Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, October 1, 2011 at 2:30 PM
LIONS-COWBOYS & PATS-RAIDERS STEAL THE SPOTLIGHT AND WE HAVE OUR EYES ON UNBEATEN BUFFALO AND GREEN BAY TOO! ...PLUS MORE BASEBALL PLAYOFF UPDATES AS WE BRING YOU THE NATIONAL LEAGUE DIVISION SERIES PREVIEWS
By Jim Hurley
In recent years if you told a buddy that there were only three undefeated teams in the NFL after the third week of play, inevitably his (or her) guess would be the Indianapolis Colts had to be on that list and probably the New England Patriots too.
Not this year!
Okay, so the Colts have a good reason for not being unbeaten these days - now are you convinced that QB Peyton Manning should be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame five minutes (and not five years) after hanging up his shoulder pads? - and the Patriots proved last week that they ain't perfect either but anyone out there that forecast the Green Bay Packers, the Detroit Lions and the Buffalo Bills (say what!) would be the league's last three teams standing without a loss should treat themselves to a fancy dinner out.
The $64,000 question is which of these teams will stay undefeated by the end of Sunday night?
We'll examine their games in today's NFL Week #4 edition of Jim Sez plus we'll preview the big AFC tilt between New England at Oakland and there's plenty to say about the Major-League Baseball post-season as we get you some quick-hitter comments regarding the National League Division Series between the Arizona Diamondbacks versus the Milwaukee Brewers and the St. Louis Cardinals against the heavy-duty favorite Philadelphia Phillies but first let's check out the Key NFL Week #4 Sunday afternoon showdowns:
DETROIT (3-0) at DALLAS (2-1) - 1 p.m. ET, Fox
How about a little history lesson here? The Detroit Lions are off to their best start since 1980 and could equal their best start in 55 years with a road win here in Arlington - and the NFC North crew wants everyone to know this isn't any fluke.
The QB Matthew Stafford-to-WR Calvin Johnson tandem might be the NFL's best pass-catch combo in the league as Stafford's thrown for 977 yards with 9 TDs and only 2 INTs while the acrobatic Johnson already has hauled down 16 passes and scored 6 TDs. Simply put, if the Dallas defense cannot stick a fork into this combo here, than the Motowners could nab an eighth consecutive win dating back to last year - gotta believe Dallas will jam Johnson at the line of scrimmage and hope some safety help here deters him from yet another big-time stat outing.
Meanwhile, Dallas had mucho things to fix on its offense following that sloppy-as-heck 18-16 non-cover win against Washington last Monday night as errant shotgun snaps, poorly run pass routes and some shaky line-of-scrimmage adjustments really made that recent prime-time game tough to watch but here QB Tony Romo figures to let RB Felix Jones (14 carries for 115 yards against the 'Skins) get more touches but it may again come down to the accuracy of rookie PK Dan Bailey who boomed six FGs in the Week 3 divisional win.
Spread Notes - Detroit's 2-0-1 versus the vig so far this season with covers against Tampa Bay and Kansas City and last week's spread push in Minnesota but note the Lions are 7-0-1 spreadwise overall since late last season. Dallas is 1-1-1 against the odds so far in this already-tumultuous 2011 season but did you know that the Cowboys are 3-6 ATS (against the spread) at home since the start of last year?
BUFFALO (3-0) at CINCINNATI (1-2) - 1 p.m. ET, CBS
Quick: Who leads the NFL in scoring so far this year? Sure you knew it was the Buffalo Bills (37.7 ppg) who have become the scourge of the AFC East and - as you already knew - the only team in that conference still without a loss.
Now, the Bills are in unfamiliar territory as they're road favorites for this clash in Cincy and one thing we've learned about this Buffalo team is big deficits just don't scare 'em - the Bills have been down 18-or-more points in comeback wins against Oakland and New England the past two weeks and, interestingly enough, last year Chan Gailey's club was down 21 points last year before rallying for 49-31 victory in Cincinnati back on November 21st.
If the Bills are gonna stay unbeaten, than the QB Ryan Fitzpatrick-to-WR Stevie Johnson combo must be contained as they accounted for three scoring connections in that win in the Queen City last season. P.S., Cincinnati's first-year starting QB Andy Dalton last week registered a shoddy 40.8 quarterback rating in the 13-8 home loss against San Francisco.
Spread Notes - Buffalo has notched pointspread wins in two of its first three games this season and go back to early last year and you'll discover the Bills are 9-4-1 ATS overall including the aforementioned road cover in Cincinnati in 2010 as 5-point underdogs. On the flip side, Cincinnati has covered five of its last six overall games dating back to late last season and note the Bengals are a collective 14-7 versus the vig as underdog sides since the start of the 2009 campaign. Better than you thought, right?
