Bears may be up to test ’72 Dolphins

Oct 10, 2006 7:07 AM

Five weeks into the NFL season and certain things are becoming especially clear.

The Chicago Bears are a dominant football team with an offense that improves weekly. They have a good a shot at challenging the 1972 Miami Dolphins’ unbeaten season playing in the relatively weak NFC North and having a favorable schedule down the stretch.

Their final three games are against teams that are currently a combined 1-13 with two of those at home. The toughest test should come in Week 12 at New England in the Bears’ third straight road game. Should Chicago get by the Pats, the toughest test might arrive two weeks later in St. Louis, from where head coach Lovie Smith was hired. It won’t be much longer before sports books start hanging the "Will They, Won’t They" prop around town.

Meanwhile, the Oakland Raiders are a very bad football team. The Silver and Black have real chance at challenging the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ winless season. The Raiders have been listless and the schedule shows only two games that will feature a competitive pointspread. Oakland hosts Arizona in two weeks and Houston in early December. The Raiders did achieve sort of a milestone this past week when accumulating more passing yardage against San Francisco than they had passed for in the three previous games combined.

Enough said.

Indianapolis is still a very good football team, but its 5-0 start is not nearly as impressive as last season. The Colts were nearly knocked off at home this past weekend by lowly Tennessee. While their lengthy divisional winning streak remained intact, they have a rough six game stretch following this week’s bye that could see the Colts go 3-3. If that happens, it could open the way for Jacksonville to take over the AFC South lead. None of those six games are against Divisional rivals.

The number of teams with byes increases from four to six this week with Cleveland, Green Bay, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Minnesota and New England enjoying the rest period.

Here’s a look at the 13 games that will be played.

Sunday, Oct. 15

Bengals -6 at Bucs (42): The Bengals are rested following their bye, which followed a humiliating home loss (by score) a week earlier to New England. Tampa Bay remains winless but has played better of late. The Bucs were a playoff team a year ago. Although having rookie QB Brad Gradkowski in for injured Chris Simms, much of last season’s roster is still intact. The Bucs have played a fairly tough schedule so they are not as bad as their stats reflect. The Bengals are a very good team but might not be good enough to be expected to win by a margin on the road. BUCS.

Titans +9½ at Redskins (40): It’s tough to gauge the mindset of Tennessee following a narrow loss at Indy last week. The Titans could be thinking "woulda, coulda, shoulda" instead of focusing on this game. Perhaps they could have renewed confidence after the best effort this season. Washington needs this win badly to be considered a playoff contender. The Titans are one of only two of their remaining 11 foes that currently has a losing record. Expect a much better effort from the Skins offense. REDSKINS.

Texans +12½ at Cowboys (42½): Houston is off a bye week and we should see some improvement from the offense. The Texans enter this game with confidence after getting that first win against Miami. Dallas has three tough games on deck including next week at division rival Giants. This is only the second Dallas home game and last week’s loss at Philadelphia insures a focused effort here. Dallas’ edge at the skill positions and on defense, combined with the scheduling dynamics, produce a comfortable win. COWBOYS.

Bills +1 at Lions (39½): Buffalo had played well before running into Chicago last week. The Bills lost five turnovers which limited the offense to just 145 net yards on 45 offensive plays. Detroit blew a late lead in Minnesota, but that’s what bad teams do. Buffalo is fundamentally better with a superior ground game and played well in the three earlier road games. Both defenses have played surprisingly well in spurts when facing the more limited offenses. That description applies here. UNDER.

Seahawks -3½ at Rams (45): The winner takes control of the NFC West. Seattle may again be without RB Shaun Alexander following the bye week. We may see the line move down as game time approaches. St. Louis has started 4-1 with QB Marc Bulger enjoying a great season, yet to toss an interception. The defense has played well following significant offseason moves. Seattle is a formidable foe but has more flaws than last season, especially along the offensive line. The Rams are unbeaten at home including an opening day win over Denver. RAMS.

