NFL midway

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The 2010 NFL season has reached the halfway point with several teams playing their ninth game of the season this coming weekend. To say it’s been a season of surprises thus far would be an understatement.

Although it’s too early for teams to be mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, the list of teams from last season’s playoffs that are in major trouble this season is as lengthy as ever. No fewer than five teams that were in the 2009 playoffs find themselves with losing records.

The biggest disappointment is Dallas. At 1-6 the Cowboys are tied with Carolina for the worst record in the NFC and things continue to look bleak for the team considered by many to be the NFC favorites for 2010. After starting QB Tony Romo broke his collarbone in last Monday night’s loss to the Giants, backup Jon Kitna “celebrated” his first start in years by tossing 4 interceptions in an ugly home loss to Jacksonville.

Dallas is far from alone in terms of being a major disappointment. Defending AFC North champion Cincinnati is 2-5 as is defending NFC North champion Minnesota. San Diego will be hard pressed to defend its AFC West title with a 3-5 start while Arizona is just one game out of the lead in the NFC West despite a 3-4 mark.

At the same time there are some pleasant surprises although not all of these teams have improved enough to contend. Both Detroit and St. Louis are much improved and the Rams, at 4-4, might actually contend for the NFC West title with that division being so weak.

The division is led by Seattle whose 4-3 record is deceiving. Though improved, the Seahawks have many flaws and but for the weak division would not be considered a true playoff contender.

Kansas City currently leads the AFC West and appears legitimate. The Chiefs will face a challenge this weekend in Oakland against the suddenly resurgent Raiders, winners of their last two games by a combined 92-17 score. A win by the Raiders would pull them to within a half game of the Chiefs heading into their bye week.

The New England Patriots – surprise – have the best record in the AFC and in the NFL overall at 6-1. Five other teams will begin play next week with 5-2 records, including the winner of this past Monday’s game between Houston and Indianapolis.

In contrast, the NFC is led by a trio of teams with 5-2 records including yet another major surprise team, Tampa Bay. The Buccaneers are a team that has made strides with second season coach Raheem Morris and second season QB Josh Freeman and a defense that has a nice blend of youth and veteran leadership.

Unfortunately the Bucs play in the same division as Atlanta and New Orleans and will be hard pressed to maintain their first half pace as the schedule starts to toughen. Atlanta is also 5-2 as are the New York Giants. Both the Falcons and Giants return from byes this week.

Last week was unusual in that the home team was favored in all 12 games played stateside (although the Bengals were bet down to pick ‘em at many books on Sunday morning, a move that proved correct when they lost to Miami). Of the dozen games on Sunday in which the home team closed as a favorite, seven of those home teams both won and covered.

An eighth team, Kansas City, won but failed to cover as a 7-point choice in their overtime win over improving Buffalo. Only Arizona, Dallas and the New York Jets lost straight up as home favorites. San Francisco was a slight favorite in their win over Denver in the annual game played in London.

Thus far through 116 games underdogs are 65-45-4 ATS with two games closing as pick’ems. There will be slight variances in these results depending on the sports book but the conclusion is the same. Bookmakers are faring well with underdogs both covering (and winning straight up) at such a high rate halfway into the season as extreme parity remains the theme of the 2010 season.

Six more teams have byes this week as Denver, Jacksonville, St. Louis, San Francisco, Tennessee and Washington shall be idle.

Here’s a look at the bakers dozen of games that will be played, using representative lines as of Monday morning where available.

Chicago -3 vs. Buffalo (41): This is a home game for Buffalo but will be played in nearby Toronto as the NFL goes international light. The Bills have shown significant improvement in recent weeks following Ryan Fitzpatrick taking over at QB. The Bears are off a bye in which they should have been able to fine tune the offense. Even though their loss at Kansas City last week was a low scoring affair, the Bills still struggle defensively vs. the run which could allow for the Bears to make this a fast paced contest. OVER .

SD -1 at Houston (51): The Texans are off an emotional game at Indianapolis on Monday night. San Diego hopes that last week’s win over solid Tennessee is the start of their usual second half run that has earned the Chargers the AFC West title in recent seasons. San Diego continues to lead the league in both total offense and total defense so they are always a threat. And here they face the team ranking last in total defense, allowing over 300 passing yards, and over 400 total yards, per game. SAN DIEGO.

N.O. -7 at Carolina (43): The Saints came up with a huge effort Sunday night against Pittsburgh and could be ripe for a letdown here against their disappointing division rival. New Orleans won the first meeting this season 16-14 last month in what was a typically dull effort from the offense. Carolina’s offense is still non-existent, scoring below 20 points in six of its seven games, averaging just 12 a game for the season. The defense has played reasonably well and only once has Carolina allowed more than 20 points. UNDER.

