Cincinnati Bengals @ Indianapolis Colts
Start-time: Sunday, 18:00
TV: Live on SS2
Never mind a game of two halves, the Indianapolis Colts must mull over a game where they only turned up for one quarter last weekend. However, that first quarter effort was enough to win them the match, as they stormed to a 24-zip lead over divisional rivals Houston before holding on as the Texans rallied to mitigate the embarrassment in 33-28 final score.
So were the Texans absent, or was the Colts' QB Andrew Luck really that good? The doubts still circle about Luck - one minute a human highlight reel, the next a total no-show. But only because the expectations of him at Lucas Oil Stadium are sky high. Colts fans expect him to follow in the sandals of his messianic forerunner Peyton Manning. However, the reality is there's no Second Coming here. Luck is simply a good quarterback (another 370 yards for three TDs proves it) in a substandard division.
They may be saying the same about Andy Dalton at the end of the season, but Cincinnati's signal-caller has still put the Bengals in the box seat for another postseason run. Dalton was also in erratic shape last time out (with two interceptions against an admittedly tougher Carolina D) but eventually took on rock-steady form in overtime against the Panthers, completing nearly 8 for 9 passes for 87 yards to set up Mike Nugent for a 36-yard slice. That resulted in year's first tied game.
Still, that draw could yet be the play-off clincher when the competitive AFC North winds down, and at least Dalton found another legitimate receiver in the absence of star wideout AJ Green (banged toe). Mohamed Sanu was the player to produce with 10 snaffles for 114 yards and a score and with Green cleared to return, Dalton's got all his guns firing now. True, T.Y. Hilton (223 yards receiving) also stepped up for the Colts to finally bolster the evergreen Reggie Wayne.
However, in the final analysis, Cincy also boast the better defense and homefield advantage won't be enough to maintain Luck's four-game winning streak.
Back Cincinnati Bengals (+3.5) to win on the Match Points Spread @ 1.910/11 or better
Back Cincinnati Bengals (+1.5) to win on the First Half Points Spread @ 2.56/4 or better
Back Over 26.5 Total Cincinnati Bengals Points @ 1.9110/11 or better
New York Giants @ Dallas Cowboys
Start-time: Sunday, 21:25
TV: Live on SS2
No-one saw the Dallas Cowboys coming this season. Certainly not those Super Bowl Champs in Seattle. But by the end of last week, Tony Romo and DeMarco Murray had blown apart the home fortress of the early championship favourites to establish an unexpected 5-1 record.
Now they face the real test, though: getting it done when the Vegas line expects them to. A home encounter against an out-of-sorts New York Giants line-up seems like the perfect match to keep the ball (and in particular Murray) rolling. The running back has joined the great Jim Brown as the only backs to rush for over 100 yards in six successive matches. That Murray achieved that feat against the Legion of Boom made it all the more impressive.
Now he faces an unsure Giants defensive line which has just given up 150 yards to Philly's LeSean McCoy in a lie-down-tickle-my-belly 27-0 loss. A Blue Peter golden retriever couldn't have been more accommodating. Murray is currently counting the ways he's going to cut them up.
Yet to expect the Giants to put in two consistent performances in a row is to expect Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde to converge in dinner-party banter. When they're led by Eli Manning - the poster boy for death or glory - it's hardly surprising, and the 3-3 Giants will probably go through the season as a 50-50 coin-flip proposition. So really, on a generous seven-point head-start, it's just a question of a heads-up of tail-offs?
Despite his advancing years and doddery touchline antics, Tom Coughlin has not lost this team. Two recent Super Bowl victories will see to that. However, Manning has lost his favourite receiver Victor Cruz to a torn tendon. Cruz's back-ups may pale in comparison, but there's a lot to like about rookie Odell Beckham who is now back at full tilt, having been slowed by a hamstring injury.
For all his detractors, Manning remains a threat (he's just been left chasing the game too often) and can still fashion weapons out of receivers as crude as Preston Parker and Rueben Randle. A running component is the missing link on a dangerous Giants offense, so if they are to win Andrew Williams must find a higher gear.
Although the Cowboys look a lock on recent evidence - they've even found some D under the leadership of the rebounding Rolando McClain - we all know that Romo is susceptible, just like Manning Jnr. Romo continues to heroically play through the pain, but I say his aches and back pains are about to catch up with him. So this could prove another chapter of the unexpected in The Book of Eli.
Back New York Giants (+6.5) to win on the Match Points Spread @ 2.111/10 or better
Back New York Giants (+3.5) to win on the First Half Points Spread @ 1.9110/11 or better
Back O. Beckham to be First / Anytime Touchdown Scorer @ 14.013/1 or better
San Francisco 49ers @ Denver Broncos
Start-time: Monday, 01:30
TV: Live on C4
Peyton Manning will never make for such a riveting read of thrills and spills. He's such a much better QB than his younger brother that the gunslinging drama just isn't there. Make no mistake, Manning Snr makes the weather in Denver, not the clouds that hit this section of the Rockies.
Nevertheless, Peyton and his Broncos will have to hit their marks for this primetime encounter against a San Francisco unit that are finding their cohesion. Thomas & Thomas may sound like a rather dull accountancy firm, but the Denver equivalent is much more exciting and dynamic. Julius, tall and physical, is the tougher match-up for rival Ds, especially in the end zone (another two scoring catches last week), while Demaryius has the breakout speed (10 catches for 134 yards and another TD) to open up the secondary.
While Manning took his time to open up the NY Jets with his one-two receiving punch, they got there comfortably in the end (31-17) and were also helped by the progressive foot speed of Ronnie Hillman (100 yards off 24 carries). This balance will only help Manning, two touchdowns short of Brett Favre's all-time mark, break another barrier.
It won't be easy against the Niners who definitely aren't playing as if they've lost trust in head coach Jim Harbaugh. Colin Kaepernick roused his troops from a 14-point deficit to triumph 31-17 in St Louis. And while Superman CK is moving his pacy paws again, 343 yards with one TD to each of his star receivers (in reverse order, too: Brandon Lloyd, Anquan Boldin and Michael Crabtree) means that the variety understanding is back in all aspects of Kap's game.
Frank Gore, however, is no longer the closer on third-and-short and the RB repeatedly failed to move the chains and put the game away against the Rams. So this over-reliance on Kaepernick, well-coached as the 49ers always are, could be exposed at a raucous Mile High. The San Francisco secondary also seems particularly porous compared to recent campaigns and Manning can confidently wage war with some deep downfield strikes.
Penalties have been the bug in the system for Denver's machine this term - and the main reason why they've often failed to cover the handicap. Yet after a stern midweek lecture on team discipline, they should be attuned to correct the silly mistakes. A record-shattering evening should climax the night.
Back Denver Broncos (-6.5) to win on the Match Points Spread @ 2.111/10 or better
Back Denver Broncos to win on the Match Moneyline @ 1.42/5 or better
Back Over 28.5 Denver Broncos Total Points @ 1.9420/21 or better
Back Denver Broncos Touchdown to be First Scoring Play 4.03/1 or better