Some quick observations as we approach the midway point of the 2006 NFL season…
Most Valuable Player: Donovan McNabb, Philadelphia. This selection would have been a no-brainer before last week’s Eagles-Bucs game, but I still believe he is more valuable to his team right now than anyone else.
Coach of the Year: Tie – New Orleans’ Sean Payton and Chicago’s Lovie Smith. The Bears are playing better than anyone when you look at the whole picture. Payton has turned around a despondent franchise – immediately.
Most surprising player: Marques Colston, WR, New Orleans. Where did this guy come from?
Most disappointing player: Edgerrin James, RB, Arizona. I know it’s not all his fault, but he’s obviously not in his element unless Peyton Manning is handing off to him.
Most surprising team: New Orleans Saints. I thought the Saints would be improved because of the infusion of new personnel on offense. But Payton has them playing well on both sides of the ball.
Most disappointing team: Arizona Cardinals. Look, I realize I went out on an ill-advised limb predicting a division title for these guys. But look me in the eye and tell me you knew they’d be this bad.
On to Week 8…
2006 Prognosticating Statistics:
FOR THE SEASON: Straight-Up – 66-34 (66 percent); ATS – 49-44-7 (53 percent)
LAST WEEK: Straight-Up – 8-5; ATS – 8-5
OVER/UNDER: 53-46-1 for the season, 10-3 last week.
BALTIMORE (4-2) at NEW ORLEANS (5-1)
Line: Saints favored by 2½ (total points line is 36)
2006 Records Against-The-Spread: Ravens 3-3, Saints 5-1
Strongest Trend: Both teams combined have played 9 of 10 under the total following byes the last five years.
Last Meeting: The Saints won at Baltimore, 37-25, in 2002.
Ravens Status Report: Baltimore was off last week. A week ago Sunday, the Ravens lost at home to Carolina. They are tied for first in the AFC North with Cincinnati.
Saints Status Report: New Orleans was off last week. In Week 6, the Saints edged Philadelphia at home, 27-24. They lead the NFC South by a game over Atlanta.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR BALTIMORE – TE Todd Heap. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR BALTIMORE – WR Derrick Mason, K Matt Stover, Ravens defense. QUALITY STARTERS FOR NEW ORLEANS – QB Drew Brees, RB Deuce McAlister, WRs Joe Horn and Marques Colston, K John Carney. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR NEW ORLEANS – RB Reggie Bush, Saints defense.
Game Summary: Baltimore is banged up some, even coming off the bye week. QB Steve McNair is tentatively expected play, but whether he will be at 100 percent is anyone’s guess. The Saints are playing consistently well, and with confidence. They continue to get a lot of energy from their homefield crowds. The hosts take it.
Prediction: SAINTS, 20-14
ATLANTA (4-2) at CINCINNATI (4-2)
Line: Bengals favored by 4½ (total points line is 43½)
2006 Records Against-The-Spread: Falcons 4-2, Bengals 3-2-1
Strongest Trend: Including preseason games, Atlanta has won the last six meetings.
Last Meeting: The Falcons routed the visiting Bengals, 30-3, in 2002.
Falcons Status Report: In one of the most exciting games of the season, the Falcons edged Pittsburgh at home in overtime a week ago, 41-38. They trail New Orleans by a game in the NFC South.
Bengals Status Report: Cincinnati slipped past visiting Carolina on Sunday, 17-14, and are tied with Baltimore atop the AFC North.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR ATLANTA – QB Michael Vick, RB Warrick Dunn, TE Alge Crumpler. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR ATLANTA – WR Michael Jenkins, K Morton Andersen. QUALITY STARTERS FOR CINCINNATI – QB Carson Palmer, RB Rudi Johnson, WRs Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmanzadeh, K Shayne Graham. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR CINCINNATI - Bengals defense.
Game Summary: Many pundits forecast this to be a high-scoring contest, but I don’t see it that way. The Falcons rushing offense is likely to control the pace, with Michael Vick making some big plays but not as many as you might expect. Cincinnati’s defense has been better than advertised this season and, at home, figures to do a better job keeping Atlanta in check than Pittsburgh did last week at The Georgia Dome. With all that said, however, this game is my upset special – The Falcons diversified ground attack can effectively keep the Bengals’ offense off the field for longer stints, and Atlanta’s run defense is also decidedly better, at least statistically. And, heck, if Vick is suddenly an effective pocket passer as well, look out.
