Week 15: AFC shows more hot teams

Dec 12, 2006 6:47 AM

Just three games remain until the NFL playoffs and the AFC has the greatest positive momentum.

San Diego, Cincinnati, Jacksonville and Tennessee are the hottest teams. The Chargers (11-2) have clinched the AFC West, but still need to continue winning to secure an opening round bye and secondly home field advantage.

Cincinnati has reeled off four straight impressive wins and at 8-5 controls its own destiny towards doing what rival Pittsburgh did last season — earn a Wild Card.

Jacksonville blew out the Colts, makes them a dangerous foe regardless of where they must play. As a Wild Card, the Jaguars would play all postseason games on the road.

Tennessee has won four in a row and, though likely to miss the playoffs, is much improved behind rookie QB Vince Young. AFC teams in decline include Denver, Indianapolis and Kansas City.

Positive momentum in the weaker NFC is much harder to find. No team has been able to sustain any degree of success for more than a week or two with the possible exception of New Orleans.

The remarkable story of the Saints season, especially given the struggle faced in 2005 following the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, make them the sentimental favorites to win the NFC Title. QB Drew Brees will be the NFC’s MVP and provide a challenge to RB LaDanian Tomlinson of San Diego for NFL honors. Rookie Coach Sean Payton wrapped up Coach of the Year honors weeks ago.

Chicago may still be the team to beat in the NFC. At 10-2 entering Monday night’s game at St. Louis, the Bears own a narrowing lead over New Orleans for the NFC’s top seed. Based on current standings, Dallas and Seattle would host Wild Card games. Philadelphia and the New York Giants are in control of Wild Cards berths with Atlanta also at 7-6. Carolina, Minnesota and St. Louis (with a win Monday) would be one game out.

Here’s a look at the games for Week 15.

THURSDAY

49ers +10 at Seahawks (44): The 49ers have lost their last three games and have struggled all season on the road. They face an angry Seattle team that surrendered a lead at Arizona last week. Despite leading its division, Seattle has been outscored and out yarded for the season, making it tough to lay double digits. San Francisco RB Frank Gore is having an outstanding season with seven 100-yard games. NINERS.

SATURDAY

Cowboys -3 at Falcons (43): Dallas has to be in shock following the one sided home loss to New Orleans. Atlanta’s top two running backs, Warrick Dunn and Jerious Norwood, are banged up. Atlanta continues to have the league’s top rushing attack and should be able to learn how to attack the Cowboys defense. Atlanta will seek to end a two game home losing streak and expects to have at least one of their two injured backs available. FALCONS.

SUNDAY

Jets +3 at Vikings (39): The Jets played true to their seasonal offensive (25) and defensive (27) stats last week in being totally outclassed by Buffalo. Minnesota continues to lead the NFL in allowing a puny 53 rushing yards per game. That should be the difference as the Vikes will be favored to run the table and finish 9-7. That could be good enough in the NFC to get a Wild Card. VIKINGS.

Browns +11 at Ravens (33): Cleveland has several extra days of rest following a one sided loss last Thursday in Pittsburgh. Backup QB Derek Anderson will face defensive pressure from Baltimore’s top ranked defense. The Ravens are methodical, yielding few turnovers on offense and creating many on defense. Baltimore won’t need to take many chances, utilizing a conservative game plan featuring plenty of running. UNDER.

Texans +11 at Patriots (37): Progress has been slow for Houston, who had a chance last week to slow down a hot Tennessee team led by the QB they passed over in the draft. Vince Young made the game winning play, perhaps putting the dagger in the heart of the Texans for the season. New England is off an embarrassing shutout loss at Miami. Still, the Pats have a strong defense that ranks third against the run. Houston’s offense and defense ranks in the bottom five of the league. PATRIOTS.

Dolphins +2 at Bills (36): Buffalo has been brilliant since the bye week with four wins in six games. The losses were by a single point at Indianapolis and by a FG to San Diego. The Bills have covered six in a row and have a chance to finish 9-7 by winning out. Miami has won 5-of-6 after the bye week. Miami’s significant statistical edges on both sides of the ball are offset by likely cold and possible inclement weather. UNDER.

Steelers at Panthers (NL): The injury to Carolina QB Jake Delhomme keeps this game off the board as the week begins. Pittsburgh also has some key injuries that could see them take the field again without WR Hines Ward. Carolina has a top 10 defense. Both offenses have sputtered for most of the season and. Pittsburgh still harbors remote Wild Card hopes so expect both defenses to set the tone. UNDER.

Redskins +10 at Saints (43) Has the world gone crazy? Are things upside down? The Saints as a double digit favorite? Yet it is very much deserved. New Orleans brings the league’s top ranked offense and a defense that has played better than the stats indicate. Washington may have tossed the towel in for the season at 4-9. The loss of RB Clinton Portis to injury and the switch to Jason Campbell at QB a few weeks back signaled the Skins are looking to next season. SAINTS.

Jaguars -3½ at Titans (41): Jacksonville is sky high after its demolition of Indianapolis. Tennessee ranks last in the league in total defense, but the offense has shown improvement in the running game since rookie Vince Young was made the starting QB. The Jags have the fourth best rush defense, while Tennessee ranks 28. JAGS.

Bucs +13 at Bears (33): The Bucs are 3-10 this season, largely due to an inept offense that ranks 31, gaining 256 yards per game. The defense is average but not at the level that carried the team the past few seasons. The Bears continue to rely on their smothering defense for stops and putting points on the board. Tampa likely to show little interest in the cold and possibly windy conditions. BEARS.

Eagles +5½ at Giants (43½): The Eagles well remember the first meeting when they gave up a 24-7 fourth quarter lead at home in what turned to be an OT loss. The teams are very familiar with one another and close statistically, especially on defense. The game figures to be tight throughout. Getting more than a FG in a key divisional contest provides good value. EAGLES.

Lions +5 at Packers (43): At 2-11, the Lions are tied with Oakland for the first choice in next April’s draft. The front office continues to be ridiculed as GM Matt Millen continues to make poor decisions. Green Bay is still playing hard as last week’s victory at San Francisco attests. PACKERS.

Broncos -2 at Cards (41): The season has come apart for Denver, which has lost four in a row after starting 7-2. The change in quarterbacks remains a curious decision, even though Cutler is the QB of the future. Arizona, 3-1 in last four, is playing last home game. Coach Dennis Green might yet save his job. CARDS.

Chiefs +8½ at Chargers (47): San Diego is in the top 10 in both offense and defense and has the top RB in the league in LT. Philip Rivers has been outstanding at QB in his first season as starter and the defense has played equally as well. The Chiefs are overmatched and not playing well. CHARGERS.

Rams +1 at Raiders (38): The Raiders are home after losing at Cincinnati, where the NFL’s worst offense mustered just 223 yards for the game. Despite the lack of any offensive support, the Raiders stop unit ranks sixth (288 ypg). St. Louis has been inefficient on offense, ranking No. 15 in points scored. UNDER.

MONDAY

Bengals +3 at Colts (52): The Bengals are hot, the Colts are not. Cincinnati has won four straight and control its Wild Card fate. Indianapolis has lost 3-of-4 and its confidence has to be shaken. After allowing 375 rushing yards to Jacksonville, opposing offensive coordinators have been given the blueprint of how to attack the defense. The Bengals are playing aggressively on both sides of the ball, which could lead to big plays on offense and mistakes on defense. Figure a high scoring game, with Cincy not being intimidated on the road. BENGALS.