NFL Previews, including Bears/Dolphins

 HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK
 
BYES ARE OVER...BEARS/DOLPHINS KICKS OFF FULL NFL WEEKEND

by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

We have 16 games to run through, so there's no time to spare!

The numbers you see below are per-game Drive Point averages for each offense and defense (points scored and allowed on drives of 60 yards or more). We consider it the single best indicator stat in all of sports. We provide turnover differential for additional context...and the strength of schedule ranking from USA Today's computer so you can make adjustments when needed.

Games are presented in rotation order...

TONIGHT
Chicago: 8.3 offense, 8.7 defense (+3 TO's, 31st schedule)
Miami: 10.4 offense, 11.8 defense (-5 TO's, 3rd schedule)
Vegas Line: Miami by 1.5, total of 39.5
Notebook: Even though the Bears are 6-3 in your newspaper standings, they're basically a .500 type team statistically while playing the second easiest schedule in the whole NFL. They're more like 3-6 or 4-5 in the big picture. Miami is 5-4 vs. a killer schedule, but will have to start a third string quarterback tonight on short preparation against the excellent defense of the Bears. We'll have to look at the Under with that in mind. If we have a release on the team side, it will be because of game day news from our on-site sources. Tough to ask either offense to thrive enough to cover this evening.

SUNDAY

Oakland: 14.2 offense, 12.7 defense (+1 TO's, 28th schedule)
Pittsburgh: 8.8 offense, 8.0 defense (+8 TO's, 2nd schedule)
Vegas Line: Pittsburgh by 7, total of 41.5
Notebook: The line makes more sense when you make the strength of schedule adjustments. Oakland is not quite as legitimate as the Drive Points make it seem because of that 28th ranked schedule. Pittsburgh is better than the numbers make it look because of the challenging schedule, and the fact that Ben Roethlisberger missed the first month. That being said, he hasn't exactly set the world on fire in his return...until garbage time of the New England game that is. We're impressed with the Raiders new attitude. But, we're cognizant of the "bad body clock" issues for Oakland in this early kickoff. We'll only try the dog if our sources tell us they're up to the challenge. We'll look at the Under if the weather is going to help us. 

Houston: 15.6 offense, 21.2 defense (-3 TO's, 18th schedule)
NY Jets: 13.9 offense, 12.1 defense (+6 TO's, 9th schedule)
Vegas Line: NY Jets by 7, total of 45.5
Notebook: That Houston defense is just HORRIBLE. Who else but Houston would knock a Hail Mary pass into the other team's arms for the game winning TD? The Jets defense isn't as good as its billing, but is still strong enough to have an influence. Based on the impact that swirling winds had on Mark Sanchez in his last home game, we won't make a final decision until we know the forecast. This could be a high scoring shootout in good conditions, but a bit of a circus if it's windy.

Baltimore: 15.3 offense, 12.9 defense (-1 TO's, 5th schedule)
Carolina: 5.8 offense, 9.4 defense (-10 TO's, 23rd schedule)
Vegas Line: Baltimore by 10, total of 37.5
Notebook: Carolina's been pretty non-competitive the past few weeks. It's tough to ask them to hang with a quality team like Baltimore who's in a bounce-back spot and has extra rest off a Thursday game. Do we trust Joe Flacco on the road as a double digit favorite? This game will probably be a pass for us unless we hear something from our sources. The Under may get some consideration given the lack of threats on the Panthers offense right now.

Washington: 10.6 offense, 11.4 defense (+5 TO's, 16th schedule)
Tennessee: 13.1 offense, 10.4 defense (+4 TO's, 10th schedule)
Vegas Line: Tennessee by 7, total of 44
Notebook: Washington has been heading in the wrong direction for a few weeks now. Tennessee comes and goes...looking like playoff material one week, but also-ran material the next. They sure didn't wow anyone in Miami last week. The stats say the line is a shade too high. It's a high scoring year, so 11.4 is a better defensive number than it might seem at first glance for the dog. Must-win game for both. Arguably a gut-check game for McNabb and Young at quarterback too.