Prediction: FALCONS, 24-20
HOUSTON (2-4) at TENNESSEE (1-5)
Line: Titans favored by 3 (total points line is 42)
2006 Records Against-The-Spread: Texans 2-4, Titans 3-3
Strongest Trend: Every year has featured a season sweep by one or the other since the AFC South was formed in 2002.
Last Meeting: The Titans prevailed at home last December, 13-10.
Texans Status Report: Houston stunned visiting Jacksonville last week, 27-7, to move into sole possession of third place in the AFC South.
Titans Status Report: Tennessee was on a bye last week, but it was an enjoyable time off because the Titans were able to dwell on their 25-22 upset win at Washington in Week 6. The Titans are last in the AFC South, a game back of Houston.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR HOUSTON – QB David Carr, WR Andre Johnson. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR HOUSTON – RB Wali Lundy, K Kris Brown, Texans defense. QUALITY STARTERS FOR TENNESSEE – RB Travis Henry. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR TENNESSEE – QB Vince Young, Titans defense.
Game Summary: Houston will come into this one on a quite a high after its dismantling of Jacksonville, but the Titans are also coming off a victory as well as having an extra week to prepare for this one. The home team, highly motivated by its attempt to escape the division cellar, finds a way to get it done.
Prediction: TITANS, 23-16
JACKSONVILLE (3-3) at PHILADELPHIA (4-3)
Line: Eagles favored by 6 (total points line is 43)
2006 Records Against-The-Spread: Jaguars 3-2-1, Eagles 4-3
Strongest Trend: The Jaguars have won both previous meetings.
Last Meeting: Jacksonville defeated the visiting Eagles, 28-25, in 2002.
Jaguars Status Report: Jacksonville got clobbered at Houston a week ago, 27-7, to fall three games behind Indianapolis in the AFC South.
Eagles Status Report: Matt Bryant’s 62-yard field goal as time expired lifted Tampa Bay over the visiting Eagles Sunday, 23-21. Philly is second in the NFC East, a half-game behind the New York Giants.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR JACKSONVILLE – none. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR JACKSONVILLE – QB Byron Leftwich, RB Fred Taylor, WR Reggie Williams, Jaguars defense. QUALITY STARTERS FOR PHILADELPHIA – QB Donovan McNabb, RB Brian Westbrook, Eagles defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR PHILADELPHIA – WRs Donte’ Stallworth (check health status) and Reggie Brown, TE L.J. Smith, K David Akers.
Game Summary: Obviously, the Jaguars are a much better team than they showed at Houston. But being out on the road again this week, against a decidedly better team in Philadelphia, doesn’t bode well for the present. The Eagles nearly overcame several mistakes to win at Tampa last week. At home, they will play better.
Prediction: EAGLES, 21-13
SEATTLE (4-2) at KANSAS CITY (3-3)
Line: Chiefs favored by 6 (total points line is 38½)
2006 Records Against-The-Spread: Seahawks 2-4, Chiefs 3-2-1
Strongest Trend: The Chiefs have covered ATS in eight of their last nine home games.
Last Meeting: The Seahawks held off visiting Kansas City for a 39-32 triumph in 2002.
Seahawks Status Report: Seattle was buried at home by Minnesota a week ago, 31-13, losing starting QB Matt Hasselbeck in the process.
Chiefs Status Report: Kansas City edged San Diego at home, 30-27. The Chiefs are third in the AFC West, two games behind front-running Denver.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR SEATTLE – none. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR SEATTLE – RB Maurice Morris, WRs Deion Branch and Darrell Jackson, K Josh Brown. QUALITY STARTERS FOR KANSAS CITY – RB Larry Johnson, TE Tony Gonzalez, Chiefs defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR KANSAS CITY – QB Damon Huard, WR Eddie Kennison, K Lawrence Tynes.
Game Summary: Undoubtedly, the Seahawks will try to play ball-control with a mixture of short Seneca Wallace passes and runs by Maurice Morris. Say what? Who? The Chiefs will win decisively behind Larry Johnson.
