Patriots continue to be top NFL story

October 23, 2007 3:13 AM
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LAST WK SEASON PCT
6-6 38-44-3 42.9

The story of the still unfolding 2007 season continues to be the play of the New England Patriots. The Pats have won and covered all seven games this season, scoring at least 34 points in every game and winning by at least 17 points in each game, by 21 or more in six of them. They are relentless on offense, able to score from any place on the field and not needing much time to do so.

The defense has been almost as impressive, ranking third in yards allowed, ninth in yards per play and with top ten rankings against both the run and the pass. And that’s despite playing with large leads, a situation conducive to playing "bend but don’t break" and allowing yards but not scores.

The Pats have an attitude of confidence without arrogance and with the "camera gate" episode of earlier this season there is motivation each week to play their best and erase any doubts of the legitimacy of their legacy for their play over the past six seasons.

Propositions have already popped up around town as to the possibility of the Patriots going unbeaten through the regular season. New England has the best shot to accomplish that incredible feat since the 1985 Chicago Bears. The Pats of 2007 don’t have the dominant defense of the Bears of two decades ago but the offense is far superior. And the defense is fundamentally sound, well coached and well prepared.

Right now the Patriots are roughly six to one favorites to NOT go unbeaten but as they continue to win impressively those odds will shrink week by week. A win in two weeks at Indianapolis could cut those odds dramatically. The schedule does get tougher down the stretch. Four of their final seven games are against teams that made the playoffs last season, plus games at Buffalo and against Pittsburgh.

It would make for a great story if the Pats were to accomplish a perfect season but it will be tough. Injuries are always an unknown and the Pats could be in a position to rest regulars down the stretch once they secure the top AFC seed.

They will be taking the best shot from every foe and their should be games in which the offense may just not click as it has thus far. We have seen many ”˜great’ teams approach perfection in the past but none has been able to go the distance.

There is symmetry of sorts this season. With a pair of unbeaten teams in New England and Indianapolis, there remain two winless teams. Both Miami and St Louis are 0-7. Unlike the Colts and Patriots, the Dolphins and Rams do not face one another this season. Thus there is the possibility for TWO teams to go 0-16 and make history.

Surely some property in town will put up an 0-16 proposition before much longer.

It would seem more likely that a team would go 0-16 before going 16-0 since the pressure of perfection could cause a dropoff in performance. A winless team is already playing at a poor level and the pressure to improve that level of performance might be tough to overcome.

The Byes continue with Arizona, Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Kansas City and Seattle on the sidelines.

Here’s a look at the 13 games to be played this weekend.

Cleveland —3 at St. Louis (43½): The once feared St Louis offense scares nobody these days, averaging a league low 11 points per game and averaging just 275 yards per game, number 30 in the league. To be fair, the Rams have had their starting offense decimated by injuries and have also faced some of the better teams in the league. They are finally getting healthy and face a Cleveland defense that ranks last in the league, allowing 413 ypg. At 0-7 this may be the Rams’ best chance for a win with a Bye next week followed by a pair of road games, including a trip to New England. ST. LOUIS.

Detroit +5 at Chicago (43½): Detroit needed a record comeback to defeat the Bears when they met in Detroit four weeks ago. The Lions have played well at home but were blown out in their last two road games, at Philly and at Washington. Chicago’s comeback win in Philly last week might be the spark the Bears need to go on a nice run. Despite the stats they still have a formidable defense. And the offense has started to show signs of greater consistency with Brian Griese at QB. A win here gets the Bears back to .500 with a Bye next week. CHICAGO.

Indianapolis at Carolina (No Line): The Colts are off of Monday night’s game in Jacksonville and this game is a classic sandwich spot with New England on deck next week. Carolina is off of their Bye and is playing their first home game in a month following a pair of road wins at New Orleans and Arizona. Carolina coach John Fox is from a defensive background and with an extra week to prepare he should have his team well positioned to force the Colts to work hard in earning their yards and points. UNDER the total.

New York Giants —9½ vs. Miami (48): at London, England. America’s game crosses the pond for the first regular season game ever played outside of North America. The Giants have been a pleasant surprise at 5-2 while Miami has been even worse than expected, at 0-7, and seemingly already writing off the season by trading their best WR, Chris Chambers, last week and putting starting QB Trent Green on IR. The travel, time difference and unfamiliarity with the surrounding and the possible impact of weather could make this a game of mistakes and sloppy play. UNDER the total.

