Last week was a crazy week to be a NFL gambler. I make these picks every week, but I don’t wager any money. However, huge sums of money are at risk every Sunday and Monday, and a couple games last week show just how difficult it is to predict final outcomes.
Exhibit A, Thursday night, Indy at Tennessee: The Colts stormed out to a 21-0 lead, making me certain they would cover the 3.5 point spread. With 30 secs left, the Titans were down 9 (30-21) and within field goal range. Smart play – Kick the FG, onside kick and try for a late TD because you need two scores anyway. Instead, coach Jeff Fisher decided to keep driving and the Titans scored a touchdown as time expired leaving them no time to complete the comeback, and so the final score ended 30-28, screwing many bettors and my pick.
Exhibit B, Sunday afternoon,Tampa at Washington: Redskins score a last-second TD to make it 17-16, need a extra point to force OT and botch the snap. I had picked Tampa Bay -2. Overtime would have meant a possibility for a game-winning FG (and three points), but instead they win by only 1.
Then finally, Exhibit C, Monday night, Baltimore at Houston: The Texans comeback to force OT, and I need Baltimore to win by more than three. An interception return for a TD by Josh Wilson made no need for any overtime field goals, and the Ravens won by 6, miraculously covering the spread. Good thing people don’t gamble serious money on these game. (Oh, wait…) Last week: 7 wins – 9 losses. Season record: 107-96-5.
San Francisco 49ers at San Diego Chargers (-10): It’s still amazing that the Chargers are only 7-6, and remain 1 game behind the Kansas City Chiefs for the AFC West division lead. With a huge 31-0 victory over Kansas City, the Chargers pulled closer to a great comeback, but how are they even in this position? The Chargers gain 400 yards per game (2nd most in the NFL), and only allow 265 yards per game (best in the NFL). When you outgain your opponents by nearly 140 yards every game, you should have the league’s best record. San Diego is better than their average record, and they should roll on Thursday night, and inch closer to the AFC West lead.
Cleveland Browns (+1) at Cincinnati Bengals: Cincy is on the verge of setting the franchise record for longest losing streak. If they lose this one, they will have 11 consecutive losses. What do you say in these groundbreaking moments? Congratulations, I guess.
Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys (-7): Rex Grossman is starting for the Redskins in place of Donovan McNabb. Need I say more? I didn’t think so.
Houston Texans (+1.5) at Tennessee Titans: Anytime you can get points going against a team that has lost six straight, including a 20-0 loss versus these very same Texans, you gotta do it. Good value for Houston as a small underdog, they should win this game.
Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts (-4.5): Did you know that the Jacksonville Jaguars have never won the AFC South? Their last division title came in 1999, when they were in the AFC Central. This could be the year they break through, but it’s hard to go against Peyton Manning when he’s home in a crucial game.
Kansas City Chiefs at St. Louis Rams (-3): This line assumes that Brodie Croyle will start again for the Chiefs in place of starting QB Matt Cassell, who underwent an emergency appendectomy recently. Key statistic for this game: Croyle has a career 0-10 record as a NFL starter. If he’s in, I like that streak to continue against my man-crush rookie QB Sam Bradford and the Rams.
Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins (-4.5): The Dolphins may easily be the most frustrating NFL team to watch (and bet on). This team somehow has managed a 7-6 record despite a terrible 1-5 mark at home. Why don’t they enjoy playing in Miami? Seems like the life to me. The Fins are the league’s second-worst scoring offense, averaging only 17 points per game. Maybe playing the Bills will spark some life into that offense.
Philadelphia Eagles (+3) at New York Giants: These teams seem pretty evenly matched to me. Both sport 9-4 records atop the NFC East. But the Eagles have already beaten the Giants 27-17 in November, and have won five straight in the series. Plus, the Giants are coming off a crazy week with traveling issues trying to get to Minneapolis, and eventually playing Monday night in Detroit. In a close game, I’ll take the points.
Detroit Lions at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (-4): The Bucs’ record against teams above .500 winning percetange: 0-5. Against teams below .500: 8-0. Detroit is 3-10. I’m smelling another win over another mediocre team.
Arizona Cardinals (+2.5) at Carolina Panthers: In this afternoon’s biggest snoozefest, I tried to pick against both teams. Apparently that’s not possible because I couldn’t find any odds on this being a tie. The Cards and the Panthers are perhaps two of the league’s worst teams, so I can’t be bothered to do any actual research for this game. When in doubt, I’ll pick against the team that has the most incentive to lose (and pick up the #1 draft pick) and take the points.
New Orleans Saints (+2.5) at Baltimore Ravens: The Ravens are coming off a short week after an epic collapse on Monday Night Football, only to be saved by an interception return for a TD in overtime in Houston. Without the extra day of rest, I think the Ravens defense still hasn’t caught their breath after playing 53 snaps after halftime in that game against the Texans. Saints in a minor upset.
Atlanta Falcons (-6) at Seattle Seahawks: You know what’s the most amazing thing about this game? The 11-2 Falcons and the 6-7 Seahawks are both in first place of their divisions. Atlanta needs to keep winning to secure a bye as well as homefield throughout the NFC playoffs, so they should clean up a mediocre Seattle team.
Denver Broncos at Oakland Raiders (-7.5): Denver has lost eight of their last nine games. That stretch includes a 59-14 home defeat at the hands of the Oakland Raiders. That 45-point winning margin only needs to be 8 in this one, and I don’t think Denver’s run defense (31st in the NFL at 150 yards allowed per game) has figured how to stop the Raiders yet.
New York Jets (+4.5) at Pittsburgh Steelers: Seems like we’re in for a brutal 10-7 slugfest. These teams play hard-nosed defense, and the offenses have struggled at times. The Jets have 9 points in their last two games combined, and the Steelers failed to score an offensive TD in their previous game against the lowly Bengals (they did have two defensive TDs). In a hard-fought close game, I’ll take the points.
Green Bay Packers at New England Patriots (-14): Who’s gonna stop these Pats? In their last five games, they have scored 39, 31, 45, 45, and 36 points. And now backup QB Matt Flynn will start for Green Bay in place of the concussed Aaron Rodgers. Can Flynn put up even 20 points against anybody? He’ll need that many to cover this spread. If I’m the Pats, my only worry is that these blowout wins could potentially draw too much attention with some comparisons thrown in to that ’07 Patriots team. And we know how what happened in Super Bowl XLII. (Wait, that’s exactly what I want to happen. Give them all the hype and pressure of 19-0 yet again!)
Chicago Bears (-7.5) at Minnesota Vikings: Like I said last week of the Jets-Pats game, the Bears horrific loss to the Pats told us more about how good New England is than how bad the Bears are. Chicago is still a very good team; the Pats are just on another level right now that makes good teams look bad. With that said, this week they won’t be facing Tom Brady, but instead some guy named Joe Webb. I literally just looked him up two seconds ago because I had never heard of him. Apparently he’s a rookie from University of Alabama-Birmingham drafted in the sixth round last year. Unfortunately he’s in for a rude awakening in his first NFL start as he plays in frigid Minneapolis outside, unable to find shelter in the friendly confines of the collapsed Metrodome. Bears roll on, and Brett Favre manages to dominate the highlights with some hilarious jokes on the sidelines.