We are reaching “The Turn” in the season, and at this point it should be pretty clear what role each team in the NFL is playing. However, that doesn’t mean that someone off to a hot start (Detroit, San Francisco, Cincinnati, Buffalo) isn’t headed for a precipitous fall, and it doesn’t mean that someone left for dead (Dallas, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Kansas City) isn’t capable of putting together a savage second-half rush.
Remember that how a team played last week is much more important to handicap than how they played in September, and that momentum is critical in this up-and-down league. With that in mind, here is my Week 8 version of Doc’s Sports NFL Power Rankings:
1. Green Bay Packers (7-0) – What’s left to say about this team? I am still somewhat baffled that teams don’t do a better job of jumping the seam and slant routes that are Green Bay’s bread-and-butter in the passing game. But Aaron Rodgers is so accurate that it may not be a viable option for mere mortal corners. Their bye week comes at a good time. On the other side they have a tricky trip to San Diego, home games against the Vikings and Bucs, and then an interesting stretch at Detroit, at the Giants, and at home against Oakland. What I am trying to say is that they still have another month of tough games before we can start the “undefeated” talk. (Although in about another two weeks ESPN will be raping that dead horse story line.)
2. New England Patriots (5-1) – All of a sudden this team, with no defense and suspect toughness, is looking a whole lot better, eh? New England still has weaknesses, but Brady remains the elixir. He has guided the Patriots to four wins in five games at Heinz Field and the Patriots have beaten the Steelers six of seven times outright. Also, New England is an amazing 8-0 ATS after a bye week. But we will see if, like so many other teams, the new rules mandating five straight days off during the open week will negatively impact Bill Belichick’s game planning. The Patriots are 46-22-3 ATS over the last decade when they play on the road.
3. New Orleans Saints (5-2) – That is what Drew Brees does to the Cover-2. The Saints lit up Chicago’s much, much better version of the defense already this year. But one week after Tampa’s C-2 defense held the Saints in check you got to see some target practice out of this group. I really don’t see any reason why they would take it easy on St. Louis this weekend either.
4. Baltimore Ravens (4-2) – It really isn’t all that stunning that the Ravens lost in Jacksonville on “Monday Night Football”. The Jaguars are an equally physical team and that game represented their one “moment” for the season. Baltimore hasn’t been terribly effective on the road and they were coming off a big home win. But what is stunning is how inaccurate Joe Flacco was in the first half. He is completing around 50 percent of his passes this year and looks like a completely different guy from the one that was nailing around 63 percent the last two seasons. Does he miss Mason and Heap THAT much? Baltimore is just 3-6 SU and 2-7 ATS after playing on Monday. But they are 21-6 ATS as a home favorite against someone outside their division and 11-5 ATS after a loss.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2) – This week marks a tricky situational spot for the Steelers. They are coming off a big win and a cross-country road trip and they have a huge revenge game with Baltimore on deck. Their opponent, the incomparable Patriots, is coming off a bye. All of that explains why Pittsburgh is a home dog and why the Pats are catching nearly 80 percent of the action. But Pittsburgh is 6-1 ATS in their last seven as a home underdog and the puppy is 9-2 ATS in the last 11 Steelers-Patriots clashes.
6. Detroit Lions (5-2) – I am not a doctor and I don’t have any inside information, but I will be surprised if Matt Stafford is on the field this weekend. Given his injury history and just by watching the play that knocked him out last week, I am guessing that Stafford won’t play this week. I can forgive them for losses to the Niners and Falcons, but some cracks in this team – penalties, rush defense, running game – are starting to show. Detroit is 4-1 ATS in its last five road games and with or without Stafford I expect them to be a road favorite this week.
