Seattle Seahawks @ St. Louis Rams
You can choose to get cute and “save” the defending Super Bowl champs, but if you’re in the business of winning your survivor pool and advancing, they are a solid play after their disappointing effort at home against the upstart Cowboys. Yes, this will mean sitting through a week of hearing countless analysts wonder aloud if the “Super Bowl hangover” has brought Seattle back to the pack, but don’t worry … they are just as talented as they were last week and that’s more than enough to handle the Rams. St. Louis will be forced to prepare for an angry Seahawks team on short rest after a physical affair with the Niners last night, just one more disadvantage. Seattle is giving up just 10.5 points after a loss since the beginning of last season (including a dominating 27-9 effort against these Rams last season following their last home loss, a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the final score indicated). They’ve been dominating post-loss in the way you would expect, a physical brand of football. After those losses, Seattle has been paced by Marshawn Lynch on their way to 35 rushing attempts per contest, a number that will wear out this below average Rams front line before halftime. The drawback on the Seahawks is their lack of talent in the passing game, but they hold the edge there in this game as well (Wilson-Harvin-Baldwin or Davis-Quick-Britt?). Look for the visitors to remind everyone why they are feared and dominate this game from the opening whistle.
Soppe Survivor Score: Seattle Seahawks 31 – St. Louis Rams 13
Arizona Cardinals @ Oakland Raiders
The Cardinals are a really good football team. They showed that at points on Sunday, but the perception (and stats) is still a bit skewed due to the Broncos running up and down the field on them two weeks ago. Carson Palmer is back and his shoulder nerve looked awake, as he found Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald with impressive touchdown tosses on Sunday. Drew Stanton wasn’t bad, but the veteran presence of Palmer figures to settle this offense down and make them much more consistent. All signs would suggest that Andre Ellington is nearing full strength, as he has touched the ball at least 20 times in three straight games, a plateau he failed to reach once in his first 17 professional contests. Derek Carr looked as good as he has in his young career last week, but that was with two weeks of preparation and a surprisingly efficient ground game (Darren McFadden and Maurice Jones-Drew combined to carry the rock 18 times for 110 yards). He won’t have the extra time to study this Cardinals defense, and saying that the Raiders tandem is a long-shot to average 6.1 yards per carry doesn’t properly describe the odds of that happening again with Arizona allowing an NFL-low 379 rushing yards this season at the third lowest per carry rate. Their secondary was gashed by the big play during their Week 6 win (five pass plays to four different players went for at least 20 yards) and the Raiders have some deep threats, but I’ll take my chances on an Arizona offense that can strike fast and sustain drives over an Oakland offense that is going to need every bounce possible to get anywhere near the 28 points they scored last week (not to mention those 28 points still would have come up short against Arizona’s 30).
Soppe Survivor Score: Arizona Cardinals 31 – Oakland Raiders 20
New England Patriots vs New York Jets
The Jets need more time to prep, not less. The Thursday night window tends to retard passing efficiency a bit, something that may not be possible for the Jets at this point. Combine that with the fact that home defenses have been better at causing turnovers in a short prep week, and this has the potential to be an ugly one. The numbers would indicate that this is already a mismatch, and we haven’t even mentioned that Tom Brady fellow is doing what Tom Brady does: produce at a level above expectations and dominate divisional opponents. Stevan Ridley will miss this game and the rest of the season with a shredded ACL and MCL, giving Brady license to throw the ball even more. Or maybe not. The Jets once- stingy defense has allowed backup running backs (Branden Oliver and Ronnie Hillman) to reach 100 rushing yards in back-to-back weeks, so don’t rule out a reasonable performance from Brandon Bolden in an effort to maintain balance. Geno Smith threw the ball 43 times last week, with 12 of those passes aimed at Jace Amaro. That tells you all you need to know about the state of the offense in New York, and that’s enough to make me feel just fine about picking against them.
Soppe Score: New England Patriots 27 – New York Jets 10
Buffalo Bills vs Minnesota Vikings
I picked against the Vikings last week and will use similar logic when doing so again this week. Forget “if you build it, they will come” and go with “if you stop the run, the victory will come” when playing the Vikings. The Bills are allowing only 2.8 yards per carry (10.3 percent fewer yards than any other defense in the NFL) and have yet to allow a rushing touchdown. In their two wins, the Vikings have totaled 426 yards on 76 carries. In their four losses, 293 yards on 84 carries. That’s not a coincidence and should hold true to form on Sunday. As we saw last week, Teddy Bridgewater just isn’t the same if the running game can’t put him in a favorable position (5.1 yards per attempt, eight sacks, and three interceptions against a similarly fierce Lions front seven). Here’s a fun fact: most consider the Bills a run-oriented offense, but Kyle Orton has completed the third most passes in the NFL since assuming the starting gig. I’ll take that trend (Minnesota is allowing opponents to complete two-thirds of their passes) and the legitimate defense to control this game throughout.
Soppe Survivor Score: Buffalo Bills 23 – Minnesota Vikings 13
Houston Texans @ Pittsburgh Steelers
There might not be a team in the NFL better suited to face the Steelers this week than the Texans. Houston will have extra preparation time to plan their run-centric offensive attack (Arian Foster has as many touches over the last two weeks as Ryan Fitzpatrick has pass attempts) against a Pittsburgh defense that was gashed by a less talented Browns team (38 carries for 158 yards and three touchdowns while throwing a mere 17 passes). The Steelers have the capability to run the ball with the best of them, but their commitment to handing the ball off has been spotty (they rank seventh in the league in passes thrown), and that’s a concern for a team that has dropped all three games this season, and five straight dating back to 2013, when Ben Roethlisberger throws at least 37 passes.
Soppe Survivor Score: Houston Texans 24 – Pittsburgh Steelers 20
Jacksonville Jaguars vs Cleveland Browns
The Browns looked great last week in a blowout of the Steelers, but with a ball control offense, counting on them to consistently dominate teams on the scoreboard is unwise, and the worst thing you can do with a team like Jacksonville is allow them to hang around. The Browns are generally considered a reasonably strong defense, but they currently rank 30th in yards per rush attempt and are allowing 17 percent of completions to go for at least 20 yards. The Jaguars defense, on the other hand, is typically laughed at, but they own an above league average mark in yards per carry and rushing touchdowns allowed per rush. The Browns are the better football team, but this Jags offense is beginning to get healthy and should keep this close (Cleveland’s first four games were all decided by three or fewer points). Give me the squad with the higher quarterback upside and the kicker I trust more, in what could be an ugly but entertaining affair.
Soppe Survivor Score: Jacksonville Jaguars 20 – Cleveland Browns 18