Submitted by Jim Hurley on Monday, November 21, 2011 at 9:29 AM
Even though the New England Patriots haven't played nearly as well as past versions of the team, they're currently a virtual lock to make the AFC playoffs because the rest of their schedule is so easy.
In fact, a few stat metrics show the Patriots having the easiest schedule of anyone in the league from this point forward. So...if you start with a team that's 6-3 entering tonight's Monday Night Football affair with the Kansas City Chiefs...then pencil in a win as a two-touchdown favorite that moves the record to 7-3...THEN assume a very easy schedule from this point out...New England is looking at a possible 13-3 or 12-4 finish even though they're not playing consistently great football thus far. Losing twice to finish 11-5 would be kind of an embarrassment given what's left.
BIG FAVORITES: tonight vs. Kansas City, and at home vs. Indianapolis and Miami
MEDIUM FAVORITES: at Washington, at Denver, and at home vs. Buffalo
WINNABLE: at Philadelphia
Given the status of Michael Vick, and the ups and downs we've been seeing from the Eagles, nothing is safe in that Eagles game next week. But...even if the Patriots lose that...there's just not much that's scary the rest of the way. The divisional games are at home. Anything can happen on any given week, so maybe the Redskins or Tim Tebow have a surprise in store. A record of 12-4 is probably the best expectation given the nature of the NFL. And...12-4 this year in the AFC is going to put you in pretty good stead.
It will be hard for Buffalo or the NY Jets to catch New England from behind given the schedules. And, the Jets already lost twice to the Pats meaning they'd lose a tie-breaker. You can't get to 12-4 or 13-3 from a 5-5 record after 10 games anyway! Plus, as long as the Pats take care of business with in their rematch against Buffalo...New England will own the tie-breaker over the Bills too with a better divisional record (Buffalo's hurt by that home loss to the Jets).
If the division is safe, then the Wildcard is irrelevant. But, even if Buffalo somehow turns into a juggernaut, the Pats would be in great shape for a Wildcard given the dearth of second-place teams who are at seven wins and the remaining schedules for those teams. Remember that Cincinnati still has games left with both Pittsburgh and Baltimore...and Baltimore can't seem to get its act together for more than one or two weeks in a row.
Barring serious injuries...the Pats are basically already in the playoffs.
Well, we suppose the team could get stunned tonight by Kansas City, and then fall apart in the aftershock. Let's crunch our standard indicator numbers to see if anything amazing might be in store.
DRIVE POINTS PER GAME (scored and allowed on 60 yards or more)
Kansas City: 8.4 on offense, 11.2 on defense
New England: 21.7 on offense, 16.9 on defense
We're talking about a fantastic offense facing a horrible offense...and the fantastic offense is playing at home. Oh...backup quarterback Tyler Palko will be on the field for the lousy offense! Looks like Matt Cassell will miss the rest of the season after undergoing surgery on his injured hand last week. The good news when a quarterback on a bad offense gets hurt is that things aren't going to get much worse. Remember, this has been a high scoring season much of the way...so a number like 8.4 on Drive Points is abysmal.
Defensively, New England clearly gets the worst of it above. But, the margin isn't nearly as significant. And, if you've been scoreboard watching lately...you'll have noticed that the Patriots have actually been slowing people down more often. As bad as they looked defensively in Pittsburgh, the Steelers only scored 25 points. Eli Manning and the Giants only had 17 points until that final game-winning drive. The Jets didn't do much last Sunday Night. Dallas finished with16 total points a month ago.
So, we're looking at +4.8 for New England, -2.8 for Kansas City...and the Patriots may be in better form now than those numbers would suggest.
We should point out though that a differential of 7.6 plus home field doesn't equal two touchdowns. Vegas is acting for a victory margin that isn't really justified by the Drive Point numbers. Let's see what the other indicators show...
THIRD DOWN CONVERSIONS
Kansas City: 38% on offense, 39% on defense
New England: 46% on offense, 43% on defense
This actually condenses things a bit more. Kansas City doesn't look nearly as bad here as they did in Drive Points. And, that 39% defense at least gives them a chance to get off the field occasionally. New England has a positive ratio...but it's far from a blockbuster. The Pats should be favored, but we're not seeing justification for the high Vegas price just yet.
Kansas City: -1 (15 takeaways, 16 giveaways)
New England: +3 (17 takeaways, 14 giveaways)
And, frankly, we're not seeing it here either. New England is the better team...but this just isn't a Super Bowl superpower facing a league patsy like the line is suggesting. Tom Brady's had much more troubles than usual this year in the risk/reward ratio. This used to be one of the cleanest teams in the league every week. On three different occasions the Pats have lost the ball four times. With 12 of their 14 giveaways coming in those three games, we're clearing seeing inconsistency in the extreme. The Pats are either perfect, or a mess!
The raw numbers are suggesting New England should be favored by something in the 7-10 range on this evening. How much of a negative does the Kansas City quarterback situation represent? What is the potential that the Chiefs just throw in the towel early in a way that makes the pointspread irrelevant? They did that in their first two games of the season against Buffalo and Detroit. Maybe the coaching staff decides discretion is the bettor part of valor, and they aren't going to win this game anyway. They'll try to win the division WITHIN their division and accept ugly losses elsewhere.
This is why it's so important to have on-site sources in the NFL. Kansas City is capable of covering this game, and even making it interesting if they show up with fire and New England plays flat. But, if the Chiefs are saving their best for later...then New England will give us a replay of Green Bay-Minnesota from last week. That was 17-0 at the half and 45-7...and nobody was sweating the spread from the second quarter on.
JIM HURLEY has been working closely with his sources here because their information will determine the selection. You can purchase that play right here at the website with your credit card a few hours before kickoff. Be sure to check out our college basketball offerings today as well. The always exciting Maui Invitational starts early in the day, as does the final day of action from the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands. Our New York sources will be in East Rutherford, NJ for the final night of action for the tournament there.
More details on our football and basketball packages is available in our handicapping office at 1-800-323-4453. Now is a GREAT time to get started because so much is going on this week. Don't forget there's a football QUADRUPLEHEADER on Thanksgiving Day that includes Green Bay-Detroit and San Francisco-Baltimore in the NFL...and Texas-Texas A&M in the colleges. The much anticipated Arkansa-LSU game is Friday...with rivalries galore on Saturday.
JIM HURLEY'S ANNUAL TURKEY SHOOT is going to fill your CORNUCOPIA WITH CASH...so you might as well start winning tonight!