7. San Diego Chargers (4-2) – Say what you will about the walking disaster that is Norv Turner, but Philip Rivers is the biggest reason for San Diego’s stumbles so far this year. He is missing throws that he usually makes with ease and he has already turned the ball over 11 times. San Diego’s offense is starting to remind me of Atlanta’s from last year: they simply have to work too hard to score points and don’t have enough big play threats. This team is clearly missing the dimension that Darren Sproles gave them. San Diego is just 2-7-1 ATS as a road favorite and they barely held off the Chiefs by three points in the first matchup.
8. New York Giants (4-2) – The bye week finally allowed the Giants to get healthy and focused to handle what is a daunting second-half schedule. However, getting Justin Tuck, Chris Snee, Brandon Jacobs (overrated), and Prince Amukamara (ditto) back will only sap the betting value that we had on this team. They are now back to their worst role: solid favorite. The Giants are just 5-12 ATS as a home favorite and 3-6 ATS as a favorite laying more than a touchdown.
9. San Francisco 49ers (5-1) – This team was on quite a rush prior to their week off. We will see if that momentum carries through their siesta. We will also see how the Niners handle the shift in role from underdog to favorite, as the nine points that they are laying this week represents the biggest chalk on this team in three years. San Francisco is 5-0 ATS in its last five as a favorite and they are 4-0 ATS when laying points at home. But the 49ers are just 1-5-1 ATS after a bye week and I just don’t know how much I trust Alex Smith to get us past a number like this.
10. Chicago Bears (4-3) – In six of Chicago’s last seven wins they have scored 30 or more points, and in their last six losses they have scored 17 or less. That was a critical win for this team heading into the bye and right now their only losses have come against the Packers, Saints and Lions. But their most telling stretch awaits after the break, as they go to Philadelphia, have Detroit and San Diego at home, and then have an odd trip to Oakland.
11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-3) – The yo-yo season of the Bucs continues. I don’t begrudge them a London loss to a streaking Bears team. But the problem that I have with this team is that because of their fourth-quarter success over the past two seasons they don’t really come out of the gate with the emotion that they need to avoid falling into an early hole. In their last nine wins they have held their opponents to 20 points or less, and in 12 of their last 13 losses they have given up 20 points or more.
12. Atlanta Falcons (4-3) – Mike Smith and Matt Ryan weren’t going to go quietly and they deserve a lot of credit for clawing their way back into the NFC South race. However, their work is far from over. They have a ‘gimme’ game against Indianapolis after the break before a three-game homestand that begins with a crucial matchup with New Orleans.
13. Houston Texans (4-3) – The Texans are just 10-29-1 ATS in games when they have a record of .500 or better, including 2-13 SU and 4-11 ATS in games within the division. They are 62-47-1 ATS when they are below .500 and 28-13 ATS like that in division. I do not expect them to fall on their face this week against Jacksonville, but I also am not banking on them matching last week’s superhuman game against the Titans.
14. New York Jets (4-3) – Two straight wins may have some people buying right back into the Jets, but I am not one of them. I still see neither the dominating defense nor the overpowering running game that we have come to expect from this group over the last two years. Miami and San Diego both outplayed the Jets in the first half, but both bumbled the game away. Perhaps that is the one positive thing about this Jets team: they don’t stop fighting their way out of a hole.
15. Dallas Cowboys (3-3) – I will agree that this team is trending upward and that their defensive statistics are starting to look gaudy. I will not agree that this team has Top 10 talent and I still think that they have issues on their offensive line, as well as in the back seven. Dallas has covered four of five in their series with Philadelphia and has won at The Linc in each of the past two seasons.
16. Tennessee Titans (3-3) – My Titans bandwagon is on fire and overturned in a ditch. Tennessee has gotten mauled in its last two outings, yet they are still unwitting nine-point favorites against an Indianapolis team that may want to make up for Sunday’s embarrassment. Matt Hasselbeck needs to be more decisive and needs to quit just floating balls into the secondary. Granted, his wideouts aren’t helping him out. But Tennessee needs more misdirection in both the passing and running games. And they should start using Chris Johnson in the slot and working more drag and curl routes, rather than just throwing him weak screens. Kenny Britt has been out for more than a month and he still leads the team in TDs.
