Wednesday, December 13, 2006

NFL Week 15 ATS: Road Warriors

It’s getting so going 10-6 against the spread has become the desired realistic standard. That’s a .625 percentage, and given how uncertain this handicapping biz can be sometimes, we’ll take it. It’s particularly sweet in a week where almost every single game was a head-scratcher. But the SMA swami got some serious assistance from spread-busting squads like the Giants (over Carolina), the Ravens (over Kansas City), the Dolphins (over New England), the Saints (over Dallas), the Packers (over San Francisco) and the Titans (over Houston). Except for the Dolphins, every one of these underdogs was playing on the road. That’s a lot of road ‘dog success, and every single team didn’t just beat the spread—they all won their games outright.

With a 36-27-1 record ATS the past four weeks, we now stand at 88-82-6 on the year. It’s not that great, to be sure, but the swami stays afloat, and we’re having some fun.

Spreads, as always, courtesy of

1. SAN FRANCISCO @ SEATTLE (-10) The 5-8 Niners are firmly back to earth after now losing three in a row. Seattle, 8-5, just lost to Arizona, which possibly indicates some sense of growing NFC West parity. If the right Niners team shows up, they can beat this spread. Prediction: 49ers.

2. DALLAS (-3.5) @ ATLANTA After getting trounced at home on national TV by the Saints, the Cowboys require reevaluation. They had appeared to assert themselves as the kings of the NFC East, but at 8-5 they now find themselves only a single game ahead of the Giants and Philly. The schizoid Falcons have won two straight and at 7-6 have rejuvenated their playoff hopes. There is no obvious indicator as to who wins this game. But the Falcons seem to have steadied their ship—unless that’s yet another mirage—and as the home team getting the points, they might be worth a tumble. Prediction: Falcons.

3. NY JETS @ MINNESOTA (-3) The 7-6 Jets lost a key home game to Buffalo last week, cramping their wild-card style in a serious way. Meanwhile, the 6-7 Vikings beat Detroit like they were supposed to and kept their own playoff aspirations alive. The Vikes get the obligatory home-team points here, but otherwise these are two almost identically matched squads. The Jets have an edge with QB Chad Pennington, but the Vikings’ defense has played tough all year long. This should be so close that the only logical choice is the underdog. Prediction: Jets.

4. CLEVELAND @ BALTIMORE (-11) It shouldn’t take a titanic effort from the homebound 10-3 Ravens to defeat the 4-9 Browns. But after last week’s big victory in Kansas City, the Ravens might be inclined to ease up on the intensity, even if they’re still hearing the Bengals’ footsteps behind them in the AFC North. Of course, they could romp too, the Browns being who they are. Still too many points to be easily trusted. Prediction: Browns.

5. HOUSTON @ NEW ENGLAND (-11) After getting shutout in Miami, the 9-4 Patriots have something to prove. Houston, at 4-9, might provide the tonic. The Texans aren’t the worst team around. They scrap and fight and try real hard, and through some combination of unknown forces have managed to beat the Jaguars twice this year. Strangely, the Pats are better on the road (5-1) than they are at home (4-3). A daunting spread here, and the Pats rarely blow anybody out. Very tough call, but it’s easier to believe in Tom Brady than David Carr. Prediction: Patriots.

6. MIAMI @ BUFFALO (-1) Two AFC East teams, both at 6-7, each with remote but not impossible chances for a wild-card berth. The Fins are off a big victory over the Patriots, and the Bills spanked the Jets convincingly last week in New York. It’s a virtual toss-up. Home team wins. Prediction: Bills.

7. PITTSBURGH (-2.5) @ CAROLINA Two 6-7 teams that both had Super Bowl aspirations, but now neither is sure where they’re going. The Panthers have lost three straight, all to NFC East teams, and they were the favorite in each game. Now they’re at home for the second straight week, only now they’re gonna get some points. The Steelers have won four out of their last five, including two straight against weak sisters Tampa Bay and Cleveland, and harbor only a mathematical shot at the playoffs. It’s a virtual pick ‘em here. The Steelers have a 1-5 record on the road, yet the Panthers are playing like a team that’s definitely lost its mojo. As tough a play as any this week. Hard to ignore that the home team is the underdog, though. Prediction: Panthers.

