Beating the Book
By Christopher Liss
RotoWire Managing Editor
I went 8-7-1 last week to finish nine games over .500 on the year. Not great, but not terrible considering the slow start and the favorite-heavy environment most of the way. For the playoffs, there are fewer sharp/square angles to play and more observation/analysis ones. I think that's because the lines are tighter, and therefore there is no "right" answer. So I'm going to take the teams I feel like taking and not concern myself with the public or the direction of the line movement.
Jets +2.5 at Bengals
Normally, I'd fade the Jets and back the Bengals out of principle here as last week's blowout couldn't but skew the public perception beyond rhyme or reason. But playoff lines are usually tighter than regular season ones, and the book didn't overreact too much - installing the Bengals as nearly field-goal favorites at home. Both teams play the same style, but in Cincinnati, with the advantage at quarterback and the small spread, I'll take the Bengals on the merits. Look for Cincy's corners, not Darrelle Revis, to make the big plays this week.
Bengals 23 - 13
Eagles +4 at Cowboys
Dallas is riding high after wins in New Orleans, in Washington and against the Eagles, but I can't help but be suspicious. The Saints win was tarnished by Tampa going into New Orleans the next week and repeating the feat, and Washington's other final games were an annihilation by the Giants (who were themselves blown out twice after that) and a loss to the Chargers' backups. So only the Philly game stands out, but the Eagles made some uncharacteristic drops and for whatever reason didn't bring even their "B" game. In other words, just as I didn't take Dallas' early "December swoon" that seriously, I don't think their surge means very much, either. This is a pretty good team with a below average coach that can be beaten by the deep pass. I think the Eagles will do it. Back Philly, and watch the dumb-ass announcers say: "It's awfully hard to beat a team three times in a season."
Eagles 24 - 20
Ravens +3.5 at Patriots
I was a big Ravens backer this year - I thought with Joe Flacco taking a step forward, this was a legitimate Super Bowl squad. But the defense regressed, the receivers are below average, and I don't think a good running game and run defense is enough in New England, especially now that Vince Wilfork is likely to be back. Sure the loss of Wes Welker hurts, but Randy Moss is still an elite weapon, and I expect Tom Brady to find other options if the Ravens commit to stopping Moss. Back New England.
Patriots 27 - 17
Packers +1 at Cardinals
I wouldn't read much into last week's game as the Cardinals clearly mailed it in. There's some sense that Arizona, which turned it on in the playoffs last year, will again be tough in its home stadium. But the Packers have been one of the top teams in the league over the second half, losing only to the Steelers in Pittsburgh, and barely at that. In other words, this is a 13-3 type team at this point with a dynamic passing game with multiple downfield weapons, a mobile quarterback, a vastly improved offensive line and an upper tier defense with several playmakers. The Cardinals are no slouches, but unless the Packers get the playoff jitters, I like them outright. Back Green Bay.
Packers 30 - 24
We went 8-7-1 last week to go 131-122-3 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 1/6/10