The first full slate of NFL games this weekend gave us a full slate of drama from start to finish. Starting with Friday’s huge upset in Dallas all the way through to the Chargers comeback and Washington’s quarterback issues. We saw our first division title get claimed with the Rams taking an unassailable lead in the NFC West and two more divisions could be wrapped up by the next time you read it. Overall it was another big week for the underdogs, winning 10 of the 16 games played against the spread. As we gear up for the stretch run home, see just what we could take away from the most recent week of action.
1 – Cowboys Continue Winning Formula
In a season where scoring has resembled a pinball game, it’s nice to see a team able to build its success on a sound defensive game. The weekend got off to a phenomenal start when the Cowboys pulled off a massive upset, not only beating New Orleans, but holding a previously unstoppable offence to just 10 points, easily their lowest total of the season. It was not the first time Dallas has played spoiler for the Saints, ending a 13-0 start in 2009 with a big upset in a primetime game there too. One positive for the Saints though, that season they did go on to win the Super Bowl. You can take a little bit out of that loss where they suddenly looked human, but it shouldn’t shake your confidence backing them going forward.
As discussed last week, the addition of Amari Cooper has made a huge difference to the Cowboys offence giving them a legitimate threat when throwing the ball to compliment their do-it-all running back. Sitting at 7-5 and in prime position to take out the NFC East, Dallas will likely be capped at the third seed in the NFC, but they have to be seen as a competitive side capable of winning any game played on their terms.
2 – Two Seasons Are Officially Over
Just two teams are officially out of playoff contention after 13 Weeks as both the Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers fell to 2-10 on the season. While there are half a dozen other teams you can just about cross off, they still could make the playoffs (albeit with a lot of external help). Both Bay Area teams are going to come in well under their preseason win lines, with the Raiders closing at 7.5 and the 49ers moving from 7.5 to 8.5 as the money rolled in during the preseason.
The 49ers were seen by many as a dark horse title contender, entering the season at $4 to win the NFC West and $31 to win the Super Bowl. Unfortunately for the punters who showed faith in Jimmy GQ, what started off as a talented roster that has since been decimated by injuries. Oakland meanwhile are just about in full on rebuild mode, trading away some of their best players and accumulating draft picks for the future. As these two sides battle for the top pick in April’s draft, you can continue to back against them with confidence.
3 – AFC East on the Line?
Something you could have probably pencilled in before the season, but the New England Patriots are on the verge of claiming the AFC East title… again. They ground out a win against the Vikings to move into clinching position when they face the Dolphins in Miami next week. Having beaten them 38-7 in Week 3, it should be a straightforward result… or not.
Miami might just be the value bet of the week when you consider three big factors. First of all, the Dolphins are a decent side at home, their win over Buffalo moving them to 5-1 on the season at Hard Rock Stadium. Secondly, Brady and the Patriots have not been anywhere near the Patriots of old on the road this season, posting a mediocre 3-3 record. Thirdly, New England as a whole has had more bad games than good in Miami in the Brady-Belichick era. When it comes to punting on the NFL, you look for good spots and this has all the makings of a Dolphins upset win.
4 – Farewell Mike McCarthy, Hello Joe Philbin!
On the back of a bad home loss at home to the lowly Cardinals, Mike McCarthy became the second coaching casualty of the season. The last two seasons for Green Bay have been pretty rough going with Rodgers battling injuries and overall poor play dooming them to another poor record this year. A team like Green Bay changing coach midseason is just about unheard of but the strained relationship between the coach and quarterback made the move a necessity. In his place for the rest of the year is former Dolphins coach Joe Philbin who, by all accounts, is a nice guy, and a great coach to bet against.
5 – Steelers Need Solidifying
Pittsburgh started the season as one of the Super Bowl favourites, sitting at $10 in our market at the start of the year and based on their 7-4-1 record, they should still be viewed as such. Looking at their performances over the last few weeks though, there is a lot to be concerned about. Since their 52-21 demolition of Carolina, they have needed a miracle comeback in Jacksonville, lost on a goal line interception in Denver and blew a huge lead at home to the LA Chargers. While their next game in Oakland should be a touch more straightforward, bet on the Steelers with caution going forward. After this one their next games are at home to New England and away to New Orleans. Not what a team competing for playoff seeding will want.