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NFC: Roads still lead to Philadelphia

Nov 16, 2004 3:40 AM

We are at the halfway mark of the NFL season, which is a good time to look at some of the strengths and weaknesses of teams looking to claw their way to the conference championship games in January.

As usual, there are teams that were expected to be good mixed in with some surprises. Here’s a peak at some of the best in the NFC.

Philadelphia: The Eagles came into this season with great expectations. They haven’t disappointed. After making it to the last three NFC Championship games and signing WR Terrell Owens and DE Jevon Kearse, there are no excuses for this bunch. The sting of having lost three straight NFC title games is also a motivator. Philadelphia has been as good as advertised, starting 7-0 until finally losing the first week of November at Pittsburgh.

The offense has been primarily through the air between QB Donovan McNabb and Owens, averaging 244 yards passing. One area of concern is a weak run defense that is giving up 4.8 yards per carry and was evident when the Steelers ran for 252 yards! In other games, the Eagles have allowed 158, 165 and 170 yards rushing. Still, the Eagles are a remarkable 23-7 SU, 22-8 ATS on the road their last 30 games away from home.

Atlanta: Certainly a surprise team in the NFC. No one doubts the talents of QB Michael Vick and his ability to lead an offense into the playoffs, as he did two years ago. The great unknown was first-year coach Jim Mora, Jr., and what would he do with a defense that ranked dead last in the NFL in 2003.

Mora has tightened up the run defense with an aggressive unit that is fifth in the NFL. On the other hand, the secondary is allowing 263 passing yards each game, third worst in the league. Still, with Vick and RB Warrick Dunn, this is one of the NFL’s top running teams. Atlanta started 3-1 "under" the total at home, allowing just 14 ppg. With Carolina, Tampa Bay and New Orleans in the same division, the surprising Falcons are in good shape to make a run towards the playoffs.

Minnesota: The Jeckyl and Hyde team of the NFL. In 2003, the Vikings start 6-0 SU/ATS before a colossal collapse found them missing the playoffs after a 3-7 SU/2-8 ATS finish. Now they start 5-1 SU, 4-2 ATS, before a two-game skid where the defense gave up 34 and 31 points. Hmmm, the more things change...

The Vikings need WR Randy Moss to get healthy, but they also need to learn how to play away from the Metrodome. Last year, Minnesota was 6-2 SU/5-3 ATS at home, yet 3-5 SU/ATS on the road. This season the defense is giving up just 19 points per game at home, but 29 on the road! Regardless of all their offensive capabilities when healthy, defense is still the sore spot. The Vikings rank 27th on defense and when the playoffs roll around, defense is the difference, not offense.

Seattle: After a hot start where the defense allowed 13 total points in three games (3-0 "under" the total), the Seahawks then went 5-0 "over" the total with a defense that allowed 33, 30, 25, 17 and 27 points. Losing key offseason acquisition NT Grant Wistrom to an injury didn’t help, though he’s expected back in a few weeks.

Seattle has a lot of offensive balance and depth, behind QB Matt Hasselbeck, RB Shaun Alexander and WRs Koren Robinson and Darrell Jackson. The Seahawks need to get more consistency from the defense. Still, they catch a break over the next three weeks. The next three weeks feature home games against Miami, Buffalo and Dallas.

NY Giants: Tom Coughlin and the Giants were the Cinderella darlings after that 4-1 SU/ATS start. A four game win streak saw them triumph outright as +3, +4 and +6 dogs. Newcomer QB Kurt Warner and a revamped defense were getting the job done, surprising all who had the Giants as 30-to-1 to win the Super Bowl before the season began.

However, a 1-2 SU/ATS skid saw those same Cinderella darlings lose to the Lions and Bears as 7 and 9-point favorites! The loss of All-Pro DE Michael Strahan for the year doesn’t help, either. Just as bad is the upcoming schedule: The next six opponents for the Giants are the Falcons, Eagles, at Redskins, at Ravens, and Steelers. If the losing continues, no one will want to be at Coughlin’s practices!