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NFL’s best to date: Cowboys, Patriots

Oct 2, 2007 7:46 AM
7-6 24-32-2 42.9

For 28 of the NFL’s 32 teams the 2007 is one quarter complete.

Based on what we have seen during the season’s first month of play, Super Bowl XLII might well feature a pair of high powered efficient offenses as both Dallas and New England have been the two most impressive teams to date.

Prior to Monday night’s game in Cincinnati, the Patriots had scored 38 points in each of their first three games while holding their three foes to a combined 35 points.

The Cowboys have been just as potent, averaging the same 38 points in their first four games. The defense, which started the season a bit shaky, is allowing just 18 points per game. They have won all four games by at least double digits with the margin increasing from 10 to 17 to 24 to 28 points.

Of course, this "trend" is unlikely to continue but the Cowboys have made an early statement that they believe they are the team to beat in the NFC. Other than Dallas and New England, two other teams remain unbeaten one month into the season, Green Bay and Indianapolis.

QB Brett Favre just broke the all time touchdown pass record and is playing at a level reminiscent of his Super Bowl days in the late 1990s. The Packers have won by an average of 10 points per game and the defense has performed at a very high level. What is truly amazing about Green Bay’s start is that they have no running game whatsoever. The Pack ranks dead last in rushing offense, gaining just 54 yards per game. That suggests that the Packers may not have enough balance to win the Super Bowl.

The defending Super Bowl champion Colts have also been impressive in winning their first four games. The Colts started 2005 by winning their first 13, then started 9-0 last season. They’ve started this season averaging over 32 points per game and rank third in total offense, allowing under 19 per game.

Miami and St Louis have each started 0-4 and New Orleans remains winless at 0-3 with its bye last week. As disappointing as those three teams have been perhaps the 1-3 starts of both Chicago and San Diego are even more disappointing. The Chargers are averaging a woeful 84 yards per game despite the presence of league MVP LaDainian Tomlinson.

Chargers fans were heard chanting "Marty, Marty" during Sunday’s come from ahead loss to Kansas City, a reference to deposed coach Marty Schottenheimer who led San Diego to a 14-2 record in the regular season last year.

To be fair, much of Chicago’s problems have been compounded by significant injuries to their defense, the team’s strength. But the problem from last season was their offense and that remains a problem this season too. The curious trade of RB Thomas Jones to the Jets has put most of the burden on Cedric Benson, whose durability has been questioned since his rookie season. Although most 4-0 teams ultimately go on to make the payoffs and 0-4 teams do not there is still plenty of football to be played.

Cincinnati, Minnesota, Oakland and Philadelphia each have Byes this week.

Here’s a look at the 14 games that will be played.

Sunday, Oct. 7

Panthers +3 at Saints (44): New Orleans has looked pathetic in losing its first three games with no signs of last season’s high powered offense evident. Carolina has started 2-2 but was favored to win both games it lost. This game is critical to the Saints and expect adjustments to have been made during the time off to refuel the offense. SAINTS.

Jaguars -2 at Chiefs (36½): After a pair of sluggish home efforts the Jaguars played an excellent game in winning at Denver just before the Bye. Kansas City made enough half time adjustments to rally and win at San Diego last week but the Chiefs are still a relatively weak team on offense. Jacksonville has a well balanced offense with a solid running game and a formidable defense. JAGUARS.

Lions +3½ at Redskins (46): The Lions set an NFL record with their 34 point fourth quarter against Chicago after the offense had been held in check for much of the game. They have a potent passing game, but the running attack is still a work in progress. On offense, the Redskins prefer the run to the pass and this handicaps as a low scoring, field position game. UNDER.

Falcons +9 at Titans (40½): Tennessee returns to action following the Bye week and is in the unaccustomed role of favorite after having excelled as an underdog dating back to last season. QB Joey Harrington has been sharp in his last two games and Atlanta finally got a win last week at home against Houston. The Titans are clearly more than just an improved team with QB Vince Young firmly in charge of the offense. They may well be a surprise playoff contender but asking them to win by double digits is too much, too soon. FALCONS.

