With most teams having played six games, the midpoint of the regular season is not too far off and Division races have started to take shape.
The top teams in each conference are, for the most part, not the ones we expected to see before the season began.
Atlanta, Dallas, Minnesota and Seattle have been playing the best football in the NFC and each leads its respective Division. Washington has also played well, winning four in a row after starting 0-2. Only NFC East rival Philadelphia and Green Bay have fewer than three losses (each is 3-2).
In fact, the NFC East can lay claim to being the best Division in the NFL at this point of the season with an overall 15-8 record. It is the only Division with no team having a losing record. The last place New York Giants are 3-3.
Despite that 3-2 record Green Bay has to be considered a disappointment with its rather lackluster play. But no team has been more of a disappointment in the entire league than Carolina.
The defending NFC Champion Panthers – 15-1 last season – have started 1-5 and are a huge longshot to make the Playoffs, even as a Wild Card. There seems to be chemistry issues on both sides of the football and the finger pointing has started to simmer. Both the offense and defense are performing consistently well below the levels of last season.
New England has the best record in the AFC at 5-1, and was impressive when QB Tom Brady missed the Pats’ first four games and showed little rust when he returned to lead his team to wins at Cleveland and over Cincinnati.
There are six AFC teams that have only lost twice and all but one is 4-2. One of those teams is Buffalo, which dealt Division rival Patriots their lone loss, winning 16-0 in New England in Week 4. The rematch in Buffalo is next week and the Bills best not be looking ahead when they play in Miami this Sunday.
Pittsburgh is another 4-2 team but will play without QB Ben Roethlisberger for at least the next few weeks as Big Ben recovers from a knee procedure related to a torn meniscus suffered in their loss at Miami. Ben is tough and will return sooner rather than later but the Steelers will have to overcome a major dropoff at QB in the interim.
Of the other three 4-2 teams – Denver, Houston and Oakland – Houston appears to be the weakest but the Texans also play in the weak AFC South whose ultimate champion could finish 9-7.
The only two-loss team that is 3-2 is Kansas City, which plays in the same Division as Denver and Oakland. It will take another month or so for some separation in the Division to occur but it may be tough for more than just one team to earn a Wild Card, given how well Buffalo is playing in the AFC East, a Division almost universally conceded to New England.
Should the Bills take care of business in Miami this week and then defeat the Pats at home next week that nearly universal concession may have to be reconsidered.
Heading into Monday night underdogs won six games outright last week, bringing the season total to 37. Underdog money line bettors have done very well thus far as of the 44 underdogs covers only 7 have involved the underdog losing outright while covering the pointspread.
Interestingly, all four pointspread pushes this season have been within the past two weeks, beginning with Green Bay’s 7 point win over the Giants on Sunday night in Week 5. Last week, using closing lines at the Westgate, the Giants were favored by 4 points over Baltimore in a 27-23 win, Detroit was a 3 point favorite in its 31-28 win over the Rams and Houston was 3 point favorite over the Colts in Sunday night’s 26-23 overtime win.
Only nine games have been decided by 21 or more points and 32 games have been decided by 4 points or less or by a TD in overtime.
With 9 OVERS and 5 UNDERS through Sunday night, the season’s 91 games to date have produced 51 OVERS and 40 UNDERS.
Both Carolina and Dallas have byes this week. Here’s a look at the 15 games that comprise the Week 7 schedule.
Chicago +9 at Green Bay (46.5): Something is just not right with the Packers offense as QB Aaron Rodgers has performed at a barely average level. Perhaps the high pointspread is a sign things change this week as the Pack has not won a game by more than 7 points. Playing at home on a short week is an advantage. GREEN BAY.
NY Giants -2.5 vs. Los Angeles (44) at London, England: Tally Ho Bowl II matches a pair of 3-3 teams, both of which have had trouble all season rushing the football. Those issues are not likely to change in this matchup as both the Giants and Rams have above average defenses, which suggests the key to this game will be quarterback play. The Giants have a big edge with Eli Manning and some gifted receivers with big play capability. NY GIANTS.
Minnesota -2.5 at Philadelphia (40): Despite the absence of a running game the Vikings are winning because of their outstanding defense and an offense that does not commit turnovers. The Eagles also have avoided turning over the football and have an above average ground game. Minny QB Sam Bradford returns to Philly, whose defensive personnel should have good knowledge of his tendencies. UNDER.
