Lindy’s Sports’ UK editor Simon Milham looks ahead to the first of four London games and a cracking NFC West clash to start NFL Week 5…

 

Los Angeles Rams at Seattle Seahawks

In a battle of two 3-1 teams in the NFC West, the Rams bid to rebound from a stunning 55-40 home loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, while the Seahawks seek to build on a convincing 27-10 road win over Arizona.

Playing on the road against a divisional opponent off a short week is never an easy task, but the Rams are 2.0-point favourites at odds of 10/11 on the BetVictor NFL handicap for this Thursday night clash.

While the Rams remain third favourites behind the New England Patriots (3/1) and Kansas City Chiefs (5/1) to win the Super Bowl, there are growing concerns that their defense, which was exploited by Jameis Winston, is undermanned at present.

Cornerback Marcus Peters (concussion), rookie safety Taylor Rapp (ankle) and linebacker Bryce Hager (neck) all left Sunday’s game, and there is not much time to tinker with an offense that saw three passes intercepted and a fumble lost – all turnovers which led to touchdowns.

Rams failed to have balance on offense, with QB Jared Goff completing 45 of 68 passes for 517 yards, while the running game sputtered, as Todd Gurley had only five carries (although two of those runs produced touchdowns).

Rams have also started slowly in all four of their games thus far and they could not dig themselves out if a 21-0 hole against the Bucs.

Another problem is penalties, particularly on the offensive line, where first-year starters, center Brian Allen and left guard Joe Notebloom, have had plenty of communication issues. That may not improve at Century Link Field, the loudest NFL stadium. Despite having won on three of their last four trips to Seattle, they lost the previous nine and if winning, they will buck a trend, for the Rams have never won three consecutive trips to Seattle.

The Rams narrowly overcame the Seahawks in both games last year, where their run defense gave up over 100 yards in each. They did a better job of holding Tampa’s Rob Jones to 70 yards on Sunday, but it must be remembered that while they held Saints’ Alvin Kamara to 45 yards, QB Drew Brees left that game early with a thumb injury and they were able to stack the box.

They also faced a hobbled Cam Newton in the opener, but could not stop Christian McCaffrey, who racked up 128 yards and two scores. When faced with a decent QB/running back combination, the Rams conceded 96 yards to Cleveland’s Nick Chubb, and the Russell Wilson/Chris Carson threat might continue to underline the Rams’ biggest weakness.

No question, the Rams are the better team, but they are an injured one, so the hosts get the vote in a game that may go under the 49.5-point line total.

Tip: Seattle Seahawks +2.0 points at

 

Chicago Bears at Oakland Raiders (London)

Tottenham Hotspur Stadium hosts its first NFL game on Sunday evening – and the first of four London games in the next five weeks promises to be an appealing one.

It may be a case of addition by subtraction for the Chicago Bears (3-1) after QB Mitch Trubisky, who suffered a dislocated shoulder in the first quarter of the Bears’ 16-6 home win over the Minnesota Vikings, was replaced by Chase Daniel, who never missed a beat.

The Vikings’ vaunted running game was stymied by the Bears, despite the strange absence of ILB Roquan Smith, who was deactivated for as yet undisclosed ‘personal reasons’ and may also miss Sunday’s clash.

However, there was not much drop-off as Nick Kwaithkowski stepped in and made nine tackles and a sack.

The Raiders (2-2) will also miss an important starter, as LB Vontaze Burfict was suspended by the NFL for the rest of the year on Monday following repeated violations of unnecessary roughness rules. His latest violation was a helmet-to-helmet hit on Jack Doyle that prompted his ejection from Oakland’s 31-24 victory over the Indianapolis Colts. It prompted the longest ban in NFL history, which he will doubtless appeal.

Bears won't face Burfict

Oakland took a 21-7 lead over the Colts, forcing their hosts to go to the air, and taking the pressure off a run defense that had been previously burned by Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook, with receiver Tyrell Williams logging a fourth straight game with a touchdown catch. However, Burfict’s departure creates a major problem for Jon Gruden’s team.

That is two out of three gambles on veterans that have gone awry. Similar to Antonio Brown, the Raiders knew what they were getting with Burfict, who was figuratively and literally unable to pull his punches – he was caught on camera throwing end-of-tackle rabbit punches in the Raiders’ Week 3 loss to Minnesota – and the NFL wasted no time in suspending him after the Doyle hit. Only 36-year-old guard Richie Incognito appears to be the last ‘bad boy’ gamble that is paying off for Gruden and GM Mike Mayock.

