The chill of November is a clear indicator that the second half of the NFL season has arrived. With more than half of the schedule having been played the games yet to be contested take on greater significance leading to the playoffs.
Were the playoffs to start today Green Bay would be the top seed in the NFC with San Francisco seeded second. The other two Division leaders, New Orleans and the New York Giants, would host Wild Card games against Chicago and Detroit.
Things are almost as clear in the AFC except in the North where Pittsburgh, at 7-3, has a half game lead over both Cincinnati and Baltimore, both of whom have already had their Bye weeks while the Steelers are idle this week. But all three of those teams would be in the Playoffs as no other Division has a second place team with better than a 5-4 record.
Joining those three in the playoffs would be New England, Tennessee and Oakland.
Those 12 teams, therefore, control their own playoff destinies although with several games they must play against one another there will be opportunities for several other teams to potentially take advantage and overtake some of the current dozen frontrunners.
Interestingly, of the 12 teams that would currently make the playoffs half of that field would be teams that did not make the postseason last season. That is in line with the historical pattern and shows just how fine a line there continues to be between winning and losing in the NFL due largely to playing a rather small schedule of just 16 games.
It’s worth repeating that it is indeed a very small gap between a 10-6 team and a 6-10 team.
In handicapping the NFL it’s best to first start by looking to determine the straight up winner of the game. Historically the straight up winner also covers the point spread between 82 and 83 percent of the time, or roughly 5 games in 6. That occurs when the favorite wins and covers or the underdog pulls an outright upset.
In roughly 17 to 18 percent of all games, the point spread does come into play and that is when the favorite wins but by less than the number. This occurs roughly once in six games.
In a “typical” week we can expect 2 or 3 such underdogs to cover without winning the game straight up. Last week, heading into Monday night’s Minnesota at Green Bay contest, the points did not come into play in any of the 15 games played Thursday and Sunday.
For the season the points have mattered in just 22 of 145 games, ignoring five pushes. That’s roughly 15 percent of all games, slightly above the historical averages.
It would not be a surprise if over the next few weeks we see more underdogs cover the spread while losing outright. There are several candidates on the card this week to do just that.
After all 32 teams played this past weekend, the final four Byes occur this week as winless Indianapolis and a trio of 7-3 team – Houston, New Orleans and Pittsburgh – will be on the sidelines.
Here’s a look at the 14 games that will be played.
Jets -4 at Broncos (42½): The Jets will be the stiffest defensive test yet for Tim Tebow. With the short week of preparation the edge goes to the team with the better defense and better overall talent. Injuries to Denver’s running backs will also put more pressure on Tebow to produce with his arm in addition to his legs. JETS.
Titans +6½ at Falcons (44½):- The Falcons have been a dominant team at home in recent seasons when facing other than elite teams. The Titans, while improved, are far from that class. For the season the Falcons have fared well defending the run. The fast indoor track works to the advantage of the hosts. FALCONS.
Bills +2 at Dolphins (43): Two teams going in opposite directions right now. This game presents an interesting contrast with 7 of Buffalo’s 9 games exceeding the total, but 8 of Miami’s 9 staying below. Last season these teams played a pair of competitive games that produced final scores of 15-10 and 17-14. UNDER.
Bengals +7 at Ravens (41): The Ravens have been rather average in splitting their last four games, but are a perfect 4-0 at home. The Bengals are 4-1 on the road and last week’s home loss by 7 to Pittsburgh was their largest margin of defeat. Cincy was not outclassed in that loss and should be just as competitive here. BENGALS.
Jaguars PK at Browns (36): Both offenses are well below average in the aerial game with Jacksonville having the edge on both sides of the football in the running game. Despite the low total this game handicaps as one in which the winning team will struggle to score more than 17 points, barring special teams or defensive scores. UNDER.
Raiders +1½ at Vikings (46): Minnesota rookie QB Christian Ponder will face an aggressive Oakland defense that frustrated San Diego QB Philip Rivers all night. Although the Vikes are playing at home Oakland is 3-1 on the road. Both teams can run the football but Carson’s edge in experience does give the Raiders an added edge. RAIDERS.
Panthers +7 at Lions (48): After starting the season 4-0-1 ATS both teams have now lost and failed to cover in 3 of 4. With their huge Thanksgiving Day game hosting Green Bay just four days later, look for the Lions to regain their swagger after an impressive effort against the vulnerable Panthers. LIONS.
Bucs +13 at Packers (49): Normally this would be a spot that calls for a play on the Bucs taking the huge spot. But the better play might be to look for a high scoring game. The Packers have topped 40 points in two of their three home games prior to Monday while the defense might lack intensity considering the sandwich situation. OVER.
Cowboys -8 at Redskins (42): After Dallas dominated ATS with 7 straight covers early in the new century the ‘Skins have covered 10 of the last 13 meetings. Coach Mike Shanahan has gone back to Rex Grossman as starting QB, benching John Beck, who was ineffective. Expect a spirited effort. REDSKINS.
Arizona +9½ at 49ers (41½): The QB status for Arizona is unsettled as of Monday with starter Kevin Kolb questionable. Backup John Skelton led the confidence building comeback at Philly last week. This is a natural flat spot for the Niners who should get the win but are likely to be tested in the process. CARDINALS.
Seahawks +2½ at Rams (37): Seattle is just 1-4 on the road. If there is an intangible associated with this game it could be that St. Louis lost at Seattle in the final game of last season when a win would have given the Rams an 8-8 record and the NFC West title. RAMS.
Chargers +4 at Bears (46½): Chicago is hot, San Diego is not. The Chargers do have added rest following last Thursday’s loss to Oakland and catch the Bears off of draining wins at Philadelphia and over Detroit. The Chargers are talented enough to defeat any team in the league when properly focused and prepared. This spot calls for a competitive effort. CHARGERS.
Eagles NL at Giants: With the disclosure Monday morning that Philly QB Michael Vick suffered some broken ribs in Sunday’s loss to Arizona this game is off the boards. Expect the Giants to be favored by about a FG. The Giants well remember blowing their game here last season against the Eagles that cost them a playoff spot. GIANTS.
Chiefs NL at Patriots: This game is off the boards as KC’s QB Matt Cassel was injured in Sunday’s home loss to Denver and is likely out. Tyler Palko should get the start. Spread likely to be close to two touchdowns. With a one game lead over both the Jets and Buffalo (which defeated the Pats in their earlier meeting) coach Bill Belichick is unlikely to hold back his offense while playing on the national stage. PATRIOTS.
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