Arizona +8 at Minn (41): Minnesota QB Brett Favre continues to amaze and battle through injury after injury. While his productivity is far down from last season he continues to be a leader and it is reasonable to expect the offense will show steady improvement over the balance of the season. Not so with Arizona where it’s been tougher to replace retired QB Kurt Warner. The running game has failed to develop and the defense has had to bear too much of a burden. The Vikings face perhaps the least talented team on a very tough sked. MINNESOTA.

TB +9 at Atlanta (44½): Tampa Bay continues to play tough but the fact is that they’ve faced mostly soft competition. Against the only two quality teams they’ve faced – New Orleans and Pittsburgh – the Bucs have been outscored 69-19 in one sided losses. Atlanta appears to be closer to the Saints and Steelers than to the teams Tampa Bay has beaten. While this line looks too high, it may not be enough given the contrast in the teams the Bucs have faced. And, Atlanta is off a bye. ATLANTA.

N.Y. Jets -3½ at Detroit (43): The Jets showed their rust in losing at home last week to Green Bay 9-0 following a bye. The defense played well but the offense sputtered much as it did in their lethargic opening game loss to Baltimore. Detroit is much improved over last season and last Sunday’s win over Washington matched their two wins of 2009. The Jets should give a much crisper effort against the Lions who have covered all three home games. At the same time, the Jets have won and covered all three road games. OVER.

Miami +5½ at Balt (40½): Miami continues its extreme play with their 4-0 road mark and 0-3 home record. Despite their overall winning record Miami has been outscored by 16 points on the season. Baltimore’s defense has declined as the season has progressed while the offense has only recently shown signs of performing up to its perceived potential. The Ravens are off a bye which allowed for tweaks to be made on both sides of the football. The line seems a bit high given Miami’s road success. MIAMI.

NE -5½ at Cleveland (44): New England has assumed the top spot in the AFC with their 6-1 record following their hard earned home win over Minnesota last week. Cleveland is off a bye and though the Browns are just 2-5 they are much improved and have been competitive in every game this season but failing to hold several late leads in losses. The defense was very impressive in their upset win at New Orleans and playing with great confidence. Another competitive effort could be looming. CLEVELAND.

N.Y. Giants -4½ at Seattle (42): The Giants return from their bye winners of four in a row and tied for the best mark in the NFC. Seattle sits atop the NFC West at 4-3 but leading the NFL’s weakest division. The statistical contrast between these teams is stark. The Giants are outgaining foes by 125 ypg while Seattle is being outgained by 93. Normally this would be a good spot for playing the home underdog. Concerns about Seattle QB Matt Hasselbeck keeps this game off the boards at many books but, even if healthy, the offense has continued to sputter. N.Y. GIANTS.

K.C. +2½ at Oakland (41): Both teams are surprise contenders in the AFC West, a division that has been San Diego’s fiefdom for the past half decade. These are the top two running teams in the NFL with the Chiefs averaging 190 ypg and Oakland 168. K.C. has been better at stopping the run while Oakland’s defense has been better against the pass. Neither offense has had much success throwing the football. Fundamentally the Chiefs remain a more talented team and further along the improvement curve. KANSAS CITY

Indy +1 at Philly: (44): Philly’s lone win over a legit playoff contender was its impressive victory over Atlanta. Indy is not as strong as in recent seasons and its lone win against a team considered strong was at home in Week 2 over the Giants. The extra week to prepare for Indy QB Peyton Manning does give the Eagles an edge but whether or not it’s enough to mean victory is uncertain. Rather, this game sets up as a back and forth duel with points a plenty quite likely. OVER.

Dallas +8 at GB (44): It can’t get much worse for the Cowboys, can it? A lack of leadership on the sidelines as well as on either side of the ball can be pointed to as the leading cause of the 1-6 start, Dallas’ worst start since 1989. Green Bay’s 9-0 win last week at the Jets was not a thing of beauty but winning on the road is always a positive, especially against a playoff quality foe. Nobody will want the Cowboys in this game which explains the high line. But even with Jon Kitna at QB the Cowboys still have arguably the better talent. DALLAS.

MONDAY

Pitt -4 at Cinn: (42): The situation calls for the home underdog, much as did the spot last Sunday night in New Orleans. The spot worked as the Saints bested the Steelers, dealing Pittsburgh just their second loss of the season. But the Bengals remain an enigma, far underperforming their talent level and seemingly suffering from the same lack of leadership that is affecting Dallas. The Bengals have lost four in a row. Pittsburgh will be eager to atone for last week’s loss in New Orleans and avenge a pair of losses to Bengals last season. PITTSBURGH.

 

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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