Beating the Book
By Christopher Liss
RotoWire Managing Editor
I went 11-5 last week to go eight games over .500, but looking at his crazy slate where I have no idea which teams will try and which won't, I'm honestly just hoping to go at least 5-11 and not screw up my over-.500 streak. It's not that I don't have angles to play - I do - but they're flimsier and even more speculative than usual. My inclination where there's so much uncertainty is to consider the assumptions the market, i.e. the line, makes, and question them. For example, that the Jets are 10-point favorites assumes the Bengals won't try. But how can we know for sure? The Bengals could conceivably move from a No. 4 seed to No. 3. So why not take the points in the event the assumption is false. Even if it's true, you're still getting compensated for it.
Colts +7 at Bills
It looks like Ryan Fitzpatrick might play, and in that case, I like the Bills a lot more. But either way, I just can't back Indy on the road when we know beyond any doubt that they're mailing it in this week. Because while a team like the Saints or even Chargers could decide to play their starters for a half or three quarters, the Colts are "pot committed", so to speak, to sitting everyone most of the game. They've already blown their chance at history, so taking any risk of getting anyone important injured at this point would make zero sense. Back the Bills.
Bills 19 - 10
Saints +7 at Panthers
The Panthers have played great lately, while the Saints have fallen apart, losing to Tampa at home last week. There's a chance New Orleans sits all its key players, considering it has home field locked up, but there's also a chance Sean Payton goes all out to win because he might not want to limp into the playoffs, especially with a bye coming up. If that's the case, it should be a close game, and seven is plenty - especially since the Panthers are without Steve Smith. Back New Orleans.
Saints 24 - 23
Jaguars +1 at Browns
I'm torn on this one - the Jaguars are far better by all the numbers - they can move the ball through the air while the Browns simply can't. But Cleveland's gotten its ground game back on track, and the great Josh Cribbs is always a threat to change the game. Throw in Jacksonville's soft defense and an out of the hunt Florida team traveling to a cold weather venue, and I'll take the Browns. Back Cleveland.
Browns 23 - 21
Bears -3 at Lions
The Bears just won their Super Bowl by upsetting their division-winning rival at home, and now they have to travel to face Detroit - a game for which they probably won't be all that excited. The Lions got beaten in San Francisco last week, but they played hard and will probably show up for this one. Back Detroit.
Lions 27 - 23
Patriots +8 at Texans
This line assumes the Patriots are going to pull their starters early, but the No. 3 seed is still on the line, and it could mean the difference between hosting the AFC title game should Cincinnati advance to meet them (see the Cincinnati game discussion below). It's really not that farfeteched when you consider the Bengals nearly beat the Chargers in San Diego a few weeks ago, and the Pats should have beaten Indy in Indy midseason. Back the Patriots.
Patriots 28 - 21
Steelers -3 at Dolphins
The Steelers have clawed their way back into having a chance at a playoff spot, but they got lucky against Baltimore last week, and I think they run out of steam against a game Miami squad on the road here. Back the Dolphins who win outright.
Dolphins 24 - 23
Giants +9.5 at Vikings
This was the hardest game for me to handicap even though it's clear what's at stake for both teams. The Vikings need to win to have a chance for a first-round bye, and the Giants have nothing to gain or lose and will probably go all out except for resting injured players. The problem is that the Giants played like a 14-2 team in Washington in Week 15, then six days later played like a 2-14 one at home against the Panthers. I have no idea which Giants team will show up here or whether they feel they owe the fans a good effort. On the one hand, I'd expect them to bring it after being embarrassed like that, but how can you believe in a team that turned in that kind of effort with a potential playoff berth on the line? If it were capable wouldn't it have done something last week? For that reason, it's a total crapshoot, and Minnesota, incidentally, isn't playing very well, either. I'll take the points given the uncertainty, but I'm not confident about it. Back New York.
Vikings 27 - 20
49ers -7 at Rams
I like the Niners to play hard this week, but I have to take the home dog in a division rivalry game I expect the Rams to be up for. It would make me feel better if I knew Steven Jackson were playing, but I'd probably have to file this column at 12:30 ET on Sunday to include that information. Back the Rams.
