With five games remaining on each team’s schedule, nearly every contest will have playoff implications.
Remember that the NFL realigned after last season and there are now four Division winners and two Wild Cards in each conference, not three and three as in the past.
So although each Division consists of only four teams it becomes harder for good teams in competitive Divisions to make the playoffs. It raises the possibility of a 9-7 Division winner advancing to the playoffs while a second place team miss out with a 10-6 mark.
In the NFC there are four clear Division leaders who control their own destiny. Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Green Bay and San Francisco all have leads of at least one game over the second place teams, although Philly’s lead is tenuous given the injury to QB Donovan McNabb. Atlanta and New Orleans currently have sole possession of the two Wild Cards.
In the AFC, Miami and Indianapolis have one game leads while Pittsburgh is just a half game ahead of Cleveland in the South.
The logjam is in the West where Denver, Oakland and San Diego are all tied for the lead at 7-4. Each controls its own destiny since no team in the other three Divisions has as many as seven wins.
For now, let’s start unscrambling the upcoming week.
New England (—5Â½) at Detroit (Over/Under 44): Clearly the Patriots are the better team and are in the Playoff chase. Detroit continues to flounder but should put forth a big effort in its traditional Thanksgiving game, which could end with a field goal. The play is DETROIT.
Washington (Pick) at Dallas (35): The first of the annual Cowboys-Skins clashes finds the Redskins leading Dallas by a game in the NFC East. Both teams have improved on defense throughout the season while both offenses have struggled. The preference is for the UNDER.
Miami (—2Â½) at Buffalo (42): Buffalo opened as the favorite but the money has flowed to Miami. The Dolphins travel to the cold and winds of Buffalo who beat Miami earlier 23-10. It’s not time to write off the Bills, who ran into a hot Jets team. The play is on Buffalo.
Chicago (+9Â½) at Green Bay (40): Green Bay can wrap up the NFC North for the third time in three weeks following a pair of losses on the road. Expect a big game from Packer QB Brett Favre after two subpar efforts. The play is on GREEN BAY.
Baltimore (—3) at Cincinnati (38Â½): Both teams can run the ball and neither team has an advanced passing attack. Baltimore still has a shot at the Division title with games remaining against both Pittsburgh and Cleveland. The preference is for the UNDER.
Carolina (+7) at Cleveland (38): Cleveland continues to play well each week and have a realistic shot at making the Playoffs. Carolina has lost eight in a row following their 3-0 start. The preferred play is on CLEVELAND.
Pittsburgh (—3) at Jacksonville (45): The Steelers have developed more of an offensive game plan than we’ve seen while the Jags have been more effective on defense. As Division rivals the Jags won six of seven meetings on this field. The play is on JACKSONVILLE.
Arizona (+10) at Kansas City (47): Kansas City wasted an opportunity last week to maintain touch with the rest of their Division by losing at Seattle. This could be a wide open game with the Cardinals having no reason to play conservatively. The preference is for the OVER.
Atlanta (—3Â½) at Minnesota (49): Atlanta is the hottest team in the NFL. Their last loss was to Tampa Bay and they get a rematch next week in Tampa. Minnesota has not quit for coach Mike Tice and might just catch an overconfident Atlanta team. The play is on MINNESOTA.
Tennessee (+3) at New York Giants (34Â½): The Giants have shown improvement all season both in running the ball and in stopping the run. Tennessee has also run the ball better lately but the Giants have a solid overall edge on defense. The play is on the NEW YORK GIANTS.
Denver (—3) at San Diego (41): San Diego has struggled since their fast early start in which their only loss in their first seven games came at Denver. Just when everyone is giving up on a team is when you want to back them. The preference is for SAN DIEGO.
Houston (+11) at Indianapolis (40Â½): Indianapolis now has a game lead in the Division and control their own fate. Their dramatic overtime win in Denver Sunday night was emotionally draining and Houston continues to play hard. The preferred play is on HOUSTON.
St. Louis at Philadelphia (No Line): Both teams have QB issues with Donovan McNabb out for the Eagles and the Rams deliberating between Kurt Warner and Marc Bulger. Both teams are likely to rely more on their defense, therefore the play is the UNDER.
Seattle at San Francisco (No Line): Seattle gave the 49ers a battle losing 28-21 on a Monday night in October. Last week’s explosion against KC is misleading, however, and the 49ers’ defense presents a much more formidable challenge. The preference is for SAN FRANCISCO.
Tampa Bay at New Orleans (No Line): New Orleans upset Tampa on Opening Day but have played poorly in recent weeks. Tampa’s outstanding defense suggests the Saints’ recent offensive woes will continue. The preferred play is on the UNDER.
New York Jets (+6Â½) at Oakland (49): The Jets have recovered from their awful start to climb back into Playoff contention. The Raiders have regained their offensive rhythm which Jets’ coach Herm Edwards will try to disrupt by emphasizing ball control. The play is on the UNDER.