NFL Stat Previews

HANDICAPPING NOTEBOOK

WE TAKE A DAY OFF FROM THE BOWLS
TO FOCUS AGAIN ON THE NFL

by Mathew Hurley, Managing Editor

Today is the final Sunday of the NFL regular season. It turned out that there's not as much drama as everyone was hoping for. Most playoff spots are locked up, unless Atlanta gets shocked by horrible Carolina (which is possible, because ANYTHING can happen in the NFL!).

We still want to run through all the games so you can get one last look at the key stat indicators for everyone. We'll provide comprehensive coverage of the playoff teams through the postseason, but everyone else will fall off the radar until the summer preview series. Today's numbers will set up Sunday's games...AND help you understand the offseason personnel moves that will be taking place over the next several months.

As always, we take the games in rotation order...

Oakland: 13.8 offense, 11.7 defense (-3 TO's, 29th schedule)
Kansas City: 13.1 offense, 12.9 defense (+10 TO's, 32nd schedule)
Vegas Line: Kansas City by 3.5, total of 43.5
Notebook
: Note that Oakland has the better Drive Point numbers (the data you see today represents points scored and allowed per game on drives of 60 yards or more). And, that's true even though they played a slightly tougher schedule (both teams played VERY soft schedules obviously). Oakland's 5-0 record within the division is legit. They hope to make it 6-0 today against a Chiefs team that's already locked up a first round home game next week in the playoffs. As in most games today, motivation from one team or the other will mean everything. We've been working very closely with our on site sources to determine who's going to show up to play...and who's going to show up because they're contractually obligated to.

Miami: 9.9 offense, 9.8 defense (-11 TO's, 8th schedule)
New England: 17.7 offense, 14.9 defense (+27 TO's, 7th schedule)
Vegas Line: New England by 4.5, total of 43.5
Notebook:
Miami's much better than people realize, having to grind through a brutal schedule. But, they're still not as good as they had hoped to be, which is why Tony Sparano may be on the way out by dinner time. The offense really does have problems, so we can understand the frustration. New England's +27 in turnover differential should pop out at you. It's the best in the league this year by a mile. Tom Brady makes few miscues on short passes. Opponents force themselves into mistakes trying to play catch up. That could be an important theme starting in a couple of weeks when the top seed in the AFC takes the field for the first time.

Tennessee: 11.9 offense, 11.3 defense (-4 TO's, 19th schedule)
Indianapolis: 16.3 offense, 12.3 defense (-4 TO's, 20th schedule)
Vegas Line: Indianapolis by 9.5, total of 48
Notebook:
The Colts need to win to wrap up the AFC South, unless Jacksonville loses on the road in Houston today. That's why the line is so high. That, and Tennessee's recent tank jobs! If our sources here the Titans are showing up for a divisional rival, we may consider taking this high number. Indy's defense isn't good enough to lock down decent opponents who are trying. They would have no problem winning by at least 17 though if the Titans pull another no show. Is this Jeff Fisher's last game in Tennessee? Many think so.

Jacksonville: 9.4 offense, 15.3 defense (-13 TO's, 22nd schedule)
Houston: 15.9 offense, 19.0 defense (-2 TO's, 14th schedule)
Vegas Line: Houston by 3, total of 46
Notebook
: David Garrard won't be able to play for the Jaguars at last report, which is why the line has jumped all the way to Houston -3. If the Jags assume they have no shot at the division, this could be a non-effort. We're spending A LOT of time with this one because Houston may make one last divisional statement in the Kubiak era...and it would come against a very cheap home line. If you see JIM HURLEY has a big play in this one, the sources will have spoken!

Pittsburgh: 8.2 offense, 7.1 defense (+14 TO's, 9th schedule)
Cleveland: 10.5 offense, 11.1 defense (+2 TO's, 3rd schedule)
Vegas Line: Pittsburgh by 5.5, total of 37.5
Notebook:
Pittsburgh must win to earn the #2 seed and get a first round bye. They currently own the tie-breaker with Baltimore...and both are favored to win today and stay tied. That's pretty good motivation, because a bye is a lot better than having to travel to Indianapolis or Kansas City to play in front of a fired up crowd and a motivated host. Cleveland continues to get respect in the line though. That made more sense a few weeks ago than it has lately. The Browns have faded badly, with two straight losses to divisional foes.

