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One win could make all the difference for Packers, Broncos

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The Denver Broncos and Green Bay Packers head into Sunday night’s showdown sporting identical 6-0 records. Barring an unlikely tie, one of them will head into their next game with a 7-0 record, while the other will be 6-1. Just how important is that difference likely to be?

From 6-0 to 7-0

Since the NFL expanded the playoffs to six teams in 1990, 36 teams have started 6-0. Of the 31 teams in previous seasons to accomplish that feat, 20 of them won their next game and advanced to 7-0.

Those teams were on the whole outstandingly successful. All of them made the postseason. Seventeen earned a first-round bye. Only one, the 2013 Kansas City Chiefs, did not win their division, and they were in the AFC West with the 6-0 Broncos. Nine made the Super Bowl. Five ended the season as NFL champions, and two of the losers lost to another team that began 7-0.

One cautionary note is 7-0 teams have not fared nearly as well since the NFL went to the current eight-division format in 2002. Of the thirteen teams to start 7-0 since then, six lost their first playoff game. That includes three teams – the 2005 Colts, the 2008 Titans, and the 2011 Packers – that finished the season with the best record in the NFL.

From 6-0 to 6-1

What about the team that loses this game? How have previous 6-0 teams that then lost fared? First, history says 6-1 is no guarantee of a postseason appearance. Broncos fans know this from 2009, when Denver started 6-0 under Josh McDaniels before fading to 8-8 as the defense collapsed. Defensive issues also sunk the 2003 Minnesota Vikings, who finished 3-7.

Most teams that suffered their first loss in their seventh game of the season fared just fine, though. Just one, the 2000 Rams, lost their first playoff game. The more successful teams include those 2013 Broncos, who won the AFC, and the 1997 Broncos, who took the wild card route to the franchise’s first Super Bowl title. Overall, six of the nine that went to the playoffs made the Super Bowl. Three won it. The most encouraging parallel for the loser of Sunday’s game might be the 2004 Patriots. They lost to the Steelers in Week 8, but won a postseason rematch and eventually hoisted the Lombardi Trophy again.

There is also a larger pool of teams that got to 6-1 without necessarily losing their seventh game. Since realignment in 2002, 20 of the 25 teams to start 6-1 have made the postseason. This pool includes the 2013 Seahawks, who defeated those 2013 Broncos, and the 2003 Panthers, who won the NFC South and reached the Super Bowl without a bye. But on the whole it is better to be 7-0 than to be 6-1.

In the Context of 2015

What makes going to 7-0 instead of 6-1 especially important for both Denver and Green Bay is they are not the only 6-0 teams in their conference this year. Despite their perfect record, the Broncos would be the AFC’s third seed if the season ended today, behind New England and Cincinnati. Green Bay similarly ranks behind Carolina. All of the numbers about 7-0 and 6-1 teams that apply to Denver and Green Bay apply with equal force to the Patriots, Bengals, and Panthers.

There are a couple pieces of relatively good news. First, the most important tiebreaker in determining the postseason pecking order is conference results. This interconference result matters for Denver and Green Bay’s overall record, but it will not hurt the loser too much.

Each team has a second piece of good news. For Green Bay, they will not be competing with both Carolina and 6-1 Atlanta for a postseason seed. The top four seeds go to the division winners, and no more than one of the Falcons and Panthers can win the NFC South. Denver has no such silver lining, but they will get a chance to settle things on the field against both the Patriots and Bengals later in the season. If they win both those games, they will be in great position to get home-field advantage. If they lose both, a bye is difficult. Either way, both games are likely to carry more weight than this one.

The most important task for the Broncos and Packers, regardless of who wins, is to keep playing excellent football for the rest of the season. Starting 6-0 is no guarantee of making the postseason. Starting 7-0 is no guarantee of getting a first-round bye, even if it makes it likely. Earning home field advantage is no guarantee of postseason success. Sunday’s is likely to be a great contest. The season is a long one, however, and the winner is guaranteed nothing while the loser’s fate is far from sealed.

Broncos double-digit favorites on Sunday night vs. winless, depleted Giants

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The Denver Broncos head into Sunday night with the largest spread they have had at home after a bye week in at least 25 years. The Broncos are 11.5-point favorites against the winless New York Giants with a 38.5-point total for the Week 6 Sunday Night Football matchup at sportsbooks monitored by OddsShark.com.

Denver is 6-1 straight-up and against the spread in post-bye week games dating back to 2010. There’s a similar long-running trend of Denver being 7-2 SU and ATS in home games following a bye week since 2003. However, this is the first time since 1996 that Denver has been a double-digit favorite in that scenario.

The Giants, which are 0-5 SU and 2-3 ATS, had three wide receivers, including Odell Beckham Jr., sustain season-ending injuries last week. That has left QB Eli Manning with WR Roger Lewis (15 career catches) and WR Tavarres King as his main outside targets. Slot WR Sterling Shephard (sprained ankle) could be inactive.

While team performances tend to gravitate toward the mean with time, the Giants will need to show something new – with replacement-level personnel – in order to move the ball against a Denver pass defense which allows only 6.2 yards per pass, fifth-best in the NFL.

The Broncos’ top-ranked defense, led by OLB Von Miller, is also first in run defense and has every starter healthy. While NFC teams are a combined 1-10 SU on the road against Denver since 2012, the Giants are a solid 7-3 ATS in their last 10 games against the AFC.

Denver, 3-1 SU and 2-1-1 ATS, has been quietly efficient on offense. The Broncos, with QB Trevor Siemian, are in the middle of the NFL pack in yards per pass, but they are facing a Giants secondary that is minus CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (suspension) and has also had inconsistent play from CB Eli Apple.

Denver, 7-2 ATS over its last nine home games in October, has been good at opening holes for the tandem of C.J. Anderson and Jamaal Charles, who are each capable of making things happen in the open field if the tackling gets sloppy. New York also won’t have DT Olivier Vernon drawing double teams up front and keeping blockers off MLB Damon Harrison.

Unless the Broncos stop themselves, they should be able to grind out a workmanlike win.

The total has gone over in three of the Giants’ last four games against the Broncos, according to the OddsShark NFL Database. The total has gone over in six of the Broncos’ last seven games as a favorite of 11.0 points or more.

For more info, picks and a breakdown of this week’s top sports betting news check out the new OddsShark podcast with Jon Campbell and Andrew Avery. Subscribe on iTunes, or check it out at OddsShark.libsyn.com.

Watch Indianapolis Colts vs. Seattle Seahawks live on NBC

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The Seattle Seahawks host the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday Night Football as both teams look to get back to .500.

Russell Wilson will be the focal point of the Seahawks offense after throwing for a career-high 373 yards and four touchdowns in a losing effort vs. the Titans in Week 3. Wilson’s ability to avoid the rush and use his legs will be on full display as Seattle’s offensive line continues to struggle.

On the defensive side, the Seahawks’ “Legion of Boom” will look to get back on track at home in a raucous environment against Colts QB Jacoby Brissett who is filling in for an injured Andrew Luck.

If the Colts have any chance to pull off the upset on the road, Brissett will have to use his legs and connect on some deep throws to T.Y. Hilton.

Football Night in America

Start time: 7:00 p.m. ET

TV channel: NBC

Live stream: NBCSports.com, NBC Sports app

Colts vs. Seahawks

Start time: 8:30 p.m. ET

TV channel: NBC

Live stream: NBCSports.com, NBC Sports app