NFL class distinction clearly evident

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The second half of the regular season is well underway and several things are abundantly clear.

The best teams in the league are very, very good while the bad teams are truly bad. In a league that has long prided itself on the concept of parity, the 2018 season has unfolded as anything but resembling parity.

Two of the best teams in the NFL will meet Monday night in Los Angeles in what could potentially be the Super Bowl matchup in February. The Kansas City Chiefs and L.A. Rams are each 9-1 and perhaps the most interesting aspect of this game, from a Las Vegas standpoint, is the betting Total which opened Sunday evening at the Westgate SuperBook at 64 and fell as far as 62.5 due to news breaking about field conditions in Mexico City. Now that the game moved back to L.A. 64 is back on the board.

My data base goes back to 1982 and should the Total close at 62 or higher this game will feature the highest Total likely in the history of the NFL as the overall level of scoring over the past several seasons has been historically high. Prior to this season there had been 16 games with closing Totals above 57, all of which have occurred since 2000, nine of them since 2012. The game that currently holds the record was played in October 2000 between the St Louis Rams (“The greatest show on turf”) and San Francisco. The Total closed at 61.5 and the game stayed Under by just over a FG as the Rams won, 34-24.

Thursday

Packers (+2.5) at Seahawks (Over/Under 49.5): Both teams are remain in contention for a Wild Card despite mediocre records. Aaron Rodgers may be a better QB that Seattle’s Russell Wilson but Wilson has the better surrounding talent, including the better running game, and the better defense. The short week works against the Packers. SEAHAWKS

Sunday

Panthers (-4) at Lions (51.5): Carolina has had extra time to lick its wounds following its 52-21 blowout loss in Pittsburgh last Thursday which ended their three-game winning streak. Detroit was pretty much a ‘no show’ in Sunday’s loss at Chicago, falling behind early and nor mounting much of a comeback until they trailed 26-0. They are in a tough sandwich spot as four days later they have a Thanksgiving Day rematch with the Bears. PANTHERS

Cowboys (+3) at Falcons (47.5): This is both a tough and unfavorable spot for the Cowboys, who are sandwiched between Sunday night’s win at Philadelphia and Thursday’s home game against Washington, creating a potential flat spot especially with their next three games at home. Both teams are 4-5 which puts the loser of this game at an extreme disadvantage for making the Playoffs. OVER

Bengals at Ravens (No Line): The status of Baltimore QB Joe Flacco has this game off the board early in the week which opens up the possibility for rookie Lamar Jackson getting the start. The Ravens return from their Bye and at 4-5 are in somewhat of a ‘must win’ situation if they are to keep what were once very promising Playoff hopes alive. They are also playing to avenge a Week 2 loss to the 5-4 Bengals which means a loss here would have the effect of putting the Ravens three games behind the Bengals in both teams’ pursuit of a Wild Card. RAVENS

Vikings (+2.5) at Bears (45.5): The Bears have won three straight – all by double digits – but step up in class here after those wins over the Jets, Bills and Lions. They have a half-game lead over Minnesota in the NFC North, who have won 4 of 5. The Bears have lost three straight and 6 of 7 to the Vikes and also have a short week to prepare for a Thanksgiving Day rematch at Detroit. VIKINGS

Eagles (+8) at Saints (54.5): Although situational handicapping has been a staple of the profession for many years, it does not work all the time. Last week, the Saints were in a terrible spot, appearing ripe for a letdown. Instead, they inflicted a beatdown on the Bengals, increasing their winning streak to eight. The Eagles disappointed many backers last week, losing outright at home to Dallas as a 7.5 point favorite. This is a tough spot for the Eagles who face each of their NFC East rivals in their next three games. There is the temptation to take the generous points with the possibility of the Saints suffering that letdown at some point and most likely against a quality non-Divisional foe. OVER

Titans (+2.5) at Colts (48): The 5-4 Titans are off of impressive wins at Dallas and over New England following a three-game losing streak. They could easily be 7-2 as two of their losses were by a single point. The 4-5 Colts have looked sharp in winning three in a row following four straight losses as QB Andrew Luck is much closer to his pre-injury form than he was in September. This could be a flat spot for the Titans even though they face a Divisional foe but with a stronger Divisional foe on deck next week when they play at Houston. COLTS

Texans (-3) at Redskins (42.5): Houston returns from its Bye seeking to extend its six-game winning streak that followed an 0-3 start. Three of their wins have been by a FG or less. Washington is also 6-3 and is on off one of the most statistically bizarre games in NFL history. Last week the Redskins allowed 501 total yards to Tampa Bay but botched red zone opportunities by the Bucs resulted in just one FG as the ‘Skins won 16-3. Their offensive line has suffered key injuries which should not bode well against a strong Houston defense. TEXANS

Buccaneers (+1) at Giants (52): We should not read too much into the Giants’ Monday night win at San Francisco. But for one of the few times this season the offense seemed to have a rhythm and the offensive line played well, allowing QB Eli Manning to be sacked just once. Tampa’s promising 2-0 is long forgotten as the Bucs have lost six of seven, including the last three. Interestingly, if the current line holds or increases, this will mark the first time this season that the Giants will be favored. GIANTS

Broncos (+7) at Chargers (47): These AFC West rivals meet for the first time this season. The 7-2 Chargers have the look of a Super Bowl team with six straight wins following a 1-2 start with both losses coming to the pair of 9-1 teams, the Chiefs and Rams. Denver returns from its Bye having lost six of seven. Yet this line appears fairly short, given the Chargers’ success. They are becoming a ‘public’ team which usually calls for line inflation. They’ve covered four of their last five with each win by eight points or more. They might not be playing in Denmark but something smells rotten. BRONCOS

Raiders (+4) at Cardinals (41): Often when weak offenses face weak defenses the offenses have the edge. But with both of these offenses lacking running games and also being prone to turnovers, it’s hard to envision many sustained drives or big plays. UNDER

Steelers (-5.5) at Jaguars (47.5): This is major revenge for the red-hot Steelers who were solidly beaten by the Jags at home in last season’s Playoffs.  At 3-6 this truly is a “must win” for the Jaguars if they are to have any realistic chance of reprising last season’s trip to the Playoffs. STEELERS

Monday

Chiefs (+4) at Rams (64): This has been the season’s most anticipated matchup for over a month when it became clear that both of these high-powered offenses have legitimate chances to carry their teams to a rematch in the Super Bowl. Both are 9-1 and rank second and third in total yards per game and scoring. The Rams have the statistically better defense but the KC defense has been efficient enough that the Chiefs have the slightly better scoring differential, +11.3 vs. +10.4. And in fact, the Chiefs have a very slight edge in defensive yards per play (5.95 vs 6.03) which is a much better indicator than the traditional rankings yardstick of yards per game.

Quite simply, either team can win this game and it might well come down to who has the ball last as that team’s offense will be a favorite vs the opposing defense. Getting any points in what can arguably be justified as a pick ‘em game is a bonus. CHIEFS

Last week: 7-6-1

Season: 73-71-4

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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