Four teams will have the opportunity to rest while the rest of the league grinds out another bruising week of play. Let’s examine the clubs on the bye and determine which, if any are locked and loaded to cash in our NFL picks when they return to action.
Atlanta Falcons (6-3 SU, 4-5 ATS)
The old axiom is "On any given Sunday..." and after the ellipsis I surmise is something along the lines of, any team can beat any team or anything can happen. While that is certainly true we don't often see the kind of schizophrenic behavior from a team that looks like a conference champion one week and a cellar dweller the next. Allow me to introduce you this season's edition of the Atlanta Falcons.
It’s been a roller-coaster year so far for Atlanta with more highs than lows but their last game against the 49ers was without a doubt the nadir of the 2015 campaign thus far. The NFL odds makers installed the Falcons as a nine point road favorites so it was more than a bit stunning that a team with all the weapons at all the offensive skill positions could manage only 16 points against the 28th passing defense. In the end the Falcons fell 17-16 to a San Francisco team using a backup quarterback in Blaine Gabbert who was more of a reclamation project than a bona fide number two man.
The Falcons have to figure out what they want to be and if Matty Ice is the answer. Atlanta has lost three of their last four games and averaged a woeful 16.8 points per game in the process. In addition, they have not scored a first quarter touchdown since Week 4 against the Texans. Veteran wideout Roddy White had this to say about an offense that has suddenly become painfully predictable.
"I think we just have to play a little bit faster. We have to up-tempo the ball, get up to the line of scrimmage, run plays and not let the defense dictate what we do on offense, but we dictate what they do on defense."
The Falcons play host to the Indianapolis Colts when they return from their bye.
Indianapolis Colts (4-5 SU, 4-5 ATS)
Apparently the rumors of the Indianapolis Colts’ demise have been greatly exaggerated. The Colts had been one of the most spectacular underachievers of the 2015 season, as was the wunderkind Andrew Luck who was no longer the golden boy and heir apparent to the next generation of elite quarterbacks. But the reports also told the tale of an injured Luck playing with anything from bruised ribs to a dislocated shoulder.
In Week 9 all that changed. The Indianapolis Colts welcomed back Peyton Manning, and his band of Broncos, to his former home toting a perfect 7-0 record headed into this clash in Indianapolis. The home team was installed as three-point underdogs and the “smart” money said bet the visitors. When the dust cleared the Colts had not only covered the number but won the game outright 27-24 with the game winning field goal courtesy of a 55-yard bomb off the foot of the ageless Adam Vinatieri.
Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton was the first domino to fall for the Colts as a result of their poor performance and the shot-calling fell to Rob Chudzinski. Andrew Luck was on the injured report again during the week but he suited up for battle, determined to lead his team against the shadow of his own identity in Peyton Manning. The Colts key to success was starting fast, no turnovers, playing disciplined football (four penalties) and maintaining their composure as Denver rallied from 17 points down. The question will be is whether this was a glimpse of what Indianapolis can be or is this what they are now?
The Colts travel to Atlanta when they return to face the Falcons.
UPDATE: Fresh off the heels of their biggest victory of the season it has been reported Andrew Luck will miss two to six weeks with a partial tear of an abdominal muscle and a laceration to his kidney. The injuries are not expected to require surgery. Head coach Chuck Pagano said, "It is one heck of a blow. You don't want to lose anybody, especially your starting quarterback. Our guys will respond like they always do. We've been through a ton already this season and in the past, and we'll get through it. We'll get through it.
San Diego Chargers (2-7 SU, 3-6 ATS)
The Bolts, or Dolts as they have not so affectionately become known, did it again. This is a franchise that cannot seem to handle – I was going to say success but that’s obviously not the right word – a lead. Monday Night Football featured San Diego hosting the Chicago Bears and once again the Chargers were in front heading into the half but it was a lead they had no intention of holding. In the end the Bears rallied, as so many teams do against the Chargers, and dropped 15 fourth quarter points to win the game 22-19. And those that believed that the Bolts were their ticket to financial freedom had to take a deep breath and swallow hard as San Diego once again failed to cash in their NFL picks.
Ironically, Phillip Rivers is making a dash towards immortality with a record breaking passing year that could very well eclipse the single season passing mark of Peyton Manning yet his team is in shambles. That will prove more difficult without dazzling receiver Keenan Allen who is out for the season with a kidney injury. As Rivers proves week in and week out how fortunate the Chargers are to have him under center the team continues to struggle mightily. A few years ago Chargers’ fans swore it was Norv Turner who couldn’t get his talented group of underachievers into the postseason. Then the coaches changed but the song has remained the same. Prior to the regular season commencing many pundits and talking heads picked the Chargers to unseat the Broncos as AFC West champs but that prediction looks absurd as they enter the bye week with a 2-7 record. The Chargers will host the Chiefs when they return to action.
San Francisco 49ers (3-6 SU, 4-5 ATS)
While we cannot officially declare the Colin Kaepernick Era dead in the Bay Area we can assume it’s on life support and last rites have been read. Blaine Gabbert, erstwhile quarterback of the Jaguars and their 10th overall pick in 2011, got the opportunity to get back on the field and vindicate himself from his fall from grace in Jacksonville and he took full advantage. The San Francisco 49ers were seven to nine point home dogs to the Falcons and proved the NFL odds makers wrong when they shocked Atlanta 17-16.
Gabbert was not spectacular by any means going 15-of-25 for 185 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. But the team responded, or more specifically the defense responded, and the Niners notched their third victory in nine tries. Garrett Celek was the recipient of both TD strikes and Quinton Patton led all 49ers receivers with 70 yards through the air. San Francisco chewed up 133 yards on the ground led by third-year man and former Tar Heel Shaun Draughn who rushed for 58 yards on 16 carries.
Blaine Gabbert has already been declared the starter when the team returns in Week 11 but whoever is under center for the Niners has to rev up their offensive engine. The victory over the Falcons, as stunning as it was, is really a testament to the Niners defense and not anything the offense did. Sure they scored 17 points, which is slightly above their anemic 14 points per game average, but two touchdowns and a field goal will not be winning many games especially when the defense is allowing almost 25 points per game on average.
When San Francisco returns they will travel to Seattle to meet the Seahawks.