Each week, we break down some of the underlying mismatches in the NFL, hoping to give you an inside edge when handicapping the schedule. Here are four of the biggest betting mismatches from Week 11:
Arizona Cardinals at Atlanta Falcons (-9.5, 44)
Cardinals’ blitz-happy defense vs. Falcons’ WR one-on-one dominance
Arizona defensive coordinator Ray Horton loves to unleash hell, blitzing nearly 40 percent of the time this season. It’s worked out pretty well for the Cardinals' stop unit, which ranks ninth in yards allowed. That chaotic brand of defense has forced nine interceptions, seven fumbles and sacked opposing QBs 27 times – third most in the NFC.
Bringing the pressure may bite Arizona in the butt versus the Falcons, though. They don’t call Atlanta’s QB “Matty Ice” because he sported a Rob Van Winkle flat-top as a kid. Ryan is has some of the best one-on-one options in the game in Roddy White, Tony Gonzalez and Julio Jones, who is expected to play Sunday, as well as a deadly dump-off in RB Jacquizz Rodgers. Cue the Hall & Oates
Cleveland Browns at Dallas Cowboys (-9, 43.5)
Browns’ takeaways vs. Cowboys’ giveaways
After gift wrapping turnovers like a bakery at Christmas through the first eight weeks of the season, Dallas has toned down the giveaways in its last two games. The Cowboys, who lead the NFC with 13 interceptions and have fumbled away the ball six times, have not committed a turnover in the past two games. As long as Dallas isn’t choking itself out with these mistakes, it can be one of the better teams in the league.
However, the Cowboys might not want to relax against the Browns Sunday. Cleveland doesn’t do many things well, but it does have a nose for the football on defense, picking off 10 passes – tied for second in the AFC – and scooping up six fumbles this season. Corner Joe Haden is expected to play and will be assigned to Cowboys WR Dez Bryant. The Browns have five interceptions and two recovered fumbles (four forced) versus NFC East foes Philadelphia and New York already this season.New Orleans Saints at Oakland Raiders (+4.5, 54.5)Dennis Allen’s familiarity vs. Joe Vitt’s inexperience
Raiders head coach Dennis Allen knows a little something about the Saints, serving as the team’s defensive backs coach from 2008 to 2010, including the Super Bowl run in 2009, under now-suspended Sean Payton. New Orleans had nothing but great things to say about Allen this week, tabbing the Oakland coach as a “sharp individual”.
If Allen is as sharp as they say – and he is – expect him to use all his inside info about the Saints’ schemes to help his team. Vitt, New Orleans interim head coach, has his squad on a roll after handing Atlanta its first loss of the year last weekend. However, Vitt isn’t reinventing the wheel in New Orleans and is likely using similar signs and calls when it comes to Peyton’s game plans. Expect Allen to pick up on a few familiar things before this one is over.
Chicago Bears at San Francisco 49ers (-6.5, 37.5)Bears’ returner Devin Hester vs. Niners’ poor kick coverage
Who needs a starting QB when you have Devin Hester returning kicks? Granted, the Bears' dynamic return man hasn’t been leaving would-be tacklers in the dust, slowed by injury this season, but we’re talking about the greatest returner in NFL history. And, we’re talking about Monday Night Football. Hester shines in the national spotlight, saving his biggest runs for the biggest stage.
San Francisco is drum tight on defense, ranking among the Top 10 in all major statistical categories. The one spot in which the Niners leak is on kick and punt returns. The 49ers are allowing foes to average 28.8 yards per kickoff return (second worst in the NFL) and 9.6 yards per punt return including a TD in Week 1. On top of those dismal numbers, San Francisco was psyched out by two fake punts against St. Louis last week.