Fast starts!

Sep 27, 2005 4:40 AM

One early season trend concerns the results of inter-conference games. Last season AFC teams won a whopping 44 of 64 games against NFC foes. Through three weeks of this season the conferences have split their first dozen games.

Just five teams remain unbeaten as we go to press, with that number favored to fall to four should Kansas City lose as an underdog at Denver Monday night. The 3-0 start for Indianapolis is not a surprise but similar starts by Cincinnati and Tampa Bay are.

And with a bye last week Washington has started 2-0 with wins by the slimmest of margins, defeating Chicago by 2 and Dallas by 1 point.

Five teams remain winless with both Houston and Baltimore starting 0-2 and looking to have gotten a benefit from their early season bye week. At 0-3 Oakland, Arizona and Green Bay have greatly disappointed their fans.

Chicago, Cleveland, Miami and Pittsburgh have their byes this weekend. Here’s a look at this week’s action.

San Diego (+5½) at New England (Over/Under 47): San Diego was impressive in handling the New York Giants Sunday night as RB Ladanian Tomlinson finally was made the centerpiece of the offense and responded in a huge way. New England controlled their game at Pittsburgh more than their three point win would suggest. Both teams are stronger on the offensive side of the football and New England’s injury and situation suggests the Chargers will be able to move the ball and score points. OVER the Total is the play.

Denver (+4) at Jacksonville (37½): Denver hosted Division rival Kansas City Monday night and will be off of back to back home Divisional games as they travel to Jacksonville. Their week one trip to Florida resulted in a one sided upset loss in Miami. Jacksonville is not the type of team that blows teams away but the negative situations for Denver and the solid early season play of the Jaguars, especially on defense, give the hosts enough of an edge to project a win by at least a TD. JACKSONVILLE.

Houston (+10) at Cincinnati (42): Houston made a change at offensive coordinator during their Bye week but it will take time for any changes to show on the playing field. QB David Carr continues to lack the protection of his offensive line and Cincy is off of back to back weeks in which they picked of five passes against Minnesota and Chicago. The Bengals are playing with confidence and that type of defensive performance suggests that Carr will be forced into bad decisions. Laying double digits with the Cincy Bengals? Whoda thunk it? But times change quickly in the NFL. CINCINNATI.

Indianapolis (+6½) at Tennessee (45): The supposedly high powered Indy offense has been held to less than two touchdowns in two of their first three games. Instead it has been the Colts’ defense that’s played the major role in their 3-0 start. Tennessee has shown steady improvement on offense under offensive coordinator Norm Chow and will be the best offense the Colts will have faced to date. They are likely to force a quick pace which in turn will have the Colts’ offense pick up their pace from recent weeks. Indy has scored over 28 points in both meetings the past two seasons. OVER the Total.

Philadelphia (+2½) at Kansas City (46½): KC is off of back to back Divisional road games but returns home where they have been historically one of the league’s best teams in both winning and losing seasons. Philly has rebounded from their opening week loss in Atlanta to win a pair of home games against a two weak defensive teams. Both teams have potent offenses and defenses that appear to be improved, especially that of the Chiefs. The Chiefs do have the better running game and that is enough to recommend the Chiefs at a FG or less. KANSAS CITY.

Detroit (+6½) at Tampa Bay (35): Detroit is off of their Bye week and faces a Tampa Bay team that is amongst the NFL’s biggest surprises at 3-0. Both teams prefer to run the ball on offense. Tampa clearly has the better defense and that should mean trouble for a Lions offense that struggled in their first two games. The talent gap between the teams is not great which makes it dangerous to lay nearly a TD with a team averaging just 20 points per game. Look for both team’s emphasis on the ground game to keep this one low scoring. UNDER the Total.

St. Louis (+3) at New York Giants (46): Both teams are 2-1 but the Giants have been much more impressive, notwithstanding their Sunday night loss at inspired San Diego. Giants’ QB Eli Manning actually played well in that hostile environment and has shown improvement week by week. The Rams have one of the most prolific passing games in the league and also have a solid ground game with Stephen Jackson and Marshall Faulk. The number is very reasonable considering that both offenses are far better than the defenses and this should be an entertainingly high scoring game. OVER the Total.

Buffalo (pick ”˜em) vs. New Orleans (39) at San Antonio:The Saints finally have a ”˜home’ game and can at least have some sort of stability as they undergo the week of practice. At Minnesota they fell behind early and after a short work week following their Monday nighter at the Giants a poor effort was not surprising. Normally defense gets the edge but given the inexperience at QB and heading back to the road in front of what should be an incredibly enthusiastic San Antonio crowd tilts the intangibles edge to the Saints in a game between two fairly evenly matched teams. NEW ORLEANS.

Seattle (+2) at Washington 36½): Seattle again played two distinct halves of football. After a lethargic first half against Arizona, the Seahawks extended their slim 10-9 halftime lead with a dominating second half in which they outscored the Cardinals 27-3. If they could ever play TWO solid halves they might be an elite team. With back to back road games on deck at Denver and Kansas City this becomes a very key game for the Redskins. At a FG or less we get the better defensive team, rested and at home. WASHINGTON.

New York Jets at Baltimore (No Line): Injuries to the Jets’ to two quarterbacks keep this game off the boards. Baltimore is off of their Bye week following an 0-2 start and should be highly motivated to turn their season around. They still have a top notch defense but problems remain with the offense. The Jets have struggled on both sides of the ball in dropping two of their first three games with the offense especially ineffective. This game is perfectly situated for an all out effort from the Ravens and the Jets will be hard pressed to score any points. BALTIMORE.

Minnesota (plus 6) at Atlanta (45): The Vikings got healthy, at least for a week, with a solid win over New Orleans last week. The Falcons have a dominating rushing attack and as long as they are able to sustain that attack QB Michael Vick won’t have to be the league’s most accurate passer. Minnesota QB Daunte Culpepper had a solid game against the Saints but will face more pressure and it’s too early to conclude that his interception problems of the first two weeks were an anomaly. UNDER the Total.

Dallas (plus 3) at Oakland (46): Oakland continues to be the most undisciplined team in the league, committing penalty after penalty. This is their third west coast game in the first four weeks and Divisional games are on deck hosting Philadelphia and the Giants. If the Raiders are to turn their season around they could not hope for a better situation than this. The offense should have success moving against a tired and vulnerable Dallas defense. OAKLAND.

San Francisco (plus 3) vs. Arizona (42) at Mexico City: The first NFL regular season game played outside the US features a pair of NFC West rivals. Arizona was highly touted as a Playoff contender in preseason but their 0-3 start has been quickly erased any such thoughts. The Cards have had trouble converting yards into points. The Niners won only twice in 2004, both against the Cardinals by identical 31-28 scores in overtime. SAN FRANCISCO.

Monday:

Green Bay (plus 7 ½) at Carolina (43): Things are falling apart rapidly for the once proud Packers and we are seeing that QB Brett Favre can no longer just will his team to wins. In fact, he has tried to do too much by himself and that has resulted in turnovers. Green Bay did cover last week in their loss to Tampa Bay when a missed extra point resulted in a one point loss. And the Packers did pull an upset here to open last season before losing their next four games. Hard to take. Even harder to lay. Opt for a high scoring game with the suspect Packer defense and Brett Favre still competing hard. OVER the Total.

Last week: 8-5

Season: 26-15-2