Pro Football AFC playoff picture fuzzy

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Happy Thanksgiving weekend to everybody! It’s at this time of the NFL season the push to the playoffs begins in earnest. Just six games remain for teams to determine their postseason fates – or have them determined for them if they’ve been average or worse thus far in 2011.

Gone are the byes and all 32 teams will be in action for the next six weeks as the regular season draws to its climax.

Were the playoffs to begin based on the standings through this past Sunday unbeaten Green Bay would hold the top seed in the NFC with the 9-1 San Francisco 49ers seeded second. New Orleans would be the third seed as the champion of the NFC North while either Dallas or the New York Giants, but not both, would be the fourth seed by virtue of being champs of the NFC East.

The NFC Wild Cards would be from the NFC North as both Chicago and Detroit are 7-3. The Giants and Cowboys are each 6-4 and will meet one another twice.

Things are much tighter in the AFC where the top seed would be one of several 7-3 teams heading into next week. Baltimore, Houston and Pittsburgh are tied and would be joined by New England if the Patriots held serve and defeated Kansas City on Monday night.

Even with a loss the Pats would still be in control of their destiny as 6-4 would still lead the AFC East by a game over both Buffalo and the New York Jets.

Oakland controls the AFC West with a 6-4 record, good enough for a one game lead over Denver and two over enigmatic 4-6 San Diego. If Kansas City lost as expected Monday night the Chiefs would be tied with the Chargers.

The AFC North would produce both Wild Cards. In addition to the Ravens and Steelers, Cincinnati is the only non-division leader with at least a 6-4 record. There are four teams with 5-5 records (a fifth if Chiefs pulled an upset Monday).

Indianapolis returns from its bye and at 0-10 holds a two game lead over three other teams in the Andrew Luck draft sweepstakes. All three 2-8 teams are in the NFC with Carolina, Minnesota and St. Louis each in position to move up in the draft should the Colts “stumble” and win two or more of its final 6.

After winning three straight Miami has all but played itself out of the race for the Stanford quarterback. Both Washington and Seattle are also 3-7 with the Redskins now riding a six game losing streak following Sunday’s overtime loss to Dallas.

After the point spread did come into play at all in 16 games a week earlier and just once in 14 the week before, this past Sunday saw favorites win but fail to cover in four games. Atlanta and Baltimore ended up as point spread pushes at most sports books.

Green Bay’s win over Tampa Bay and Dallas’ OT victory at Washington were the two games in which the favored team won straight up, but lost to the points. In the other 9, the favorite either both won and covered 5. The underdog won four outright.

After wide swings towards OVERS early in the season and UNDERS more recently the results through the first 159 games are exactly even at 78-78-3. Home favorites are just 48-53-5 ATS while home underdogs are 26-23-2.

Prior to Monday night, double digit favorites were 8-14-1 ATS which again shows the hazards of playing such large spreads in the NFL.

For many bettors it is uncomfortable to make a wager on a team getting at least 10 points as it’s hard to make a case for one of the weakest teams in the NFL when facing one of the league’s elite squads.

Yet looking back over the past six seasons there have been 228 such double digit underdogs and they’ve gone a collective 123-101-4 ATS for a small net profit of 11.9 units, or about two per season.

At the very least, these results show the dangers in playing on double digit favorites as their six season record of 101-123-4 translates into a net loss of 34.3 units, or nearly six units per season. In 2011, the record of 8-14-1 has resulted in a loss of 7.4 net units.

With a trio of NFL games on Thursday and full days of college football on both Friday and Saturday there will be plenty of football action over the holiday weekend, capped by a dozen games on Sunday and another Monday night.

Here’s a look at all 16.

PRO FOOTBALL THURSDAY

Green Bay -6 at Detroit (55): The Lions have fared well statistically on defense, allowing under 200 passing yards per game. Combined the Lions and Packers have played 14 OVERs and just 6 UNDERs. But against this total the results would have been just 7-12-1. Over the past month or so 5 of the 6 games with totals exceeding 50 have stayed below that number. UNDER.

Miami +7 at Dallas (44½): Dallas has been much more dominant statistically with key edges in turnover margin and in passing offense. Despite their knack for playing close games, three of the last four Dallas wins in this stretch have been by double digits. And each of those has been at home. DALLAS.

SF +3 at Baltimore (38½): Billed as the “Battle of the Coaching Harbaughs” it’s not a stretch for this to be a Super Bowl preview. The Niners have won all four road games this season, all of which have been in the Eastern time zone. Still, this is a tough spot for the Niners, with the short preparation time and the travel. This will be the best defense they will have seen all season. BALTIMORE.

