Week 8 saw six teams on bye (be sure to check out last week’s article before they hit the field this Sunday) and another six-pack will get the week off this Sunday. Joining the Super Bowl favorite Patriots on the shelf this week are the suddenly frisky Bears and four teams with more questions than answers: Cincinnati, Arizona, Washington, and Houston.
Let’s look at what we can expect when they return to action.
The Patriots looked good during Tom Brady’s suspension. They’ve looked incredible since he returned. Without Brady, they picked up close wins over the Cardinals and Dolphins, smashed the Texans, and lost to Buffalo. The return of Brady brought dominance, to wit, whippings of Cleveland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo. They won by an average of over 16 points in those four wins, three of which came on the road. The Pats now sit fifth in the NFL in scoring offense and third in scoring defense.
The Pats are 7-1 ATS on the season and Bill Belichick is 12-4 following regular season byes, blowing out the Cowboys and Colts the last two years.
New England hosts Seattle and travels to San Francisco and the Jets when they get back to the gridiron. As a public team, the line is almost always stacked against New England, but bookmakers can’t seem to make the number high enough right now. Until the Patriots show signs of slowing down, tread lightly betting against them.
Are the Bears primed for another three-game losing streak? They began the year with lopsided losses against Houston, Philadelphia, and Dallas. They got in the win column with a 17-14 W over Detroit in Week 4, but then lost another trio to Indianapolis, Jacksonville, and Green Bay. In Week 8, they shocked the Vikings on MNF (20-10 at home), covering just their second game of the year (2-6 ATS). So you see the trend.
Chicago is the lowest scoring team in the league (16.4 points a game) and sits mid-pack in scoring defense (22.4 PPG). The offense looked a little better with Jay Cutler back under center in Week 8, but it’s still not a strength.
Last season, coach John Fox’s first with the Bears, Chicago lost to Minnesota (23-20) after the bye. Fox was 4-0 after regular season rest in his time with the Broncos, though. The Bears travel to Tampa Bay and face the Giants in New York after the bye. Though the Bears have played poorly, especially on the road, Cutler’s return and Fox’s record after byes will make them a live play when they get back to the field.
Following a 27 -27 tie against Washington in London, the Bengals remain under .500 heading into their bye. They started 2-2 with wins over the Jets and Dolphins and Ls against the Steelers and Broncos. Then they got walloped by the Cowboys and Patriots on the road, and handled Cleveland at home. In other words, their wins are against bad/mediocre squads and they’ve lost to good teams. Everything about this team, which ranks in the bottom half of the league in both scoring offense (20.9) and defense (23.6), screams mediocrity.
Coach Marvin Lewis is only 4-8-1 after regular season byes, which is interesting for a guy who wins well over 50-percent of his games.
If the Bengals are going to make a sixth straight playoff appearance, they’ll have to go on a run after their bye. First up are winnable (though not easy games against the Giants (road), Buffalo (home), and Baltimore (road). However, the team’s thoroughly average play and Lewis’s track record after byes doesn’t give me confidence in betting Cincy after the rest.
It feels rather likely that the last two weeks are going to define the Cardinals season. They climbed back to .500 before their Week 7 clash with Seattle, but only managed a tie with their rival despite being the better team all night. Then they fell (30-20) on the road in Carolina, putting them in a perilous spot halfway through the year. The m.o. of this team has changed drastically since last year. Once a high-octane offensive squad that took the top off the defense each week, Zona is only 18th in scoring (22.4 PPG) this year while its sixth-ranked defense is keeping them in games (17.5 PPG).
Coach Bruce Arians is 2-1 after a bye with the Cards, beating the Seahawks (39-32) last year. While a home game with San Francisco should be a win in Week 10, road tests at Minnesota and Atlanta loom.
There is little room for error going forward for the Cardinals. They know it, and should perform big in the immediate future. But if they lose a game or two, and the math to get to the playoffs is long, this team, which came into the year with Super Bowl aspirations, could pack it in.
Washington is still very much alive in the NFC, but let winnable games get away the last two weeks, tieing Cincy in London (27-27) and falling (20-17) at Detroit on a last-minute TD. They opened the year with losses against Pittsburgh and Dallas, then put together a four-game win streak, beating the Giants, Browns, Ravens, and Eagles.
While Washington has the third-best passing game in the NFL and an average rushing attack, it has translated to just 23.3 points a game, squarely in the middle of the field. They also allow a sub-par 23.6 points against and coach Jay Gruden is 0-2 following a bye.
Each of the team’s next six games are against quality competition (Minnesota, Green Bay, Dallas, Arizona, Philadelphia, and Carolina), but Washington should be competitive. Consider them seriously when getting points and fade them as favorites.
Houston holds a narrow one-game lead over Tennessee in the AFC South thanks to a 5-0 record at home and 0-3 mark on the road. They own wins over Chicago, Kansas City, Tennessee, Indianapolis, and Detroit. They lost in New England, Minnesota, and Denver.
When Houston has fallen, the offense has been to blame, QB Brock Osweiler in particular. They are averaging just over 17 PPG, second-worst in the league, and can barely muster a passing game most week. The defense has made up for that, though, even without J.J. Watt, holding opponents to 20.9 PPG.
The Texans are 2-0 after byes under Bill O’Brien with wins over the Bengals and Browns, and have winnable contests against the Jags (away), Raiders (home), and Chargers (home). They appear to be good bets against divisional opponents and at home. Otherwise, look in the opposite direction.
Photo credit: Keith Allison [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
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