Dolphins +5 at Texans (42½): After showing some signs of progress in recent weeks the Dolphins took a step back in their one sided home loss to Oakland. At the same time the Texans were upset in their rare role of road favorite in losing in Atlanta. Miami continues to be victimized on defense against the run. Houston is an improved team on both sides of the ball but still lack offensive consistency. UNDER.

Seahawks +6 at Steelers (39): This is a rematch of Super Bowl XL in which the Steelers defeated the Seahawks, benefiting from some questionable officiating. Both teams have started 3-1. Each has handily defeated San Francisco and lost close games to Arizona. Pittsburgh has been better at running the football while Seattle has shown the better passing game. The Steelers have been a strong OVER team at home in recent years. OVER.

Browns +14½ at Patriots: The Pats face a second straight AFC North team after playing in Cincinnati on Monday night. They were likely to be almost two touchdown favorites against improving Cleveland. The Browns with QB Derek Anderson have scored 102 points in his three starts. The defense remains a concern and the Patriots have one of the most powerful offenses in the league. OVER.

Cards -1½ at Rams: At 0-4 this is virtually a "must win" game for the Rams lest their season be a total failure before midseason. This is their only home game in a five week stretch after just playing a pair on the road and with another pair of road games on deck. Rams have injuries to RB Stephen Jackson and QB Marc Bulger. They do catch Arizona perhaps a bit flat after the win over Pittsburgh. RAMS.

Jets +3 at Giants (41): The Jets were unable to take advantage of a depleted Buffalo defense in last week’s upset loss. The Giants are in good form after a pair of divisional wins that improved their record to 2-2. Both teams have opened the season with three of their four games against division rivals. Being an interconference game, this game should be more wide open and both teams have solid quarterbacks and receivers capable of making big plays against ordinary defenses. OVER.

Bucs +10 at Colts (47): At 3-1 Tampa is one of the biggest surprises of the early season. Unfortunately they have just lost RB Cadillac Williams for the season, placing more pressure on the passing game of new QB Jeff Garcia. The Colts’ offense remains one of the league’s best although RB Joseph Addai and WR Marvin Harrison were both banged up last week. Tampa will try to slow the pace with backup running backs. Garcia is good enough to mix in some passes to keep the Colts’ defense honest. UNDER.

Chargers +1 at Broncos (42): Both teams have been disappointments thus far although the Broncos are 2-2. Denver has rushed for at least 171 yards in three of their four games but lost two of them. San Diego’s running game has been invisible although they finally topped 100 yards in last week’s loss to Kansas City. This is a coaching mismatch with Denver’s Mike Shanahan having a decided edge over the Chargers’ Norv Turner. CHARGERS.

Ravens +3 at 49ers (35½): San Francisco QB Alex Smith is very doubtful after being injured early in the loss to Seattle. The offense has yet to gain 300 yards in a game this season. Baltimore has struggled in a 2-2 start. The defense has excelled against the run (71 yards per game) but has been vulnerable to the pass (231 ypg). With the 49ers being outgained by over 100 yards per game and their weak passing game unlikely to succeed against Baltimore’s lone defensive vulnerability the Ravens are in a good position to rebound. RAVENS.

Bears +3 at Packers (41): The Bears’ have struggled to start 1-3 with their anemic offense and a defense beset by mounting injuries. Green Bay has won eight straight games dating back to last season. Offsetting their putrid running game has been the play of the defense. The stats are just ordinary but they’ve made the big play when needed. At 1-3 Chicago figures to be especially aggressive on defense while there remains little positive to say about their offense. Three of the last four meetings have produced low scoring games. UNDER.

Monday, Oct. 8

Cowboys -10 at Bills: Dallas has been overpowering in a 4-0 start with the defense showing steady improvement. The Cowboys have allowed fewer passing yards in each succeeding game while also playing excellent against the rush. They’ve allowed 75 or fewer rushing yards in each of their last three games. The Bills have struggled all season on offense and their pass defense allows a league worst 282 passing yards per game. This has all the signs of a blowout if Buffalo is unable to slow the pace by running the football. Laying double digits on the road is always hazardous. UNDER.