Close race

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In an NFL season defined by parity, it figures that no division has more than a one game gap separating first and second place teams.

Only Chicago, Kansas City and Atlanta enjoy leads over their nearest rivals. The most contentious division is the AFC South where Indianapolis and Jacksonville are tied at 6-5, while Houston and Tennessee are at 5-6.

The league’s weakest division remains the NFC West where Seattle and St. Louis share first at 5-6. There is a real chance that the winner of this race will have no better than an 8-8 record with 7-9 also remaining possible. Whichever team emerges will not only make the playoffs but will host a game in the Wild Card round.

Most teams will play three divisional games over the next five weeks. Underdogs resumed their successful ways last week, going 10-5 ATS heading into Monday night. For the season, underdogs are 19 games above .500 (93-74-5, 55 percent).

Through nearly three quarters of the season, the OVER holds a 98-74-3 edge against UNDER winners for betting totals.

Here’s a look at this week’s schedule using representative lines as of Monday morning, where available.

Thursday, Dec. 2

Texans +8½ at Eagles (50): Houston may play without WR Andre Johnson who is expected to be suspended by the league for his on-field fisticuffs last week. The key should be a much better effort from Eagles QB Mike Vick. Statistically, the Texans have the league’s second worst pass defense. EAGLES.

Sunday, Dec. 5

Bills +6½ at Vikings (45): Minnesota’s first game under interim coach Leslie Frazier was a success on the scoreboard but the effort was far from impressive in winning at Washington. They have a huge edge defensively over Buffalo, especially against the rush. VIKINGS.

Browns +4 at Dolphins (43): Both teams have dealt with QB issues all season. Cleveland has already won impressively against New England and on the road at New Orleans with a strong running game and very physical play on defense. Browns could pull the upset. BROWNS.

Jaguars (+3) at Tenn (NT): Jacksonville plays to avenge a Week 6 home loss to the Titans. The Titans’ season has also reversed direction, with a 5-2 start followed by four straight losses. Right now, the Jags are in a better state of mind and are playing with more confidence and stability. JAGUARS.

Broncos +7½ at Chiefs (48½): Kansas City has been looking forward to this game since losing 49-29 at Denver last month in a game that was 35-0 in the second quarter. The Chiefs won their next two, scoring 73 points. Denver has dropped its next two, allowing 71. CHIEFS.

Redskins +7 at N.Y. Giants (44): Washington ranks last in the NFL in total defense. Of concern for the Giants is the tendency for the offense to give away the football. They rank last with 30 giveaways this season. Both defenses have been able to force turnovers. Five of the last 6 meetings produced between 23 and 41 total points. UNDER.

Bears -3½ at Lions (44½): The Lions remember the 19-14 loss on Opening Day to Chicago when Calvin Johnson’s apparent game winning TD was ruled a no catch. Detroit’s improvement is real although it’s not been reflected in the results. They have extra rest and should put forth one of their most inspired efforts of the season against a bitter rival. LIONS.

49ers +9 at Packers (43): San Francisco is off of Monday night’s game in Arizona. Green Bay has a huge edge at QB with Aaron Rodgers and a defense that continues to lead the league in fewest points allowed. The Packers’ edges are further illustrated by their +7 turnover margin versus San Francisco’s -6. PACKERS.

Saints -7 at Bengals (47): The Saints are back in Super Bowl form following four straight wins. It’s a different story in Cincinnati as last season’s AFC North champs have now lost 8 straight. The running attack has failed to top 100 yards in 7 of 11 games. Inclement weather could hurt Saints. UNDER.

Falcons -3 at Bucs (44): A late TD enabled Tampa to cover last week in a 17-10 loss at Baltimore but the Bucs have yet to defeat a team with a winning record. That includes a competitive 27-21 loss at Atlanta last month, although again it took a kickoff return TD to cover the +10. Atlanta is 3-2 on the road and has the better rushing offense and defense. FALCONS.

Raiders +12½ at Chargers (47): San Diego has found the ‘on’ switch, winning four in a row. Oakland is off back-to-back one-sided losses that have caused this line to be inflated by perhaps a FG. San Diego’s defense remains statistically the league’s best while Oakland’s ability to run the football should serve to lessen the number of possessions for both teams. UNDER.

Panthers +6 at Seahawks (40): Carolina showed surprising spunk last week and nearly upset Cleveland as more than a TD underdog. At 1-10, the Panthers have little more to play for and coach John Fox is all but certain to be gone at season’s end. This is by far the weakest foe Seattle will have faced all season and finally gets the chance to play bully. SEAHAWKS.

Cowboys +6 at Colts (48): Dallas has extra rest following their home loss on Thanksgiving Day to New Orleans. Indianapolis is off of back-to-back losses that means an end to seven straight regular seasons of at least 12 wins. Indy has not been a blowout team in recent seasons and Dallas has the talent to compete and has shown an interest under interim coach Jason Garrett. COWBOYS.

Rams -2½ at Cards (45): St. Louis and rookie QB Sam Bradford has come a long way since losing to Arizona, 17-13. Arizona had lost five straight heading into Monday’s game against San Francisco. Regardless of that result, the spot here does favor the Cardinals. Asking the Rams to win a second straight road game, especially as a favorite, may be too much, too soon. CARDINALS.

Steelers +3 at Ravens (39½): Both teams are off two straight wins that have been keyed by outstanding defenses. Pittsburgh leads the league against the run. Baltimore’s is still better than the league average. This has the makings for another very physical game. Above the key numbers of 37 and 38, the prospects for cashing on the total are improved. UNDER.

Monday, Dec. 6

Jets +3½ at Patriots (47): This has the potential of being the best Monday night game of the season with each at 9-2 atop the AFC East. The Jets won the earlier meeting at home in Week 2, overcoming a 14-10 halftime deficit to hold the Pats scoreless after recess in a 28-14 win. The Pats do have the edge in scoring over 6 points per game more than the Jets. The line may be a clue as the extra hook should make the Jets very attractive. But revenge and experience may be the difference. PATRIOTS.

last week                     since Oct 25                     PCT

6-8-1                             33-36-2                           47.8

 

 

About the Author

Andy Iskoe

Owner and author of “The Logical Approach,” Andy Iskoe has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football.

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