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Between the 20s

   by ASA - 12/17/2006

Highest Total
According to the Sports Books: Cincinnati at Indianapolis (54.5 total).

In Reality: Cincinnati at Indianapolis. This game has all the potential to match the offensive output of Cincinnati’s earlier 49-41 contest with San Diego. The Colts, fifth in the NFL in scoring, and the Bengals, sixth in scoring, combine to average more than 50 points a game but they should score even more in this meeting. You can bet that Peyton Manning has put in even more preparation time this week following consecutive losses. Another loss and Indy is looking at losing its once seemingly secure first-round bye. Manning can’t expect a whole lot of help from his defense. The Colts gave up 44 points last week to Jacksonville and own the league’s worst run defense by more than 21 yards per game. Last week’s debacle could force Indy to put eight in the box in order to stop the run but that will only allow Cincy QB Carson Palmer to pick apart the secondary with help from Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmanzadeh. Playoff seeding is on the line in this one so look for both offenses to come out firing.

Lowest Total
According to the Sports Books: Tampa Bay at Chicago (33 total).

In Reality: Miami at Buffalo. This matchup will be a true AFC East battle. After slow starts to the season for both of these squads, they have fought back to 6-7 records with outside chances of making the playoffs. While these chances are slim, that won’t affect how hard both of these teams come out to play. The Dolphins, behind the great play of Jason Taylor, have climbed to second in the NFL in total defense and fifth in scoring defense. On the other sideline, Buffalo has won four of its last six with strong defensive play paving the way. The Bills held normally high-scoring Indy and San Diego offenses in check, keeping them nine and eight points below their respective averages. Look for Buffalo’s Aaron Schobel, tops in the NFL with 12.5 sacks, and Miami’s Taylor, third in the league with 11.5 sacks, to wreak havoc on the opposition’s backfield and lead their defenses to strong showings.

Largest Spread
According to the Sports Books: Chicago (-13.5) vs. Tampa Bay.

In Reality: Baltimore (-11) at Cleveland. This one could get ugly in a hurry. The Ravens own mismatches all over the field that will lead them to an easy win and keep them in the hunt for a first-round bye come playoff time. Baltimore and Cleveland are at opposite ends of the NFL’s defensive rankings, with the Ravens topping the league with just 268 yards allowed per game while the Browns are 30th in the league at nearly 355 yards surrendered a contest. The Baltimore offense, which struggled to open the season, has rebounded to score 20 or more points in seven of the last eight games, averaging 25.7 points during that stretch. Meanwhile, Cleveland’s starting QB is still undecided but it won’t really matter. The Browns are 29th in the NFL in total offense and 30th in scoring. Additionally, Cleveland head coach Romeo Crennel is just 1-10 SU against the AFC North and has lost by an average of 15.6 points.

Most Impactful Injury
Jake Delhomme’s thumb: Carolina’s season is slowly circling down the drain following three straight losses and Delhomme's absence for a second consecutive week could be the proverbial nail in the coffin. Delhomme, who is partly to blame for Carolina’s disappointing season, sat out last week and backup Chris Weinke proceeded to turn the ball over three times. That total could double if Weinke has to go up against a Pittsburgh defense that has forced 24 turnovers this season. The Steelers have allowed only 10 points – all in garbage time – the last two weeks and will feast on the Panthers if Delhomme, who is currently listed as questionable, is sidelined.

Most Glaring Mismatch
Tampa Bay QB Bruce Gradkowski vs. Chicago defense: Since the Chicago-Tampa game more than likely won’t be that close, the more interesting bet might be the over-under on when Tampa head coach Jon Gruden decides to bench Gradkowski. After a promising start, the rookie quarterback from Toledo has fallen on hard times, leading the Bucs to just 19 points in the last three games while turning the ball over six times. Chicago is second in the NFL in scoring defense and third in total defense while topping the league with 40 forced turnovers. Gradkowski was pulled last week in favor of Tim Rattay so it should be interesting to see how fast he gets the hook this week. I’d look for Rattay after the first Buccaneer series of the second half.

Most Important Player(s)
Jets quarterback Chad Pennington: This sixth-year quarterback out of Marshall will need to have one of the best outings of his season this weekend if the Jets are to remain in the playoff hunt. The Viking front seven has been an absolute wall against the run this year, holding opposing runners to just 54 yards a game, far and away the lowest total in the NFL. Minnesota has been susceptible to big passing games, though, and Pennington will need to have one. He has shown the ability for big outings with four games over 250 yards passing and has capable wideouts in Laveranues Coles and Jerricho Cotchery. He’ll have to put together another strong effort in order to keep his team in the hunt for the postseason.

Potential ATS Upset of the Week
Philadelphia (+5.5) over New York Giants: This game has the stench of revenge hovering all around it after Philly blew a 24-7 fourth-quarter lead to the Giants in Week 2. The Eagles will want to serve up a little payback in this meeting. These teams have identical 7-6 SU and 6-6-1 ATS records but with its Week 2 win, New York currently owns the tiebreaker over Philly for a spot in the playoffs. The Eagles know they need to win this game to better secure a spot in the postseason. They haven’t let the injury to Donovan McNabb completely derail their season as Jeff Garcia’s play has conjured up thoughts of his Pro Bowl years in San Francisco. Garcia has thrown for 476 yards and five touchdowns the last two weeks in leading Philly to two wins. Additionally, this game could very well come down to coaching and Andy Reid has proven over time to be a much better coach than Tom Coughlin. The Eagles have the potential to exact that previously mentioned measure of revenge, and in doing so, would keep their playoff hopes alive.

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