Though the ‘dogs’ are still barking
Puppy Power continued again this past Sunday in the NFL as three more underdogs won outright.
The largest winning underdog was St. Louis as the Rams led wire- to-wire in their upset home win over enigmatic San Diego as eight and a half point underdogs. Seattle was just under a touchdown underdog and after spotting Chicago an early 7-0 lead, the Seahawks seized control of the game and won 23-20. The smallest of the underdog winners was Miami as the Dolphins bested Green Bay in overtime.
If you want another sign of how bizarre the early part of this season has been, consider that Miami has lost both home games this season while winning all three of their road contests.
And this past Sunday saw as many as four games land right on the pointspread or fall within a half point of a PUSH, depending on where you wagered as late as on Sunday morning.
Using the closing lines at the Las Vegas Hilton, for example, New England PUSHes as a 3 point favorite over Baltimore as did Indianapolis in their 3 point win at Washington Sunday night. Houston closed as a four and a half point favorite over Kansas City in a game the Texans rallied to win 35-31. But for much of the 48 hours prior to kickoff, Houston was exactly a 4 point favorite.
And a surge of late money on San Francisco pushed the 49ers up from a 7 point favorite (by which they were favored Saturday night) to an 8 point favorite at kickoff of their game against Oakland. Final score? San Francisco got their first win of the season after 5 losses, 17-9.
Underdogs continue to cover at better than a 60 percent rate for the season with both home and road dogs exceeding that rate.
Double digit underdogs are 0-9 straight up but are 5-4 ATS. It could just as easily be 6-3 but for Pittsburgh passing for a late TD against Cleveland this past Sunday despite being up by 11 points and less than 90 seconds left to play. There’s a difference between making the home fans happy and really happy!
Parity has become even more in evidence in the NFC as none of the 16 teams has fewer than 2 losses through 5 or 6 games. Only Carolina remains winless while in the AFC only Buffalo remains winless. Both started 0-5 and had byes last week.
With Monday’s result pending, OVERs have outnumbered UNDERs by a 47 to 41 margin, with 1 PUSH. Total points per game are well within the normal historical range at 41.9 per game.
Four more teams have byes this week with Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis and the New York Jets on the sidelines.
Here’s a look at the 14 games that will be played, using representative lines as posted on Monday morning.
Pittsburgh (-3) at Miami (Over/Under 40): Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger shook off some early rust to have a solid effort last week against Cleveland in his 2010 debut following his 4 game suspension. In his absence, the Steelers relied on a methodical run first offense and their outstanding defense to win 3 of 4. They are plus 9 in turnovers this season. Miami is winless at home and needed OT in last week’s win at Green Bay after allowing the Pack to tie the game late. The situation favors Miami but the Fish have had problems against the Steelers, losing all 4 meetings over the last decade including the final game of last season that had wild card implication possibilities for both. Right now, the Steelers are the more complete team. PITTSBURGH
Cincinnati (+5) at Atlanta 42½): Cincinnati returns from the bye which followed a come-from-ahead loss to Tampa Bay. The Bengals have not resembled the team that made the playoffs last season with an offense that has underachieved and a defense that’s failed to make the key stops. Atlanta is off of a road loss in Philly and return home following two straight on the road. Their other loss came in Pittsburgh in OT on opening day. Atlanta has shown the better rushing attack which usually is the key to an effective passing game with an above average QB which certainly describes Matt Ryan. The Falcons also play with more poise than do the Bengals and that can be the difference when it comes to a momentum changing penalty or big play. ATLANTA
Jacksonville at Kansas City (No Line): Jacksonville has a short week following their Monday night home game against division rival Tennessee while Kansas City seeks to recover from their tough loss at Houston in which they never trailed until surrendering the game winning touchdown with a half minute left in the game. Clearly the Chiefs are an improved team learning how to win but the development on both sides of the football are apparent. That is also evidenced by their 4-1 mark against the pointspread. Both teams have shown a strong ability to run the football and both teams are statistically below average on defense. That sets up nicely each team finishing off drives and scoring TDs rather than settling for FGs. OVER the Total