Prediction: CHIEFS, 28-14
TAMPA BAY (2-4) at NEW YORK GIANTS (4-2)
Line: Giants favored by 9 (total points line is 41)
2006 Records Against-The-Spread: Buccaneers 4-2, Giants 4-2
Strongest Trend: The last eight meetings, going back more than 20 years, have all gone under the total.
Last Meeting: The Bucs won at home, 19-13, in 2003.
Buccaneers Status Report: Tampa Bay did the Giants a favor last week by edging visiting Philadelphia, 23-21, on a last-second 62-yard field goal. The Bucs remain last in the NFC South, however.
Giants Status Report: The Giants throttled host Dallas on Monday night, 36-22, to take over first place in the NFC East. The Giants have won four straight.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR TAMPA BAY – RB Carnell Williams. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR TAMPA BAY – WR Joey Galloway, TE Alex Smith. QUALITY STARTERS FOR NY GIANTS – QB Eli Manning, RB Tiki Barber, WR Plaxico Burress, TE Jeremy Shockey, K Jay Feely, Giants defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR NY GIANTS – WR Amani Toomer.
Game Summary: While the Giants do figure to win this contest at home, the numbers suggest it might be closer than the standings suggest. Tampa Bay is playing everyone tough these days, beating Philly last week and nearly knocking off New Orleans on the road earlier this month. The Bucs cover the hefty spread.
Prediction: GIANTS, 23-17
SAN FRANCISCO (2-4) at CHICAGO (6-0)
Line: Bears favored by 16½ (total points line is 42½)
2006 Records Against-The-Spread: 49ers 3-3, Bears 4-1-1
Strongest Trend: The home team has won the last 11 meetings.
Last Meeting: The Bears won at home, 17-9, last November.
49ers Status Report: San Francisco was off last week after getting drilled on its home field by San Diego in Week 6.
Bears Status Report: Chicago was off in Week 7, after having rallied to beat Arizona on the road in the previous Monday nighter during which the offense failed to score a TD.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR SAN FRANCISCO – none. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR SAN FRANCISCO – RB Frank Gore. QUALITY STARTERS FOR CHICAGO – QB Rex Grossman, RB Thomas Jones, WRs Muhsin Muhammad and Bernard Berrian, TE Desmond Clark (check injury status), K Robbie Gould, Bears defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR CHICAGO – Just about any Bears not listed as quality starters.
Game Summary: Of course, this game is a lopsided affair on paper. And you know what? It will be.
Prediction: BEARS, 30-7
ARIZONA (1-6) at GREEN BAY (2-4)
Line: Packers favored by 3½ (total points line is 44½)
2006 Records Against-The-Spread: Cardinals 1-5-1, Packers 2-4
Strongest Trend: The Packers are 0-3 ATS at home this season.
Last Meeting: The Cardinals won at home, 20-13, in 2003.
Cardinals Status Report: Arizona’s 22-9 loss at Oakland a week ago was the Cardinals’ six in a row.
Packers Status Report: Green Bay surprised Miami on the road, 34-24, and is third in the NFC North.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR ARIZONA – QB Matt Leinart, WRs Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald (check injury status). MARGINAL STARTERS FOR ARIZONA – RB Edgerrin James, K Neil Rackers. QUALITY STARTERS FOR GREEN BAY – QB Brett Favre, RB Ahman Green, WRs Donald Driver and Greg Jennings (check injury status), K David Rayner. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR GREEN BAY – Packers defense.
Game Summary: Green Bay ain’t what it used to be, but this game is at Lambeau Field in late October, meaning the temperature could dip significantly. Consider this: Would you want to bet on a warm-climate team on a six-game skid going on to the Frozen Tundra to oppose Brett Favre? Me, neither.
Prediction: PACKERS, 31-24
ST. LOUIS (4-2) at SAN DIEGO (4-2)
Line: Chargers favored by 9 (total points line is 45)
2006 Records Against-The-Spread: Rams 4-1-1, Chargers 4-2
Strongest Trend: The home team has won the last six meetings.
Last Meeting: The Rams beat the Chargers at home, 28-24, in 2002.
