Now with two straight sub-.500 weeks under our belt, we sit brooding with a 33-30-5 record ATS for the season. It’s getting to the point where about the only way the SMA swami can get anything right is to get a hold of that sports almanac that Michael J. Fox had in Back to the Future, Part II. Looking for silver linings, we did have some sweet picks last week (Falcons over Steelers, Raiders over Cardinals). But really, who but Marty McFly could have known that the Vikings would go into Seattle and wallop the Seahawks, who hadn’t lost a home game since late in 2004? Or that the Giants would trounce the Cowboys in Dallas? (By the way, for those of you who might suggest we weren’t doing our homework on arcane trends, let it be known that, prior to Monday night, the Giants were 1-7 against the Cowboys on Monday nights in their entire history. Now they’re 2-7. So is the trend over?) And don’t get me started on the Texans’ resounding victory over the Jaguars. (The only thing that ever usually resounds with the Texans is the thud that happens when David Carr gets sacked. But they didn’t just beat the spread against an acknowledgedly far superior team—they beat their asses. It makes no sense.)
I oughta give up. Even the so-called good teams aren’t that good, so how can you even crunch the data to arrive at a logical choice? I wasn’t that high on the Eagles before the season started, but some serious pro observers had ‘em leading the pack in the NFC East. Now they’re 4-3, which is okay, I guess, but it’s hardly elite. Then there are the Redskins, who I guessed would contend with the Giants for the division title. With all that high-priced offensive talent and a veteran offensive line, they now stand at 2-5. They were totally outclassed by the Colts last week. Losing that game was no surprise, but getting whupped (and not covering the hefty spread) indicates serious defensive problems to go along with an offensive engine that looks like it needs a new fuel pump. Or maybe a timing belt. Where NFL aesthetics are concerned, it’s a good thing the Skins have a bye this week. P.U.—they stink.
Let’s face it: Parity’s a bitch. With that in mind, we’ll drag our sorry-ass masochistic self once more to the drawing board. (As always, spreads courtesy of FootballLocks.com.)
1. HOUSTON @ TENNESSEE (-3) The also-rans of the AFC South tee it up in Nashville. Titans (1-5) off a bye week, and still savoring their first victory at Washington. Houston (2-4) basking in glow of home victory over Jags. Texans never good on the road, while Titans are so far winless at home. David Carr vs. Vince Young. Pretty much a toss-up. Travis Henry running strong these days for Tennessee. Prediction: Titans.
2. JACKSONVILLE @ PHILADELPHIA (-6) Suddenly, the Jaguars (3-3) don’t look so good. They’ve had injuries on the defensive side, and that’s always been their strength in the recent era. Eagles looking to get healthy after two straight road losses. A difficult play, but Jags trending downward. Prediction: Eagles.
3. ATLANTA @ CINCINNATI (-4.5) I love it. Michael Vick has a good game, so all the wonks at NFL.com start writing stories about how underestimated he is. Fact is, he’s a completely erratic quarterback with remarkable gifts. That’s not how you describe the great ones. The Bengals (4-2) held off a good Panthers team last week at home. Their offense is struggling, though, having scored only 43 points in their past three games. They’re due for a break-out, and Falcons (4-2) have yielded 65 points in their last two games. Prediction: Bengals.
4. TAMPA BAY @ NY GIANTS (-9) Bucs (2-4) are on a two-game winning streak. Yet they’ve only scored 85 points all year (14.2 per game), and their defense has done most of that. Giants (4-2) won Monday night but got roughed up on the Dallas artificial turf, losing LaVar Arrington for the year, with other key players hurting. If not for that, this play would be fairly logical. Still, the Bucs have no offense. Prediction: Giants.
5. SAN FRANCISCO @ CHICAGO (-16.5) The 49ers pinched themselves every morning they woke up this past bye week. By golly, they’re 2-4! When last we saw them, the Bears—now 6-0 and yielding 9.8 points per game—were driving a stake into Arizona coach Dennis Green’s heart with that wild, wacky Monday night victory in which they turned the ball over six times. Bears' offense is a sometime thing, but the team still averages 30 points a game. So, if they get 30, and give up 9.8, they cover. (If only it were that simple.) Prediction: Bears.
6. ARIZONA @ GREEN BAY (-3.5) The Cards are 1-6 and their much-ballyhooed season is a shambles. (Go back and see what the “experts” said about them in preseason predictions. Some guys had ’em making the playoffs. I thought 7-9 seemed do-able, but clearly even that was too optimistic.) Packers are 2-4, fresh off a “big” victory over Miami on the road. It’ll probably be cold in Green Bay, though maybe not as cold as the Cards’ running game. Here’s a scary stat: Edgerrin James leads the NFL in carries with 161, yet he’s averaging only 2.7 yards a pop. Wow, that’s ugly. No one’s even close to him in futility. It’s a scandal, but at least James is being paid well for being lousy. Until the Cards show something, it’s impossible to back ‘em. Prediction: Packers.
