Submitted by Jim Hurley on Sunday, October 14, 2012 at 8:05 AM
Have you noticed how the College Football world actually has been influencing the NFL guys these days?
Okay, so we're seeing more and more no-huddle offenses in the league where they play for pay - some folks like the Baltimore Ravens had a bit more success with it earlier this year and it sure appears that QB Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos are beginning to get more and more comfortable with the no-huddle lately - and so we've seen an increase in offensive plays too.
Last week note that the New England Patriots rushed the ball 54 times (for 251 yards) and threw it 31 times (for 193 yards) for 85 total plays from scrimmage in all - now that may not be quite as much as some college kids (see University of Arizona running 103 offensive plays in last weekend's OT loss to Stanford) but it's a whole lot and that means constant pressure on NFL defenses.
Still, in a strange-but-true factoid, NFL Totals Players know that entering Sunday's Week 6 menu the "overs" are just 38-39-1 ATS (against the spread) this year and so that means two things:
Las Vegas numbers have been adjusted accordingly - yes, we saw four games on the board last week in NFL action where the totals price was 49 ½ points or higher - and not every team is in a mad rush to get off more plays as last week Kansas City controlled the clock 34:10-to-25:50 and still operated only 70 plays from scrimmage in that 9-6 loss-but-cover versus the Ravens.
Also, one of the best-kept secrets 'round the league this year is the fact so many young kickers are making a major impact on their teams' games.
Consider that St. Louis Rams rookie PK Greg Zuerlein - a/k/a "Greg the Leg" - already has nailed all 13 of his field-goal attempts and that includes a rather amazing 9-of-9 from beyond 40 yards (he's 4-of-4 from past 50 yards) and in there is a 60- and a 58-yard field goal against Seattle.
And don't forget Minnesota star rookie kicker Blair Walsh who has drained 12-of-13 FG tries so far including all three of his tries from beyond 50 yards. Walsh saved the Vikings in their season-opening 26-23 overtime win against Jacksonville - he booted the game-tying kick at the buzzer and won it in the extra session - and somehow when most folks handicap the NFL card on a week-to-week basis they somehow "short-change" the impact of the kicking game.
If the Rams and/or Vikings get into the post-season this year, you can bet your high-top spikes that Zuerlein and Walsh will be major factors.
Check around the league and see what other NFL teams are getting major mileage from their field-goal kickers - and you're liable to find teams that win the close games and stay in the post-season hunt.
Here's a look at the NFL Week 6 Key Sunday afternoon previews:
NEW YORK GIANTS (3-2) at SAN FRANCISCO (4-1) - 4:25 p.m. ET, Fox
Here's a not-so-much-news-flash: The Giants and 49ers are meeting in San Francisco... again.
It's the third time in the past 11 months that these two proud franchises have bonked heads and all three times it's been a west coast thing but maybe that works for NYG head coach Tom Coughlin who's spent the better part of this past week selling the "underdog" role to his defending Super Bowl champs and - you may wish to know this - the Giants probably prefer playing on the road when you consider they're 9-4 SU (straight-up) away since the start of last year while going just 7-5 SU at home.
Okay, so all that aside and it's still all about counter-punching a 49ers defense that leads the NFL in scoring against (see 13.6 ppg) and truth be told there's really only been three "meaningful" TDs scored against LB Patrick Willis and friends this year.
If the Giants are gonna rev up their engines versus a stop unit that ranks 7th in the league against the rush and 2nd versus the pass than Giants QB Eli Manning must get better protection from his O-line as last year's NFC Championship Game win by the G-men "featured" six sacks of Manning and a slew of other hurries/hits.
In recent weeks, Giants wide receivers have stepped it up whether it's been rookie Reuben Randle or Ramses Barden but here WR Victor Cruz (his 37 receptions ranks him fourth in the league) must be a major playmaker in his one-on-one battles against chatty/overrated CB Carlos Rogers.
If you are looking for an X-factor beyond San Fran QB Alex Smith and workhorse RB Frank Gore, than let's check out born-again WR Michael Crabtree who nabbed six balls for 113 yards in last Sunday's 45-3 utter route of the Buffalo Bills.
Remember in last year's title tilt - a 20-17 OT win by the Giants - Crabtree didn't make a single catch in regulation play and finished with one reception in all.
Did You Know? - San Francisco has notched pointspread wins in four of its first five games this year and so that makes the 49ers a cool 16-6-1 ATS overall since the start of the Jim Harbaugh Era.
DALLAS (2-2) at BALTIMORE (4-1) - 1 p.m. ET, Fox
The Cowboys have had two long weeks to think about their last game: Chicago 34, Dallas 18.
Nope, there wasn't much pretty about that one for Jason Garrett's gang as QB Tony Romo and troubled WR Dez Bryant "miscommunicated" all night long and the Bears raced back with two picks for touchdowns... all you need to know is if the always-opportunistic Ravens defense scores a couple of defensive TDs here than America's Team will be tarred-and-feathered again.
Baltimore marches into this clash knowing its offense is a tad out of whack these days as last week's aforementioned 9-6 win in Kansas City included some ugly stats such as just 165 passing yards (QB Joe Flacco completed less than half his passes!) and four sacks.
The Ravens' game plan - every week - should include 25-or-so touches by RB Ray Rice who last week had just 17 carries (for 102 yards) and one reception and that's simply not enough even with John Harbaugh's troops claiming they are becoming a more balanced run/pass team these days.
Last week was the first time in 43 regular-season games the Ravens did not score a touchdown and so it's put-up or shut-up time for both the Ravens and the 'Boys (as you can see!)
Did You Know? - Baltimore skids into this interconference clash on a three-game spread losing streak and the last time the Ravens lost four-or-more spread verdicts in succession you have to go back to the 2007 season (the final year in the Brian Billick Era) when that Ravens bunch suffered a mid-season five-game spread losing streak.
NEW ENGLAND (3-2) at SEATTLE (3-2) - 4:05 p.m. ET, CBS
Okay, so we get it with all this talk of the irresistible force going up against the immovable object - see the Patriots offense against the Seahawks defense - but one question for the home underdogs here is how are they gonna score enough to win?
No doubt the Pats - who average NFL highs of 33 points per game and nearly 440 offensive yards a game - will find their way into the end zone whether it's QB Tom Brady slingin' it or RB Stevan Ridley gashing the Seahawks in the red zone. But Seattle should figure that it cannot win here unless it holds Brady and Company below 30 points and than Seahawks rookie QB Russell Wilson must make some flip-the-field pass plays and note last week's 221-yard passing game finally snapped a four-game run where Wilson threw for less than 160 yards.
The strategy for the Seahawks offense here should be to throw on first down against the NFL's 28th-ranked passing defense and than look to soften up the interior of the Pats' D-line with RB Marshawn Lynch (21 carries for 85 yards in last week's 16-12 win in Seattle) getting a minimum of 20 between-the-tackles runs... got it?
Did You Know? - New England rides a three-game spread winning streak into this clash in the great northwest and the Patriots have covered all three of their away games so far (at Tennessee, at Baltimore and at Buffalo).
NOTE: Catch our NFL Week 6 Sunday Night Game Preview - that's Green Bay at Houston - in our next edition of Jim Sez.