The second half of the NFL season kicks off with 15 games, almost all of which have serious playoff implications. Only the Bears and Colts can afford to lose games at this juncture without risking potential serious damage to their postseason status. Other better teams like Denver, Baltimore, New Orleans and the Giants have played well, but they have divisional foes close enough to them to matter if they should falter.
As for the SMA swami, well, 47-44-5 on the season only makes us slightly better than, say, the Carolina Panthers, who are 4-4 but still have what it takes to make a run in the second half. Let’s hope we do too.
Spreads courtesy of FootballLocks.com.
1. KANSAS CITY (-1) @ MIAMI Thirty-five years ago, this would‘ve been a classic, with Hank Stram’s recent Super Bowl-winning Chiefs versus Don Shula’s soon-to-be-champ Dolphins. Now it’s only a puzzle for the handicappers. At 5-3, the Chiefs have been winning and are angling for a wild-card berth. The 2-6 Dolphins are coming off a big win in Chicago, in which their running game put up serious numbers against the Bears’ vaunted D. This is an interesting play for those who like home underdogs, but the Chiefs aren’t giving enough points to provide any comfort level. Prediction: Chiefs.
2. HOUSTON @ JACKSONVILLE (-10.5) The Jags don’t just win at home against weak sisters: they demolish ‘em. No reason to think that’ll change. Prediction: Jaguars.
3. SAN DIEGO (-1.5) @ CINCINNATI Chargers are 6-2 and challenging the Broncos for AFC West superiority. Bengals are 4-4 and looking ragged, especially on offense, their obvious strength. Bengals have all the incentive to stay in the playoff hunt, plus a home crowd. Prediction: Bengals.
4. CLEVELAND @ ATLANTA (-8.5) The 5-3 Falcons have the talent to cover this spread, yet their will is often seemingly lacking. The 2-6 Browns are worse than mediocre, though, and they’re in foreign territory. It could be closer than expected. Prediction: Falcons.
5. BALTIMORE (-7) @ TENNESSEE Homecoming week, as former Titans QB Steve McNair returns to the scene of many professional triumphs and to a town where thousands still admire him. The Ravens are 6-2 and making serious playoff overtures, with a punishing defense and a productive-enough offense. Titans (2-6) returned to their confused youthful ways last week in getting trounced by Jacksonville, and only the Bucs and Raiders have scored fewer points this year. Despite the emotional component here, the Ravens simply look too good. Prediction: Ravens.
6. BUFFALO @ INDIANAPOLIS (-12.5) The only question here is by how much will the 8-0 Colts beat the 3-5 Bills. I suppose the Colts could have a letdown after impressive road wins at Denver and New England. They could also put on an offensive fireworks display for the home crowd. Prediction: Colts.
7. NEW ORLEANS @ PITTSBURGH (-4.5) Somebody keeps believing in the 2-6 Steelers. In the standings, they’re as bad as Oakland, Tennessee, Houston, Cleveland, Detroit and Tampa Bay, yet they’re giving a generous 4.5 points to a 6-2 Saints squad. I guess the trick is not in surmising that B-Roeth & Co. get it together, it’s in determining how strongly the Saints can respond. Difficult play. Here’s hoping “somebody” is right. Prediction: Steelers.
8. WASHINGTON @ PHILADELPHIA (-7) Eagles are 4-4 coming off their bye week. When last seen, they were losing at home to the Jaguars. Redskins, at 3-5, still trying to establish credibility after snatching victory from the jaws of defeat versus Cowboys. I think the Eagles will win, but I think it’ll be close. Prediction: Redskins.
9. CHICAGO @ NY GIANTS (Pick ‘em) Even as late as Friday morning, FootballLocks.com wasn’t offering points on this one. It’s a pick ’em situation, so winner takes all. Giants (6-2) are without Michael Strahan, and that could hurt. The 7-1 Bears’ offense still holds question marks. Prediction: Giants.
10. GREEN BAY @ MINNESOTA (-5.5) Vikings have trouble beating anyone by five points, but at 4-4 they’ve proved resilient. The Packers, at 3-5, are grateful they’re not 2-6. This’ll be close probably, mainly because the Vikes’ offense is pretty lame. Prediction: Packers.
11. NY JETS @ NEW ENGLAND (-10.5) Jets (4-4) have trouble on the road. On the other hand, this is a divisional tilt with history and emotion, and Jets coach Eric Mangini is a Belichick disciple. Jets have all the incentive in the world to give all. At least enough to cover. Prediction: Jets.
12. SAN FRANCISCO @ DETROIT (-6) Two also-rans in probably the least significant game of the week. Niners beat the Vikings last week, 9-3, while the Lions won at home versus the Falcons. Lions need to take advantage of the home field whenever they can. This may be a sucker’s bet, but maybe Jon Kitna can stay consistent. Prediction: Lions.
13. DENVER (-9) @ OAKLAND A pretty easy theoretical play. If the Raiders thwart the spread, it’ll just be luck or bad biorhythms on Denver’s part. Prediction: Broncos.
14. ST. LOUIS @ SEATTLE (-3.5) The Seahawks are still dealing with injuries to key players. The Rams missed a chance last week to grab a precious win at home. A big divisional game, and the ‘Hawks barely won the first matchup this season in St. Louis. Rams’ inconsistency makes this an easier choice. Prediction: Seahawks.
15. DALLAS (-7) @ ARIZONA Cowboys (4-4) are the uppest and downest team around. It doesn’t behoove them to make this one close, ‘cause they might blow it at the end. The Cards (1-7) are praying that Matt Leinart can save them from absolute disgrace. The Cowboys oughta win it, but this could be one of those games. Let’s hope it’s not. Prediction: Cowboys.
16. TAMPA BAY @ CAROLINA (-9) Bucs still have no offense. Carolina looking to jump-start their season with a big win at home. It’s a hefty spread, but the Panthers have the ability and the incentive to do this. Prediction: Panthers.