Philadelphia (+3) at Tennessee (44½): Philly is likely to be without WR DeSean Jackson and Kevin Kolb likely starts again at QB while Michael Vick rest his ribs with a bye up next. This matchup pairs the two longest tenured coaches with the Eagles’ Andy Reid and the Titans’ Jeff Fisher enjoying as much success as one can achieve short of winning the Super Bowl. Each has been to, and lost, one Big Game. The Eagles have the better offense that has been marked by a greater emphasis on the running game than in recent seasons. They also have the better defensive stats. Their plus 8 turnover margin is third best in the league. Tennessee has arguably the best RB in football, Chris Johnson. There’s much to like about both teams but the Eagles enjoy several intangible edges including a bye next week. The Titans are off of a pair of tough games at division rival Jacksonville on Monday that followed a big win at Dallas a week earlier. The Eagles have been one of the best road teams in history over the past decade, with a regular season straight up road record of 57-34-1 since 2000, including playoffs and including 1 3-0 start this season. PHILADELPHIA
Washington (+3) at Chicago (40): Both teams have had better than expected starts to the season and each is clearly improved over 2009. The Bears’ record may be a bit more phony than Washington’s as they were fortunate in wins over Detroit and Green Bay. Washington blew a win when they lost in week 2 to Houston and their only true poor effort was in a surprising 16 point loss at St. Louis. Both teams have struggled to find a consistent rushing offense. The Bears have the much better defense with a statistical edge of 105 yards per game while allowing a FG less per game. But part of that edge comes from Washington having faced several considerably more high powered offenses than Chicago has seen. Both teams have wins over Dallas in which they were outgained in total yards. Fundamentally this handicaps as a low scoring contest with each team scoring about a FG less than the league average. UNDER the Total
Cleveland (+14) at New Orleans (44): Rookie QB Colt McCoy fared better than many expected in his debut for Cleveland in last week’s loss at Pittsburgh but will face yet another aggressive defense against the Saints who now have film to study. The Saints played their best game of the season in winning at Tampa Bay last week, rushing for 212 yards while passing for 263. Cleveland has played hard all season and last week’s 28-10 loss was their first by more than 10 points. They don’t have the firepower to trade points with the Saints and have scored more than 17 points just once in 6 games. The most total points scored in a Cleveland game this season has been 43. The Saints have also not been the explosive force they were last season and may well be content to run the ball against an inferior foe, building upon the success they had last week in the ground game. UNDER the Total
Buffalo (+13½) at Baltimore (37½): Buffalo returns from the bye as one of just two remaining winless teams. Their offense remains a concern although they started to show improvement before the time off. But they face one of the league’s top defenses. The Ravens allowed more than 17 points for the first time this season, losing 23-20 in OT at New England. Conversely the Bills have allowed at least 34 points in each of their last 4 games. Baltimore’s offense has been slow to develop this season but has been showing signs of breaking out. They face the weakest team they’ve seen this season and despite the large impost the spot sets up well for the Ravens who have the Bye next week. BALTIMORE.
San Francisco (-3) at Carolina (35): The 49ers finally got their first win of the season but not without a struggle, trailing at the half and not scoring their lone touchdown until midway in the fourth quarter of their 17-9 win over Oakland. They did have their best rushing performance of the season and the defense held the Raiders to just 179 total yards. Carolina returns from their bye seeking their first win of the season. The running game has been slow to develop and the Panthers are averaging a league low 236 total yards per game. QB Matt Moore returns from injury to lead an offense that has not scored more than 18 points in any of their 5 games to date. As poorly as both teams have played, it’s hard to justify the 49ers being favored by a FG on the road, especially with the travel to the east coast and the early start time and with the Niners then headed to London for next week’s game against Denver. Carolina is rested and should have made enough adjustments to have their best effort of the season. CAROLINA.
St. Louis (+2½) at Tampa Bay (38): Both teams are improved over last season and each is led by a promising young QB that could signal even better things ahead. Rookie Sam Bradford has shown poise and leadership for the Rams while second year QB Josh Freeman has started to display the same traits in Tampa. Statistically the Rams have a slight edge on offense and a decided edge on defense although the Buccs have played a tougher schedule and have faced much tougher defenses. All 4 of the Rams’ wins have been at home and they are 0-2 on the road. Tampa is just 1-2 at home but those losses have been to Pittsburgh and New Orleans. The fact that they are 2-0 on the road (wins at Carolina and Cincinnati) presents more compelling reasons to trust the hosts laying a FG or less. TAMPA BAY.