49ers 20 - 17
Falcons -2.5 at Buccaneers
I could go either way, here. Usually I'd take the home dog, but the Falcons are committed to playing hard down the stretch, and I'll sell Tampa coming off the huge win in New Orleans. Back Atlanta.
Falcons 30 - 24
Eagles +3 at Cowboys
I'm not high on the Cowboys - I think the Eagles are a better team with a better coach, but Dallas won in Philly earlier this year, and for some reason I have a hunch that they'll do it again at home this week. Chalk it up to the particular matchups or styles of play, but I'm laying the points here. Back Dallas.
Cowboys 27 - 23
Packers +3 at Cardinals
The Packers are the better team, but the Cardinals are at home and have more to play for. In fact, if the Vikings lose to the Giants early, the Cardinals can pick up a first-round bye if the Cowboys beat the Eagles. The Vikings are big favorites, so that probably won't come into play, but even so, the Cardinals would still be battling for the No. 3 seed if Dallas wins in a late game, and Arizona won't know the outcome of that. Last year Arizona got to host the NFC title game as a No. 4 seed, so I would imagine they understand the undpredictable nature of the playoffs and want to move up as much as they possibly can. The Packers, on the other hand, are a wild card team no matter what, and I wouldn't be surprised if they pulled some of their starters. Back the Cardinals.
Cardinals 24 - 20
Chiefs +13 at Broncos
I know the Chiefs are abysmal, but in a cold-weather game between division rivals, I don't see why this line is so huge. Plus, if Brandon Marshall's hamstring is an issue, the Broncos offense is no better than the Chiefs'. Back Kansas City.
Broncos 20 - 13
Ravens -10.5 at Raiders
This is an odd game between a bad team that beats good ones outright, and a good one that blows out doormats but narrowly loses to contenders. This line suggests it'll be played on the Ravens terms, but I think that's an open question. Back Oakland.
Ravens 24 - 17
Redskins +3.5 at Chargers
I don't expect the Chargers to play their starters for very long - unlike the Saints, they don't need to prove anything else to themselves before heading to their first-round bye. The Redskins' offense was embarrassingly conservative against Dallas last week, but the defense showed up - stuffing the Cowboys repeatedly on 3rd and 4th and short. I think Washington will play, and San Diego will let them win. Back the Redskins.
Redskins 20 - 16
Titans -4 at Seahawks
I typically love home dogs - and this is admittedly a sucker bet with the public all over Seattle but the line moving down. But the Seahawks are one of the worst teams in the NFL right now, and even though Tennessee has been eliminated from contention, they seem to enjoy the run they're on. The Seahawks are tougher at home, (though they were blown out by Tampa two weeks ago), but the Titans still have the goal of getting Chris Johnson to 2,000 yards and helping him break the yards from scrimmage record, so I expect them to show up. Back the Titans.
Titans 27 - 17
Bengals +10 at Jets
This line assumes the Bengals won't play their starters the whole game, but I'm not so sure. If the Texans win early over the Patriots (and they're heavily favored), then Cincy can move from the No. 4 to the No. 3 seed with a win. That could matter a lot if the Bengals and Patriots were to face off in the AFC title game as it would determine where the game was played. And while you might think it farfetched that Cincy and New England would both win against San Diego and Indy, keep in mind that Cincy has to proceed under the assumption that it advances. So the only variable is whether New England wins a home game in which it will be favored in the wild card round, and then possibly beats Indy on the road - something it nearly did earlier this year. So if I'm the Bengals, I'm going all out - assuming the Texans win. I don't know if Marvin Lewis agrees with me, but the possibility is enough given the double-digit line. Back the Bengals.
Jets 17 - 14
We went 11-5 last week to go 123-115-2 on the season. We were 124-122-10 on the regular season last year. From 1999-2008, we are 1308-1140 - not including ties - (53.4 percent).
Article first appeared 12/30/09