PRO FOOTBALL SUNDAY

Arizona +3 at St. Louis (40½): Both defenses are below average so something has to give. The most glaring stat involved in this game is that the Rams have scored more than 16 points just once. The Cards won the earlier meeting three weeks ago on a 99 yard punt return in overtime in a game that featured two safeties! There’s little to suggest that this game will feature any more offense than did the first meeting. UNDER.

Buffalo -8 at N.Y. Jets (42): The Jets have won four straight against the Bills, the last three by double digits. They have the better defense but their ultra conservative play calling makes it tough to expect a win by margin. But the rigors of playing three straight on the road may be too much for a rather ordinary Bills team to overcome. Such teams are 0-6 ATS this season. N.Y. JETS.

Cleveland+7 at Cincinnati (37½): The tone for both teams was set in the season opener when Cleveland was unable to hold a late lead at home over the Bengals. Only one of the last nine meetings between these teams has been decided by double digits. The teams are not separated by much statistically and the familiarity works in favor of the underdog. The Bengals are the better team but the Browns should keep this one close. CLEVELAND.

Houston -3 at J’ville (37½): The bad news for 7-3 Houston is that QB Matt Schaub is out for the season. The good news is off a bye the Texans have had extra time to get Matt Leinart comfortable with the offense. The better news is that WR Andre Johnson is expected back after missing more than a month. Houston has the better talent but may be content to be very conservative on offense against a team that lacks much firepower. UNDER.

Carolina -4 at Indy (44): At 0-10 the Colts are in real danger of going winless this season. This is their best chance for a win and they catch Carolina in a favorable situation. Carolina has lost three straight and 6 of 7, making this the ideal spot for the Colts to get their first, and perhaps only, win of the season. INDIANAPOLIS.

Tampa Bay +3 at Tenn (42): Tennessee QB Matt Hasselbeck, injured in the loss at Atlanta, is expected back for this game although rookie backup Jake Locker fared very well in relief. After starting 3-1 the Bucs have lost four in a row. All six losses have been to teams that are 7-3 or better. That partly explains the decline in Freeman’s fortunes and provides hidden value in this game with the Bucs, who can run the football. TAMPA BAY.

Minnesota +9 at Atlanta (44): Minnesota is 2-8 for the first time in decades and may be without RB Adrian Peterson who was injured in last week’s home loss to Oakland. Atlanta is playing with need and very much in the thick of the playoff hunt. Minnesota’s defense is below average and lacking great comeback ability. Falcons remain a dominant team at home against other than elite teams. ATLANTA.

Chicago +4 at Oakland (42): Chicago QB Jay Cutler was injured in the win over San Diego and will miss the rest of the regular season. Backup Caleb Hanie, who filled in for Cutler in the NFC Championship game loss to Green Bay, will likely face tremendous pressure from an improved and aggressive Oakland defense. The Bears would be well served to place the bulk of the offensive burden on RB Matt Forte. UNDER.

Washington +4 at Seattle (37): Washington had failed to cover five in a row as underdogs prior to last’s week’s point spread win against the Cowboys. In their six game skid the Redskins are averaging just 56 rushing yards per game, an area in which Seattle’s defense has been above average. SEATTLE.

New England NL at Philly: The Eagles showed some, “moxie” with their effort Sunday night in defeating the Giants as backup QB Vince Young led an 18 play time consuming fourth quarter drive for the deciding score. With or without QB Michael Vick the Birds should have success moving the football. And the Philly defense will face much more of a challenge here than it had against the Giants. OVER.

Denver +6½ at San Diego (43½): These teams are headed in opposite directions. While it is clear that the Chargers are not in the class of Green Bay it is now debatable as to whether they are even as good a team as the Lions. San Diego is just 2-8 ATS while Denver has covered 4 of 5. It could occur this week but until the Chargers start playing like the did in September they remain a team to fade. DENVER.

Pittsburgh -10 at KC (40): Pittsburgh returns from its bye to face the Chiefs who are off of Monday night’s game in New England. The Steelers are -10 in turnovers and the Chiefs have always played aggressive defense on their strong home field. With KC lacking offensive punch and the Steelers prone to coughing up the football we could see the bulk of the action occurring between the 20’s. UNDER.

PRO FOOTBALL MONDAY

NY Giants +7 at New Orleans (52): Off back to back losses, each by 7 points, the Giants face the rested Saints on the national stage. The Giants have generally played well against the better teams in the league and do not make many mistakes. Their plus +7 turnover differential matches up nicely with the Saints who are -5. The points may well come into play although an outright Giants win would not be a surprise. NY GIANTS.

 

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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