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Jaguars may have surprise
for Patriots

Dec 9, 2003 7:27 AM

With three games remaining in the regular season, New England, Kansas City and Philadelphia became the first teams to clinch NFL playoff berths this past weekend.

St. Louis is on the verge of becoming the fourth in a week where only three games are divisional contests and six involve interconference match ups.

Kansas City has the top seed in the AFC with New England also poised to have a bye week with the No. 2 seed. With just one conference loss the Patriots would have the top seed should the teams finish with identical records. The Chiefs finish the season with three games against NFC Central foes including a road game next week at Minnesota.

New England has quietly won nine games in a row in seeking to win its second Super Bowl in three seasons. Is Bill Belichick the best coach in the NFL today?

Philadelphia controls the top seed in the NFC pending Monday night’s game between the Rams and Browns. The Eagles hold the tiebreaker over the Rams but face a more difficult schedule over the final three weeks. Still, it appears Philly will have a first round bye.

Here’s a preview of all sixteen games this weekend.

Jaguars (+7) at Patriots (36½): Both teams pitched shutouts last week. New England endured poor weather conditions to clinch the AFC East title with a win over Miami. Jacksonville benefited from facing a Houston team starting its third string QB and playing without the starting RB. Both teams have top 10 defenses with Jacksonville having the better rushing offense behind Fred Taylor. JAX.

Steelers (+3) at Jets (40): Both teams are playing out the string after having made the playoffs last season. The Jets continue to be vulnerable to the run on defense but still manage to prevent tons of points from being scored. Pittsburgh’s offense has been inefficient at converting yards gained to points scored. Both teams should move the ball and struggle inside the 20. UNDER.

Cowboys (—1) at Redskins (36½): Dallas has struggled over the past month but the last four games have been against likely playoff teams. Cowboys coach Parcells has always placed a great emphasis on divisional contests. Dallas still has the league’s top ranked defense and an offense that rates above Washington. Dallas has won three road games against non-playoff teams. DALLAS.

49ers (+3) at Bengals (42): The 49ers have lost all six road games this season while Cincinnati has won four straight at home and returns from three straight on the road. Both teams need help to make the playoffs. Cincinnati is clearly improved but the Niners have the talent edge and were a playoff team last season. Lack of depth takes its toll late in the season, a situation that favors the guest. SAN FRAN.

Falcons (+7½) at Colts (47½): Atlanta was indeed energized with the return of QB Mike Vick in Sunday night’s win over Carolina. But that was at home and a decrease in the Falcons intensity would not be a surprise on the road. Still, Vick is a playmaker and should have some success against an Indianapolis defense that has allowed big plays. The Colts will have success as well against Atlanta’s bottom ranked defense. OVER.

Vikings (—1½) at Bears (42½): Minnesota maintained its lead in the NFC North with an impressive win over Seattle. But on the road the Vikes have lost three straight. Chicago had its faint playoff hopes all but ended when blowing a 14-0 lead in last week’s loss at Green Bay. Five turnovers were costly to the Bears. Minnesota has the better offense and Chicago has the better defense. Poor weather, especially winds, favor defenses. UNDER.

Titans (NL) at Bucs: Tampa Bay still mathematically alive for the playoffs but needs to win final three games and get help. Houston’s lack of depth was telling in last week’s shutout loss in Jacksonville and will be a factor here. Bucs showing they still want to play. TAMPA BAY.

Bills (+7) at Titans (40): Tennessee most likely has to make the playoffs as a wild card following the loss to Indianapolis last week that completed a series sweep. Buffalo won its second straight last week and held its fifth straight foe to 17 points or less. QB Steve McNair and the Titans have tallied at least 25 points in all but three games. Buffalo can’t trade points here with a hungry Titans team off two straight losses. TENNESSEE.

Seahawks (NL) at St. Louis: Seattle’s remarkable home/road dichotomy continued last week as they were woefully inept in a fifth straight road loss. St. Louis seeks to avenge a one-point loss in Seattle earlier this season and is off Monday night’s game in Cleveland. The Rams have been explosive at home, averaging nearly 36 points per game. A win here clinches the division title for the Rams, who are battling Philadelphia for the top NFC seed. ST. LOUIS.

Lions (+14) at Chiefs (45½): Despite losing in Denver last week the Chiefs clinched a playoff berth and gain the AFC West title with a win here. The line is on target with Detroit losing road games by about two touchdowns and the Chiefs winning at home by a similar margin. But Detroit will be hard pressed to keep pace with KC, which wants to avoid ending the regular season in any sort of slump. Also, it’s Detroit’s first game in cold weather. KC.

Browns (NL) at Broncos: Cleveland is off the Monday game against the Rams. Denver’s playoff hopes were revitalized with a solid win over Kansas City last week in which they dominated the second half behind the running of RB Clinton Portis. Cleveland is out of the playoffs while Denver controls its destiny, holding the tie-breaker for a wild card over Miami. The Broncos offense and defense ranks rank in the top 10. DENVER.

Ravens (—5½) at Raiders (40½): Baltimore takes to the road after winning three straight at home and reclaiming the lead in the AFC North. Oakland’s miserable season continues and the Raiders will finish with double-digit losses for only the third time in the last 40 years. The players have quit on head coach Bill Callahan but still have individual pride, which will motivate them to perform well here. The Ravens have lost their last three road games while all three of Oakland’s wins have come at home. OAKLAND.

Panthers (—6) at Arizona (38½): Carolina continues to struggle following the 5-0 start, winning just three of its last eight. Each of those wins was by just three points. In fact, only one of Carolina’s eight wins has been by more than 6. Arizona is a bad team but has played its best football at home. All three of its wins came at home. ARIZONA.

Packers (—5) at Chargers (46): The Packers have won three of the last four games and still can make the playoffs with much help. Two of San Diego’s three wins have been against the NFC Central. In allowing just 7 at Detroit last week, the Chargers had their best defensive effort of the season. All other foes have scored at least 20, with more than half of the losses by double digits. GREEN BAY.

Giants (NL) at Saints: The Giants have lost five in a row and clearly have quit on coach Jim Fassel with a pair of pathetic home efforts the past two weeks. The Saints recent surge suffered a setback last week in a tough home loss to Tampa Bay. But at least the Saints continue to play hard. Opportunity is there to atone for the last performance in prime time, a September blowout home loss to Indianapolis. N. ORLEANS.

Eagles (+2½) at Dolphins (37): Philadelphia is looking to wrap up the NFC East title after having clinched a playoff spot last week. Miami seeks to rebound following its 12-0 loss in blustery conditions in the AFC East showdown at New England last week. Philly, 8-0 both SU and ATS in the past eight games, has had several come from behind road wins. A loss probably knocks Miami out of the playoffs and costs Dave Wannstedt his job. MIAMI.

Last week: 10-5

Season: 92-91