17. Oakland Raiders (4-3) – I will repeat what I stated in this space last week: I have no idea why Kyle Boller was even on the roster. I don’t think Oakland should have started Carson Palmer, but there is just no reason why Boller is still in the NFL. The bye week is coming at a perfect time for this team, which needs to regroup before a key stretch of back-to-back divisional games against Denver and San Diego open their November slate.
18. Philadelphia Eagles (2-4) – One week is not long enough to cure all the issues that this roster has. However, Andy Reid is renowned for his work with extra prep time and the Eagles are a perfect 12-0 SU and solid 8-4 ATS after a bye. Philadelphia has lost five straight home games, and I think that the natives will be quick to turn on their Eagles if Philly stumbles against rival Dallas.
19. Buffalo Bills (4-2) – This week’s game against Washington will be played in Toronto, where the Bills are 0-3 SU and 0-2-1 ATS in the last few years. However, because of their early success they may actually have some fans over there. The Bills have been running a unique, misdirection-laden offense. I am interested to see what else they put in during the bye week. Buffalo is 5-1 ATS after a weak of rest and their offensive line should be healed up after some time off. However, they may be without Kyle Williams (foot) and that is bad news for the league’s No. 31 defense.
20. Carolina Panthers (2-5) – This offense is absolutely one of the five or six most dynamic in football right now. Cam Newton has been exceptional – despite some turnovers – but the real key is their offensive line and running game. Remember: this team was No. 3 in the league (2,498 yards) back in 2009 and have most of the primaries still in their attack. They aren’t defending the run very well, though, as they are 26th in rush yards per attempt and No. 32 in runs of 20 or more allowed. Still, Carolina has outgained six of its seven opponents this year.
21. Washington Redskins (3-3) – John Beck is exceedingly more accurate than Rex Grossman. But Beck has some decision-making issues. He threw at least three balls that should have been picked off last week and he struggled to progress to his secondary and tertiary options in the passing game. Santana Moss and Tim Hightower accounted for 34 percent of the Washington offense. Now Moss is out a month-and-a-half and Hightower is done for the year. Mix in some offensive line injuries and it is the same old, same old for the ‘Skins.
22. Kansas City Chiefs (3-3) – The Chiefs are back in the AFC West picture, but I don’t think that things are as rosy as their three-game winning streak suggests. They have covered four straight and won three straight outright as an underdog. But they have also faced Donovan McNabb, Curtis Painter and Kyle Boller in those three Ws. The home team has won four straight in the Chiefs-Chargers series, but K.C. has been outgained by at least 120 yards in five straight matchups with San Diego.
23. Cincinnati Bengals (4-2) – This team is a fraud with inflated scores. They barely eked past Buffalo, Indianapolis and Jacksonville, and the market will catch up with this group. They are just 3-6 ATS off a bye week – mainly because Marvin Lewis has no idea what he is doing – and the Bengals will be without Cedric Benson this week as he serves a one-game suspension.
24. Minnesota Vikings (1-6) – I am on record as saying that Jared Allen and some of the Vikings vets won’t let this team quit. Last week was a perfect example. But how will they come back, mentally, this week in a letdown spot against a team playing with a ton of confidence? The Vikings defense will again be without its two best corners and won’t be able to stop Carolina’s passing game. (Although, Adrian Peterson should have about 175 rush yards this week.) The Vikings are 3-10-1 ATS in their last 14 as an underdog and they have been horrible on grass (off-surface) this year.
25. Cleveland Browns (3-3) – I get the impression that if Pat Shurmur had his way the Browns would play 6-3 games every week. They are No. 31 in the league in yards per play (4.3) but they are in the Top 10 in both time of possession and third down conversion rate. They are content to simply grind, grind, grind and take their chances on third-and-three and third-and-four. Peyton Hillis is likely to miss this week again. The Browns are 3-12-2 ATS on grass but they have won five of six against the NFC West.
