Don’t be hasty jumping on AFC

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Commissioner Roger Goodell announced on Monday all things are set for an as scheduled Feb. 7 Super Bowl in Tampa. The mid-season potential for a week 18 “make-up week” due to multiple schedule disruptions does not appear necessary and the playoffs are scheduled to proceed as possible with Super Bowl LV less than two months away.

In assessing the potential playoff field, it appears on the surface the AFC will have the stronger teams. This is reflected by looking at the records of the four division leaders as they are a combined 42-10 SU.

The NFC division leaders are just 35-17. Much of the gap relates to Washington’s poor 6-7 record. But even the current AFC Wild Cards are outperforming their NFC counterparts. The current AFC trio is a combined 26-13. Compare that to the NFC’s trio’s record of 24-15.

On the surface, it appears the AFC playoff field is far superior. There are Super Bowl lines available for wagering around Las Vegas that have been available since last summer. The AFC representative is -4 to – 4.5. It seems an easy decision to lay the points with whatever team emerges from the NFC, doesn’t it?

But consider two key factors. First, the bottom three teams, record-wise, are in the AFC with the Jets, Jacksonville and Cincinnati a combined 3-35-1. Two other AFC teams are 4-9, the same record as the three weakest teams in the NFC. AFC teams have feasted on the bottom feeders to a much larger extent than have the NFC’s best.

A second factor is recent Super Bowl point spread history. Each of the last four Super Bowls and eight of the last 10 have featured closing lines of 4 or less. The other two lines were 4.5 and 5. That’s in stark contrast to the previous 20 Super Bowls in which only four closed at lower than -5.

Form has held up recently as seven straight Super Bowls have matched two No. 1 seeds or a No. 1 vs. a 2. Underdogs have won six of the last nine Super Bowls outright. Favorites have won three of the last four but each was laying a FG or less.

The conclusion? Making a play right now on the NFC team +4 or +4.5 may look very appealing compared to where the line may close as Super Bowl LV kicks off.

Thursday

Chargers at Raiders, Total 53.5: Las Vegas held on for a wild 31-26 win in their first meeting and Raiders’ games have averaged an NFL high 57 total points (9-3-1). After allowing 30 or more points for the eighth time this season, the Raiders fired defensive coordinator Paul Guenther after Sunday’s loss to the Colts. But the players remain and the injuries linger.

After a rough outing against the Patriots, Chargers QB Justin Herbert bounced back nicely in Sunday’s win over Atlanta. The rookie played well in the teams’ first meeting and has thrown multiple TD passes in 8 of his last 10 games. OVER

Sunday

Texans +7 at Colts: Indy won the first meeting 26-20 two weeks ago, covering as 3-point road chalk. The Colts have edges in the ground game as Houston ranks 32nd in rushing offense (86 ypg) and 31st in rushing defense (152 ypg). The Texans also rank last in forcing just eight turnovers.

QB Deshaun Watson is having a strong season but is working with a thinned out receiving corps. Colts veteran QB Philip Rivers has adapted well to coach Frank Reich’s offense following a slow start. After not tossing more than one TD pass in any of his first five games, he’s tossed two or more in six of the last eight. COLTS

Patriots +2.5 at Dolphins: They’ve met 32 times since 2004 and Miami was favored just once, by 2.5 at home in 2013, winning 24-20. Since that win the Fish are 5-7 both SU and ATS. Their last three upsets have been in a season rematch, including as 17- and 9- point underdogs the past two seasons.

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Miami was competitive in last week’s loss to Kansas City. They’re also 3-0 ATS as home favorites and play their final two games on the road. New England is rested but last week’s loss at the Rams may have ended their playoff hopes.

Yes, Bill Belichick is coaching vs. former assistant Brian Flores, but the student beat the teacher last season with a weaker team. And the Pats were much stronger then. DOLPHINS

Bears +3 at Vikings: Chicago played its best game of the season in its 36-7 win over Houston, snapping a five-game losing streak that followed a flawed 5-1 start. The teams are tied and one game behind Arizona for the final Wild Card.

Last month, Minnesota won 19-13 in Chicago, holding the Bears to just 149 total yards (3.0 per play). The line looks cheap here, tempting you to lay the points with Minnesota which was an identical -3 in their first meeting. But nothing is that easy. BEARS

Browns -4 at Giants: Cleveland was very impressive in Monday’s night’s loss to Baltimore. They’re not the same sorry Browns they’ve been much of the past two decades and are capable of being a force in the playoffs.

The Giants were doomed by turnovers in losing to Arizona with QB Daniel Jones still having issues holding onto the football (losing 5 of 10) and avoiding sacks (37). 

Offenses often “bounce” following extreme efforts. The Giants gaining just 159 total yards and Cleveland gaining 493 would both be examples of “extreme.” GIANTS

Eagles +6 at Cardinals: Philly’s upset of New Orleans was huge and keeps the Birds still in the NFC East race. By winning out they’d finish 7-8-1 and they face both Dallas and Washington to close the season.

Arizona ended its three-game losing streak with a defensive gem in beating the Giants and are back in control of the third Wild Card. Despite winning, the Cards settled for four short field goals in the red zone.

Eagles QB Jalen Hurts played well in his first start, especially with 106 rushing yards, giving the offense more versatility than does Carson Wentz. The QB change must be viewed as positive and one that suggests this line is a bit high. EAGLES

Last week: 4-2

Season: 32-51-1

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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