Beating the Book
By Christopher Liss
RotoWire Managing Editor
As Dalton pointed out to me the other day, this is a slate with 14 home favorites, seven of which are by eight points or more, so there aren't a lot of angles to play. The public isn't deceived by a small-looking line on the road in these cases, and so you have to predict how the games will actually go rather than relying on historical precedent and market biases. But predicting how any one game will go is usually a fool's errand - as the variance is so great each week, and the bounces always random. I think it's worth acknowledging that up front - forget everything you think you know because it's beyond worthless - it's actually an impediment to getting these right. Once I get close to that state, I kind of feel my way along - imagining the favorite winning in a blowout, winning but not covering, losing outright, and seeing how all these scenarios strike me. Eventually, one of the stories will stand out as truer than the others, and I'll go with it. Or maybe I'll start to go with it, and it will seem like utter b.s., and I'll go the other way. This might seem like a bizarre way to attack what seems like a logical problem (does team A plus x points equal team B?), but when I look at the evidence over time, that people persist in using logic despite its repeated failures in this endeavor is what's far more bizarre.
Enjoy the games.
Chargers +3 at Titans
The Chargers have answered the bell against all comers, including at the Giants, at the Cowboys and at home against the Eagles and Bengals. But Tennessee brings it's B+ game at a minimum each week, is fighting for its playoff life and is at home. The public likes the Chargers as a dog, and I can't really blame them, but I'm going with the Titans.
Titans 27 - 23
Bills +9 at Falcons
I don't really understand the size of this line, and apparently neither does the public as 56 percent are on the dog, and it's always a rarity when the herd doesn't choose a favored team with the better record. I suppose the book believes the downgrade from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Brian Brohm or Gibran Hamdan is fairly significant. I can buy it. Back the Falcons who roll at home.
Falcons 27 - 13
Chiefs +14 at Bengals
Apparently the public going ugly isn't as rare as I imagined as it's doing so here, too with 53 percent backing the Chiefs. You can see why as the Bengals don't typically blow teams out - their home wins over Detroit and Cleveland a few weeks ago were by 10 and nine, respectively. So why is this line so big? Is it that the Chiefs are particularly bad, or that the Bengals will unleash a new level of fury after losing two in a row on the road? Neither seems overly compelling to me. Back Kansas City who keeps it close enough.
Bengals 24 - 13
Raiders +3 at Browns
This is probably the right line with Charlie Frye likely quarterbacking the Raiders in Cleveland. Josh Cribbs in the wild card here as he can turn the game around on one play. My brain says to take the points in a 50/50 game, but my gut says the Browns are the right play in the cold at home. I'll go with my gut - back the Browns.
Browns 24 - 20
Seahawks +14 at Packers
Normally I'm all about "fade the public," "take the dog," but I'm going to throw in the towel here and bet like a square. Coming of the loss to the Steelers, Green Bay annihilates Seattle at Lambeau. I'll take it one step further - I cannot see any way that Green Bay doesn't win this game outright - something I never say about an NFL game. If you have Green Bay in Survivor, I just jinxed you horribly, and I'm sorry, but I want to put it out there so if it happens, I can remind myself just how uncertain the NFL really is. Still, I'm laying the lumber without conscience here. Back the Packers.
Packers 42 - 3
Texans +3 at Dolphins
The Texans are the team I feel like I'm supposed to take - the passing game, the improving defense, the all-world wide receiver. But the Dolphins are resourceful, better coached and playing at home. Back Miami.
Dolphins 30 - 24
Panthers +7 at Giants
These are two teams I'd normally fade following their best games of the season, but they play each other, so I have to make a choice. The question is whether Matt Moore's performance against Minnesota or the Giant defense's performance against the Redskins was more real. I'll say it's probably Moore and hope I'm wrong. Back the Panthers who hang around.
Giants 24 - 20
Jaguars +8 at Patriots
The Jaguars are fighting for their playoff lives, but I don't believe in this team, and I expect this warm-weather finesse squad to have major problems in New England in late December. Back the Pats.
Patriots 27 - 17
Buccaneers +14 at Saints
I suppose I should buy low on the Saints and sell high on the Bucs, but this line is still 14. The Saints destroyed them in Tampa, but Josh Freeman has more experience now, and New Orleans' defense has gone downhill. Back the Bucs.
Saints 27 - 16
Ravens +2.5 at Steelers
I'm a big Mike Tomlin fan, and Ben Roethlisberger is one of the league's truly amazing players. But this is the end of the line for the Super Bowl champs, Baltimore needs this game, and Troy Polamalu is still out. Back the Ravens.
Ravens 24 - 20
Rams +14 at Cardinals
Maybe the Cardinals find their rhythm again, but this line assumes they do, and I think it's still an open question. The Rams didn't roll over last week against Houston, and I think they'll show up for a game against the division champs. Back St. Louis.
Cardinals 27 - 16
Lions +12 at 49ers
Drew Stanton will have to do a lot better than he did last week for the Lions to stay in this game. Maurice Morris isn't likely to have as much room to run, so it's going to be on Stanton's shoulders. Maybe he gets it done - he'll have a full week of first-team reps to prepare, but I wouldn't count on it. Back the 49ers.
49ers 27 - 12
Broncos +7 at Eagles
The Eagles have been blowing teams out of late, but I expect Denver to show up with its playoff life on the line. Kyle Orton has typically made good decisions - something that should help in the face of the Eagles blitz, and the Broncos defense should keep them in the game. Back Denver.
Eagles 23 - 19
Jets +5.5 at Colts
I don't see how one can back the Colts not knowing how long their starters will play against a legimate Jets defense desperate to stay in the playoff hunt. Back the Jets who win outright.
Jets 20 - 17
Cowboys -7 at Redskins
This setup is so good, it makes me nervous, but I have to jump on it. The Cowboys' stock could not be more inflated after a convincing win in New Orleans, while the Redskins' could not be more deflated after a no-show against the Giants. Moreover, the Redskins have typically come to play this year, and even in seasons when they don't, they still do against the Cowboys. Finally, Dallas' focus is inconsistent under Wade Phillips, and it's easy to see the team losing its edge now that it's quieted the "December swoon" clamor. Back the Redskins who win outright.
Redskins 19 - 17
Vikings -7 at Bears
The Bears have been Seattle Seahawks bad of late, and I've foolishly backed them almost every week hoping that the stock has finally hit bottom. The Vikings themselves should be a buy-low after two poor road showings in three weeks, but this line is still pretty big in Chicago. Bottom line, I don't think I can turn down a Monday night home dog in a division rivarly game - especially as weather could be an equalizer. Back the Bears.
Vikings 24 - 20
We went 9-6-1 last week to go 112-110-2 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 12/23/09