Burfict not only excelled in getting players aligned, he was not bad at plugging gaps in the run game, and how the Raiders cope with the speedy Tarik Cohen, the ‘Human Joystick’, who is a breakaway threat in the short-passing game, is going to be interesting.

As well as losing Burfict, guard Jordan Devey, in to replace Gabe Jackson, suffered a pectoral injury which will sideline the former Chief for the season.

The Bears will also look to rookie rusher David Montgomery, who has started the last two games and has 58 carries for 200 yards this term. The former Iowa State product may be of interest in the anytime touchdown scorer market.

Raiders face a third consecutive road trip this week (though they are the ‘home’ team) and have to travel to Green Bay and Houston after this, so could be 2-5 by the time they host Detroit on November 3.

The Bears’ schedule toughens after this clash, with New Orleans, LA Chargers, Philadelphia, Detroit and LA Rams on the horizon, so they will hope they can justify 4.0-point favouritism at 10/11 and move to 4-1 on the year.

Adding intrigue is Chicago’s pass-rush specialist Khalil Mack, who was traded by Oakland in a blockbuster move before the start of the season. Mack has made a good defense great, registering 4.5 sacks already, and he will likely give Raiders’ QB Derek Carr another difficult evening.

Bears former Raider

Yet the Bears’ defense is likely to be tested by former Alabama rusher Josh Jacobs, who has looked a top tier back in the making. He gained 79 hard yards against the Colts.

The Raiders’ kicking game is in great shape with former Auburn man Daniel Carlson (psst… his younger brother, Anders, is considered even better by Tigers’ insiders), but it is worth noting that they have struggled in the punting game and field position is going to be crucial. The Raiders’ return game badly misses Dwayne Harris.

Bears are 9/20 favourites to win on the money line and that is a fair price, with the Raiders at 7/4. It is tough to see the Bears giving up more than 18 points, despite having a bruising encounter with Minnesota and a long flight thereafter, and that may be a potential play.

Tips:

Chicago Bears -4.0 points at

Oakland Raiders to score Under 18 points at

 

Green Bay Packers at Dallas Cowboys

After nine consecutive road defeats at Dallas, the Green Bay Packers have won their last three visits – by a combined total of eight points – and seven of the last eight meetings overall.

Last week, Green Bay lost its unbeaten record when twice failing to score in the red zone, with Aaron Rodgers throwing four incomplete passes on first-and-goal from the 1-yard line in a 34-27 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, and tossing an interception when on the 3-yard line.

It did not help that favourite target Devante Adams was out of the game with a turf toe injury that is likely to keep him out of this Sunday’s clash in Dallas.

That means more targets for second-year receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who has 16 grabs for 217 yards. His speed could be a significant weapon against a solid linebacking corps.

Expect the Packers to turn to running back Aaron Jones, as he faces a Dallas defense that is conceding 4.6 yards per carry. Yet the Packers have been far from solid in that department themselves, particularly in the last two weeks, where the Broncos and Eagles had good success running between the tackles. Ezekiel Elliott taking on Will Redmond, at this point in time, looks like a mismatch in favour of the Cowboys.

Bears divisional rivals Green Bay

However, Dallas is expected to be without left tackle Tyron Smith, and that is a major blow, because the drop-off in talent is huge. Cameron Fleming is certain to have a rough afternoon against Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith, who have combined for 42 QB pressures and seven sacks in four games.

It is not as if the Cowboys’ attack was firing in the first place, and if Green Bay can get in front and force Dak Prescott to win the game in the air, Green Bay might be worthy of support in receipt of the points.

Tip: Green Bay +3.5 points at

 

Indianapolis Colts at Kansas City Chiefs

Layers are expecting a shoot-out on Sunday night, as the Chiefs (4-0) host the Colts (2-2) with the points total under/over line set at 56. Though the last three meetings in Kansas City saw 50 points or less scored, the previous three yielded over 62 points.

Interestingly, should the 10.5-point underdog Colts lose, it would be the first ever back-to-back defeat at Kansas City in franchise history. The Colts have lost their last two meetings with the Chiefs and they have also never lost three consecutive clashes.

It does not always pay to put too much stock in historic trends such as this, but some teams are kryptonite to others, whatever their record, and the Colts’ 9-5 record at Arrowhead is worth highlighting.

