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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Sunday, October 23, 2011 at 8:42 AM

Normally in this space, we're put together a preview of the 'Football Night in America' game on NBC. But, with a matchup like Indianapolis/New Orleans, there's not much to say. The potent offense of New Orleans can name the score. If they're in the mood to win safely and easily before moving on to the rest of the schedule, they might have trouble covering. If they're in the mood to put on a show, things could get ugly.

Going in depth in an NFL game that has a spread of 14 points isn't worth anybody's time. You know the Saints are a contender (though you may not know that playing three straight road games has dampened their statistics and record a touch). You know that Indianapolis is enduring a lost season because of Peyton Manning's neck…and that the Colts might well be positioning themselves for the #1 pick in the draft by finding ways to not execute in the final minutes of any game that happens to be close.

Let's use this time more productively. We haven't had a chance yet to run the Drive Point numbers for NFL offenses here in the NOTEBOOK. You longtime readers know that we use drive summaries from every NFL game to calculate how many points are scored and allowed on drives of 60 yards or more. In our view, this is the best indicator stat not just in football, but in all of sports.

*Fluke points off of turnovers aren't counted. Only the points that are 'earned' on long drives are counted.

*Special teams and defensive touchdowns aren't counted. We're trying to get a read on how well offenses move the ball, and how well defenses stop other teams from doing that.

*Good teams know how to drive the field…and bad teams don't…so this is a pure indicator stat in terms of quality. You're just not going to see good offenses grade out badly in this stat, or bad offenses grade out well…once you have a decent enough sample size. It usually takes about a month to get that sample size. We're past the threshold in the 2011 season and the numbers are meaningful.

We don't have room to talk about both offense and defense for all 32 teams today. We'll focus on offenses in this report to get you ready for handicapping all the Sunday and Monday action. The next time an opportunity arises in the schedule, we'll talk about defenses.

Let's start at the top with the very best drive point offenses. Remember that these are 'per game' averages of points scored on drives of 60 yards or more.

BEST DRIVE POINT OFFENSES
New England 26.0
Green Bay 21.7
New Orleans 19.8
NY Giants 18.5
Buffalo 17.2
Carolina 16.8
San Diego 16.2
Philadelphia 16.0
Tennessee 15.8
Oakland 15.3

That's the top 10 in the league heading into this weekend. Few surprises, as the elite quarterbacks and elite offenses show up well. We see proof here that Buffalo's offense is for real…at least in good weather. Maybe they'll have trouble when things cool off or get windy up North later in the season. The same is true for the New York Giants. Eli Manning is famous for having quality stats when the weather is nice, but mediocre or worse stats once the weather turns.

Great news for Cam Newton that his Carolina Panthers show up so well this early in his career. We wouldn't have expected this at all. But, it was clear from the get-go that he was going to have an impact once he was on the field making plays. We do expect the league to make some adjustments against him. And, we won't argue with anyone who points out that some of that total is a result of facing garbage time defenses. Still, that's a great number even when you account for everything. That will become clearer when you run through the numbers of all the teams who are struggling just to get to league average.

Let's also note that Oakland and Tennessee were both showing well here under new head coaches. It's a shame Jason Campbell got hurt. It will be interesting to see if Carson Palmer can keep the engine humming.

It's very difficult to stay at 20 or more through a full season. Only the most elite offenses with the greatest quarterbacks can do that. New England and Green Bay will give it a shot this season.

THE MEN IN THE MIDDLE
Pittsburgh 14.3
NY Jets 14.0
Detroit 13.2
Baltimore 12.8
Dallas 12.6
Houston 12.3
Washington 12.2
Denver 12.0
Atlanta 11.5
Seattle 10.4
Indianapolis 10.3
San Francisco 10.3
Tampa Bay 10.2
Minnesota 10.0

This is the hunk that's plus or minus two points from the midpoint. Houston is the 16th team in the 32 team league in this stat, and Washington the 17th best team. So, the 'typical' performance for an NFL team right now is in that 12.2 to 12.3 area.

Frankly, if you're around 14 drive points per game you're doing a good job. You're not going to measure up offensively with the very best offenses. But, you can win a championship down in this range if you have a good defense and work the risk/reward ratio on turnovers in your favor. There are some good teams in this hunk who have legitimate Super Bowl aspirations. They'll probably find they need to be on the right side of 12 to go the distance come playoff time.

Once you get below league average, there's quite a drop-off. There are five teams here within a half point of 10. That means a bad game the next time they take the field could drop them into single digits. And, single digits in this stat is a sign of big problems. You HAVE to be able to drive the field for points in this league.

We have 14 teams in this middle group, giving us 24 so far. That's exactly 75% of the league. Let's finish up with the fourth and final quarter.

SINGLE DIGITS
Miami 9.8
Arizona 9.0
Cincinnati 8.8
Chicago 8.5
Cleveland 7.6
Kansas City 7.6
Jacksonville 7.5
St. Louis 7.2

Some ugly stuff in there. And, some big disappointments from teams who thought they'd be better.

*Arizona thought Kevin Kolb would fix their offense. He's struggled against a composite slate of defenses that isn't very good.

*Chicago sure wasn't thinking a Mike Martz/Jay Cutler offense would have this kind of trouble driving the field. They've picked up some field position scoring thanks to special teams and defense that has helped hide this issue.

*Colt McCoy was supposedly a perfect fit for the new Cleveland offense. The new Cleveland offense isn't going anywhere!

*Kansas City made the playoffs last year, but has one of the worst attacks in the league at the moment.

*Sam Bradford is performing worse in his second year than first year guys in Carolina and Cincinnati are doing.

We hope this information helps your handicapping process today and Monday. If you want to make sure you're on the best plays on the board, you can purchase JIM HURLEY'S NFL TRIPLE CROWN right here at the website for just $50. Play ‘em, parlay ‘em, and tease them for big money. Our college GOLDEN GAME OF THE YEAR has already cashed its ticket for 2011. Now one of our most popular pro features of the season is just hours away from getting the money.

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Back with you tomorrow in the NOTEBOOK to look at the Baltimore Ravens' chances to reach the Super Bowl this year as they get ready for a Monday Night road game in Jacksonville. Some respected computer ratings out there currently rate Baltimore ahead of both Green Bay and New England in terms of Super Bowl potential.

For now, you've got some business to take care of. Make a few clicks to get a trio of games that have oddsmakers shaking in the shoes…JIM HURLEY'S NFL TRIPLE CROWN!

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