Hope you all had a very Merry Christmas; the North Pole set the over/under on 88% but that wasn't taking my column into account. I'm afraid the Packers took their foot off the pedal in the fourth quarter last week, as has been their wont, and allowed the Browns to not only cover but be in a position to win the game.
But the Giants scored late to help us go over 40.5 against the Eagles, and I was all over Indy's win in Arizona, so I'll take that. Oh yes, the rest of Christmas was great too!
Backs against the wall
This is the week when a lot of teams have their backs against the wall: 12 of the league's 32 teams have either seven or eight wins and playoff spots remain open because another four are at 9-6. In some cases, teams will also be playing for their coaches' jobs, particularly in Denver, Minnesota and Chicago.
So some things which look obvious on paper may have a slight dose of the intangibles at work this week, and don't underestimate the will to be spoilers too. In any case, remember, friends don't let friends gamble in the middle of the New Year's Eve party, or until they've shook off the hangover on New Year's Day, where the Bowl games are not quite as evenly matched. A Harbaugh win with Michigan would be a bigger upset than a Harbaugh win with the Ravens!
Note this week there's a bonus outside value pick: two for the price of one! Think of it as a belated Christmas gift for the Happy New Year!
Sunday 1800 - Bears to win in the snow again
Las Vegas (8-7) at Indianapolis (9-6)
Carson Wentz isn't vaccinated and tested positive for Covid, but the NFL changed its protocol to require only five days isolation, if he's asymptomatic and tests negative twice. Which coincidentally means he could play on Sunday, though without any practice. Otherwise it's rookie Sam Ehrlinger from Texas, who shows some pocket savvy but lacks the big arm of the guy he beat out for the no2 job, Jacob Eason.
The line is Vegas plus 7, and obviously with a rookie making his first start you'd like the Raiders here. More important might be to check Jake Fisher's status: if the left tackle can't go it would leave whoever's at QB vulnerable. Vegas is offensively challenged, and the Colt D is solid, so this may be a gamble, but seven without Wentz is probably a bargain.
NY Giants (4-11) at Chicago (5-10)
Joe Judge's job is safe, but Matt Nagy's sure isn't: though the Bears might follow NY's lead and fire the GM rather than both. It's all a question of what you do with Justin Fields really. The Giants getting 5.5 doesn't really excite me, but the Bears scoring up a storm doesn't either. Speaking of storms, the Bears scored 25 to win in the snow in Seattle last week and watch them do the same again.
Best bet: Back Chicago -5.5 at 9/10
Tampa Bay (11-4) at NY Jets (4-11)
Palindromic Records, which in this case is a bad sign. The Jest are getting only 13, and I think I'd like two TDs before I'd consider them for a clever cover.
Atlanta (7-8) at Buffalo (9-6)
Two TDs are what you get for Atlanta, so a sneaky cover might be on the cards, although Buffalo will hope to control their pass game, on a day that's forecast to be rainy but just oevr freezing. Those aren't the kinds of games we associate with Falcons upsets, and the Bills have too much to play for, but I like the spread. Mike Davis (7/2), Dawson Knox (23/10) and yes Josh Allen (17/10) as anytime TD scorers might be worth considering.
Outside bet: Back Atlanta +14.5 at 9/10
Philadelphia (8-7) at Washington (6-9)
This is one of those games which, on paper, screams Eagles' win and I was surprised WTF are only 3.5 dogs at home. This represents a feeling Ron Rivera's D will play hard and make life difficult for Justin Hurts. But the Eagles have discovered their run game, and their D is also playing well against QB challenged opponents. After the loss to Dallas, Rivera is hedging between Taylor Heinecke, who didn't look ready, and Kyle Allen. This is one of those volatile "who knows if the coach don't" kinda situations.
Kansas City (11-4) at Cincinnati (9-6)
The line has dropped to Bengals +4.5 at home, which means bettors were taking them getting 5.5. KC is in form, yet the offense remains a question mark: it seems to work only in spurts.
What tilts me toward the Chiefs is their D: fully healthy up front means they can create problems for the Bengal O line in both rush and pass pro. Yes they laid 41 on the Ravens, but they scored 15 against Denver and 22 losing to SF the previous two weeks, and what both those teams have is solid fronts.
Bonus Outside Bet II: Back Kansas City -4.5 at 9/10
Jacksonville (2-13) at New England (9-6)
This is a Pats team which is not built to run away with games, so that 16.5 spread looks pretty tempting. But these are the Jags. The Pats were outplayed by Buffalo last week, but were still in the game until JC Jackson dropped an interception when they were down 26-21. This is the third tempting cover of the week, and I'd probably rank it second in terms of grabbing it. I think of this as being a 28-10 kind of game, and that's a loss even with this big number.
