Elite teams extend their division lead
The second half of the season is underway and as such it’s an appropriate time to start looking at the potential Playoff field as the legitimate contenders have started to separate themselves from the rest of the league. In fact, through the first 9 games of the season five of the eight Division leaders have leads of at least two games. Those front runners include unbeaten Indianapolis and New Orleans in addition to Arizona, Minnesota and New England.
Cincinnati has a one game lead over Pittsburgh in the AFC North but at 6-3 the second place Steelers control the Wild Card. In the AFC West both Denver and San Diego are 6-3 as well. Only two AFC teams are 5-4 so both the Chargers and Broncos can make the Playoffs on their own, although the two rivals do meet in Denver this weekend.
In the NFC the only Division featuring less than a two game lead is in the East where Dallas is up by a game on both Philadelphia and the New York Giants
This is still shaping up as a season of have and have-nots with 4 teams having just a single win and 2 others having won just twice more than halfway to the Playoffs.
The Byes are finished for the season and everybody’s back in action this week. Here’s a look at all 16 games.
Miami (+3) at Carolina (Over/Under 43): Both teams have overcome 0-3 starts to be in position to make a Wild Card run at 4-5. Both were Playoff teams last season so a turnaround in their seasons should not be a surprise. Both offenses are designed to run the ball better than pass. And their running game has been dominant over the past five games, averaging 204 ypg. That kind of production makes for an effective passing game as well. CAROLINA.
Cleveland (+3) at Detroit (38½): This game is one of the few winnable games for each team. The Lions have their traditional Thanksgiving game on deck against rival Green Bay so their level of interest is also questionable. Yet Detroit does have the better roster and the better stats on both sides of the ball. That’s enough to prefer the hosts at a FG or less if you have to play this game. DETROIT.
Buffalo (+8) at Jacksonville (42½): Jacksonville has played better and at 5-4 are just a game out of Wild Card contention. Buffalo’s season has been a disaster from the start. Yet both wins were on the road in the role of underdogs. BUFFALO.
Pittsburgh (-10) at Kansas City (40½): Pittsburgh’s five game win streak was snapped last week by Cincinnati, a team that has to now be considered a true contender. The Chiefs won for a seventh straight time in Oakland for only their second win of the season. PITTSBURGH.
Indianapolis (Pick’em) at Baltimore (45): The Colts are fortunate to still be unbeaten but that’s the mark of a championship team, being able to overcome huge deficits and commanding the respect of one of the game’s best coaches as was the case this past Sunday. The Ravens will be motivated to end the Colts’ unbeaten season and they have the defense to at least create some problems for Peyton Manning. UNDER the Total.
Atlanta (+6) at N.Y. Giants (46): The Giants’ 5-0 start is a distant memory as 4 straight losses have the G-men looking up at Dallas in the NFC East and tied with Atlanta and two others in the Wild Card standings. The Giants are off of a Bye and the extra week of rest and preparation should be to their benefit as they need to regain their winning form and will face a Falcons team that lost RB Michael Turner to injury last game and who’s expected OUT here. N. Y. GIANTS.
San Francisco (+6½) at Green Bay (42 ½): Green Bay took advantage of their favorable situation last week to defeat San Francisco plays hard all game and all 3 road losses are by 4 points or less. SAN FRANCISCO.
Seattle (+11) at Minnesota (46): Minnesota is clearly an elite team with an excellent shot at making the Super Bowl with their balanced offense and solid defense. MINNESOTA.
Washington (+11) at Dallas (41½): Champagne corks are popping in the nation’s capital after the Redskins topped 17 points for the first time this season in their win over Denver as they took advantage of the negative scheduling spot for the Broncos. WASHINGTON.
New Orleans (-11½) at Tampa Bay (51): Normally this would be a flat spot for the still undefeated Saints who have a Monday night showdown against New England up next. NEW ORLEANS.
Arizona (-9) at St. Louis (47): Arizona finally had an impressive home win, just their second home triumph of the season. They are 4-0 on the road but are now expected to win, favored for the first time on the road this season. And by more than a TD. ST. LOUIS.
N.Y. Jets (+11) at New England (45): The Patriots will be seething after coach Bill Belichick arguably blew last week’s big game against the Colts with his decision to go for it on fourth down from his own 28 yard line. NEW ENGLAND.
Cincinnati (-9½) at Oakland (36): This is the classic flat spot for Cincinnati following a pair of games that represented sweeps of their two biggest Division rivals and have the Bengals on course for potentially the second seed in the Playoffs.
Tennessee (+5) at Houston (48): QB Vince Young clearly makes a difference and Titans won 3 straight following their Bye and an 0-6 start. Tennessee has now won 7 straight games started by Young dating back to last season. TENNESSEE.
Question? Comment? E-mail me at: Andy Iskoe
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