Parity hurts favorites

Sep 17, 2002 9:39 AM

   The first two weeks of the NFL season is again showing that teams are again capable of coming from nowhere to contend for the Super Bowl.

   Defending Super Bowl champ New England is off to a strong 2-0 start, outscoring its opponents 74-21. In the opening week, 12 of the 16 games went OVER the total. Scoring declined this past weekend as expected.

   Heading into Monday night’s game just 6 of 15 games had gone OVER the total and thirteen of 32 teams had been held to 17 points or less. But what made this past week unusual was that the point spread did not come into play in any of Sunday’s 15 games.

   An incredible 11 underdogs won their games straight up, pulling the upset. Most of the underdogs that won were getting just a field goal or less, although the Giants shocked the Rams as nearly two touchdown pups.

   Still, the season is unfolding as one of great parity with low point spreads on most games and the underdogs just as likely to win as are the favorites.

   Byes begin this weekend with a quartet of teams on the sidelines with an extra week of practice. Two of the teams, Baltimore and Pittsburgh, are winless. Jacksonville and Oakland also have byes.

   Here’s a look at the 14 games to be played in Week 3.

   Jets (+6½ ) at Dolphins (41): The Jets were routed by Super Bowl champion New England. Miami is showing signs of being a stronger team on offense with much more balance. RB Ricky Williams has had two fine games and the Jets have had trouble stopping the run. The Jets have owned Miami, winning eight straight. NY is still a fundamentally solid team and could extend the hex. JETS.

   Panthers (+6) at Vikes (45½): It’s no surprise that one team is 2-0 and the other 0-2. What is shocking is that Carolina has doubled its win total from last season. The Vikings have blown two fourth quarter leads in starting 0-2. This game could define the balance of their season. Look for Minnesota to come out aggressive. VIKINGS.

   Chiefs (+8½) at Pats (44): The oddsmakers have finally recognized that New England is a very good team and that the Super Bowl win was not a fluke. The Pats have now won 11 straight games dating back to last season. Kansas City was shocked by its inability to move the ball on Jacksonville. The Chiefs catch New England overconfident. CHIEFS.

   Cowboys at Eagles (NL): Philadelphia played on Monday night in Washington while Dallas rebounded from its pathetic performance in Houston with a solid win over Tennessee. The Eagles clearly have the edge at QB with Donovan McNabb. Quincy Carter did have a fine game for Dallas last week, but should be frustrated by an aggressive Philadelphia defense. The Dallas D should be competitive.  UNDER.

   Browns (+4½) at Titans (38): Despite defeating Cincinnati last week, the Browns were outgained by nearly 100 yards. Tennessee never seemed comfortable in its loss at Dallas, lacking intensity and focus. The Titans only lost one turnover and outgained the Cowboys but could not come up with the big play. QB Steve McNair was banged up against Dallas but did return and should play here. Cleveland may well start Tim Couch even though backup Kelly Holcomb played well. Tennessee is the more talented team with greater explosiveness. TITANS

   Saints (+3) at Bears (41½): Both teams have played well in winning their first two games. Chicago has relied more on defense and the Saints have done better with their offense. The artificial turf surface in Champaign could be more of a benefit to the Saints. The Bears have a knack of playing well in close games so getting at least a FG makes the underdog attractive. SAINTS.

   Colts (-12½) at Texans (40): The Colts were again confounded by Miami in last week’s loss and came up short late in the contest. Houston looked inept at San Diego, gaining a total of just 118 yards and completing just 6 of 25 passes. If Indy coach Tony Dungy is smart he’ll open up the offense early. This one could be a rout. COLTS.

   Bills (+9½) at Broncos (47): Denver is off to a strong 2-0 start with wins over the Rams and 49ers, teams that combined to go 26-6 last season. Buffalo has played a pair of overtime games with QB Drew Bledsoe providing the kind of leadership lacking since Jim Kelly retired. BILLS.

   Chargers (+1½) at Cards (40): San Diego is off to a 2-0 start under coach Marty Schottenheimer who figures to not take chances in getting the lead. Arizona showed a surprising ability to run the ball in Seattle despite trailing much of the game. Neither team is explosive on offense although the Arizona combo of QB Jake Plummer and WR David Boston has big play capability. UNDER.

   Redskins at Niners: (NL): Washington played on Monday night and now travels across the country to face the team that accused coach Steve Spurrier of running up the score in the preseason. The 49ers’ offense has struggled in their first two games. The Redskins have a solid defense and Spurrier is running the ball more than many expected. UNDER.

   Seahawks (+6½) at Giants (39): The G-Men play the third of four straight games against the NFC West and have to be happy after splitting against the 49ers and Rams. Seattle has dropped two straight but should perform better after QB Trent Dilfer showed only slight rust against Arizona. Despite winning in St Louis, the Giants averaged just than three yards per carry on the ground. SEAHAWKS.

   Packers (-7½) at Lions (44½): Green Bay’s defense has yielded over 30 points in each of its two games. Detroit does not have the firepower to torch the Green Bay D, but the Lions have allowed almost 400 yards. PACKERS.

   Bengals (+7½) at Falcons (42): Despite losing in Cleveland last week the Bengals did have success running the ball and slowing the game down. Atlanta is a team that should improve as QB Michael Vick continues to develop. UNDER

   Rams (-1½) at Bucs (44½): The Rams are playing with double revenge as the Bucs have won twice since their narrow loss in the 1999 NFC Title game. Tampa Bay won at Baltimore last week without scoring an offensive TD. This is now a game with need for the Rams who are the more talented team. RAMS.