The SMA braintrust looked positively clairvoyant last week, snagging 12 out of 16 ATS, with the Redskins and Panthers coming through in fine style. We’re still tinkering with our hometown loyalties, however, and we’ve simply got to stop believing that the Titans are better than they look. In fact, they look 3-9, and that’s exactly what they are. Even this week’s home date against the lowly Texans looks iffy ATS. So how do you root for a beloved lousy team to win the game, but not by too much??
And how about those swamis in the NFL’s scheduling office? They decided that this week’s Saints/Falcons matchup would be worthy of a Monday Night Football slot. Since when was putting the Saints in prime-time on Week 14 of any season a viable idea? Yeah, the Falcons are still alive in the playoff race, but their fortunes have slipped, and they’re not really playing very well. Strangely enough—or maybe not so, in light of Katrina—the Saints have a better record on the road than at home this year. But I don’t wanna think about that too much, since I went ahead and picked the Falcons to beat the spread at home. (Saints preserve us!)
Five games are double-digit spread affairs this week. That looks like a lot to me. After all, these aren’t college games we’re calling, where teams get their asses kicked in a Big 12 conference championship by 70-3. That said, I went with the big numbers 4 out of 5. But I have a feeling that the bookies feast in Week 14. We’re only just pawns in their game, you know.
1. Tampa Bay @ Carolina (-5)—Huge divisional matchup with a lot on the line, including impact on wild-card scenario. Gotta assume the Panthers’ D-line will throttle Bucs QB Chris Simms (right). Pick: Carolina.
2. New England (-3) @ Buffalo—The Bills played tough at home two weeks ago against Carolina, holding the Panthers to 13 points and forcing a push ATS. New England simply isn’t the team of the recent past. The Bills’ D is no embarrassment, and they’ve got a chance to make this close. Pick: Buffalo.
3. St. Louis @ Minnesota (-6.5)—Vikings are still in the playoff hunt, and the Rams are only still in it mathematically. Vikings are on a five-game winning streak, and the Rams just give up too many points. Plus, the Rams’ Harvard-grad rookie QB Fitzpatrick has now learned that not every team around here is as beatable as the Houston Texans. Pick: Minnesota.
4. Chicago @ Pittsburgh (-5.5)—Lovable but ornery young Bears have won eight in a row, and they count Carolina and Tampa Bay as recent victims. The Steelers have lost three in a row and, at 7-5, are fighting for their playoff lives. They looked better last week against Cincy, especially because QB Ben Roethlisberger (left) looks like he can throw again, despite the fact that his thumb is slated for post-season surgery of some kind. Still, the Steelers did lose at home, and this spread looks tricky indeed, considering that the Bears are giving up only 10.6 points per game. Pick: Steelers.
5. Oakland (-3) @ New York Jets—Gosh, the Jets suck. Oakland is no prize, either, and who knows what they’ll do. But the Raiders do have some offense, and a couple of scores should do the trick. Pick: Oakland.
6. Indianapolis (-7.5) @ Jacksonville—The Jags have a defense that might actually stymie Peyton Manning for a couple of series. The problem is that the Colts also have a defense, one capable of giving fill-in Jags QB David Garrard fits. This should be a hard-hitting affair, and maybe a surprise result. But it’s tough to back it with money. Pick: Colts.
7. Houston @ Tennessee (-6.5)—The Titans seem to be deteriorating; unlike teams loaded with young players, they're not showing the kind of improvement you might expect. Plus, they’re getting hit by the injury bug, losing talented rookie wide receivers Roydell Williams and Brandon Jones to season-ending surgery. They might win this game, but there’s every reason to believe it’ll be close. Pick: Houston.
8. Cleveland @ Cincinnati (-12)—I have a feeling Cleveland’s gonna stick around for this one. Their defense is scrappy enough to hold on for a while, before Bengals claw their way to victory, say, about, 28-17. Pick: Cleveland.
9. Washington (-3) @ Arizona—Redskins got back on winning track last week by beating an NFC West squad (the Rams) on the road. They get the same challenge here. (Seems like an awful lot of plane travel.) At 6-6, the Redskins need to win out for any playoff chance, and after this game they close the season with contests against each of their divisional foes. Their destiny is in their own erratic hands. Pick: Washington.
10. New York Giants (-7) @ Philadelphia—Based on their Monday night performance against Seattle, the Eagles look remarkably pathetic. They have no QB, no running game (and injured Brian Westbrook was just declared out for the year), and their receivers drop passes. To be fair to their defense, it was the Eagles’ offense that was responsible for a lot of the Seahawks’ points in the 42-0 debacle. Giants need this game in a hotly contended divisional situation. It’ll be a tougher battle than it looks for the G-Men, and someone in Vegas knows it, because the early spread on the game was -3 and then changed to -7 from Monday to Wednesday. Ask yourself this: Is it possible for Eagles coach Andy Reid to inspire his troops to make a sufficient effort—especially with their defense—to thwart the playoff aspirations of a longtime hated divisional rival? I almost wish I could take this one back. Pick: New York.
11. San Francisco @ Seattle (-16)—Seattle wants to win this game in service of getting home-field advantage come playoff time. So they need to play well, but they don’t need to break a sweat or risk injury to key players. It could be a romp, of course, but they only beat the Niners by two points on Nov. 20 in San Francisco. Pick: San Francisco.
12. Miami @ San Diego (-13.5)—San Diego is hot, and they need to stay that way. I don’t like these points much, however. Dolphins are capable of tenacity; on the other hand, their QB last week in a close win versus the Bills was Sage Rosenfels (right). Sounds more like a stock brokerage to me. Pick: San Diego.
13. Baltimore @ Denver (-14)—Even at 9-3 and looking good, the Broncos need to keep pace in the AFC West, where Kansas City and San Diego are breathing down their necks. They could probably sleep-walk through this affair and come out with a win, but 14 points is always reason for concern. Pick: Denver.
14. Kansas City @ Dallas (-3)—All eyes will be on this matchup, where two good teams engage with divisional and wild-card aspirations looming large. K.C. looked good against Denver last week, but sometimes they just don’t put it all together. They’ve won three in a row, while the Cowboys have dropped two straight. Go with the positive trend. Pick: Kansas City.
15. Detroit @ Green Bay (-5.5)—This game would be a laugh-riot if it weren’t for the fact that it’s a bitch to call. Both teams are on three-game skids. The Packers winning wouldn’t be a surprise at all, but at 2-10, what says they’ll beat the 4-8 Lions by six points? Pick: Detroit.
16. New Orleans @ Atlanta (-10)—If the Falcons are so good, why are they 7-5 and in third place in the NFC South? And why did Carolina drub ‘em 24-6 last week? Aren’t they supposed to get up for a game like that? If they can’t get it in gear for this one, you can write ‘em off for the rest of the season. As it is, they still might be goners, and there’s nothing that says they will cover this spread handily. The Saints kept it close against the Buccaneers last week. Pick: Atlanta.