Larry Fitzgerald and Arizona Cardinals heating up playoff race

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Andy Iskoe has gone 19-4-4 against the spread in his NFL selections the last two weeks to rebound from an early season slump. Congrats Mr. I.

Having gone 12 games, six teams have already had their season win total results determined. It’s no surprise both Atlanta and Houston will stay UNDER their projected 10.

With its tie at Green Bay last Sunday, Minnesota will fall short of 7.5 – a total that had already anticipated a decline from the 10 of last season, which earned a Wild Card. All three teams will miss the playoffs.

On a positive note Arizona (5.5), Carolina (7.5) and Kansas City (7) have already exceeded their projected win totals and each is on a path to make the Playoffs this season after having missed out in 2012. Of the three Arizona is in the most tenuous position but at 7-4 does control its own destiny.

In Week 17, the Cardinals host San Francisco, the team they are tied with in the standings. At 8-3 Carolina’s path to the post season is a bit easier than Arizona although the Panthers still have a home and home set with powerful New Orleans.

The 9-2 Chiefs are in the best position even though they have lost two straight and host Denver this week. Their 9-2 record is still four games better than the six pack of teams tied for the second AFC Wild Card at 5-6.

Things will become clearer as the final five weeks of the season are played and we very well could see six new teams make the playoffs. New Orleans and NFC East co-leaders Dallas and Philadelphia all missed the playoffs last season as did the co-leaders of the NFC North, Chicago and Detroit.

The final month of the season promises to be one filled with excitement, surprises, drama, disappointments and, hopefully, great entertainment.

The byes have gone bye-bye and all 32 teams will be in action for each of the remaining five weeks of the regular season. Here’s a look at the 16 games to be played over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

Thursday

Green Bay (NL) at Detroit: Until the status of Green Bay starting QB Aaron Rodgers is determined there is likely to be no line on this game. Rodgers’ value to the Pack is in excess of a touchdown and his absence has resulted in three losses and a tie following a 5-2 start. There will be a frenzied, festive atmosphere for this traditional Turkey Day classic and even if he does play Rodgers will be less than 100 percent healthy as well as being rusty. The Lions’ aggressive defense is capable of taking over this game and their offense is more balanced than it’s been for many years. DETROIT.

Oakland +9½ at Dallas (45½): Dallas QB Tony Romo is having a solid season directing the offense but the defense has major vulnerabilities that have been magnified by injuries. Backup Matt McGloin is expected to again start for the Raiders who are 4-7 but just one game behind a host of teams tied for the second AFC Wild Card. The Cowboys have not been reliable favorites in recent seasons and there’s plenty of room here for the Raiders to be competitive and cover even if they come up short on the scoreboard. OAKLAND.

Pitt +3 at Baltimore (40½): This has been one of the most consistent series in NFL history with four straight meetings and 8 of the last 9 decided by a field goal. Pittsburgh won at home last month 19-16 and the teams have split their last 18 meetings dating back nearly a decade. Both teams are 5-6 and in a six team tie for the second AFC Wild Card. Pittsburgh is the hotter team, winners of 3 straight and 5 of 7 following a 0-4 start whereas the Ravens, despite winning 2 of 3, are just 2-4 following a 3-2 start. Taking the points we think is the best option. PITTSBURGH.

Sunday

Tenn +4½ at Indy (44½): The loss to injury of WR Reggie Wayne has greatly lessened the effectiveness of Indy’s offense and QB Andrew Luck continues to be under constant pressure as a result. The Titans and Colts are very similar statistically with Tennessee having the slightly better defense. Getting more than a FG in a quick Divisional revenge situation is appealing in what should be a well played game between a pair of teams that have been above average in avoiding turnovers. TENNESSEE.

Denver (NL) at KC: The departure due to injury of two Kansas City defenders in their wild 41-38 loss to San Diego on Sunday keeps this game off boards early in the week. KC does have a strong home field but if they are shorthanded on defense the Broncos and QB Peyton Manning can exploit defense as well as can any team in the league. The Broncos should be favored with the magnitude related to the health of the KC defenders. Although the spot sets up well for the Chiefs, Denver has more ways to attack a defense, especially with the emergence of a strong rushing attack. DENVER.

J’ville +7 at Cleveland (40½): Break up the Jaguars! After starting 0-8 the Jags have won 2 of 3 – both on the road – sandwiched around a home loss to hot Arizona. Cleveland has dropped 2 straight and 5 of 6 following a 3-2 start. The Browns are 1-2 both SU and ATS as favorites this season with the lone win and cover in their Thursday night prime time game against Buffalo in early October. The Jaguars are still a bad team that has trouble scoring, topping 20 points just once all season. Cleveland has also had problems on offense. UNDER.

