Pack is back! At least, after 3 weeks

September 25, 2007 9:09 AM
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LAST WK SEASON PCT
4-9-2 17-26-2 39.5

It’s hard to believe, but after this weekend the NFL season will be one quarter complete for 28 of the league’s 32 teams.

Byes begin this week with Jacksonville, New Orleans, Tennessee and Washington on the sidelines, while 14 games will be played.

After three weeks, clearly there are a number of teams with major concerns, including several that made the playoffs a year ago.

Six of last season’s playoff teams have started 1-2 and a seventh, New Orleans, was 0-2 heading into Monday night’s home opener against Tennessee. Of this group Chicago and San Diego have been woeful.

San Diego’s offense has been listless and the defense has been unable to compensate for those problems. After a lackluster opening game win over Chicago, the Chargers were blown away in New England and outplayed in Green Bay.

The questionable decision to fire ex coach Marty Schottenheimer has become even more so with each succeeding week. Schottenheimer led the Chargers to a league best 14-2 record last season. His replacement, Norv Turner, has a career 59-83-1 record as a head coach.

In Chicago, coach Lovie Smith’s stubbornness to stick with starting QB Rex Grossman is also drawing heavy criticism. With only a 16 game schedule, NFL teams have very little margin for error, especially in a league designed to produce parity. The function of ownership and management is to place athletes in the best position to win. It has to be questioned whether Chargers ownership and Chicago management is doing just that.

At the other extreme, several teams have looked like surefire Super Bowl contenders. The 3-0 starts by Dallas, Pittsburgh, New England and Green Bay have been very impressive. A fifth team 3-0 team is defending Super Bowl champ Indianapolis.

While the Colts start has not been as impressive as the others. Indy had to hold on against both Tennessee and Houston, but the Colts will always getting their foes’ best shot.

On an annual basis we see nearly a 50 percent turnover rate in teams making the playoffs. This is also the point in the season when statistics start to become meaningful. Usually it will take three or four games for a team to establish its strengths and reveal its weaknesses.

Scheduling is often a factor overlooked in assessing why a team gets off to a slow or quick start.

Here’s a look at Week 4:

Sunday, Sept. 30

Raiders +3½ at Dolphins (41): Miami’s offense has started to show progress each week although the defense has underperformed against the rush. Oakland has been able to run the ball much better, but the passing game and defense have struggled. This is a key contest for Miami with a pair of road games on deck. DOLPHINS.

Texans -3 at Falcons (39): Atlanta played well and if not for a few ill timed defensive personal fouls might have defeated Carolina. QB Joey Harrington had a fine game despite looking over his shoulder at newly signed Byron Leftwich. Houston is clearly improved on both sides of the ball, but it may be a bit premature to favor them on the road. FALCONS.

Ravens -4½ at Browns (39): After a pair of extremely opposite games to open the season, Cleveland’s effort in Oakland was more representative of what we can expect. The Browns are improved and more competitive, b ut will still fall short in many games. Baltimore’s strength is still the defense. The game is priced about right. UNDER.

Bears -3 at Lions (44): Both off miserable efforts last week, losing by a combined 90-31. The difference is Detroit lost on the road to inspired and previously underperforming Philadelphia. Chicago lost at home to unbeaten Dallas, but was unable to have similar success against a vulnerable Cowboys defense. LIONS.

Packers -2 at Vikings (38): Green Bay QB Brett Favre has been brilliant in the early going and the Packers have now won seven in a row dating back to last season. Minnesota has been strong on defense but weak on offense with new personnel learning to play key roles. The Vikings are second in the league against the run (67 yards per game). Green Bay is dead last in rushing offense (57 ypg). VIKINGS.

Rams +11 at Cowboys (46): St. Louis has been woeful on offense, averaging under 300 yards per game. At the same time the defense has performed well against the pass, but has struggled to stop the rush. Dallas leads the league by averaging over 7 yards per play on offense with good balance. The defense has been vulnerable, but much of that is due to the potency of the offense. Lok for the St. Louis offense to show improvement and make this a high scoring contest. OVER.

Jets NL at Bills: Bills injuries, especially to QB J P Losman, keep this game off the boards as we go to press. At 0-3, the Bills have not looked good early, though the losses have come to Denver, Pittsburgh and New England. The Jets had to hold on against Miami last week for their initial win. Although Buffalo ranks dead last in both total offense and defense, the Jets rank 28 on offense, 27 on defense. When in doubt, take the points at home. BILLS.

Bucs NL at Panthers: Both teams have key injuries which have delayed the posting of a line. Tampa Bay has been more impressive in the early going, especially in containing the supposed high powered offenses of New Orleans and St. Louis. Only Minnesota has allowed fewer points in the NFC. Carolina’s defense has been fairly consistent. It should be a field position game. UNDER.

Seahawks -1½ at 49ers (41): After defeating a pair of NFC West rivals, the 49ers finally faced a playoff quality team and lost badly in Pittsburgh. The offense has struggled and ranks 31 overall with just 223 yards per game. They face their third division rival, defending NFC West champion Seattle. The 49ers swept the season series last season so the Seahawks will not take San Francisco lightly. SEAHAWKS.

Steelers -5 at Cards (42): The Arizona coaching staff’s knowledge of Baltimore from its days in Pittsburgh helped overcome a fourth quarter deficit to tie the game before losing on a last second FG. Now head coach Ken Whisenhunt and staff face their former employer, somewhat bitter about being passed over for the Steelers head job after Bill Cowher departed. Arizona is more dangerous this year with its ability to run. Heat could be a factor late. A rare trip to desert for Pittsburgh. CARDS.

Chiefs +12 at Chargers (40): The Chiefs have performed better than expected on defense but not well on offense with RB Larry Johnson off to a slow start. The same is true of Chargers stud RB LaDanian Tomlinson. San Diego has the capability to blow past the Chiefs, but has yet to demonstrate any offensive consistency this season. The last three games on this field have been low scoring affairs. UNDER.

Broncos +9½ at Colts (46): Based on the stats Denver should be an impressive 3-0 as they rank sixth in total offense and third in total defense. Yet they have been outscored on the season and are just 2-1 as the offense has been unable to convert yardage gained into points. The Colts are 3-0, rank 4 on offense, 5 on defense and have played their last two games on the road on natural grass against divisional foes. The inflated line is reflective of Denver’s 1-10 record against the points over their last 11 games. Still, the talent gap is not that great. BRONCOS.

Eagles NL at Giants: Injuries have delayed the posting of a line for this game. The Eagles figure to come as small favorites after their blowout of Detroit last week. The Giants overcame a 17-3 halftime deficit as Washington to avoid an 0-3 start by winning 24-17. The Eagles are fundamentally the better team. They have the better RB (Brian Westbrook) and arguably Donovan McNabb is a better (and certainly more accomplished) QB than the Giants’ Eli Manning. Philly’s explosion last week may provide some value on playing the total, which receives additional support from the Giants’ solid second half effort against the ”˜Skins. UNDER.

Monday, Oct. 1

Patriots -7 at Bengals (53): The Patriots have scored exactly 38 points in each of their first three games. Last season New England also scored 38 points in a 38-13 win over the Bengals on this field, Cincy’s first loss after a 3-0 start. The Pats are a better team this season. The Bengals have many defensive concerns and tend to play a more emotional brand of football. That play’s right into New England’s strength, a no nonsense approach. WR Randy Moss has been very productive. PATRIOTS.