The Chiefs were far from perfect in beating the Detroit Lions 34-30 on the road last Sunday, while the Colts were possibly caught looking ahead to this clash when falling 31-24 at home to the Oakland Raiders in a game where they missed a few good opportunities to haul themselves out of an early 21-7 deficit.

The Colts’ run defense has been problematic, with the Raiders piling up 188 yards on the ground and successfully completing 6 of 13 attempts on third or fourth down, and sustaining drives of 75 yards or more on three separate occasions.

Linebacker Darius Leonard, last season’s leading tackler, has been missing with a concussion, staring safety Malik Hooker is expected to miss another three weeks (knee), and cornerback Pierre Desir has been battling injures since Week 1. The other starting safety Clayton Geathers is in concussion protocol, wide receiver T.Y. Hilton was held out of Sunday’s game due to a quadriceps injury and running back Marlon Mack’s time was limited in the second half due to an ankle injury.

Head coach Frank Reich, already facing a difficult task against a team that beat the Colts 31-13 in last season’s playoffs, must be having sleepless nights in trying to finds a way to slow down reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes.

The Chiefs’ passer threw for 315 yards in Detroit – his first start in a dome – and did not throw a touchdown pass for only the third time in his career. The Chiefs still scored 34 points and extended their streak of scoring 25 points or more to 25 games. Andy Reid’s Chiefs are 9/10 to score over 33 points on Sunday according to BetVictor’s American Football odds, and they are a restrictive 1/6 to win on the money line, with the Colts 4/1 to win outright.

There are still some weak spots in this Kansas City team, notably in the secondary, and Charvarius Ward, in particular, struggled at the cornerback spot against Detroit.

However, Maurice Claiborne is scheduled to return from suspension, although whether he will be a rotational player or a starter is something that Reid will ponder over the next few weeks.

The Chiefs have struggled in the past two weeks to see off Baltimore and Detroit, and are giving up an average of 23.5 points per game. The Colts’ injuries are a major concern and they may well fold, yet their record at Arrowhead, coupled with a home side that has given up too many big plays in recent weeks, means the visitors might be worth a play with a double-digit spread in their favour.

Tip: Indianapolis Colts +10.5 points at

 

Cleveland Browns at San Francisco 49ers

One of the more intriguing Week 5 clashes occurs on Monday night, as the 2-2 Cleveland Browns, who sit atop the NFC North for the first time in five years, travel to the west coast to take on the 3-0 49ers, who are coming off a stupidly early bye week.

The Browns looked good in putting 40 points on Baltimore on the road, the Ravens failing to produce much in the way of a pass rush to trouble an offensive line that has previously had its struggles.

Instead, Baker Mayfield was kept snug in his pocket and the Browns racked up 530 yards, propelled by three Ravens’ turnovers.

Things might be a little less comfortable in San Francisco, however. Mayfield’s security blanket, receiver Jarvis Landry, who tallied eight catches for 167 yards against Baltimore, is in concussion protocol and is likely to be sidelined. While Antonio Callaway is ready to return after a four-week suspension, Mayfield faces a tough defensive San Francisco front of Dee Ford, Nick Bosa and DeForest Buckner.

If Mayfield continues to step into his throws as he trusts more in his offensive line, the Browns, who are 8-6 all time in San Francisco, could be in good shape against a Niners defense that lacks depth at the cornerback position. Ahkello Witherspoon is injured and backup Jason Verrett is also hobbled. Emmanuel Moseley is the primary replacement for Witherspoon, while veteran Richard Sherman is also likely to deputise.

The visitors will set up the pass if they get production from running back Nick Chubb, who wore down the Ravens’ defense to the tune of 165 yards, scoring three touchdowns into the bargain.

San Francisco may have earned two of three wins against teams who are a combined 1-7 – and that win was because the Steelers and Bengals played each other last Monday – yet they appear to have a dominant offensive line and can run the ball with authority.

Matt Breida (226 yards) and Raheem Mostert (202 yards) are developing into a great one-two punch, while short-yardage back Jeff Wilson has four rushing touchdowns.

The 49ers’ defense has held sway, though. It held the Buccaneers to 17 points in Week 1, which looks a lot better after the Bucs posted 55 points on the Rams last week, and shut down the Bengals running game in Week 2, making them one-dimensional.

Both teams are trending in the right direction, and it is a close call. The Browns face another tough road trip and against a rested opponent, and while that extra half-point on a field-goal margin would ordinarily see us taking the visitors, without Landry, they may not be able to keep within the spread.

Tip: San Francisco 49ers -3.5 at

Odds are correct at the time of posting

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