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NFL Between the 20s

   by ASA - 12/09/2006

Highest Total
According to the Sports Books: New Orleans at Dallas (48 total).

In Reality: Green Bay at San Francisco. This contest will, more than likely, be the only one during the entire season in which the NFL’s two worst scoring defenses go up against each other. Green Bay is last in the league with 27 points allowed per game while San Francisco is 31st at 26.6 surrendered per outing. The Packers have allowed at least 34 points in three straight games and have failed to contain both the run and the pass. The 49er defense had been playing better recently before reverting to its old ways in giving up 34 points to New Orleans. Green Bay has played better on the road this season while San Francisco has played its best ball at home. Both of these squads should put up big numbers. The odds-makers dropped the ball on this total as these two squads could easily combine for a very large number of points.

Lowest Total
According to the Sports Books: Cleveland at Pittsburgh (33 total).

In Reality: Chicago at St. Louis. This matchup will be a battle of ineptitude as Chicago QB Rex Grossman takes on the St. Louis defense. Grossman has been an absolute eyesore for football fans everywhere over his past five games as he has completed just 46 percent of his passes while turning the ball over 12 times (10 interceptions and two fumbles). Meanwhile the Ram stop unit has stopped no one as it has fallen to 28th in the NFL in scoring defense and 23rd in total offense. But I’m going with the St. Louis defense in this matchup for one reason: turnovers. Grossman is good at committing them and the Rams are good at forcing them as they are seventh in the league with 24 forced turnovers.

Largest Spread
According to the Sports Books: Cincinnati (-11) vs. Oakland.

In Reality: Seattle (-3.5) at Arizona. The Seahawks began their run at defending their NFC crown two weeks ago on Monday night against the Packers and will continue this weekend against the Cardinals. Seattle was impressive in back-to-back wins over Green Bay and Denver and should be able to put a hurting on Arizona. Shaun Alexander has looked good in his return to the lineup with an average of 145 rushing yards in his last two outings. He should find continued success against a Cardinal stop unit that surrenders more than 120 yards on the ground per game. The Seahawks know they still have a chance of receiving a first-round bye in the playoffs. They are tied with Dallas for the second-best record in the NFC and Chicago is starting to show signs of weakness. A strong finish could secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with Arizona providing only a minor hurdle.

Most Impactful Injury
Al Wilson’s Neck: The Broncos are faltering down the stretch and the loss of starting middle linebacker and defensive quarterback Al Wilson will not help matters. Wilson is currently listed as questionable with a neck injury suffered last week. His injury could not have come at a worse time as Denver heads west to take on AFC West leader San Diego. The Chargers, behind MVP candidate LaDainian Tomlinson, are the league’s second-ranked rushing team. Tomlinson torched the Broncos for 179 total yards and four scores in the first matchup and could do even more damage with Wilson, Denver’s leading tackler, potentially sidelined for the game.

Most Glaring Mismatch
Minnesota run defense vs. Detroit run offense: These two units are at the opposite ends of their respective spectrums. The Vikings own by far and away the league’s best run defense at less than 58 rushing yards allowed per game, more than 17 yards less than the next closest team. Minnesota hasn’t allowed more than 85 rushing yards to a single team in 10 weeks, including holding Detroit to just 16 yards in Week 5. The Vikings’ up-front dominance should continue this week as the Lions are 31st in the NFL at less than 77 rushing yards per game. Detroit running back Kevin Jones has tallied just 108 rushing yards combined in his last three outings and should find little daylight against the Minnesota front seven.

Most Important Player(s)
Indianapolis running backs Joseph Addai and Dominic Rhodes: San Diego has turned up the heat on the Colts so Indy will need good performances from running backs Addai and Rhodes this weekend if it is to keep pace with the streaking Chargers. The Colts have lost two of their last three and a lack of a consistent running game is part of the problem. Indy has averaged just 94 rushing yards in its two losses with neither Addai nor Rhodes going over 56 yards. Sandwiched between those two losses was a convincing 45-21 win over Philly in which the Colts ran for 237 yards and four touchdowns. If Indy can get a performance anywhere near that of the Philly game, it will have a fighting chance against the Jags this weekend. That’ll be easier said than done, though, as Jacksonville is fifth in the NFL in run defense and is allowing a measly 73 yards per game on the ground at home.

Potential ATS Upset of the Week
Baltimore (+3) over Kansas City: Both of these AFC squads are in a war for playoff positioning with Baltimore battling San Diego, Indy and New England for a first-round bye while Kansas City is in a heated race for a wild card spot. The Ravens are the superior team, though, and could pull off an upset. They suffered a minor hiccup with their road loss to Cincinnati last week but they’ll rebound this week. Prior to the loss to the Bengals, Baltimore was averaging nearly 28 points a game in its previous five contests as Brian Billick’s play-calling has done wonders for the offense. Additionally, the Ravens own the league’s second-ranked run defense and should be able to slow Kansas City’s primary offensive weapon, Larry Johnson. Johnson has never squared off against Baltimore’s feared front seven and could be in for a long day. The Ravens are 8-4 (67%) SU and ATS in their last 12 games as road dogs of three points or less and, within that same scenario, are 11-4 (73%) ATS when their foe is coming off a SU ATS loss. The Chiefs dropped a heartbreaker to the Browns last week and could very easily lose their second straight against a tough Baltimore squad.

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