Week 11:
NFL elite still residing in AFC

Nov 16, 2004 6:54 AM

Heading to Week 11, the NFL division and Wild Card races are taking shape.

We are also receiving confirmation that the AFC remains stronger than the NFC, which might prompt early action on Super Bowl wagering at the books that post AFC vs. NFC lines.

At 8-1, both New England and Pittsburgh have two game leads in their divisions. The other two AFC divisions have co-leaders at 6-3. Denver and San Diego share the lead in the West, while Indianapolis and Jacksonville are tied in the South. The New York Jets and Baltimore are also 6-3.

These eight teams are the clear leaders for the playoffs, as no other AFC team is better than 4-5. Of those losing teams, five are 3-6. Miami, at 1-7, is the only AFC team with fewer than three wins. The levels of quality are clearly stratified in the AFC.

The quality structure in the NFC has a much different look, one of mediocrity. Philadelphia has the best record at 7-1 heading into the Monday night game in Dallas. Even with a loss, the Eagles would still be two games better than all but Atlanta.

The Falcons lead the NFC South at 7-2. No other team in the NFC has fewer than four losses. A win would give Philly a three game edge in the NFC East and maintain the edge over Atlanta for the conference’s top playoff seed. Five teams are 5-4 and another four are 4-5.

Green Bay and Minnesota are tied for the lead in the North, but both Detroit and Chicago trail by just a single game. More than half of the 12 divisional games remain to be played.

Seattle and St. Louis are tied in the West at 5-4, with Arizona at 4-5. The Cardinals still have to play St. Louis at home and at Seattle. Both Arizona and St. Louis still have a game against the San Francisco 49ers (2-7), while Seattle has already completed a sweep of the Niners.

Further proof of the AFC being the better conference can be found by looking at interleague results. The AFC has won 23 of 38 games against NFC teams thus far and the pointspread record is 22-15-1. AFC teams have won 14 of 21 home games and enjoy a 9-8 edge on the road.

Home underdogs had their fourth straight winning week, covering three of five games. After starting 10-17-1 ATS over the season’s first six weeks, home dogs have gone 12-4 over the past month. A cover by Dallas against the Eagles would push home puppies to 23-21-1. Virtually break even at the betting windows, but a huge recovery of early season losses.

With every team having a bye week, it’s full schedules of 16 games for the remaining seven weeks of the regular season. Here’s a look at this week’s games.

Sunday, Nov. 21

Rams (PK) at Buffalo (40): St. Louis came up big in a key showdown with Seattle, with the defense playing surprisingly well. Buffalo was overmatched in New England loss and may be resigned to playing out the string. Weather could be a factor, but the Rams are the fundamentally more talented team. RAMS.

Cowboys (NL) at Ravens: Dallas is off the Monday night game against Philadelphia and has a short week before hosting Chicago on Thanksgiving. Baltimore rallied for its win at the Jets and the offense was respectable. This is a tough scheduling and travel spot for the Cowboys, who are longshots to make the Playoffs. The Ravens should have success against the suspect Dallas defense. RAVENS.

Jets (+1) at Browns (38): Both teams off losses and could be emotionally drained. Cleveland had played well at home prior to playing the Steelers. The Jets are the more talented team. QB Quincy Carter has the flair for the dramatic play and the big mistake, which could lead to wasted yardage. UNDER.

Steelers (-4½) at Bengals (40½): Following last week’s solid win in Cleveland, we wonder if the Steelers will ever have a letdown. Cincinnati played a second straight solid game in winning at Washington. We know about Pittsburgh’s strong defense but the Bengals ”˜D’ has also improved steadily. UNDER.

Colts (-7) at Bears (45): The Colts are rolling on offense with QB Peyton Manning putting up incredible numbers. The defense is still a concern, but Chicago’s offense is limited and will emphasize the run. The Bears strength is their defense. The late November wind and cold might slow down the Indy offense. UNDER .

Lions (+7½) at Vikings (48½): Last week, the Lions needed two punt return touchdowns to force overtime in Jacksonville. Minnesota is likely to again be without WR Randy Moss, but the Vikes have been able to adjust to his absence. The Lions lack of offense has started to put added pressure on the defense. VIKINGS.

Cards (+3) at Panthers (39): New coach Denny Green has turned around the negative culture that existed in Arizona for years. Last year’s playoffs are a distant memory for Carolina, which got just its second win last week. With their RB injuries, the Panthers have had to rely on an improving passing game. This is Arizona’s third trip to the East Coast in the past four weeks and that has to take a toll. PANTHERS.

Titans (NL at Jaguars: Tennessee QB Steve McNair’s questionable status keeps this game off the board early in the week. The Titans season may have realistically ended with the overtime loss on a safety last week to Chicago. This is the first of three straight divisional road games for Tennessee. Jacksonville defeated the Titans in the first meeting this year. Even with backup QB David Garrard, the Jags continue to play with confidence. JAGUARS.

49ers (+7) at Bucs (41½): San Francisco blew the chance for a rare victory when seeing a 17-0 lead vanish last week against Carolina in a 37-27 loss. Tampa also spotted its foe a 17-0 lead, but rallied within 17-14 in a 10-point loss at Atlanta. The Bucs are playing better over the last month and may catch the dispirited 49ers playing out the season. BUCS.

Broncos (-4) at Saints (47½): Denver is rested but has struggled on the road this season. The only impressive road win was in Oakland. New Orleans is clearly talented, evidenced in the upset of Kansas City last week. At 4-5, the Saints have five divisional games ahead and control their own destiny. SAINTS.

Dolphins (+9½) at Seahawks (37½): Miami finally made the long needed coaching change, which might pump some life for at least a week or two. The Dolphins are one of several teams that stay competitive in games because of their strong defense. Seattle’s offense has been stale of late and settling for field goals rather than touchdowns is a source of concern. UNDER.

Chargers (-3½) at Raiders (49): Both teams are rested and meet for the second time in three weeks. San Diego won the first matchup in a rout, 42-14. Both teams do have recent wins at Carolina, although the Chargers arguably played the better game. San Diego has the much better balanced offense, especially in the running game. As Pittsburgh showed last week, it is dangerous to buck a team on a roll. The Chargers have won five of the last six. All five were by double digits. CHARGERS.

Falcons (-1) at Giants (41): Atlanta came out of the bye with a solid win over division rival Tampa Bay. QB Mike Vick seems more comfortable in his new offense. The season may be unwinding for the Giants. Now there is talk of a QB change from Kurt Warner to Eli Manning. That can only be a distraction in the locker room. New York has lost three of its last four and was favored in each. FALCONS.

Redskins (NL) at Eagles: Heading into last Monday’s game at Dallas, the Eagles had failed to cover three straight games despite winning twice. Washington was unable to sustain momentum from its win in Detroit, falling behind 17-0 to Cincinnati. Joe Gibbs finally made a long overdue QB change. The Skins still play solid defense, while the offense is a work in progress. UNDER.

Packers (-3) at Texans (49): Green Bay has won and covered four straight to catch Minnesota atop the NFC North. Houston has now suffered two straight one sided losses, showing a lack of depth. Green Bay’s offense can match the Colts and that should make for another long evening for the Texans. But the Packers can be scored on. Look for a rare entertaining Sunday night game. OVER.

Monday, Nov. 22

Patriots (NL) at Chiefs: The injury to Kansas City RB Priest Holmes keeps this game off the boards early in the week. Holmes backup, Derrick Blaylock, rushed for 186 yards in the loss at New Orleans. The Patriots have two solid wins, following their loss in Pittsburgh. Both teams have big play capability. OVER.

Last week: 2-11

Season: 70-69-4