Protecting home turf
big at midseason

Oct 26, 2004 7:13 AM

At basically the halfway point of the NFL season, winning home games becomes critical for teams expecting to make the playoffs.

Last Sunday was the least competitive of the season with seven of 13 games decided by double digits and only two by a FG or less. The average margin of victory was nearly two touchdowns and largely influenced by Kansas City’s 46-point rout of Atlanta. Detroit, Minnesota, Miami and Green Bay also won by more than 14.

Home underdogs had their first winning week against the point spread. After six weeks in which the best home puppies could muster was a 2-2 mark in the season openers, all three home dogs covered with Miami and Arizona winning outright. Cleveland lost in overtime to unbeaten Philadelphia.

The game between unbeaten New England and the previously unbeaten New York Jets was as well played and competitive as expected. New England came as close to losing as any time during the current 21 game winning streak, but the defense made the big plays in the fourth quarter.

The game ended in either a half point win for Jets bettors or a push for Patriots backers, with the line at 6 or 6½ in different sports books. That high profile game again illustrated the importance of seeking out the best number available. Nobody who bet that game should have lost since there were 6½ point lines available throughout the city to Jets backers. There were also plenty of 6-point lines available to backers of the Pats.

Sunday also produced the first weekend with clearly more "over" than "under" results. Eight of the 13 games went above the closing totals. That should not be surprising given the number of one sided contests, but it might also be an indication that offenses are finally able to establish the rhythm and consistency needed to finish off drives.

Here’s a look at the Week 8 slate with Cleveland, New Orleans, St. Louis and Tampa Bay having byes.

Sunday, Oct. 31:

Packers (-2½) at Redskins (40): The Packers have been impressive the past two weeks and a win here gets them back to .500 at the halfway point. QB Brett Favre has been sharp in those two wins and the Packers have a clear edge at the position. Washington is off a bye, but has shown little progress on offense. PACKERS.

Ravens (+7½) at Eagles (38): This potential Super Bowl preview could also be called the "Terrell Owens Bowl" with the Eagles new WR was initially traded to the Ravens before being ruled a free agent. Owens has made a huge difference for unbeaten Philly and his absence has caused the Ravens to rely on a one-dimensional rushing offense. RB Jamal Lewis serves the second of his two game suspension, but backup Chester Taylor has been more than adequate. RAVENS.

Cards (+3) at Bills (33½): Kudos to the Cardinals for their upset of Seattle. New coach Dennis Green has his team thinking positive. Buffalo continues to play low scoring teams with a solid defense and weak offense. Only one of their six games has featured more than 33 total points. UNDER.

Giants (+7) at Vikings (48): The Giants were sluggish following their bye and were upset by Detroit last week. The Lions had been absolutely horrible the week before in a blowout loss to Green Bay. Minnesota overcame the absence of WR Randy Moss to defeat Tennessee last week. The Vikings defense is off their best effort of the season. Look for the Giants to bounce back with their solid running and passing game. Vikes hve one of the league’s weakest pass defenses. GIANTS.

Bengals (NL) at Titans: Cincinnati played on Monday night and Tennessee QB Steve McNair is very questionable for this game. The Titans are clearly down from last season and a return to the playoffs is slipping away. After having lost their first three home games this season, expect the best effort of the season from the Titans. It won’t matter if backup Billy Volek starts at QB. TITANS.

Colts (-2½) at Chiefs (57): RB Priest Holmes was banged up in last week’s 56-10 rout of Atlanta, but backup Derrick Blaylock equaled Holmes’ production with four rushing TDs of his own. This is a huge revenge game for the Chiefs who were

on this field by Indianapolis following KC’s 13-3 regular season in 2003. The Colts are off a loss to Jacksonville, but are playing their only road game over a seven-week stretch. CHIEFS.

Lions (+3) at Cowboys (40): The Lions came out focused for their game with the Giants and won fairly comfortably. QB Joey Harrington was outstanding and Detroit is 3-0 on the road, after setting an NFL record with 24 straight road losses. Dallas is desperate for a win if another playoff appearance is in the cards. At 2-4, the Cowboys have lost three straight. You can be sure Coach Bill Parcells will ride his team hard in practice this week. Expect a big performance. COWBOYS.

