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Ace Talks Top Teams

After throwing you a college twist last week (which was very successful), Ace’s Advice returns to the NFL picks for week 10.
As most teams are exactly half way through their season, Ace’s advice looks to do its own version of ESPN’s power rankings, as I list my top ten teams through nine weeks in 2012, as well as my midseason playoff predictions.

1.) Atlanta Falcons (8-0) – I didn’t know it was possible for an 8-0 team to be underrated, but that is exactly what the Atlanta Falcons are. This was my preseason super bowl pick, and of course I am sticking with that. Their offense has weapons everywhere you look, and their D has done a good job of making big plays as they have 20 sacks and are +10 in the turnover department.
2.) Chicago Bears (7-1) -This Sunday night will prove who deserves to be recognized as the second best team in the NFL, as the Bears take on the Houston Texans at home. Chicago’s defense has been the story so far, with 25 sacks, 28 takeaways, and seven touchdowns. Combine that with the offensive production of Matt Forte (5.0 ypc), and Brandon Marshall (on pace for 118 catches) and the Bears can be a scary opposition, so long as their everlasting O-line woes don’t kill them.
3.) San Francisco 49ers (6-2) -Most people would have Houston here, but I still just don’t think they are elite yet. Alex Smith stopped a mini slump on Monday Night two weeks ago; as he missed only one pass all night. The defense needs no stats to back them up as one of the tops in the league. It will be a great January in the NFC.
4.) New York Giants (6-3) -The Giants struggled hard against the Steelers on Sunday, but I still like them here above of some other teams. The Giants are known for November struggles, but in the end they still look to have the NFC East locked up, and are always dangerous come playoff time.
5.) Green Bay Packers (6-3) – Nope, still no Houston, or any AFC team for that matter. The Packers enter their bye banged up, but I still believe this team showed flashes of their potential in Houston two weeks ago. When healthy, they can play both sides of the ball, and Aaron Rodgers still gives them a chance to win every game.
6.) New England Patriots (5-3) – How can I have a 5-3 Patriots team as the best team in the AFC, especially over a 7-1 Texans squad? Tom Brady…that’s how. Yes, the Patriots defense is still a liability, but I don’t think this offense has clicked yet, and when it does, it will erase any liabilities there are to be had.
7.) Houston Texans (7-1) – Finally. I am down on the Texans for a few reasons, at least when it comes to being elite. 1.) Aside from Alex Smith, Matt Schaub may be the worst QB mentioned so far, along with Jay Cutler. What separates those two from Schaub however, is that the Bears and 49ers defenses are the top two in the NFL in my eyes. 2.) Speaking of the Texans defense, after the loss of Brian Cushing this team has holes in the back seven (as proven by Rodgers two weeks ago at home). J.J. Watt is the Defensive MVP so far, but good teams will game plan around him. I clearly like the Texans as they are my #2 team in the AFC, but I need to see more before I predict them heading to New Orleans.
8.) Denver Broncos (5-3) – The AFC West title is a lock in my eyes with a very manageable schedule remaining, so my only question is, how does Peyton handle the cold weather?
9.) Pittsburgh Steelers (5-3) – The most mentally tough team in football. Every time I watch them I get jealous of it, because the Bills don’t have the “it” that the Steelers do. This team knows how to win, even as their best player Troy Polamalu remains sidelined, along with a host of other star players. The two meetings with the Ravens will most likely decide the AFC North champ.
10.) Baltimore Ravens (6-2) – I had the Ravens as my team to represent the AFC in the super bowl preseason, but Ray Lewis is one of only a handful of players in all of sports who you can truly not afford to lose (just ask the Jeter-less Yankees). There is a glimmer of hope that he will return this season, and if he does the Ravens fly up my list (pun intended), but until that happens, I don’t know how far they will go.
As far as mid-season predictions go, I think the NFC division winners and seeding will go as follows: #1 Atlanta, #2 Chicago, #3 49ers, #4 Giants, #5 Packers, #6 Saints. I still say the Falcons come out on top, but oh man will January be fun.
As far as the AFC, here are my predictions: #1 Texans, #2 Pats, #3 Broncos, #4 Steelers, #5 Ravens, #6 Colts. I predict Ray Lewis does indeed come back and lifts the Ravens to New Orleans.
Those are my predictions for the second half, so let’s see how those teams fair this week as we enter the second half.

