The 1972 Miami Dolphins had their annual celebration this past Sunday following Dallas’ 21-14 win over Indianapolis, dealing the NFL’s last remaining unbeaten team its first loss of the season.
As each season passes and the ranks of the unbeaten thin out week after week until none remain, Miami’s feat more than a third of a century ago becomes even more impressive.
The loss by the Colts may actually prove to be a positive as the weekly pressure that grew on them last season, when they started 13-0, has disappeared. They won’t have to be bothered by the incessant questions about their chances, what it would mean, etc. Their focus can remain on first securing AFC home field advantage for the playoffs and then getting themselves in the best possible shape for that playoff run.
Indianapolis has not been as potent offensively as they were last season although their much maligned defense has not performed as poorly as is often perceived. Statistically, the Colts are a top five offense both in terms of yards gained and points scored. Just that the Colts are winning with less flash and in closer scores. Defensively their stats are right at the league average. The poor rushing defense is offset by above average numbers defending the pass.
The AFC remains wide open for determining the top seeds with surging San Diego just a game behind the Colts at 8-2 and tied with Baltimore for the AFC’s second seed and opening round bye. The Ravens hold the tie breaker edge over the Chargers, gained by having won their meeting earlier this season. New England and Denver are each 7-3 and in control of their own destinies.
The top seed in the NFC is Chicago’s to lose as the Bears stand 9-1 and have a three game lead. The Giants with a win at Jacksonville would have improved to 7-3. Chicago is looking at a 14-2 or 13-3 record at the very worst and should be able to rest players down the stretch should they so choose.
Philadelphia’s playoff chances were dealt a severe blow when Donovan McNabb was lost for the season when he tore his ACL in last week’s loss to Tennessee. That’s the third season ending injury for McNabb in the past five seasons although several years ago he did return for the playoffs. That will not happen this season.
Here’s a look at all 16 games to be played over the Thanksgiving Day weekend.
Dolphins -2Â½ at Lions (39): The turkeys of all turkeys. The Lions again host the traditional Thanksgiving Day opener in Detroit. They are home underdogs for a seventh straight season, losing five of the previous six games. There were three covers, to their credit. Detroit had won 8-of-11 on Turkey Day before the organization started spiraling downwards. Miami has won three in a row following a 1-6 start. Miami is not a powerhouse and Detroit should be motivated by a national audience. LIONS.
Bucs +11 at Cowboys (39): Tampa Bay defeated a weak Washington team for its third win, all by a FG or less. Dallas has alternated wins and losses on Thanksgiving Day for the past five seasons. Over the past 24 years, the straight up winner of Dallas’ Turkey Day game has covered 22 times with one push. The Cowboys are playing their best football, with a balanced offense behind QB Tony Romo. The defense is making key stops. COWBOYS.
Broncos -1 at Chiefs (39): KC seeks to avenge a Week 2 loss at Denver. A win would pull the Chiefs even with the Broncos at 7-4. QB Trent Green returned from injury last week and showed some rust in a game plan built on running the football with RB Larry Johnson. Denver blew a 24-7 lead at home in losing San Diego. The oft maligned KC defense has actually been slightly better than average. The Chiefs have always enjoyed a great home field advantage. CHIEFS.
Jaguars -2Â½ at Bills (36Â½): Jacksonville remains a playoff contender, but will rely on backup QB David Garrard the rest of the way following surgery to former starter Byron Leftwich. J.P. Losman had a huge day at Houston last week, with a pair of 83 yard TD tosses to WR Lee Evans to open the game. Losman later led a game winning, last second rally for a 24-21 win. Both are fundamentally defensive teams. Jacksonville will ask Garrard to use a conservative game plan, emphasizing the run. UNDER.
Texans +5Â½ Jets (40): Prior to the Buffalo shootout, Houston had played well prior to last week with the defense putting up monster numbers over the previous month. The Jets played well against Chicago, allowing less than 300 yards and one big play an a 10-0 loss. At 5-5, the Jets are in Wild Card contention, but have been outscored by 40 points and out-yarded by 60 yards per game. Houston, though, has scored less than 17 six times. UNDER.
Steelers +2Â½ at Ravens (39Â½): Baltimore has a chance to earn the AFC’s top seed should Indianapolis falter down the stretch. The Ravens have scored 21 or more points in five straight games. Pittsburgh was pushed to the limit last week, overcoming a 10 point deficit to win in the closing seconds at Cleveland. Four of the remaining six games are against division rivals with a pair against Baltimore. Still, the offense has struggled and QB Ben Roethlisberger has had interception problems. The Ravens have won three straight at home against the Steelers. RAVENS.
