Saints alive

Nov 4, 2003 8:29 AM

Parity continues to be in evidence in the NFL at the halfway point of the season.

A dozen teams made the playoffs last season yet only Indianapolis and Tennessee in the AFC and Philadelphia in the NFC have winning records and would make postseason play if the season were to end today.

Home underdogs finally had a big week this past Sunday with Detroit, Houston, Arizona and San Francisco all pulling straight up upsets. The New York Jets pushed the closing line of +3 in their overtime loss to the Giants. Only Atlanta failed to cover as a home dog last week. However, at 13-24-1 (35 percent) the home dogs are way behind their historical success.

Denver, New England, New Orleans and San Francisco draw the final week of byes. Here’s a preview of this weekend’s games.

Falcons (+10) at Giants (41½): Things are coming apart rapidly for the Falcons and coach Dan Reeves may not survive the season. He faces one of his former teams, which beat the Jets in overtime. When the Giants avoid turning the ball over they have been potent. The Atlanta defense is the NFL’s worst. GIANTS.

Seahawks (-3½) at Redskins (40): Washington’s fast start is a memory, having dropped four straight. Seattle is 6-2, but has been unimpressive in most of the wins. The Seahawks have lost their last two road games, including Cincinnati where they were also favored. This is Washington’s only home game in a five game stretch. REDSKINS.

Cards (+7) at Steelers (40½): Arizona has a newfound running game with RB Marcel Shipp replacing injured Emmitt Smith. The Cards have won two straight and have a better record than the 2-6 Steelers, likely to miss the playoffs for just the fourth time in coach Bill Cowher’s 12 seasons. Both teams figure to emphasize the run. UNDER.

Bears (+1½) at Lions (37½): Chicago defeated the Lions two weeks ago at home. Detroit looked sharp in its win over Oakland last week. Chicago has the better rushing offense, while the Lions get the nod on defense in stopping the run. The teams have split their season series seven times in the past 10 years. LIONS.

Texans (NL) at Bengals: The status of Houston QB David Carr kept this game off the boards early in the week. Backup Tony Banks filled in capably in last week’s win over Carolina. Cincinnati failed to win a third straight game in a three-point loss at Arizona. The Bengals are clearly improved, especially on defense. Houston has the edges on both sides of the ball in the rushing game. TEXANS.

Bucs (-3) at Panthers (34½): Tampa bay has alternated wins and losses all season so this figures to be a winning week following the upset loss to New Orleans. Carolina has lost two of three following its 5-0 start, which included that 12-9 OT win against the Bucs in which the Panthers blocked three kicks. Revenge is sweet. BUCS.

Dolphins (+4½) at Titans (40): Miami shockingly lost its third home game of the season last week. The Titans are off a bye week and have scored at least 30 points in five straight games. Miami does have the rushing edge, but ranks poorly against the pass. Tennessee QB Steve McNair is having an MVP season. TITANS.

Colts (-6) at Jaguars (44): Tough spot for the Colts, which just won at Miami and have a huge revenge game next week against the Jets for the 41-0 playoff rout last season. Jaguars QB Bryon Leftwich is learning on the job and should have success against an Indy team that might not be fully focused. JAGUARS.

Browns (+10) at Chiefs (44): Both teams are off byes. For Cleveland it was a chance to retool an offense that has topped 20 points just once in eight games. Unbeaten Kansas City should benefit from the week of rest. Cleveland will probably resort to the pass, while KC can score in every department. Three times the Chiefs have exceeded 40. OVER.

Vikings (-6) at Chargers (43½): This now becomes an important game for Minnesota following a pair of losses after a 6-0 start. San Diego continues to flounder and may give the starting QB job to veteran Doug Flutie. The Chargers may also be distracted by the area fires. Minnesota has a balanced offense and more firepower. VIKINGS.

Bills (+4) at Cowboys (37): Buffalo is off a bye which followed a shellacking in Kansas City. Dallas rebounded from its loss in Tampa with a solid win over Washington. The Cowboys continue to excel on defense, an area in which Buffalo is also improved. UNDER.

Jets (-2½) at Raiders (39): Oakland backers have lost 13 straight wagers dating back to the Super Bowl. The Jets showed heart in rallying from 14 down to force OT against the Giants. We can’t back Oakland until they prove they can cover. Both teams have trouble stopping the run. OVER.

Ravens (+7) at Rams (43½): St Louis was due to play a poor game and it happened at San Francisco. RB Marshall Faulk should return for this game and the Rams have always been more explosive at home. The Ravens will have trouble if they fall behind by more than one score, which should open things up for the offense. OVER.

Eagles (+4½) at Packers (43): Green Bay QB Brett Favre showed in Monday’s win over Minnesota that there’s still plenty of football left in him, broken thumb and all. Philly QB Donovan McNabb had his best game of the season in last week’s win over Atlanta. This could go to the wire. EAGLES.

Last week: 5-8

Season: 51-58-3