We all know what Hester can do when he's given a chance. Much to Detroit's chagrin, it might not have much of a choice but to do so. Lions starting kicker Jason Hanson missed practice Wednesday and was listed as questionable for this weekend, then punter Ryan Donahue injured his quad trying to kick field goals in that same practice.
All that means that Detroit is looking at the possibility of having a banged-up Hanson kicking off and a newly-signed punter working on fourth downs. Either way, the ball figures to find itself right in Hester's wheelhouse on a couple of occasions.
• New England will outrush the Jets
Shonn Greene and LaDainian Tomlinson against the Patriots' ever-changing backfield rotation should be advantage Jets, you'd think. But New York has struggled on the ground this year (96.6 yards per game) and the Patriots have to establish some sort of run threat.
The reason for that latter argument has come to light in recent weeks: Teams are limiting the Patriots' big-play threats and forcing them to live underneath. Wes Welker and the New England tight ends, great as they are, can only do so much. The Patriots have to take some pressure off Brady, and the best way to do that is to pound out some yards on the ground.
• There will be at least six touchdown passes Monday night
Aaron Rodgers is a pretty safe bet to rip apart any defense he comes across, which means Minnesota could be in for another rough showing Monday.
But the Packers' defense continues to live and die by the turnover. When Green Bay isn't forcing them, it has a tendency to give up a lot of points. The fact that Rodgers is more or less unstoppable right now has masked a lot of that en route to an 8-0 start, but the fact remains that Green Bay's defense has a lot of work to do. Christian Ponder hung 27 on that D just a couple weeks back, when the Packers visited Minnesota. He may not have as much success Monday, but Green Bay jumping out to a lead would force him to the air.