Too close for comfort
All seven Rams games have been within seven points at some point in the fourth quarter.
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Pete Rozelle would be giddy if he were around to see today's NFL.
For those of you who don't know, the former commissioner, who passed back in 1996, was obsessed with parity.
In fact, Rozelle was almost a sports socialist, wishing all of the teams in his league could finish at .500, keeping every fan on the end of his or her seat for every game, every year.
Picture Bud Light's popular "Very Superstitious" ad campaign currently running around the country.
A 8-8 season for all is never going to happen, but we've never been closer to pure parity than right now. In fact, "Too Close for Comfort" is no longer just a bad 1980s sitcom starring Ted Knight, it also describes the current-day NFL in which tight games and fantastic finishes are becoming the norm.
Turn on the NFL Network's RedZone channel at about 4:15 ET on any Sunday and you're likely to see a wearied Scott Hanson trying to describe a flurry of game-changing action all culminating at once.
Through Week 7, there have been 57 NFL games decided by a touchdown or less, the most at this point of a season in history. Meanwhile, 17 of the league's 32 teams are at or within one game of a .500 record, the most since Rozelle's heyday in 1970.
It's probably a real good idea to check the blood pressure of both Jeff Fisher and Bill Belichick, particularly, since all seven St. Louis Rams' games and five of seven New England Patriots' contests have been within seven points at some point in the fourth quarter.
And four of seven games for both teams have been decided by six points or less as they get ready to meet on Sunday in London's historic Wembley Stadium.
We haven't even reached the midway point of the season and three teams -- St. Louis (three), Indianapolis (three) and Minnesota (five) -- have already surpassed last year's win total, making the NFL far more volatile than the NASDAQ.
For those of us who miss true greatness, it's a little unnerving to know the 32nd-ranked team in any power poll could rise up and beat the unbeaten Atlanta Falcons on any given Sunday.
For Rozelle, it's mission accomplished and time to rest in peace.
NFL POWER POLL
The Sports Network's updated NFL Power Poll, which ranks all 32 league teams, can be found at: NFL Power Poll
THE GAMES (All Times Eastern)
Tampa Bay (2-4) at Minnesota (5-2), Thursday, 8:20 p.m.
LINE: Vikings 6 1/2
THE SKINNY: Tampa Bay has had the Vikings' number recently and was a major part of Minnesota's historic September collapse a year ago. But this season has gone much differently for the Vikings, who need to improve to 6-2 considering the second half of their schedule features two games with both Chicago and Green Bay and another with AFC powerhouse Houston.
PREDICTION: Vikings 23 Buccaneers 14
Atlanta (6-0) at Philadelphia (3-3), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Eagles by 2 1/2
THE SKINNY: Andy Reid puts up his perfect 13-0 post-bye week record against the only NFL team without a blemish this season, the 6-0 Falcons, who also are coming off their bye.
Atlanta is off to its best start in franchise history behind Philadelphia-area native Matt Ryan, who will be seeking his first win at Lincoln Financial Field. Ryan, who grew up in nearby Exton, matched his career high of four touchdown passes against Philadelphia last season in the Falcons' 35-31 win in Atlanta.
"It's a special feeling," said tight end Tony Gonzalez, who needs just one touchdown reception to become the eighth player in NFL history to reach 100, said on being 6-0. "I've been there before. It doesn't mean anything in the grand scheme of things as far as our goals are concerned. But it's a great start and we've got to build off of it."
The Eagles have dropped two in a row but have always been a handful with extra time for preparation. The team's 13-game winning streak coming out of a bye is the longest such run since the bye was instituted in 1990.
PREDICTION: Eagles 27, Falcons 24
Carolina (1-5) at Chicago (5-1), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Bears by 7 1/2
THE SKINNY: The Bears' dominant defense, which has amassed an NFL-best plus-13 turnover ratio, figures to continue its solid play against Cam Newton's Carolina Panthers. The Panthers are in disarray. Newton is in the grips of a sophomore slump, the team fired general manager Marty Hurney earlier this week and placed their best cornerback, Chris Gamble, on injured reserve. Chicago's offense has sputtered recently, but QB Jay Cutler has won seven straight starts at Soldier Field.
PREDICTION: Bears 21, Panthers 10
San Diego (3-3) at Cleveland (1-6), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Chargers by 2 1/2
THE SKINNY: The embattled Norv Turner leads his Chargers into the Forest City. San Diego, which will be seeking a fifth straight win over the Browns, had a bye in Week 7 after the team's unsightly collapse during a 35-24 setback to Denver. The Broncos overcame a 24-0 deficit in that one to become the first team in NFL history to win by double-digits after trailing by at least 24 in a game. Cleveland continues to ride QB Brandon Weeden, who leads all rookies with nine TD passes.
PREDICTION: Chargers 24, Browns 20
Seattle (4-3) at Detroit (2-4), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Lions by 2 1/2
THE SKINNY: The mistake-prone Lions return to the Motor City after another sluggish offensive performance, which included three red-zone turnovers, in a 13-7 setback at Chicago. The Seahawks, who last played on Oct. 18, will come in with several extra days of preparation, something that is much-needed since rookie signal-caller Russell Wilson has been far more effective at home than on the road this season.
PREDICTION: Lions 21, Seahawks 17
Jacksonville (1-5) at Green Bay (4-3), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Packers by 13
THE SKINNY: Jacksonville figured to have little chance in Titletown at full strength and will arrive in Green Bay without star running back Maurice Jones- Drew, who injured his left foot in Oakland last Sunday. Using Jones-Drew as the bell cow to keep the ball away from Aaron Rodgers was likely the Jags' only shot on Sunday. A-Rod has completed 54-of-74 passes for 680 yards with nine TDs and no interceptions over his past two games.