Giants +3 at Falcons (42): The Giants controlled clock and played solid defense in defeating Washington last week. The Falcons enjoyed their bye. This is a tough scheduling spot for the Giants with division rival Dallas up next Monday. Atlanta leads the NFL in running the ball at 234 yards per game. The Giants also have a solid running game and the better passing attack. Atlanta should have success running against the Giants’ suspect defense, which should produce both fewer possessions and scoring opportunities. UNDER .

Eagles -3 at Saints (46): Both teams are 4-1 and leading their respective divisions. This matchup has potential playoff implications for home field. Philadelphia is more fundamentally solid, but coming off of the emotional win over Dallas. The Saints needed a late punt return from rookie Reggie Bush to overtake Tampa Bay. New Orleans also has a bye next week so should be fully focused. It’s hard not to like the host getting points, but Philly is playing at the level they displayed in making it to four straight NFC Title games. The defense can give up big plays while QB Donovan McNabb has also created big plays for the Eagles offense. OVER.

Panthers +3 at Ravens (33): Baltimore is off of the Monday night game in Denver. Carolina has rebounded from the 0-2 start to win three straight now that WR Steve Smith is back in the lineup. Even so, the offense has not been scoring as much as expected. In fact, the point total has decreased from 26 to 21 to 20 during the three-game stretch. Both teams have outstanding defenses with decent rushing offenses. The defenses are good enough to prevent sustained drives and big plays. This game should be played between the 20s. UNDER.

Dolphins +2½ at Jets (36): Miami is in all sorts of trouble with a brewing QB controversy and a 1-4 record. The status of starting QB Duante Culpepper is in doubt, but backup Joey Harrington fared little better in last week’s loss in New England. This is also Miami’s third straight road game. The Jets were blown out early in their loss at Jacksonville, but RB Leon Washington was solid and might have finally earned the starting job. The Jets played well prior to last week and are more likely than Miami to bounce back from a bad loss. JETS.

Chargers -9½ at 49ers (42): San Diego continues to look like one of the elite teams after the second half domination of Pittsburgh. QB Phillip Rivers has played well in his debut season as starter and the running game is outstanding with LaDanian Tomlinson. San Francisco has played well more often than not and has won two of three home games. The offense is not making mistakes and RB Frank Gore has had some big games. San Diego is clearly the better team and should get the win, but is in a tough spot with a trip to Kansas City on deck next week. The 49ers have a bye next week. 49ERS.

Chiefs +6½ at Steelers (36): Pittsburgh’s season is on the verge of unraveling after a 1-3 start in the tough AFC North. Sunday night’s loss at San Diego was not unexpected, but the Steelers have lost to a trio of teams likely to make the playoffs. The Chiefs also have a pair of losses to playoff teams, including Cincinnati. KC is banged up with RB Larry Johnson sustaining an injury in the win at Arizona, although he is expected to play. The Chiefs are a team in transition with an improving defense to compensate for a declining offense. Pittsburgh is in the more dire situation and the coaching edge belongs to the Steelers’ Bill Cowher over KC’s Herman Edwards. STEELERS.

Raiders +15½ at Broncos (37): Ugh. One of the league’s best hosting one of the worst. The disdain felt by Denver coach Mike Shanahan against the Oakland organization has been well chronicled. The Broncos have owned the Raiders under Shanahan and routinely defeated them by double digits over the past decade, winning 15-of-20. It’s rare that the emotional intangibles are truly a factor in the NFL but this is one of those rare situations borne out by the results. The Raiders are totally lacking in confidence and coached by the man replaced Shanahan in Oakland (Art Shell) after being fired in mid season by owner Al Davis. Ouch! DENVER.

Monday, Oct. 16

Bears -10 at Cardinals (38): Chicago is good enough to win by double digits on the road, especially against a one dimensional team with a QB (Matt Leinart) making only his second NFL start. The Cardinals continue to be unable to run the ball, but the defense has been reasonably effective. Arizona will have the emotional edge playing on the national stage.That is more likely to reflect in the play of the defense. The Bears defense figures to take away the pass and force the Cards to run, which should shorten the game. UNDER.