AFC Wild Cards: 10-6 or bust

Dec 6, 2005 5:34 AM

The football season is much like a football game itself. A 16- game regular season schedule makes for a nice segmentation into four quarters.

The first three is in the books. Teams expecting to content for the playoffs and the Super Bowl will be playing their best football of the season. Other teams have been eliminated.

The big story remains the Colts quest for an unbeaten season. Most who doubt that the Colts can finish the task point to either this week’s game in Jacksonville or their matchup in Seattle as being their undoing. But don’t be surprised if their game next week, hosting San Diego, results in their toughest test.

With four games remaining, it appears that New England, Cincinnati and Indianapolis are in firm control of their divisions and should ultimately win those races. The AFC West remains up for grabs with Denver clinging to a one game edge over both San Diego and Kansas City. Jacksonville and Pittsburgh also remain in the hunt for the Wild Card. It appears a 10-6 record will claim a Wild Card berth.

Seattle has already clinched the NFC West and has the conference’s best record regardless of the Monday night result in Philadelphia. The NFC North and South Divisions are close with the New York Giants and Carolina holding one game leads. All four East teams remain alive mathematically and realistically for the playoffs. Records of 9-7 might be good enough to snare a Wild Card in the NFC, given the poor results in the North and West.

Minnesota’s five game win streak has the Vikes at 7-5 and very much alive for the playoffs following a 2-5 start and near implosion following the boating escapades.

Favorites continued an amazing run with an 11-4 mark last Sunday, For the season, the Faves are 111-76-4 for a shade under 60 percent winners. The ”˜wise guys’ continue to insist this pace can’t continue, but the chalk keeps rolling up victories. Home favorites have only one losing week (4-6 in Week 3) and just two weeks at .500. Road favorites, though fewer in number, have shown profits in seven of the past ten weeks.

We finally see some huge road underdogs this week, with five games featuring double-digit home favorites. Will this be the week that these dogs finally start to roar? Most bookmakers would be willing to accept even a loud bark.

Here’s a look at the games for Week 14.

Bucs +5½ at Panthers (37): Statistically the Bucs have the league’s second best defense. Carolina’s is fourth. Each defense the run extremely well. Carolina won the earlier meeting in Tampa in a blowout. Both teams are allowing below 17 points per game. UNDER.

Patriots -3 at Bills (38): Buffalo should be in shock for much of the week leading up to this game after blowing that huge lead in Miami. The Patriots were methodical in defeating the undermanned Jets last week. A win here all but wins the Division should Miami lose at San Diego. New England is getting healthy on offense. PATS.

Rams +7 at Vikings (45½): Vikings coach Mike Tice must be commended for holding this team together in the face of the adversity. Since taking over at QB, veteran Brad Johnson has led Minnesota to five straight wins. St. Louis appears to have quit on the season following its woeful effort at home last week against Washington. The coaching situation is in turmoil and injuries have forced the Rams to rely on an untested third stringer. VIKINGS.

Bears +5½ at Steelers (31): Chicago has combined one of the league’s most inept offenses with the league’s best defense to win eight straight following a 1-3 start. Pittsburgh has lost three in a row and trails first place Cincinnati by two games in the AFC North. This is a good spot for the Steelers after having faced the potent offenses of the Bengals and Colts the past two weeks. STEELERS.

Raiders NL at Jets: Both teams have had disappointing seasons, but at least the Jets can blame their woes on injuries. Currently Brooks Bollinger is in charge at QB and his limited experience has also resulted in an ineffective running game. Oakland has no such excuses, continually showing a lack of discipline and poor sideline decisions. Both defenses statistically rate average. Neither team has a shot at the playoffs. UNDER.

Colts -7½ at Jags (42½): Were Byron Leftwich and Fred Taylor both healthy this might be the place where the Indianapolis winning streak ends. Back in Week 2, the Colts earned a tough 10-3 win, failing to cover a nine point line. Now they are laying almost the same amount on the road against a Jaguars team that has quietly overcome several adversities to stand 9-3. This one goes to the wire. JAGS.

Texans +7 at Titans (44): Neither team has much to play for other than Houston wishing to avoid a 1-15 season to prove its win over Cleveland was no fluke. The Titans won the earlier meeting at Houston, 34-20 at Houston. The Titans are actually outgaining the opposition by 10 yards per game despite their 3-9 record. The Texans are allowing nearly 130 yards per game more than they gain. TITANS.

Browns +12½ at Bengals (41½): Kudos to the Bengals who have clinched their first winning season since 1990 after winning at Pittsburgh last week. Cleveland has continued to play hard for first year coach Romeo Crennel. Their offense remains a work in progress although rookie QB Charlie Frye played well in last week’s loss to Jacksonville. The Browns have put up better defensive stats than the Bengals although Cincy does lead the NFL with 37 takeaways. BROWNS.

Skins -3½ at Cards (41½): Washington has played a very tough schedule, yet at 6-6 can still make the playoffs. Skins face all three NFC East rivals after this game. Arizona struggled to win at lowly San Francisco last week despite outgaining the 49ers by nearly two to one. The NFC East is a combined 8-0 against teams other than Seattle from the NFC West. Arizona will likely again be without ace field goal kicker Neil Rackers. REDSKINS.

Giants NL at Eagles: The Giants have been outstanding on defense over the last six games, allowing an average of just 228 yards per game. Philly has been able to run the ball more effectively following the injury to Donovan McNabb and might well use that strategy to keep this game close. UNDER.

49ers NL at Seahawks: In their first meeting Seattle got sloppy and nearly blew a comfy lead before surviving by 2. The ”˜Seahawks still need a couple of more wins to secure the top NFC playoff seed and home field advantage. Seattle previously defeated the other two divisional foes by 15 and 25 points on this field. The 49ers are the weakest of their rivals. SEAHAWKS.

Dolphins +14 at Chargers (45) San Diego controls its fate, which includes a trip to Indianapolis next week before closing the season at Kansas City and against Denver. Coach Marty Schottenheimer is legendary for his conservative approach. Expect a similar approach here in a game the Chargers should win easily. UNDER.

Ravens +14 at Broncos (41): Baltimore has been one of this season’s major disappointments, standing 4-8 after a narrow one point home win over woeful Houston. Denver was gallant in defeat at Kansas City and now nurses a slim one game lead. The Broncos have been strong at home this season, winning all six prior games including three by at least 20. BRONCOS.

Chiefs +2½ at Cowboys (43½): Dallas has lost two straight close games and plays the next two on the road against teams in playoff contention. The Chiefs win over Denver last week narrowed their gap to a single game in the AFC West. Both teams have played better defense than realized, especially against the run. Weather can be a factor in Dallas. UNDER.

Lions +5½ at Packers (38½): QB Brett Favre used to be able to win games single handedly for the Packers. Sadly, he’s now losing games the same way with his 21 INTs and numerous fumbles this season. Detroit was totally listless in last week’s loss to Minnesota. It’s clear the Lions have quit on the season following the Thanksgiving Day debacle and the firing of head coach Steve Mariucci. Favre still has pride and should have much more success against soft hitting Detroit than he did against Chicago. PACKERS.

Saints +10 at Falcons (44½): Monday night. Atlanta struggled to a 34-31 win when these rivals met earlier this season. New Orleans was doomed from the start, but has played hard since being blown out at Green Bay. This game is crucial to the Falcons hopes of a repeat trip to the playoffs. In this series, just two of Atlanta’s seven wins have been by more than 10 points. SAINTS.

Last week: 7-8

Season: 99-82-10