Midseason Report

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It’s hard to believe but the NFL season has reached the halfway point for the 10 teams that will be playing their eighth game this weekend.

Based on what has taken place thus far, it seems pretty evident that the balance of power remains in the AFC where three teams are tied for the league’s best record at 5-1 (New England, the New York Jets and Pittsburgh) while another 4 teams have lost just twice.

Contrast that to the NFC where no team has fewer than two losses and that group of four may have been trimmed to three if the New York Giants lost at Dallas on Monday night.

Ironically, the league’s lone remaining winless team, Buffalo, resides in the AFC yet the Bills were extremely competitive in losses to a pair of the conference’s elite teams, Baltimore and New England.

In what is clearly shaping up as a season of parity, several teams that made the playoffs in 2009 are already in major danger of missing out this season. In the AFC, a pair of last season’s playoff teams has losing records with talented San Diego in last place in the West with their surprising 2-5 record.

The Chargers continue to lead the league in total offense (423 ypg) AND total defense (243 ypg), yet somehow find ways to play inefficient football. Last season’s winner of the AFC North, Cincinnati, is 2-4 but they’ve been competitive in each of their losses except on Opening Day in New England.

In the NFC, four of last season’s six playoff teams are struggling with Dallas having the most trouble. Heading into Monday night’s game against the Giants, the ‘Boys were just 1-4. Minnesota also has a losing record at 2-4.

Defending Super Bowl champion New Orleans is an unimpressive 4-3 and Arizona is just 3-3 and fading in the NFC West, having been outscored by 62 points on the season, the third worst margin in the league.

The emphasis the NFL is placing on cracking down on “illegal” hits by defenders may have had an immediate impact on scoring. The 13 games played on Sunday averaged 50.8 total points per game as nine games flew OVER the Total with just four staying UNDER.

Whether this spike in scoring (more than nine points above the average for the first six weeks) was a product of the specific matchups or is indeed related to more “tentative” play on the part of defenders is yet to be determined. But it certainly is worth monitoring over the next few weeks.

Six teams have byes this week — Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Cleveland, the New York Giants and Philadelphia. Here’s a look at the 14 games that will be played, including another installment of the “Tally Ho Bowl” in London, using representative lines as of Monday morning.

SUNDAY

Denver +1½ vs SF (41½) at London, England: Disappointing San Francisco is likely to be without QB Alex Smith who injured his shoulder in last week’s loss at Carolina, which means veteran David Carr should be the starter. The Niners are one of the most disappointing teams in the NFL with their 1-6 record after having been almost universally proclaimed as the team that would win the NFC West.

Denver was humiliated in Oakland last week, losing 59-14, a game in which they trailed 21-0 6 minutes into the game which was played in Denver! There’s little to like, or recommend, about either team so perhaps we’ll see a loosely played, wide open contest as the NFL continues to increase its international presence. OVER.

Jax +11 at Dallas (43): Jacksonville still has QB issues with starter David Garrard still questionable. Though the Jags are 3-4, they’ve been outscored by 79 points this season. Dallas remains one of the most talented teams in the league but have greatly underperformed, done in by mental errors and penalties.

If on their game, the Cowboys should win in a blowout but their mindset could be questionable pending Monday’s result against the Giants. This is arguably the weakest foe the Cowboys will have faced yet this season and a foe that is at less than full strength. Expect talent to prevail. DALLAS.

Wash +1½ at Detroit (44): Both teams are greatly improved over last season although Washington’s 4-3 record is more tangible evidence of that improvement than is Detroit’s 1-5 mark. It was here last season against the Redskins that the Lions ended their 19-game losing streak in a 19-14 win, one of just two wins in 2009. Detroit is rested and may have Matthew Stafford back at QB after missing all but part of the opening game with an injured shoulder.

The Lions’ lone win this season was a 44-6 rout of St. Louis, a team that blew out the Redskins two weeks earlier. The Lions are 5-1 ATS this season with their lone failure being a missed cover by a single point. Six of Washington’s seven games have been decided by six points or less with four of them by 3. DETROIT.

GB +6 at N.Y. Jets (43): Green Bay held on for a very satisfying win over Minnesota last Sunday night while the Jets were enjoying their bye week following a 5-1 start. The Packers remain one dimensional on offense, which often plays into the strength of an outstanding defense such as the Jets possess. At the same time, the Jets’ offense has come around nicely as QB Mark Sanchez continues to develop in his second season.

The Packers are off of that emotional win over the Vikings in which they really did not play all that well with QB Aaron Rodgers making several mistakes. With two weeks for an elite defense to prepare, look for the Jets to exploit Green Bay’s offensive limitations while also having success against a Packers defense playing below their level of last season. N.Y. JETS.

Carolina +3½ at St. Louis (37): The Panthers got their first win of the season last week with a late FG against struggling San Francisco. St. Louis scored all 17 of its points in the second quarter at Tampa but allowed a game winning TD with just 10 seconds remaining in a 1 point loss. Neither team has been able to generate consistency on offense but both have more than held their own defensively.

Other than in their blowout loss at Detroit, the Rams have not allowed more than 18 points in another game. Carolina is allowing just 310 total yards per game, ranking in the Top 10. Both teams have still developing offenses that cannot be counted upon to sustain or finish off drives. UNDER.

Miami +2½ at Cincy (43½): Miami remains winless at home Arguably they were denied a home win over Pittsburgh last week due to officiating blunders but the fact remains that the defense failed to protect a late lead at home. Cincinnati is to be commended for their gallant comeback at Atlanta last week after trailing 24-3 at the half.

