Panthers, Cardinals pump new NFC blood

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With each passing week there appears to be a clear changing of the guard in the NFL, as least strongly so in the NFC.

Last weekend was one of the most unusual weeks in recent NFL history as heading into Monday’s game underdogs were 10-2 ATS (Dallas at Tampa Bay was a pick ‘em) with 9 of the 10 underdog covers resulting from outright wins. The only game in which an underdog covered in a losing effort was the Giants’ last second loss to the Patriots.

Prior to the start of the season the favorites to win the NFC Championship were Green Bay and Seattle. Yet more than halfway through the regular season neither team sits atop its Division and at least one of that pair is in serious danger of missing the Playoffs entirely.

Ascending to the top of the NFC replacing the Packers and Seahawks are Arizona and Carolina.

In what was a difficult scheduling spot for Carolina, the Panthers earned a solid road win at Tennessee to remain unbeaten. Their 9-0 record is the best in the NFC.

After starting 6-0, Green Bay lost back-to-back road games to a pair of then unbeaten teams, Denver and Carolina. Returning home the Packers were double digit favorites over a Divisional rival they had defeated at home each season since 1992. Yet the Packers lost to the Detroit Lions, their third straight loss that dropped them a game behind Minnesota in the AFC North after the Vikings won later on Sunday in Oakland.

Later that evening Arizona got out to a 19-0 lead at NFC West rival Seattle, only to surrender that lead and score the game’s final 14 points after falling behind 29-25. With the win the Cardinals improved to 7-2 and open a 3 game lead over Seattle and St. Louis, both currently 4-5.

With a short 16 game schedule there’s precious little room for error. In most seasons we see roughly a fifty percent turnover in teams making the Playoffs from one season to the next.

The one constant for the past decade and a half has been the New England Patriots. With four Super Bowl wins and a pair of Super Bowl losses in the QB Tom Brady/coach Bill Belichick era the Patriots are to the NFL what the San Antonio Spurs have been to the NBA during pretty much the same time frame.

The Patriots remained unbeaten with their last second FG over the Giants on Sunday and at 9-0 are looking to match the 16-0 regular season they had in 2007. But the 2015 Patriots are not close to the 2007 version and most in the handicapping and wagering community have the ‘07 Pats at least a RD better than the current team.

Still, the Patriots and Panthers remain unbeaten more than halfway through the season and the Cincinnati Bengals were favored to join that pair with a win over visiting Houston Monday night.

With Thanksgiving less than two weeks away the importance and intensity of the games is about to accelerate.

Weather also becomes an important factor at this time of the season with wind, rain and freezing temperatures joining injuries as key variables in determining which teams will make the Playoffs and which teams will ultimately play in Super Bowl 50 in Santa Clara, California next February 7.

Cleveland, New Orleans, the New York Giants and Pittsburgh are the last teams to have a Bye week while Atlanta, Indianapolis, San Diego and San Francisco return to action.

Here’s a preview of the 14 games to be played this week.

Thursday

Tennessee +3 at Jacksonville (43): Amazingly, the winner of this game will still be very much alive in the AFC South where Indianapolis leads the Division at 4-5. Both teams have young QBs who are making progress although Tennessee rookie Marcus Mariota has been more impressive than the Jaguars’ Blake Bortles. The 3-6 Jags have won 2 of their last 3 games and have, overall, been more competitive in their losses than have been the Titans. JACKSONVILLE.

Sunday

Washington +7.5 at Carolina (45): Though not flashy, Carolina has one of the best overall statistical profiles in the NFL including the third best running game and second best defense. Both teams’ offenses are built on strong running games which tends to limit the number of possessions and shortens games. UNDER.

Oakland -1.5 at Detroit (48): After breaking their 24 game road losing streak in Green Bay this is an ideal spot to fade the host Lions but the Raiders are off tough back to back losses which suggests the Total may be the better option. Both teams have capable passing games, poor running games and weak defenses that each rank in the bottom quarter of the NFL. OVER.

