Pro footballs San Francisco 49ers lurking as NFC top seed

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The midpoint of the 2011 season has been reached with just one team, Green Bay, remaining unbeaten and another, Indianapolis, still winless.

Miami got its first win of the season with a surprisingly easy 31-3 result at Kansas City. Along with the Dolphins and aside from the Colts only St. Louis has just a single win this season. Five teams have won just twice and of those seven teams with two or fewer wins, three are in the same Division – the NFC West.

Amazingly, or perhaps, ridiculously, San Francisco has a five-game lead in the NFC West halfway through the season. Their 7-1 record puts them on track for at least a No. 2 playoff seed. And should Green Bay falter, the 49ers could end up with the NFC’s top seed.

Not bad for a team with essentially the same talent as last season but with a new head coach, Jim Harbaugh. Barring a total collapse Harbaugh should be a unanimous winner of Coach of the Year honors.

The collapse may not be forthcoming. An indicator that the Niners are every bit as good as the record, is that they still have to play 5 of their 6 divisional games. Only their opening day win over Seattle came against a division rival.

They 49ers are unbeaten on the road and their lone loss came in Week 2 at home and in overtime to Dallas. Two of their wins have been on the road against a pair of teams that are 6-2 (Cincinnati and Detroit).

Two divisions have gaps of at least two games between the first and second place teams. Unbeaten Green Bay leads 6-2 Detroit in the NFC North while the New York Giants have a two game lead over Dallas in the NFC East. A Philly win over Chicago on Monday night would tie the Eagles with the Cowboys.

Three teams are tied atop both the AFC East and AFC West and a pair of teams are tied atop the AFC North.

The lower scoring trend of recent weeks continued on Sunday and if you had the foresight, or intuition, to play the UNDER in the morning games you would have gone a perfect 7-0 after the total in the Cleveland at Houston game rose to 42½ by kickoff (Cleveland won 30-12).

With Cincinnati at Tennessee pushing the 41 total, Sunday’s results showed the UNDER with a 9-3-1 edge. The season records is now exactly even at 63 OVERS, 63 UNDERS and a pair of pushes.

In an unusual scheduling twist there will be no Byes this week even though four teams still have yet to have their week off. Those teams will have the final Byes next week. This week will see a full schedule of 16, including the start of Thursday night games on the NFL Network.

Here’s a look at this week’s games.

THURSDAY

Oakland at San Diego: This is a negative scheduling spot for the Raiders who play their first road game in just over a month, following three home games that also included their Bye week. Despite their misgivings, the Chargers still have a significant edge in overall talent. SAN DIEGO.

SUNDAY

Pittsburgh -3 at Cincy (42): After playing their last two games at home and 4 of their last 5, Pittsburgh takes its banged up defense to Cincinnati where the hosts are playing with extreme confidence. That makes for an attractive home underdog. CINCINNATI.

Denver +3 at KC (41): As a starter QB Tim Tebow has lead Denver to wins in two of his three starts, largely with his legs rather than by his passing acumen. Both losses were on the road. The Broncos have not passed for more than 131 yards in the last 4. Winning usually requires some semblance of a passing game to keep the defense honest. KANSAS CITY.

Jacksonville -3 at Indy (37½): Jacksonville has the league’s worst offense, averaging just 12.3 points per game, as they return from their Bye week. Rookie QB Blaine Gabbert has been slow to develop. The Jaguars have stayed below the total in 7 of their 8 by an average of more than a TD per game. UNDER.

Buffalo +6 at Dallas (47½): Although their last three games have been decided by double digits, the Cowboys have played very competitive games since Jason Garrett took over as Dallas coach during last season. The Bills have gotten solid QB play from Ryan Fitzpatrick. Their offensive balance bodes well here as does their fourth best turnover margin of +8. BUFFALO.

Houston -3 at Tampa Bay (45½): Houston has been impressive in winning its last 3 games, all by double digits. In those wins the Texans rushed for a total of 639 yards and, more impressively, held their three foes to just 181 rushing yards and 494 total yards. The Texans appear to be peaking and finally answering their many critics. But Tampa defeated Atlanta and New Orleans on this field this season. TAMPA BAY.

Tennessee +3 at Carolina (45): Carolina is off of the Bye week during which rookie QB Cam Newton was able to become familiar with even more of the playbook. The Panthers have won and covered twice in their three roles as favorites although their lone loss came just before the Bye against Minnesota. The sharp contrast in the ground games suggests the Panthers will be better able to control the game’s flow. CAROLINA.

Washington +4 at Miami (37½): The ’Skins have rushed for 52 or fewer yards in 3 of their past 4 games and are averaging just 90 ypg for the season. Miami has scored 17 points or less in 6 of their 8 games and Washington has done the same in 5 of the 8. Neither team has much of a passing game so yards. UNDER.

New Orleans -1½ at Atlanta (50½): These teams traditionally play competitive games and last season each won by a FG on the road. All three of the Saints’ losses have been on the road and their only two road wins were at lowly Carolina and Jacksonville. Atlanta’s ground game has improved in recent weeks, averaging 153 ypg in a current win

streak. ATLANTA.

Detroit +1 at Chicago (45): Recent efforts suggest the Bears may have a solid edge in the trenches as the Detroit defense has been very vulnerable to the run. Only in their opening game did the Lions allow less than 100 rushing yards and they’ve allowed an average of 175 rushing yards over their past three games. CHICAGO.

St. Louis +2 at Cleveland (37): Aside from their 27-19 win at Indianapolis, the Browns have not scored more than 17 points in any of their other 7 games. Cleveland’s two home wins have been by a single point over Miami and by a FG in a 6-3 stinker over Seattle. If the line rises to 3 the Rams would be playable but it’s hard to see either team breaking out of their season long offensive slumps. UNDER.

Arizona +14 at Philly (46): Arizona has QB concerns with former Eagles backup Kevin Kolb injured and last week’s starter, John Skelton, ineffective. It’s always dangerous laying double digits but this situation may be one of the more defensible in which to do so. Even with a short week to prepare, the Eagles have a huge edge in talent. PHILLY.

Baltimore -7 at Seattle (40): There’s no doubt that the Ravens are the better team, but they might be overlooking the Seahawks with a home showdown with Cincinnati next week and then hosting San Francisco on Thanksgiving night. Both of their losses have been on the road and one of their two road wins was by just three points last week. SEATTLE.

NY Giants +3½ at SF (42½): Both teams have played excellent defense and only one team has rushed for more than 100 yards against the 49ers. The Giants have made a habit of rallying from behind in the fourth quarter as QB Eli Manning is making a strong case for his inclusion as an ‘elite’ QB. Getting more than a FG makes the G-men an attractive option. NY GIANTS.

New England +1 at NY Jets (47): While the Pats will be motivated to end their losing streak, the Jets will also be motivated to duplicate the feat of their Meadowlands co-tenants, the Giants, who dealt the Pats that rare home loss last week. The Jets are playing with confidence. The Pats are playing with concerns on both sides of the football. NY JETS.

MONDAY

Minnesota +13½ at Green Bay (51): Despite the unbeaten record, the unbeaten Packers are outgaining their opponents by just 16 yards per game. Five of the last 6 against Minnesota have produced at least 52 total points. OVER.

last week 4-9 overall 56-66-3

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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