Rams Status Report: St. Louis was off last week, after having fallen at home to Seattle the previous weekend, 30-28. The Rams are tied with the Seahawks atop the NFC West.
Chargers Status Report: San Diego lost at Kansas City last Sunday, 30-27. The Chargers trail Denver by a game in the AFC West.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR ST. LOUIS – QB Marc Bulger, WR Torry Holt. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR ST. LOUIS – RB Stephen Jackson, WR Isaac Bruce, K Jeff Wilkins. QUALITY STARTERS FOR SAN DIEGO – RB LaDainian Tomlinson, TE Antonio Gates, K Nate Kaeding. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR SAN DIEGO – QB Phillip Rivers, WRs Keenan McCardell and Eric Parker, Chargers defense.
Game Summary: Assuming weather cooperation, there’s likely to be plenty of points scored in this one. The Rams have had extra time to prepare, but the Bolts will be fired up to rebound from last week’s setback at KC. Look for a first-rate effort from the hosts.
Prediction: CHARGERS, 35-20
NEW YORK JETS (4-3) at CLEVELAND (1-5)
Line: Browns favored by 2 (total points line is 38)
2006 Records Against-The-Spread: Jets 5-2, Browns 2-4
Strongest Trends: The last nine Jets games against conference opponents have gone over the total.
Last Meeting: The Jets prevailed at Cleveland, 10-7, in 2004.
Jets Status Report: New York whipped visiting Detroit a week ago, 31-24, and is second in the AFC East, 1½ games behind New England.
Browns Status Report: Cleveland lost at home to Denver, 17-7.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR NY JETS – WR Laveranues Coles. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR NY JETS – QB Chad Pennington, RBs Leon Washington and Kevan Barlow, WRs Justin McCareins and Jericho Cotchery, Jets defense. QUALITY STARTERS FOR CLEVELAND – RB Reuben Droughns, TE Kellen Winslow. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR CLEVELAND – QB Charlie Frye, WRs Joe Jurevicius and Braylon Edwards, Browns defense.
Game Summary: Someone please explain to me how a 4-3 club can be an underdog to a team with just one win in six games? Do the oddsmakers really believe the Browns will get that much action just because they’re at home. Maybe I’m falling for a sucker’s play, but if you’re going to give me points, I take the Jets all day long and twice on Sunday.
Prediction: JETS, 16-13
INDIANAPOLIS (6-0) at DENVER (5-1)
Line: Broncos favored by 3 (total points line is 39)
2006 Records Against-The-Spread: Colts 3-2-1, Broncos 3-3
Strongest Trend: The Broncos are 8-2 ATS in their last 10 against teams with winning records.
Last Meeting: The Colts won easily at home, 49-24, during last year’s playoffs.
Colts Status Report: Indianapolis pulled away from visiting Washington Sunday for a 36-22 victory, running its winning streak to six. The Colts lead the AFC South by a comfortable three games.
Broncos Status Report: Denver won its fifth in a row, 17-7 at Cleveland, and leads the AFC West by a game.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR INDIANAPOLIS – QB Peyton Manning, WRs Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, Colts defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR INDIANAPOLIS – TE Dallas Clark. QUALITY STARTERS FOR DENVER – RB Tatum Bell, WRs Javon Walker and Rod Smith, Broncos defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR DENVER – QB Jake Plummer, K Jason Elam.
Game Summary: Truly a battle of the irresistible force (Indianapolis offense) against the immovable object (Denver’s D). The wild-card factor here may be the weather, but even if it turns out to be a pleasant day a mile above sea level, the host Broncos should have the edge. Typically, a good defense can trump a good offense (sort of like good pitching beats good hitting), and when that stingy D also has homefield advantage, playing on grass against an artificial turf visitor, I’m sold.
Prediction: BRONCOS, 21-17
PITTSBURGH (2-4) at OAKLAND (1-5)
Line: Steelers favored by 9 (total points line is 38½)
2006 Records Against-The-Spread: Steelers 2-4, Raiders 2-3-1
Strongest Trend: The Raiders are just 6-21 ATS in their last 27 conference games.
Last Meeting: The Steelers prevailed at home, 24-21, in September of 2004.