Cincinnati: 9.3 offense, 13.1 defense (-5 TO's, 2nd schedule)
Baltimore: 11.2 offense, 12.1 defense (+4 TO's, 11th schedule)
Vegas Line: Baltimore by 10, total of 43
Notebook:
The Ravens can root hard for Cleveland and play hard here, or relax on the assumption that time has run out on their divisional hopes. You don't want to wear yourself down here if you have to play on the road next week. You don't want to blow this game off and watch the Steelers get upset. We expected a lot of scoreboard watching here. We have to think about Cincinnati because of their improved chemistry since the prima donnas left the lineup...and because Baltimore may pull their starters in the second half.

Minnesota: 9.5 offense, 9.1 defense (-12 TO's, 5th schedule)
Detroit: 9.9 offense, 13.1 defense (+5 TO's, 4th schedule)
Vegas Line: Detroit by 3, total of 42.5
Notebook:
Nothing at stake here. These teams come out close to the same in the wash because Minnesota's Drive Point edge is counteracted by their poor turnover rate. Detroit can be optimistic heading into next year because of clear improvement...and because they're due to have a healthy quarterback for a full season. Minnesota has to figure out what it's doing at quarterback, and who the permanent head coach is going to be. Odd that Detroit may have the brighter outlook in 2011.

NY Giants: 12.9 offense, 9.5 defense (-6 TO's, 21st schedule)
Washington: 10.3 offense, 10.5 defense (-1 TO's, 13th schedule)
Vegas Line: NY Giants by 4, total of 44.5
Notebook
: The Giants have a miniscule chance of sneaking into the playoffs. The team is so demoralized by the recent collapse though that they may not bring full intensity. There are also rumors about their coach being fired too. Never a great way to enter a road divisional game. Rex Grossman played pretty well in a loss to Dallas, but very poorly in a win over Jacksonville. Hard to know what you're going to get with him. We'll only touch this one if our New York sources are adamant that we get involved.

Chicago: 8.9 offense, 10.0 defense (+4 TO's, 18th schedule)
Green Bay: 14.3 offense, 8.7 defense (+10 TO's, 10th schedule)
Vegas Line: Green Bay by 10, total of 42
Notebook:
Green Bay clinches a playoff spot with a win, so they have every reason to show up. Chicago has already won the #2 seed and a bye, which gives them little motivation. Now, Chicago could sneak into #1 if Atlanta loses to Carolina. They'll know by kickoff of this time change game whether or not that's in play. And, of course, Vegas will be frantically dropping this line if it is. Probably a pass for us. Note that Green Bay has the stats of a champion above. Imagine what they'd do without all the injuries. They still have a chance to win out as a Wildcard, which we saw the Giants do a few years ago.

Dallas: 13.3 offense, 14.8 defense (-3 TO's, 16th schedule)
Philadelphia: 15.3 offense, 13.8 defense (+12 TO's, 15th schedule)
Vegas Line: Philadelphia by 3, total of 43
Notebook:
Philadelphia's loss to Minnesota was a stunner. Now the team has to prepare to host a Wildcard team (very likely Green Bay) next week with weakened confidence and a limping quarterback. Do they focus today on rebuilding confidence? Or, saving themselves for next week? Answer that and you've got the pointspread winner. One of many games for us that's a likely pass unless we get an important scoop. When we hear a scoop, you scoop up the cash!

Buffalo: 9.1 offense, 12.4 defense (-12 TO's, 1st schedule)
NY Jets: 12.0 offense, 11.5 defense (+4 TO's, 6th schedule)
Vegas Line: NY Jets by 1, total of 40
Notebook:
Mark Sanchez had his best game in weeks in Chicago when he was playing injured. Funny how that happens to athletes in all sports. They have to re-focus on the fundamentals because they have to be restrained in their play...and everything starts to click. There's still a question about how many snaps he'll take here. New York must play on the road next week (probably in Kansas City). They started in a similar spot last year and made it all the way to the AFC finals.

