NFL: It comes down to a few inches, a few seconds
New England Patriots's Marcus Jones runs back a punt for the winning touchdown against the New York Jets during an NFL football game at Gillette Stadium, Sunday, November, 20, 2022. (Photos: AP)

Professional sports, like most things in life, come down to a few inches, a few seconds, and the ability to capitalise on windows of opportunity. Teams Argentina and Germany, in their early World Cup shortfalls against Saudi Arabia and Japan, respectively, are testament to this, but the 2022/23 National Football League (NFL) regular season highlights this week in, next week out.

Marcus Jones returned a punt 84 yards for a touchdown with five seconds remaining as the New England Patriots (6-4) outlasted the stunned New York Jets (6-4) by a 10-3 score line last Sunday. This marks their 14th-straight win over the Jets who now drop to last place in the hotly contested American Football Conference (AFC) East Division.

On that same afternoon, the run game of the neighbouring New York Giants (7-3) was shut down by the much-maligned run defence of the Detroit Lions (4-6). Giants' running back and the NFL's leading rusher Saquon Barkley amassed only 22 yards while his counterpart Jamaal Williams ran for a career-high three touchdowns as Detroit stunned New York 31-18 — posting consecutive roads wins and their first three-game winning streak since November 2017.

Dallas Cowboys (7-3) quarterback (QB) Dak Prescott was near flawless (22 of 25 passes for 276 yards and two touchdowns) and running back Ezekiel Elliott rushed for two scores in his return from injury against the high-flying Minnesota Vikings (8-2) last Sunday. Kicker Brett Maher chipped in with four made field goals — including a 60-yarder to end the first half — and running back Tony Pollard had two touchdown catches, with a career-high 189 rushing yards from scrimmage. The 40-3 score line was a far cry from the exploits of the Vikings this year, and the scoring display from the Cowboys was a turnaround from the fourth quarter shutout they had in a loss to the Green Bay Packers the week before.

Elsewhere in the National Football Conference (NFC) East, the previously undefeated Philadelphia Eagles (9-1) used almost all the available clock to get past the flailing Indianapolis Colts (4-6-1) last Sunday. Eagles' QB Jalen Hurts ran for an eight-yard touchdown with 1:20 remaining, for their first lead of the game and the 17-16 win. Coming off their first loss of the season the previous week to the Washington Commanders, the Eagles trailed 13-3 in the fourth quarter before the telling run to land their seventh-straight road victory.

The marquee matchup this weekend has the Tennessee Titans (7-3) set to host the Cincinnati Bengals (6-4) in a crucial AFC showdown between two teams with play-off ambitions, and the only matchup this weekend of teams with winning records. The Titans achieved top AFC seeding heading into the play-offs last year, then were promptly eliminated in the Divisional Round by the Bengals, in Tennessee. The Bengals made it to Super Bowl LVI, squared off against the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium, and the rest is history.

Naturally, after the way last season ended, many are looking at this contest as a potential redemption game for the Titans when the Bengals return to 'the scene of the crime'. However, many of the current Titans were not on that team and would not have an appetite for revenge, but QB Ryan Tannehill will find it difficult to forget a performance that included three interceptions. Tannehill has rebounded from that loss and, while he hasn't had a breakout effort statistically, he has done enough to help the Titans to a 6-2 mark in games in which he's started. Tennessee is again in a good position, leading the AFC South entering this weekend, but as JustBet underdogs at home against Cincinnati.

The Titans had a consistent game against the Green Bay Packers last week Thursday, scoring in each quarter and shutting out their opponents in the fourth for a 27-17 win, in Green Bay. Tannehill was efficient (22 of 27 passes for 333 yards and two touchdowns), but the legs of running back Derrick Henry carried the team — he finished with 87 tough yards but also completed two passes, one for a touchdown.

Cincinnati played a hard-fought game against the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday afternoon, with QB Joe Burrow slinging it around for 355 yards and four touchdowns, to help secure their first divisional win of the season. Wide receiver Tee Higgins made a huge contribution with 148 receiving yards, but the glory went to running back Samaje Perine who had three rushing touchdowns in the 37-30 win. The Bengals are expecting wide received Ja'Marr Chase to make his return on Sunday to bolster an already formidable offence — Chase has been out with a hip injury since the team's win over the Atlanta Falcons in Week 7.

These teams have met each other 77 times (including two post-season games), with the Bengals winning 36 games and the Titans winning 40. They also tied once. The Bengals may not want to admit it but a win on Sunday would not only place them level in the standings with the Titans, it would also provide the satisfaction of sweet revenge for last season's play-off defeat. A win would move Tennessee to 8-3 and give them a commanding lead in the division before the calendar flips to December. If the offensive onslaught that Henry can provide comes to the fore an eventual win is expected for the home team, but the action to that point should be fire. Are you ready for some football?

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Super Bowl LVII Champion

Team Odds

Buffalo Bills5.20

Kansas City Chiefs5.40

Philadelphia Eagles7.00

San Francisco 49ers8.20

Dallas Cowboys11.00

Baltimore Ravens13.00

Tampa Bay Buccaneers18.00

Miami Dolphins18.00

Minnesota Vikings18.00

Cincinnati Bengals26.00

*Only Top 10 odds shown (see website for full list)

Note: Odds are subject to change

Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) in action during the first half of an NFL football game against the Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, November 20, 2022 in Minneapolis.
BY MARK ARCHER

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