To say the first six weeks of the NFL season have been unusual would be an understatement.
It’s a long held axiom in handicapping and predicting future events that one should not overreact to a team’s most recent performance. Opinions are often overly influenced by what was last seen and not put in the perspective of the last game being just one game in the string of games played to date.
Inconsistent play from week to week is a hallmark of most NFL teams and the task facing handicappers and bettors is in classifying whether that most recent performance was a typical effort that might well be repeated in the near future or an extreme performance unlikely to be duplicated any time soon.
Much of the attraction of the NFL dates back to days of former Commissioner Bert Bell and the concept of “on any given Sunday.” More recently, that concept can be restated as “in any given season.” Turnover in playoff teams from season to season remains high, and it’s more common than not for half of one season’s postseason teams to fall short the following season.
Consider the following. The six teams that made the playoffs in the AFC last season have started with a combined 24-11 record, not including the Indianapolis-San Diego matchup Monday night. Of the six, four teams have winning records with defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore at 3-3 and Houston below .500 at 2-4.
It’s a far different story in the NFC. The half dozen teams that made the playoffs last season are a combined 15-17 with Atlanta, Minnesota and Washington each having losing records. The Vikings and Redskins have already had their byes and each lost its next game following the idle week. Atlanta returns from its bye this week and hosts winless Tampa Bay.
Two other teams remain without a win and, whereas it’s no surprise Jacksonville has yet to taste victory, it is a huge shock the New York Giants, just two seasons removed from winning the Super Bowl, have started 0-6.
The Giants have already been blasted by Carolina this season, losing 38-0 a few weeks ago. They did play reasonably well at Chicago last Thursday night and now move onto the national stage for a second straight week as they host Minnesota on Monday night. The Vikings have yet to win a game on American soil with the lone victory against Pittsburgh over in London.
Yet the Giants can still entertain hopes of making the Playoffs because they play in what is turning out to be a very weak NFL East. It is the only division whose leader does not have a winning record. Dallas and Philadelphia are tied at 3-3, which puts the Giants just three games out of first place.
The Giants still have a game each against the Cowboys and Eagles, plus two with 1-4 Washington. Is it a longshot for the Giants to win the Division? Yes. But their situation would be more critical if they were in a division in which the leader was 4-2 or better.
Through Sunday, home teams have gone 48-39-3 ATS (55.2%) with favorites standing 45-42-3 ATS (51.7%). With San Francisco barely covering, and both Seattle and Denver winning but failing to cover, double digit favorites are now 5-7 ATS.
In addition to three point spread pushes, the spread has come into play in 15 games this season, including four games this past week. Chicago and Cincinnati also won as favorites but failed to cover in addition to the Seahawks and Broncos.
The OVERs now are outpacing UNDERs 48-42 with one total charted as a push (Sunday’s game between the Panthers and Vikings).
Here’s a look at the 15 games to be played this weekend. New Orleans and Oakland have their byes.
Seattle -6 at Arizona (40): Seattle has the clear edge in the stats almost across the board, including best net yards per play differential, a key indicator of both offensive and defensive efficiency. Arizona’s strength has been its defense while the offense remains limited. Seattle is a much better team at home than on the road, which suggests the Total may present the better opportunity. UNDER.
N. England -4 at NY Jets (43½): Surprisingly, the Jets fare well in many statistical comparisons but the Patriots’ pedigree is an important X factor that often outweighs the stats, especially with the history of the Tom Brady/Bill Belichick combo. TE Rob Gronkowski may finally make his season debut here and the overall New England offense continues to improve. NEW ENGLAND.
SD -7 at J’ville (45): Jacksonville WR Justin Blackmon had a second straight big game since returning from suspension and will face San Diego’s porous pass defense. San Diego QB Philip Rivers is enjoying a solid season that’s being overshadowed by more high profile signal callers. OVER.
Houston +6½ at KC (40): The difference in these teams may best be illustrated by Kansas City’s +12 turnover margin as compared to Houston’s -12. Still, it’s a big number to lay into what is still a talented team with a top notch defense. In fact, both defenses rate among the top four in the NFL in yards per play allowed. UNDER.
Cincy +2½ at Detroit (47): Detroit has the better offense whereas Cincy’s edge is on defense. The Bengals have a huge edge in rushing defense, allowing just 3.9 ypr, while the Lions are allowing a league worst 5.4 ypr. That makes the Bengals a live underdog even at under a FG (that may be bet up to a FG by game time). CINCINNATI.
Buffalo +9 at Miami (42): Backup QB Thad Lewis fared well in his Bills debut, directing a pair of fourth quarter scoring drives to force overtime in the Bills 27-24 loss to Cincinnati. Miami is off its bye. There’s little to suggest the differences between these teams is great enough to justify Miami as nearly a double digit favorite. BUFFALO.
Chicago -1½ at Wash (48½): Both teams have been costly to their backers thus far with the Bears 1-4-1 ATS and Washington 1-4 ATS. Both are well above average in offensive yards per play and even more below average in defensive yards per play. Both offenses also rush the football very well, which often serves to open up the passing game. OVER.
Dallas +1 at Philly (54½): Philly is expected to again start backup QB Nick Foles, who played very well in the win at Tampa Bay with starter Michael Vick still injured. Both teams are in the top 7 in offensive yards per play and each offense has shown the ability to make the big play, combining to score an average 58.2 points per game while allowing 55.1 ppg. OVER.
St. Louis +5½ at Carolina (42): St. Louis’ 38-13 dismantling of Houston last week may turn out to be the most shocking result of the season. The Panthers’ strength thus far has been a defense that is allowing a league low 9.0 yards per pass completion. The rushing game matchup also favors the hosts. CAROLINA.
TB +7½ at Atlanta (43): There are all sorts of issues with the Bucs that suggest things will not get better any time soon. What had been a strength, the defense, was dented repeatedly by the Eagles. Fundamentally Atlanta remains the more talented and balanced team. One of these teams will improve upon its 1-4 ATS record and the Falcons are better positioned to do so. ATLANTA.
SF -4 at Tennessee (39½): Tennessee played well in losing 20-13 at Seattle, although the offense was held in check by the tough Seattle defense. Teams have struggled this season after facing the Seahawks, going 0-4 both SU and ATS prior to the Colts’ Monday night game at San Diego. Plus backup QB Ryan Fitzpatrick tossed a pair of interceptions for a second straight week. SAN FRANCISCO.
Cleveland +10½ at GB (46): Unlike recent seasons, Green Bay has been able to run the football, and that may become more of a factor with a pair of key receivers, Randall Cobb and James Jones, injured last week in Baltimore. The Browns lead the league in defensive yards per play (4.4) and have especially excelled against the pass. UNDER.
Balt. +1½ at Pittsburgh (40½): Baltimore’s defensive weakness has been against the pass and the Steelers have been effective in passing the football in recent weeks. The home team has won 13 of 20 meetings over the past decade. The last three meetings and seven of the last eight have been decided by exactly 3 points. Laying under a FG is preferred. PITTSBURGH.
Denver -6 at Indy (56): The Colts are off of Monday night’s game in San Diego and while last season’s 11-5 record was deceptive statistically their stats this season are more in line with their record. Both quarterbacks have repeatedly been able to direct fourth quarter drives and we could well see this game decided in the waning moments. INDIANAPOLIS.
Minny +3 at NY Giants (47): Still winless, the extra rest will help the G-men who are at home for just the third time this season. Despite his woes, the Giants’ Eli Manning is still the best QB in this game. This is also Minnesota’s first non-neutral site road matchup since back in Week 2. NY GIANTS.
Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to Gaming Today readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Contact Andy at [email protected]