You can't take NFL teams records at face value at this stage, says our man Mike Carlson, but expect them to shape up from here...
"I like the Bucs at home, even with the erratic Ryan Fitzpatrick at QB, because the Skins' O line is a mess."
The dog days are over
This is the time of the season, as the Zombies sang, and in the NFL it means the teams start to sort themselves out. In general, to quote Bill Parcells, 'You are what your record says you are,' but sometimes there are indications that the early part of the season may be misleading.
For example, there are only a handful of teams who seem definite Super Bowl contenders right now: the one-loss Saints, Rams and Chiefs obviously, then a few maybes: the two-loss Patriots (because they are the Pats more than on strength of results), probably the two-loss and (dare I say it?) fast-charging Chargers, the two loss and one tie Steelers (after that huge win over Carolina).
But if I'd written this column yesterday morning then the 6-2 Panthers would have been in the list, and I'd suspect that, even at 6-3, they aren't far off it. And the three-loss one-tie Vikings still seem to be the class of their division.
Ditto the 4-4 Eagles in the NFC East and maybe the Falcons, who are trending up at 4-4 after a big road win in Washington and go to 5-4 if they beat the Browns on Sunday. And of course someone has to win the AFC South; the Texans are on a bye at 6-3 and sort of trending up; the Titans and Jags were both playoff contenders before the season started, and the Colts are respectable again.
There are also seven teams realistically out of it already: the dirty half-dozen are Cleveland, Buffalo, the Jest (i.e, Jets), Cardinals, Niners and Giants, and then there are the Raiders, who appear to have already quit on the season, if not coach Jon Gruden.
The result of the not-so-merry-go-round is that we start getting top matchups and bad matchups, as well as mis-matchups. It's always hard to figure a game with a 16.5 spread, but it's often just as hard to contend with two teams that have seemingly forgotten how to win.
Last week we did well in each of the first two categories: our best-bet Chiefs could have given a lot more than 8 to the Browns, while our outsider Steelers didn't need the 2.5 they were getting in Baltimore. Let's see if the third category comes into play this week...
Bucs to dominate at home against Redskins
Two teams that are floundering and trying to at least tred water. But I like the Bucs at home, even with the erratic Ryan Fitzpatrick at QB, because the Skins' O line is a mess. They ought to be able to slow down Adrian Peterson and drive Alex Smith to distraction, and the Skins, as they showed against Atlanta, are terrible in the back four, where the Bucs' biggest weapons (Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson) can take advantage of them.
Expats for Patriots
This is a matchup of the Pats vs the Pats Old Boys: the Titans' GM, coach, defensive coordinator, running back (Dion Lewis), guard (Josh Kline), corners (Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler) are all ex-Pats, and they have the ingredients to drag the game down to their level.
They are one of the best defensive teams in the league, and Pees, in his years with the Ravens, always managed to make life difficult for Tom Brady. But with Sony Michel likely to be back, and Josh Gordon integrating into the lineup, the Pats ought to be able to scheme around that. You could go Unders (46.5 at evens) in this one too.
Lightening Chargers to strike
As I said, it appears the Raiders have given up on this season, and the Chargers have plenty of offensive weapons and enough defense to make their day miserable. This is a big-ish spread on the road, but we're starting to get these matchups of teams trending in opposite directions.
If you don't like that, you might try the Cleveland vs Atlanta Overs (50.5 at evens) which is an outside bet if I ever saw one.