Another quirky NFL season reaches the halfway point for most teams today. Six teams take the week off, and only three division games are on the calendar, with another slated for Monday night.
Atlanta is an 8½-point home favorite over Tampa Bay, with first place at stake in the NFC South. How about those Buccaneers? Josh Freeman has been more than serviceable at quarterback, and LeGarrette Blount has emerged as a powerful force at running back.
The Bucs’ only losses have come at the hands of New Orleans and Pittsburgh, so this is an acid test of sorts within the division.
The Falcons, a fashionable preseason play to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl, are solid. Their two defeats were on the road against stout foes Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Atlanta is coming off a bye in the second of a three-game home stand.
The Saints, 6½- to 7-point favorites at Carolina, are off a hard-fought victory over the Steelers. New Orleans might get a much-needed boost after its Week 10 bye with the return of running back Reggie Bush.
Downright ordinary to this point, the Saints are 5-3 and looking up at Atlanta and Tampa Bay in the division.
It’s a big day in the NFC South, and time for another big test for the San Diego Chargers, who are 0-4 on the road.
Philip Rivers and the Chargers, favored by 2½ to 3 points at Houston, continue to put up enormous numbers with a piece-meal receiving corps.
The Texans’ offense is potentially explosive, but in Week 8, quarterback Matt Schaub looked mediocre in a suspect game plan that did not stretch the field against the Colts.
The AFC South is a bear, with Indianapolis, Tennessee, Houston and even Jacksonville knocking heads heading into the second half. The way things are setting up, it’s possible only the division winner might make the playoffs.
Dallas has been a train wreck, with coach Wade Phillips asleep at the switch from the beginning. The Cowboys (1-6) are 7½-point underdogs at Green Bay.
A month or two ago, many thought this matchup could be an NFC Championship Game preview. Sharp money actually has backed the Cowboys during the week. The Packers have shown grit by winning several close games, including last week’s 9-0 defensive battle over the Jets.
One of the day’s best games is in Philadelphia, where the Eagles are off a bye and returning to quarterback Michael Vick to run the offense.
The Eagles are 3-point favorites over the Colts, and coach Andy Reid’s 11-0 record after a bye week is second to none. That spectacular angle could be severely put to the test with quarterback Peyton Manning providing the opposition. Still, Reid’s prowess in this specific situation is hard to ignore.
New England is at Cleveland today, and Pittsburgh is at Cincinnati on Monday. The Patriots and Steelers are two of the classier teams in the AFC going against extremely inconsistent foes.
Yes, these are professional teams, but it might not be outlandish to think both could be in look-ahead spots because New England and Pittsburgh will lock horns next week.
Brian Blessing, host of “Sportsbook Radio” on ESPN (1100 AM, 98.9 FM), can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.