Then there were three.
We made it halfway through the NFL season and there are currently three undefeated teams still standing. In fitting with the universe's sense of humor, one of those undefeated teams - the one with the greatest odds of living on that island the longest - the New England Patriots, are facing the New York Giants this weekend. The Giants are the very team that spoiled the closest anyone has and maybe ever will from a perfect season when they beat the Patriots in Super Bowl 42 back in 2008.
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Most everyone remembers that stunning upset by the Giants. But what fewer people remember was that the Giants almost beat the Patriots in the regular season finale that season, losing 38-35 at home as 13-point underdogs. That game was interesting not just because it capped a perfect regular season for the Patriots. But because leading up to the game it was a mystery whether either team was going to play its starters at all.
New England had already wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the AFC. The Giants had barely clinched a playoff spot with a stretch run. They would be playing on the road the following week in the Wild Card Round. Both teams had legit reasons to rest key guys and not expose them to injury.
But the Patriots did play for perfection. And the Giants didn't rest their guys. And New York put up what was one of the best fights anyone had made that season at stopping the Pats. The Giants lost. But playing well in that game is often cited as one of the things that gave them the confidence to go on to win the Super Bowl.
Confidence and momentum; those are powerful attributes in the NFL. And as we look around we can see teams swelling with both (Carolina, Oakland) or struggling with a crisis of both (Green Bay, Atlanta). When you're watching the games each of these next few Sundays that is what you should be looking for: confidence and momentum. We know what the skill levels of these respective teams are. But the X-Factor that will make the difference down the stretch will be confidence and momentum.
Here is Doc's Sports NFL Power Rankings for Week 10:
1. New England Patriots (8-0) - The Patriots lost the team's third-leading player in terms of total yardage, Dion Lewis, and when I heard the report on it I barely batted an eye. Only the Patriots. They are an absolute machine that will continue to churn. The Patriots are 5-2 ATS in their last seven games, and this year the only teams that have covered the spread against them did so through fluke backdoor circumstances. The Patriots really have been able to coast the last two weeks. I don't know if that will help keep them sharp heading into a key three-game stretch against the Giants, Bills and Broncos.
2. Cincinnati Bengals (8-0) - Andy Dalton has five career interceptions against Houston, and all five of them have come on throws to A.J. Green. Something tells me those numbers are going to change on Monday night. I am also interested to see how the Bengals approach the task of stopping DeAndre Hopkins. The strength of Cincinnati's defense is the secondary, and they have more than enough tools to put the clamps down on him. The Bengals are taking 75 percent of the action in their game, but the spread has dropped two points since its open.
3. Arizona Cardinals (6-2) - We're going to find out a lot about the Cardinals on Sunday night in Week 10's marquee game. Arizona is statistically the much better team than Seattle this season. But the Cardinals are 1-4 in their last five games in Seattle, and games like this aren't played on paper. The Cardinals absolutely have to find a way to push the ball down the field with deep passes. Their whole move-the-ball-between-the-20s-and-settle-for-a-field-goal approach isn't going to work. The Cards are 22-10 ATS in their last 32 games overall but just 1-4 ATS after a bye week.
4. Carolina Panthers (8-0) - This team is what the Chicago Bears of the 00s, with one of the best defenses of this young century, would've looked like if they had ever had a quarterback. Carolina is absolutely rock solid right now. And because of their scheme, style and philosophy this is a team that absolutely will not beat itself. Be wary: Carolina is the squarest play on the board this week. The public is all over the Panthers, to the tune of 80 percent of the action coming in on them. But the spread has dropped from 6.5 to 5.5. That's a stiff reverse line movement. The Panthers are also in a letdown spot after an emotional six days, winning in OT over the Colts and then holding off the Packers in back-to-back wild home games.
5. Denver Broncos (7-1) - The big news this week is obviously that Peyton Manning sat out Wednesday's practice with a sore foot. But I wouldn't sound the alarms; I doubt Manning is going to practice much at all over the last several weeks of the season. He will play, but Aqib Talib will not. And, honestly, if you are going to have your best corner miss a game, missing a game against the Chiefs is about as good as it gets since they don't really have a No. 1 receiver and they don't throw the ball down the field. The Broncos are 19-7 ATS in their last 26 divisional games and a ridiculous 10-1 ATS following a loss. Denver is 13-6 ATS against teams below .500. But they are also facing a reverse line movement this week, watching the line fall from 7.0 to 5.5 despite 70 percent of the action coming in on Manning and Co.