The Bengals seem to play best when behind although their passing game has shown great improvement in recent weeks. Though just 2-4, two of their losses have been by a FG. This is a favorable spot for the Bengals in a game between teams of rather similar talent. With the more mature offense laying a field goal or less is the attractive option. CINCINNATI.

Buffalo +7½ at KC (44): Buffalo seeks its first win of the season and does so with an offense that has improved since the start of the season. Ryan Fitzpatrick put up huge numbers last week and the Bills, as a team, gained over 500 yards against a tough Baltimore defense in their OT loss. The Bills have scored at least 26 points in three of their last four games.

Kansas City is much improved as well as they sit atop the AFC West at 4-2. They lead the league in rushing at 176 ypg, which fits nicely against Buffalo’s defensive weakness, allowing 174 ypg overland, worst in the league. Following their 15-10 Opening Day loss to Miami, the Bills have allowed 34 or more points in each of their next 5 games. OVER.

Tenn +3½ at San Diego (44): There may not be two more contrasting teams in the NFL. Tennessee gets more out of less talent while San Diego does much less with one of the most talented teams in the NFL. Tennessee overcame a lethargic first three quarters with 27 points in the final frame to beat Philadelphia, improving to 5-2. San Diego can take some solace from their comeback against New England, missing the tying FG in the final moments after trailing by 17 in the fourth quarter.

The loss dropped the Chargers to 2-5. San Diego is noted for coming on strong as the season extends and perhaps last week’s comeback finally is the signal that they will start to play to their talent. Taking nothing away from the Titans but if the Chargers play as they can this game will result in a double digit win. SAN DIEGO.

TB +3 at Arizona (39½): Tampa Bay has already topped last season’s win total with its 4-2 record. Two of the wins came on the road at Carolina and Cincinnati. Arizona has fallen from last season, as expected, with QB Kurt Warner retired. The offense has suffered greatly and has already resulted in a QB change from Derek Anderson to rookie Max Hall.

Though statistically below average, both defenses have been able to prevent scores. Neither offense is explosive and this handicaps as game played between the 20’s. UNDER.

Seattle +2 at Oakland (42): Oakland was impressive in winning at arch rival Denver last week, 59-14, in continuing to show improvement. Though just 3-4, the Raiders were non-competitive only in their opening loss at Tennessee.

Seattle failed to capitalize on several red zone chances last week in a 22-10 win over punchless Arizona, settling for 5 field goals. Seattle’s last road game was a win at Chicago that followed a pair of poor efforts at Denver and St. Louis.

Much of Oakland’s improvement has been in running the football. They ran for 328 yards in the Denver win but prior to that had rushed for at least 100 yards in every game. Seattle has the league’s second best rush defense, statistically, but, ironically, allowed their highest total of the season in last week’s win over Arizona, 113 yards. Both teams are clearly improved but the preference is to back the host at a cheap price. OAKLAND.

Minnesota +5 at N. England (44): This becomes almost a critical game for the visitors who, at 2-4, sit in third place in the NFC North. At the same time New England, at 5-1, is tied with the Jets atop the AFC East. Clearly the Pats are playing the better football and their much maligned defense continues to play better than expected, yielding yards but not points. Minnesota has yet to top 24 points in any game this season. There continues to be a schism between head coach Brad Childress and QB Brett Favre, who is starting to look his age.

This game marks the return of Minny WR Randy Moss to New England so there will be much pre-game hype. The intangibles favor the host with the coaching edge and a lack of distractions. The Pats are unbeaten at home while Minny is winless on the road, even though the losses have been close. Right now, Tom Brady is a more reliable – and better – quarterback than Favre. NEW ENGLAND.

Pitt (PK) at N.O. (43½): This is a matchup of the last two Super Bowl champions. Currently the Steelers are playing much more like champions than are the Saints, certainly in terms of the “eyeball” test. Yet statistically, the Saints are outgaining the Steelers and allowing fewer yards per game. Part of the explanation comes from turnovers. The Saints are committing them and Pittsburgh is avoiding them. The plays that worked so well last season for New Orleans are falling short this season.

New Orleans has clearly missed Reggie Bush (who might return for this game) on offense and the Saints have one of the weakest running games in the league. But the intangibles favor a strong effort from the hosts in this prime time contest. Pittsburgh was fortunate in winning at Miami last week. Pittsburgh is ripe for a letdown with a key divisional game at Cincinnati on deck. The Saints’ trip to Carolina next week figures to be less of a concern than is a victory here this week. NEW ORLEANS.

MONDAY

Houston (+5½) at Indy (49½): The season’s first rematch finds banged up Indianapolis seeking to avenge an opening day 34-24 loss to the Texans, which was arguably the biggest win in Houston franchise history. Indy QB Peyton Manning will be without a pair of key pass catching weapons, TE Dallas Clark and WR Austin Collie. RB Joseph Addai is also expected to be out. Fortunately the Colts have had extra time to prepare with their bye last week. But Houston also is off a bye.

Houston has a potent offense and a vulnerable defense. Indy’s game plan may well include a greater reliance on the rush, historically a neglected (rather than weak) part of their offense. Manning may also utilize more of the short passing game to extend possessions. The Indy defense is maligned but in its two previous home games held the Giants to 14 and Kansas City to 9. The total is priced as if this would be a typical shootout with all hands healthy but the Colts’ injuries should necessitate a change in philosophy. UNDER.

 

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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