Obviously, three of this week’s games are already in the books. I hope I won’t need expert persuasion skills to convince you that my Thanksgiving picks were 1-1-1 against the spread. Houston -3 was a push, Washington +3.5 was a win, and New York Jets +6.5 was an embarrassment.
Fortunately, there are still 13 more games to play this week, and that means it’s time to make some picks.
CINCINNATI (-8.5) vs. Oakland
Last week, I picked the Raiders to cover at home against the Saints, thinking the Raiders could score enough points on a weak Saints defense to keep the game close. Instead, the Raiders got annihilated. This week, the Raiders play a somewhat similar opponent in the Cincinnati Bengals, who have a shaky defense like the Saints, but also have some offensive firepower in the form of Andy Dalton and A.J. Green. And with the Bengals at home this time, I have to think the Raiders are in for a long day again.
CLEVELAND (+1.5) vs. Pittsburgh
It’s very difficult to know just how good Charlie Batch is in relation to Byron Leftwich at this point. Both quarterbacks are a blast from the past. But if the Steelers’ offensive performance last week against Baltimore is any indication, this one could be upset city. The Browns do play decent defense, and if they can hold Pittsburgh to something in the neighborhood of 13 points, I think even Brandon Weeden and the Cleveland offense can muster enough points to win the game.
INDIANAPOLIS (-3) vs. Buffalo
After I picked the Colts to cover the spread against the Patriots last week, I had a feeling I’d made the wrong pick. After all, the Colts were on a winning streak, so their stock was up, and they were in New England, a place where teams lose by improbable margins sometimes. Fast forward to this week, and the Colts are just a 3 point favorite at home against Buffalo. As much as I can see the Bills running up the score on the awful Colts defense, I can see Andrew Luck doing the same thing to the Bills defense.
DENVER (-10) at Kansas City
I have an aversion to picking teams that are favorites on the road, especially if the team is favored by double digits. But I just can’t bring myself to take the Chiefs here. On one side, we have Peyton Manning and a blossoming defense in Denver. On the other side, we have a team that can’t decide whether it should play Matt Cassel or Brady Quinn every week, and a team that just lost to the Bengals 28-6. I have to take the Broncos here.
JACKSONVILLE (+3) vs. Tennessee
I get the thinking behind the Jaguars being the underdog here. They have the worst offense in the NFL, and now are forced to turn to their backup quarterback. But that backup quarterback, Chad Henne, is better than Blaine Gabbert in my opinion. And I don’t think the Titans should be a road favorite against anybody.
CHICAGO (OFF) vs. Minnesota
It’s Saturday, and this game is still off, but I’m willing to take the Bears regardless. That’s because, as a Vikings fan, I know better than anybody that bad things happen in Chicago. Since the Bears are likely to be undervalued after their stinker of a performance in San Francisco, that makes this pick even more of a no-brainer for me. And the idea of Christian Ponder taking on Chicago’s defense makes me nervous.
TAMPA BAY (+1) vs. Atlanta
What does it say about the Falcons that they’re only a 1 point favorite on the road despite being 9-1? This is a team that has skated by in a lot of its games, and now they’ll be taking on a quality Buccaneers team. I think Atlanta could be in for a rude awakening in the second half of the season as their record regresses to reflect a team that is good, not great.
SEATTLE (-3) at Miami
Again, I’m sticking my neck out by taking the road favorite, but my logic here is simple. Ryan Tannehill is a rookie who has had a mostly rough season as Miami’s starter so far. In this game, he’ll have to take on one of the tougher defenses in the league in Seattle. And after the Dolphins scored a combined 17 points against the Titans and Bills, both of whom play awful defense, I’m going to need a lot more than 3 points to side with them here.
SAN DIEGO (+1) vs. Baltimore
I can see a lot of people putting money down on the Ravens as only a 1 point favorite in San Diego. But when I think of a flawed east coast team like Baltimore going all the way to San Diego, where the Chargers have a decent defense and some offensive firepower, I see it ending poorly for them. This is a classic “trap” game.
NEW ORLEANS (+1) vs. San Francisco
Finally, I’m picking the Saints to cover the spread! I’m anticipating that Colin Kaepernick will be San Francisco’s quarterback, and my opinion on Kaepernick will be that he’s overrated until proven otherwise. I see the 49ers struggling to keep up with the high-octane Saints offense in this one, and that’s a recipe for a young quarterback like Kaepernick to throw multiple interceptions. So I like the Saints to score the upset here.
ST. LOUIS (+1.5) at Arizona
While I’ve been waiting for the Chiefs to give Ricky Stanzi a shot at quarterback, the Cardinals have decided to give a shot to their third-string QB, Ryan Lindley. Unlike Stanzi, however, I have yet to see a shred of statistical evidence suggesting Lindley has a decent chance to be a good QB in the NFL. Last week’s 64 yards on 20 pass attempts was not inspiring. And the Rams play decent defense. This could easily be a 13-3 type of win for the Rams, but I definitely like them to win, and I’m getting points? Sign me up.
GREEN BAY (+3) at New York Giants
I keep waiting for the Giants’ stock to fall enough for them to be a good value. Surprisingly, it hasn’t happened yet. The 3 point spread is indicative of a public opinion that these two teams are roughly equal in team strength, and I just don’t see it. The Packers have turned their season around after a shaky start, and Aaron Rodgers is still one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL. Green Bay has to be considered one of the leading contenders to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, the Giants are an above-average but sub-elite team, although they seem to have a knack for winning in the playoffs. But this isn’t the playoffs.
PHILADELPHIA (+3) vs. Carolina
I talk about NFL teams like stocks a lot of the time, because I think it’s telling in terms of deciding which teams to pick. As a 3 point underdog at home to the Panthers, the Eagles stock has hit rock bottom. The team is on a long losing streak, and Nick Foles has been, to put it gently, disappointing so far. But just as I’m not going to let Colin Kaepernick’s monday night performance get me too excited about his future, I’m not going to let Nick Foles’s stinker in Washington make me give up on him. I say Foles turns it around this week, and the Eagles beat the Carolina Panthers.