NEW ENGLAND (2-1) at OAKLAND (2-1) - 4:15 p.m. ET, CBS
Let's just this one should have a storyline called "Might Versus Flight": After all, the host Raiders are the league's numero uno ground attack starring RB Darren McFadden who's averaging a haughty 131 yards rushing so far while the visiting Patriots boast the NFL's best aerial attack with QB Tom Brady propelling an offense that averages 442 passing yards an outing - and maybe it's as simple as that whether the Raiders and "Run DMC" can break off big gainers here against a vulnerable New England defense that hasn't exactly held down the fort this year (allowing 26.3 points per game).
Spread Notes - New England has covered seven of its last 10 overall spread verdicts dating back to last season and note the Patriots are 17-9 versus the vig away since the start of the 2008 campaign. Oakland's covered all three of its games this year (the only NFL team to have accomplished that feat) but the Raiders are just 22-42-1 ATS at home since the start of the '03 season (that's a wobbly .344 winning rate).
DENVER (1-2) at GREEN BAY (3-0) - 4:15 p.m. ET, CBS
Let's face it ... These days NFL teams are merely hoping the GB Packers don't have this seeming ability to turn it on when necessary but it sure seems that QB Aaron Rodgers (917 yards passing with 8 TDs and 1 INT so far in 2011) can crank out 30-plus point games at the drop of a cheese-head hat and last week's three scoring strikes to TE Jermichael Finley let folks know there's lots of more weaponry on board here.
If the 12 ½-point underdog Broncos are gonna hang around here than Denver needs to hold G-Bay below its points-per-game average (24.7 ppg) and QB Kyle Orton - who threw for only 173 yards with two picks in last weekend's 17-14 loss-but-cover at Tennessee - must revert to his old Chicago Bears days when he beat the Packers three times in four head-to-head meetings.
Spread Notes - Green Bay sports some really delicious recent spread stats including the fact the Packers are 13-4 ATS overall since the middle of last season (that's a tasty .765 winning rate) and the defending Super Bowl champs have covered seven of their last eight games played against AFC competition. Meanwhile, Denver heads into Lambeau Field having covered just four of its last 15 overall spread verdicts and note the Broncos are a rotten 5-9 ATS away since midway of the 2009 season.
THE MLB PLAYOFFS
The National League Division Series open up today in Milwaukee and Philadelphia and here's some quick-hitter thoughts on both best-of-five sets (note regular-season records are included below):
ARIZONA (94-68) vs. MILWAUKEE (96-66) - Here's something you might not have realized about this under-the-radar screen matchup in the NLDS: The 'Zona Diamondbacks actually scored more runs than the Brewers did this year (see 731 to 721) and the NL West champs won a whopping 48 games (or more than half their total wins) by coming from behind and so that leads one to believe the two most important people in this best-of-five series could well be Milwaukee's eighth- and ninth-inning relievers - that's Francisco Rodriguez and closer John Axford, respectively.
If you're looking for another real key, it's this: The Brewers plan on pitching RHP Zack Greinke on three days' rest in Game 2 simply because he was unbeaten at home in Miller Park this year - but might that blow up in the Brewers' collective faces if Arizona stays patient and takes a lot of pitches here? Remember that Arizona RHP Ian Kennedy (21-4) figures to be the NL runner-up in this year's Cy Young Award race (the Los Angeles Dodgers' lefty Clayton Kershaw is a lead-pipe cinch to win) and he'll get two starts to silence the one-two punch of LF Ryan Braun and 1B Prince Fielder.
NLDS Odds: Arizona + 155; Milwaukee - 175
ST. LOUIS (90-72) vs. PHILADELPHIA (102-60) - The embarrassment of riches that are the 2011 Philadelphia Phillies are the odds-on favorite to win it all this autumn but what about the fact that St. Louis copped six-of-nine head-to-head showdowns in this regular season?
The Cardinals are not quaking in their high tops when thinking about going up against RHP Roy Halladay (19-6) and LHP Cliff Lee (17-8) but no doubt someone other than St. Loo 1B Albert Pujols must deliver some big-time run-scoring hits whether it's born-again OF Lance Berkman or clutch post-season player C Yadier Molina.
Want to know how the Phils can make this a short-and-sweet series?
Hammer out a Game 1 win behind Halladay and then "wait out" RHP Chris Carpenter in Game 2 - like Milwaukee's Greinke he is slated to pitch on three days' rest and 100-or-so pitches here could have him elevating his stuff. Note that both Phillies CF Shane Victorino and 1B Ryan Howard are hurting at the present time.
NLDS Odds: St. Louis + 250; Philadelphia - 300
NOTE: Get the NFL Week #4 Sunday Night Football Game Preview - that's the New York Jets at the Baltimore Ravens - in Sunday's edition of Jim Sez.