- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 6, 2010

These are the NFL champion Saints?

These are the two-time NFC West champion Cardinals?

Well, yes. Both are tied atop their divisions, the Saints (3-1) in the NFC South and the Cardinals (2-2) in the West. And no, they sure don’t look anything like their recent past.

New Orleans has yet to find a dominating, high-scoring offense like the one that carried it to a 13-0 record a year ago, and then to its first Super Bowl title. The Saints’ total margin of victory this season is 10 points, and overall they have outscored opponents just 79-72.

Still, things look much worse in the Valley of the Sun. The Cardinals, plagued by losing Kurt Warner, Anquan Boldin, Karlos Dansby and Antrel Rolle in the offseason, have been eclipsed by 60 points, 58-118. They rank 31st in offense, 29th in defense _ and yet are in first place along with the Rams and Seahawks.

Arizona is a 7 1/2-point underdog as it sorts through its problems on both sides of the ball. Getting healthy against the Saints is not a prescription for success. More likely, New Orleans will find its rhythm out in the desert.

SAINTS, 27-13

N.Y. Giants (plus 3 1/2) at Houston

An angry set of Giants took it out on the Bears with 10 sacks. Houston has a better offensive line, better quarterback and suddenly balanced offense with the emergence of RB Arian Foster. One caveat: star receiver Andre Johnson is bothered by a sprained right ankle. We think he’ll be healthy enough …

BEST BET: TEXANS, 27-17

Jacksonville (plus 1) at Buffalo

Jaguars just might be better than most everyone thought, judging by their gutsy win over the Colts. Bills might be much worse than anyone thought.

Not much of an upset, but …

UPSET SPECIAL: JAGUARS, 17-10

Kansas City (plus 7 1/2) at Indianapolis

Ah, the league’s only undefeated team, the Ind … oops, it’s the Chiefs. Not after this one, especially with the Colts annoyed with themselves for blowing a game in Jacksonville.

COLTS, 28-19

Denver (plus 7) at Baltimore

Got to love how the Broncos are moving the ball. But now, they run _ and pass _ into a stone wall.

RAVENS, 20-10

Minnesota (plus 5 1/2) at N.Y. Jets (Monday night)

Another prime-time outing for the J-E-T-S, who get to meet up again with old friends (Brett Favre) and foes (Randy Moss). A terrific chance to really prove themselves.

JETS, 17-13

Tennessee (plus 7) at Dallas

Cowboys beat the current Houston franchise in their last game before a bye. Now they get the former Oilers, who are as up and down this season as, well, the Cowboys.

COWBOYS, 20-16

Philadelphia (plus 3) at San Francisco

Kevin Kolb didn’t look ready to play when Michael Vick was injured last week. The 49ers don’t look ready to play most of the time.

EAGLES, 20-16

Chicago (minus 3) at Carolina

Julius Peppers returns to Carolina, where everything has gone sour. Imagine if he still was on the Panthers and was going up against that leaky Chicago offensive line. Still, he’s enough to turn the tide in this one, with or without QB Jay Cutler (concussion).

BEARS, 23-10

Green Bay (minus 3) at Washington

It’s time for the Packers to start acting like a Super Bowl contender. That means not keeping an inferior team close with turnovers and penalties.

PACKERS, 24-15

San Diego (minus 5) at Oakland

Until the Chargers play well on the road, we’re not convinced they are the AFC West’s best.

RAIDERS, 21-20

St. Louis (plus 3) at Detroit

Detroit plays them close, then falls short. Even though the Rams have won two straight to surpass last season’s victory total, they are an opponent the Lions can finally beat.

LIONS, 24-23

Atlanta (minus 3) at Cleveland

Browns are fortunate they got the win over the Bengals last week. After this, they take on Pittsburgh, New Orleans, New England and the New York Jets.

FALCONS, 20-13

Tampa Bay (plus 7) at Cincinnati

Not even a vintage game by Terrell Owens got the Bengals a win in Cleveland. They can’t run the ball, but at least Carson Palmer seems to have found the range with T.O. and Chad Ochocinco.

BENGALS, 20-16.

___

RECORD:

Versus spread, 6-8 (overall 34-27); Straight up, 9-5 (overall 39-23)

Best Bet: 2-2 against spread, 3-1 straight up.

Upset Special: 4-0 against spread, 4-0 straight up.

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