TB +9 at Carolina (41½): After starting 0-8 Tampa Bay has 3 straight wins and 4 straight covers as the turmoil that surrounded the Bucs in September and October seems to have lessened. Carolina is the hottest team in the NFL with 7 straight wins. The streak includes a 31-13 win at Tampa Bay in late October in a game that was statistically close that featured no turnovers. Carolina should get the win but there’s every reason to now expect Tampa Bay to be competitive. TAMPA BAY.

Chicago (NL) at Minn: The uncertain status of Chicago QB Jay Cutler keeps this game off the boards on Monday but his replacement, Josh McCown, has filled in well. The problem for the Bears has been on defense as the Bears have allowed at least 20 points in every game this season. The Vikings have been just as vulnerable, allowing at least 23 points in each game they’ve played. The Bears and Vikes have combined for 16 overs, 5 unders and a push. OVER.

Arizona +3½ at Philly (48½): Both teams are playing their best football of the season with the Cardinals on a 4 game win streak and the Eagles winning 3 in a row prior to last week’s bye. While more attention is paid to the Eagles’ offense it has been the defense that’s shown greater improvement since the start of the season. After allowing 138 points in their first 4 games the Eagles have allowed just 122 points in the 7 games since. Arizona’s defense has also fared well lately, holding 3 of its last 4 foes to 14 points or less. UNDER.

Miami +1½ at NY Jets (38½): The Jets have been a solid defensive team all season, holding 10 of 11 foes to 90 rushing yards or less. The Jets’ offense is more geared towards the rush than the pass with rookie QB Geno Smith passing for less than 150 yards in 4 straight games while averaging 131 ypg on the ground. That plays well into a Miami defense that has allowed an average of 149 rushing ypg over its last 4 games with each foe gaining at least 136. This is the first of two meetings. NY JETS.

Atlanta +3½ vs. Buffalo (46): Buffalo’s annual trek to Toronto has the Bills off their bye and facing an Atlanta team that is playing out the string. The Falcons expended much physical and emotional energy as they sought to derail longtime rival New Orleans but came up short in a 17-13 loss. It was their fifth straight loss and eighth in nine games. Playing for a first season coach there’s more reason to expect a more inspired effort from the Bills than the Falcons who are in the midst of one of the biggest turnarounds in NFL history, standing 2-9 after going 13-3 last season. BUFFALO.

St. Louis +7½ at SF (45): San Francisco is on a short week after playing across the country at Washington Monday night. The Rams are playing their best football since Jeff Fisher took over as coach at the start of last season, winning back to back games at Indianapolis (38-8) and over Chicago (42-21). The preference here will be to back the more experienced team with the better defense and playing with great need regardless of Monday’s outcome. SAN FRANCISCO.

N. England -7 at Houston (48): The Patriots found a way to overcome a 24-0 halftime deficit last week at home against powerful Denver and ultimately won in overtime 34-31. They show a contrasting profile from that of Houston, although to a lesser extent. New England ranks numbers 9 and 21 in yards but numbers 6 and 9 in points, indicative of efficiency on both sides of the football. The stats geeks will continue to make the case for Houston. But the X’s and O’s and the blocking and tackling would suggest otherwise. NEW ENGLAND.

Cincy +1 at San Diego (47½): This may be the week’s most intriguing game. The Bengals have had several weeks to adjust for some key defensive injuries of their own. It seems that as QB Andy Dalton goes, so goes the fortunes of the Bengals. Here Dalton will face a vulnerable Chargers defense that should provide opportunities for a solid Cincy running game. SD QB Philip Rivers is enjoying a great season and should continue to have success here. The Chargers are playing better than many expected and the price to back them here is reasonable. SAN DIEGO.

NY Giants +2½ at Wash (48½): The Redskins have had internal issues surface over the past week as they prepared to host San Francisco on Monday night in which they were expected to lose. It is all but certain that both teams will miss the Playoffs. The Giants are on the road for the first time in a month and are 1-4 away from the Meadowlands. The Redskins had won 2 straight at home against similar competition prior to hosting the 49ers and rate the nod here at laying a field goal or less. WASHINGTON.

Monday

N. Orleans +6 at Seattle (46½): Both teams should be well prepared as Seattle is off its bye and New Orleans played last Thursday. Seattle is unbeaten at home although they had a close call against Tennessee and got a real scare from Tampa Bay. Both of New Orleans’ losses were on the road – at New England on virtually the final play of the game and at the Jets. It’s tough to buck Seattle in a big game at home but they do have some issues in the defensive backfield.There’s plenty of room in this line for Seattle to win without covering this line. NEW ORLEANS.

Record

Last Week

9-3-1

NFL

87-80-8

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]

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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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