The NFL season is entering the latter stages and with all teams having played at least ten games we can now have a pretty good focus of how the Divisional races and Wild Card chases may unfold down the stretch. Over the past month many questions have been answered about those teams which started hot and looked superior in September and for those teams that stumbled out of the gate and caused us to wonder whether or not they would recover.
The NFC East is clearly the most mediocre division in the
league. Consider that Washington, outscored 112-16 in losing their first three
games before dropping another pair of games, is now just one game out of the
lead. A five game winning streak and the failure of either Philadelphia or the
New York Giants to take charge in the Division have enabled the Redskins to
become a factor in the Playoff chase. It’s unlikely that any team from this
Division will qualify as a Wild Card and it’s quite possible that a 9-7 record
will be good enough to win the Division title.
Here’s a preview of this week’s action. The New York
Giants have their Bye week and there are seven Divisional contests, including
Eagles (—3) at Chiefs (37): This Thursday
night interconference game features a Philadelphia offense still struggling to
find some consistency. Kansas City finally won their first home game in five
tries last week and being at home is even more of an advantage during a short
work week. The Chiefs’ offense has also struggled. Take UNDER.
Broncos (+3) at Dolphins (41): Denver is well rested
after playing on Thanksgiving Day so the cross country travel should not be as
much of a disadvantage as normal. Miami has the better defense but the edge is
not nearly as great as many might assume. Still, given the problems Denver’s
offense has faced in establishing continuity works against them here. Take
Colts (+7) at Ravens (43): The Colts are a
major disappointment and it may only be a matter of time before the players quit
on the season. QB Peyton Manning is throwing too many interceptions and that is
often indicative of defenses figuring out his tendencies. Baltimore is not as
dominant defensively as they were last season but they still rank in the top
three in the league. The Ravens have been able to move the ball but QB Elvis
Grbac has had trouble getting to the endzone. The Ravens remain very much in
Playoff contention and face a Colts team filled with doubt. The preference is
Panthers (+10) at Saints (41Â½): Carolina has
lost ten straight games of which seven have been by ten points or less. They
continue to play hard but just lack the frontline talent to take over games.
They nearly beat the Saints at home earlier this season, losing 27-25 on the
game’s final play. New Orleans’ defense allowed over 430 yards is losing
badly in New England last week. Take CAROLINA.
Vikings: (—7) at Steelers (41): Minnesota
QB Daunte Culpepper appeared hobbled in Sunday night’s loss to Chicago and if
he’s not one hundred percent the Vikes are in trouble Even with a healthy
Culpepper the Vikes are in a tough spot as they face arguably the league’s
best defense. The Steelers lead the league against the rush, something the Vikes
have been unable to establish this season. Take PITTSBURGH.
Patriots (+4) at Jets (38): The Jets won the earlier
meeting 10-3 but both teams are much improved since that September meeting. New
England is flourishing on offense behind QB Tom Brady while the Jets have
improved on both sides of the ball as they get comfortable with new coach Herman
Edwards new systems. The Jets also lead the league with a remarkable +22
turnover margin through 10 games. Take NY JETS.
Rams (—7) at Falcons: The Rams are off of a
Monday night game against a physical Tampa Bay team and now play the first of
four straight Divisional games, three of which are on the road. Atlanta coach
Dan Reeves has done a remarkable job in leading the Falcons to a 6-4 record
despite the loss of RB ÂÃ‚ÂJamal Anderson for the season. The artificial turf sets
this up as a track meet. Take OVER.
Bucs (—3) at Bengals: Cincinnati has been unable
to sustain their early season success despite the presence of RB Corey Dillon,
one of the best in the game. The problem has been at quarterback. The Bucs are
playing their fourth road game in five weeks and that has to take a toll,
especially coming off of a Monday nighter. The play is on the UNDER.
Titans (+2Â½) at Browns (35Â½): Tennessee
dropped to 4-6 with their loss to Pittsburgh last week and now trail three teams
in the AFC Central. Cleveland has been a major surprise. The Browns are 6-4
despite having the league’s lowest rated offense but it’s an offense that
doesn’t make many mistakes. Tennessee QB Steve McNair was rattled by the
Steeler defense last week and will face similar pressure here. The Browns are
playing with confidence and will play four of their final five games on the road
so this is a key game if they are to remain in contention for the Playoffs.
Tennessee’s confidence is a question mark. Take CLEVELAND.
Lions (+7Â½) at Bears (38): Da Bears play
smashmouth football behind the leadership of LB Brian Urlacher and much resemble
last season’s Ravens. The offense is below average and even the defensive
stats place the Bears in the lower half of the league. But they make the big
plays. Detroit continues to play hard and perhaps the effort of backup QB Mike
McMahon on Thanksgiving gives the Lions a reason to continue their hard play
despite an 0-10 record. Take ÂÃ‚ÂDETROIT.
Chargers (+3) at Seahawks (43): San Diego has
now lost six of eight games following a 3-0 start. A lack of depth and questions
about QB Doug Flutie to be able to physically endure a 16 game season are
largely responsible. Seattle continues to suffer from a very inconsistent
offense and their defense has started to weaken. Neither has been able execute
well on offense in recent weeks. Take UNDER.
Cards (+4) at Raiders (45): Arizona is
playing their best football of late and despite a 4-6 record are just two games
out of first in the weak NFC East. Oakland may be the best balanced team in the
league on both sides of the ball. The offense is potent and also leads the
league in fewest turnovers, losing just 10 this season. Take OAKLAND.
Cowboys (+10) at Redskins (35Â½): These teams played
a stinker of a Monday Night game in mid October which was won by Dallas 9-7 on a
last second FG. It was Dallas’ eighth straight win over their most bitter
rival. It was also the last game Washington lost. Dallas is well rested and
continues to play hard. Take DALLAS.
Bills (+9Â½) at 49ers (46Â½): The 49ers have
a solid offensive nucleus with QB Jeff Garcia and WR Terrell Owens and an
improving defense. At 8-2 they are poised to once again make the playoffs.
Buffalo’s offense has picked up over the past few games behind QB Alex Van
Pelt. Five of the 49ers wins have been by less than a touchdown. Take BUFFALO.
Packers (—3) at Jaguars (42Â½): The Packers host
the Bears next week in a critical NFC Central Division matchup. Jacksonville is
3-7, with four losses of four points or less this season. They could just as
easily be 7-3. The Jaguars are playing hard for Tom Coughlin. Take JACKSONVILLE.