Halfway done, Indianapolis ranks No. 1

Nov 7, 2006 6:20 AM

Only one team remains unbeaten halfway in the NFL season after Miami shocked Chicago.

The 31-13 score might suggest some weaknesses were exploited in the Chicago defense. In actuality, the Bears defense played quite well, allowing just 292 yards or 4.2 yards per play. It was Chicago’s offense that led to the loss, committing six turnovers.

For a second straight season, Indianapolis went to New England and took control, winning 27-20 by making big plays on defense. Sure, this is only a mid season game but an important one that may well give the Colts home field throughout the AFC playoffs. That’s an advantage they were unable to successfully navigate through last season.

The line mattered in just two of Sunday’s 13 games, marking the first time in three weeks that a team winning a game straight up lost to the spread. Over these three weeks, 37 teams both won and covered the pointspread. Another winning team pushed.

The New York Giants and San Diego Chargers were the two winning teams this past Sunday that won outright. but lost to the pointspread. Historically, the spread will matter in just 15 percent of all games. The percentage had been hovering around 20 through the first six weeks.

Here’s a preview of this week’s 16 games.

Chiefs -2 at Dolphins (40): Kansas City has won 5-of-6, following a pair of losses to start the season. The lone loss in this stretch was a 45-7 whipping at Pittsburgh. Their only road win in this streak was a come from behind effort at Arizona. Miami played well in ending Chicago’s unbeaten season. The Dolphins did rush for a season high 161 yards. Perhaps Miami is poised for a run similar to the one they made last season when they started 3-7 and finished with six straight wins. DOLPHINS.

Texans +10½ at Jags (38): This is a huge revenge game for the hosts, who were pummeled by the Texans three weeks ago 27-7. Jacksonville is perfect at home this season, winning all four games including a pair by shutout. Two wins were as home dogs. Against this caliber of team, the Jags beat the Jets 41-0 and Tennessee 37-7. Houston has improved defensively, but meets a foe motivated to exact revenge. JAGUARS.

Chargers -1 at Bengals (48): The Chargers are a force as QB Philip Rivers has emerged as a solid leader. RB LaDanian Tomlinson had a huge second half last week. Cincinnati has been a disappointment, dropping 4-of-5 to stand 4-4 at the halfway point. Two of the losses were by 1 and 2 so the Bengals could just as easily be 6-2. San Diego has a big game at Denver next week and is facing a dangerous offense season. BENGALS.

Browns +8 at Falcons (42): It really should not have been a surprise that the Falcons would struggle last week, following a pair of great performances from QB Michael Vick and the entire offense. Vick has not yet risen to the level of an elite QB who can maintain consistency for several weeks in a row. Atlanta gets to bounce back at home against a weak Cleveland team that is a level below the Falcons in talent. FALCONS.

Ravens -7 at Titans (38): Baltimore now enjoys a two game lead in the AFC North and the division is theirs to lose. At 6-2 the Ravens are also tied for the second seed in the AFC so they cannot afford to give away games against weaker teams. Tennessee has played better since inserting rookie Vince Young as starting QB, notwithstanding his three picks last week. The last five games between the teams have gone ”˜under’ the posted total. UNDER.

Bills+11½ at Colts (45): In its win over Green Bay, Buffalo was outgained in yards 427-184 but won the turnover battle 4-0. The Colts won their second big game in as many weeks on the road. This would normally be a spot for the Colts to let down and relax. Given their experience from last season when they started 13-0, they are better prepared to maintain their focus when dropping in class. Both teams are just average in rushing the ball, but rush defense has been Indy’s weakness all season. BILLS.

Saints +4½ at Steelers (45): The Saints continue to impress at 6-2 and need one more win to equal or exceed their projected season win total. The offense has been outstanding behind QB Drew Brees. The improved defense has allowed under 300 yards per game. Needless to say the Steelers have been a huge disappointment. Injuries have been a major factor. Steelers home games continue to go ”˜over’ the Total, with 13 of the last 14 games exceeding the posted total with the other game a push. OVER.

Redskins +7 at Eagles (43): The Redskins got a miraculous win last week over Dallas, but at 3-5 still have a tough challenge to make the playoffs. The Eagles have lost their last three, each by a TD or less. 3 of their 4 losses overall have been on the final play of the game. Philly is off a Bye week and should play with great intensity in the final divisional home game of the season. Washington remains offensively challenged in the passing game. EAGLES.

Bears +3 at Giants (39): The Giants are without defensive star Michael Strahan, sidelined with an injury. New York has improved defensively since the start of the season and its last three opponents at home have scored just 3, 3 and 10 points. The Chicago offense struggled on the road against the one decent defense (Minnesota) back in Week 2. This figures to be a game played between the 20s and low scoring. That conclusion is supported by numerous technical factors. UNDER.

Green Bay +5½ at Vikings (39): Green Bay outplayed Buffalo last week everywhere but on the scoreboard. QB Brett Favre tossed an interception as the Packers were looking to tie the score late in the contest. Minnesota’s defense played better at San Francisco, but the offense was unable to do much against the weak 49ers. The Vikes did win both games last season, but each was by a FG. Five of the last six meetings have been decided by three points PACKERS.

Jets +10 at Pats (39): New England jumped out to a 24-0 lead in Week 2 before the defense relaxed and allowed a pair of long TD passes in a 24-17 win on the road. The Patriots will be in a foul mood after losing at home to Indianapolis. The Jets are rested following a bye and are a fundamentally flawed team. Don’t expect Tom Brady to repeat his four interception effort. Following the earlier loss to Denver, the Pats routed Cincinnati on the road. This should be similar. PATRIOTS.

49ers +6 at Lions (44): Niners forced three Vikings turnovers last week, but the defense still ranks near the bottom of the league. The offense is still a work in progress. Detroit also has a suspect defense, but the offense has started to show more consistency under coordinator Mike Martz. The Lions have tallied at least 24 points in four of their last six games facing defenses no worse than the 49ers. OVER.

Broncos -7 at Raiders (37): Denver struggled to a lethargic 13-3 win at home over Oakland a month ago, but that was before the offense started to click. The Broncos have scored 31 in each of the past two games. Oakland’s offense continues to be weak, getting poor QB play and has had very limited success in running the ball. This is the first, and arguably easiest, of three straight divisional games for the Broncos. Oakland remains undisciplined. BRONCOS.

Rams (NL) at Seahawks: The status of Seattle RB Shaun Alexander kept this game off the board as the week began. Alexander is expected to play, but did suffer a slight setback last week. Starting QB Matt Hasselbeck is likely to be out. St. Louis has struggled over the past month following a strong start. However, six of the last eight meetings have been decided by a TD or less. RAMS.

Cowboys -7 at Cards (43): The Dallas offense is generally performing well behind the more mobile Tony Romo. Arizona’s season has fallen apart and it is a matter of time before coach Dennis Green bears the brunt of the blame. The Cards are rested following a bye. In four home games, Arizona owns a win over the 49ers and losses by 2, 3 and 1. The points are more than generous. CARDS.

Bucs +9 at Panthers (37): The Monday nighter. When last we saw the Panthers, they were blowing a first quarter early 14-0 home lead to Dallas in a nationally televised Sunday night loss before their bye week. Tampa is fortunate to be 2-6 with both wins coming at the buzzer, one requiring a near record 62 yard FG. Tampa’s offense has been lacking, with the running game regressing. Carolina is at its worst when favored. Expect a low scoring game. UNDER.