Dallas +1 at Miami (47.5): Dallas QB Tony Romo is listed as ‘probable’ for this game but his effectiveness may be limited and the Cowboys have a Thanksgiving game just four days later. Dallas has been competitive in most of its 7 straight losses. At 4-5 Miami is a player in the AFC Wild Card race and should the status of Romo become more likely the Fish may well go off as home underdogs. MIAMI.

Indianapolis +6 at Atlanta (47.5): Both teams return from Byes but Indy will be without QB Andrew Luck for several weeks. Backup Matt Hasselbeck has been capable but it is still a huge drop off. The Bye came at the right time for Atlanta as the Falcons have gone just 1-3 following its 5-0 start and have lost 5 straight ATS. The Falcons have the better roster and most of the statistical edges, although some are slight. ATLANTA.

St. Louis PK at Baltimore (42.5): Both teams are off losses with St. Louis’ blowout home loss to Chicago a major shocker. It was St. Louis’ third double digit loss this season. None of Baltimore’s 7 losses has been by more than 8 points and are by a combined 32 points. St. Louis does have the better upside but is 1-3 SU on the road. Baltimore’s pedigree suggests they will continue to play hard and are worth backing. BALTIMORE.

NY Jets at Houston (No Line): Houston played at Cincinnati Monday night and is expected to be home underdogs of less than a FG. After a promising 4-1 start the Jets have dropped 3 of 4. The Texans’ defense has shown signs of playing back to last season’s level and should be able to pressure Jets’ QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Jets have 4 extra days of rest but still have more injury concerns. HOUSTON.

Green Bay +1 at Minnesota (45): This may be the week’s most intriguing matchup. Green Bay was catching an embarrassed Lions team off its Bye and might have taken the field with complacency considering their history of dominating Detroit even after two straight losses. This is a ‘circle the wagons’ game for the now second place Packers who just last week were FG favorites in the 10 day advance line at the Westgate. GREEN BAY.

Tampa Bay +7 at Philadelphia (No Total): Both teams have nearly identical yards per play defensive stats and are similar in turning the ball over. The Buccs have the slightly better rushing offense. The Buccs can play ball control which makes laying more than a TD a risky proposition. TAMPA BAY.

Denver -2 at Chicago (43): Denver will be without starting QB Peyton Manning with a foot injury and will rely on Brock Osweiler as they seek to bounce back from a pair of losses following a 7-0 start. Chicago has won 4 of 6 following a 0-3 start and one of 6 NFC teams at 4-5 on the edge of the Wild Card race. The Bears are playing with more confidence. Both teams have big games on deck. CHICAGO.

Cincinnati +3 at Arizona (48): Both teams have far more positives than negatives. Both offenses have top ten rushing attacks and both defenses are solid. Arizona has been more prone to turning the football over but also has the more potent offense. Both teams have big play potential which suggests we may see a shootout. OVER.

San Francisco +13 at Seattle (41.5): The Seahawks have allowed at least 27 points in half their games but may find it easier going against a 49ers team they dominated in a 20-3 road win a month ago, limited them to 142 total yards. The offense looks very much out of sync and Seattle has already lost 3 times with a plus 2 turnover differential. Which makes laying double digits hazardous. But do we want the 49ers? The Total presents the better option. UNDER.

Kansas City -3 at San Diego (44.5): Normally this would be a good spot to play the home underdogs but with their imminent move to Los Angeles the Chargers have very little crowd support. Just remember those Monday night losses to both Pittsburgh and Chicago. KANSAS CITY.

Monday

Buffalo +7.5 at New England (48): This is a rematch of New England’s 40-32 win in Buffalo that was not as close as the final score might suggest. The Bills have extra rest following last Thursday’s win at the Jets that they almost gave away. No team is as well prepared on a week to week basis as are the Patriots. Each of their 5 home wins has been by at least 7 points and having already faced the Bills this season the Patriots will be even better prepared to face them in the big rematch. NEW ENGLAND.

NFL Last Week: 6-7-0

NFL Season: 66-75-4

Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to GamingToday readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Email: [email protected]

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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