After 12 games, AFC still in charge

December 04, 2007 6:12 AM
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LAST WK SEASON PCT
7-8 87-99-5 46.8

Once the Monday night game between New England and Baltimore ended, the 2007 NFL regular season was three quarters complete.

Twelve games down and just four remaining for the league’s 32 teams as the chase to make the playoffs intensifies as it comes more into focus.

Interestingly, all eight division leaders have leads of at least two games in a season where we have seen a lessening of parity to a great extent. In most seasons there are several division races that are tied or at least being closely contested, but that is not the case this season.

The superiority of the AFC may be further evidenced by the records of the teams vying for the wild cards. The AFC wild card may require a record of at least 9-7 and perhaps 10-6. In the NFC the second wild card might go to a team with a break even record.

In the AFC, New England, Indianapolis, Pittsburgh and San Diego lead their respective divisions while Jacksonville controls the first AFC wild card with an 8-4 record. At 7-5, Tennessee and Cleveland are tied for the second wild card. Buffalo is the only team at 6-6.

In the NFC, Dallas, Green Bay, Tampa Bay and Seattle are division leaders with the New York Giants firmly in control of the first wild card at 8-4. No NFC team is at 7-5. With five teams at 5-7 and a trio at 6-6, we could very well see the second wild card go to a team with an 8-8 record as was the case last season.

It will surprise many to learn that the AFC actually trails the NFC in games between the Conferences. Through 50 such games the NFC holds a slim 26-24 straight up edge. The NFC has gone 25-22-3 against the spread in those games. There are still 14 interconference games to be played so it’s too early to proclaim an overall narrowing of the gap between the AFC and NFC. There are four interconference games this weekend with the AFC team hosting three.

Despite some wide fluctuations on a week to week basis the overall season to date results show a fairly even split between favorites and underdogs. Through Sunday, home favorites have gone 63-60-6 ATS while home underdogs have been a disappointing 26-33-1. There has been one game that closed pick’em and the one neutral site game in London won by the favored New York Giants, but covered by the underdog Miami Dolphins.

Just four chances remain for Miami to avoid an 0-16 season beginning with this week’s game in Buffalo. Potential inclement weather and Buffalo’s battling for a wild card berth could conspire against Miami and leave them with games against Baltimore, at New Orleans and against Cincinnati to avoid making NFL history of a negative sort.

Here’s a look at this week’s slate of 16 games.

Thursday:

Bears +3 at Redskins (37): This is a tough situation for Washington, with a short work week and attending slain teammate Sean Taylor’s funeral Monday. The Redskins will have even less time to prepare for this game. Lack of preparation generally affects the offense more than the defense since offense is based on timing and execution. Defense is based more on disruption and reaction. Fortunately, Chicago’s offense should not offer much of a challenge, making this a strong candidate for the lowest scoring game of the week. UNDER.

Sunday:

Panthers +10½ at Jags (37½): Jacksonville played well in losing at Indianapolis last week. They out yarded the Colts by 69. The Jags remain a solid team, but a gap still exists between them and the elite. Carolina won its first home game of the season against lowly San Francisco. At 5-7 the Panthers are still in the wild card chase, but their chances are not very realistic. Their final four games are all against teams with winning records. The Jags have a strong running game, a better run defense and have followed all three losses this season with wins in their next game. JAGUARS.

Cowboys -10½ at Lions (51½): From 6-2 and in control of the wild card to 6-6 and needing wins plus help elsewhere. That’s been the story for the Lions this season and they are reeling further following another lopsided road loss to Minnesota last week. This is a favorable spot for the Lions, who catch Dallas in its first road game in a month. The Cowboys do have an extra few days of rest, but might also be a bit sloppy now that they’ve all but wrapped up the top seed in the NFC playoffs. LIONS.

Dolphins +7 at Bills (37): Miami’s best chance for a win may have come last week at home against the Jets. Instead, the Dolphins suffered their most one-sided loss of the season, 40-13. The offense is a shambles with rookie QB John Beck and backup running backs. Buffalo’s offense is not much better. The 17 points in Washington last week came from five field goals and a safety. A lack of playmakers on both teams suggests we shall see many three-and-outs with the punters working overtime. UNDER.

Giants +3 at Eagles (42): Philly’s chances for a return to the playoffs suffered a major blow with last week’s home loss to Seattle. QB Donovan McNabb is expected back for this contest. The Giants have a two game lead for the first NFC wild card and could emerge as a surprise contender, having won 5 of 6 road games. What makes that remarkable is that the G-men are just 3-3 at home. Yet they are the underdog here despite having similar statistics to the Eagles and a win in the first meeting. Add in the Giants ferocious pass rush and you have a real shot for the upset. GIANTS.

Raiders +10 at Packers (42): The Raiders are playing well, having won two straight against division rivals. Packers QB Brett Favre, injured in last Thursday’s loss at Dallas, is expected back. Green Bay’s defense has been solid all season. Oakland’s has been vulnerable to the run, but has played well against the pass. Although the running game has picked up in the past few weeks, Green Bay still relies on Favre and the passing game for most of their offense. UNDER.

