The regular season is more than half complete with just 12 teams having their Byes over the next three weeks. It’s not too early to start thinking about two important factors over the balance of the season – weather and Playoff implications.
Weather can be a compromising factor in November and December as rain becomes snow and winds pick up in cold conditions. Some teams are built to better handle such conditions, especially teams that have shown an above-average ability to run the football.
With such a short schedule, each of the 16 games has much more importance and impact on a team’s fortunes than does a single game in other sports. Coaches are prone to take different approaches to games in November and December than they did in September and November and some teams have similar histories.
Which makes the story unfolding with the LA Chargers worth watching. The Chargers have often struggled early and played well late. Just last season the Chargers started 0-4 and then went 9-3 to finish 9-7 but lost out on a Wild Card berth due to tiebreakers. This season the Chargers are 6-2 at the season’s mid-point, which sets them up nicely for a run both in the AFC West, where they trail the Chiefs by one game and also for a Wild Card.
Dating back to last season the Chargers are 15-5 in their last 20 games.
Panthers (+4) at Steelers (Over/Under 51.5): Both teams have been playing Playoff caliber football for much of the past month. Both teams are above average defensively, but the Panthers excel in two key areas. They lead the league in averaging 144 rushing yards per game and also avoid turning over the football, losing less than one per game. QB Cam Newton has greater mobility than Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger, PANTHERS
Bills (+7.5) at Jets (37): Neither team is playing well and both will miss the Playoffs. Both teams have rookie QBs. Buffalo’s Josh Allen may return from injury while the Jets’ Sam Darnold has regressed since his solid September. Both offenses have been turnover-prone and it’s hard to feel confident about either team. Both defenses have performed well with each ranking in the top-10 in yards-per-play allowed. Even at the low Total this may still be the best option. UNDER
Falcons (-4) at Browns (51): Atlanta has won three straight following a 1-4 start to creep into the Wild Card discussion at 4-4. But two of the wins have been over Tampa Bay and the Giants, both of which are comparable to this week’s foe. The Browns’ first game following their coaching change was more of the same in a 16-point home loss to the Chiefs. The defense surrendered a season high 8.6 yards per play which was also a season high for the KC offense. FALCONS
Saints (-4.5) at Bengals (54): Teams can generally play at a high level for only so long and this could be the spot where the red-hot Saints get tripped up. After games against the Ravens, Vikings and Rams and with the Eagles on deck the Saints are ripe for a regression. The Bengals are rested and at 5-3 very much in Playoff contention. True, WR A.J. Green is injured. But with last week’s Bye, the Bengals will have had plenty of time to work on adjustments. BENGALS
Redskins (+2.5) at Buccaneers (52): Washington got something of a reality check last week in their 38-14 home loss to Atlanta. They also suffered multiple injuries to the offensive line. That could inhibit their ability to take advantage of a porous Buccanners defense. Still, the thought of laying points with a team that ranks next-to-last in yards-per-play allowed and last in losing 2.6 turnovers per game is unsettling, especially against a Washington defense that is still above average. REDSKINS
Patriots (-6.5) at Titans (46.5): Tennessee is off Monday night’s win in Dallas which shortens the preparation time for this game against the Pats, who are in peak form. Even without Gronk and rookie RB Sony Michel, the offense was in sync in the win over Green Bay. If coach Bill Belichick is concerned about overconfidence he can remind his team of its poor effort in Week 2 at Jacksonville, another AFC South team. Only one of the Pats’ seven wins has been by less than seven points and that was in their shootout with the Chiefs. PATRIOTS
Dolphins (+9.5) at Packers (47.5): Green Bay takes a big step down in class following competitive road losses to the Rams and Patriots. The Pack also has a pair of road games on deck, making this both a critical and favorable situation against a team whose 3-0 start is a distant memory as the Dolphins have lost four of six since. Their lone road win this season was at the Jets, a team they defeated for a second time last Sunday. PACKERS
Jaguars (+3) at Colts (47): Both teams had Byes last week and theirs came a good time for the Jaguars who have lost four in a row following a 3-1 start. The Colts have played better than many expected and have won two straight following a 1-5 start. But those wins have been against Buffalo and Oakland, two of the NFL’s weakest teams. The Colts have shown steady improvement as QB Andrew Luck regains his past form following injury. But the Jags are fundamentally the much better team and the week off allowed both sides of the football to regroup and reassess their situation. JAGUARS
Lions (+6.5) at Bears (45): Detroit’s trade of WR Golden Tate at last week’s deadline may have sent a signal that management does not believe the 3-5 Lions can make the Playoffs. And it showed in last week’s dull effort in Minnesota. The Bears are showing offensive improvement while the defense remains steady. The Bears rank fifth in scoring at 29.4 points per game while ranking fourth defensively in allowing just 19.1 ppg. BEARS
Cardinals (+16.5) at Chiefs (50): This could be a look-ahead spot for the Chiefs, who will face the Rams in Mexico City next Monday night. There could also be a natural tendency to overlook the Cardinals who rank last in rushing offense and second to last in passing offense. Their pass defense has been respectable which could at least slow down the KC passing attack. This is Arizona’s first road game in almost a month. UNDER
Chargers (-9.5) at Raiders (50.5): The lost season continues for the Raiders with last Thursday’s 34-3 defeat to the 49ers and it’s hard to think the extra few days of rest and preparation will be of much benefit. The Chargers are very much in the Playoff picture at 6-2 and returned from their Bye with a well-earned win at Seattle. It’s hard to make a case for the underdog. CHARGERS
Seahawks (+10) at Rams (51.5): Seattle gave the Rams one of their toughest games in a 33-31 home loss in Week 5. The Rams suffered their first loss last week at the Saints in a game that took a great deal of energy from both teams. The Rams are a very good team and should bounce back with a win here. But laying double digits to this foe might be a bit much. SEAHAWKS
Cowboys (+6.5) at Eagles (43): Philadelphia returns from its Bye and the Cowboys return from an awful performance Monday night in a home loss to Tennessee. A time-tested good piece of advice is to buy low which would apply to playing Dallas in this spot. There is not much of a talent gap between these teams. WR Amari Cooper looked good in his debut and should result in providing much-needed balance to the Dallas offense. COWBOYS
Giants (+3) at 49ers (44): Despite the 2-7 record, there is excitement by the bay after last Thursday’s performance by ‘new’ 49ers QB Nick Mullens although we still don’t know if he will be forever known as a ‘one game wonder.’ Even with the Bye last week it’s hard to see the Giants bringing the same level of intensity to this game as that likely to be brought by the hosts. 49ERS
Last week: 6-7