COLTS (-3.5) @JAGUARS
The story being written in Indy this season is truly becoming remarkable. I am not surprised one bit that Andrew Luck is having immediate success, but the way this team has rallied behind their head coach Chuck Pagano is heartwarming. As for this game however, the only reason I think the spread is so low for a Colts team four wins better than its opponent who is without its best player (MJD) is because the Jags won the first meeting in September. The Jags will not have the 193 total yards gained in that matchup by MJD this week however, so I believe the Colts win a fairly close, fairly low scoring game. Prediction: COLTS over Jags 20-16.

GIANTS (-4) @ BENGALS
In a matchup between two teams that are certainly not playing their best football right now, I’m going to have to stick with the G-men in this one. The Bengals have lost four straight, and while the Giants looked pretty pathetic themselves offensively last week, the Bengals have had trouble protecting Andy Dalton, forcing him into throwing 11 int’s, good for third most in the league. That does not bode well with the Giants feared pass rush coming in to town, and I think them and their 25 sacks (good for third most in league) make the difference in a close Giants win. Prediction: GIANTS over Bengals 20-17.

TITANS @ DOLPHINS (-6)
Those are the Tennessee Titans we all know and love. After the Bills made Matt Hasselbeck look like an all pro, the Titans got absolutely throttled by the Bears, and now face a pretty decent Dolphins defense. Chris Johnson will have a hard time finding holes vs. the Dolphins third ranked run defense, so returning QB Jake Locker will be most likely be the one asked to carry the Titans to victory. While I like Locker’s potential in this league, that is still not a sentence I want to hear if I’m a Titans fan, so I’m predicting the Dolphins win behind a strong day for Reggie Bush against a very porous Titans D. Prediction: DOLPHINS over Titans 24-17.

LIONS (-1) @ VIKINGS
I think this has the potential to be one of the more exciting games of the weekend, due to the quality of intriguing matchups. Adrian Peterson leads the league in rushing, but with Percy Harvin out, Detroit is sure to stack the box and make Christian Ponder beat them. Ponder, who is not struggling off the field as he is dating ESPN anchor Sam Steele, is indeed struggling on the field. He will have to be better if the Vikings have a shot at sweeping the season series. The biggest part of Harvin’s absence however is the return game, as Minnesota had their only two touchdowns in the week four win over the Lions come via the return. The Vikings boast an above average pass D, but in the end I believe the Stafford-Megatron connection makes enough plays to give the Lions the close win. Prediction: LIONS over Vikings 20-17.

BILLS @ PATRIOTS (-11)
The season may be on the line for the 3-5 Bills, who have underachieved yet again. They have an incredibly tough matchup on the road against a Pats team coming off a bye, in a stadium the Bills have never won in since the 2002 opening of Gillette Stadium. History shows the Bills have the potential to move the ball on this defense who has struggled yet again this season. If the Bills have any shot of an upset however, this is THE GAME where Mario and company make their money in the pass rush. It is no secret that basically the only way to beat Brady is by getting pressure on him, so that is key # 1,2,3 and beyond for Buffalo. Don’t forget however, the Pats ran for about 250 yards in the first meeting, and the Bills must cut that amount in half for them to have any chance. At this point, that is a tall order for the defense that has been flat out embarrassing this season, so you can pretty much put R.I.P. next to the Bills 2012 season, as much as it kills me to say that. Prediction: PATS over Bills 30-20.

FALCONS (-2.5) @ SAINTS
We have talked about parody several times this year in Ace’s Advice, and this spread shows it. An 8-0 team less than a field goal favorite at a team with only three wins. We all know how powerful these offenses can be, so which defense has the better chance at slowing down the opponent? Well, my guess is the Falcons, as they have been able to make clutch defensive plays in just about every win so far. Although Drew Brees is one of the game’s best, he does have 8 int’s this year, which in perspective for you Bills fans is only one less than Fitz. It should be entertaining in the dome, but I am going to stick with Atlanta on this one, especially with Darren Sproles expected to miss another game with his hand injury. Prediction: FALCONS over Saints 30-27.

CHARGERS @ BUCS (-2.5)
Man, how bad is Norv Turner saying to himself right now “Why can’t we play the Chiefs every week?” Well, the way the Chargers have been playing this season, the Chiefs were one of the few teams they would have beat last week. Now, they travel cross coast to Tampa Bay to take on a Bucs team that may have the emerging choice for OROY in Doug Martin aka “the muscle hamster.” Martin has torn it up recently, as he has almost 500 yards of total offense the last TWO WEEKS. The Chargers run D is very solid however, as they are fourth in the league in rush defense. Josh Freeman has also been playing fantastic lately however, so while the muscle hamster may be kept in check this week, I believe Freeman, companied with a Phillip Rivers turnover late, is enough for the Bucs to eek out a win at home. Never easy for a west coast team to win a 10 a.m. Pacific start. Prediction: Bucs over Chargers 20-17.

