Playoff Picture: It's becoming quite evident that the AFC is a much tougher conference this season, evidenced by the fact that 14 of the 16 teams are still very much in playoff contention. Throwing out the performance of the lukewarm AFC North, and the rest of the AFC have gone 20-11 in games vs. NFC foes. The NFC is also home to 9 of the league's 12 lowest scoring offenses as well as 6 of football's 8 worst teams thus far.
In the AFC, everyone except Houston and the Bungles are still very much alive. San Diego took big strides this week getting their 7th win and solidifying themselves amongst the endless list of wildcard hopefuls. Miami jumped to the top of the competitive AFC East, just 1 game ahead of the rest of the pack (all at 5-5), with a big win over the Ravens. The ‘Fins would have a 1st round bye were the playoff to start today. In the NFC, once again there was no change in the 6 teams in that hold playoff spots. Atlanta's big win over New Orleans kept them a half game ahead of the Giants for the final spot. The Rams have also played their way back into the hunt and have joined the Giants in pursuit of Atlanta and New Orleans for the final 2 NFC playoff spots. With still 6 weeks left in the regular season, the NFC playoff race is clearly down to an eight-team race for the six spots.
1st Round Byes: Denver (7-3) and Miami (6-4)
Wild Card Teams: San Diego (7-3) and Indianapolis (6-4)
Other Division Leaders: Philadelphia (7-3) and San Francisco (7-3)
Wild Card Teams: New Orleans (7-3) and Atlanta (6-3-1)
Looking Ahead: Four big games, two in the AFC and two in the NFC, matching eight winning teams in prime playoff position headline a pretty damn good slate of games on tap for week 12 in the NFL. We'll start in the NFC where home field advantage will be the theme when the 4 present division leaders face off against one another. On Monday night the suddenly McNabb-less Eagles play at San Francisco in a battle of 7-3 squads. Also, the "battle of the bay" is renewed when Green Bay travels to Tampa to take on the Bucs. Over in the AFC, San Diego is at Miami early on and the Sunday night affair sees Indianapolis play at Denver. Other games of note include Cleveland playing at New Orleans, Buffalo in the Meadowlands to play the Jets, and St. Louis at Washington.
Around the NCAA
Quest For The Fiesta: Three weeks remain in the college regular season and the BCS powers that be still sit pretty with just two unbeaten teams on a crash course to meet in their Championship game in the Fiesta Bowl on January 4th. It's conventional knowledge that an Ohio St. win this Saturday against Michigan will put them there as will Miami Fla. winning their final three games against Pitt, Syracuse, and Boston College. In this week's "Quest For The Fiesta", I'm going to examine what it would take for the other six teams in contention for the Fiesta to defy logic and secure a berth in the national championship game…
Washington St Cougars: Would need either Ohio St. or Miami Fla. to lose. Would also need to win their last three games vs. Washington, and at Hawaii and UCLA. Would also need to avoid Oklahoma passing them in the BCS rankings.
Oklahoma Sooners: Would need either Ohio St. or Miami Fla. to lose. Would need to win against Texas Tech, at Oklahoma St., and triumph in the Big 12 Championship game. Unless Ohio St. and Miami Fla. both lose, they would also need to surpass Washington St. in the BCS rankings, which would likely be achieved if Colorado can impressively knock off Nebraska before a necessary Oklahoma win over the Buffs in the Big 12 Championship game.
Georgia Bulldogs: Would need either Ohio St. or Miami Fla. to lose. If both do not lose, they would also need Washington St. to drop one of their final 3 games and for Oklahoma to lose either in the Big 12 Championship or on their way there. They would also need to post a win at home over Georgia Tech and also win in the SEC Championship game. Alabama and LSU continuing to win would also help their cause.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish: Would need both Ohio St. and Miami Fla. to lose to have any shot. Would also need at least 2 of the 3 teams I have listed above them to lose. They need to finish out with wins at home vs. Rutgers and at USC. They would also likely need USC to beat UCLA before they beat USC.
Iowa Hawkeyes: Would need both Miami Fla. and Ohio St. to lose to have any shot. Would also need at least 3 of the 4 teams ahead of them to falter. Penn St. winning out and improving their BCS stature would also help the Hawkeye cause.
Southern California Trojans: Would need Ohio St. to lose and likely would need Miami Fla. to lose twice. Would need Oklahoma and Georgia to lose, and would need UCLA to beat Washington St. after they beat UCLA. Would also need Notre Dame to beat Rutgers before beating them as well. Would likely also need Colorado to beat Nebraska handily before toppling Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship.
