Here’s the best advice I’ll ever give you: Don’t bet so much as a nickel on professional football this weekend. Just don’t. From a gambling perspective, this week has disaster written all over it. Take a look. The road teams are favored in nine out of 14 games. And, mark my words, five of those road favorites are gonna lose outright. Now, tell me which five. You can’t, can you. In fact, looking down the list, you’d be hard pressed to name even two with any real degree of confidence. And if you look at the stats and the trends, you’re gonna come away feeling like six or seven of those road favorites might actually win and cover. But tell me which ones. Or, let’s make it easier: name three. Get my point? Good. So take the week off. Just sit back and enjoy the craziness. Me, I’m gonna go ahead and make some picks, but I’m not expecting to do very well, either straight up or against the spreads. So I’m keeping these between you and me, which is to say I’m not involving anyone who makes being wrong harder by attaching vig to the deal. This way, if I’m 0-14 come Monday morning, I’ll at least know it could have been worse; I could have lost money as well as my pride.
Houston (-3) at Atlanta
The Texans may need to start Ron Dayne in place of injured Ahman Green here. That means … um, it means … uh … I think it means the guy running over Atlanta’s defensive front will have a nicer looking beard. So, you know, maybe that’ll make the Falcons feel better or something. You can feel good about giving double the spread.
NY Jets (-4) at Buffalo
Much as I’d love to see the Jets lose this game, I can’t see it happening. I mean, the Jets are still awful and all, but considering the increasingly dire state of the Bills’ health, I’d sooner pick Syracuse than Buffalo to top New York. The Jets come out ahead by a field goal.
Baltimore (-4.5) at Cleveland
So now it looks like Kellen Winslow may be sidelined for a bit. Because, yeah, that’s what Cleveland needed. One more reason to focus on the Indians. I’m taking Baltimore and giving the points.
St. Louis (+12) at Dallas
So here’s the situation: You’re 0-3. Your most important offensive weapon is out. Your quarterback is playing with broken ribs. Your offensive line hasn’t managed to stop (or even slow down) anyone all season (which goes a long way to explaining those first two points). And you’re headed into a road game against what may be the best team in the NFC (for the moment, anyhow). What do you do? Two things: 1) Brace and hope it doesn’t hurt too bad when the Cowboys stick that fork in you; and 2) Start preparing for the draft. Dallas by two touchdowns.
Chicago (-3) at Detroit
Will Brian Griese be able to succeed under center for the Bears? Long term, I have no idea. (I have a guess, though, and it ain’t yes.) But for this weekend, I should expect so. Let’s face it, Uncle Rico (by which I mean the “real” Uncle Rico, not the guy Pro Football Talk calls Uncle Rico) could throw the ball successfully against Detroit’s secondary. The big question is whether Chicago’s seriously banged-up defense can stop Detroit from scoring enough points to make Griese’s relative success at QB irrelevant. And you know what? In the end, I have absolutely no idea what to expect. I’m gonna take the Bears, just because I believe they’re still the better team (and, OK, because I still think Matt Millen is a bum, which has to count for something), but I’m not looking for them to win it by a point more than the three they’re giving. And I won’t be at all surprised if this game goes the other way.
Oakland (+4) at Miami
This would have been a great game 30 years ago. Right now, it’s likely a painful matchup between two teams in the beginning stages of rebuilding. And that makes it kind of hard to figure where this game will go. Sure, both of these teams are supposed to have strong defenses, but neither unit has exactly lived up to expectations so far this season. Offensively, both have been incredibly uneven. The Raiders have been successful moving the ball on the ground, dismal through the air. The Fins have been the inverse. So which conventional wisdom do you like? The one that says take the team that can run the ball, or the one that says take the home team? Joey Porter says go with the home team. Indeed, he guarantees his new squad isn’t falling to 0-4. But I don’t know. I think Joey just isn’t used to losing (the experience of last season notwithstanding). I also think Pep has something to prove. I know he’s gonna find a way to keep his team competitive and I think that might just balance the Raiders’ offense out long enough for them to sneak in a road victory. So that’s how I’m picking it.
