The NFL’s wild regular-season-ending weekend brought a few on-field surprises but also a bounty of ATS (against the spread) picks that clicked for the SMA swami. Chronic underachievers came through for us in fine style, including the Lions (over the Cowboys), the Steelers (over the Bengals), the Panthers (over the Saints), the 49ers (over the Broncos), the Packers (over the Bears), the Dolphins (over the Colts) and even the Falcons (over the Eagles). Proving that pride matters, most of these teams won outright, with the exception of the Fins and the Falcons, who both lost on the scoreboard but beat the spread (God love ‘em!), leaving us with a season high 11-5 record in all games, and a concluding regular season mark of 116-102-6.
Like the teams we follow so religiously, we’re looking at positive trends to build on for next season. The news is definitely good: In the last seven weeks of the season, our record ATS was 64-47-1, and we only dropped below .500 once during that time. The analysis was never in doubt, but the swami’s method of playing the spreads clearly has needed tweaking. With the upsurge in the latter portion of the season, we may have found an answer to more reliable prognosticating, but now we’ll need a full season to test it out. At the moment, we’re feeling like the Tennessee Titans—hopeful, and possibly with the right man behind center.
A note for the locals: Who ever guessed that the one piece of the Titans’ playoff puzzle that wouldn’t work out was the one they could control themselves? With Denver, Cincy and Jacksonville falling on Sunday, the Titans were poised to take that wild-card berth. Sadly, Tom Brady and the Patriots cut their hearts out, and we learned clearly that Vince Young still has a lot to learn about prime-time quarterbacking. Still, it was a fantastically surprising year, Young is obviously a huge talent, and the team has legit hope for the postseason in ‘07.
Now it’s on to the wild-card round of the playoffs, featuring upstarts like the Jets and the Chiefs. Home-field advantage doesn’t seem to matter like it used to, but it still looks like a strong fact of life in the first round. This time around you get the pick straight-up with a projected score followed by the winner ATS.
Spreads courtesy of FootballLocks.com.
Kansas City Chiefs (9-7) @ Indianapolis Colts (12-4)
Saturday, Jan. 6, 4:30 p.m. EST on NBC
Here’s one I don’t understand: If the Colts are a higher seed than the Patriots, why do they play on Saturday with one less day of rest? (It works out properly in the NFC, where the #4 seed Seahawks play Saturday and the #3 seed Eagles play Sunday.) Anyway, the Colts are undefeated at home, and they’ll take every perk they can get. Their vulnerable run defense will be sorely tested by KC running back Larry Johnson (1,789 yards), and QB Trent Green has some capable receivers, like Eddie Kennison and Tony Gonzalez, not to mention Johnson out of the backfield. The Chiefs’ defense has only performed really well against teams with weak offenses, and even at that they gave up 31 points to Cleveland in Week 13. It looks like a potential field day for Peyton Manning & Co., but it’s important to note that the Colts went 3-4 to close the season, including a loss to Houston. Fact is, the Indy offense has been subpar compared to recent previous seasons, and in truth this team can be had. KC’s probably not the team that will do it, though. Is this the first time that two African American coaches, Herm Edwards and Tony Dungy, have ever opposed each other in a wild-card game? (Factoid of interest: Besides the Ravens, the Chiefs are the only other team to defeat the Chargers this year.)
Prediction: Colts 30, Chiefs 24
ATS: Chiefs (+6.5)
NY Jets (10-6) @ New England Patriots (12-4)
Sunday, Jan. 7, 1 p.m. EST on CBS
Either the Jets put up the fight of their young life under rookie head coach Eric Mangini—and lose a close one—or the chickens come home to roost and they lose in a rout. Chad Pennington is good enough to keep the New Yorkers close, but the other Jets skill-position players tend to underwhelm, though once in a while WR Laveranues Coles comes up big. The running game is still iffy. All that said, there’s no doubting that Mangini has this team playing with passion, and if they keep it close, anything’s possible. The Patriots are playing good, consistent football. They were 6-2 in each half of the season, so they can be expected to bring their “A” game. (One can only assume that their 21-0 Week 14 loss to the Dolphins was a blip on the radar screen.) Plus, with all the focus on Tom Brady and his supposedly mediocre receiving corps, don’t be surprised to see RBs Laurence Maroney and Corey Dillon pounding out plenty of yards on the ground. Pats will miss DB Rodney Harrison, injured against Tennessee last week. The thing about the Patriots is: their impending demise has been forecast with sound logic, but they apparently didn’t get the message. They certainly lead the league in determination, and Brady can never be underestimated.
Prediction: Patriots 17, Jets 13
ATS: Jets (+8.5)
Dallas Cowboys (9-7) @ Seattle Seahawks (9-7)
Saturday, Jan. 6, 8 p.m. EST on NBC
This is the Two-Veteran-Super-Bowl-Winning-Coaches-Square-Off Bowl. Both Bill Parcells and Mike Holmgren helm mystery teams. The Cowboys dropped three of their final four games, and the ‘Hawks haven’t been right all year. But here they both are in the playoffs, and it should be a pretty good game. The Seahawks were banged up a lot early, and just when they got QB Matt Hasselbeck and RB Shaun Alexander back into the lineup, down went three of their starting DBs. Which would make them ripe for the picking for Dallas QB Tony Romo and his receiving corps—depending on if they all show up. The Cowboys more recently have looked like a team without a mission, but they still put a lot of talent on the field. If they can get the personality stuff behind them, and Romo chips in with a good performance, they might put enough points on the board. RBs Julius Jones and Marion Barber are more than capable of first-rate production, and say what you will about him, but WR Terrell Owens put up serious numbers (85 catches, 1180 yards, 13 TDs). It could be that the Cowboys have given up on team play, but they certainly have the potential to win this game.
Prediction: Cowboys 24, Seahawks 17
ATS: Cowboys (+3)
NY Giants (8-8) @ Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)
Sunday, Jan. 7, 4:30 p.m. EST on FOX
If Eli Manning weren’t so unpredictable, the Giants might merit a nod here. But they’ve still got Tiki Barber, who destroyed the Redskins last Saturday night with 234 yards on the ground. The Giants look a lot like the Cowboys: talented but tainted. Their coach, Tom Coughlin, is definitely in danger of losing his job, and before the victory over Washington, the team had lost six of seven. If they pull it together and make a major effort, they’ll be fending off an Eagles squad that has won five in a row and can make rightful claim to momentum in the NFC. Philly QB Jeff Garcia has been superior since taking over for injured Donavan McNabb, efficiently running a controlled offense and making a fair crew of receivers look even better. Brian Westbrook is the only real runner the team has, but he’s been relentlessly efficient, especially out of the backfield catching passes. The Eagles defense has been consistent but rarely exceptional. Based on the way they’ve been playing, the Eagles are the clear favorite. Yet closer scrutiny of their schedule reveals a lack of important wins outside their division. If the Giants of the first half of the year show up, this could be a real dogfight.
Prediction: Eagles 23, Giants 20
ATS: Giants (+6.5)