Detroit: 9.6 offense, 10.6 defense (+3 TO's, 13th schedule)
Dallas: 12.7 offense, 14.1 defense (-7 TO's, 14th schedule)
Vegas Line: Dallas by 6, total of 46
Notebook: The Dallas numbers are full season, so Romo is still counted heavily. If Jason Garrett really was the answer at head coach...then this line may still be too small. Dallas becomes playoff caliber even if they're not going to actually be a playoff team. But, if the Giants win was just a one-game fluke, then the turnover issues and defensive question marks make the Cowboys a dicey favorite. We're working closely with our sources here, and will only get involved if we hear something special. The Over may get some thought indoors with an offensive-minded coach now running the show for the Pokes.

Green Bay: 13.8 offense, 7.7 defense (+6 TO's, 20th schedule)
Minnesota: 8.6 offense, 10.4 defense (-11 TO's, 8th schedule)
Vegas Line: Green Bay by 3, total of 44
Notebook: The Brett Favre who played last week should be a 7-10 point underdog here. A reportedly sore shoulder had him misfiring in all directions. You don't beat somebody like Green Bay with THAT bad a quarterback in the pocket. The Brett Favre who played Green Bay earlier this year, and looked pretty sharp at New England is another story. Clearly any pick we have here will be based on what we hear over the weekend about Favre's shoulder. If it's worse than he's telling the media, Green Bay could be a big play for us here. The big discrepancy in turnover differential can be critical in games with small spreads.

Buffalo: 10.3 offense, 13.8 defense (-7 TO's, 6th schedule)
Cincinnati: 9.4 offense, 11.7 defense (-1 TO's, 4th schedule)
Vegas Line: Cincinnati by 5.5, total of 44
Notebook: We have two teams who are better than their records because they've played killer schedules. But, that doesn't mean either one is really any good. We like what we've been seeing with the Bills in recent weeks. They keep bringing an effort on both sides of the ball. Cincinnati will bring an effort for a quarter or two, but has had real trouble stringing together meaningful success. The Bills are on our short list as underdogs until they have a bad game getting points. Cincinnati is definitely a "go-against" favorite until they beat post an impressive victory.

Cleveland: 11.4 offense, 12.9 defense (+1 TO's, 1st schedule)
Jacksonville: 8.1 offense, 16.2 defense (-6 TO's, 22nd schedule)
Vegas Line: Jacksonville by 1.5, total of 44
Notebook: We have a stat mismatch favoring the Browns, who have a better differential in Drive Points, a better turnover differential, all while playing the tougher schedule. In any other week...we'd LOVE the Browns. But, coming off a huge win over New England, and a grueling five-quarter overtime loss to the NY Jets...this may not be the time to step in. It's also a climate switch too. Our on-site sources will guide us here...and we could have a VERY big play one way or the other based on what they tell us.

Arizona: 8.9 offense, 15.6 defense (-8 TO's, 17th schedule)
Kansas City: 11.7 offense, 14.6 defense (+5 TO's, 25th schedule)
Vegas Line: Kansas City by 8, total of 44
Notebook: Arizona's numbers look bad enough already, but you have to remember they've struggled even worse on the road. We're not in the business of taking horrible road teams and crossing our fingers. We'll only take the points here if the injury news stays bad for the Chiefs. Kansas City has fallen back to earth the last two weeks, and now shows almost a -3 differential in Drive Points while playing a weak schedule). Unique position...improved but still a pretender!

Seattle: 9.0 offense, 15.0 defense (+1 TO's, 26th schedule)
New Orleans: 10.7 offense, 9.8 defense (-4 TO's, 29th schedule)
Vegas Line: New Orleans by 12, total of 44
Notebook: Note the similar strengths of schedule (both weak), then compare the Drive Point differentials. Seattle is a very bad -6, while New Orleans is about +1. That's why the line is so high here. We do believe, though, that Seattle's numbers were artificially lowered by being "in the tank" versus Oakland and the NY Giants as they bided their time while trying to get healthy. Last week's win at Arizona was impressive. We will have to consider the big dog here in that light. Were the Seahawks disinterested, then the Saints win by 21 or more. Looks like they're back in the saddle again.

