This week is officially the halfway point of the NFL season as each team will have played eight regular-season games by the end of Week 9. And if the team you back still has a losing record after its eighth game, it's not over in terms of the playoffs yet. Since 2000, 35 teams have reached the halfway point of their season with a .500 or below winning percentage and reached to the playoffs, including at least one in each season.
We might see a few this year. The AFC South winner seems a lock to finish below .500 with Indianapolis and Houston atop the division at 3-5. The Miami-Buffalo loser Sunday will be 3-5, and I could still see one getting a wild-card spot. I don't rule out either Dallas (2-5) or Philadelphia (3-4) winning the mediocre NFC East. The Eagles and Cowboys play Sunday night and obviously both would be 3-5 with a Dallas home win.
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Here's hoping this week -- with a season-high six teams on the bye -- comes close to last in terms of games going down to the wire. Six teams in Week 8 scored the winning points inside the three-minute mark of the fourth quarter or in overtime. Last Sunday marked the first time there were three game-winning scores in the fourth quarter with no time remaining (Vikings over Bears, Saints over Giants and Ravens over Chargers) on the same day since the merger.
I often like to use this space to examine a few Bovada weekly specials as well, but really no good ones this time around. Here are some line moves or potential game-changing injury notes for Week 9.
Jaguars at Jets (-7.5, 42): I looked at this game in Monday's Opening Line Report. A few non-betting sites will post temporary lines when the status of a key player is up in the air. So when I examined this game Monday, the Jets were -2.5 with a total of 40 but that was simply a placeholder because New York wasn't sure if starting QB Ryan Fitzpatrick (thumb) or backup Geno Smith (shoulder) would play. It was looking like rookie Bryce Petty might have to start. But Fitzpatrick has been cleared and Smith will even be his backup, so you can see why this line jumped over a touchdown.
Titans at Saints (-8, 48): I also touched on this Monday, but two things have happened for Tennessee since then and I'm surprised the line hasn't moved -- although the Saints are taking the biggest lean on the board now. The Titans fired head coach Ken Whisenhunt on Tuesday and replaced him on an interim basis with Mike Mularkey, a former Bills and Jags head coach who was the Titans' assistant head coach/tight ends. Mularkey wants the team to be more physical and plans on emphasizing the running game. The more important news is that quarterback Marcus Mariota is back at practice and will start Sunday after missing the past two games. Even as a rookie, he's a vast upgrade over backup Zach Mettenberger.
Broncos at Colts (+5, 45): This opened at 3, and Denver is taking a big lean. Indy made news this week in firing offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, who has been with Andrew Luck since his Stanford days. And it's no one's fault but Luck's this happened as he has regressed in a big way and is the NFL's lowest-rated QB. I don't know if that change affected this line moving; plus the Colts are on a short week after Monday's OT loss in Carolina where Luck had yet another multiple-interception outing. It's the second straight week the Colts have to face a team that was 6-0 or better; Green Bay is doing the same in Carolina on Sunday. Previously, only the 1934 Detroit Lions and 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers have played teams 6-0 or better in consecutive games. We should see history in this game, surely Peyton Manning's last in Indianapolis. Manning needs 284 yards through the air to pass Brett Favre for No. 1 all-time on the career yardage list. Sunday is Manning's 264th career game. It took Favre 302 to get his 71,838. Manning and Favre are tied for the most regular-season wins of any QB with 186. Eventually, Tom Brady (167) will pass both those guys.
Falcons at 49ers (+7, 44.5): This line has jumped from an open of 4 and it's easy to see why: Blaine Gabbert, maybe the worst first-round quarterback since JaMarcus Russell, gets the start for San Francisco over the benched Colin Kaepernick. The Falcons should send the Niners a thank-you note. According to ESPN, Gabbert has the lowest Total QBR (22.6) of any quarterback in the NFL over the past 10 seasons with at least 1,000 action plays. ESPN's Football Power Index has the Niners not winning another game this season if Gabbert stays the starter. I tend to agree. Gabbert's record is just 5-22 and his last victory as a starter came for the Jaguars on Sept. 23, 2012. The Jaguars traded up six spots to select Gabbert No. 10 overall out of Missouri in the 2011 draft. He was the third QB selected (after Cam Newton and Jake Locker), 26 slots ahead of Kaepernick. Know who went one spot after Gabbert? Guy named J.J. Watt to Houston. The Niners also are down their top two running backs in Carlos Hyde and Reggie Bush, it appears No. 1 receiver Anquan Boldin will sit with a hamstring injury and the team traded tight end Vernon Davis to Denver on Monday. So this team is giving up. I'm guessing you can go on StubHub if you live in the San Francisco area and get cheap tickets for this one.
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