8. WASHINGTON @ NEW ORLEANS (-10) The Skins are now 4-9, and the remainder of their disappointing season gives young QB Jason Campbell a chance to grow. Otherwise, this team is flat-out unpredictable and also lacks the killer instinct. The Saints are 9-4, look great, and have a multi-dimensional offense capable of eating opponents alive. A formidable spread here, but don’t underestimate the home team, which would love to secure a first-round playoff bye and needs to keep winning to do so. Prediction: Saints.

9. JACKSONVILLE (-3.5) @ TENNESSEE The 8-5 Jags are one of the handicappers’ least favorite teams. They look like they’re gaining consistency at the moment—coming off a rout of the Colts, too—but the problem with that is, that’s just when they lose unlikely games. The Titans are surging under Vince Young, having won six of their last eight, and, at 6-7, they even have a mathematical playoff chance, however improbable. Titans will have their hands full with the Jacksonville running game and defense, and it might be too much to expect a fifth straight miracle from their gifted rookie QB. But don’t bet the farm on this game, ‘cause Young is the real deal and the Titans look motivated. Prediction: Jaguars.

10. TAMPA BAY @ CHICAGO (-13.5) This spread looks right, given it’s the 3-10 Bucs versus the 11-2 Bears. But it’s still a lot of points, and what if Rex Grossman reverts to bad form? Bears win, but will they cover? Bucs are averaging 11.6 points per game this year. Bears averaging 27.6 PPG. And it is cold in Chicago. Prediction: Bears.

11. PHILADELPHIA @ NY GIANTS (-5.5) An NFC East wild-card wannabe matchup. Both teams are 7-6. While the Giants have been losing lately, they won at Carolina last week, and have simply looked to be a better team than Philly this year. Can Eagles’ QB Jeff Garcia keep up his recent magic? The points here are playing havoc with the logic of parity. Here’s hoping the Giants play to potential. Prediction: Giants.

12. DETROIT @ GREEN BAY (-5) Packers now 5-8 after getting a decisive victory in San Francisco. Lions are 2-11 and desperately seeking validation—of any kind. Packers are only 1-5 at home; Lions winless on the road. Seems like a lot of points for the mediocre Packers to yield. Prediction: Lions.

13. DENVER (-2.5) @ ARIZONA The Broncos have risked a lot in making Jay Cutler their starting QB. The rookie has lost two in a row, and it’s clearly a case of on-the-job training. The team’s in the middle of a four-game losing streak. They used to be 7-2 and the odds-on favorite to take the AFC West; now they’re 7-6 and fighting for their playoff lives. Arizona meanwhile has won two straight (!) and continues to strive for respectability. This game looks like a sucker play. Still, the Broncos have to be considered the better team, and they’re not ceding enough points to pick against ‘em. Prediction: Broncos.

14. KANSAS CITY @ SAN DIEGO (-8.5) The 11-2 Chargers look like world-beaters after stomping on the Broncos last week. Sometimes, where the spread is concerned, they seem to ease up against lesser teams, though KC doesn’t exactly fit that category. The Chiefs are 7-6, with legit wild-card hopes, but have dropped two straight winnable games. It’s LT vs. LJ and could be a fun game to watch. Best to rely on the Chargers’ tendency to win but not cover. Prediction: Chiefs.

15. ST. LOUIS @ OAKLAND (-2.5) The Raiders (2-11) finally failed to cover a double-digit spread last week, against Cincy. Now they’re favored, against a 5-8 Rams team that’s lost seven of its last eight. The Rams, despite their problems, clearly look like the better team; so much the better that they’re receiving points. Prediction: Rams.

16. CINCINNATI @ INDIANAPOLIS (-3.5) A huge game featuring high-powered offenses and suspect defenses. The Colts are now 10-3, having lost three of their last four, and are desperate to get back to winning ways. The 8-5 Bengals want to keep pace with AFC North-leading Baltimore and also solidify their hold on a wild-card berth. Look for a shoot-out. Tricky play here, especially with the Indy run defense providing all the resistance of wet tissue paper. Prediction: Colts.

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