This is the week the NFL season starts to pull itself into shape, like 400 metre runners coming out of the stagger start. The last four bye weeks are this weekend so, after this round, all teams will have played 13 games and have four to go. We can get a better idea of how the race for the everybody gets a participation trophy playoffs shapes up.
Following the epic pounding the Vikes gave the Steelers last night on the abomination that is Thursday Night Football - it took Big Ben three quarters just to get his Tin Man joints oiled -- we can see the difference between AFC and NFC pretty clearly.
State of play in the AFC and NFC
In the AFC, the four current division leaders all have four losses. Behind them are four teams, one per division, with seven wins, then there are five more with six wins, including Pittsburgh.
It's too early to anoint any of those four leaders as the division champs, but note although Tennessee is not the same team without Derrick Henry, they are playing Jacksonville and could be two full games up on Indy with four to play, and they hold the tie-breaker. At any rate, you can see it's a fight to the finish for the wild cards.
In the NFC you have Arizona (10-2) Tampa and Green Bay (9-3) all looking pretty secure in their divisions, the Cards two games up on the Rams in the East the 8-4 Cowboys two up on Washington. Behind those six teams are Minnesota with seven wins and WTF, Philly, and the Niners all with six, probably chasing one wild card.
Last week Iron Mike did pretty damn well here. Best bet Miami covered 4.5 over the Giants, outside bet Rams covered 13 against the hapless Jags, and covered -7 at halftime too if you paid attention, and finally value bet New England won outright at 23/20 in Buffalo. This week might be tougher, because at this stage of the season there are so many many flawed teams that it's hard to predict whose flaws will rise to the surface and whose will be at least temporarily overcome.
Sunday 18:00 - Back overs in the Dixie derby
Las Vegas (6-6) at Kansas City (8-4)
Hard to understand why the Chiefs and Mahomes can't put together much consistency but last week's 13 targets of Hill and Kelce and only five catches for 49 yards may point to a reason. But their D is punishing mistakes and that's the Raiders' middle name. They were getting 8.5 on Wednesday. Now they're getting 10 which makes them a tricky proposition.
New Orleans (5-7) at NY Jets (3-9)
Marcus Williams' futile angle against Tony Pollard's TD run was my laff highlight of the week. There isn't a Pollard on the Jest, and Zac Wilson is still struggling to adjust.
Jacksonville (2-10) at Tennessee (8-4)
The Titans are bye week rested and ready and Urban Meyer is already throwing everyone else under the bus. The college hotshot is going full Steve Spurrier, while Mike Vrabel is showing what pro coaches are supposed to do in the face of adversity. If Urban doesn't want James Robinson, I'm sure Vrabel would take him.
Baltimore (8-4) at Cleveland (6-6)
Which version of each team shows up? Can Nick Chugg dominate (can the Browns' O line dominate the Ravens' D which is good against the run) or can Baker Mayfield punish the depleted Ravens' secondary. Can Lamar dodge Myles Garrett and find a receiver other than Mark Andrews? Can their 2018 fantasy team runners run behind a line can't can't really dominate? The Browns season may live or die here. Lamar was sacked seven times by the Steelers last week; Minn coped by running Dalvin Cook 27 times, I don't know as the Ravens can do that.
Atlanta (5-7) at Carolina (5-7)
A Dixie Derby of teams with identical records heading in different directions. If Atlanta take a quick lead, look out for the Panthers, but having lost McCaffrey for the season and fired their offensive coordinator, I sort of like the Birds getting points on the road. I like Atlanta to win with the points here (though I'd like it better with 3). The over/under on this has dropped two points from 43.5 on Wednesday, and I kind of like that better than either. I'd like to double this one, but the line on a Falcons win still has the over/under at 43.5, so I'd be cautious.
Value Bet - Back Over 41.5 in Atlanta at Carolina @ 9/10
Dallas (8-4) at Washington Team Football (6-6)
WTF are a better defensive team now playing lots of zone than they were with Chase Young and playing lots of man. They're home dogs for a reason, though, and Taylor Heinecke will find Micah Parsons and co making his life in the pocket a problem.
Seattle (4-8) at Houston (2-10)
Hard to figure what the Seattle offense is or isn't up to, but last week's win was down more to Travis Homer's run on a brilliant fake punt and on a 2/1 advantage in penalties. These included a horrible deliberate elbow to Elijah Mitchell's head by Darrell Taylor, which went uncalled, and a brutal start to finish bear hug pass interference by Sidney Jones on Trent Sherfield in the end zone on the game's next to last play which was also invisible to the zebras. Houston's up to 8.5 on the over/under, which still might not be enough.
Sunday 21:05 - Giants and Chargers to put on the points
Detroit (1-10-1) at Denver (6-6)
Lions on a one-game winning streak! Why Mike Zimmer kept botching two point conversions and didn't rush more than three against Jared Goff on the game's last play puzzles me, but I reckon Vic Fangio will rush Goff till the Broncos come home. I wish I trusted Denver to cover, but the number moved from 8 to 10 since Wednesday.
NY Giants (4-8) at LA Chargers (7-5)
The spread on this has gone down to 9.5 and the over/under down to 43, which says more about the inconsistency of the Chargers than anything else. Ever since dubbing myself the Under Taker a few weeks ago, I've been tempted consistently by overs, and here were are again.
Outside Bet - Back Over 43 in NY Giants v LA Charges at 9/10
Sunday 21:25 - San Francisco (6-6) at Cincinnati (7-5)
How tough is this one to pick? Last week I thought the Bengals were a best bet giving three to the Chargers. This week they were giving a point to the Niners on Wednesday. They are now home dogs getting 1.5. This is the bookies' way of saying pick 'em.
Sunday 21:25 - Buffalo (7-5) at Tampa Bay (9-3)
This is almost a must-win for Buffalo, depending on the result of Pats at Colts next week before the Bills and Pats rematch two weeks from now. Their other three games are all winnable, so you figure a split of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick matches would give them 11 and a playoff spot. But a split may be hard.
They are getting three here but I suspect the Bucs have both the fire-power and the O line to overcome that. In the last month the Bills have scored 10 and 15 at home in Canada's vestibule, but 31 in New Orleans and 45 at Newark Airport Jets. The Bucs, meanwhile, have racked up 98 in the last three weeks, against Atlanta, Indy and the Giants, but were held to 19 the week before that by WTF. You can see I'm thinking on that 52.5 over/under too, as the Bucs' biggest weakness is their secondary.
01:20 Monday - Chicago (4-8) at Green Bay (9-3)
I liked the over 44 on Wednesday's Betfair: NFL Only Bettor pod, so I suppose I ought to stick with it as it's dropped to 43. Maybe check the weather, but so far it looks cold but otherwise ok. The Bears' D is not as good as its rep, while Rodgers seems to just shrug and take care of it.
01:15 Tuesday - Saving the best bet till last
LA Rams (8-4) at Arizona (10-2)
You kind of think that Vance Joseph will be able to shut down Matt Stafford's reliance on Cooper Kupp and create a problem for the Rams. I think they can: the only worry I have here is the Cards turning it over early because the Rams are really front runners.
Best Bet - Back Arizona -2 v LA Rams at 9/10
BYE WEEKS: New England (9-4), Indianapolis (7-6), Miami (6-7), Philadelphia (6-7)