NFL Football teams having trouble headed for playoffs

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The 2011 season is more than one quarter complete and there are causes for concern for several teams that made the playoffs last season but have had their problems in getting untracked.

The greatest concern has to be in Philadelphia as the Eagles, a perennial playoff team for the past decade which supposedly strengthened its roster for 2011, has lost four straight games following an impressive opening day win over still winless St. Louis.

And this is despite the Eagles leading the league in rushing for 166 yards per game and outgaining their opposition by an average of 94 yards per game. Of course being tied for the league’s worst turnover margin (-10) is part of the explanation. Opponents have been able to frustrate QB Michael Vick and thus far coach Andy Reid and his staff have been unable to counter those measures.

The New York Jets have lost three in a row and could easily be 1-4 but for that fortunate opening game win over Dallas. All three losses have been on the road and to winning teams, including a pair of playoff clubs from last season, so if not an excuse, at least a reasonable explanation.

Although favored in Oakland the Jets were underdogs in both Baltimore and New England.

On the positive side the early season play of both San Francisco and Washington have given their fans reasons to think that the playoffs are a real possibility. The prospects for San Francisco are much better than those for the Redskins because of residence.

The 49ers already have built a two game lead in the NFC West where their 4-1 record is the only non-losing mark in the division. Washington returns from its bye week with a 3-1 mark, good for the top spot in the NFC East, but the 3-2 Giants and 2-2 Cowboys are considered legitimate contenders.

Athough the Eagles are 1-4, perhaps they will be the team that makes a long run over the second half of the season. It seems almost every season that one team, talented but playing with desperation, makes a run winning 10 of their final 11 or 12 games to make the playoffs.

But perhaps the best positive story remains the Detroit Lions. Favored by near a TD, they hosted division rival Chicago on Monday night. A win would have them tied with another division rival, Green Bay, as the only remaining unbeaten teams at 5-0.

It’s still a month and a half away when the Lions will host the Packers in their annual Thanksgiving Day game. Wouldn’t it be something if both teams were still unbeaten at 10-0 when they meet?

It could happen although both teams do have some formidable obstacles along the way. But both are likely to be favored in most, if not all, of the games prior to that meeting.

At the very least, it will be great to have a meaningful opening game on Turkey Day!

Sunday’s 12 games produced an average of 51.1 points per game which continues the high scoring that’s marked the start of this season. Through 76 of the schedule’s 256 games the average points per game is now 46.4, unprecedented since the AFL/NFL merger in 1970.

For the season, the OVER has a commanding 47-27 edge against the UNDER with two ending in pushes. The OVER was 9-3 last Sunday.

Home teams are almost exactly even ATS with 37 covers, 36 losses and a trio of pushes. Home Underdogs have been slightly profitable at 16-12-2 ATS.

In handicapping the games it bears keeping in mind to be selective about when you think the points will matter. The favored team wins and covers or loses outright over 80 percent of the time.

Thus far in 2011 the points have mattered in just 17 of 76 games with three of the 17 resulting in point spread pushes. In 14, the favored team won on the field but lost to the spread.

Half of those 14 were straight up wins but point spread losses occurred at about a third of the games in which the closing line was -6 or higher.

Six more teams have byes this week (Arizona, Seattle, Denver, Kansas City, Seattle and San Diego).

Here’s a look at the baker’s dozen of games that will be played.

SUNDAY

Rams +14½ at Packers (48): It’s hard to find fault with anything Green Bay has done this season. Similarly it’s hard to find any, much less many, positives for the 0-4 Rams, who off a bye should have made adjustments for QB Sam Bradford. OVER.

Jaguars +13 at Steelers (40): The Jags have been above average defensively and, notwithstanding last week, the Steelers are not an offensive powerhouse. As rookie QB Blaine Gabbert gets more snaps, the Jaguars offense will show improvement. JAGUARS.

Eagles PK at Redskins (48): The Skins are playing with confidence and will remember the 59-28 thrashing they suffered in D.C. on a Monday night last season. Despite the critical spot for the Eagles, the Redskins’ motivation and extra preparation time trumps that need. REDSKINS.

49ers +5½ at Lions (47½): This could be a flat spot for the Lions after hosting Chicago on Monday night. Win or lose they will be spent emotionally for what was billed as their biggest game in more than a decade. Getting more than a FG in a game between a pair of teams both learning how to win is attractive. 49ERS.

Panthers +5½ at Atlanta (51): It’s a guess as to how Atlanta will play here after losing last night’s game to Green Bay after leading 14-0 in the first quarter but never scoring again. Still, the Falcons have performed well at home over the past several seasons, including wins over the Panthers by 21, 8 and 17 points in their last 3 meetings on this field. FALCONS.

Colts +7 at Bengals (39½): The Colts are being out-gained by 112 yards per game. Still, the offense has shown signs of improvement the past two weeks. The Bengals are not designed to blow teams out and are being quarterbacked by rookie Andy Dalton. COLTS.

Bills +3½ at Giants (50): The Giants are allowing more than a yard per play less than the Bills and can apply strong pressure to Buffalo QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Giants’ ground game has been slow to develop but should have success against that Buffalo defense still seeking an identity. GIANTS.

Texans +7 at Ravens (45½): Houston is still without WR Andre Johnson and last week lost key defensive stud Mario Williams to injury. That loss is critical for a defense in transition under new coordinator Wade Phillips. The Ravens should have success on both sides of the ball. Their three wins have been by 28, 30 and 17 points, two coming at home. RAVENS.

Browns +6½ at Raiders (44½): This is Oakland’s first role as a favorite and they’re allowing 423 yards per game. Cleveland has been an underdog just once, in their last minute home win over Miami. It may be a bit premature to expect Oakland to win by a margin against a rested team prepared to play ball control against a mistake prone foe. BROWNS.

Cowboys +7 at Patriots (54): It took a last minute FG but the Pats extended their streak to 13 straight regular season games of scoring at least 30 points. Dallas is rested and should be prepared to attack New England’s defense that is ranked 32, both overall and against the pass. Combined these teams are averaging 913 yards of total offense, 698 through the air. OVER.

Saints -4½ at Bucs (49): The Saints have won big here the past two seasons against a Tampa team that was still in the early stages of growth. Tampa wound up with 10 wins last season and, but for last week, have played well at the start of this season. The Bucs are capable of pulling the minor upset, catching a team in that tough spot of playing a third straight road game. BUCS.

Vikings +4 at Bears (44½): Minnesota has one of the top rushing attacks, averaging 160 ypg behind RB Adrian Peterson. Long a strength, the Bears’ defense has been vulnerable this season, allowing 426 ypg prior to Monday night. Chicago has won three straight against the Vikes with both wins last season by 14 and 26 points. Both offenses have been good at protecting the football and each will be facing a permissive pass defense. OVER.

MONDAY

Dolphins +8 at Jets (41½): The Dolphins are desperate for a win and coach Tony Sparano’s job is thought to be in jeopardy despite surviving through the Bye week. Both teams are allowing more yards than they gain with Miami’s strength being its offense and the Jets’ being its defense. Miami starting QB Chad Henne is out for the season and backup Matt Moore is having an undistinguished career. JETS.

last week     overall NFL     Pct

5-7                 32-40-3     on hold

 

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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