Green Bay (-2) at Minnesota
You know, this game is supposed to be harder to pick than it is. Because with the way Green Bay’s been playing and the way Minnesota’s been playing this season, there’s no reason to even consider picking against the Packers here. Except that the Packers supposedly struggle at the Metrodome. Thing is, though, they don’t so much anymore. Yeah, in the Favre era, the Packers are 5-10 in Minnesota. That’s ultimately not all that shocking. I mean, the teams are division rivals. And the Metrodome is the Vikings home stadium (and home field advantage means a lot in the NFL). But since 2000, the Packers are 4-3 in Minnesota. And that tells me there’s not a whole lot behind the idea that Favre’s Packers can’t beat the Vikings in the Metrodome. And since Green Bay, as noted, has the better team by far, I’m going with the Pack to win it by four.
Tampa Bay (+3) at Carolina
I don’t care who you are, where you are, or what team you’re facing, you just don’t win football games with David Carr under center. Tampa Bay squeaks out a victory and takes an early lead in the race to end the season with the distinction of being the least bad team in the NFC South.
Seattle (-2) at San Francisco
I don’t think either of these teams is going much of anywhere this season. But that’s not important here. What’s important here is that the Seahawks are playing better than the 49ers on both sides of the ball. Moreover, the Niners aren’t running the ball well and aren’t stopping the run at all. So I’m taking the Seahawks, giving the points, and having done with it.
Pittsburgh (-6) at Arizona
Set the whole question of whether Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm are primed for revenge aside. Set aside the question of whether the Steelers are as good as their record, too (though of course they are; everyone always is; that’s the whole point of records). Here are the real questions you need to answer in order to call this game: Does the fact that the Cardinals coaches obviously know the Steelers better than the Steelers coaches can possibly know the Cardinals count for something? Does the fact that Edgerrin James has tended to play well against Pittsburgh make a difference? Do you believe the Cardinals wide receivers match up well against the Steelers DBs? Well enough that it doesn’t matter whom the Cards start at QB? And does the fact that the Steelers have to do a good bit of traveling for this game mean anything at all? My answers: Yes, maybe, yes, probably, and perhaps just a little. And with that in mind, I’m taking the upset. Cards win it by a point on the last play of the game.
Kansas City (+11.5) at San Diego
Even Norv Turner shouldn’t be able to engineer a loss this weekend. Chargers by 10.
Philadelphia (-3) at NY Giants
Both of these teams played better last weekend than they had in weeks one and two. But I’m still not sold on the Giants. I expect to see the Eagles D blitz all day long, put the fear of god in Eli, and start looking like a team that can challenge Dallas for the division crown. Philly by nine.
New England (-7) at Cincinnati
I thought it might be fun to take a look at what happened the last time these two teams met (oddly enough, it took place in Cincinnati in week four of the 2006 season), so I did. Here’s what I found out about that game: The Patriots were 2-1 going in. The Bengals were 3-0. The Pats had been averaging 17 points a game on offense. Their defense had been giving up the same. The Bengals, meanwhile had been scoring 28 points a game and allowing only 16. The New England offense a week earlier had fallen apart when visiting Denver, having seen no reason to respect the Pats passing game, committed to stopping the run and held the Pats to 50 rushing yards and seven points. The Pats went at the Bengals determined to restore balance to the O, and stuck to their game plan even though they fell flat on their first two drives (which ended in a punt and an interception) and fell behind 6-0 in the first quarter. Then the offense kicked into high gear. The Pats moved the ball with ease on the ground — Laurence Maroney rushed for 125 yards and two TDs, Corey Dillon for 67 and one — and succeeded to the extent they needed to in the air — Tom Brady was an unimpressive 15 for 26, but had 188 passing yards and two TDs. The New England defense, meanwhile, dug in and held Cincinnati to 271 yards of total offense. The Pats won 38 to 13. What does any of that have to do with this game? Well, the Patriots of 2007 are clearly better on both sides of the ball than last year’s team. And while the current Bengals have been about the same team offensively as they were last year (though that may be changing for this game with loss of a key contributor), they’ve also been significantly weaker on D. More to the point, the Bengals are going to have an all but impossible time stopping the Pats’ wide receivers unless they drop extra bodies into the secondary (and maybe not even then). And the trouble is, if you put all your efforts into slowing down New England’s passing attack, all you’re gonna do is open the door for a 250-yard day on the ground. So it’s pick your poison time for the Bengals on Monday night. And the only difference between whether the Pats come out on top 45-13 or 28-3 will be whether Cincinnati surrenders the air or the ground.