Submitted by Jim Hurley on Saturday, December 6, 2014 at 4:00 PM
Early last Sunday, the following narratives were clearly in play for the New England Patriots and the San Diego Chargers. New England was back in championship form, and was now in the driver’s seat regarding home field advantage in the AFC Playoffs and an overdue return to the Super Bowl. San Diego was falling out of the picture because of too many injuries and too much travel.
What a difference a day makes!
New England lost at Green Bay, falling back into a tie with Denver in the race for the #1 seed. The Pats margin for error is gone (they still hold the tie-breaker, but can’t afford another loss). San Diego pulled of a dramatic come-from-behind victory in Baltimore to stay alive in the Wildcard race. There’s a huge difference between 8-4 and 7-5 in the crowded AFC playoff picture.
AFC PLAYOFF STANDINGS
1…New England 9-3
2…Denver 9-3 (New England owns tie-breaker with head-to-head win)
5…San Diego 8-4 (first Wildcard spot)
6…Miami 7-5 (currently leading convoluted tie-break)
Also 7-5: Kansas City, Buffalo, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Cleveland
San Diego is one of seven teams fighting for two spots. A victory would be of enormous help in surviving until January. A loss drops back into the boiling cauldron.
For their own divergent reasons, both teams have to win! New England doesn’t want to blow their shot at a bye week, let alone the #1 seed. San Diego’s margin for error is razor thin. That usually sets up great football. Let’s see what JIM HURLEY’S key indicator stats have to say about the Sunday Night game all of you will be watching this week on NBC…
Won-Lost Records (Strength of Schedule)
New England: 9-3 (#5 schedule in USA Today)
San Diego: 8-4 (#17 schedule in USA Today)
New England has the better record, and has faced the tougher schedule. That’s odd for an AFC East team. This year’s Patriots team will enter the postseason much more battle tested than some of their other recent entries. San Diego has played roughly a league average schedule. They certainly grade out as “playoff caliber.” There may not be enough spots in the AFC brackets this season for teams who deserve to be there.
New England: 5.6 on offense, 5.5 on defense
San Diego: 5.6 on offense, 5.4 on defense
We’ve talked about this all season. Many top teams just aren’t establishing “per-play” superiority in the way handicappers have grown accustomed to. We’re now seeing “separation” come down to efficiency on offense (finishing drives with touchdowns instead of field goals), and bend-but-don’t-break defenses that force field goals instead of allowing touchdowns. Some of that in play here. Though, the next category is also giving the Patriots a boost.
New England: +11
San Diego: -1
It’s been a hallmark of the Belichick/Brady era. They don’t hurt themselves with mistakes on offense. And, they’re constant attack forces opponents to make mistakes while trying to play catch up. Once again the Pats are in championship form in this particular area of play. San Diego has been a disappointment. It’s kind of a miracle that they’re 8-4 given indicator stats of a 6-6 type team. Credit to Philip Rivers for clutch play. Can he out-clutch Tom Brady in a bounce back spot?
New England: 7-5 ATS
San Diego: 6-6 ATS
New England always takes the worst of it in Vegas pricing, so it’s a tribute to the team that they’ve been a slight moneymaker so far. San Diego has split out in extreme fashion. A 5-0 ATS start to the season was followed by six straight non-covers until last week’s upset in Baltimore. Has a good streak started up again? Or, was that a one-week fluke for a fading team that’s starting a brutal December in the face (vs. NE, vs. Denver, at SF, at KC)?
Current Line: New England by 3.5, total of 51
That’s a lot of respect for the Patriots. Remember that home field advantage is usually worth about three points in the NFL…and sometimes more when visitors are playing a second straight road game or are crossing time zones to play out of their natural climate. That price is suggesting that New England would be -6 or -7 on a neutral field…and around -10 at home! The market is pricing the Patriots like a Super Bowl team, and San Diego like a distant also-ran.
We can’t say that the stats justify that. But, the intangibles just might given how well New England plays off of losses in their best seasons. As we go to press, it hasn’t been determined yet if this will be an official part of Sundays’ NETWORK mix. You can purchase the final word right here at the website Sunday morning with your credit card. If you have any questions, call the office at 1-888-777-4155.
More NFL tomorrow here in the NOTEBOOK as we wrap up Week 14. Then, it’s two great nights of college basketball...
Monday: NFL TV Preview…Atlanta at Green Bay on ESPN
Tuesday: College Hoops TV Preview…Louisville at Indiana on ESPN
Wednesday: College Hoops TV Preview…Kansas at Georgetown on FOX1
Thursday: NFL TV Preview…Arizona at St. Louis on the NFL Network
Another huge Sunday of NFL action awaits. Game-for-game, it’s the biggest Sunday of the NFL season in terms of game importance and profit potential. Be sure you GET ALL THE MONEY with JIM HURLEY’S NETWORK!
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