No faves

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The 2010 NFL season continues to unfold as one of parity. There are no truly dominant teams that can be proclaimed solid favorites to win the Super Bowl.

And aside from a pair of 0-5 teams, Buffalo and Carolina, there are no truly pathetic teams that can be counted upon as easy wins week after week. A third winless team, San Francisco, has been disappointing to say the least but still has enough talent to suggest a turnaround is likely in short order, especially playing in what is arguably the NFL’s weakest division, the NFC West.

But most attention is generally paid to the teams at the top of the NFL pecking order and assessing which are the teams to beat on the path to the playoffs.

For the first time since 1970 no NFL team has made it to a record of 4-0 after Kansas City returned from their early bye week to lose, albeit competitively, at Indianapolis.

More incredible, however, was that THE UNDERDOG WON ALL 9 GAMES IN WHICH IT COVERED THE SPREAD. There was not a single favorite that won but failed to cover. In additional to Indianapolis, Baltimore, Detroit and Atlanta each won and covered as favorites. And only the wins by Baltimore and Detroit were comfortable as the Colts needed a late TD to cover against Kansas City and the Falcons needed a late interception return for a TD to extend from a pointspread push to a cover.

Through the first 75 games of the season, underdogs are 47-26-1 (64.4 percent) with one Pick ‘em game accounting for that 75th game.

Totals results are much more in line with historical norms as 38 games have gone OVER, 36 have stayed UNDER and one game ended in a PUSH.

Thus far in 2010 the 74 favorites have been asked to lay an average of just 5.01 points per game. In 2009’s regular season there were 253 favorites who laid an average price of 6.66 points per game. For the six seasons from 2004 through 2009 the average favorite laid 5.86 points per game.

It will be quite interesting to see how the lines unfold over the next few weeks and whether the domination of underdogs will continue.

Arizona, Buffalo, Carolina and Cincinnati have their byes this week.

Here’s a look at the 14 games that will be played using representative Monday morning lines where available.

SUNDAY

San Diego (-8½) at St. Louis (Over/Under 45½): Even though they were torched at Detroit last week the St. Louis Rams are clearly an improved team with rookie QB Sam Bradford maturing each week. The Chargers then reeled off 11 straight wins to finish the season 13-3. The potential is there for a blowout but the Rams are playing hard and are back at home where they won their two games previous to last week’s trip to Detroit. ST. LOUIS.

Kansas City (+4½) at Houston (44½): Kansas City was impressive in defeat last week, allowing Indianapolis’ potent offense to tally just one TD and that came late in their 19-9 road loss. Houston’s loss to the Giants was not a huge surprise as the Texans were short FG favorites. The surprise was that the game was decided early as the Giants blew out Houston 34-10. Houston has their bye next week so they should be fully focused to get back on track. The play of underdogs thus far keeps this price relatively cheap. HOUSTON.

Baltimore (+3) at New England (44½): New England suffered perhaps their worst loss in the Belichick/Brady era when Baltimore ousted the Pats from last season’s playoffs with a one sided 33-14 rout that was decided in the first quarter. The Ravens can certainly win this game and will not be intimidated in the least. But the bitter taste left by that playoff lost and the extra week to prepare are a couple of strong intangibles that combine with a very talented and well coached team that has performed better defensively than many expected. NEW ENGLAND.

New Orleans (-4½) at Tampa Bay (44): After several close calls the past few weeks the Saints finally succumbed in Arizona last week, their second loss in three weeks. Tampa Bay continues to play inspired football and their 3-1 start is a surprise to almost everyone. Tampa has given New Orleans fits in recent seasons with 4 of the last 5 meetings decided by 4 points or less. The Saints continue to show the classic signs of the Super Bowl hangover. UNDER the Total.

