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Between the 20s in the NFL

   by ASA - 10/15/2006

Highest Total
According to the Sports Books: Philadelphia at New Orleans (46 total).

In Reality: Cincinnati at Tampa Bay (42.5 total). The Bengals have one of the most dangerous offenses in football and hoped the defense would show a dramatic improvement from last year. It hasn’t. Cincy has allowed 25 points a game in its last three contests and faces a tough test from a rejuvenated Tampa offense. Rookie QB Bruce Gradkowski showed the ability the make all the throws in nearly leading the Bucs to an upset of New Orleans and Cadillac Williams returned to his 2005 form with 111 yards on just 20 carries. Unfortunately for Tampa, its defense isn’t what it once was. The Bucs are allowing nearly 23 points a game and have yet to square off against an offense with the weapons the Bengals possess. Cincy has had a week to prepare so expect the offense to come out firing.

Lowest Total
According to the Sports Books: Carolina at Baltimore (33.5 total).

In Reality: Miami at New York Jets (36 total). This game has all the makings of a potential stinker. The Dolphins have been one of the biggest disappointments in football this year and are starting Joey Harrington at quarterback. Yes, that Joey Harrington. Miami is averaging just over 12 points a contest and have gone under the total its last four outings. The Jets are coming off a 41-0 blowout loss to the Jags, marking just the fifth time they’ve been shutout since 1980. In the previous four instances, they lost their next game three times and averaged just 15 points in those losses. Look for a similar low-scoring output as the ‘Phins are allowing under 16 points a game in their last four contests.

Largest Spread
According to the Sports Books: Denver (-15) vs. Oakland

In Reality: San Diego (-10) at SAN FRANCISCO. These two squads have met eight times since 1982 and the average margin of victory in those games has been over 18 points a game. The Chargers have already blown out one Bay area team – blanking Oakland 27-0 on the road – and should do the same against the lowly 49ers. San Francisco relies on the running of Frank Gore to open up the passing game for Alex Smith but Gore will find little running room against San Diego’s top-ranked run defense. LaDainian Tomlinson and the second-ranked Charger running attack should be in store for a big day as the 49ers are allowing over 126 rushing yards a game. On top of that, QB Philip Rivers has proven to be more than capable of leading this team week after week. This game has the potential to end up somewhere in between San Diego’s 27-0 blanking of Oakland and its 40-7 thrashing of Tennessee.

Most Impactful Injury
Larry Fitzgerald’s hamstring: Fitzgerald’s presence more than likely wouldn’t have made a difference in the outcome against the Bears but it sure would’ve made life easier for Matt Leinart. Fitzgerald’s absence allows Chicago to concentrate solely on Anquan Boldin and limits Leinart’s options. With Fitzgerald in the lineup, the Cards at least had a chance to cover the 10-point spread, but without him, it will be much, much more difficult.

Most Glaring Mismatch
Denver defense vs. Oakland offense: This is an easy one. This contest pits Oakland’s last-ranked scoring offense against Denver’s second-ranked scoring defense. The Raiders are scoring less than 12 points a game and the Broncos are allowing just 8.5 points a contest. If it somehow becomes possible, Oakland may score negative points in this one. Whatever scrub starts at QB, whether it’s Andrew Walter of Marques Tuiasosopo, will be sacked numerous times and commit a handful of turnovers. LaMont Jordan will find zero running space. And Randy Moss will lackadaisically walk through another game.

Most Important Player
Deuce McAllister: The surprising 4-1 Saints go up against the 4-1 Eagles this week with each team looking to get a leg up on their division foes with a win. Drew Brees has been everything New Orleans had hoped for when it invested $60 million in him and Reggie Bush has provided the team with the multi-dimensional attack the team envisioned when it made him the second pick in the NFL draft. But if the Saints want to defeat a Philly team that is winning by an average margin of 16 points, they’ll need a big rushing effort from McAllister. Donovan McNabb and the Eagles are second in the league in points scored so a consistent running game would control the clock and keep the Philly offense off the field. Bush has done most of his damage in the passing game so McAllister will have to carry the load on the ground. He is averaging 76 rushing yards a game on nearly five yards a carry with a team-high four scores. If McAllister can eclipse the century mark on the ground, it would go a long way toward New Orleans not only covering the 3.5-point spread, but winning outright.

Potential Upset of the Week
ST. LOUIS (+3) over Seattle: This game has the potential of marking the changing of the guard in the NFC West. The Rams have surprised many with their 4-1 start and a win over the Seahawks would solidify them as a legitimate threat. Marc Bulger has been stellar so far with seven touchdowns and a 97.2 quarterback rating and is the lone starter to have not thrown an interception yet this season. Meanwhile, Matt Hasselbeck has struggled this season as he has nearly matched last year’s interception total of nine with seven already. He hasn’t been helped by Seattle’s lack of running game, which makes this offense one-dimensional. For St. Louis, Steven Jackson has received the consistent carries he was hoping for and has responded with a league-high 465 rushing yards. The Ram defense leads the league with 15 forced turnovers, and combined with Bulger’s efficient passing and Jackson’s zero fumbles, St. Louis tops all of football with a +12 turnover ratio. Look for defensive end Leonard Little to provide constant pressure on Hasselbeck with the Ram secondary improving on its eight interceptions. This is a statement game for St. Louis, and with the home crowd on its side, it will come out with an abundance of emotion. The Rams will be looking to take control of the NFC West and may just do so.

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