Oakland +7 at Tennessee (41): Oakland has struggled following an encouraging start to the season as a lack of depth has hurt the performance of the offense. The running game was held in check the past two weeks and now must face a Titans defense that has not allowed 100 rushing yards in a game this season. QB Vince Young is expected to return for this contest but until Tennessee shows it can succeed as a solid favorite the preference has to be for the underdog that has been more competitive than the 2-4 record suggests. OAKLAND.

Philadelphia—1 at Minnesota (38): There is something wrong with the Eagles’ offense. Aside from their 56 point explosion against Detroit, Philly has yet to score more than 16 points in a game. Philly has a pair of Divisional games on deck including next week at home against Dallas. With both teams off losses the situation and the defensive fundamentals favor the host. MINNESOTA.

Pittsburgh —3 at Cincinnati (48½): Pittsburgh was in a tough spot last week having to face a rested Denver team that was off of an embarrassing home loss. And even though the Steelers twice fell behind by 14 points, they showed their resolve by rallying to tie the game late in the fourth quarter before losing on a last second 49 yard FG. Cincinnati got a much needed win over the Jets but had to struggle to overcome an early deficit. Statistically the teams are pretty even on offense although Pittsburgh has a big edge in the running game while the Bengals are better at tossing the pigskin. But on defense the Steelers have a huge edge, allowing a league low 250 yards per game as compared to the Bengals’ generous allowance of 385 ypg (number 29). The far better defense plus points is always attractive, especially when the offenses are even. PITTSBURGH.

Buffalo +3 at New York Jets (37): Buffalo has won two of their last three games including a 17-14 home win over the Jets to close September. Both teams have weak offenses and even weaker defenses. After five straight OVERs the teams played UNDER in their earlier meeting this season. With both offenses struggling to find consistency, expect another low scoring game. UNDER

Houston at San Diego (No Line): This game is off the board due to Houston QB Matt Schaub’s injury in their loss to Tennessee. Backup Sage Rosenfels started slowly in relief before rallying the Texans from a 32-7 fourth quarter deficit to a 36-35 late lead before falling on a last second FG. Just one of those games that makes the NFL so entertaining at times -- and complicated to handicap. San Diego is off of their Bye and have shown signs in recent weeks that they are back to their level of last season when they went 14-2. After rushing for a total of 335 yards in their first four games the Chargers have topped 200 yards in each of their last two games behind league MVP LaDanian Tomlinson. The defense still has some vulnerabilities that Houston should be able to attack. OVER.

Jacksonville at Tampa Bay (No Line): The Jaguars are off of Monday’s big home game against Division rival Indianapolis. Tampa is off of a loss in Detroit in which they statistically dominated the Lions, out-gaining Detroit 422-278 by controlling the clock for nearly 36 minutes. Jacksonville has a powerful running game and a QB in David Garrard who does not make mistakes. In recent years both teams have tended to play in low scoring games and the current matchups suggest this game fits that profile. UNDER.

New Orleans —3 at San Francisco (40½): Both teams are disappointments at 2-4. The Saints were expected to follow up last season’s success but the offense has been unable to duplicate what worked so well. They clearly miss the presence of ex-offensive coordinator Norv Turner as they”˜ve topped 17 points just once, in their opening game 20-17win over Arizona. The defense has actually played reasonably well and are fifth in the league in allowing just 5.03 yards per play. They made some key defensive acquisitions during the offseason and the unit has started to gel. The Saints have defeated their former Division rivals three straight times, including 34-10 last season. It seems like a very cheap price to back the Saints, just it seemed cheap to back the Packers over the Bears a few weeks ago and the Steelers over the Broncos this past Sunday night. And we all know what happened in those "easy" games. Upset. SAN FRANCISCO.

Washington +16 at New England (48½): How many more superlatives shall be coined to describe the play of the Patriots? It’s hard to play against this team that has started 7-0 both straight up and against the spread. Washington’s offense is not built to come from behind with their reliance on the running game and a below average passing attack. NEW ENGLAND.

Monday

Green Bay +3 at Denver (42): Denver got a much needed win Sunday night to even their record at 3-3 and remain a factor in the AFC West. Green Bay is rested following their Bye and has lost just once this season, making them a player for top seed in the NFC. Denver’s defensive strength is against the pass, which is what Green Bay does best. These matchups suggest more running than passing and thus a lower scoring game. UNDER the total.