Pressure Packed NFC
JIM HURLEY'S HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK
AN NFC TEAM CURRENTLY AT 8-4 OR BETTER IS GUARANTEED TO MISS THE PLAYOFFS!
This has to be one of the most underreported stories right now in the NFL. A good team that's generally perceived as playoff caliber is going to miss the postseason entirely.
It might be the New York Giants. It might be the Green Bay Packers. If the New Orleans Saints lose focus, they might not get a chance to defend their Lombardi Trophy in the postseason. SOMEBODY who currently has an 8-4 record or better is going to be home with you and us watching the games on TV.
The media has done a decent job of letting you know who's in the divisional races. And, even if all you do is read the standings, it's impossible to miss!
NY Giants 8-4
Green Bay 8-4
New Orleans 9-3
St. Louis 6-6
We'll try not to talk too much about the West. A bad team (by playoff standards) is going to win that division, then very likely get squashed in the first round by somebody who knows what they're doing. In the other three divisions...
ONLY TWO TEAMS CAN WIN A WILDCARD!
That's three quality runners up...and only two spots.
It's tempting to give the nods right now to teams who own the tie breaker. Philadelphia has a win over the NY Giants. Chicago has a win over Green Bay. Atlanta has a win over New Orleans. The problem there is that Philadelphia and Chicago both won home games...and the rematches will be in the opposing city. Michael Vick could move from MVP consideration to missing the playoffs entirely if the Eagles lose that rematch in New York. Have the guys who have been hyping Vick even mentioned that?!
Typically on Sundays, we write up an expanded preview of the prime time game on NBC. Tonight's Philadelphia/Dallas game is largely important because of its impact in the playoffs...so we decided to focus on the full NFC playoff picture instead. Our Monday report will update the AFC picture before discussing the Baltimore/Houston game on ESPN.
We're going to let the NFC West race play itself out. Here's what's on tap for the six contenders battling for the other five playoff spots.
PHILADELPHIA: at Dallas, at NY Giants, vs. Minnesota, vs. Dallas
NY GIANTS: at Minnesota, vs. Philadelphia, at Green Bay, at Washington
Nothing easy there. Minnesota is playing better since the coaching change, and has a chance to play spoiler against both teams. Dallas has been playing better since its coaching change, and can certainly take at least one game from the Eagles. They're not going to lay down for a divisional rival. Jerry Jones is already talking about bringing Tony Romo back this season. The closest thing to a soft spot is the Giants road game at Washington...but that will be the third road game in four weeks, and will come against a divisional rival.
Next week's meeting is obviously HUGE. Philadelphia can almost wrap things up by winning tonight and next week. A win over the Giants would give them a 2-0 heads up record, and allow the Eagles to lose on of their last two home games. If the Giants win this week and next, they STILL have to finish with two road games.
CHICAGO: vs. New England, at Minnesota, NY Jets, at Green Bay
GREEN BAY: at Detroit, at New England, NY Giants, Chicago
Amazing schedules. It's like the playoffs have already started. The Bears have a legitimate shot to lose all four of their remaining games! They're underdogs today vs. New England, and will be road underdogs at Green Bay. The other two should be close to pick-em depending on how things play out. Green Bay gets a bit of a break today with the Lions (but Detroit has been playing most everyone tough), then has three challenge games to finish against playoff contenders.
There's a good chance that season finale will be for all the marbles. And, there's a very real chance that the loser of that game won't even make the playoffs unless they've run the table the previous weeks against tough cards.
ATLANTA: at Carolina, at Seattle, vs. New Orleans, vs. Carolina
NEW ORLEANS: vs. St. Louis, at Baltimore, at Atlanta, vs. Tampa Bay
Atlanta will be favored to win every game, and is already in the driver's seat for the #1 seed and home field throughout the NFC. You saw earlier that they're 10-2 right now. Unless they badly lose focus the next two weeks, 13-3 should be a worst case scenario (though a Game 16 tank job is possible if home field is already a lock). Give the Falcons a bye week now.
Well...New Orleans could catch them from behind with a revenge win and a board sweep of the other games. Tough to assume a win on the road at Baltimore though, with the Ravens battling for playoff positioning themselves.
For the divisional crowns: looks like Atlanta with the biggest edge, a slight edge to Philly, and what looks to be a toss-up with Chicago and Green Bay.
For the two Wildcard spots: New Orleans already has a game lead, and has a less challenging schedule (though far from a cakewalk). You have to currently give them the nod for one spot ...but this is so close to "too close to call" that it's silly to assume much of anything.
And, THAT means handicappers have to deal with any game involving these teams in a special way (except for safe Atlanta). These aren't run-of-the mill regular season games. These are CRITICAL GAMES where:
*You need to know which quarterbacks thrive under pressure, and which melt at the first sign of trouble.
*You need to know which teams can win in all kinds of conditions (plenty of cold weather games on the card), and which are ill-suited for outdoor challenge games.
*You need to know which teams have the depth and character to handle a four-game gauntlet under pressure, and which can only give you one or two top efforts before fading from fatigue or injuries.
*You need to know which defenses can impose their will for a month straight without breaking down.
The stats will only take you so far. The trends from prior years can only mean so much. It's gut check time, and you're going to need more than a stethoscope.
That's where JIM HURLEY'S NETWORK comes in. Thanks to our scouts and sources with every NFL team, we can tell you who's ready for the challenge, and who's a choke job waiting to happen. Our stat handicappers know which key "indicator" stats signal composure, and signal fear. Our computer programmers have unique adaptations they make for December football based on what's happened over the past 25 years. There's nothing like it anywhere else in the industry. And, finally, our Wise Guy connections always let us know what the smart money is doing...so we can maximize line value and be aware of additional off-the-field developments.
These high pressure edges will kick in for our customers TODAY in games like:
NY Giants at Minnesota on FOX
St. Louis at New Orleans on FOX
Oakland at Jacksonville on CBS
Kansas City at San Diego on CBS
New England at Chicago on CBS
Philadelphia at Dallas on NBC
Be sure you purchase today's games before the early kickoffs to maximize your value. You can do that with your credit card online. Or, call the office at 1-800-323-4453. Seasonal packages are still available. Be sure to check on our annual BOWL BASH that starts this coming Saturday.
Back tomorrow to update the AFC picture based on today's results, and to get you ready for Baltimore/Houston on ESPN. Fasten your seatbelts folks...these next few weeks are going to be AMAZING with so many high profile NFL games on the card...and one of the most exciting bowl calendars we've seen in years.
Maybe you have your own ideas about what's going to happen today and tonight. Our best advice? DON'T MAKE A MOVE UNTIL YOU HEAR WHAT JIM HURLEY HAS TO SAY!
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