Colts 13-0,but on hold?

Dec 13, 2005 5:50 AM

With three weeks remaining in the NFL regular season, only Seattle and Indianapolis have clinched playoff spots and each has won its respective division.

The Colts wrapped up home field advantage for the entire AFC playoffs and the road to a Super Bowl championship will play the entire postseason indoors. Three games this weekend will be divisional contests, compared to nine in each of the final two weeks.

The concerns for the Colts are rest versus rust factor, how that might impact their assault on an unbeaten season and reaching Super Bowl XL at Detroit in February.

Some would argue a loss this week to San Diego, while derailing the path to perfection, would enable the Colts to rest players over the final two weeks. A win over the Chargers then gives Seattle a chance to derail the Colts at home. That game could be a preview of the Super Bowl five weeks later.

New England, Cincinnati and Denver each moved closer to winning division titles, but the races in the AFC got much more interesting with losses by San Diego, Kansas City and Jacksonville. The biggest beneficiary was Pittsburgh, which improved to 8-5 by ending Chicago’s eight game winning streak.

Keep an eye next season on the Dolphins, who could run the table to 9-7 and short of the playoffs this year. Miami might be in the best position to win the AFC East in 2006 and could be attractively priced in the futures book come February.

Playoff contenders in the NFC include 9-6 Washington, with 10-6 likely getting a Wild Card. Nine NFC teams will begin this weekend with winning records. Expect some fireworks and surprises over the next three weeks.

Here’s a look at all 16 games this weekend, including a trio of games on Saturday.

Bucs +4½ at Pats (36): New England is quietly building some late season momentum, having won four of its last five games. Tampa now plays a third straight road game, a tough scheduling spot. Plus, there is the weather factor in New England. PATS.

Chiefs +3 at Giants (45½): Both teams are playing with need and have been able to run the ball on offense. KC has the more accomplished passing game. The Giants have the edge on defense, especially over the last seven games, allowing below 250 yards per contest. The Chiefs’ three previous games against NFC East teams have featured at least 49 total points. Both of the Giants’ games against AFC West amassed 47. OVER.

Broncos -8½ at Bills (35): Denver struggled more than expected in edging past Baltimore last week, while Buffalo appears to have packed it in. Denver will clearly be focused for a better effort and its strong running game plays into the weakness of the Buffalo defense. This is Buffalo’s final home game and might inspire some defensive intensity. Buffalo has scored 17 or less in six of its last seven. UNDER.

Steelers -3 at Vikings (41): Minnesota has won six in a row and trails Week 17 opponent Chicago by just a single game. Pittsburgh responded last week with an expected huge effort in defeating the same Bears 21-9 to snap a three game skid. The vaunted Steelers running game totaled 190 yards on 46 carries. Aside from that fluke win over the Giants, the Vikes have not defeated a winning team during this streak STEELERS.

Chargers +8 at Colts (51): Some of the luster is off of this game following San Diego’s shocking home loss to Miami. Still, the Chargers are playing with great need. The Colts could begin to rest some starters after halftime. San Diego has a well-balanced offense capable of coming from behind. Expect the Chargers to battle for the full sixty minutes, while the Colts could show signs of complacency. CHARGERS.

49ers +15 at Jaguars (38½): The Niners have been blown out on the road, losing four times, including three by at least 35 points. The Jags will be favored in each of their remaining games and figure to leave nothing to chance. Their defensive edge over San Francisco is significant. The Niners will be hard pressed to crack double digits. JAGS.

Seahawks -7½ at Titans (45): The Seahawks have emerged as the class of the NFC with the powerful running game of Shaun Alexander opening up the passing. Tennessee has been weak on defense all season but has won two straight home games. We see the Titans opening things up in their home finale after a dull effort against Houston. Seattle has scored at least 27 in each of the last four road games. OVER.

Cards -1 at Texans (43): Both teams have long since been out of playoff contention. The Texans have scored more than 20 points once in 13 games. Arizona has won its last two road games and the defense has played well against weak foes. Houston has come close to winning the last three games, losing in the waning moments. At least there has been some indication of effort and the Cards are a beatable foe. TEXANS.

Jets +8 at Dolphins (35½): The Jets ran for 184 yards last week without Curtis Martin in a win against disinterested Oakland. Eight of the last ten meetings in the series have gone below the total, including the Jets’ 17-7 home win in Week 2. UNDER.

Panthers -7 vs Saints (40½): This game in Baton Rouge is critical for the Panthers, especially following last week’s home loss to Tampa Bay. Carolina has been more efficient on offense and has the better defense, especially against the run. New Orleans has turned the ball over more than any other team, while Carolina’s defense has been amongst the best at forcing turnovers. CAROLINA.

Cowboys +3 at Skins (35½): Rewind to week two and recall how Washington was outplayed for more than 55 minutes, being shut out at Dallas. Two big pass plays from Mark Brunell to Santana Moss turned a 13-0 deficit into a 14-13 win. The game is big for both. Seven of the last nine meetings have gone below the total. Two Hall of Fame coaches emphasize the run, defense and avoiding mistakes. UNDER.

Bengals -7 at Lions (44½): Lions appear to be anxious for the season to end following yet another listless effort in losing at Green Bay after building a 13-3 lead and not scoring after the first quarter. Expect to hear Bengals WR Chad Johnson talking this week about how this game is a scouting trip to become familiar with Ford Field, site of Super Bowl XL. A win here clinches the AFC North so expect the Bengals to be all business. BENGALS.

Browns +3 at Raiders (41): Rookie QB Charlie Frye has looked good in his first few games since being inserted as the Cleveland starter. The Raiders have lost five of their last six, the last four by double digits. Clearly Cleveland is more motivated and figures to hit harder with a goal of a .500 season within its grasp. BROWNS.

Eagles +3½ at St. Louis (43½): St. Louis has been a team in disarray all season. The coaching situation remains a distraction and the defense continues to tackle poorly. Philly has battled injuries and distractions all season, but the players still believe in their coach. The Birds have faced a more difficult schedule and only two of their losses have been by more than 10 points. The Rams have suffered six losses by double digits in a weaker schedule. EAGLES.

Falcons +3 at Bears (30½): The cold weather elements would be an edge for the Bears with the Falcons being an indoor team. These teams have only met three times in the last decade. All were low scoring games played in Atlanta. The Chicago defense will be the best unit on the field and will force QB Michael Vick to win via the passing game. Look for another defensive battle at Soldier Field. UNDER.

Packers +3 at Ravens (34½): This could be one of the least watched Monday night football games of all time. The Packers and Ravens are a combined 7-19 and long out of playoff contention. Baltimore is inept on offense and without Ray Lewis for the remainder of the season on defense. Still, the Ravens have held three of their last four foes to 15 points or less. Green Bay’s defense is surprisingly better than expected. Both teams have allowed less than 300 yards per game and 95 rushing yards. UNDER.

Last week: 9-6

Season: 108-89-10