Arizona (+4½) at Seattle (40½): At 3-2 the Cardinals and Seahawks are tied for the NFC West lead. Seattle was an upset winner at Chicago with their other two wins coming at home and largely the result of special teams’ plays against San Francisco and San Diego. Arizona’s last win over New Orleans was also not a thing of beauty but they are coming off their bye which allowed for more integration of new starting QB, undrafted Max Hall, into the offense. He will be working with many of the players he teamed with in preseason due to injuries to several starters. Seattle is improved from last season while Arizona is improved from the start of the season. The Cards have won 4 straight and 6 of 7 vs. Seattle but the Kurt Warner era is over. Still, the Cards are well coached and the extra preparation time should have allowed the staff to design game plans on both sides of the football to keep this game close with an outright upset not a big shock. ARIZONA.
New England (+3) at San Diego (48): There is absolutely no excuse for San Diego having lost at the Rams last week. There seem to be numerous problems in the Chargers locker room and behind the scenes and one can only wonder if coach Norv Turner has finally lost this team. The talent, even with injuries and other missing personnel, is second to none in the NFL. The opposite is true for New England. Sure, the Pats are talented but the whole is greater than the sum of the parts, led by head coach Bill Belichick. The oft maligned defense seems to make the big play at key times. Sure, the situation favors desperate San Diego but there’s little to inspire confidence in a team whose 2-4 start is their worst since starting 0-5 in 2003. The Chargers rank first in total offense and first in total defense. And they’ve won both home games by a combined score of 79-23. But can they be trusted? OVER the Total.
Oakland (+6½) at Denver (42½): Denver was victimized by controversy in their late loss to the Jets last week but the Broncos continue to play well. In that loss, Denver displayed their best balanced offense of the season, rushing for 145 yards which was more than in their three previous games combined. The 201 passing yards was their lowest of the season but that kind of balance generally leads to success. Oakland had their poorest offensive showing this season in their 17-9 loss at San Francisco. On a positive note, the Raiders have rushed for at least 100 yards in all 6 games. Their issues have been at QB with neither Jason Campbell nor Bruce Gradkowski showing much consistency and both are listed as questionable for this game. Denver QB Kyle Orten has been putting up big numbers. Oakland has pulled upsets by winning each of their last two games in Denver, as underdogs of 9 and 14 points. Both came much later in the season, however. After a pair of losses facing the top notch defenses of the Jets and Baltimore, things should go more smoothly here for the hosts. DENVER.
Minnesota (+3) at Green Bay (44): Minnesota QB Brett Favre is starting to really show his age and the wear and tear the game has taken on his body. Dealing with elbow tendonitis, Favre relied on a short passing game in last week’s win over Dallas, going 14 for 19 for just 95 net yards. The Vikes won both meetings last season with Favre’s former team which suggests the intangibles this season are now with the Packers. Green Bay is off of a loss and continues to adjust their roster to compensate for so many injuries. QB Aaron Rodgers was sharp last week after dealing with concussion issues from the week before. Last week’s effort against Dallas, on both sides of the ball, suggests there are serious issues that must be addressed if the Vikes are to contend for the playoffs. GREEN BAY.
New York Giants (+3) at Dallas (44½): At 1-4 the excuses are about worn out for the Dallas Cowboys as is their likelihood of making the playoffs. We were bombarded last week by the statistic that shows only 5 of 97 teams have made the playoffs since 1990 following such a start. Based on current momentum, it’s easy to make a case for the Giants, especially with the success the G-Men have had recently vs. the ‘Boys, sweeping both games last season. But the season is pretty much on the line here and despite losing at Minnesota, Dallas’ defense held the Vikes to just 188 total yards. In fact, Dallas has outgained each of their first five foes but with just one win to show for their efforts. Sometimes it does take a leap of faith and such is the case here. DALLAS.