PREDICTION: Packers 35, Jaguars 10
Miami (3-3) at New York Jets (3-4), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Jets by 2 1/2
THE SKINNY: The jumbled AFC East figures to get a little clearer after the Dolphins visit the Jets. Miami, which has won three of its past four in North Jersey against the Jets, has been surprisingly competitive with rookie QB Ryan Tannehill at the controls. Unlike most freshmen, Tannehill hasn't been intimidated by playing on the road and is averaging 327 yards passing per game in his last two away from South Florida. Former Dolphins coach Tony Sparano is running New York's offense and QB Mark Sanchez recorded his seventh career 300-yard passing game in a loss at New England last Sunday.
PREDICTION: Jets 21, Dolphins 20
Washington (3-4) at Pittsburgh (3-3), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Steelers by 5
THE SKINNY: Robert Griffin III's legend continued to grow even in a loss to the New York Giants. RG3 leads the NFL with a 70.4 completion percentage and ranks third with a 101.8 passer rating, easily the best marks among rookies. He's also first among NFL QBs with 468 rushing yards and six TDs on the ground. The Steelers got back into the AFC North race with a tough win at Cincinnati last Sunday but will be without star safety Troy Polamalu again. Polamalu hasn't played since aggravating a right calf injury versus the Philadelphia Eagles on Oct. 7 and would have been a key cog in trying to stop Griffin.
PREDICTION: Steelers 24, Redskins 23
New England (4-3) at St. Louis (3-4), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Patriots by 6 1/2
THE SKINNY: The NFL's International Series resumes in London with the Rams playing host. This will be the Pats' second International Series game at Wembley Stadium after topping Tampa Bay, 35-7, there back in 2009. New England averages a league-best 31 points per game and 436.1 yards per game while St. Louis is offensively challenged, especially without star receiver Danny Amendola.
PREDICTION: Patriots 34, Rams 14
Indianapolis (3-3) at Tennessee (3-4), Sunday, 1 p.m.
LINE: Titans by 3 1/2
THE SKINNY: Andrew Luck tries to continue his impressive rookie season against a Tennessee team which has become much more competitive with veteran Matthew Hasselbeck under center. Luck is the first QB with 1,500 passing yards (1,674) and three wins during his first six starts in NFL history. Hasselbeck, meanwhile, has a solid 90.5 passer rating and captured his 80th career win as an NFL starter when the Titans edged the Bills last Sunday.
PREDICTION: Titans 27, Colts 20
Oakland (2-4) at Kansas City (1-5), Sunday, 4:05 p.m.
LINE: Chiefs by 2
THE SKINNY: The lowly Chiefs are coming off their bye and have lost three straight since their lone win of the season -- a 27-24 overtime triumph at New Orleans in Week 3. Kansas City coach Romeo Crennel has named Brady Quinn his starter at quarterback again. The former Notre Dame star started two Sundays ago in a 38-10 loss at Tampa Bay after Matt Cassel suffered a concussion the previous week in a 9-6 loss against Baltimore. The Raiders will be aiming for their sixth consecutive win at Arrowhead Stadium and come in on the heels of a 26-23 overtime win over Jacksonville.
PREDICTION: Chiefs 20, Raiders 14
New York Giants (5-2) at Dallas (3-3), Sunday, 4:25 p.m.
LINE: Giants by 1
THE SKINNY: The reigning Super Bowl champs aim to build on their latest come- from-behind victory over RG3 and the Redskins when they take on another NFC East rival, the Cowboys, who hope to sweep the season series after their upset win on Kickoff Weekend.
The Giants are in first place in the East and have won three consecutive games.
"We understand that it's a division opponent and we have to be ready to play," said wide receiver Victor Cruz, who caught the game-winning 77-yard TD pass with 1:13 remaining against the Redskins last Sunday. "Giants vs. Cowboys is always a big game. They're coming off a solid win against Carolina and we want to be able to match their intensity and come out firing."
The Cowboys, who have yet to win back-to-back games this season, got back to .500 with a 19-14 win at Carolina thanks to some timely defensive stops and two field goals by Dan Bailey late in the fourth quarter.
"I think each week you have to start fresh and work hard," said Cowboys wide receiver Miles Austin, who caught the eventual game-winning touchdown in the Cowboys' 24-17 win against the Giants on Kickoff Weekend. "It's going to be big. It's obviously a huge week, they all are."
PREDICTION: Giants 24, Cowboys 21
New Orleans (2-4) at Denver (3-3), Sunday, 8:25 p.m.
LINE: Broncos by 6
THE SKINNY: A matchup between two of the NFL's most prolific passers headlines "Football Night in America." New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees has led his club to two consecutive wins after an 0-4 start to the season. On Sunday, Brees (299) needs two touchdown passes to surpass Hall of Famer and former Broncos quarterback John Elway (300) for the sixth-most TD passes in NFL history.
"We want to get on a streak here," Brees said. "Now we've got two (wins). We want to keep that going."
Denver had a bye in Week 7 after the team's historic come-from-behind, 35-24 victory at San Diego. The Broncos overcame a 24-0 deficit and became the first team in NFL history to win by double-digits after trailing by at least 24. Broncos QB Peyton Manning registered his 47th career game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime in that one to match Dan Marino for the most by a player since 1970.
PREDICTION: Broncos 34, Saints 30
San Francisco (5-2) at Arizona (4-3), Monday, 8:35 p.m.
LINE: 49ers by 6 1/2
THE SKINNY: Something has to give in the desert during this big NFC West encounter. Arizona QB John Skelton is 6-0 at home in career as a starter while his counterpart with the Niners, Alex Smith, has won four of his past five starts versus the Cardinals and is 8-1 in his past nine starts in the division.
PREDICTION: 49ers 20, Cardinals 14
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