Which is larger? The amount of really good teams in the NFL, or the number of really good teams in the Pac-12? Think about it. You can count on one hand this year’s serious Super Bowl contenders. I’ll start. San Fran, Philly, Kansas City, Buffalo and Miami. I’ll give you Cincy and Detroit for good measure. But if I gave you those first five teams and offered them or the field to win the Super Bowl, you’d take those five teams, right? You’d have to.
Now let’s look at the Pac-12, a conference soon to be dismantled, and eventually featured on a tearful, nostalgic “30 for 30” retrospective. In the conference’s final season, you’ll find seven ranked teams that you do not want to play on any given Saturday.
I’m going to say something I’ve never said before but… I am really looking forward to this weekend’s Oregon-Washington game. Both teams are ranked in the top ten and if you take a deep dive into their rich history, you’d have to go far back to find one of these teams not ranked at the time they played this game. Oregon may have once won 12 straight in this rivalry but those days are over. Washington won last year in Eugene and is favored this weekend.
It is undeniably the game of the weekend and that includes an NFL slate full of Sunday snoozers.
Speaking of the Pac-12, our guest this week is long-time friend, college football reporter, brain trust behind Pigskin Grind and yes, Heisman voter, Lisa Horne. But before we get to her sure to be wrong picks, let’s get to five of mine.
$50 on Seattle Seahawks at Cincinnati Bengals (-2 ½)
As the Bengals struggled their first few games, we all wondered about Joe Burrow’s health. After all, this was a top four quarterback with a multitude of weapons at his disposal, yet they lost three of their first four games, failing to score a touchdown in two of them. Then something clicked. Maybe it was playing the Cardinals. Maybe it was Burrow’s calf miraculously healing. Whatever the reason, the Bengals finally looked like the team we thought they were, putting up 34 points with the briefly disgruntled Ja’Marr Chase scoring three touchdowns on 192 receiving yards. This week, they host the Seattle Seahawks who are coming off an early-season bye. The Seahawks, who have playoff aspirations of their own, are winners of three straight. However, two of those three wins came against the Giants and Cardinals and their third was a stolen win in Detroit. The bye came too soon for Seattle, meanwhile, the Bengals seem to be clicking into second gear. The home team is laying a surprisingly low two-and-a-half points, I’m assuming because most don’t believe in Cincinnati. I’m here to buck that trend and say we need not worry about the Bengals anymore. They just took a while to get things started. Bengals cover at home.
$40 on Indianapolis Colts at Jacksonville Jaguars (-4)
The Jacksonville Jaguars haven’t played a home game in three weeks although that’s not what the schedule would have you believe. You see, the Jaguars have been spending most of their time across the pond and while they’ve probably been kicking back a few pints and eating food that’s far too unhealthy for them, they now return home to Jacksonville proper where they’ll find a city serving food that’s far too unhealthy for them. I’m not sure why we haven’t reached the point where the Commissioner offers London the Jaguars as a peace offering but it’s coming, that’s for certain. Either way, they’ll return home to a fan base who probably didn’t even realize they were gone. They’ll welcome the Anthony Richardson-less Indianapolis Colts who are working on getting Jonathan Taylor back into the lineup. Zack Moss filled in admirably, his final game of carries concentrate, rushing for two touchdowns and 165 yards on 23 carries. Indy will be working Taylor in more thanks to the long-term contract he just signed. On the other side of the football, Travis Etienne finally had himself a game for Jacksonville, rushing for two touchdowns and 136 yards on 26 carries. The Colts haven’t lost yet on the road, including an impressive win in Baltimore and but, like Cincinnati, the Jags are starting to kick things into gear. Their time spent in London solidified this locker room as evidenced by their impressive win over Buffalo. Indy is a far cry from Buffalo. Four isn’t much to lay. I know Gardner Minshew is returning to the stadium where he first went Uncle Rico. Normally, I’m big on quarterback revenge games, but not this time. Jax covers.
$30 on New England Patriots at Las Vegas Raiders (-3)
Remember two seconds ago when I talked about teams coming off big wins and quarterbacks going against their former team? Enter New England at Las Vegas. I heard some pundit calling for Bill Belichick’s head lately. I’m pretty sure he still gets a lifetime pass in New England for rattling off championship after championship. Championships aside, this Patriots team is a disaster. Last week, Bill Belichick benched his starting quarterback. The last time he did that, Tom Brady entered for the injured Drew Bledsoe. The only problem is, Mac Jones wasn’t injured. He was just plain bad. I’m not sure how the Patriots are going to be able to turn things around, but they might get worse in Foxborough before they get better. The Raiders are an extremely mediocre football team. They’re coming off an emotional Monday night victory against Davante Adams’ former team. This week, they host Jimmy Garoppolo’s former team. They’ll get him the win as the Pats continue to circle the drain. Raiders cover the three.
$20 on Toledo/Ball State (Over 47)
Did you know that the Toledo Rockets rank among the nation’s top ten teams in scoring per game? The Rockets score 40.8 points per game which is one tenth of a percentage point higher than the top team in the nation: your Georgia Bulldogs. This week Toledo travels to Ball State who is 1-5. Toledo will likely get Ball State’s best game but that might not be enough. Ball State has let up 42 points or more to four of their first six opponents and Toledo can score with the best of them. I’m not touching the 17-point spread but I am leaning this game to go over 47. The line opened at 53 and jumped down nearly a touchdown. The betting public likes this game to go under. I’m not buying it. I’ll take Toledo/Ball State to go over 47.
