The 2000 NFL season is rounding the final turn and entering the home stretch. There are few clear-cut division leaders, with only Minnesota enjoying a three-game lead in the NFC Central.
Two-game leads are enjoyed by Oakland in the AFC West, Tennessee in the AFC Central, and possibly St Louis in the NFC West (if they defeat Washington on Monday).
The surprise division leader is Philadelphia in the NFC East, where they lead the Giants (and possibly Washington) by a half-game. The NFL’s best division is the AFC East, where Miami, at 8-3, leads a trio of 7-4 teams. Even last place New England, at 3-8, is only being outscored by a field goal per game and only one of those eight losses by more than 8 points.
Only San Francisco gets to fully enjoy the Thanksgiving holiday weekend with a bye. There are nine divisional games this weekend that begins on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day. There are also four games that match teams with winning records, including key games in the AFC East and NFC East.
Let’s offer our best wishes for a happy, healthy and safe Thanksgiving holiday as we take a look at this week’s schedule, looking to avoid the turkeys and gobble up the pumpkin pies.
Thursday, Nov. 23
New England (+6) at Detroit (Total 38): The Patriots struggled to edge a weak Cincinnati squad last week. They were out-gained by the Bengals and showed no ability to run the ball. Detroit took advantage of N.Y. Giants’ turnovers last week to build a 28-0 win and benefited from strong special teams play. The offense was not spectacular, but was efficient and the Lions have won two straight for new coach Gary Moeller and remain very much in playoff contention. New England’s offense is neither strong or consistent enough to exploit Detroit’s defensive vulnerabilities. The play is on the Under.
Minnesota (-7) at Dallas (48): Minnesota continues to play well on both sides of the ball. The offense is very much in sync with the league’s top rushing attack in addition to their powerful aerial game. QB Daunte Culpepper continues to improve as a team leader, and WRs Randy Moss and Chris Carter, and RB Robert Smith make the Vikes a difficult team to defend. Dallas ranks last in the league in defending the run, and by a huge margin. Dallas won’t be shut out here as they were last week, but they won’t be able to trade points with Minnesota either. The play is on Minnesota.
Sunday, Nov. 26
Buffalo (+4) at Tampa Bay (37): Buffalo won a key game last week on the natural grass surface at Kansas City, while Tampa failed to take advantage of playing a weak opponent in losing at Chicago. QB Rob Johnson was able to overcome a couple of second-half deficits to post their win, while the Bucs were held without a touchdown against a weak Bears defense, a team they defeated earlier this season 41-0. The Bills don’t make many mistakes and their defensive stats are comparable to Tampa. The play is on Buffalo.
Miami at Indianapolis (No Line): Miami lost for the sixth straight time to the Jets last week and now face the task of rebounding with questions at QB. Jay Fiedler was injured early in the game and backup Damon Huard did not look sharp. But with a week of practice, he will play better if he indeed is the starter. The Colts continue to play just one half of football, digging themselves a 19-0 hole in losing at Green Bay last week. Indy coach Jim Mora continues to display the ultra-conservative strategy which plagued him in New Orleans. The Colts have the edge on offense, while Miami’s strong edge is on defense. The play is on Miami.
Philadelphia at Washington (No Line): The Eagles lead the NFC East and a win here would virtually assure the Birds of making the playoffs. Washington played in St. Louis on Monday night and find themselves in a battle to make the playoffs despite being one of the preseason favorites to win the Super Bowl. Philly continues to have success running the ball and QB Donovan McNabb continues to improve. Washington is averaging almost 100 more yards per game gained than allowed. Regardless of what happened Monday night, this game is pivotal for the Redskins. The play is on Washington.
Cleveland (+15) at Baltimore (34): One wonders how badly Cleveland would have lost at Tennessee last week had the Titans not lost seven turnovers. The Browns were unable to score an offensive touchdown and managed just 5 first downs and 125 total yards despite Tennessee’s generosity. Now they face an even better defense. Baltimore played a very solid game in shutting out Dallas last week and its huge edge in the running game on both sides of the ball make it difficult to build a case for the underdog despite the huge impost. The play is on Baltimore.
Chicago at N.Y. Jets (No Line): Chicago won an ugly game against Tampa Bay last week with neither team gaining 250 yards. The Jets reversed their three-game skid with a win at Miami and are in a three-way tie in the AFC East, a game behind the Fish and holding the tiebreaker edges. The uncertain status of Jets’ RB Curtis Martin keeps this game off the board as we go to press, although backup Bernie Parmalee filled in well last week and Ritchie Anderson is also a solid contributor. Injuries have forced the Bears to rely on third-string QB Shane Matthews and he will be harassed by the Jets’ defense. The play is on the N.Y. Jets.
