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Between the 20s in the NFL

   by ASA - 10/08/2006

Highest Total
According to the Sports Books: Tennessee at Indianapolis (48 total).

In Reality: Washington at New York Giants (45 total). It’s real tempting to agree with the odds-makers and go the Indianapolis-Tennessee route. But we see the Colts getting a big lead over the Titans early and calling off the dogs in the fourth quarter. The Redskin offense is coming around after a slow start – finally seeming to grasp offensive coordinator Al Saunders’ extensive playbook – as it has scored 67 points the last two weeks. Meanwhile, the Washington defense gave up 30 points to a soft Jacksonville offense last week and has to face a much more potent New York offense this week. The Giants are fifth in the league at 27 points a game and have had two weeks to prepare for the Redskin defense. The Giant Stadium scoreboard could have its work cut out for itself Sunday.

Lowest Total
According to the Sports Books: Baltimore at Denver (33 total).

In Reality: Pittsburgh at San Diego (37.5 total). The Charger offense was nearly unstoppable in its first two games but slowed down considerably when it had to face a top-notch defense like Baltimore’s last week. San Diego was held to just 13 points by the Ravens and will be hard-pressed to top that against the stout Steeler stop unit. In Pittsburgh, the offense has struggled since Ben Roethlisberger’s return, averaging just 10 points while turning the ball over seven times. The Chargers have the second-best run defense in the league so they’ll take away Willie Parker, which means Roethlisberger will have to make plays. He won’t be able to – and neither will Charger QB Philip Rivers – so this game looks to be a low-scoring affair.

Largest Spread
According to the Sports Books: Indianapolis (-18) vs. Tennessee

In Reality: Chicago (-10) vs. Buffalo. As it was stated earlier, it’s hard not to go with the inevitable Colt blowout of Tennessee. But again, Indianapolis will get such a big lead early, that it will bring in the backups in the fourth quarter and Vince Young and the Titans will put some meaningless points on the board to make the game closer than it actually was. Chicago is playing better than any team in the league right now and boasts an average margin of victory of nearly 22 points, including a 31-point win over the defending NFC Champion Seahawks. The Bears should win by at least that much against the Bills. A majority of Buffalo’s offense comes from Willis McGahee but the Bears will shut him down and force J.P. Losman to make plays, which never bodes well for the Bills. Rex Grossman and the Bear offense will continue to thrive and combine with the defense for another potential blowout win.

Most Impactful Injury
Brian Westbrook’s knee: Westbrook’s absence in Philly’s 31-9 win over Green Bay was very noticeable despite the large margin of victory. Westbrook’s replacement, Correll Buckhalter, fumbled twice near the goal line last week, costing the Eagles a possible 14 points. Philly can’t afford to lose those points against a much better Cowboy squad. Westbrook hasn’t been ruled completely out for Sunday’s game but he’s enough of a difference-maker – he leads the league with five touchdowns despite missing a game – that his presence, or lack thereof, could be the difference between a win and a loss.

Most Glaring Mismatch
Matt Leinart vs. Kansas City defense: It almost seems unfair that Leinart has to make his first NFL start against the league’s second-ranked pass defense. The Kansas City pass defense is allowing less than 122 yards a game and held Carson Palmer and Jake Plummer, who were both Pro Bowlers last season, to a combined 300 passing yards. Leinart has one of the best trios of wideouts in the league at his disposal and the home crowd on his side but the Chiefs will keep constant pressure on him and throw numerous defensive looks his way, making his starting debut a rough one.

Most Important Player
Ben Roethlisberger: One of the primary reasons that the Steelers and Big Ben have been so successful the past two years has been Roethlisberger’s efficient quarterbacking. He has completed a high percentage of his passes and limited his turnovers. That has not been the case this season as he has completed less than 50 percent of his passes and has thrown five interceptions compared to zero touchdowns. The Charger defense will be gunning for him and will try to shake him up early. If the Steelers are to come away with a win, Big Ben will need to be patient and take what the defense gives him and let the running game and defense take care of the rest. If Roethlisberger continues to play poorly, Pittsburgh will fall to 1-3 and it will be increasingly difficult to repeat as Super Bowl champions.

Most Influential Unit
New York Giants offense: The foremost characteristic of the Giant offense has been its inconsistency. It has struggled in the first half of its last two games, only to come alive in the second half. The New York locker room saw its share of controversy over the last two weeks, highlighted by the Jeremy Shockey blowup. Shockey always seems to play better following one of his patented rants and Plaxico Burress has recovered from a back injury that apparently hindered his play against Seattle. The New York defense, despite its offseason makeover, has yet to produce any positive results as it has allowed an average of over 30 points a game. Eli Manning, along with running backs Tiki Barber and Brandon Jacobs and the improved play of Shockey and Burress, will need to put together a full 60-minute effort if they are to down NFC East rival Washington.

Potential Upset of the Week
Tampa Bay (+6.5) over NEW ORLEANS: Could the start of Bruce Gradkowski’s career resemble that of a certain three-time Super Bowl champion by the name of Tom Brady? Gradkowski, also a sixth-round draft pick, will take over for starting quarterback Chris Simms much the same way Brady took over for an injured Drew Bledsoe once upon a time. Gradkowski played as good as any quarterback in the league during the preseason and Jon Gruden has had two weeks to prepare his rookie quarterback for his first career start in the NFL. Can this young QB resurrect the Bucs season the same way Bledsoe did years ago? We’ll have to wait and see. The bye week has also allowed numerous Buccaneers to recover from nagging injuries, leaving them refreshed for their battle against the Saints. New Orleans has been the feel-good story of the year in the NFL so far but its bubble burst last week at Carolina. The Saints’ second home game won’t have near the anticipation or emotion surrounding it so that same energy that propelled them to a win over the Falcons won’t be there this time around. The Tampa defense will keep this game close and Gradkowski will do just enough to not lose the game. This is a potentially great spot for Tampa Bay to pick up its first “Wâ€쳌 of the season.

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