Steelers +15 at Pats (NT): New England played at Baltimore on Monday night and was favored by nearly three touchdowns in their quest to remain unbeaten. They are two touchdown favorites against a very physical Steelers team that can run the football and play fundamentally solid defense. Pittsburgh has held all but two opponents to under 120 yards rushing and allowed just 3 of 12 foes to pass for over 200. Pittsburgh’s other two losses this season were by also a FG and a TD so there is a track record and style of play that suggests this will be a competitive game with an upset not a surprise to everyone. STEELERS.

Chargers -1 at Titans (41): After starting 1-3 the Chargers have won 6 of their last 8 and have taken control of the AFC West. They are starting to resemble the powerful team of last season. RB LaDanian Tomlinson has become a greater part of the offense and the defense has really stiffened against the pass. Tennessee broke its three game losing streak last week against Houston but is stepping up in class. The Titans defense held their first 8 foes to under 100 yards rushing, but the last four opponents have gained at least 119. That goes right to the strength of San Diego’s offense. CHARGERS.

Rams +6 at Bengals (NT): The status of St. Louis QB Marc Bulger is up in the air. The Rams are off of a win against lowly Atlanta in which backup QB Gus Frerotte passed for over 300 yards. The Bengals were respectable in losing in the rain in Pittsburgh on Sunday night as the defense limited the Steelers to under three yards per rush. Both teams are playing out the string in a season of major disappointments. Each was thought to be a playoff contender. The Bengals are healthier and have more firepower on offense. BENGALS.

Bucs PK at Texans (NL): There are questions concerning the availability of both teams’ starting quarterbacks. Tampa Bay has taken control of the NFC South and at 8-4 is flying under the radar as Dallas and Green Bay attract all the NFC headlines. The Bucs are winning despite a revamped offense that has lost several running backs to injury. The Bucs are averaging 140 rushing yards per game in their last 6, with their lowest output in this stretch the 99 yards they gained against Washington. Houston has lost two straight and five of seven. A lack of depth has taken a toll. BUCS.

Cards +7 at Seahawks (45): Arizona won the earlier meeting at home, 23-20, gaining over 400 yards. At 6-6 the Cardinals are tied for the second NFC wild card with a favorable schedule after this contest. They play their final two games at home and finish the season against three teams with a combined record of 11-25. Only one of their six losses has been by more than a TD. Seattle has won four straight and getting healthy at RB and WR. Both offenses have many weapons and this game should feature more touchdowns than field goals with solid passing attacks. OVER.

Vikings -7 at 49ers (39): Minnesota is off back to back 40 plus point efforts and has scored at least 29 points in three of the last four games. The Vikes have used their strong rushing offense and aggressive defense as sources for those points. The 49ers continue to struggle and last week’s loss in Carolina clinched another losing season. The offense has struggled since day one, only once scoring more than 20 points in a game. Minnesota has the league’s top rushing offense and the top rushing defense. QB Tarvaris Jackson continues to develop. VIKINGS.

Browns -3½ at Jets (47½): Cleveland may have been denied a win in the final moments of last week’s game in Arizona, but even with that loss the Browns have an excellent chance to make the playoffs. They do have the league’s worst defense, however, with poor numbers against both the run and the pass. The Jets are improving on offense with Kellen Clemens at QB. The defense has struggled against the run but has been better than average against the pass. The Jets have won two of three and are playing loose. The Browns are the team having to deal with pressure. JETS.

Chiefs +6½ at Broncos (37½): Kansas City has lost five in a row, four of which have been at home. After making the playoffs last season the Chiefs are now tied with Oakland for last place in the AFC West. But Denver is only one game better after losing to the Raiders last week. The Broncos won the earlier meeting last month in what was their best defensive effort against the rush all season, allowing the Chiefs just 67 yards. Denver is being outgained on the season yet is favored by nearly a touchdown. Despite the earlier result, the preference is to take the team with the better defense. Almost every measure has that pointing to the underdog. CHIEFS.

Colts -10 at Ravens (NT): Baltimore was 13-3 last season, but barring an upset win last Monday over New England will have to win its final four games to avoid a losing season. The offense has struggled all season despite an upgrade at running back while the defense has shown its age. Indy has contended with injuries on both sides of the ball yet is 10-2 and in control of the AFC’s second seed. The Ravens will be motivated to play well against the team that eliminated them from the playoffs last season. That should mean a good defensive effort. The Ravens rank fourth in the NFL on defense while the Colts rank second. The last four games between these teams have gone below the total. UNDER.

Monday

Saints -5 at Falcons (42½): The Saints faint playoff hopes may have all but faded with their late collapse against Tampa Bay last week. They are one of five 5-7 teams that trail a trio of 6-6 teams by a game for the second NFC wild card. In their earlier home win over Atlanta, the Saints were outgained by the Falcons 334-310. Atlanta actually has the better stats on defense and has shown a better ability to run the ball on offense. Monday night home dogs have not been the strong play as they were a decade ago, but it’s hard to justify the Saints being more than a FG road favorite. FALCONS.