Atlanta at Philadelphia (No Line): The Philadelphia QB situation remains uncertain at press time although Kevin Kolb’s leading of the Eagles to a win at San Francisco Sunday night is a good sign if Michael Vick is unable to return this week. With the Eagles likely to be favored by less than a FG they are well positioned to win as they catch the Falcons in a second straight road game. PHILADELPHIA

Detroit (+10) at New York Giants (44½): The Lions’ hard work and no quit attitude finally paid off last week as they routed St. Louis 44-6. The Giants were equally as impressive in winning at Houston 34-10. This could be a more typical Detroit game in which they fall behind early but put points on the board in an attempted second half comeback. OVER the Total.

Seattle (+6½) at Chicago (No Total): Chicago was fortunate to play Carolina last week as they played without starting QB Jay Cutler and it showed in the performance of the backups. While Cutler may be back for this contest he will be the second best QB in the contest as Seattle’s Matt Hasselbeck is more accomplished. It’s hard to justify the Bears as this large a favorite. SEATTLE.

Miami at Green Bay (No Line): Green Bay appears to be the one team cursed by injuries this season and multiple injuries sustained last week in their OT loss at Washington likely keeps this game off the boards until late in the week. QB Aaron Rodgers, TE Jermichael Finley and LB Clay Matthews Jr are each questionable or worse to face rested Miami. The Dolphins will be highly motivated following a pair of home divisional losses to get back on track and they’ve already won at Minnesota this season. The situation sets up nicely for Miami but not if they are a short favorite. Rather, look for both teams to have trouble sustaining drives. UNDER the Total.

Cleveland (+13) at Pittsburgh (39): QB Ben Roethlisberger makes his 2010 debut following his four game suspension and the Steelers’ Bye week. Roethlisberger might be a bit rusty in timing with his receivers and the game plan may be to emphasize the ground game. Their last 4 meetings have produced 19. 41, 31 and 16 total points. UNDER the Total.

New York Jets (+3) at Denver (40): The Jets must travel cross country on a short week following Monday’s home game against Minnesota. Entering that game the Jets were playing as well as any team in the league and were off of three straight Divisional wins. This is the start of a rough scheduling stretch for the Broncos while the Jets have their Bye next week. Without knowing Monday’s result this would still appear to be a spot for a flat effort from the Jets. DENVER.

Oakland (+7) at San Francisco (41): At 2-3 Oakland has been competitive in all but their opening game loss at Tennessee. San Francisco remains winless yet is favored for a second straight week. They lost as FG favorites to Philadelphia Sunday night and now come favored by more than double that against what looks to be an improved Raiders team. The suspiciously high line is a concern as the lines makers continue to have what thus far has been an over inflated opinion of the Niners. They may win and cover convincingly but heading into this game there are very few reasons to lay this price. OAKLAND.

Dallas (+2½) at Minnesota (46): Minnesota is off of Monday night’s game at the Jets while Dallas limps in off of an ugly home loss to Tennessee, highlighted by mental mistakes and sloppy play. Dallas will be motivated to avenge last season’s 34-3 Playoff loss. Neither team is playing as well now as they were then and the loser of this game will face a tough uphill battle to even make the Playoffs this season. The addition of WR Randy Moss does give the Vikes a huge upgrade and should create a more balanced offense. Viking QB Brett Favre has shown better leadership skills than his Dallas counterpart Tony Romo and that could be decisive if this game is decided late. MINNESOTA.

Indianapolis (-3) at Washington (43½): Both teams have had trouble running the football but Washington has been better at stopping the run. Washington came back last week against a struggling Green Bay offense but faces a greater challenge here. Indy does have their Bye next week so they’ll be fully prepared for a strong effort here. Washington QB McNabb is off of a huge effort last week and with a pair of top quarterbacks facing a pair of average defenses their could be many big pass plays. OVER the Total.

MONDAY

Tennessee (-3) at Jacksonville (44½): Both teams are involved in a four way tie in the AFC South where all teams are 3-2. The Jags are off of back to back wins as underdogs while Tennessee enters off of their satisfying win at Dallas. Historically when two teams are able to rush the ball for at least 125 yards there has been a pronounced tendency for such games to be high scoring. There is a real strong likelihood that both elite runners will accomplish that feat and that would then open things up for both quarterbacks to take advantage at times. OVER the Total.

 

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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