6. Green Bay Packers (6-2) - This two-game losing streak really shouldn't be that surprising. Even when the Packers were winning, they looked bad doing it. They fluked out covers against San Francisco and St. Louis and then barely beat San Diego despite being outgained by 180 yards. Green Bay's defense is a debacle right now, and they can't stop anyone. The Packers have been outgained in four straight games (1-3 ATS), and I also think this offense is finally starting to feel the effects of not having Jordy Nelson. The home team has won five straight in this series. But Green Bay has only beaten the Lions by double-digits twice so far this decade.
7. Minnesota Vikings (6-2) - The word on Wednesday is that Bridgewater is going to play on Sunday. However, I wouldn't even touch this game until that is confirmed Sunday afternoon. I have bet on the Vikings every week over the last month, and they have been killing it during this seven-game ATS winning streak. But even I, the driver of the Vikings bandwagon, will likely sit out Sunday's game against Oakland. That's how much respect I have for Derek Carr. And that's also how much respect I have for the fact that the Vikings have been outgained in four of their last six games during this ATS run.
8. Seattle Seahawks (4-4) - Pete Carroll's Seahawks are just 3-2 SU off a bye week in the regular season. Interestingly, this is only the second time in six opportunities that Seattle is at home after their midseason bye. Over the past five years the Seahawks are 33-6 SU in games in which they win the turnover battle. However, this year Seattle has already lost three games in which it forced more turnovers, and they are 3-1 in games in which they have lost the turnover battle. Also, Seattle has to get going in the red zone. They are a league-worst with just 29.4 percent of their red zone drives ending in a touchdown. It may not be this week, but I would expect a scoring burst from this team at some point as those numbers even out.
9. New York Jets (5-3) - I think that the story of the Jets offense is one of the most underappreciated subplots in the AFC. The Jets are No. 11 in the league in total offense and No. 11 in scoring at 25 points per game. They've scored 20 or more in five straight games, and they have averaged 26.4 points in their last five games. However, the defense - which is ranked in the Top 10 in total defense and points allowed - hasn't held an opponent below 20 points since the bye week, surrendering 26.8 points per game in the last four. We will see if New York's four-game 'over' streak continues on Thursday. Seven of the last 10 meetings with the Bills have gone 'over', and the last five in New York have all sailed the total.
10. Buffalo Bills (4-4) - Why Rex Ryan Is A Loser, Reason No. 144: Ryan made IK Enemkpali, a guy that didn't play when he was with the Jets and has barely played in Buffalo, a captain for Thursday's game in New York. He is just trolling the Jets since it was Enemkpali that laid out Geno Smith back in the preseason. I normally always side with the coach in the matchup of coach vs. old team. But there's no doubt that the Jets hate this guy and want to stick it to him badly. And the irony is that Enemkpali's punch is the reason that Ryan Fitzpatrick is starting for the Jets. And he - and the offense's emergence - is the reason the Jets have been better than the Bills this year. Reason No. 145: the Bills are on pace to set an NFL record with 170 penalties this year.
11. Pittsburgh Steelers (5-4) - That is just hard knocks for the Steelers, who lost Big Ben (again) with a foot injury. Pittsburgh is trying to keep the door open for him to return this week, but it's not going to happen. I don't expect Pittsburgh to treat Landry Jones with kid gloves, though. They can't afford to with LeVeon Bell on the shelf and DeAngelo Williams banged up. For good or ill, Pittsburgh will have to win with Jones throwing the ball down the field against Cleveland's banged-up secondary. The home team is 5-2 ATS in the last seven meetings between these rivals, and the Steelers are 9-4 ATS in their last 13 games overall.
12. Oakland Raiders (4-4) - The Raiders may catch a huge break this week if they get to face Minnesota without Teddy Bridgewater. If Bridgewater plays, the spread should be around -3.0. If he doesn't I think the public money on Oakland will push that spread up to 4.5 or 5.0. Both teams are coming off tough, physical games that were decided in the final seconds. But being at home and having a healthy quarterback are two major advantages for the Raiders. The disadvantage is that the Raiders will need to brace for a healthy dose of Adrian Peterson, who is very quietly leading the NFL in rushing. Oakland is 5-2 ATS in its last seven home games.
13. Kansas City Chiefs (3-5) - Andy Reid is 14-2 in his career following a bye week and will have a chance to extend his amazing mark. The Chiefs had Denver beaten in the first matchup. But a late Manning touchdown drive followed by a stunning Jamaal Charles fumble cost them that win. Alex Smith's ultra-conservative, check-down heavy passing style is a terrible matchup against Denver's defense. Smith will get rid of the ball quickly to neutralize the Broncos pass rush. But Denver will be looking to jump routes and force turnovers. The Chiefs have lost seven straight in this series, with the last win coming in Week 17 of the 2011 season. The underdog is 7-3 ATS in the last 10 meetings.