Jaguars (+1) at Texans (42½): The Jags continue to win the close games and, at 5-2, are on track to a playoff berth with four of five games following next week’s bye at home. Houston is rested following its bye. The Texans are clearly improved, especially on offense with a much better passing game behind QB David Carr. Jacksonville’s offense is also improving week by week with QB Byron Leftwich becoming a leader. OVER.

Falcons (NL) at Broncos: Denver is off of its Monday night game in Cincinnati. Atlanta got a dose of reality, seeing its previously top ranked rush defense overwhelmed in Kansas City. The Chiefs averaged over five yards per carry in running for 271 yards and eight touchdowns, lowering the Falcons rush defense ranking to ninth. Now they face another strong running game in Denver. The Broncos defense has been stellar against both the run (first) and pass (second). BRONCOS.

Panthers (+8) at Seahawks (39½): Carolina has been hit hard by injuries on both sides of the ball, but injuries to the top two running backs has really shut down the offense. Seattle seemingly has not recovered from that late fourth quarter collapse against the Rams. Seattle has lost three straight following a 3-0 start. The fundamentals still favor the more talented and healthier host. SEAHAWKS.

Patriots (-3) at Steelers (42½): New England has now won 21 straight games. It is always risky to predict when such a lengthy streak will end. Logic dictates a setback would come on the road against a good football team. Those are the conditions the Pats face this week. Pittsburgh is 5-1, rested and has a solid running game. QB Ben Roethlisberger improves each week and has shown tremendous poise for a rookie. The Pats have benefited from a very favorable early schedule. STEELERS.

Raiders (+5½) at Chargers (45): Both teams were 4-12 last season but San Diego has shown to be a better team with a 4-3 start. Oakland lost its fourth straight game last week to defensively suspect New Orleans. The Raiders have allowed at least 30 in each of those four losses. When the teams last met, RB LaDainian Tomlinson ran for 243 yards and the Raiders scored their only points on a pair of kick returns. San Diego is playing with confidence. Don’t look now but the Chargers also have the league’s third best rush defense. CHARGERS.

49ers (+2½) at Bears (36): Both teams are 1-5 and struggling to find consistency. The Bears have been woeful on offense with major QB concerns following the loss to injury last month of starter Rex Grossman. The Niners are rested and have actually shown improvement defensively, despite allowing nearly 27 points per game. Four of the Niners six games have gone below the total. Chicago has had five go below. UNDER.

Monday, Nov. 1

Dolphins (+7) at Jets (35½): Miami got its first win of the season, thrashing St. Louis. Coach Dave Wannstedt will again be the second best on the sidelines. The Jets have a clear pattern on offense this season, doing well against the weaker defenses and poor against above average ones. The latter applied in a 17-9 win at Miami earlier this season. The defense accounted for one of New York’s two touchdowns. Seven of the last eight games in the series have gone below the total. UNDER.

Last week: 6-6-1

Season: 52-46-3defense. CHARGERS.

49ers (+2½) at Bears (36): Both teams are 1-5 and struggling to find consistency. The Bears have been woeful on offense with major QB concerns following the loss to injury last month of starter Rex Grossman. The Niners are rested and have actually shown improvement defensively, despite allowing nearly 27 points per game. Four of the Niners six games have gone below the total. Chicago has had five go below. UNDER.

Monday, Nov. 1

Dolphins (+7) at Jets (35½): Miami got its first win of the season, thrashing St. Louis. Coach Dave Wannstedt will again be the second best on the sidelines. The Jets have a clear pattern on offense this season, doing well against the weaker defenses and poor against above average ones. The latter applied in a 17-9 win at Miami earlier this season. The defense accounted for one of New York’s two touchdowns. Seven of the last eight games in the series have gone below the total. UNDER.

Last week: 6-6-1

Season: 52-46-3