Heisman Watch: The closer and closer we get to judgment day, the less is clear about who will walk away with the hardware at seasons end. Just when you think guys like Larry Johnson and Kliff Kingsbury are cooked, they get themselves right back in the race with monstrous performances. With just 4 weeks left in college's regular season play, I'll pare the list down to my top 12 contenders, ranked in order of deservedness in my view (last week's rank in parenthesis) as it presently stands…
- Willis McGahee, Miami Fla. (1): In my opinion, the award is his to lose over the ‘Canes final 3 games. If they win out, and McGahee averages 125+ yds/gm…he should win the award.
- Brad Banks, Iowa (5): No games left to play, but the damage has been done. Over 30 combined passing/rushing TD's against only 3 INT's. If I had a vote, I'd be torn between McGahee and Banks at this point.
- Jason Gesser, Washington St. (3): Gets the nod in the #3 hole via his gritty comeback win over Palmer and USC.
- Carson Palmer, USC (7): Keeps climbing the Heisman lists as well as NFL draft charts. Huge games against UCLA and Notre Dame loom.
- Chris Brown, Colorado (2): Performed admirably against Iowa St. before getting banged up. His drop attributed to great games by guys below him.
- Ken Dorsey, Miami Fla. (4): Lifetime achievement. Gino Toretta. Sadly, the likely winner if the ‘Canes win out.
- Larry Johnson, Penn St. (8): What a day against Indiana. With all the talented QB's and McGahee in the running, it's likely that he and Brown are competing for one invite (if that) to the awards ceremony.
- Kliff Kingsbury, Texas Tech (13): Were it not for his 0 TD, 4 INT stinker against Colorado, Kingsbury is right in the hunt. A win over the Sooners this week will put him at the awards ceremony though.
- Quentin Griffin, Oklahoma (10): Great season leading the Sooner offense for this little back that plays big.
- Byron Leftwich, Marshall (6): Injury killed all hopes, if the loss to Virginia Tech earlier in the year didn't. Still has some supporters, but it would be a real shame if he gets invited to NY.
- Chris Gamble, Ohio St. (11): What a season this kid has had catching balls, returning kicks, and shutting down opposing wideouts playing 120 plays a game.
- Michael Turner, Northern Illinois (14): Another huge day for the best player on the MAC's best team.
FU BCS: As many of you likely know by this point, I'm not a big fan of the BCS system and am one of many proponents of either an 8 or 16 team playoff system to establish college football's national champion. Here's my weekly look at what the bracket would look like for a month long 16 team playoff tournament:
#1 Miami Fla. (9-0) vs. #16 Colorado (8-3)
#8 USC (8-2) vs. #9 Michigan (9-2)
#4 Oklahoma (9-1) vs. #13 Florida (8-3)
#5 Georgia (10-1) vs. #12 Virginia Tech (8-2)
#3 Washington St. (9-1) vs. #14 Florida St. (8-3)
#6 Iowa (11-1) vs. #11 Texas (9-2)
#2 Ohio St. (12-0) vs. #15 Penn St. (8-3)
#7 Notre Dame (9-1) vs. #10 Kansas St. (9-2)
Well, not quite the breakout week I was looking for, but another successful one nonetheless. After a shaky start, I've been able to consistently pick winners (4 of the past 5 weeks) at above a 50% clip in both this column, as well as the Saturday morning update e-mail I send out to over 100 of my readers. I posted a 7-3 record this past week in this column in my 10 combined NCAA/NFL plays and went 7-6 in the 13 plays I offered up in the Saturday morning newsletter. For the season, the Saturday morning update stands at 32-31 in the NCAA and 23-21-1 in the NFL. To be added to the mailing list, drop me an e-mail at email@example.com. No strings attached, just a free perk I send out to any interested readers looking for as many opinions as possible before deciding on their weekend wagers.
Teams laying chalk were profitable as a whole for only the 2nd time in the first 11 weeks of the NFL season as favorites covered 10 of the 16 games this past weekend, bringing the abysmal ATS record of favored teams to 67-88-5 on the season. Teams playing at home also had a good week against the number, going 11-5 ATS. Home teams have also struggled on the year, and are now at 73-82-5 for the year. Nine games went over and seven went under, bringing the season totals to 82 games under the total and 78 that have gone over the total.