14. Atlanta Falcons (6-3) - What the hell was Dan Quinn doing on Sunday? His decision to kick the field goal on 4th-and-1 late in the game was the single-dumbest coaching decision of the season. But he had several other head-scratchers in the game, including a decision to punt on 4th-and-short on San Fran's side of the field early in the game. Quinn has way, way, way too much confidence in his still shaky, overachieving defense.
15. Philadelphia Eagles (4-4) - Look, people rag on Sam Bradford all the time. And he hasn't been great in his first season in Chip Kelly's offense. But go back and re-watch his last two drives against the Cowboys. Look at where he was putting those balls. When he is on there is on only six or seven guys in the league that can spin it with that level of pinpoint accuracy. And don't forget that he's doing it with one of the worst receiving corps in the league. He's throwing it to Miles Austin on critical third downs, for crying out loud. This is still a tough team to lay points with.
16. Indianapolis Colts (4-5) - Andrew Luck has a lacerated kidney and will miss the next two to six games for the Colts. Fortunately, they have a bye this week, and Matt Hasselbeck, who looked good in his two earlier spot starts, has time to work with new offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski, who has a really spotty career resume as an OC.
17. New York Giants (5-4) - Well, this is New York's favorite role. Will this be another epic underdog showing for the G-Men this week against the Patriots? It's pretty doubtful, though that is exactly when the Giants jump up to bite teams (when you least expect it). The Giants defense simply can't stop anyone. And the now-permanent losses of Jon Beason and Jonathan Hankins may have been the final nails in the coffin of the No. 32-ranked defense in football. The Giants are 4-0 ATS in their last four meetings with the Patriots. But they are 2-7 ATS against teams above .500 and the Giants are just 15-34 ATS in their last 49 November games.
18. St. Louis Rams (4-4) - I wouldn't expect Wes Welker to come in and work miracles for this sagging Rams passing game. The oft-concussed Welker probably thinks he's still playing in New England and has no idea where he is. I also think that it is only a matter of time before the levy breaks on this defense. The last three weeks the defense has a yards per point allowed of 25.6, which is a statistical anomaly that I keep waiting to correct itself. The Rams secondary is allowing opposing quarterbacks to complete nearly 70 percent of their passes, and I just don't think that what they are doing is sustainable. The Rams are 7-3 ATS after a loss and 6-2 ATS against sub-.500 teams.
19. New Orleans Saints (4-5) - Weird: Rob Ryan's defense got torched - again! The Saints have a bye week on deck. If Ryan's group can't stop the horrid Redskins offense then the Saints absolutely have to fire him heading into the bye week. Hell, I think even if New Orleans does play better this week they should still fire the loser Ryan. The Saints are allowing 30 points per game and wasting another brilliant season from Drew Brees. Every time the ball leaves Brees' hands I expect the pass to be completed. He is totally locked in. Since 2014 the Saints are just 12-14 ATS in their last 26 games on grass.
20. Chicago Bears (3-5) - What a catch by Zach Miller for the game-winner on Monday night. The Bears are showing that good coaching and some heart can overcome a talent deficit. Chicago has played well against a brutal schedule this year. Really, they are two last-second losses at Detroit and at Minnesota away from being 5-3 and in the mix. And that is in spite of injuries to Jay Cutler, Matt Forte and Alshon Jeffery. Were this team healthy they would absolutely be in the NFC mix, and I think this group will be a solid spoiler down the stretch. The Bears are just 6-13 ATS following a win and 11-27 ATS against NFC opponents.
21. Miami Dolphins (3-5) - I collected with Buffalo as my Game of the Year last Sunday in what was the easiest call of the week. Dan Campbell has been exposed. He made some laughable in-game strategy decisions that cost the Dolphins dearly. But that really shouldn't be a big surprise considering he shouldn't be a head coach to begin with. There isn't on-site training for this job, nor should there be. And now that he's been exposed I'm not sure that Campbell will be able to keep this shaky locker room focused. The Dolphins are 3-10 ATS in their last 10 games, so these guys are due. They are just 2-5 ATS on the road.
22. Washington Redskins (3-5) - How did this team ever win three games? I will admit that Jay Gruden has this team playing hard. Washington really does have a lot of fight in it. But Gruden is trying to fashion a ground-and-pound, physical team that tries to win by running the ball and playing good defense. But they've been outrushed by an average of 144 yards per game in their last four games, and the secondary - which I was warning you about back in the preseason - is allowing teams to complete over 70 percent of their passes against. This is like a basketball coach saying he wants to press and run the full game but having nothing but seven-foot centers to work with.