7. SEATTLE @ KANSAS CITY (-6) Seattle might be 4-2, but they’re giving up more points than they’re scoring. Plus, they’ve lost quarterback Matt Hasselbeck for a while, and they still don’t have Shaun Alexander back from injury. If the Vikings’ Chester Taylor can have a career rushing performance against ‘em, one wonders what KC’s Larry Johnson will do. Chiefs at 3-3 are feeling good about themselves, and home is where the heart is. Prediction: Chiefs.
8. BALTIMORE @ NEW ORLEANS (-2) A very interesting matchup here. Ravens are 4-2 coming off a bye week. But they’re also coming off two losses in a row and a “dump offensive coordinator Jim Fassel” week as well. Head coach Brian Billick assumes play-calling duties in the shakeup. What’s ironic about that is that Billick used to be an offensive coordinator, yet ever since he came to Baltimore it’s been his defenses that have saved his ass. Plus, the other two teams that recently dumped offensive coordinators were the Cards and the Browns, where chaos currently reigns. The Saints, meanwhile, are the sweethearts of the NFL rodeo, riding high at 5-1. Drew Brees & Co. look pretty confident. Still, a strong effort by that Ravens D could keep this very close. I like the road ‘dog. Prediction: Ravens.
9. ST. LOUIS @ SAN DIEGO (-9) Chargers now 4-2 after losing close one in KC. But also, they continue to experience trauma off-the-field, in the way of drug allegations, police run-ins, etc. Their stout defense is losing too many players. The offense is still strong, however. St. Louis is also 4-2. They’ve looked a little wobbly getting there, but they’re not a bad team. Covering these points should be do-able. Prediction: Rams.
10. PITTSBURGH (-9) @ OAKLAND R-berger will probably be out for this game. Steelers, at 2-4, need this win, and there’s no reason why Charlie Batch can’t deliver it for ‘em. If the Steelers take care of business in the other phases of the game, they should cover this semi-treacherous heavy-road-favorite spread. Raiders hepped up on the catnip of victory. Over the Cardinals. (Ho-hum.) But at 1-5, can it be that they’re only one game worse than the world champs? No, it can’t. Prediction: Steelers.
11. NY JETS @ CLEVELAND (-1.5) Don’t ask how, just savor the fact that the Jets are 4-3. They’ve given up 26 more points than they’ve scored this year, but most of that occurred when they went to Jacksonville a few weeks back and got walloped. Otherwise, Chad Pennington continues to play like the clever quarterback that he is. They’ve improved their running game a bit also. Browns are 1-5 and woeful all over, and they just fired their offensive coordinator. But maybe when you’re averaging 14.7 points a game, that’s a good thing. The points here are negligible, and the Jets need only find some incentive to win. Prediction: Jets.
12. INDIANAPOLIS @ DENVER (-2.5) It’s not often that a 6-0 team comes into a game the underdog. It only makes sense because the home team is 5-1. And can this be right: The Broncos are giving up only 7.3 points per game? That almost makes the Bears look generous. But the Broncos also are only scoring 13.2 points per game. Something’s gotta give here. But if you told me I could have Peyton Manning and his undefeated team AND 2.5 points going into any opposing venue in the NFL, I’d take it. A very slippery slope here, especially because the Redskins did only one thing right last week in losing to Indy: They rattled Peyton’s cage a little. On the other hand, the vaunted Denver defense hasn’t been tested by an opponent with real firepower. Prediction: Colts.
13. DALLAS @ CAROLINA (-5) I’m surprised the oddsmakers didn’t give the Panthers 10 points this week–to really test the punters. Cowboys are 3-3, reeling from a Monday night embarrassment, and it looks like Tony Romo’s gonna take over from Drew Bledsoe at QB. Looking back, Parcells made a tactical error in the Giants game by yanking Bledsoe after the half. Up to then, the ‘boys were still in it, and while Bledsoe was under assault, he was still coping. Now it all looks like a PR nightmare, and Romo threw three times as many interceptions as Bledsoe that game. Romo probably won’t enjoy facing the 4-3 Panthers much. They have a very good secondary. The kid’ll have to play exceptionally. Doesn’t seem likely. Prediction: Panthers.
14. NEW ENGLAND (-2.5) @ MINNESOTA Surprisingly interesting matchup. Vikings scorched the Seahawks in Seattle last week, and have now given up just under 16 points per game in building a 4-2 record. Then there are the 5-1 Patriots, who have quietly gone about holding opponents to 13.3 points per game. If the Pats were giving just a few more points, there might be something to think about here. But the road fav looks like the logical bet. Prediction: Patriots.