Our first 2006 foray into handicapping the NFL last week yielded good results. We finished 8-5-1, the push being the Indy/Jacksonville game. We got nice winning efforts from the Rams, Jets and Packers on the road; also the Redskins, though their decisive victory at Houston was less a surprise. This week looks particularly tricky, and these early lines from FootballLocks.com, quite frankly, look out of wack. For example, why would the Chargers be giving 2 points on the road at Baltimore? But ours is not always to reason why. We'll pick against the points being served up.
1. INDIANAPOLIS (-9.5) @ NY JETS The Jets are 2-1 and feeling their oats. The Colts are coming off a solid win over tough Jacksonville. These points tantalize, especially with Jets QB Pennington playing so well. The ballsy pick is New York. Prediction: Colts.
2. SAN DIEGO (-2) @ BALTIMORE Chargers are 2-0 and coming off their bye week. Ravens are 3-0, and return home after a narrow victory at Cleveland. Chargers keep losing defensive players to off-the-field events. Someone thinks L.T. and Philip Rivers can hold their own versus the Ravens' swarming defense. Not me. Prediction: Ravens.
3. MINNESOTA @ BUFFALO (-1.5) Two teams still trying to answer the question, "Exactly how good (or bad) are we?" Buffalo doesn't even get the requisite three points for being at home, which is not a show of faith. Then if they win a squeaker, you might still lose your money. Vikings slugged it out against the Bears last week in a very tough home loss. Maybe they left a little too much mojo on the field. Prediction: Bills.
4. DALLAS (-9.5) @ TENNESSEE Titans glad to be coming home. But to what? It all still looks pretty chaotic for them at 0-3. They'd have to have some extra effort to beat the spread, and if Vince Young actually gets a start, it could be really tough to avoid losing by 10. Unless the kid surprises, if he plays at all. The Cowboys have talent, but they seem to have psychic problems too. This could be a reach, but we're thinking the Titans will step up. Not to win—just to make it closer than they have any reason to expect. Prediction: Titans.
5. SAN FRANCISCO @ KANSAS CITY (-7) I guess if Trent Green were quarterbacking the Chiefs, this one'd be a no-brainer. But Damon Huard is the man. The Niners have found a semblance of an offense, which is good news, and maybe they'll score some against the Chiefs' underachieving D. Alas, the Niners still give up too many points themselves. This one's a toughie, folks. Maybe Larry Johnson has a huge game at home. Prediction: Chiefs.
6. NEW ORLEANS @ CAROLINA (-7.5) The NFC South leaders are in this one. No, we don't mean the Panthers; it's the Saints, strutting their stuff at 3-0, and fresh off the Monday night Superdome extravaganza. This spread is designed to rope in all that fresh New Orleans money, and the way the Panthers were playing in Weeks 1 & 2, it might make for a tasty wager. It still might, since Carolina only nipped the faltering Bucs last week. The Panthers will win, of that there is little doubt. But by how much? Saints come down to earth after short work week. Prediction: Panthers.
7. ARIZONA @ ATLANTA (-7.5) Falcons also have a short work week, and they better hope that Monday night was a blip on the radar screen. Look for that running attack to get back on track versus Cardinals. Falcons also have the defense to get after immobile Kurt Warner. Prediction: Falcons.
8. MIAMI (-4) @ HOUSTON It's the questionable versus the doubtful here. Houston (0-3) desperate for a victory and this is a home opportunity to get one. Dolphins (1-2) coming off lackluster 13-10 home victory against a bad Titans team. Nick Saban's 'Fins need to keep pace in a suddenly more competitive AFC East. Too bad QB Daunte Culpepper isn't really playing that well. This could be a very tough play. Yet the plane ride from Miami to Houston isn't that bad, so no jet-lag factor. If Dolphins leave Houston 1-3, they're in trouble. Prediction: Dolphins.
9. DETROIT @ ST. LOUIS (-6) Well, at least the 0-3 Lions aren't leaving home to go play the Bengals or Ravens. They have a chance to cover this one. The Rams may be 2-1, but they're not dazzling anybody. I say St. Louis takes this about 20-14, which means a push. But maybe they'll kick an extra field goal. Prediction: Rams.
10. NEW ENGLAND @ CINCINNATI (-6) On the surface, this looks like a nail-biter for bettors. If only we had some assurance that the Patriots were as good as that 2-1 record ought to indicate. They beat Buffalo and the Jets, then their offense got stuck in first gear against the Broncos, and in Foxboro no less. Throw another of the 3-0 Bengals into the drunk tank, but also bet on 'em to beat this spread. Prediction: Bengals.
11. JACKSONVILLE (-2.5) @ WASHINGTON Is the Redskins' offense really untracked, or did they only face the Texans last week? They're gonna face the ferocious Jaguars this week, and if the Jags' D gets after lead-footed Mark Brunell the way we know they can, it'll be a different story. Still, Clinton Portis looks pretty healthy again, and there's no question that the 'Skins' defense has the ability to short-circuit the Jags' unpredictable offense. The oddsmakers have done us a favor giving the points to the visitors. Prediction: Redskins.
12. CLEVELAND (-3) @ OAKLAND Here's another visitor getting the points. I guess it makes sense. Theoretically, the Browns (0-3) aren't that bad. On the other hand, the Raiders (0-2) have scored 6 points and given up 55. Plus, they have Andrew Walter starting at quarterback, their OL is in relative shambles and their run offense hasn't done anything yet. Okay, you convinced me. Prediction: Browns.
13. SEATTLE @ CHICAGO (-3.5) Seattle running back Shaun Alexander is probably out of action with a broken bone in his foot. But even if he plays, he might need more than a miracle to grind out big yardage against this eager Bears team. Both teams are 3-0, so this is a marquee game. Fact is, until last week against the Giants, the 'Hawks weren't playing that well. There's no reason why the homefield Bears can't win this game by four points. Prediction: Bears.
14. GREEN BAY @ PHILADELPHIA (-11) Sigh. Brett Favre is putting up great numbers again. Against the Saints and the Lions. Now he brings the Pack (1-2) into Philly (2-1) for a Monday night encounter. His opposite number, Donavan McNabb, looks like a top gun again, and Brian Westbrook is running hard. Plus, the Eagles' receivers are performing well. Eagles' usually vaunted D has yielded 64 points in three games, so they look vulnerable to Favre and his receivers. But wait: the Packers' un-vaunted D has given up 84 points in three games. Eating 11 points and taking the Eagles would be a daring move. But the home team looks hungry. Prediction: Eagles.