And finally, my buddy Chad at Sportslynx.com continues to be the nation's #2 ranked handicapper in college ball as tracked by the National Sports Monitor and is offering all of his key selections up for free this weekend after promising to do so if he didn't go 3-1 (he ended up going 2-2) in his 4 key NFL plays this past week. This is a great opportunity to check out Chad's detailed analysis he provides on all games and some of the other excellent free features his solid site offers. Check him out at www.sportslynx.com. On to my selections…
New England –7 vs. Minnesota
Over the course of the past 8 years, if you solely played against Minnesota on the road and on them at home…you could have made a pretty nice living for yourself. The trend has held true this year, as the Vikes are 0-4 ATS on the road and 4-2 ATS at home. This week they travel to cold New England to play on grass against a hungry Patriot team that desperately needs a win to stay in the thick of the AFC playoff race coming off their loss to the Raiders. The Pats are anxious to get their ground game reestablished and should be able to do so this week. Tom Brady is also easily capable of having one of his patented 300+ yd games this week against the porous Viking secondary. Take the Pats to win this one by 14-20 points.
Tampa Bay –3 vs. Green Bay
Just feel Tampa is the better overall team in this match-up. Green Bay has been great this season SU and ATS in large part to their huge turnover differential. Until last week, the ball had been bouncing the right way for the Pack and being the savvy veteran team they are, they've been able to capitalize. Favre is still not 100%, as evidenced last week, and the Pack looked complacent after all but clinching the division title the previous week. I like the Bucs to hammer out a solid win this week, win the turnover battle behind their fierce defense, and move to 9-2 under coach Gruden. Take Tampa.
Houston +5 ½ vs. NY Giants
There are several home dogs to choose from this week, and the Texans are the most appealing one to me at this stage of the week. Houston plays pretty good defense, and should be able to take advantage of the Giants weak offensive line and lack of threats at the WR position and keep this a close game. In my opinion, the Giants are an overrated team that have struggled mightily in their only 3 contests (SF, Atl, Phil) against legitimate playoff contenders. A legitimate playoff contender the Texans are not, but an improving young team due for a win they are. I like them to get it done this week at home against the Giants.
Cincinnati +10 at Pittsburgh
Lost in the shuffle of the Kordell/Maddox soap opera is the serious deficiencies the Steeler defense has had this season. In their last 3 games they have surrendered 20, 31, and 31 points after allegedly righting the ship after that rocky start. In this week comes a Bengal team that amazingly has gotten their offense turned around under Jon Kitna. Plus, Kordell is back at the helm. He'll be pressing with the news that Maddox will be back in 2-3 weeks and he's inefficient enough when playing relaxed. Ten points is just too many here! Take the Bungles getting the dime.
Ohio St. –4 ½ vs. Michigan
Always try to avoid handicapping with my heart, but it's hard not to in this situation. Being privy to all the local media coverage of the Buckeyes, it is truly immeasurable how large of an impact Coach Tressel has on this game. The kids are reminded on a daily basis the importance of winning this game and the Buckeyes have been a completely different team at home this year. Feel the number is too low here, and that is based on the Buckeyes struggles on the road the past 2 weeks against Purdue and Illinois teams that are much stronger than their records indicate. The Tressel impact was prevalent in last years game that saw the Buckeyes jump to a 20-0 nothing lead on the road against a Wolverine team that was their superior last season. The Bucks get it done here, I'll say 23-10, behind their dominant defense/special teams and with a rejuvenated and fired up Clarett.
Oregon +4 ½ at Oregon St.
Despite the Ducks poor pass defense and their throttling at the hands of Washington last week, the Ducks are the better team in this match-up and I will gladly take them getting more than a field goal. Onterrio Smith will be back at full strength and the Ducks will get the outright win this week on the road against their overrated in-state rival.
Mississippi +11 at LSU
Why odds makers continue to give this overrated Tiger team so much respect is beyond me. Ole Miss lost by 11 last year at LSU to a much better Tiger squad and I feel this game will be much closer with the potential of an outright Rebel win. Ole Miss has looked very good at times this year and on other occasions has looked very poor. They are due for a solid performance and Eli and the troops will be fired up for this nationally televised game that will make them bowl eligible with a win. LSU showed last week, in a must win game at home against ‘Bama that they are not the team odds makers think they are. Road team is 12-5 ATS the last 17 years, and the team that lost the previous meeting SU is 12-4 the last 16. Take the Rebels.
North Carolina St. +4 ½ vs. Florida St.
After going against the Wolfpack (unsuccessfully for the most part) all season, I enthusiastically will back them here getting more than a field goal at home against the Seminoles. NC St. suffered a bit of a hangover the past 2 weeks after losing their undefeated season to Georgia Tech, but this is their chance to get their season back and get themselves in a legitimate bowl game with a win over Florida St. They played the Seminoles down to the wire (34-28 loss) last season, and despite are probably still the stronger overall team in this contest, despite their recent woes. I like ‘em outright here. Take the Pack getting 4 and a hook at home.