After a 10-4 week, I finally dug myself out of the 16-games-below-.500 hole I was in several weeks ago and am now in positive territory. I'm actually surprised it happened this fast - I was hoping to crack .500 by the end of the year, and now I can aim higher. But that's assuming no major setbacks, and the odds of a bad week over the last five are fairly high. This slate in particular gave me a lot of difficulty.
For starters, I usually do badly on Thanksgiving Day, and all those 1-2's and 0-3's sit in my stomach until Sunday like spoiled stuffing that got left out too long.
Second, I have a lot of coin-flips this week: Cowboys-Raiders, Steelers-Ravens, Titans-Colts, Broncos-Chiefs, Bengals-Chargers, Giants-Redskins and Seahawks-Saints. I'd be ecstatic to go 3-4 on those. A few more games are borderline coin flips like 49ers-Rams, Panthers-Buccaneers, Eagles-Cardinals and Bears-Vikings. I'm fine with 2-2 on those. The key is to win the majority of the rest.
The teams I like best are the Lions, Browns, Bills and Texans.
Packers +6.5 at Lions
Maybe Matt Flynn repeats what he did to the Lions in 2011, but that was a long time ago, and the teams have changed quite a bit. Moreover, the Lions probably should have won last week but for some bad bounces, and the Packers defense is one of the weaker units in the league. Back Detroit.
Lions 31 - 17
Raiders +8.5 at Cowboys
Tony Romo and Dez Bryant should have their way with the Raiders pass defense, but Oakland should run roughshod over the Cowboys run defense whether Rashad Jennings or Darren McFadden gets the ball. The passing game is more important, so Dallas wins, but Oakland does enough damage to cover. Back the Raiders.
Cowboys 27 - 19
Steelers +3 at Ravens
The line should always be three when these perpetually equal teams meet, and it's always a coin flip as to who covers or wins. I have a Ravens hunch given their superior defense, and Joe Flacco should move the ball against a Steelers group that's slipped. Back Baltimore.
Ravens 24 - 20
Titans +4.5 at Colts
My first instinct was to take the Titans because the Colts have been overrated, and even if Indy wins, it's not likely to come easy. But I also like the idea of buying the Colts back home off the Arizona blowout. In the end, I'm sticking with Tennessee - I think they'll hang around and keep it close enough.
Colts 26 - 23
Broncos -5.5 at Chiefs
I liked the Broncos originally, but this line keeps moving up, and it looks like Tamba Hali might actually play. The Broncos are a far better team, but 5.5 on the road is a lot. While the weather is expected to be mild Sunday, and that favors the Broncos, this number just got too big. Back Kansas City.
Broncos 27 - 23
Jaguars +7 at Browns
I finally fade the Jaguars (after backing them futilely all year), and they not only cover, but win outright as 10-point dogs. I suppose this is the time to sell them, as the Browns play good defense and can attack down the field. Back Cleveland.
Browns 27 - 16
Buccaneers +8.5 at Panthers
The Panthers are a good team, but the Bucs are showing up down the stretch, and I expect them to be up for this game. This number's slightly too big. Back Tampa.
Panthers 23 - 16
Bears +1 at Vikings
This should be a high-scoring game given the Bears can't stop the run and now face Adrian Peterson while the Vikings can't stop the pass and face Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery. In the end, I'll take the home team laying less than the full three. Back Minnesota.
Vikings 33 - 30
Cardinals +3 at Eagles
I think the Cardinals are good, and I'm skeptical of the Eagles, but Arizona is worse on the road, and the Eagles are darlings of at least one legitimate advanced stats site. Not that I necessarily believe in deferring to stats (which are all backward looking), but it goes along with my hunch that it's time for a Cardinals letdown. Back Philly.
Eagles 27 - 23
Dolphins +1.5 at Jets
The Jets have fallen apart of late, while the Dolphins have held their own, but this strikes me as a buy-low situation with the Jets laying less than the full three at home. Back New York.
Jets 20 - 17
Falcons +3.5 at Bills*
Before I looked at the lines this week, I looked at the schedule and tried to predict what I thought the lines would be. I was surprisingly spot on for about 10 of them, but I had the Falcons +6 here. I just don't see how they're remotely equal to the Bills who have a good defense and get to the quarterback. But then I read that the sharps have bet the line down to three in some places! What am I missing? I'm willing to take my chances and find out. Back Buffalo.
* Game is in the Rogers Centre indoors in Toronto.
Bills 27 - 17
Rams +8.5 at 49ers
The 49ers sure know how to destroy doormats, and they did it to St. Louis the first time around. But that was when the Rams were bad, and they're more like a league-average team with a ferocious pass rush, sort of a poor-man's Carolina Panthers against whom the 49ers struggled. I could see San Fran rolling here against Kellen Clemens, but I'll take the points. Back the Rams.
49ers 20 - 16
Patriots -7.5 at Texans
I know the Texans just lost outright at home to the Raiders and Jaguars (and I backed Houston both times), but they have to be the value here against the Pats. That doesn't mean they'll cover - they're capable of a complete no-show - but it has to be the better play, especially given the Pats big win over Denver. Back Houston.
Patriots 24 - 23
Bengals +1.5 at Chargers
This line started off with the Bengals favored and moved in San Diego's direction. Andy Dalton should get back on track against this defense, but I'm not sure how good the Bengals defense is without Geno Atkins and Leon Hall. It's probably decent still, but the Chargers will move the ball. In short, it's a close call and a small line which makes the game a coin flip. In which case I'll defer to a narrative (the lowest type of justification for a pick), and mine is the Steelers-Ravens winner will push Cincy for the AFC North title. That means the Chargers have to win. Back San Diego.
Chargers 23 - 21
Giants -1.5 at Redskins
When I first checked this line was Giants *plus* 2.5, but after Monday night's debacle and talk that Robert Griffin isn't quite right, the line swung. Of course, it didn't cross three, so maybe it's not that big a deal. I want to buy the Redskins low here, and I have no idea what the Giants will do now that they've botched their slim hopes to make the playoffs. I have a nagging feeling the Giants defense will show up, and it's clear anyone can move the ball against Washington with ease. Back the Giants.
Giants 27 - 16
Saints +5.5 at Seahawks
These are roughly equal teams, so the line would be three. But Seattle's home field advantage is one of the biggest and so is New Orleans', meaning there's a bigger drop-off when they travel than most teams. So it's about right. In that case I'll take Seattle on a hunch.
Seahawks 31 - 24
Last week we went 10-4 to go 86-82-8 on the year. Last year we went 121-129-6 on the regular season. From 1999-2012 we've gone 1,810-1,641 (52.4%), not including ties.