The post-Labor Day start to the NFL season and the postponement of games due to the terrorist attacks in September means that as we approach the Thanksgiving Day holiday almost half a season still remains to be played.
As the college football winds down the pros will receive even greater attention over the next few weeks and with so many teams in contention for the Playoffs the games take on added importance.
Injuries, free agency and the salary cap have all conspired to water down the overall quality of play in the NFL. Teams are no longer able to build for the future but must concentrate on winning “now.” Good players are more able to move from team to team and injuries wreak havoc on the five-year plans of any GM. That’s why we are seeing very few quality teams in the NFL this season and why teams both rise and fall in just a season or two.
Consider that over the past seven seasons, twelve different teams, a bit less than half the league, have filled the fourteen available Super Bowl slots. Over that same time frame 19 different teams, almost two thirds of the league, have filled the 28 available slots for the two Conference Championship games. That’s about as sure a sign of parity, or mediocrity, as you will find. Barring a change in the salary cap or free agency rules it is highly unlikely that we will see a dynasty again in the NFL.
The New York Jets get the Bye for this weekend which features a pair of games on Thanksgiving Day. There are nine Divisional games this week including six rematches from earlier this season. Here’s a preview.
Thursday, Nov. 22
Packers (—6) at Lions (45Â½): The Packers lost a shocker last week at home to Atlanta as QB Brett Favre had an uncharacteristically poor day, tossing three interceptions. Favre and the Pack defeated on the Lions back on Opening Day in a 28-6 win. Detroit remains winless through nine games although the last five losses have been by eight points or less. Expect an inspired effort here on national TV against a bitter longtime foe. And Green Bay often struggles on artificial turf. Take LIONS.
Broncos (—7) at Cowboys (40): Denver is clearly struggling and trying to overcome numerous injuries at RB and WR plus QB Brian Griese is not fully healthy. Dallas continues to play hard on defense, limiting Philly last week to under 230 yards of offense. Two of Philly’s scores came via returns of interceptions for touchdowns. The Dallas offense remains a problem as new QB Ryan Leaf has proven no more effective than the three previous starters this season. Still, the ’Boys are catching the Broncos at a vulnerable time. Take COWBOYS.
Sunday, Nov. 25
Ravens at Jaguars (NL): The uncertain status of Jaguars QB Mark Brunell keeps this game off the board at the beginning of the week. Baltimore continues to struggle on offense and there appears to be an escalating QB controversy within the ranks given the inability of starter Elvis Grbac to be productive. The Ravens had to rally to edge the Jags 18-17 at home last month. Baltimore’s defense is not as dominant as last season yet we continue to see relatively low totals posted. Take OVER.
Dolphins (—5) at Bills (37): Miami still can’t beat the Jets but they had better success against Buffalo, a team that is struggling every bit as much as expected in this season of transition. The Bills did play well on offense last week in their loss to Seattle but will face a Dolphin defense that continues to play well. In last week’s loss Miami allowed just 162 total yards. Buffalo’s offense will be more severely tested here in what figures to be a defensive contest. Take UNDER.
Steelers (+1Â½) at Titans (34Â½): Pittsburgh dominated the Titans in their 34-7 win a few Monday nights ago and continue to play well, especially on defense. The Titans got some new life with their win at Cincinnati last week although the offense, most notably RB Eddie George, continues to struggle. Both teams rely on establishing the run and the passing game is clearly the weakest part of each team’s offense. These teams usually play extremely physical games and this should be no different. Take UNDER.
49ers (+3) at Colts (52Â½): The 49ers are a surprising 7-2 but three of their wins have come in overtime, including last week’s win in Carolina. The Colts must endure the loss of RB Edgerrin James for the duration but the offense has not played poorly in his absence. QB Peyton Manning is having a solid season and still has plenty of weapons at his disposal. The Colts’ problem has been their defense. But San Francisco’s defense has also been inconsistent and is not dramatically better than Indy’s. The Colts are playing with a great sense of urgency here with a pair of tough road games up next. Take COLTS.