26. Seattle Seahawks (2-4) – I doubt that we are going to know about the status of Tarvaris Jackson and several other beat up Seahawks until Saturday or Sunday, and that should impact the line movement. Seattle should be a pretty active home dog this week. They are 7-3 at Qwest under Pete Carroll and they have covered four straight as a home underdog. Before you hop on with the public on the ‘under’ in this game, keep in mind that the ‘over’ is 13-4 in Seattle’s last 17 games overall.
27. Denver Broncos (2-4) – In my opinion, all of the Tebow nonsense being spewed by the bobblehead media has very little to do with how this team is going to play the rest of the year. The fact is, they have a pathetic defense and are weak at the offensive skill positions. The quarterback is almost incidental and until they get the ‘D’ taken care of (Elvis Dumervil is likely out this week and Robert Ayers is right behind him), this team won’t do anything, with or without Tebow. Denver is just 7-18-2 ATS at home and 5-12-1 ATS on the road.
28. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-5) – The Jags essentially won their Super Bowl on Monday night with their emotional win over Baltimore. Will that propel them to a strong second half? This is a physical, ground-and-pound team that benefits from matchups more than anything. They will keep fighting, but their talent level isn’t very strong at all. Jacksonville is 3-1 ATS in its last four games against the Texans, but underdogs of 9.0 or greater coming off a MNF game are just 5-11 ATS.
29. Miami Dolphins (0-6) – Mark my words: this team will be an ATS machine next year. There is talent on this roster. But the Dolphins just continue, week-in and week-out, to find ways to give games away. This team is better than its record suggests, and that could make them a solid value play in the second half of the year. But you also have to worry about them just mailing it in, knowing that a regime change is imminent. Tony Sparano is pathetic and the sooner he is gone the better. Miami’s last five losses have come by 42 combined points despite only being outgained by 140 total yards during that stretch.
30. Arizona Cardinals (1-5) – Surprise, surprise: Beanie Wells is out again. That is now four straight losses ATS by the Cardinals. They were actually pretty game at home last week…and they still lost by 12. Arizona is 2-7 ATS on the road, and just two games ago they were down 28-0 against a very motivated, physical Minnesota team. I’m not sure why I should expect anything more out of “Happy Feet” Kolb and this horrendous offense. Remember: I am one of the few people that didn’t buy into Kolb when the Cards acquired him. The guy just isn’t any good and he will be under even more pressure from the Ravens this week.
31. St. Louis Rams (0-6) – This team’s average loss is 19.1 points per game and they are looking exactly like they did back in 2009 when they went 1-15 and lost by an average of 16.3 points per game. This roster is barren of talent and injuries (along with a brutal schedule) have just crippled them. I don’t expect Sam Bradford to be under center this week; why would the Rams risk it? The spread on this game bounced from an open of 11.5 to its current status at 15.5. Not only might it go higher, but also that may not be nearly enough points for a team that is 0-6 ATS as an underdog this season.
32. Indianapolis Colts (0-7) – There really isn’t anything to say about a team that just lost, 62-7. Their cornerbacks are absolutely pathetic and cannot cover at all. That has been a major, major problem for this team for a decade. They are not playing their fourth road game in five weeks and I don’t know what the motivation is for this Colts team. Also, anyone who regularly reads this column knows what I think of Jim Caldwell. He is an ass-clown and is one of the worst coaches I have ever seen. It is stunning to me that it took this long for people to start questioning whether or not he should have a job in this league.
Robert Ferringo is a professional NFL handicapper and is coming off an exceptionally profitable 2010-11 football season (college and pro). He banged home back-to-back winning football weeks and has banked $3,000 in profit over the last week-and-a-half. He is looking forward to building on his stellar football handicapping resume again this fall and you can check him out here.