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Between the 20's

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Highest Total
According to the Sports Books: St. Louis at San Diego (45.5 total).

In Reality: Atlanta at Cincinnati (43.5 total). Look for some big numbers to be put on the board as both of these offenses match up very well against the opposing defenses. The Falcons lead the NFL with over 222 rushing yards a game while the Bengals are 25th in the league with 127 rushing yards allowed per game. Warrick Dunn, Jerious Norwood and Mike Vick should find tons of daylight against Cincy. The Atlanta passing game also showed some signs last week in its 41-38 win over Pittsburgh with Vick throwing a career-high four touchdowns. While the Bengals may give up chunks of yardage on defense, the offense should be able to compensate. The Falcons have shown big weaknesses against both the run and the pass the past two weeks. Atlanta allowed 259 rushing yards to the Giants two weeks ago and surrendered 418 passing yards and five touchdowns last week to a Pittsburgh squad not known for its aerial assault. Carson Palmer, Rudi Johnson and Chad Johnson could all be in store for big games.

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Lowest Total
According to the Sports Books: Baltimore at New Orleans (37 total).

In Reality: New England at Minnesota (38.5 total). This game features two of the best, yet underrated, defenses in the league. New England is fourth in the league at 13.3 points allowed per game while Minnesota is sixth at 15.8 allowed per game, marking the only game this weekend with two teams ranked in the top six in the league in scoring defense. Both the Patriots and the Vikings rely heavily on the run to set up the pass games but running lanes will be at a premium in this one. Minnesota leads the league allowing less than 71 rushing yards per game while New England is sixth at less than 84 rushing yards a game. The stars for both of these teams are on the offensive side of the ball, but it’s the defenses that will decide the outcome of this contest.

Largest Spread According to the Sports Books: Chicago (-16) vs. San Francisco

In Reality: Philadelphia (-7) vs. Jacksonville. The Eagles have lost back-to-back road games on the final play of the game and will be hungry to return home to reverse their fortunes. Jacksonville looked extremely sluggish coming off its bye week in a 27-7 pasting at the hands of Houston last week. Now the Jags travel to Philly to play an Eagles team that is better than the Texans both offensively and defensively. Philadelphia leads the league in yards per game and is third in points at nearly 29 a game. On defense, the Eagles are eighth in the league with 13 takeaways and should force at least two turnovers against the Jags. This game marks Jacksonville’s second against an NFC East foe after it lost the first to a poor Washington team. Philly could make the Jags 0-2 in the NFC East in a big way.

Most Impactful Injury

Matt Hasselbeck’s knee: Hasselbeck’s injury puts the Seattle offense in a hole. The running game was already laboring after the loss of Shaun Alexander and the absence of Hasselbeck will make Seattle’s great collection of wideouts mostly ineffective. Backup Seneca Wallace, at 5-foot-11, can barely see over the line and his inexperience showed last week against the Vikings. He threw two interceptions and seemed hesitant to throw the ball down the field. Look for the Seahawks to struggle against Kansas City’s sixth-ranked pass defense with Hasselbeck out.

Most Glaring Mismatch

Atlanta running game vs. Cincinnati run defense: The Falcons have been one of the league’s top rushing teams the past few years and nothing has changed this season. Atlanta tops the league with over 222 rushing yards a game, 70 more per game than the second-place team. Warrick Dunn is fourth in the league with 580 yards on the ground and Mike Vick and backup running back Jerious Norwood are averaging 8.6 and 7.6 yards per carry, respectively. The Falcons ran for 176 yards last week against Pittsburgh’s stout run defense and should go for even more versus Cincinnati’s 25th-ranked run defense. The Bengals have been especially bad maintaining their gaps up front, with plays perfectly into Atlanta’s zone-blocking scheme. Expect the Falcons to run over Cincinnati all game.

Most Important Player(s)

Dallas running back Julius Jones: Bill Parcells made the call to the bullpen last week and will stick with Tony Romo at quarterback this week at Carolina. The Cowboys need a win here to stay close to the pack in the NFC East and need a good performance from Julius Jones to do so. Jones was averaging nearly 100 yards a game on the ground before Dallas’ 36-22 loss when he totaled just 30 yards on 13 carries. The Cowboys will need better production from Jones in order to take pressure off of Romo. A good running attack can be the best defense against an aggressive pass rush and Dallas needs to keep Romo on his feet in order to pull out a win.

Potential ATS Upset of the Week

Houston (+3) over Tennessee: The Texans had a breakthrough performance in their 27-7 beatdown of Jacksonville last week and will look to carry that momentum over into this week’s matchup with Tennessee. Houston has gathered a trio of offensive stars in QB David Carr, wideout Andre Johnson and running back Wali Lundy. Carr has been one of the league leaders in quarterback rating throughout the season, Johnson leads the league in receiving yards and Lundy had his breakout performance last week with 93 yards and a score. On defense, the Texans have showed signs of improvement in recent weeks and defensive end Mario Williams is beginning to justify his No. 1 overall draft pick status. These two squads have squared off eight times since 2002, which was when the Texans replaced the Titans – formerly the Oilers – as Houston’s team. The Texans are 4-1 ATS in the last five meetings and are 5-2 ATS lifetime as the underdog in the series. Houston has the talent and momentum necessary to beat Tennessee and could potentially start just the fourth winning streak in franchise history.

  
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Nelson: NFC West Preview
Nelson: NFC South Preview
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