NFL hits

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Following Monday night’s AFC East showdown between New England and the New York Jets, the 2010 regular season was three quarters complete.

Just four games remain for teams to determine their playoff fate – or have it determined for them by others.

At the start of each season, it’s always easy to make a case for most of the teams that made the playoffs last season to make them once again. But in most seasons there is considerable turnover in the composition of the 12 teams that make the postseason.

It is not unusual for half of the dozen teams that make the playoffs to come from the field of 20 missed from the previous season.

It appears that 2010 will be no exception. With a quarter of the season remaining, no fewer than four of last season’s division champions are all but certain to miss the playoffs and two more will need to make a late season run to have any real chance.

Arizona, Cincinnati, Dallas and Minnesota are each struggling with losing records and appear to have run out of chances to make up ground. Of the quartet, the Vikings have the “best” record, such as it is, at 5-7.

Minnesota trails Green Bay by 2 games and Chicago by 3 in the NFC North. Even by winning out – which by no means would be easy – would put them at 9-7 but it’s likely that it will take 10-6 to earn a Wild Card this season.

Indianapolis and San Diego are each 6-6 but in second place in their respective divisions. The Colts have lost three straight games for the first time since 2002, and their string of seven straight seasons of at least 12 wins ended last week when they were dominated by San Diego.

The Chargers had finally started to play well but their momentum came to a sudden halt in their ugly loss at home on Sunday to Oakland in a game they trailed throughout and never threatened.

Teams on the sidelines last season but in great position to make the playoffs include: Atlanta, Chicago, Pittsburgh and Kansas City. The Chiefs are making a strong run by leading the AFC West by two games.

Jacksonville also remains a viable candidate, leading the AFC South by a game over the Colts and having already defeated them in an earlier home meeting. The two meet again next week.

Baltimore, New England, New Orleans and the New York Jets could well be the only teams from last season’s playoffs to reprise their appearances although Green Bay is also in good position to earn at least a Wild Card.

The race in the NFC East could provide only one playoff team with either Philadelphia repeating or the New York Giants returning after a one season absence.

The key in determining the NFC playoff field might well be Chicago. The Bears, currently 9-3 and a game ahead of Green Bay in the NFC North, finish the season with a tough schedule that features home games against New England and the Jets and road games at Minnesota and Green Bay.

All four teams could be in the playoffs, so 9-3 could easily finish up at 9-7. A split of the four games to finish 11-5 should get the Bears to the postseason, especially if one of the two wins is in the season ender at Green Bay.

Here’s a look at this week’s schedule which includes eight divisional contests, using representative Monday morning lines.

Thursday, Dec. 9

Colts -2½ at Titans (46½): The Colts have endured injury after injury which has led to QB Peyton Manning tossing 11 interceptions in his last 3 games. Tennessee has lost five in a row while Indy’s dropped 4 of 5. The Colts’ losses have been to quality teams. Tennessee’s are not as excusable. COLTS.

Sunday, Dec. 12

 

Raiders +4½ at Jaguars (43): Both teams average 150 yards per game rushing and the defenses are fairly average against the run. The Jaguars have covered five in a row and have the better QB. They’ve been a much more compete team during this stretch than when they started 3-4 with each loss by more than 3 TD’s, which is why their season-to-date numbers are so ugly. JAGUARS.

Bengals +9½ at Steelers (41): The Bengals found yet another way to bungle a late game situation last week and thus lost a game that should have gone to overtime. It was their ninth straight loss following a 2-1 start. The Steelers’ win at Baltimore wasn’t pretty but was the hard hitting physical game that was anticipated. Expect the Steelers to pound the football and burn clock. UNDER .

Patriots -2½ at Bears (44): The Bears continue to be strong on defense while the offense has improved over the season’s second half. The Pats’ stats on defense are near the bottom of the league but they somehow make the big play to prevent points while allowing yards. The Bears have already defeated Green Bay and Philadelphia at home and catch New England at the right time. BEARS.

Browns +1½ at Bills (41): Cleveland’s win at Miami is the latest indication of a team making significant improvement. At 5-7, a .500 season is attainable. Buffalo is perhaps a year behind the Browns in terms of improvement, losing four games by a FG but playing much better over the past month. Neither team has been consistent on offense, and the weather conditions in December could cause both teams to rely more on the run. UNDER.