And for my stab for the week…
$10 on USC at Notre Dame (-3)
Notre Dame’s season is over. After a heartbreaking loss to the Buckeyes, a game they’d all but won, the Irish got clobbered last week in Louisville. That game got out of hand late, garnering the blue and gold their second loss of the season. That doesn’t mean they won’t want to play spoilers to a USC team that many think are national championship contenders. Expect the night crowd in South Bend to be raucous as they try to ruin not only USC’s championship bid but also Caleb Williams’ run at back-to-back Heisman Trophies. USC is ranked in the top ten, but you wouldn’t know it by looking at their last three games, two of which they allowed 41 points each. Notre Dame is talented enough to control the tempo of this game against a USC defense that has Ronnie Lott shaking his head. Notre Dame has nothing to lose, USC has everything to lose. I’ll take the Domers minus the three in a shootout to ruin USC’s run at a Pac-10 title. And yes, I may or may not be choosing this game because our celebrity guest is a USC fan.
Lisa Horne’s Picks for the Week (Career 5-5, +$20)
49ers -4.5 v Browns Niners look like a Super Bowl contender… so far
Chiefs -10.5 v Broncos because I’m a Raiders fan and I dislike Broncos more than Chiefs (never forget the Snowball game)
Texas A&M +3.5 v Tennessee because this looks like the perfect game for the Vols to resort back to doing Vols things.
Sam Houston State +3.5 v New Mexico State because no one will be watching this game and I actually like the Bearcats to keep it “interesting.”
USC +2.5 v Notre Dame (FWIW, it’s a homer pick.) Also Notre Dame is beatable and so far, USC has not been. First one to 55 wins!
KP’s Picks: The Wife Hates Sports
$50: San Francisco 49ers (-9.5) at Cleveland Browns
When first checking into this week, I had the Niners locked in as 5 1/2 point favorites – and here we are. Coaching baseball and working full-time got in the way. Two days later, Deshaun Watson is out and PJ Walker is the starting QB. Despite the shift in the line, all attention will remain in the trenches, where both teams are strong. Social media is pouncing on this Niners team, posing questions on when they will lose their first game. That’s simply how good they are. They’ll have their hands full with this Cleveland defense. But shifting to turnover differential, San Francisco leads the league with a +7, while the Browns are near the bottom (-7). This stat keeps my confidence high. 49ers cover on the road.
$40: New Orleans Saints (-1.5) at Houston Texans
Perhaps I just have a soft spot for the Saints after a 34-0 dismantling of Belichick and the Pats last week. I no longer live in Boston, but I can hear the screams of discontent from my cozy spot in the Carolinas. As for this game, one could argue that C.J. Stroud has been the most impressive of the rookie QB’s this year. This game likely comes down to Houston’s pass offense (3rd in NFL, 274.8 ypg) versus a stout New Orleans pass defense that ranks fourth in the league (183.0 ypg). That’s where I think the Saints break through and force a late Texans turnover to seal the victory. Saints cover on the road.
$30: Indiana Hoosiers (+33.5) at Michigan Wolverines
I know we love to crush on the Blue-Blood programs. That’s why I’m not the least bit surprised to see Michigan as this heavy of a favorite, despite facing a Big Ten opponent. Indiana (2-3) is not great this year, but they have experience against highly ranked teams this season, a 23-3 loss to Ohio State and a 21-14 loss to Louisville. The obvious challenge will be trying to score on Michigan’s second ranked pass defense (142.5 ypg allowed). Looking at the series history, the Wolverines have obviously dominated. Over the last ten meetings, Michigan has won nine, with the largest margin of victory being 25 points. It’ll be a comfortable win for the Wolverines, but not this comfortable. Give me Indiana and the points on the road.
$20: Philadelphia Eagles (-6.5) at New York Jets
The Jets play better at home. That much is clear. Zach Wilson took a step back statistically at Denver last week, following an exceptional performance against the Chiefs. Like any quarterback, it helps to get offensive balance and New York’s run game ranks 11th in the NFL. The Eagles are relentless against the run, leading the NFL, allowing 61.2 ypg on the ground. That will put a heavier weight on Wilson’s shoulders – a weight that I simply don’t think he’s able to take on. Philadelphia throws a lot at you, both offensively and defensively – and I think they pull away in the second half. Eagles cover on the road.
$10: Iowa Hawkeyes (+10) at Wisconsin Badgers
File this under “gut feeling and against my better judgment”. There are safer picks to make, but I’ve decided to dabble in the Big Ten West – the Big Ten Wild, Wild West. Neither team is flashy offensively. The over-under is 35 points. The most interesting matchup might be Wisconsin’s rushing offense (17th in CFB, 203.6 ypg, with 15 TD) versus Iowa’s run defense (one of just six teams to allow only one TD on the ground). Both passing offenses are abysmal in the stat books. Wisconsin ranks 92nd in yards through the air, with just 3 TD and 3 INT. Iowa is near the bottom of College Football, ranking 131st in passing yards. This game will be won ugly – on the ground and in the trenches, and I think it’ll stay close throughout. Therefore, give me Iowa and the points on the road.