Seahawks (+1) at Chiefs (41): Seattle was fortunate to get a win despite being outplayed by Buffalo last week while Kansas City had their Bye week and a chance to regroup after a disappointing first half of the season. At times the Chiefs have been very impressive on offense while at others QB Trent Green has made too many mistakes. The running game is coming around but the defense has not been as aggressive as in the past. Seattle’s offense has not performed well on grass surfaces this season. Surprisingly, the Chiefs have lost all four home games this season so there is extra motivation here. Take CHIEFS.
Redskins (+9) at Eagles (37Â½): Washington improved to 4-5 with their fourth straight win last week at a tough venue in Denver and are very much in the Playoff chase. Philadelphia did not have to expend much energy in their win at Dallas which was keyed by outstanding play by their defense. This has been one of the most competitive series over the past decade, regardless of how strong or weak each team has been. 17 of the last 19 games have been decided by a TD or less and the last three games have each been decided by exactly a FG. Take REDSKINS.
Falcons (—3) at Panthers (40): At 5-4 the Falcons are thinking Playoffs and they already defeated the Panthers earlier this season, 24-16. Carolina continues to lead the league in last minute/overtime losses and could just as easily be 5-4 as well. When healthy Atlanta QB Chris Chandler is as good as any QB in the league. Rookie Carolina QB Chris Weinke is still learning the NFL and can be expected to show inconsistency from week to week. Both teams rank poorly defensively and neither has a strong rushing game, suggesting a game featuring many passes. Take OVER.
Bengals (+6) at Cleveland (35Â½): The Browns are 5-4 and are not that far from being 8-1. Their largest loss of the season was their 24-14 loss at Cincinnati last month. The Browns are doing it with their defense which is allowing yardage but also making big plays. And their offense has generally done a good job of avoiding turnovers although QB Tim Couch tossed three INTs last week in their win at Baltimore. Still, it’s tough to lay significant points with a team that relies too much on their defense when their offense ranks dead last in the league. Take BENGALS.
Saints (—3) at Patriots (42): The Saints continue to play well on the road and seem to have been inspired by G Kyle Turley’s explosive “incident” a few Sunday nights ago against the Jets in protection of his QB Aaron Brooks. Since then Brooks and the offense has played better and have started to look like the team that won the Division last season. New England played gamely in losing to the Rams last week but the offense was unable to capitalize on several opportunities and the defense was unable to make key third down stops late in the contest. The Pats are to be commended for overachieving behind backup QB Tom Brady but the Saints are the better team and are playing their best football of the season. Take SAINTS.
Cards (+7) at Chargers (43): San Diego appears to be a tiring team and their lack of depth is a cause for concern. QB Doug Flutie’s performance has declined in recent weeks and injuries, especially on defense, have taken a toll. Arizona got a much needed win in their shootout against winless Detroit but allowing a winless team to score 38 points and pass for over 400 yards is telling. Fundamentally the Chargers are a far better defensive team and Cardinal QB Jake Plummer still makes too many mistakes. Take CHARGERS.
Raiders at Giants (NL): The Giants played at Minnesota last Monday night and will face a far more formidable defense here, although the Raiders have suffered a number of injuries over the past few weeks. Oakland has a well balanced offense and appears to be the class of the AFC. They’ve already won at Indianapolis and Philadelphia this season and, prior to last Monday, the Giants have not played all that well for the past month. Oakland has the better big play capability and the Giants’ secondary has been vulnerable. Take RAIDERS.
Bears at Vikings (NL): The amazing Bears are 7-2 and lead the NFC Central while the Vikings are below .500 and have already lost to Chicago, 17-10, earlier. The weakness of Minnesota’s defense has been well documented over the past few seasons but this year it’s been the offense that is greatly responsible for the losing record. There have been several instances of shouting matches and finger pointing and that may mark the end of line for coach Dennis Green barring a sharp turnaround. The Bears rely on their aggressive defense which can has been burned from time to time. This should be a high scoring shootout. Take OVER.
Monday, Nov. 26
Bucs (+10Â½) at St Louis (46): These teams played a memorable Monday night game last season that saw Tampa rally late for a 38-35 home victory. The Rams were sluggish in last week’s win at New England and they’ve often responded with a resounding effort when returning home after dull performances. Tampa Bay is weaker defensively this season while the offense has shown an ability to move the ball. Take OVER.