The Monday night Green Bay-Seattle game resulted in a “push” for the SMA swami, leaving us with a 9-6-1 record on the week (and 19-12-1 the past two). It could have been, should have been, a lot sweeter. The Vikings were leading the Cardinals 31-13 and looked headed for an easy cover. But the Cards came back to close the gap to 31-26, and the six-point spread was toast. Then there were the Giants, leading Tennessee 21-0 in the fourth quarter and making a lot of bettors feel secure in handing over an easy three points to the Titans. I’m happy for the hometown team, but their 24-point late-game surge put a dent in the ol’ predictions (and maybe sent the Giants down the drain for 2006). And I can’t for the life of me figure out the Chargers, who do wonders on the road against formidable opponents, then return home to perform as they did against the Raiders, which means winning but not covering the spread.
On balance, it was a fairly good week, with underdogs like Buffalo and New Orleans and San Francisco coming through in fine style. (The Niners lost their game against St. Louis but covered, God bless ‘em.)
Now 71-67-6 on the year, but things don’t get any easier. Meanwhile, the playoff picture looks as muddy as ever. You can’t say parity doesn’t keep us interested in our weekly task.
Spreads courtesy of FootballLocks.com.
1. BALTIMORE @ CINCINNATI (-3) An AFC North matchup holding a ton of interest. At 9-2, the Ravens look like Super Bowl contenders for sure, while the 6-5 Bengals are striving to recapture respectability and aim for the playoffs. The explosive Cincy offense, behind Carson Palmer, appears to have re-ignited itself, which must explain the home-favorite status here. It’s a tall order going up against that Ravens defense, but maybe the hosts can do it. Prediction: Bengals.
2. MINNESOTA @ CHICAGO (-9.5) There’s good history and rich rivalry in this matchup. The Vikes righted their wobbly ship last week, albeit versus Arizona, and are now at 5-6, with an outside chance at a wild-card berth. The Bears (9-2), after losing a close one at New England, will be looking to get back to winning ways. They should win this one, but the Vikings play hard on defense, making the spread pretty iffy. Prediction: Vikings.
3. TAMPA BAY @ PITTSBURGH (-8) Never trust a Florida team in the north in cold weather in an outdoors stadium. Hard to believe the Bucs, at 3-8, are only one game worse than the 4-7 Steelers, who took one on the chin against the Ravens last week. With the Steelers being as Jekyll/Hyde as they are, this play works out to being mostly inscrutable. They are due, though, they’re at home, and the Bucs, try as they might, can’t generate consistency. It could easily be closer than 8, though, so don’t bet the wad on this one. Prediction: Steelers.
4. ARIZONA @ ST. LOUIS (-6.5) The Rams (5-6) broke a five-game losing streak last week against San Francisco. They’d like to keep it going against the 2-9 Cardinals, who are winless this year on the road. Given the uncertainties of handicapping, this one looks like a potential trap. One can only hope that the Rams are that much better at home and continue to believe in their dim playoff hopes. Prediction: Rams.
5. INDIANAPOLIS (-7.5) @ TENNESSEE The Titans, now 4-7 after last week’s surprise comeback against the Giants, lost earlier this year in Indy by 14-13. They are playing scrappy football, for sure, so, typically, this spread is just on the cusp of logic. Rookie Vince Young is improvising his way to victory, and his squad is 4-4 since he took over starting chores at QB. A Colts team on fire would blow them away, but only occasionally this year has Peyton & Co. flexed its ultra-impressive offensive muscle. Even WR Marvin Harrison was complaining this week that he’s not getting the ball enough. I’m sure the Titans will want this one bad, but Peyton’s just too good, and his RB, Joseph Addai, is playing like a hungry young pro in search of more yardage. Prediction: Colts.
6. JACKSONVILLE @ MIAMI (-1.5) The 6-5 Jaguars are no friend to the bettor. They lose when they should win, and they win when they should lose. This intrastate tilt pits ‘em against the 5-6 Dolphins, who have won four in a row and are making wild-card rumblings. The Fins’d have to stay hot, of course, to get within reach of teams like Cincy, the Jets and the Jags, but a victory here would give them serious cred. Dolphins RB Ronnie Brown is out and that hurts their up-and-down offense. This is pretty much a pick ‘em game, but I like the Dolphins’ mojo these days—and their defense—so a point and a half shouldn’t matter. Prediction: Dolphins.