Miami (8-7) at Tennessee (10-4)
Ryan Tannehill Bowl! One of the most interesting games of the season, because Miami can see a path to the playoffs with a win, because they have the Pats at home next week, while the Titans haven't clinched the division, but are unlikely not to as they have the Jags next week and hold the tie-break over Indy.
Miami is a tough defensive team, but their offense is still short passing, the occasionally Gesicki up the seams and not much running. I think Mike Vrabel's D comes up with ways to slow them down and Tannehill scratches out just enough points to beat them. Giving three I take Tenn, I hesitate just slightly with 3.5.
LA Rams (11-4) at Baltimore (8-7)
Another of those games where on paper the Rams look solid favourites but the Ravens, even battered as they are by injury, have their backs to the wall and will be playing tough at home. They will concentrate on pass rush, I think, but here's the reality: Matt Stafford threw three picks last week, but the Rams still held off the Vikes in Minnesota. A second road game in two weeks is tough, but I like the Rams, and probably by 4.5.
Sunday 21:05 - Texans and Niners to keep it tight
Denver (7-8) at LA Chargers (8-7)
Give the Chargers the Denver D, or the Broncos Justin Herbert and two receivers, and you'd have a pretty good team. The Broncs can probably force Herbert to the air, and make his life miserable, but I'm not sure they are good enough offensively to exploit the weakness of the Charger D.
Houston (4-11) at San Francisco (8-7)
I took Houston on the NFL...Only Bettor podcast getting 12.5, though I would have liked it a lot better at 14, so it was a kind of impulse buy.
I was thinking Trey Lance was the Niner QB, but right now they're saying Jimmy G's thumb will be OK to go, and he's "confident" he'll play but I'm not so sure, nor sure if he does play how well he throws. It would make a Houston cover harder, at least on paper. So I'm going under.
Value bet: Back under (44 at 9/10)
Sunday 21:25 - Cowboys to roll on
Arizona (10-5) at Dallas (11-4)
The Cards are in free fall, no one's talking Kliff K for Koach of the year anymore, and Dallas is on a roll. They also lead the league in covering the spread, which has gone up to six, from five, but still staying under a TD might be a good bet for the home side. Remember, though, Dallas' 56 was based on defensive points giving them a lead that forced WTF into being one-dimensional.
Carolina (5-10) at New Orleans (7-8)
Taysom Hill may be back, which means no Ian Book at QB, and Syndrome Sam Darnold is back at QB for the Panthers, which will be a tough match-up against the Saints' D, which held Miami to 13 in last week's loss. Darnold has sometimes played well early, only to fall back to his old self, he did it at the start of this season and in the past with the Jest, which makes this one very hard to call. My instinct says under, but that's only 38.
Detroit (2-12-1) at Seattle (5-10)
It's almost unthinkable to see the serious discussion of Seattle getting rid of Pete Carroll; last year the smart move was to bring in a younger offensive coordinator who could, say, modernise the offense, but they seem to be trapped in the same old run, run, pass life that hurt them for the past few years. The Lions will know they have to contain two receivers; the Seahawks know they need to pressure Jarred Goff. Lions plus 7 is probably just about the right line. I like to think they could make it over 42.5 if they did last week in the snow against the Bears.
Monday 01:20 - Pack and Vikes set for close contest
Minnesota (7-8) at Green Bay (12-3)
The ultimate in back to the wall games for both the Vikes and maybe Mike Zimmer. You have a team whose great skill is losing close games, but who often come back late to make things interesting, versus a team that cruises into a lead and, as with last week, sometimes lets teams back into the game, figuring 45 seconds at the end is enough for Aaron Rodgers to salvage the win.
That's why the seven point spread may entice people into the road dogs. It's forecast to be sunny but very cold (14F) on Sunday, which probably helps the Pack and might make the 46 over vulnerable.
Tuesday 01:15 - Two teams with plenty to play for
Cleveland (7-8) at Pittsburgh (7-7-1)
Both these teams are still in with a shot to win the AFC North, and if Cincinnati loses to the Chiefs they will have their tails up. If the Bengals lose, they come into Cleveland at 9-7 next week, holding the tie-breakers over both the Browns and Ravens, so they beat either team at 9-8. But if the Steelers win and then win again in Baltimore next week, they'd finish 9-7-1, and they'd have to charge up the electrodes in FrankenBen's neck for at least one more week.
Injuries apart, Cleveland would be the better team, but the Steelers can defend them. The question becomes, can Cleveland stop the Steelers' pass game? At three point home dogs I don't know, but 41 seems a low over/under. Happy New Year!