NFL forecast: Seattle defense can slow Rivers' roll

By Matt Youmans  (VSiN senior editor) 

November 4, 2018 01:55 AM
Pete Carroll is doing an impressive coaching job in Seattle. The Russell Wilson-led Seahawks (4-3) have won four of their past five.
© USA Today Sports Images

Instead of digging a familiar early-season hole, the Los Angeles Chargers are streaking into November. Much of their success is due to quarterback Philip Rivers’ hot hand.

Rivers has completed 69 percent of his passes with 17 touchdowns and three interceptions. The Chargers have won four in a row and seem ticketed for the playoffs. It’s a major change for a team that started 0-4 last year and is accustomed to underachieving.

It’s time to find out if the Chargers (5-2) are for real. Their two losses were by double digits to the undefeated Rams and AFC West-leading Kansas City Chiefs. But the five opponents the Chargers have defeated — Buffalo, Cleveland, Oakland, San Francisco and Tennessee — own a combined record of 10-29-1.

In other words, the Chargers have yet to beat a quality team and have something to prove Sunday in Seattle. The Russell Wilson-led Seahawks (4-3) have won four of their past five to turn into a quality team.

Pete Carroll is doing an impressive coaching job. Despite losing several big names, the Seahawks rank No. 5 in the NFL in total defense (327.3 yards per game) and No. 4 in scoring (18.7). Chris Carson, who has topped 100 yards on the ground in three games, is powering Seattle’s fifth-ranked rushing offense (134.7 yards per game), and the transition to a run-based attack has helped the line better protect Wilson, who has 16 touchdown passes and is taking fewer sacks. Carson is listed as questionable with a groin injury, but he did practice this week.

Oddsmakers and some handicappers have been sleepwalking on Seattle’s improvement. The Seahawks nearly upset the Rams on this field a month ago, and sharp money is showing on the Chargers off their bye week.

It’s not going to be easy to cool off Rivers, but I’ll pick Seattle in a pick’em game.

Four more plays for Week 9 (home team in CAPS):

* Jets (plus-3) over DOLPHINS: This is a division revenge spot for New York, which lost the first meeting 20-12 in Week 2. Miami was a better team at that point with Ryan Tannehill at quarterback. Brock Osweiler regressed as expected in the past two games, and the Dolphins were dreadful on defense while allowing a total of 74 points in losses to Houston and Detroit. This is a trend play as much as anything because the Jets are 4-0-2 against the spread in their past six trips to Miami.

* Falcons (plus-2) over REDSKINS: Atlanta has had a shot to win every game but one — a blowout loss at Pittsburgh on Oct. 7 — despite severe attrition on defense. The Falcons’ advantage is their explosive passing attack. Matt Ryan has the weapons to do damage against a sturdy Washington defense. The Redskins’ rushing game could suffer without injured left tackle Trent Williams. This line opened at -1.5, a number that indicated the oddsmakers lean to Atlanta off a bye.

* SAINTS (plus-2) over Rams: The favorite has flipped twice in this game, and it’s now tough to pass on New Orleans as a home underdog. The Rams (8-0) are on a 1-3-1 ATS slide and were not particularly impressive in wins at Denver and Seattle. Can the Saints stop the run? Todd Gurley leads the NFL with 800 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground. The Rams rank No. 3 in scoring offense (33 points per game), behind the No. 2 Saints (33.4). Drew Brees is completing 77.4 percent of his passes to lead the league, and Alvin Kamara is a running (92 carries, 408 yards, seven touchdowns) and receiving (47 catches, 393 yards, two TDs) threat who has balanced New Orleans’ offense. This game sets up as a coaching clash of big egos. Sean Payton wants to stick it to Sean McVay and vice versa. Bank on Payton, Brees and the Saints, who need the win to even the race for home-field advantage in the NFC.

* Packers (plus-6) over PATRIOTS: A huge gap does not exist between these teams, despite Green Bay being 3-3-1 and New England sitting at 6-2. A coaching gap between Bill Belichick and Mike McCarthy does exist. Off a bye, the Packers just turned in their best performance of the season in a 29-27 loss to the Rams, but can they do it again while traveling from coast to coast? The Packers posted a surprising 6.9 to 5.5 advantage in yards per play against the Rams. The Patriots were flat on Monday, when Tom Brady put the ball in the air 45 times yet failed to get a touchdown pass at Buffalo. Aaron Rodgers will trade shots with Brady in a showdown that might come down to which QB has the ball last. These numbers are probably contrary to public perception, but Green Bay ranks No. 12 in total defense compared to New England at No. 25. Rodgers is the definition of a live ‘dog.

Last week: 3-2 against the spread

Season: 20-19-1

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