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The second half of the NFL season is underway as all teams have played nine games and the byes are over. All 32 teams will be in action the rest of the way leading to the playoffs in January.

Divisional races and tie breaker implications become more in focus as games take on added importance. This is shaping up as one of the most competitive seasons in recent memory.

None of the eight division leaders has more than a 1½ game lead. Half of the divisions have co-leaders. That number could be five if Philadelphia defeated Washington Monday night to pull into a tie at 6-3 with the New York Giants in the NFC East.

Through nine games, only three teams have fewer than three losses. Atlanta, New England and the New York Jets are each 7-2. But at the other end of the spectrum there are five teams with fewer than three wins.

Realistically it should take a 10-6 record to make the playoffs although in this season of parity, 9-7 might make it as a Wild Card. And, even 8-8 or 7-9 might be good enough to win the incredibly weak NFC West.

Notoriously slow starting San Diego is 4-5 but did win its last two games prior to last week’s bye and appears poised to make yet another second half run.

Underdogs had another winning week heading into Monday night and are well above .500 for the season. Using closing lines at the Las Vegas Hilton, the dogs have cashed 78 of 134 tickets (58 percent) with five games ending in PUSHes and another three games closing at pick ‘em.

High scoring games continue with 10 of last week’s 13 games prior to Monday night going OVER the total. That marks 8 weeks in 10 that OVERs have exceeded UNDERs. For the season, there have been 82 OVERs versus just 59 UNDERs (58 percent OVER) in addition to a pair of PUSHes.

On average, just a shade below 44 total points per game have been scored.

Here’s a look at the 16 games that comprise the week 11 schedule which includes three divisional matchups and a possible preview of the AFC Championship game. Lines are representative of those available mid-Monday morning.

Thursday

Chicago +1½ at Miami (39½): Barring an early week pickup, Miami will start Tyler Thigpen at QB after tag team of Chads – Pennington and Henne – were both injured and possibly lost for the season in Sunday’s win over Tennessee. The Bears defense continues to make big plays and force turnovers, leading the league with 24. Expect Miami to rely extensively on running the football. UNDER.

Sunday

Oakland +8 at Pitt (41): Oakland catches the Steelers in a foul and likely focused mood following Sunday’s home loss to New England. Against the Patriots, Pittsburgh allowed over 100 rushing yards for the first time this season. Oakland’s offense has improved largely due to greater success on the ground. The Steelers are playing with revenge for a 27-24 loss here last season. OVER.

Houston +7 at N.Y. Jets (44½): The Jets seem to know how to do enough to win close games. Meanwhile Houston has a knack for losing games it could win. The Jets remain the more fundamentally sound team. They’ve rushed for at least 110 yards in every game and QB Mark Sanchez has put up decent passing stats in support of his ground game. The Jets also enjoy the coaching edge. NYJ.

Balt -9 at Carolina (37): Carolina continues to have an anemic offense that is losing nearly three turnovers per game while averaging a league low 251 yards per game. And they’ve been beset by cluster injuries, especially at RB. This appears to be the final season for Coach John Fox and he may go out just as he came in, with a 1-15 season. Ravens have had extra rest and primed. BALTIMORE.

Washington +6 at Tenn (43): Vince Young is listed as the probable starter despite not being 100 percent healthy but backup Kerry Collins was knocked out of the Miami game. Both teams have allowed more yards than they’ve gained this season with both defenses being vulnerable to the pass. The Titans also rank second in the league in scoring, averaging nearly 27 points a game. OVER.

Detroit +7 at Dallas (47): Dallas finally played to its talent level last week in decisively defeating the Giants in new coach Jason Garrett’s debut. Detroit extended its road losing streak to 25 with a narrow defeat in Buffalo last week. Both teams will be in action again a few days later on Thanksgiving, a scenario that should favor the more talented team. DALLAS.

G.B. -3 at Minnesota (45): At 3-6, the Vikes pretty much need to win to have a chance but they certainly have the talent to defeat any team they face. Green Bay is off its bye week and won the first meeting with Minnesota 28-24, barely covering as a slight 3 point home favorite. Now favored by the same amount on the road, the situation does favor the troubled hosts. MINNESOTA.

Buffalo +5 at Cincy (44): Once again it was too little too late for Cincinnati at Indy and now has a sixth straight loss. Buffalo has shown a better ability to run the football than Cincy but is last in the league in stopping the run, allowing 167 yards per game. Hard to justify Cincy laying any points of significance, even to Buffalo, a team that continues to play hard. BUFFALO.

Cleveland +2 at J’ville (43): This game may well turn on which team is able to recover from the diametrically opposed emotions. Statistically both teams have allowed more yards and points than they’ve accumulated. Cleveland has played a much more difficult schedule and does have the significantly better defense, allowing a full yard less per play than the Jaguars. CLEVELAND.

Arizona +7 at K.C. (42½): The Chiefs are a perfect 4-0 at home and lead the NFL by having lost just 7 turnovers all season and averaging 167 rushing yards per game. Arizona is in a transitional, rebuilding mode while the Chiefs are a bit further along. After that embarrassing effort last week, expect a big bounce back this week against a very beatable foe. K.C.

Seattle +10½ at N.O. (45): The Saints return from their bye and may have RBs Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas back which would provide much needed fuel for what’s been a lackluster offense thus far. The line may appear huge but all four of Seattle’s losses this season have been by at least 17. The Seahawks are playing their fifth road game in their last 7. NEW ORLEANS.

Atlanta -3 at St. Louis (43): Scheduling dynamics greatly favor St. Louis. The Rams play their next three games on the road while Atlanta takes to highway following three home games and a bye over the last month. Both of their losses have come on the road. The Rams have shown improvement on both sides of the football and have won their last four home games. ST. LOUIS.

TB +3 at SF (41): Tampa Bay continues to plod along and win games, having greatly benefited from a soft schedule. San Francisco is finally starting to play as many had thought it could, winning 3 of 4 to remain alive in the NFC West. Troy Smith has played well since replacing injured Alex Smith at QB. SAN FRANCISCO.

Indy +3 at N.E. (50½): New England bounced back as expected from its one sided loss at Cleveland with an equally one sided win Sunday night in Pittsburgh. All of Indy’s losses have been on the road and New England is a perfect 4-0 at home. New England is playing to avenge the road losses to Indy by 3 in 2008 and 1 last season. NEW ENGLAND.

N.Y. Giants +3 at Phila (47): The Giants were due for a dull effort last week following five straight. Philly has won the last four meetings against the Giants including in the playoffs two seasons ago. Troubling for the Giants are the 25 lost turnovers, third worst in the league. But last week’s effort against Dallas can be forgiven. NYG.

Monday

Denver +9½ at S.D. (50): At 4-5 the Chargers have underperformed thus far despite having the league’s top ranked offense and No. 2 defense. Special teams play has hurt the Chargers which explains why they rank No. 18 in points allowed. Together, these teams are allowing a combined 49.9 points per game. OVER.

last week                     since Oct 25                     PCT

6-7                                 20-19                              51.3

 

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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