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We're getting closer to the midway point of the 2022 NFL season, and while there have been some standout performances, Philadelphia and Buffalo, for example, the playoff picture is still relatively cloudy. The slate for this weekend brings with it several close matchups, with only Dallas joining the AFC and NFC East leaders on handicaps greater than a single touchdown. We look at some of the closest matchups below.
© Rich Storry-USA TODAY Sports
Arizona Cardinals @ Minnesota Vikings
Spread: Cardinals +3.5, Vikings -3.5
Total: Over/Under 48.5
Money line: Cardinals +150, Vikings -187
The Arizona Cardinals travel to Minneapolis on Sunday to take on the Minnesota Vikings. Kliff Kingsbury has come under significant pressure in recent weeks from fans, analysts, and even his own players. His man under center, Kyler Murray, didn't hesitate to confront his coach in their recent win over the New Orleans Saints.
The Cardinals' offense had a huge game that night with DeAndre Hopkins back, topping 100 yards receiving, although his fellow wide receivers will want to increase their workload moving forward. The ground game was even more impressive without James Conner (ankle). Eno Benjamin stepped up with 92 yards across 12 carries, ably backed up by rookie Keontay Ingram who notched his first touchdown for the Red Sea.
On defense, Zaven Collins continues to grow into his role, while Isaiah Simmons turned the clock back to 2020 with another Week 7 Pick 6 at home. Marco Wilson was awarded NFC Defensive Player of the Week after a particularly impactful interception, in which he returned it to the house in style. However, there is still cause for concern for the Cardinals' defense which conceded 17 points in the 4th quarter and looked particularly frail against the passing game, with Andy Dalton picking up 350+ yards and four passing touchdowns.
This is something 5-1 Minnesota will seek to take advantage of against Arizona. The Vikings' passing yardage sits within the top-3rd of all NFL teams. Justin Jefferson is averaging 100+ yards per game, ably backed up by Adam Thielen and KJ Osborn. The Vikings average 24 points a game and come off a bye week which will have enabled them plenty of time to develop a strategy to take Arizona down.
This could very well be a close game. While you cannot discount the Murray factor under such conditions, I see Arizona needing more here to put Minnesota away despite their better record away from home. The Over/Under lines look high, so I'm taking Minnesota's spread at -3.5 and the Under as a result.
© Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
San Francisco 49ers @ Los Angeles Rams
Spread: 49ers -1.5, Rams +1.5
Total: Over/Under 43.5
Money line: 49ers -120, Rams +100
The NFC West favorite Rams host a San Francisco team that has come under scrutiny in the past two weeks after back-to-back losses against the Falcons and the Chiefs. The 49ers held the best defense in terms of total yards allowed in the first five weeks of the season, notably pressuring opposition quarterbacks but also dealing well with the running threat. That same defense seemed particularly exposed on 3rd down against the Chiefs, best highlighted by Charvarius Ward's mistake on 3rd and long, as individual errors and penalties allowed the game to get away from them in the second half.
Except for the Carolina game, the San Francisco offense hasn't been able to dominate games away from home, scoring just 14 or fewer points against the Falcons, Bears, and Broncos. Aerially, the offense looks stagnant. Aiyuk and Samuel have averaged only 50+ yards per game, with Kittle and Ray-Ray McCloud arguably having a more significant impact against the Chiefs last Sunday. Christian McCaffrey excelled early in that game, working well in tandem with Jeff Wilson Jr. However, whether by design or coincidence, the offense failed to deliver in the second half, and the ground game was restricted in role and impact.
The Rams were potential suitors for McCaffrey after seeking to trade their own running back, Cam Akers. Of which, whose favored destination is, as yet, unknown (I'm leaning towards Buffalo here). In his absence, Darrell Henderson and Malcolm Brown continue to share the load on the ground in an offense that has failed to deliver, posting the second-worst yards-per-game of all NFL teams. The aerial threat has been better equipped to deliver, with the ever-impressive Kupp averaging 100+ yards per game, Allen Robinson achieving a season-high performance against Carolina, and Tyler Higbee regularly contributing.
This should be another close game, with little to pick between the teams. The Rams have not been scoring well, and San Francisco will also want to assert their defensive dominance. It's likely to take a mercurial moment from one individual player to get the victory here, a Kittle or a Kupp, perhaps. Either way, back the Under.
© Dan Powers/USA TODAY Sports
New England Patriots @ New York Jets
Spread: Patriots -1.5, Jets +1.5,
Total: Over/Under 40.5
Money line: Patriots -125, Jets +105
The stage is set for one of the most fascinating Jets v Patriots games in recent memory. The Patriots have won the last 12 matchups between the teams, with their only losses since January 2011 coming in overtime. The Jets will rarely have a better time getting their revenge as they aim to extend their 4-game winning streak.
Having defied the odds all season, the Jets come into this game with some personnel concerns. Breakout running back Breece Hall was a contender for Offensive Rookie of the Year before tearing his ACL against the Broncos, having scored four touchdowns and rushed for 463 yards across the season. GM Joe Douglas worked quickly to bring in James Robinson from Jacksonville Jaguars for a likely 5th Round pick. Robinson himself will have much to prove, having started the season so well before losing his role to Travis Etienne. Further injury concerns surround Corey Davis, who has led the passing game with 350+ receiving yards but will hopefully be fit for this game.
The Jets' defense isn't giving up a huge amount of yardage compared to their NFL peers, and they've been equally adept at defending the ground and air, giving up just 5 yards per play. The Patriots are likely to have their work cut out getting the ball near the Red Zone and ultimately converting.
Offensively, the Patriots have had more success running the ball than they have passing it so far this season. The production of Damien Harris has been notably reduced in recent weeks due to hamstring concerns, and he's struggled to see his share of carries. His teammate, Rhamondre Stevenson, has seen a higher workload as a result and has been able to capitalize, notching three touchdowns in his past two games. Stevenson was also the most targeted receiver in three of the last four games, demonstrating the lack of consistent alternative options within the Patriots' aerial game.
That consistency extends to Quarterback, where it still needs to be determined who will start under center. Bailey Zappe led the Patriots to back-to-back wins in Weeks 5 and 6, then replaced Mac Jones early into the contest against Chicago on Monday night. Zappe communicated his faith in play-caller Matt Patricia after that game, and the relationship between the two could ultimately see Zappe being given the nod to start against the Jets.
Ultimately, this too will be a close game. I'm backing the Jets to win on the Moneyline, with Over 40.5 points scored between the teams.
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