COLTS @ BEARS (Over/Under 43.5): Take the Over 43.5 (3 Stars)
The Colts defense proved to be one of the worst in the league last season, ranking 29th in yards and 26th in points per game allowed. Indy was particularly awful on the road, giving up an average of 31 points per game, which resulted in an average game score of 44.1 in the Colts away outings (this in spite of an offense that averaged just 15.2 points per game). Those looking for an upgrade from the unit in 2012 should reevaluate their position. While the offense should be better with the addition of Andrew Luck, just four free agents, who had a combined 18 starts between them last season, were signed to the defense. The Colts also avoided the defensive side of the ball in the draft, selecting just two defenders with their 10 picks. Conversely, the Bears put up some impressive numbers at home last season before Cutler’s campaign ended after Week 11. Chicago averaged 31.3 points per game in the six games Cutler started at Solider Field, resulting in an average game score of 49.8. Cutler now has even more weapons at his disposal with the off-season additions of Brandon Marshall, Michael Bush, and Alshon Jeffrey. Suffice it to say Cutler and the new look Bears offense will find the end zone early and often against the Colts porous defense. But Indy could add something to the party this weekend as well. While Luck is making his first career start, it would be a surprise if he is unable to engineer at least a couple of touchdown drives.
Prediction: Bears 34 Colts 17
Actual Result: Bears 41 Colts 21
COLTS @ BEARS (-9.5): Take the Bears -9.5 (3 Stars)
We’ve already outlined a case for the Bears and against the Colts, but we’ll take it a step further. The Bears have experienced their share of troubles slowing opposing pass rushes, but that should not be a problem against the Colts. Indianapolis generated just 29 sacks last season and Chicago is no longer operating under Mike Martz ‘get the quarterback killed’ offensive system. With Mike Tice now calling the plays, the Bears should feature a more balanced offense, allowing them to slow the pass rush with an effective ground game and a solid play action passing attack. Cutler should have time to throw against Indianapolis and he has proven to be an effective passer when given an opportunity to survey the field. There is also the Luck factor. In no way do I believe the NFL stage is too big for him; however, he is making his first career start and doing so in front of hostile crowd and against a solid Bears’ defense. To think Luck will play a mistake free game is foolhardy. Turnovers transform seven to 10 point losses into 14 to 20 points losses. I expect the Colts to lose the turnover battle on Sunday, causing this score to get ugly before all is said and done.
Prediction: Bears 34 Colts 17
Actual Result: Bears 41 Colts 21
Nebraska Cornhuskers @ UCLA Bruins (+5.5): Take UCLA +5.5 (3 Stars)
Nebraska comes into this game off an impressive second half showing against Southern Miss as its post half-time effort resulted in a 49-20 victory and a nine point cover of the 20 point spread. Taylor Martinez was spectacular against a retooled Golden Eagles defense, throwing for 354 yards and five touchdowns. Unfortunately for the Huskers, they lost their second biggest offensive weapon, running back Rex Burkhead to a first half knee injury. The good news, though, is that Burkhead, who rushed for 68 yards and one touchdown before exiting the game, only sprained a ligament. As a result, he could see action against the Bruins. Should Burkhead be forced to sit against the Bruins or his effectiveness is limited due to last week’s injury, Martinez is unlikely to produce the same type of numbers that he did at home opposite Southern Miss. Certainly the Bruins are no defensive powerhouse, but they do return nine starters from last year’s unit. They did not show that well in a season opening win over Rice, giving up 358 yards and 21 first downs, but there was probably a bit of a look ahead factor with the Huskers on the docket. If UCLA has an opportunity to exploit anything in this matchup, it will happen on offense. The Bruins were an inconsistent, poorly ran operation under Rick Neuheisel, but last week’s 49-24 thrashing of the Owls saw the team score more points than it did in any single game the last four seasons. The Bruins pounded the ball on the ground as their best offensive weapon, running back Jonathan Franklin, rushed for 214 yards and three touchdowns on 15 carries. Granted, Franklin will find those kind of numbers more difficult to produce against Nebraska’s defense, but the Huskers did have some issues stopping the Golden Eagles ground attack last week as Southern Miss finished the game with 185 rush yards on 47 attempts. UCLA should find similar success with Franklin, which will allow it to eat some clock and keep the ball away from Martinez and company. Also consider this: the Bruins are 5-2 straight up and 7-0 against the spread as a home underdog with a total of 54.5 or more points. They are 2-0 in this situation over the last two seasons, beating Houston and Arizona State as a 3.5 and 7.5 point underdog, respectively.
