This is the week of bullies, strokes, and injuries in the NFL—Aaron Rodgers and Geno Smith both going down, Smith for the season, were massive blows to the Packers and Bengals.
Gary Kubiak's mild stroke which caused him to collapse at half-time of the Sunday night game was a warning of sorts to the stress-filled life NFL coaches live. John Fox going in ahead of schedule for his own heart surgery was another reminder: no one wants to be seen working a half-hour less than their opponent, but the realilty is that, in a league where so many games are decided by a few points in the last quarter, your job depends on a lot of things that are just beyond your control.
Bullying is a strange word to associate with the NFL. In a culture of violence where almost every player will have endured physical torture, of the kind that puts the boot into boot camp, and verbal abuse, from coaches, not fellow players, at virtually every level of his path to the pros.
With the sport under the micro eye of the macro media 24/7, it was inevitable that Jonathan Martin's decision to leave the Colts in the face of behaviour he couldn't tolerate any longer from Richie Incognito, would not only raise the issue, but couch it in the terms of the normal workplace and its protections, as well as the idea of schoolyard bullying.
The most interesting part of this will be two-fold: Incognito, a player whose career has been littered with bad behaviour, uncontrollable rage, and on-field penalties, has finally been called-out publicly, and about time too, making the debate a wider one. Martin, whose scouting reports have questioned his toughness even while praising his grit, has now stepped outside the macho ethos, and watching his future, in Miami or elsewhere (and I don't doubt there will be an elsewhere) will be fascinating.
Sure Thing: Arizona (-1) vs Houston
It's worrying to think of the Crads (half-Cards, half-Crap) as a sure thing, and I feel confident Wade Phillips is going to pass-rush Carson Palmer to distraction, but the Arizona D is strong enough to pose problems for Case Keenum, who is due to come back to earth himself sometime soon. Gary Kubiak will be back after this week, which may not be the inspirational boost the Texans need, after they were deflated in the second half of our Sunday night game against the Colts last week, but I think this one's a win for the Cardinals.
Outside Bet: New York Giants (-9.5) vs Oakland at 2.15
The Giants have looked awful this season, but they still have downfield weapons, and their D has to be able to look at the Raiders' previous games and think they can hold them in check. After the Eagles dropped 49 in Oakland last week, and with New York coming off a bye, meaning they are rested and will have been able to game-plan more than usual, I think they might be able to overcome their 2-6 form and score a bunch. There aren't many games offering big risk-reward, so this might be the one to try.
Value Bet: Tampa Bay (+1) vs Miami at 2.10
It's possible that the Dolphins will use this weekend to put their house back in order, and get away from the distractions of the media chasing Bullygate. But even if they do, they're now down two starters from what was arguably the worst offensive line in the league, Jacksonville notwithstanding. That the Dolphins are 4-4 is a testament to their resilience; they were coming off their best win of the season, last Thursday over the Bengals. The Bucs are coming off a great one-half performance, going up 21-0 in Seattle, leading 21-7 at the half, and losing 27-24. Whatever Greg Schiano said at half-time probably reminded the players they don't appear to like playing for him. Even so, if they can't game-plan some pass rush and run-stuffing, and if rookie Mike Glennon can keep his head against the strong Miami rush, Tampa should manage their first win of the season.
One To Avoid: Green Bay (-1) vs Philadelphia
The Packers will be starting Seneca Wallace, and there is no team in the NFL who are probably more dependent on their QB to cover over flaws in their team than Green Bay. But the Eagles, coming off Nick Foles' seven touchdown passes in a win over Oakland, are questionable defensively, suggesting that the Pack may be able to protect Seneca Wallace and run enough to win. The story will be whether they can stop the Eagles' passing game. I've gone back and forth on that one in my mind, to the point where leave it alone seems the safest bet, if only for my sanity.
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