Although it seems the season just started, the reality is the NFL’s regular season is nearly two thirds complete. And over the past 2½ months several teams have been anointed as either “the team to beat” or “a team to keep an eye on” only to see a sudden reversal of fortune.
Almost a month into the season both Cincinnati and San Diego were thought of as the main challengers to Denver’s supremacy in the AFC while New England was being written off as “over the hill” following a listless 27 point loss at Kansas City in front of a Monday night audience.
Since that time both the Chargers and Bengals endured slumps with Cincinnati losing twice and playing a tie over a three week stretch in October and San Diego losing three in a row before their Bye week.
Meanwhile New England has won 6 games in a row, including wins over the three other AFC Division leaders with those wins over Cincinnati, Denver and Indianapolis each by more than three touchdowns! Those wins could well be what earn the Pats the top seed and home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. Bengals have again reversed direction with 3 wins in their last 4 games while the Chargers ended their losing streak with a win over Oakland out of their Bye week.
But San Diego, who started the season covering its first 5 games, has given all of that back, plus the vig, by losing its next 5 games ATS, a streak it will try to end this week.
And although San Diego is nearly a touchdown favorite, there are reasons to suggest that a San Diego win will not be easy, if they are to win at all.
Despite a losing record and an unusually high number of key injuries, three of the Rams’ four wins have come against teams that made the playoffs last season and are expected to make them again this season.
St. Louis has already defeated both of last season’s Super Bowl teams, Seattle and Denver (both at home) and also own a road win at San Francisco. The Niners were essentially co-favorites with Seattle to win the NFC West.
Almost as hot as New England are the Green Bay Packers. After a 1-2 start the Pack has won 6 of their next 7 games with 5 of the 6 wins by margins that range from 21 to 41 points. Their lone blemish in this stretch was a 44-23 loss at New Orleans to a Saints team that is struggling yet still is tied atop the NFC South with Atlanta despite both teams being below .500 at 4-6.
Yet the team that continues to attract little support as a legitimate Super Bowl contender is the team with the best record in the NFL. At 9-1 the Arizona Cardinals continue to win without flash on offense or nationally known players on defense. Dating back to the middle of last season the Cards are 16-3, the best record of any team over that stretch.
Backup QB Drew Stanton had a solid game against Detroit last week after starter Carson Palmer was lost a week earlier to a season ending injury.
The odds makers have caught up with Arizona’s success and the Cards are down to just 10-1. In looking to make a futures bet on next season’s Super Bowl winner give consideration to teams that have a strong finish to the current season but miss the playoffs. Often such teams can be found at generous odds of 40-1 or higher early in 2015.
Here’s a preview of the 15 games this week.
Kansas City -7 at Oakland (43): Kansas City is off a physically draining win over Seattle. The short work week is more of a negative for the Chiefs who have won 5 straight and 7 of 8 and their only clear ATS loss of the season was in week one. With their big showdown hosting Denver up next the Chiefs will be content to do just enough to win while the winless Raiders will be going all out for the big division upset. OAKLAND.
Cleveland + 3 at Atlanta (47): WR Josh Gordon has been reinstated for the Browns and he and QB Brian Hoyer should be a challenge for the weak Atlanta defense. The Falcons have a top flight QB in Matt Ryan and some gifted receivers which portends a high scoring contest as Cleveland also has defensive concerns. OVER.
Tennessee NL at Philadelphia: The defenses are statistically close with the Eagles better vs. the run and the Titans better against the pass. The Eagles have a key Divisional road game at Dallas four days later, on Thanksgiving, which could result in a less than intense effort from the hosts once the gain a comfortable lead. That lends itself to the dreaded backdoor cover. TENNESSEE
Detroit +7 at New England (48): The Patriots offense has been potent since TE Rob Gronkowski returned to full strength and that firepower has lessened the pressure on the defense which has lost several key players to injury. Sunday night’s debut of RB Jonas Gray was nothing short of spectacular. Pats second in the NFL in scoring. OVER.
Green Bay – 9.5 at Minn (48.5): Green Bay won the earlier meeting at home, 42-10, part of that early string of Thursday night blowouts. The Packers have lost their last two road games, at Miami and New Orleans and this is their first road game in almost a month with another pair of home games on deck, including a showdown with New England next week. MINNESOTA.
Jacksonville +13.5 at Indianapolis (50.5): Prior to the loss to New England the Colts won by 16 at the Giants following a 17 point loss at Pittsburgh. With their lead in the AFC South down to a single game over Houston, the Colts will take no chances against the 1-9 Jags, even with the loss to injury of Ahmad Bradshaw. INDIANAPOLIS.
Cincinnati +2.5 at Houston (43.5): Houston has won 2 of 3 – both on the road – to get back to .500. The key here may be Houston QB Ryan Mallett who made his first start in last week’s win at Cleveland. Now that there is game film on the ex-Patriots backup the Cincy defense should be well prepared to confuse the lightly tested signal caller. CINCINNATI.
NY Jets +4.5 at Buffalo (40): With Michael Vick now in charge and having had the Bye week to work with the first unit the Jets should be more competitive. Despite their 2-8 record the Jets have covered 3 of their last 4 games whereas Buffalo’s earlier win over the Jets is their only cover in their last 5 games. Upset potential. NY JETS.
Tampa Bay +6 at Chicago (46.5): The return to Chicago of Tampa coach Lovie Smith who led the Bears to a Super Bowl appearance and was let go after the 2012 season despite going 10-6 and 84-66 overall in 9 seasons. Clearly this game will have meaning for the Bucs coach. TAMPA BAY.
Arizona +6.5 at Seattle (42): Both teams are excellent at stopping the run. This should be a classic chess match with neither team wanting to make the first mistake. UNDER.
St. Louis +6 at San Diego (44): Reports have surfaced that San Diego QB Philip Rivers is dealing with some ribs issues. If that is indeed the catch it might result in a change to a more conservative game plan. UNDER.
Miami +7.5 at Denver (49): Miami in a poor spot this week facing a Denver team that has generally played outstanding defense and with a big game at Kansas City up next have a need to get clicking again on offense. DENVER.
Washington +8 at SF (44): Redskins have topped 20 points just once in their last 7 games (26) and the 49ers have scored 17 points or less in 3 of their last 4 games and have topped 28 points just once this season. UNDER.
Dallas -3 at NY Giants (47): Cowboys could be a bit rusty after the layoff. Dallas is the sixth straight team the Giants are facing that have a winning record. NY GIANTS.
Baltimore +4 at New Orleans (49.5): Both teams average an identical 26.1 ppg. Saints also have the No. 28 defense. OVER.
Last week: 6-7 (w/o MNF)
Andy Iskoe, and his Logical Approach, provides his popular and unique handicapping statistics to Gaming Today readers and online visitors. He has been a long time GT columnist, contributing weekly in-season columns on baseball, pro basketball and pro football. Contact Andy at [email protected]