Prediction: Nebraska 31 UCLA 30
Actual Result: UCLA 36-30
Miami Hurricanes @ Kansas State Wildcats (-6.5): Take Kansas State -7 (3 Stars)
This marks the second year in a row these two schools square off as the Wildcats scored a dramatic 28-24 win over the Hurricanes at Sun Life Stadium last season as a +13 dog. Kansas State held a 33:23 to 26:37 time of possession advantage after cranking out 265 rush yards on 44 carries. Quarterback Collin Klein threw for 133 yards and two touchdowns while he and John Hubert combined for 259 rush yards and two scores. Miami comes into this contest off a 41-32 road win at Boston College in which it was lined as a +2.5 underdog. The Canes, who converted 11 of their 21 third down opportunities, finished the game with 415 yards of offense. What was disturbing about the victory, though, was the fact Miami yielded 29 first downs and 527 yards to a BC team that has averaged fewer than 20 points per game each of the last two seasons. That does not bode well for the Hurricanes here. As previously mentioned, Miami’s defense took it on the chin in last year’s meeting with Kansas State. What says they will stop Klein and company this time around, especially with Bill Synder’s crew playing in front of the home crowd?
Prediction: Kansas State 34 Miami 20
Actual Result: Kansas State 52 Miami 13
BRONCOS @ FALCONS (+/-3): Take Atlanta -3 (3 Stars)
Denver’s defense shined against a one-dimensional Steelers offense last weekend, limiting a pass happy Pittsburgh team (40 pass attempts) to 284 total yards. The Steelers injury issues in the backfield and along the offensive line were evident and the Broncos did a solid job of exploiting them to their advantage. That will not be the case in Atlanta, though. Granted, the Falcons offensive line is no impenetrable fortress and running back Michael Turner is starting to show some wear, but Atlanta proved last week in Kansas City that its offense features more weapons than most NFL teams. The Falcons have also been lights out at home since drafting Matt Ryan, posting a 26-4 record at the Georgia Dome with Ryan under center. Certainly Peyton Manning looks as though he can take advantage of a Falcons defense that had difficulty slowing the Chiefs last weekend (393 yards allowed, 4.6 yards per carry against), but the Broncos, in all probability, will find themselves in a chase role on Monday night. Denver’s defense produced some exceptional efforts last season, but it struggled on the road stopping non-division opponents, allowing 33 points per game in six road meetings with teams outside the AFC West (includes playoff game at New England). And there is this SDQL nugget (killersports.com): Since November of 2002 teams are 0-19-1 against the spread after beating the Steelers while possessing the ball fewer than 29:15 (Denver held the ball 24:55 in Sunday’s win over Pittsburgh).
Prediction: Falcons 41 Broncos 31
Actual Result: Falcons 27 Broncos 21
Houston Cougars @ UCLA Bruins (+/-17): Take UCLA -17 (3 Stars)
Prior to the start of the season most would have considered this a toss up type game. The Bruins played the Cougars in a dog role each of the past two seasons (+3, +2), but they knocked off a ranked Houston team 31-13 at the Rose Bowl in 2010. This year’s Bruins squad looks far more potent than 2010 version while the Cougars, at least through two games, lack the bite of that Case Keenum led team. Houston dropped its first game 30-13 at home against Texas State, and it fell to 0-2 last weekend with a 56-49 loss to Louisiana Tech. UCLA is off to a 2-0 start after whipping Rice 49-24 in its opener and taking out Nebraska 36-30 as a +5.5 home dog on Saturday. Those scores alone say a lot about these two teams, but they do not paint a complete picture of the mismatch that will occur at the Rose Bowl this weekend. The Bruins’ Jonathan Franklin led ground attack ranks second in the nation with a 343.5 yards per game average while Houston’s defense, through two games, is one of the worst in the country defending the run (114th – yielded 246.5 rush yards per game at 5.2 yards per clip in its two losses). UCLA’s defense, while it did suffer some gashes against the Huskers last weekend, ranks seventh in the nation in sacks and 20th in tackles for loss and it will face a Cougars’ offensive line that is down two starters in Kevin Forsch (center) and Ralph Oragwu (right tackle). Unless UCLA, which is under first year coach Jim Mora Jr., harkens back to its Rick Neuheisel days, this one gets ugly early and stays that way through out.
Prediction: UCLA 54 Houston 24
Actual Result: UCLA 37 Houston 6