This is hands down the hardest slate I've ever looked at. Most of the games are between teams that have yet to define themselves clearly, and the spreads are small enough that you're just picking a winner most of the time and not relying on the points. Moreover, there are zero home dogs. You could simply fade the public, but there's no way Vegas could know before setting these lines which way the public would go. Is there really a basis for the average Joe to like the Broncos over the 49ers or the Seahawks over the Raiders? In any event, I made my calls below, but am clueless on most. If I had to pick a few I liked, I'd say Cowboys, Saints and Chargers.
Bills +7.5 at Chiefs
I never like to pick against a team that's got its back to the wall, but the Bills have to feel pretty good about having the Ravens on the ropes, and the Chiefs probably won't take them lightly. Back Kansas City at home.
Chiefs 31 - 20
Jaguars +6.5 at Cowboys
The Cowboys fold when the going gets tough, but now that Tony Romo's essentially done for the year, and their playoff hopes are dashed, I think they'll play closer to their skill level this week. Back the Cowboys who roll.
Cowboys 31 - 17
Panthers +3 at Rams
The Rams play a lot better at home, and Steve Spagnuolo's defense has been getting to the quarterback, but for some reason I have a Panthers hunch. Maybe it's because Matt Moore played well last week, and it reminded me of when Carolina came out of nowhere to play well down the stretch last year. In any event, back Carolina.
Panthers 23 - 20
Dolphins +2 at Bengals
I really could go either way here. Both teams need this win desperately, and both are likely somewhere between 7-9 and 9-7 type squads. I have a slight Cincy lean since they're at home and laying less than the full three. Back the Bengals.
Bengals 20 - 17
Redskins +2 at Lions
I'm wary of Matt Stafford returning after being out for so long, but Detroit's defensive line is pretty stout, and I think they can keep up with the Redskins at home. Back the Lions.
Lions 23 - 19
Broncos +1 at* 49ers
I have no idea about these two teams, and that they're in London and it's essentially a pick 'em makes it even more murky. Moreover, I can't decide which one is more desperate, either - Denver after allowing a 59-spot at home to Oakland or the 1-6 Niners who just lost to Carolina. Give me the Niners who simplify the game behind Troy Smith and win ugly.
49ers 16 - 13
*Game in London
Packers +5.5 at Jets
I've been back and forth on this one. The Packers seem like a good play as a pretty big dog, but the Jets have arguably been the best team in the league this season. And while the Packers have lost key players like Jermichael Finley and Nick Barnett, the Jets have done most of their damage without a healthy Darrelle Revis, Santonio Holmes or Calvin Pace, all of whom will be playing Sunday. Still, for whatever reason, the Jets defense just doesn't have the same cohesion as last year, and I think Aaron Rodgers will find ways to exploit it - at least enough to keep the game close. Back the Packers.
Jets 24 - 21
Titans +3.5 at Chargers
The Chargers lead the league in offense and defense, and they're playing at home. The Titans are on a roll, and they don't make stupid mistakes like San Diego, but when you simply look at production, the Chargers should be favored by a lot more than three and a half. Back the Chargers who finally play somewhere close to their capacity.
Chargers 27 - 20
Buccaneers +3 at Cardinals
I really have no idea who these two teams are, but it seems like Tampa's the obvious play with Max Hall at quarterback for Arizona. Which means it's probably wise to go the other way. Back the Cardinals.
Cardinals 20 - 16
Vikings +5 at Patriots
I'd prefer the Vikings if Tarvaris Jackson were playing because this is looking to me like the New York Jets circa 2008 when Favre played hurt and was a disaster. In fact, if it were Jackson, I'd take the Vikes, but I think Favre's going to suit up, so I'm backing the Pats at home.
Patriots 27 - 21
Seahawks +2.5 at Raiders
These are two teams I'd like to fade, but they happen to be playing each other. I think the Raiders will win the game at home, and the spread is less than three, so that's good enough for me. Back the Raiders.
Raiders 21 - 17
Steelers pick 'em at Saints
The Steelers just lost Aaron Smith, who's an underrated part of their defense, and the Saints should be more focused coming off the loss to the Browns. I think New Orleans bounces back at home. Back the Saints.
Saints 27 - 23
Texans +5.5 at Colts
The Texans won the first matchup, but the Colts should be able to exploit their awful pass defense in Indy. The Colts injuries are cause for some concern - Austin Collie and Dallas Clark are out, and Anthony Gonzalez', Joseph Addai's and Donald Brown's statuses are unclear - but having an extra week to prepare should help, and Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon are probably enough to get the job done. Back the Colts.
Colts 27 - 20
We were 5-9 last week to go 49-51-4 on the season. We were 131-122 last year against the spread. From 1999-2009 we've gone 1439-1262 (53.3%, not including ties)