NFL WEEK 10: With nine weeks down and nine to go, we’ve officially reached the midpoint of the NFL’s regular season. The most important football is in front of us and plenty of twist and turns lie ahead, but some surprising storylines have begun to emerge, like Houston’s C.J. Stroud playing like a once-in-a-generation QB prospect while Carolina’s Bryce Young, the quarterback who was taken No. 1 overall in this year’s draft, a spot ahead of Stroud, has struggled mightily and seems overwhelmed by the speed and physicality of the NFL game.
Young kicked off this Week 10 with a Thursday night showdown against fellow rookie QB Tyson Bagent, an undrafted player out of Division II Shepherd University who is filling in for injured Chicago starter Justin Fields. Bagent outplayed Young, who threw for 186 yards on 38 attempts in a 16-13 loss, with the Panthers offense producing a mere 2 field goals against the porous Bears defense (the other points came on a punt return TD). It was the type of game that had to set off some alarm bells with the Carolina front office, and while it’s certainly too early to label Young a bust, the early returns are not promising.
Stroud takes his Texans on the road this week for a tough one against the red-hot Bengals and I think there may be opportunity there… here are some thoughts on that one and three others:
Houston Texans @ Cincinnati Bengals (CIN -6.5, 46.5)
Recommendation: Cincinnati -6.5 at 2.01
The idea that C.J. Stroud has officially “arrived” as a star QB seems to be gaining traction, especially after he set an NFL rookie record with 470 passing yards and 5 TDs in a crazy win over Tampa Bay last week. Every week is a different universe in the NFL, however, and we’re less than 14 days removed from Stroud laying an egg against the 1-8 Carolina Panthers. This feels like a good “sell high” spot for a Texans team that still has glaring issues, starting with the offensive line. Cincinnati is excellent in the defensive front seven and they have a legit pass-rushing stud in Trey Hendrickson, so they are likely to overwhelm Houston up front, and the Bengals also have a bunch of ball-hawks in the secondary– they rank second in the NFL with 11 interceptions. This is a really difficult spot for Stroud and the Houston offense, and the Texans defense will definitely have their hands full against the Joe Burrow-led Bengals, who have been clicking on all cylinders lately after a slow start to the season. Burrow may be without top receiver Ja’Marr Chase, who is questionable with a back injury, but the Bengals should still have enough weaponry to put on a show in front of the home crowd and win this one by more than a touchdown.
New Orleans Saints @ Minnesota Vikings (NO -3, 40.5)
Recommendation: New Orleans -3 at 2.04
The Josh Dobbs experience last week was something straight out of a feel-good sports movie: Dobbs gets traded to Minnesota on Tuesday, doesn’t even have time to learn the full playbook prior to being made the second-string QB on Sunday, and after an injury to rookie Jaren Hall he comes in and leads the Vikings to an improbable comeback victory, slicing his way through the Atlanta defense in schoolyard fashion. But this is real life, not the movies, and this week Dobbs will come crashing back to reality against an excellent New Orleans defense that ranks 7th in pass yards allowed and leads the league with 12 interceptions. Minnesota will likely be without top playmaker Justin Jefferson again, which won’t help Dobbs’ cause, and the Vikes haven’t been able to run the ball all season, averaging just 81.3 rush yards per game and 3.7 yards per carry. The New Orleans offense is starting to figure out what works: a heavy dose of Alvin Kamara and Taysom Hill, with some Carr-to-Olave shots sprinkled in here and there. The Saints have won back-to-back games to regain control of the NFC West and I think they make it three in a row against the banged-up Vikings.
Atlanta Falcons @ Arizona Cardinals (ATL -2, 43.5)
Recommendation: Atlanta -2 at 1.96
The big story here is the return of Cardinals QB Kyler Murray, who has missed the last 11 months while rehabbing a torn ACL. It will be interesting to see how much of Murray’s mobility has returned and whether he’ll still be the same dynamic playmaker he was pre-injury, and you would expect him to be a bit rusty in this game after so much time away. The Atlanta defense has been one of the better units in the league this season, ranking 6th in total yards allowed and 10th against the pass, so this is a really difficult spot for Murray, especially with the substandard skill position talent on the Cardinals roster. His counterpart on Sunday, Atlanta’s Taylor Heinicke, may have come up short in last week’s 31-28 loss to Minnesota, but he showed his ability as both a passer and a runner and validated Arthur Smith’s decision to start him over Desmond Ridder. I expect Heinicke to play well in this game, and Atlanta’s potent rushing attack led by the two-headed monster of Bijan Robinson and Tyler Allgeier should find success against a porous Arizona defense that has surrendered 100+ rushing yards in 7 of the team’s past 8 games. Love the Falcons here.
Detroit Lions @ Los Angeles Chargers (DET -3, 48.5)
Recommendation: Los Angeles +3 at 1.91; Los Angeles moneyline (to win) at 2.4
Detroit is a popular public bet this week as a short road favorite in L.A., and it’s easy to understand why: the Lions have been hot, winning 5 of their last 6 games, with each win coming by double-digits. They have an exciting offense that challenges defenses downfield, and they’re coming off a bye, so they’re as healthy as they’ve been since September. Are we getting a little too excited about this team, though? Their five recent victories have come against the Falcons, Packers, Panthers, Buccaneers, and Raiders– not a winning team in the bunch. They faceplanted against Baltimore in Week 7, losing 38-6. I think we may look back on this time– Week 10, when they’re 6-2 and coming off a bye– as the high-water mark for the 2023 Lions. The Chargers, meanwhile, have won back-to-back games by 38 combined points thanks to a defense that is finally starting to play to its potential, as only five teams allow fewer rushing yards and only one team, Baltimore, has sacked the quarterback more. And, of course, there’s the Justin Herbert-led offense, which, despite injuries to the receiving corps, is still one of the better units in the league, averaging better than 25 points per game against a schedule that has featured four top-10 defenses. I think the wrong team might be favored in this one… look for the Bolts to pull off the minor upset.