Atlanta: 17.4 offense, 9.9 defense (+9 TO's, 12th schedule)
St. Louis: 9.9 offense, 10.4 defense (+3 TO's, 32nd schedule)
Vegas Line: Atlanta by 3, total of 43
Notebook: The stats are pointing to the Falcons pretty strongly here. They're plus 7.5 in Drive Point differential against a decent schedule. St. Louis is down a half a point vs. the softest schedule in the league. Factor in home field, and you still get Atlanta by 4-5 even before the schedule adjustments. Atlanta's also had extra preparation time. We will admit some concern about Atlanta's inconsistencies on the road.

Tampa Bay: 10.4 offense, 11.0 defense (+5 TO's, 27th schedule)
San Francisco: 9.7 offense, 10.7 defense (+5 TO's, 24th schedule)
Vegas Line: San Francisco by 3, total of 41.5
Notebook: These are very similar teams statistically...virtually dead ringers for each other in our indicator stats. Vegas seems to have it pegged right with a line of home team by three. We do like the attitude of the young Bucs...and we don't trust San Francisco as a favorite...so we may end up on the dog anyway. The Bucs are playing like they have a chip on their shoulder. San Francisco's had too many games where they couldn't remember where they put the chip.

Indianapolis: 14.9 offense, 10.8 defense (+6 TO's, 21st schedule)
New England: 17.2 offense, 17.6 defense (+6 TO's, 7th schedule)
Vegas Line: New England by 3.5, total of 50.5
Notebook: Tough call here. Indianapolis has better stats, but is so ravaged by injuries that you can't expect them to play to that level. New England's defense has a knack for allowing long drives in garbage time, which is making their defense look worse than it really is. Normally, you look at Peyton Manning getting points vs. a bad defense. What about Peyton Manning with limited weaponry on the road against the team that hates his guts more than anyone? We're still batting around the possibilities in office discussions. There's a contingent that wants New England to be a strong play. And, one that points to the rarity of getting a cover machine like Manning with this many points.

NY Giants: 13.3 offense, 7.2 defense (-5 TO's, 30th schedule)
Philadelphia: 15.3 offense, 12.7 defense (+12 TO's, 11th schedule)
Vegas Line: Philadelphia by 3, total of 48
Notebook: A great test for both teams. The Giants have played a very weak schedule, so their Drive Point data may be an illusion. Philadelphia has rarely had Michael Vick healthy and hitting on all cylinders. Their numbers would be better than what you see if he could stay in the lineup every week. We're very much looking forward to this Sunday Night game...and will spend extra time previewing it in our Sunday report here in the NOTEBOOK.

MONDAY NIGHT
Denver: 14.4 offense, 14.1 defense (-3 TO's, 15th schedule)
San Diego: 19.8 offense, 9.3 defense (-9 TO's, 19th schedule)
Vegas Line: San Diego by 10, total of 50.5
Notebook: Here's another game we'll spend more time with in a couple of days. San Diego would be everyone's Super Bowl choice if they could avoid turnovers and didn't have embarrassingly bad special teams. Denver has average stats, but rarely plays average games (witness recent home outings vs. Oakland and Kansas City). We'll crunch some more numbers for you on Monday.

That wraps up our stat previews for the NFL this week. Selections in Chicago/Miami, UCLA/Washington, and Air Force/UNLV will be available a few hours before kickoff here at the website on Thursday. Boise State is action again Friday Night, this time against a more dangerous opponent. Saturday and Sunday bring the normal JAM-PACKED slates of BIG JUICY WINNERS! Have your credit card handy whenever you visit. If you'd like to enjoy discounted rates on seasonal packages, call the office at 1-800-323-4453.

Back tomorrow to preview Miami of Florida/Virginia Tech and talk about the ACC standings. The Big 12 will be featured on Sunday as we get you ready for prime time TV games Nebraska/Texas A&M and Oklahoma/Baylor. Make sure you're with us EVERY DAY so you know what's REALLY going on in the world of sports!

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