New Orleans +6.5 at KC (50): The return of RB Jamaal Charles gives more balance to the KC offense. The Chiefs defense will be tested by the potent Saints offense. All five of the Saints games have been 7 points or less with four of them by a FG or less. NEW ORLEANS.
Washington +1 at Detroit (48.5): Washington had a strong performance in defeating NFC East rival Philadelphia at home last week, their fourth straight win after an 0-2 start. Detroit also had a home win, coming from behind to defeat Los Angeles, 31-28, but allowed the Rams to gain a season high 287 total yards on 7.0 yards per play (their previous high was 345 and 5.4 ypp). The Redskins have the better running game and the better defense. WASHINGTON.
Cleveland +10 at Cincinnati (45.5): Cincinnati takes a huge step down in class to host winless Cleveland as the Bengals seek to end their two-game losing streak. The Bengals have won the last three meetings by an average score of 33-4 with each win by at least 21 points. QB injuries have resulted in a lack of continuity at the position for Cleveland, which has stalled improvement from the offense. CINCINNATI.
Buffalo -2.5 at Miami (44): The schedule dynamics favor the Dolphins as Buffalo has a home game against avenging New England next week while Miami has its bye. But Buffalo’s statistical edges in key categories are too strong to dismiss, including the much better running game, the avoidance of turning over the football and the better defensive stats. BUFFALO.
Oakland +1.5 at Jacksonville (49): The Raiders have been better at running the football and avoiding turning over the football. Against two common opponents, Baltimore and San Diego, Oakland is 2-0 and the Jaguars are 0-2. Both quarterbacks were high draft choices in 2014 but Oakland’s Derek Carr has had a much better start to his career than has the Jags’ Blake Bortles. OAKLAND.
Indianapolis +2.5 at Tennessee (48.5): The Colts did their best job this season of protecting QB Andrew Luck and also rushed for 161 yards, the first time they’ve topped 100 yards. The Colts have won 9 in a row vs. the Titans, including their final game last season when QB Luck was injured. INDIANAPOLIS.
Baltimore NL at NY Jets: Both teams have similar strengths in playing excellent run defense. But the Jets defense, especially the secondary, has been very vulnerable to the pass. Ravens QB Joe Flacco is playing much better than the Jets’ Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has been plagued by numerous interceptions all season. BALTIMORE.
San Diego +6.5 at Atlanta (52): Both teams have veteran quarterbacks having solid seasons. Each team has scored over 30 points in three of their six games while also allowing over 30 points in three games. The Chargers have yet to allow 100 rushing yards but four foes have passed for at least 300. This has the makings of a shootout that could feature 800 passing yards. OVER.
Tampa Bay -2 at SF (47): The 49ers have a weak passing game that has topped 200 yards just once. To compensate, the Niners have a top 5 rushing offense at 123 yards per game. Tampa QB Jameis Winston has had turnover issues. The Buccs are favored for just the second time this season, losing previously to the Rams as 3.5 point home chalk. Against three common foes (Arizona, Carolina, LA) performances were comparable. SAN FRANCISCO.
New England -7.5 at Pittsburgh (46): Pittsburgh has been a home underdog of 7 points or more just four times since 1990, going 2-2 SU and 3-1 ATS. But the last time this occurred was in September 2000. Yet the fact that the Steelers have not been so lightly regarded is a testament to the long term strength of the organization. In fact, the Steelers have been home dogs of more than a FG just nine times since 1990. They’ve covered their last four times in this situation, including upset wins in each of the past two seasons. PITTSBURGH.
Seattle NL at Arizona: Seattle has the better QB with Russell Wilson having a significant edge over Carson Palmer, given Palmer’s decline since late last season, even when healthy. With a pair of elite defenses and a pair of inconsistent offenses the fundamentals point to a low scoring game. We likely will not get enough points to support the Seahawks (need at least a FG) so the preference is to support the defenses. UNDER.
Houston +6.5 at Denver (41.5): After rushing for 148 and 134 yards to open the season the Broncos have been held to under 90 rushing yards in each of their next four games. Houston is 0-2 on the road, losing at New England and Minnesota, a pair of elite teams. Denver is in that class and the Broncos suffered a rare home loss in their last home game, to Atlanta, another team that is playing extremely well. DENVER.
Last week: 4-9-1 (w/o MNF)