23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-5) - Teams are completing 70.2 percent against this secondary this year. Yet Lovie Smith is just incapable of changing or making adjustments. He is sticking to his base Cover-2 and just watching the Bucs get shredded week after week. That type of hard-headedness (or maybe empty-headedness) is why he was run out of Chicago. We'll see how long it lasts in Tampa. The Bucs are 16-38 ATS at home, but they are 4-1 ATS in their last five games after a loss.
24. Dallas Cowboys (2-6) - This is what a disheveled mess the Cowboys are: early Tuesday an article popped up on dallascowboys.com calling for them to give Kellen Moore a chance. Four hours later he was released from the team. Dallas doesn't know if it is coming or going right now. The Greg Hardy situation has blown up in Dallas' faces and exposed the organization for callous, sniveling bunch of scumbags that we all already knew that they were. It is glorious. Anyone that is betting on this team right now should be prepared to reap the karmic whirlwind.
25. Houston Texans (3-5) - The underdogs have been absolutely crushing it on Monday Night Football this year. We will see if the Texans can keep that streak going this week at Cincinnati. Or if they will keep another streak intact: Houston is 0-7 ATS in its last seven games on MNF. Yes, they've had two weeks to prepare. But that doesn't change the fact that this is still a terrible team that is subpar at so many different position groups.
26. Baltimore Ravens (2-6) - I know that the Ravens have had two weeks to prepare for this week's tilt with overmatched Jacksonville. But facts are facts. And the fact is that this Ravens team has been decimated by injuries this season. There's simply nothing left. I have gained more respect for Joe Flacco's ability this year than I have in maybe his entire career to this point. The Ravens are 0-6 ATS in their last six home games, and they are just 8-19 ATS in their last 27 conference games.
27. San Francisco 49ers (3-6) - It is kind of ridiculous that Blaine Gabbert not only outrushed the Falcons team on Sunday (32 to 17) but he also nearly topped Colin Kaepernick's rushing total from the previous four games combined (38 to 32).
28. Tennessee Titans (2-6) - Let's not get carried away with the Titans and Mike Mularkey. They are just the most recent example of teams and locker rooms rallying around the leader after a major coaching change. San Fran won its first game for Jim Tomasula after an offseason of mockery. Miami played great in Campbell's first game. And now the Titans extended that trend with an inspired effort in New Orleans. But I don't see them standing up to the machine that is Carolina right now.The Titans are just 7-20 ATS in their last 27 games and 8-20 ATS in their last 28 home games.
29. San Diego Chargers (2-7) - I don't want to hear any crying from Chargers fans when the team packs up and moves to Los Angeles. Philip Rivers was forced into a silent count on Monday because visiting fans were making too much noise. I'm willing to bet that crowd was comprised of 70 percent Bears fans, similar to how Pittsburgh fans overwhelmed the home team last month on Monday night. Poor Philip Rivers. I bet right now he was wishing he had been traded to Tennessee. He is on pace for 700 pass attempts this year.
30. Cleveland Browns (2-7) - At this point I really don't care who the Browns go with at quarterback. I just want them to pick someone and roll with him so I'll know how to handicap this team down the stretch. If they go with Josh McCown then this team will be a feisty underdog and potential spoiler down the stretch. If they go with Manziel then they will be an erratic mess that we can bet against on the road against top-tier defenses because Manziel still doesn't know what he's doing. The Browns are 6-2 ATS in their last eight divisional games.
31. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-6) - That is now 13 straight road losses for the Jaguars. I'm not sure that facing a pissed-off Baltimore team coming off a week of rest is the spot to get that first road 'W'. The public does not agree, however, as the Jaguars are actually taking a slim majority (51 percent) of the action in Sunday's game with the Ravens. Jacksonville has clearly improved, especially offensively. But they aren't even close defensively. The underdog is 12-5-3 ATS in the last 20 meetings between the Ravens and Jaguars. And my first thought when I saw that stat was, "these two teams have played 20 times?"
32. Detroit Lions (1-7) - What do you think a pissed off Aaron Rodgers is going to do to a secondary that allows 73.1 percent completions and 8.7 yards per pass? And for anyone that doesn't think that Matthew Stafford is a complete and total loser, his career record (with two playoff appearances on the books, mind you) sits at an ugly 36-49 right now. He was overrated in college, and now Stafford has spent his entire pro career conning people into thinking he is a franchise guy. Actually, maybe he is a "franchise quarterback". And because he's a loser maybe that makes him the perfect quarterback for the Lions.
Throughout the season I will have my NFL Power Rankings every Wednesday. My next ones will be released on Wednesday, Nov. 18.
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