The NFL is approaching the midway point of the 2001 season with about a third of the league having completed their first eight games. As the weather grows colder in most parts of the nation and increasingly becomes a factor in the handicapping of games it also becomes more important to pay attention to developing Divisional and Playoff races.
St. Louis, as expected, is tied for the NFL’s best record at 6-1 and the Oakland Raiders will have joined the Rams if they defeated Denver at home this past Monday night. But there is also a third team at 6-1, the surprising Chicago Bears.
Chicago’s stats are far from pretty, especially on offense, but the defense continues to come up big. At 6-1 the Bears are a solid favorite to make the playoffs.
There is a fine line between winning and losing in the NFL and quite obviously after just seven or eight games all division races are still up for grabs, even those with leaders who have just one loss. Divisional games take on added importance in November and December, especially rematches, because of Playoff tie breakers.
Twelve of this week’s games are between Divisional foes. Three are rematches including both the Sunday and Monday night games. Washington, winners of three in a row, has the league’s only Bye this week.
This week’s action.
Sunday, Nov. 11
Dolphins (+3) at Colts: Indy RB Edgerrin James sat out last week and is questionable as the week began. His replacement, Dominic Rhodes, filled in capably. The defense showed some improvement last week although it was against offensively weak Buffalo but Miami’s offense is not much better. The Dolphins struggled against a weak defense of Carolina and will be more likely to emphasize ball control against a more potent Indianapolis offense. UNDER.
Bills (+6) at Pats (40): Buffalo is going through a transformation with new players and a new coaching staff. Progress has been slow, especially on offense despite the presence of several experienced players at the skill positions. New England is one of several early season surprises and the play of backup QB Tom Brady means that Drew Bledsoe can fully heel before returning. The Pats have the better defense and an offense that has been more productive thus far. NEW ENGLAND.
Panthers (+17) at St. Louis (47): Uh oh. The Panthers must face a Rams team that lost for the first time this season and had a Bye last week to fume about blowing that huge lead on this field to New Orleans. Add to this the fact that the Panthers defeated the Rams twice last season which perhaps was the difference in repeating as Super Bowl champs. Carolina seems totally confused. ST. LOUIS.
Cowboys (+5Â½) at Falcons: Atlanta QB Chris Chandler was injured in last week’s loss. Rookie backup Michael Vick has not looked sharp in his recent appearances. Dallas continues to play hard and led the Giants by 17 last week in a turnover plagued game before ultimately losing. RB Emmitt Smith should return and the ground game has been Dallas strength this season. With both teams nursing so many injuries on offense there may not be much continuity in play execution. UNDER.
Bucs (—5) at Lions (40): Tampa Bay came so close to ending its jinx in Green Bay and frustrated the Packers in last week’s loss despite being outgained by over 150 yards. Tampa made the big plays when needed. Detroit was barely competitive despite a narrow 21-13 loss in San Francisco. The Lions were held to just 12 first downs and 131 total yards in losing their seventh straight game. Still, it’s uncomfortable to trust the Bucs laying points on the road, especially more than a FG. DETROIT.
Packers (—3) at Bears (37Â½): Packers QB Brett Favre struggled once again last week against Tampa’s defense and now faces a Chicago defense that is aggressive, improving and playing with confidence. The Bears also continue to make big plays. Only Pittsburgh has allowed fewer points than Chicago and the Packers have already lost twice on the Division road. Will the Bears’ luck run out here against a more talented Green Bay team or will Chicago remain a team of destiny? UNDER.
Chiefs (+4Â½) at Jets (41Â½): KC was a ”˜hot’ play last week in San Diego and managed to get the straight up win despite blowing a 19-0 lead. The Jets’ defense played their best game in winning at New Orleans last week and appears to be making improvement. But they will be facing a better QB in Trent Green and an improving Chiefs’ ground game. Both defenses have been vulnerable to the run and that often sets things up for successful big passing plays. OVER.
Steelers (—3) at Browns (33):
Both teams gave games away last week as Cleveland surrendered a pair of TDs in
Chicago in the final minute before bowing in overtime while the Steelers missed
four makeable FGs, any one of which would have forced overtime. There are more
similarities between the teams. Both have played outstanding defense and have
very ordinary offenses, although Pittsburgh does have a strong running game. UNDER.
Bengals (+5Â½) at Jaguars: (39Â½): At 4-3 Cincy is on pace to their best season in over a decade. RB Corey Dillon keys the offense while the defense has posted stats that place them right around the league average. Jacksonville has been snakebit with its last three losses by a combined eight points. The Jags have lost five straight overall and the defense has struggled. CINCINNATI.
Chargers (+6Â½) at Denver: Denver seeks to avenge a 27-10 loss at San Diego. Chargers QB Doug Flutie was injured in last week’s loss to Kansas City but backup rookie Drew Brees looked poised and was effective wiping out a 19-0 deficit. The Chargers have benefited from a favorable early schedule but things begin to get much tougher.. DENVER.
Vikings (+5) at Eagles (41): The Vikes had a Bye last week to recover from their lopsided loss at Tampa Bay while Philadelphia built a 21-7 halftime lead in Arizona and benefited from several Cardinals miscues to survive a scoreless second half. The Eagles lead the NFC East at 4-3, the only team in the Division with a winning record. The Vikes have usually played better later in the season when they have struggled early under coach Dennis Green and given Philly’s inconsistent play so far, an upset here is quite possible. MINNESOTA.
Saints (+3) at San Francisco (46): New Orleans looked inept in last week’s home loss to the Jets and opposing defenses seem to have figured out how to frustrate Saints’ QB Aaron Brooks who has not looked sharp most of the season. San Francisco is a pleasant surprise at 5-2 and seeks to snap a three game losing streak to the Saints which followed seven straight 49ers wins. The Niners have played well defensively at home this season. SAN FRANCISCO.
Giants (—6) at Cards (37Â½): The Giants bungled their way to a three-point overtime win against overmatched Dallas last week. They overcame a 17-point deficit and five turnovers by forcing four Dallas giveaways. Arizona also wasted several chances in their home loss to Philly last week but has been more competitive in the last several games. ARIZONA.
Raiders (—5) at Seattle: The Seahawks have a QB controversy and coach Mike Holmgren may
decide to go with Trent Dilfer and bench his disappointing protege Matt
Hasselback. The Raiders have scored at least 20 points in the last 11
games against Seattle. OVER.
Ravens (—2Â½) at Titans (35Â½): Back in August this appeared to be perhaps the most attractive Monday night matchup of the season for those who love defense. Both have struggled through the first part of the year. The Titans enter the game with a losing record. Baltimore won the earlier meeting last month 26-7, but Tennessee QB Steve McNair and RB Eddie George appear to be healthy again. TENNESSEE.