Last week saw a few people go down with the 49ers, Ravens, Bears, Lions and Panthers, but the biggest chunk survived with the Cowboys and Bills. I wound up taking the Jets and had to endure the indignity of sitting through that game, a high price to pay even though they ultimately prevailed. Let's take a look at this week's slate:
Home Team in CAPS
* according to OfficeFootballPools.com
** average of the two moneylines
The Seahawks are the overwhelmingly popular choice at 55 percent (per Wednesday's update), and so you'll want to fade them if at all possible this week. My top choices would be the Broncos and 49ers, in that order, but assuming you don't have them available, then we're probably looking at the Bucs, as most people have also used the Packers. It's easy to see why the Bucs (according to Vegas) are the better pick than the Seahawks as Seattle has a 17 percent chance to lose, while the Bucs are at 24 percent. But if the Seahawks went down, you'd have about twice as much equity as you would if you took the Seahawks and the Bucs went down. The payout clearly justifies the risk in that case.
Unfortunately, I happen to think the Bucs are shakier than Vegas does, so the choice gets a bit tougher.
1. Denver Broncos - I don't like that this is a Thursday night divisional road game, and I expect the Raiders to be up for it. But even so, the disparity in these teams is so great, I'd expect the Broncos to pull it out. I give Denver an 83 percent chance to win this game.
2. San Francisco 49ers - Colin Kaepernick makes me nervous now that he's had an off game, and the Dolphins aren't pushovers defensively. But in San Francisco and coming off a bad loss, the 49ers should be focused, and it's hard to see Miami's offense moving the ball with any consistency. I give the Niners an 80 percent chance to win this game.
3. Green Bay Packers - The Packers defense is still a problem as it looks like Clay Matthews won't play, and no one in the league has an answer for Calvin Johnson. But Matt Stafford is merely an average quarterback, and the team lacks a decent secondary option with Ryan Broyles out and doesn't run the ball well, either. I give the Packers a 75 percent chance to win this game.
4. New York Giants - The Giants actually played fairly well in Washington, but called too many run plays, especially in the red-zone where they bogged down. Even so, one bad snap on a missed FG was the difference in the game on the road against a playoff contender. At home against the Saints, the going should be easier, and the Giants pass rush should be able to get to the far less elusive Drew Brees. I give New York a 73 percent chance to win this game.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers - Apparently Ben Roethlisberger's back, though how much rust he'll have remains to be seen. The Chargers have played well defensively of late, but their offensive is a disaster factory, and you wonder when they're going to quit altogether on Norv Turner. Still, the Chargers have some upside in theory, Ike Taylor is out and the Steelers could be due for a letdown after a huge win in Baltimore. I give the Steelers a 73 percent chance to win this game.
6. Tampa Bay Buccaneers - The Eagles have been one of the league's biggest doormats this year, but against Dallas last week, they seemed to turn a corner. Nick Foles looked like an NFL quarterback, and Bryce Brown looks like a superstar when he's not fumbling. I expect this game to be competitive, and I don't trust Tampa's pass defense to hold the line if the Eagles are driving for the win. I give the Bucs a 70 percent chance to win this game.
7. Cleveland Browns - I'd really be loath to back the Browns, but a home game against the Chiefs after the emotion from last week's events has worn off is about as good as it gets. I give the Browns a 68 percent chance to win this game.
Seattle Seahawks: - In terms of pure win probability, I'd put the Seahawks at No. 3, behind only the Broncos and 49ers. But with 55 percent of pools on them, the payout is poor. Moreover, John Skelton starting over Ryan Lindley gives the Cardinals a fighting chance.
Indianapolis Colts: - Andrew Luck has come through in the clutch, but this strikes me as a letdown game against a division rival that has big-play capabilities against the Colts' average defense.