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NFL Stretch Run

   by Al McMordie - 12/17/2005

We have reached the stretch run of the NFL season. Some teams are fighting for playoff positioning, while others are fighting for positioning in the NFL draft! Here are some notes on the upcoming NFL weekend.

Chargers at Colts: Coach Marty Schottenheimer loves to keep games close. Unfortunately, that cost him in January with a crushing playoff loss at home to the Jets, and five losses this season by a total of 14 points. They certainly have the offense to hang with the unbeaten Colts. QB Drew Brees ranks fourth in the NFL in passer rating, at 92.9. He has thrown for 3,092 yards and 22 touchdowns with 12 interceptions. He is on pace to pass for 3,800 yards and become the second player in franchise history to surpass 3,500 (Dan Fouts). San Diego is a remarkable 9-5 SU, 11-1-2 ATS its last 14 road games! The problem for San Diego is that it has three must-win games in a row, at Indianapolis, at Kansas City (8-5) and at home with Denver (10-3). That's a combined record of 31-8! "We'll just kind of take it one at a time these last three," Brees said. "They're definitely must wins if we want to control our own destiny." A year ago, the Colts rallied from a 15-point deficit late to beat San Diego 34-31 in overtime as a 7-point favorite on this field. This one has all the makings of a good, and potentially great, game – again.

Browns at Raiders: In a season of revolving quarterbacks around the NFL, add the Raiders to that list. Marques Tuiasosopo's chance to prove himself lasted just one week. Tuiasosopo was sent back to the bench this week, and Oakland is going back to QB Kerry Collins. Coach Norv Turner said he wanted to give Tuiasosopo an extended look to see if he could revive Oakland's listless offense. That extended look lasted one game! The Raiders (4-9) have lost three straight games and are assured of a third straight losing season. They have been money-burners, too, at 5-8 ATS and 12-17 ATS the last 29 games. The Raiders are 5-9 ATS their last 14 home games.

So should the Colts rest their starters, or shoot for 16-0? Both sides have sound arguments on the issue. Here’s one side to the story: In 1996, Denver's 12-1 start brought the No. 1 seed. Mike Shanahan used the remainder of the regular season as a recuperative period for several of his players. With some of the front-line players resting, the Broncos lost two of their last three games. They then were bounced from the divisional round of the playoffs 30-27 by Jacksonville as a big favorite. The Colts have won all 13 games by at least seven points, and nine by double digits.

Buffalo Bills Circus: Buffalo certainly has had its share of unhappiness and close losses this season. They also had a bunch of close losses last season, too, the first under Mike Mularkey (remember the opener in 2004 against Jacksonville, losing on a TD pass on the final play by Bryon Leftwich?) Veteran Bills WR Eric Moulds returned to practice this week after serving a one-game suspension. They are a big home dog to Denver Saturday, but Buffalo is still 4-3 SU/ATS at home this season and 9-4 SU/ATS its last 13 home games. The bad news is Buffalo is 0-8 SU, 2-6 ATS as a dog this season.

I know NFL handicappers who put a great deal of importance in the offensive center position. Take note that Dolphins Center Seth McKinney will likely be sidelined the rest of the season by a knee injury suffered Sunday at San Diego. Miami hosts the Jets Sunday as an 8-point favorite. Miami is 0-10 ATS its last 10 as a favorite!

ATS Notes: The St. Louis Rams are 5-12 ATS their last 17 as a favorite. The Browns are 1-8 SU, 3-6 ATS as an underdog. Philly is 1-5 SU/ATS on the road. The Bengals are 14-1 SU, 9-6 ATS their last 15 games as a favorite. The Jets are 5-22 SU, 8-16-3 ATS their last 27 as an underdog. The Cardinals are 5-25 SU, 9-21 ATS their last 30 road games.

Bucs at Patriots: A defensive duel in the cold of Foxborough? Tampa Bay is 20-9 under the total since the start of last season. “Everyone always talks about the weather. I think it’s more of a mind thing,â€쳌 the Patriots Richard Seymour said. “When teams come up here, a lot of them don’t want to play in the cold, and they’re ready to go back to their warm climate. I think it’s more of a mindset. I’ve gotten used to it. It’s been a big advantage for us up here. Anytime we can get teams up here, to play on our field, in the cold and have them come in and have to adjust to the elements, it can be tough.â€쳌

Snow Bowl Game redux: This will be Jon Gruden’s first visit to Foxborough since the famous playoff game in January of 2002, in the snow when he was coach of the Raiders. Gruden was asked about the famous “Tuck Ruleâ€쳌 play, and had an interesting observation: “I still can’t get over the second-and-2 play where we had the ball and a chance to run out the clock and we got our guard up in the hole with our back and there’s a big hole there,â€쳌 Gruden said. “The game’s over. Somehow, Tedy Bruschi makes the play to stop the back. And then, Richard Seymour made a great play on third-and-1. Those are the two plays — more than the ‘Tuck Rule’ — that still today have me tipping my hat to those two guys they have on defense. And Adam Vinatieri made a 45-yard field goal at the end of regulation in Antarctica, and I couldn’t believe it. God almighty. And then Tom Brady, there’s a reason why the Patriots won and it’s a hell of a lot more than the ‘Tuck Rule.’ â€쳌 Brady is 18-0 when the temperature is 40 or lower.

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