Bengals -3 at Browns (42Â½): Cincinnati got a much needed win at New Orleans last week to even their record at 5-5 and retain hopes for a late season run at the playoffs. Cincy is likely to be underdogs in at least three of the remaining games. The Browns blew a fourth quarter 10-point lead at home to bitter rival Pittsburgh last week. Cincy QB Carson Palmer seems to be back at peak efficiency, but the defense allowed over 500 passing yards to Drew Brees and the Saints last week. Cleveland’s offense is improving and this could a repeat of the 58-48 game played two seasons ago. OVER.
Cards +6 at Vikings (39): Against the Lions last week, Arizona did not commit a turnover and posted its highest rushing output of the season. However, it was just 105 yards and now the Cards face the league’s top rushing defense. The Vikings held Miami to a net of -3 yards last week, but lost. With a pair of road games on deck, this is a game the Vikes must win to remain in Wild Card contention. VIKINGS.
Niners +6 at Rams (44): Whoda thunk it? Sure, the 49ers might be at .500 but that was likely to be before the season started. After winning three in a row, the Niners are 5-5. Frank Gore is becoming an elite running back. QB Alex Smith continues to develop and the receivers have improved. After starting 4-1, St. Louis has dropped five in a row. The defense has been weak and the loss of offensive lineman Orlando Pace was felt last week. The Rams had 11 total yards in a 15-0 loss at Carolina. San Francisco won the earlier meeting 20-13 and swept the series last year. This is a generous line. NINERS.
Saints +3 at Falcons (47): Atlanta seeks to avenge its 23-3 loss to an emotionally charged Saints team that reopened the Super Dome back in September. The Saints have dropped their last two games to fall to 6-4. The defense, which had played so well earlier, has yielded 31 points in three of the last four games. After starting 3-1, the Falcons are now 5-5. QB Michael Vick has returned to his inconsistent ways following a stretch of games in which he was sensational. The defense has also been hit hard by injuries. Five of the last six opponents have scored above 24 points. OVER.
Panthers -4 at Redskins (36): Washington appears to be a defeated team and last week’s loss at Tampa Bay enabled backers of ”˜under’ 9 total wins to clinch at least a push. The change to QB Jason Campbell signals that a looking to next season. The loss of RB Clinton Portis either validates that decision or gives management a concrete reason to make it. With a win here, the Panthers could run the rest of their schedule to finish 12-4 and enter the playoffs as co-favorites with the Bears to make the Super Bowl. This will be their first road game in over a month. PANTHERS.
Bears +3 at Patriots (37): This is the marquee game of the week and potentially a preview of Super Bowl XLI. Both are off road shutout wins. All three Patriots losses have been at home with two against quality foes Denver and Indianapolis. This is Chicago’s third straight road game, all to the East Coast. QB Rex Grossman has been just average following his strong start against some very weak opposition. New England’s defense has played well most of the season. Weather conditions could keep scoring down. Chicago’s top ranked pass defense encourages the Pats to employ a game plan emphasizing the run. UNDER.
Eagles +9 at Colts (43):- The season ending injury to Donovan McNabb deals a crushing blow to Philadelphia’s playoff hopes. Backups A J Feeley and Jeff Garcia are experienced but rusty. The Colts are off their first loss of the season in which QB Peyton Manning played one of his worst games, going 20-for-39 and being picked off twice. Philly’s game plan should rely even more on the run. The Eagles will want to keep the Indy offense on the sideline as much as possible and take advantage of the weak rushing defense that allows more than five yards per rush. UNDER.
Giants -3 at Titans (42Â½) The Giants will still be without several key defensive players. Tennessee pulled a major upset at Philadelphia as QB Vince Young continues to develop, despite putting up very modest passing stats. They remain a team in transition with the future looking bright. The Titans are facing a pure pocket passer in Eli Manning after having seen more mobile quarterbacks the past few weeks. The Giants have an underrated offense that ranks in the league’s top 10. OVER.
Raiders +13 at Chargers (43): San Diego blasting the Raiders on the road 27-0 in the season opening, sacking Oakland QB Aaron Brooks time and again. After missing more than a month due to injury, Brooks returned last week and was no more effective against KC than in his first few starts. The Chargers continue to improve on offense behind QB Philip Rivers. RB LaDanian Tomlinson is enjoying a stretch of success virtually unmatched in NFL history as a touchdown machine. The Raiders will also be without starting RB LaMont Jordan. This is Oakland’s third straight game against AFC West rivals, covering lower lines in the previous two. UNDER.
Packers NL at Seahawks: The status of both QBs, Favre and Hasselbeck, likely keep this game off the boards much of the week. Both are likely to see action. Seattle is still contending, but has seen its lead in the NFC West shrink to one game over SF. They have the better defense and enjoyed an outstanding home field advantage. Following their loss to the Niners, a huge effort can be expected whether Seneca Wallace plays or note. SEAHAWKS.