If you'd like a gauge to just how crazy this NFL season has been, check out the 14 games on offer this weekend. Of the 28 teams playing, only seven have winning records. Only one game, the Jets at the Patriots, offers a matchup between two teams that have won more than they've lost.
This is the other side of parity, reflecting the extreme difficulties in managing salary caps in an era of seemingly increasing injury; a situation made worse, perhaps, by the abbreviated pre-season practice schedules. It also reflects a combination of tactical change (the advent of spread formations, option runs, and bigger basketball style receivers) combined with rules, particularly in the passing game (what constitutes an incompletion as opposed to a fumble; what is illegal contact; what is interference; what is holding) that seem to be observed mainly by their random and sometimes mind-baffling application. Certainly the controversy around Golden Tate's TD catch for the Lions against the Bears last week fits all those definitions.
In this stormy world of quantum sport, it's no surprise most teams are treading water or bobbing beneath the waves. By coincidence this week, three of the four teams on their bye weeks are undefeated (Bengals, Broncos, Packers), yet even if you threw them back into the mix, you would still have only 10 of 32 teams better than .500, and that's just over one-third. Things will balance out as the season goes on, of course. Or will they?
BEST BET: SAN DIEGO (-3.5 at 1.92) v Oakland: (Combined records: 4-7) The Chargers have it together offensively, and Antonio Gates has returned from suspension rested and ready, so I don't doubt they will be able to put points on the board. Their defense has not played well; they put money into their front three and have players now who don't look very hungry up front, but the Raiders may not be the team best able to capitalise on that problem. I'm not as convinced by MIAMI (-4.5 at 1.92) v Houston (combined records: 4-7). I like the Dolphins' pass rush to wreak the kind of havoc you'd expect from the Texans, and with Brian Hoyer at QB a few mistakes might follow. The Dolphins also established the run, and ran more the kind of offense you'd expect from Bill Lazor. My hesitation is the worry that JJ Watt and company might actually disrupt the Dolphins more than they've been able to do so far this year.
VALUE BET: I'll also suggest ATLANTA (-5 at 1.92) at Tennessee: Atlanta's got a winning record, no less, and are on the road coming off a long week, losing in New Orleans a week ago Thursday. They should be rested and ready, while the Titans lost Marcus Mariota to a cheap hit by the newly-macho Miami Dolphins, and Zach Mettenberger takes over at QB: I like Mettenberger, but he's not very mobile and if Falcons can get any pass rush, it may pay dividends. WASHINGTON (-3.5 at 2.05) vs Tampa Bay (combined records: 4-7, do you see a pattern here?) is tempting too. This is really one of those where you don't know who's going to show up on either side, but the Tampa D has not lived up to Lovie Smith standards, and the Skins, at home might exploit that.
OUTSIDE BET: JETS (+8 at 1.88) at New England: The only matchup of two teams with winning records, and that's for a reason. You may not rate Mark Fitzpatrick at QB, but he's surrounded by good weapons and a good O line, while he's got a tremendous defensive front in front of a great secondary. This is a real trap game for New England, and if the Jets can't win they can definitely keep it close. I'm also tempted by the OVER (41 at 1.92) for the JACKSONVILLE V BUFFALO (combined records: 4-8) even if it rains and the Wembley fast track becomes something slippery.