All good things eventually come to an end the perfection shown by double-digit underdogs finally ended last week, but not by much.
After going 9-0 over the season’s first six weeks, one of three double-digit dogs failed to cover last week. But it took a safety for the San Francsico 49ers to lose by 12 to the New York Giants as 11-point underdogs for the streak to come to an end.
The other two double digit dogs did come through, although both Seattle and Detroit needed fourth quarter scores to cover the spread against Tampa Bay and Houston respectively.
There are at least a pair of double-digit favorites this week (the Jets and Houston) with the potential for two other favorites to reach minus 10 before kickoff (Philadelphia and Washington).
The failure of the double-digit favorites to cover is an indication of more parity in the league as the gap between the best and worst teams narrows. A look at the current standings shows several teams that made the playoffs last season are struggling.
Most prominent among these teams is Seattle. After winning the NFC West in each of the last four seasons the Seahawks are a longshot right now to even finish the season with a .500 record. Their 1-5 start can largely be attributed to injuries – perhaps the major factor that affects the fate of most teams more than talent, coaching or organizational strength.
In most seasons the teams that make deep runs in the playoffs are those that have been the most fortunate in avoiding injuries. Few teams have the depth, especially at key positions, to overcome even an average number of injuries that cause counted upon starters to miss games.
This week’s schedule is highlighted by the "Tally Ho Bowl" in jolly old London, England as San Diego will face New Orleans.
There is no Sunday night game this week so as to not conflict with baseball’s World Series Game 4.
Four teams will have byes this week as Chicago, Denver, Green Bay and Minnesota get to reassess their approach to the season.
Here’s a preview of the 14 games:
Raiders +7 at Ravens (36): Both teams have had trouble converting yards into touchdowns. Both offenses are better at running the football rather passing. Baltimore has one of the top defenses in the league and against weak offensive teams there is no need for their own offense to take many chances. UNDER.
Chargers -3 vs Saints (46): Both teams deservedly have byes next week after their lengthy travel to London. San Diego is getting healthier while New Orleans now will be without RB Reggie Bush for up to a month. QB Drew Brees will relish the chance to show his former team they should not have given up on him. SAINTS.
Chiefs +12½ at Jets (38): The woes continue for Kansas City as starting QB Brodie Croyle and backup Damon Huard were injured in last week’s loss at Tennessee. That means Tyler Thigpen starts again and he may not have RB Larry Johnson. Can’t trust the Jets to win by margin. Yet how will the Chiefs score? UNDER.
Bills -1 at Dolphins (41½): At 5-1 the Bills are in control of the AFC East and last week’s win over San Diego shows that they can compete with the most talented teams in the league. Miami was outplayed by physical Baltimore last week. Buffalo has already won twice on the road this season. BILLS.
Bucs NL at Cowboys: The uncertain status of Dallas QB Tony Romo kept this game off the board early on. This is a critical game for the Dallas with a pair of divisional road trips on deck at the Giants and Washington. Tampa is off a pair of solid home wins but is in a very tough spot. COWBOYS.
Falcons +9 at Eagles (45½): Both teams are off of byes. Atlanta has been a major surprise thus far with rookie QB Matt Ryan leading the Falcons to a 4-2 record. Philly should have RB Brian Westbrook back for this game. The Eagles’ aggressive defense should create some problems for the Falcons. EAGLES.
Rams +7 at Patriots (NT): There’s no doubt the coaching change in St. Louis has energized the Rams. RB Stephen Jackson was banged up, however, last week and his status is iffy as we go to press. Expect New England’s offense to show improvement as QB Matt Cassel gains more experience. OVER.
Cards +4½ at Panthers (43½): Both teams are "play on" teams at this point of the season. Arizona is off a bye and has the statistical edge on offense, but Carolina has been better defensively against a more demanding schedule. Arizona’s inability to run the football should be decisive. PANTHERS.
Redskins -9 at Lions (43½): After showing progress in the season’s first month the Washington offense has stalled the past two weeks. The Lions have not been able to run the ball and are also relying on backup QB Dan Orlovsky after starter Jon Kitna was placed on IR. Washington is averaging less than 20 per game. UNDER.
Browns +6½ at Jaguars (41): Jacksonville is 3-1 in its last four games and appears poised to again contend for the playoffs. Cleveland’s defense has put up better than expected stats, allowing under 20 per game. Unfortunately their offense has dropped off considerably from last season. Jacksonville is the better overall team. JAGUARS.
Giants +3 at Steelers (43): Could this be a preview of Super Bowl XLIII? Both teams are playing well at 5-1 and each run defense is ranked among the league’s Top 5. The Giants offense averages 170 rushing yards, tops in the league. This game should be played with great intensity with more big plays made by the defenses. UNDER.
Seahawks NL at 49ers: This is the first divisional rematch of 2008 as San Francisco won 33-30 in Week 2 at Seattle in overtime. Injuries at QB and WR have doomed Seattle’s season almost from the start. The 49ers step down in class after being competitive against Philadelphia and the NY Giants. 49ERS.
Bengals +10 at Texans (44): An adjusted game from Hurricane Ike. Cincinnati remains winless at 0-7, though competitive for most of last week’s game against Pittsburgh. Houston won its second straight game after starting the season 0-4. Given the success of double-digit dogs suggests a look away from Houston. BENGALS.
Colts +4 at Titans: This Monday night game could go far in supporting those who feel there has been a changing of the guard in the AFC South. Tennessee has the No. 3 defense in the league, but are No. 1 in fewest points allowed. Plus they ran for 332 yards at KC. The Colts are struggling. Look for the Titans to make a statement. TITANS.