New Orleans at St Louis (No Line): The Saints’ drive towards the playoffs was dealt another severe blow last week, losing QB Jeff Blake for the season after losing RB Ricky Williams a week earlier. The Rams hosted Washington last Monday and now face a defense as statistically sound as the Redskins. St. Louis’ own defense has improved in recent weeks and the Saints will have trouble keeping pace with the Rams. New Orleans did hold Oakland’s offense to under 300 yards, but will face a much tougher test here. How long before the Saints’ defense finally breaks? The play is on St. Louis.
Pittsburgh (--4) at Cincinnati (34): After making a brief run towards playoff contention, Pittsburgh suffered a devastating loss at home last Sunday night to Jacksonville, a team they had beaten earlier. Turnovers plagued the Steelers, as did dropped passes, but the usually stout defense was taken apart by the Jags’ Fred Taylor, allowing a franchise record number of rushing yards. The Bengals continue to play hard and stay competitive, but just don’t make the big plays. Pittsburgh won the earlier meeting 15-0, only their second win in their last five games vs. the Bengals. This game should be similarly low scoring with a pair of struggling offenses. The play is on the Under.
Atlanta (+11) at Oakland (44): The Atlanta offense has struggled all season, managing just 211 yards last week against what has been a very permissive San Francisco defense. This is their second trip to the West Coast in two weeks, a difficult scheduling assignment. Oakland rebounded nicely from their Monday night loss at Denver to soundly beat New Orleans last week. The Raiders continue to have success running the ball, and QB Rich Gannon is enjoying a season worthy of MVP consideration. Oakland has won their last three home games by at least 18 points. The play is on Oakland.
Tennessee (--3Â½) at Jacksonville (41): Tennessee’s domination over Jacksonville is well documented: five straight win,s including the elimination of the Jags in last year’s playoffs. The Titans overcame seven turnovers to defeat Cleveland last week and their defense continues to play well. The Jaguars showed some surprising character last week with their convincing win at Pittsburgh with RB Fred Taylor having a huge game. The Pplayoffs are virtually out of the picture for Jacksonville, but they will place great emphasis on breaking Tennessee’s hex here. The play is on Jacksonville.
Denver (--3) at Seattle (45Â½): Denver made an improbable comeback last week, rallying from 34-17 down to avoid becoming the first team to lose to San Diego this season. They did so without starters QB Brian Griese and RB Terrell Davis. Seattle is off of a bye week which followed a come-from-behind upset win at Jacksonville. These teams meet in Denver in just two weeks and Seattle is all but mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Seattle QB Jon Kitna has been very inconsistent this season. At 7-4, Denver is in the thick of the playoff chase that has realistically eight teams vying for six spots. The play is on Denver.
Kansas City (--3) at San Diego (41): Both teams suffered tough losses last week with San Diego narrowly missing their first win of the season and the Chiefs’ postseason chances fading following their come-from-ahead loss to Buffalo. How will these teams respond? San Diego did get strong QB play from troubled Ryan Leaf, who showed he does have lots of talent. He should have success against a Kansas City defense that’s not nearly as strong as in past seasons, failing to make key stops several times last week vs. the Bills. Chiefs’ QB Elvis Grbac became the first 300-yard passer against the Bills in several seasons. The play is on the Over.
N.Y. Giants at Arizona (No Line): Much like Kansas City, the Giants failed to take advantage of a chance to enhance their playoff status by being upset at home by Detroit last week. The Giants played very sloppy football, especially on special teams, and dug themselves a 28-0 hole. Arizona continues to show very little with QB Jake Plummer continuing to regress from his fine 1998 season. The Giants won on Opening Day at home 21-16, but led 21-0 for much of the contest. They ran for over 200 against an Arizona defense that ranks only above Dallas for the worst rushing defense in the NFL. The play is on the N.Y. Giants.
Monday, Nov. 27
Green Bay (Pick ”˜em) at Carolina (44Â½): Green Bay QB Brett Favre again showed last week that he might be the toughest guy in the NFL. He bounced back from a severe foot injury to have an outstanding game in defeating Indianapolis last week. The surrounding talent is down from the past several years, but the Packers cling to wild card hopes at 5-6. Carolina has also been hurt by injuries and at 4-7 all they can do is play spoiler. Both teams have displayed passing games that are above average and running games that are below average. Despite the lack of marquee teams, this game might follow the trend of Monday night games and be both high scoring and coming down to the final possession. The play is on the Over.