Steelers Status Report: The defending champs lost Sunday for the fourth time in five games, 41-38 at Atlanta in overtime. The Steelers are third in the AFC North, two games behind co-leaders Baltimore and Cincinnati.
Raiders Status Report: Oakland was the last club to get off the schneid this season, besting visiting Arizona, 22-9, for its first victory.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR PITTSBURGH – RB Willie Parker, WR Hines Ward, TE Heath Miller, Steelers defense. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR PITTSBURGH – QB Ben Roethlisberger or Charlie Batch (check injury status of Roethlisberger to determine who starts), WRs Santonio Holmes and Nate Washington, K Jeff Reed. QUALITY STARTERS FOR OAKLAND – WR Randy Moss. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR OAKLAND – RB Justin Fargas (check Lamont Jordan’s health status), K Sebastian Janikowski.
Game Summary: The Steelers – at full strength – are the far superior team. But with Big Ben banged up and the defense not playing particularly well, this game could actually be interesting. Oakland still isn’t very good – beating the woeful Cardinals at home doesn’t really prove much – but the Raiders have established a little momentum now and I’ve been maintaining they’re not as bad as the numbers have indicated. At home, Oakland keeps it close.
Prediction: STEELERS, 20-13
DALLAS (3-3) at CAROLINA (4-3)
Line: Panthers favored by 5 (total points line is 41)
2006 Records Against-The-Spread: Cowboys 3-3, Panthers 1-4-2
Strongest Trend: The Cowboys have won five of the last six meetings.
Last Meeting: Dallas posted a 24-20 victory at Carolina last Christmas Eve.
Cowboys Status Report: Dallas got busted it up on its own turf by the New York Giants Monday night, losing 36-22. The Cowboys are third in the NFC East, a game behind the Giants.
Panthers Status Report: Carolina lost at Cincinnati a week ago, 17-14. The Panthers are third in the NFC South, a game and a half back of New Orleans.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR DALLAS – RB Julius Jones, WRs Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR DALLAS – TE Jason Witten, K Mike Vanderjagt, Cowboys defense. QUALITY STARTERS FOR CAROLINA – QB Jake Delhomme, RB DeShaun Foster, WR Steve Smith, K John Kasay. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR CAROLINA – WR Keyshawn Johnson, Panthers defense.
Game Summary: Dallas has had a fair amount of success in this series, and coach Bill Parcells has a way of getting the most from his troops when they’re reeling. But the QB controversy that has emerged, and Dallas’ poor effort Monday plus a short week to prepare… renders a decision for the host Cats in a close game.
Prediction: PANTHERS, 23-20
NEW ENGLAND (5-1) at MINNESOTA (4-2)
Line: Patriots favored by 2 (total points line is 38½)
2006 Records Against-The-Spread: Patriots 3-2-1, Vikings 4-1-1
Strongest Trend: none.
Last Meeting: The Patriots won at home in 2002, 24-17.
Patriots Status Report: New England cruised at Buffalo Sunday, 28-6, and leads the AFC East by a game and a half.
Vikings Status Report: Minnesota shocked Seattle on the road, 31-13, and is second in the NFC North, two games back of Chicago.
Fantasy Summary: QUALITY STARTERS FOR NEW ENGLAND – QB Tom Brady, WR Doug Gabriel, TE Ben Watson. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR NEW ENGLAND – RBs Corey Dillon and Laurence Maroney, K Stephen Gostkowski, Patriots defense. QUALITY STARTERS FOR MINNESOTA – RB Chester Taylor, K Ryan Longwell. MARGINAL STARTERS FOR MINNESOTA – QB Brad Johnson, WR Marcus Robinson, Vikings defense.
Game Summary: If this was a series, instead of a single game, I’d feel strongly about an eventual Patriots victory. But in this individual Monday night clash, the Vikings are the choice. Here’s why: The Vikes come in with tremendous momentum after their conquest of defending NFC titlist Seattle on the road. They are at home as a Monday night ‘dog. And, Minnesota needs the game more. As good as the Patriots are, this contest isn’t as crucial. They’re on the road, and are clearly the best team in their division. There just isn’t any real sense of urgency for them here. Even well-coached teams endure the occasional emotional flat spot.
Prediction: VIKINGS, 24-14