BRONCOS (-4) @ PANTHERS
A lot of people in the Panthers’ organization most likely saved their jobs last weekend with a win in Washington D.C., but now the Panthers will have their hands full with a Broncos team that has scored 30+ points in three straight games. Peyton Manning is back ladies and gentlemen, completely against my prediction that he would struggle this season. The Panthers have played pretty decently defensively however, and have allowed multiple touchdown passes in only two games this season. I do think this score will be closer than most think for that reason, but Peyton is one of a handful of guys who I think will throw for two TD’s, leading the Broncos to a close win. Prediction: BRONCOS over Panthers 24-23.

RAIDERS @ RAVENS (-7.5)
In another matchup between a west coast team traveling east for a 10 AM pacific start, I like the Ravens to improve to 5-0 at home against a Raiders team that will most likely be down to their #3 running back on the depth chart. Both Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson have high ankle sprains, although that may not matter as the Raiders are dead last in rushing through eight games. Carson Palmer has actually performed pretty decently this season; as he is in the top ten in both passing yards and touchdowns, but I think he will struggle in this one as the Ravens slowly learn how to win without the heart and soul of their team Ray Lewis. Prediction: RAVENS over Raiders 24-16.

JETS @ SEAHAWKS (-6)
I’ve said it all year in this blog, but the Seahawks are a team I would pick vs. almost anyone at home, but rarely will I pick them on the road. Well, they’re at home this week, so it looks like I’m picking them. I truly expect the Jets season to continue heading south as Sanchez and co. travel to a very hostile place for opposing offenses and the Seahawks D allows just 200 yards per game, and that includes games at home vs. Brady and Rodgers. Sanchez is about one tenth of those guys, so ‘Hawks win big. Prediction: SEAHAWKS over Jets 23-9.

TEXANS @ BEARS (-1)
Right now this game may depend on whether the runner up for mid-season defensive MVP Charles “Peanut” Tillman will be playing in this game, or attending the birth of his child who is due any day. Tillman has already said if the two conflict he will miss the game. As you know from above however, I am not as much of a fan of the Texans as everyone else, and right now the way they are playing no one is beating the Bears. J.J. Watt scares me a little against this inconsistent offensive line, but the Bears are a team that can win with offense (3rd in PPG) or defense (2nd in PPG allowed). Good teams find ways to win, and right now that is the Bears…or should I say DAAAA BEARS! Prediction: DA BEARS over Texans 24-20.

CHIEFS @ STEELRS (-12.5)
Ahhhh … always nice to finish with a game that requires no explanation to why a team will win besides the fact they are extremely superior. Prediction: STEELERS over Chiefs 27-13.

UPSET OF THE WEEK
COWBOYS (-1.5) @ EAGLES

It’s not much of an upset, but the Eagles were my preseason pick to win the NFC East, and despite that awful offensive line, I’m giving them a big division win. Benching Mike Vick is not the answer, because if you watched Monday Night Football this past week, it doesn’t matter who is behind center when the defense is in your face as you are receiving the snap. Not a good time for Demarcus Ware to be coming in to town if you’re an Eagles fan, as him and his nine sacks must be licking his chops right now watching film. With that being said, who knows what to expect from Romo and the Cowboys these days, as they are sure to turn the ball over a few times, yet also be in the game late in the fourth quarter with a chance to win. It will be a hard fought game, but I think the Eagles simplify things this week, and give it to their best player LeSean McCoy thirty times hoping he breaks a few big runs against a Cowboys defense that is beat up in the middle of their line and linebacking core. It not only attacks their weak spot, but should also neutralize Ware. If the Eagles can effectively do that, then they should walk away with a win. Prediction: EAGLES over Cowboys 20-17.

LOCK OF THE WEEK
RAMS @ 49ERS (-11)

Let me be simple here. The 49ers and their stout defense are at home off a bye against a team who has yet to win on the road and has struggled mightily on offense. The return of Danny Amendola will help the Rams, but I think the 49ers win this one big. Prediction: 49ERS over Rams 24-7
As always, thank you for reading Ace’s Advice. I hope you enjoy the games this weekend and no matter what…
GO BILLS ALWAYS AND FOREVER!

-Ace

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