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 10:
St. Louis Rams at Indianapolis Colts (-9.5, 44)
Rams’ pass rush vs. Colts’ scrambled offense
Somewhere in the Hoosier State, Andrew Luck is staring longingly at a wallet-worn picture of injured WR Reggie Wayne. Luck looked lost without his favorite target against Houston last week. His timing was terrible, he overlooked open receivers and tried to squeeze the ball into coverage, something he could get away with when Wayne was running routes.
The biggest problem coming out of this is that Luck is slower getting the ball out without his safety net on the field. The Colts offensive line gave up four sacks to Houston, which has team owner Jim Irsay spitting hot fire on Twitter again, bashing his team’s protection which has allowed the third-most QB hits this season. The offensive line better take those tweets to heart, because here comes the Rams’ rush that has 29 sacks on the year. St. Louis’ defensive line can singlehandedly win games – that’s how good it is.
Houston Texans at Arizona Cardinals (-1, 41.5)
Texans’ Kubiak-less offense vs. Cardinals’ chaotic defense
The Texans got a scare last week when head coach Gary Kubiak suffered a stroke at halftime of their loss to Indianapolis. Kubiak is home recovering in Week 10, leaving the Texans in the hands of interim coach Wade Phillips. Kubiak is the mastermind behind this offense and has also been the mentor for second-year QB Case Keenum, spending the team’s entire bye week with him. Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison will instead be calling the plays against an Arizona defense that thrives on chaos.
The Cardinals have one of the fastest front sevens in the NFL and talented ball hawks behind them in the secondary. Arizona is a blitz-happy stop unit and loves to bring the pressure, smelling blood in the water with Keenum on deck. Without Kubiak’s keen eye, Dennison could fail to make the necessary adjustments and provided the comfort level Keenum needs to survive this road test. Arizona has 23 sacks and 12 interceptions this season.
Denver Broncos at San Diego Chargers (+7, 58)
Broncos’ third-down offense vs. Chargers’ third-down defense
Getting Peyton Manning off the field is hard work. The Broncos have kept the chains moving on more than half of their third-down tries and average a league-high 6.4 third-down conversions per game. Those numbers have helped Denver top the NFL in first downs per contest which in turn has sparked an offense scoring almost 0.6 points per play. It’s no surprise the Broncos are 8-0 over/under on the year.
San Diego isn’t that shabby on third downs either, ranked second to Denver with a 47.92 percent success rate on third down. Stopping opponents on third down, however, is a completely different ballgame for the Bolts. The Chargers are allowing opponents to convert on 42.27 percent of their third downs – putting them in the same league as Jacksonville and Minnesota. San Diego watched Washington convert 12 third downs in last week’s overtime loss, including a crucial third-and-8 in the added frame.
Dallas Cowboys at New Orleans Saints (-7, 54)
Cowboys’ small secondary vs. Saints’ towering TE Jimmy Graham
Jimmy Graham would be a mismatch for most defenses, unless Shaquille O’Neal was playing safety. But the Saints' talented tight end is looking like fantasy fire heading into this Sunday night’s showdown with Dallas. Graham has four touchdown catches in the past two games – and he’s playing on one foot. On the year, the 6-foot-7 behemoth has 49 receptions for 746 yards and 10 TD catches – tops in the NFL.
The Cowboys secondary, which tops out at 6-foot-2, has been bullied by big receivers all season. They gave up 66 yards and a TD to Giants TE Brandon Myers, 56 yards and a score to KC hefty WR Dwayne Bowe, a score to Rams’ 6-foot-3 WR Austin Pettis, 136 yards and a TD to San Diego TE Antonio Gates, 122 yards and two TDs vs. Denver TE Julius Thomas, a TD to Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph, and a season’s worth of yardage, six points and their first-born sons to Calvin Johnson. Expect a few football to get dunk over the upright in the Big Easy Sunday night.