Giants -1 at Vikings (44): At press time, Minny QB Brett Favre had been upgraded to ‘probable’ after injuring his shoulder at the start of the Vikes’ win over Buffalo. Favre is clearly in decline and he, or backup Tavaris Jackson, will face pressure from an aggressive Giants’ defense. New York has gotten by their two game mini mid-season slump with a pair of home wins. GIANTS.

Packers -6½ at Lions (47½): After sluggish play to start the season, including a two point home win over these Lions, Green Bay has greatly raised its level of play on both sides of the football. They’ve won 5 of their last 6 games with the last 3 wins each by more than 17 points. Detroit has shown many signs of improvement, but a lack of depth has resulted in a 5-game losing streak. The indoor conditions will be ideal for Packers QB Aaron Rodgers to have a big game. PACKERS.

Falcons –7 at Panthers (42): These teams meet for the first time this season and clearly Atlanta is the much better team. But in their current 6 game winning streak only one of the wins has been by more than a TD. But to be fair, only 2 of the Panthers’ 11 losses have been by single digits. Atlanta has been outgained by their last two foes and will be content to escape with a win. PANTHERS.

Bucs -3 at Redskins (41): Tampa Bay is a road favorite for the first time in the coach Raheem Morris and QB Josh Freeman era. Normally this would be a good spot for the Redskins to rebound, much as they did with an OT win at Tennessee following that Monday night massacre against Philly. But if they do rebound, it likely comes on the strength of improved defensive play. UNDER .

Rams +9 at Saints (47): After struggling to a 4-3 start, New Orleans has won five in a row, including their last two on the road. This is their only home game in a five-game stretch with two tough road games on deck, at Baltimore and Atlanta. The Saints cannot afford to overlook the Rams. Though improved, the Rams do have defensive weaknesses and Saints’ QB Drew Brees has the savvy and the surrounding talent to exploit them. SAINTS.

Seahawks +4½ at 49ers (40½): This is a revenge game for the 49ers who lost badly, 31-6, in the season opener that set the tone for a very disappointing 0-5 start. The Niners have the better stats with a decided edge in rushing offense and total defense. This line seems high, but expect the 49ers’ best effort of the season. 49ERS.

Dolphins +7 at Jets (4½): Miami seeks to avenge an early season 31-23 loss to the Jets in which N.Y. allowed a season high 436 total yards. The teams have similar defensive stats, allowing about 300 yards per game. Prior to the earlier loss, the Dolphins had won three straight over the Jets and these teams have a long history of tight games. The Jets could be flat. DOLPHINS.

Broncos -3½ at Cards (42): Both teams are 3-9 and playing out the string which makes this one of the uglier games of the week. Arizona has more QB issues with ineffective starter Derek Anderson banged up last week and questionable for this game. Denver QB Kyle Orton had his worst game of the season in K.C. last week but otherwise has been putting up huge stats. CARDS.

Chiefs +7 at Chargers (47): Much of the public will be on the host Chargers this week following San Diego’s shocking home loss to Oakland. The Chiefs defeated San Diego to open the season in a Monday nighter played in the rain and in which the Chargers statistically dominated. K.C. is off of what appears to be a dull 10-6 revenge win over Denver but they dominated the game much more than the score shows. CHIEFS.

Eagles -3 at Cowboys (50½): The Cowboys are finally playing to their immense talent level. The Eagles are the highest scoring team in the NFC while only Arizona has allowed more points in the Conference than Dallas — and the margin is just 2. Interim coach Jason Garret has already done enough to warrant the full time job. Philadelphia needs the win and is playing well enough to suggest a focused effort. EAGLES.

Monday, Dec. 13

Ravens -3 at Texans (45½): Baltimore lost a tough physical game to Pittsburgh last week, but at 8-4 is still in pretty good shape to make the playoffs. The Ravens are just 3-3 on the road with two of the wins by a single point and by a FG. The Ravens do have the better defense but it’s down several notches from the past few seasons. Texans have an offense capable both at running and passing the football. An upset should not be a surprise. TEXANS.

last week                 since Oct 25                     PCT

 

13-2!!!                          46-39-2                             54.1

 

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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