7. SAN FRANCISCO @ NEW ORLEANS (-7) Just how good are these 49ers? They’re 5-6 after dropping a close one in St. Louis last week. Now they head to New Orleans, where the Saints are feeling very good about a 7-4 record and the top spot in the NFC South. The Niners will have all the onus to prove they’re worthy, especially with the Saints’ Drew Brees playing excellent quarterback. Prediction: Saints.
8. ATLANTA @ WASHINGTON (-1.5) Falcons (5-6) have lost four in a row and the heat is on in Atlanta, where owner Arthur Blank has said heads will roll and Michael Vick is giving the finger to the home crowd. It’s a pretty ugly situation, but the team still has more realistic playoff aspirations than the 4-7 Redskins, trying to find themselves under new QB Jason Campbell. The Skins are just too darn inconsistent, and being the favorite here is an off-putting circumstance. Prediction: Falcons.
9. KANSAS CITY (-5) @ CLEVELAND The Chiefs, now 7-4, took over second place in the AFC West with last week’s victory over struggling Denver. If they know what’s good for ‘em, and they really want the playoffs, they should bring their “A” game to this matchup against a limp (3-8) Browns team. Prediction: Chiefs.
10. DETROIT @ NEW ENGLAND (-13.5) The Lions flat-out suck (2-9), and the Pats (8-3) are coming off a solid home victory against the Bears. It’s a lot of points, but Pats worth the gamble. Prediction: Patriots.
11. SAN DIEGO (-6) @ BUFFALO Well, at least we don’t have to confront the Chargers at home with a double-digit spread. Almost any other warm-weather favorite coming into chilly Buffalo wouldn’t get the nod giving six points, but the Chargers (9-2) tend to rise to challenges, and this game actually poses one, with the up-and-down Bills now 5-6. If the Bills are getting better than anyone really knows, it could be close. Prediction: Chargers.
12. NY JETS (-1.5) @ GREEN BAY Chad Pennington continues to demonstrate that, above the neck, he’s one of the top three quarterbacks in the league. At 6-5, his Jets are sniffing wild card. This one won’t be easy, but here’s a twist: the Jets are 3-2 on the road, and the Packers (4-7) are, very uncharacteristically, 1-4 at home. Can the Jets’ defense hold Brett Favre at bay? If the Jets were giving more points, it’d be Favre all the way. Prediction: Jets.
13. DALLAS (-3.5) @ NY GIANTS There’s a lot of sentiment out there to bury the Giants, now 6-5 after losing improbably at Tennessee. But they’re still very much in the playoff hunt in the unpredictable NFC. Yes, the Cowboys are looking good, and they’re rested since their Thanksgiving game. Still, they’ve got to beat the hosts by four points to cover this spread. Well, here’s a chance for the Cowboys to prove just how very good they are. Prediction: Giants.
14. HOUSTON @ OAKLAND (-3) After covering the spread (but losing) the past three weeks against Denver, Kansas City and San Diego, the sad-sack Raiders (2-9) have replaced their offensive coordinator. Now they’re at home and favored, which only induces ulcers for handicappers. Houston QB David Carr keeps completing passes at an amazing rate, but the Texans (3-8) can’t find consistency except in inconsistency. Also-rans in a dawg of a game, but a very tough play. Prediction: Raiders.
15. SEATTLE @ DENVER (-3) The 7-4 Seahawks have gotten stronger with the return of RB Shaun Alexander and QB Matt Hasselbeck. The Broncos, meanwhile, also 7-4, have replaced QB Jake Plummer with rookie Jay Cutler for this important game. It’s a tall order for the youngster, who’s talented but simply has never been in a situation like this before. He’ll be charged with managing the game as best he can, with the hope that the Denver running game and staunch defense can carry the day. The Broncos are certainly due, but giving three points makes the road ‘dog awfully enticing. Prediction: Seahawks.
16. CAROLINA (-3.5) @ PHILADELPHIA Eagles are now 5-6 and falling fast. Neither Jeff Garcia nor A. J. Feeley are Donovan McNabb. The Panthers (6-5) blew a chance to keep pace with the Saints by losing last week to the Redskins. They come in as a road favorite for the second straight week against mediocre NFC East competition. Let’s hope they learned their lesson. Prediction: Panthers.