NFL elite teams
shifting to NFC

Oct 17, 2006 6:53 AM

The NFL season is one third complete and only Oakland remains winless.

Heading into this past Monday night only Chicago and Indianapolis were unbeaten. Based on the first six weeks, the gap between the AFC and NFC appears to have narrowed if not almost disappeared.

There are more "good" teams in the NFC than we have seen for a number of seasons. Early results from interconference play have the NFC up 13-8 against AFC foes. The spread record is identical. Only seven AFC teams have winning records, compared to 19 in the NFC.

It’s still early, but there might be some value playing the NFC over AFC at those sports books currently having Super Bowl propositions available. The AFC is favored from 2 to 3 points at several of those books. Many observers will argue that, at this point of the season, the NFC’s Chicago Bears are the best team in the league.

Not including last Monday night’s Chicago-Arizona result, the ”˜over/under’ stood dead even at 42-42 with two pushes.

The first significant upset occurred this past weekend when Tennessee surprised Washington as 11½ point underdogs. It marked the first time a team favored by at least 7 had lost outright in 28 such situations.

This Sunday marks the first divisional rematch when Buffalo hosts New England. The Pats had to rally from behind to edge Buffalo 19-17 on opening day.

Baltimore, Chicago, New Orleans, St. Louis, San Francisco and Tennessee have byes this week. Again, there will be just 13 games on the slate. There is no Sunday night game due to baseball’s World Series.

Here’s look at this week’s baker’s dozen.

Chargers -5 at Chiefs (42): San Diego continues to roll, opening up the passing game last week in a rout of San Francisco. The defense has put up outstanding numbers, but has yet to be tested by a quality offense. Kansas City historically has been a strong play as a home underdog. The Chiefs have beaten the Chargers straight up eight of the last nines times. The lone defeat was by a FG two seasons ago. CHIEFS.

Jags -9½ at Texans (40½): Jacksonville is unbeaten at home and winless on the road. The Jags are just 4-4 in eight meetings with Houston since the franchise entered the league in 2002. The Texans showed little improvement on offense following the bye, but did play well for a half before being routed in Dallas. The Jaguars are off a bye and might be a bit rusty against a foe they might take lightly. Jacksonville is solid defensively, while Houston has to play its next three on the road. UNDER.

Patriots -6 at Bills (36½): Buffalo nearly knocked off the Patriots on opening day, losing on a late safety. New England is rested following the bye and played well in its last two games. Despite questions about the defense, the Pats have not given up more than 17 points in any game. The week off allowed QB Tom Brady to develop even more rhythm with his many new receivers, plus numerous technical factors are in New England’s favor. PATRIOTS.

Steelers -1½ at Falcons (37½) Often the NFL presents games in which the situational factors outweigh the statistics. Last week’s game between Pittsburgh and Kansas City was such a spot. The Steelers routed an opponent that carried decent stats. Now Atlanta is in a similar situation after losing at home last week to the Giants. The Falcons must play their next two games, and five of their next seven, on the road. A win here is crucial to their post season hopes. Atlanta’s running game still is the best in the league. Pittsburgh’s defense is a bit banged up for this one. FALCONS.

Packers +3½ at Dolphins (41): Green Bay is rested following the bye. Miami staged a late rally that just fell short in the loss at the Jets. Miami is one of the most disappointing teams thus far, but still has a strong defense. That should be the key against an inconsistent Packers offense. Miami also returns home following a three game road trip, losing all three though competitive. Miami has yet to cover a spread. With a bye next week and a trip to Chicago the following week, this game is critical if Miami is to turn the season around. DOLPHINS.

Eagles -4½ at Bucs (43): Tampa Bay got its first win last week, but it was not easy. The Bucs held down the potent Cincinnati offense, which showed signs of rust after a week off. Philly lost at red hot New Orleans last week and has its next three games at home. The aggressive defense should have success against Tampa’s rookie QB Brad Gradkowski who has played decently in his first two starts. The defenses are comparable but the Eagles have a huge edge on offense. EAGLES.

Lions +3½ at NY Jets (40): Detroit’s offense has started to show signs of understanding the Mike Martz system. The Lions got their first win last week over Buffalo, gaining nearly 400 yards. The Jets are much improved with QB Chad Pennington healthy and having a fine season. He continues to be in synch with WR Lavernius Coles and the running game has shown improvement in recent games. Both teams are below average on defense. We should see each score at least 20. OVER.

Panthers +3 at Bengals (45): Carolina has won all four games since WR Steve Smith returned from injury. The Bengals are on a two game losing streak and playing the first of five straight tough games. Their high powered offense showed rust last week following the Bye and now face a fundamentally sound Panthers defense. The Panthers offense is underrated, especially with Smith and Keyshawn Johnson developing good timing with QB Jake Delhomme. Both teams have solid passing attacks which should produce plenty of scoring. OVER.

Broncos -4½ at Browns (32½): Denver is tied for the best record in the AFC, despite averaging under 13 points per game. The defense has been stellar, allowing less than 8. Cleveland, off a bye, has scored more than 17 points just once. They’ve also allowed more than 21 just once in a 1-4 start. The line is short here because of the problems Denver has had in putting points on the board. That should change here as Denver’s running game should wear down the Cleveland defense. Offseason acquisition WR Javon Walker is making a contribution in the passing game. BRONCOS.

Redskins +9½ at Colts (48½): The Redskins must be embarrassed following last week’s shocking home loss to Tennessee. The Skins defense allowed nearly 200 rushing yards to the lowly Titans. Before its bye, the rested Colts had trouble running the football. The 5-0 start is hardly similar to last season with 4-of-5 wins coming by a TD or less. The Redskins are a better team than they showed last week. We can expect a much better effort as the line has been inflated following last week’s loss. REDSKINS.

Vikings +7 at Seahawks (43): Seattle rebounded from its blowout loss at Chicago with a come from behind win at St. Louis after a week of rest. The Seahawks should still be without RB Shaun Alexander this week, which means the passing game will be emphasized. Newly acquired Deion Branch had a big game last week and Matt Hasselbeck has become an elite QB under the tutelage of coach Mike Holmgren. Minnesota is rested and has played better defense than in the past few seasons. None of the first five foes has scored 20 points against the Vikes. Seattle’s defense is underrated. UNDER.

Cards -3 at Raiders (42): Arizona is off the Monday nighter against the high flying Bears. Oakland is the lone NFL team yet to win. Realistically this is one of two winnable games on its schedule. Arizona has been disappointing thus far with a running game that has not gotten a boost from the addition of RB Edgerrin James. WR Larry Fitzgerald is injured and the Cards are relying on a rookie QB. But for the numerous false start penalties, the Raiders offense played respectably well at Denver. Arizona is off a short week and could be banged up from Chicago. RAIDERS.

Giants +3½ at Cowboys (45): Long time rivals meet Monday in the prime time spotlight. The teams split a pair of low scoring games last season. Both coaches like to rely on defense and a strong running game. The addition of Terrell Owens gives the Cowboys a more potent offense, but QB Drew Bledsoe figures to be pressured by the Giants solid defensive front. Yards and points should come hard. The Cowboys have slightly better stats on defense, the Giants a bit better on offense. Those edges should cancel into a tough field position defensive battle. UNDER.