Carolina: 6.0 offense, 10.3 defense (-7 TO's, 12th schedule)
Atlanta: 14.3 offense, 9.5 defense (+13 TO's, 17th schedule)
Vegas Line: Atlanta by 14, total of 41
Notebook:
John Fox was let go this week for the Panthers. You can see it wasn't because of his defense. A team that has a quarterback but needs a winner would find Fox a great get (hello Dallas!). Atlanta can wrap up the #1 seed with a win. You'd have to question their championship chops if they can't pull that off. Does that mean this will be a blowout? Hey, they won't play next week if they win here, which gives them a license to run up the score a bit. We'll see what our handicapping team comes up with for a projected margin.

Tampa Bay: 10.9 offense, 9.7 defense (+8 TO's, 23rd schedule)
New Orleans: 14.9 offense, 9.2 defense (-5 TO's, 25th schedule)
Vegas Line: New Orleans by 7.5, total of 46.5
Notebook:
New Orleans is getting a lot of respect in the line for a team that probably won't have anything to play for...and probably will be playing again on the road next week. This game runs simultaneous to Carolina/Atlanta...meaning New Orleans can pull their starters in the second half if they see Atlanta running away. We'll have to think about the big divisional dog with the solid stats in this scenario.

St. Louis: 9.7 offense, 10.6 defense (+5 TO's, 31st schedule)
Seattle: 10.3 offense, 16.4 defense (-9 TO's, 27th schedule)
Vegas Line: St. Louis by 3, total of 41.5
Notebook:
This game has been time changed to Sunday Night for NBC. It's the most important game of the day in one sense...but probably meaningless on a delayed basis because the winner is likely to be a big home underdog in the first round of the playoffs. St. Louis has been playing the better ball of late, and will get to see a lot of the helpless Charlie Whitehurst for Seattle. Can we lay points on the road with a team that would probably be 6-10 vs. a normal schedule? You'll have to sign up to find out!

Arizona: 8.1 offense, 11.8 defense (-3 TO's, 30th schedule)
San Francisco: 8.3 offense, 11.5 defense (-3 TO's, 26th schedule)
Vegas Line: San Francisco by 6, total of 38.5
Notebook:
Look at the similarities in the numbers. One of the great things about a season ending schedule that has only divisional games...is that the stats are meaningful at a glance because strength of schedules are so similar (hopefully you've noticed that already on your own). These teams were equally bad, vs. almost equally easy schedules. Just a horrible division the NFC West!

San Diego: 18.5 offense, 8.9 defense (-7 TO's, 28th schedule)
Denver: 12.5 offense, 14.9 defense (-8 TO's, 24th schedule)
Vegas Line: San Diego by 3, total of 47
Notebook:
San Diego will have one of the best stat lines to ever miss the playoffs. That tells you how important turnover differential can be. And, the well-documented woes early in the season on special teams surely didn't help matter. The offense really can move the ball (particularly on bad teams), and the defense really can stop people). The other fundamentals kept them out of the playoffs. Denver's making wholesale changes for next year. We're not sold on Tim Tebow as a real NFL QB. But, he is a bulldog, and he'll be a threat until he suffers the injury that running quarterbacks invariably suffer.

Our full slate of Sunday selections, including one of our biggest releases this year will be available a few hours before kickoff here at the website. Most likely...of you're reading this...they're available NOW! Make a few clicks and take care of business with you credit card. Or, call the office at 1-800-323-4453 for information on how to sign up for the rest of football through the Super Bowl. What you win today could pay for BIG JUICY WINNERS from today through the rest of the bowls...through the Auburn-Oregon showdown in the BCS championship game...and through the Super Bowl scheduled for Dallas a few weeks down the road.

We hope you enjoyed the New Year's Day bowls. Now it's time to gear up for another SUPER SUNDAY!

This article is part of the VSM MASTERS SERIES presented by VegasSportsMasters.com and JimHurley.com. For more information on JIM HURLEY'S handicapping packages, call 1-800-323-4453.

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