**NOTE: I AM POSTING THESE UP AT 3:06 PM EST…. I DIDN’T GET THE ARTICLE POSTED IN TIME AS I HAVE BEEN VERY SICK. SORRY.*
Last week I was a solid but uninspiring 2-2, and came to the realization that I’m never going anywhere near the Broncos again. Tim Tebow makes no sense to me, and it is too hard to predict what an offense straight from the 1940s is going to do against prospective defenses. I am glad that they will have already played by the time you read this, not even giving me the option to write about them. I am far more confident about the other 31 teams, so let’s go out and have a perfect 4-0 week this time round. Here’s how we get there:
Buffalo +2 (-110) Over Miami
What a difference two weeks make. At the start of November, this match up would have favored the Bills by probably around a touchdown or so. Now, they come into this game as the underdogs. So it goes in the NFL, as Buffalo has dropped two straight and the Dolphins are riding a two game win streak. Let’s not blow things out of proportion though. The Bills’ two losses were ugly, but they came against the Jets and the Cowboys, two playoff caliber teams. Buffalo has proven that they can beat bad teams this year (and even some good ones). The Dolphins’ wins came against the Redskins and Chiefs, two of the coldest teams in the league right now. They are definitely improved, but I’m not ready to jump on the bandwagon just yet. They still have Matt Moore as their quarterback, and are still coached by Tony Sparano. The other thing that the Bills have going for them is desperation. If they are to still have dreams of the postseason, this is an absolute must-win game for them. You know they will be fired up to go, whereas the Dolphins are just playing for pride at this point. In one of the strange anomalies in the league, Miami is terrible at home compared to the road in the past two years. They are 2-10 in Miami in the last two seasons, so there is no such thing as home field advantage for the Dolphins here. The Bills still have a very strong offensive offensive led by the unheralded Ryan Fitzpatrick. But the true MVP of their season has been Fred Jackson, who hasn’t slowed down all season, and if the Bills end up making the playoffs, should merit some consideration for the league MVP (although it is hard to imagine anyone catching Aaron Rodgers at this point). Still, Jackson has 917 rushing yards, along with 392 more receiving. He has rushed for over 100 yards in all but 3 contests this year, and the Dolphins defense, although improved, are still pretty soft. The bottom line is, when I can pick a team as the underdog against another team that is two weeks removed from being considered the worst in the league, I’m taking them. The Bills are still a good team, and I don’t believe the Dolphins are, simple as that. Looking for further reasoning? Try this: The Bills are 5-2 ATS versus teams with a losing record, and also 5-2 in games following an ATS loss. On the other hand, Miami is 1-7-1 ATS in their last 9 versus AFC teams, and an awful 7-29 ATS as a home favorite. Take the Bills who will keep their postseason hopes alive.
Oakland -1 (-110) Over Minnesota
Although not necessarily a glowing endorsement, the Raiders are currently the class of the AFC West. The Raiders have grown in confidence each week with Carson Palmer at the helm, and he is starting to look very comfortable back there as he continues to develop rapport with his receivers and familiarity with the playbook. In particular, Palmer and Denarius Moore seem to have established a great connection already, and last week the duo looked unstoppable. Moore had 123 receiving yards and two touchdown catches in their win over San Diego. Their biggest threat remains Darren McFadden who is still injured, but Michael Bush has filled in admirably, netting an incredible 242 yards from scrimmage last week that included 157 of them on the ground. Throw in a solid if not spectacular defense, and the Raiders look like they have what it takes to not only make the playoffs, but compete in them. Meanwhile, though it is difficult to fault them too much, the Vikings got absolutely spanked on Monday Night Football last week. A previously suspect Packers defense completely shut down Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota attack, and Aaron Rodgers ripped the Vikes apart. Still, it wasn’t Minnesota’s only clunker this year, as they now sit at 2-7. Although Christian Ponder has shown a lot more life than Donovan McNabb did earlier this year, he is still clearly a rookie and prone to making mistakes. While Peterson should have a strong game against the Raiders rush defense, the Raiders are a better rounded team than Minnesota, who still are forced to depend on their run game too much. I wouldn’t be too comfortable spotting the Vikes too many points, as I do think they are a little better than their record suggests, in a game that is virtually a pick ‘em, I have no qualms taking the clearly superior team that has never been hotter. Playing on the road hasn’t been an issue either, as the Raiders are 3-1 away from the Black Hole. As evidence of their ability to play on the road is the fact they are 5-0 ATS in their last 5 on the road, and 7-3 ATS in their last 10 overall. Meanwhile, Minnesota is winless in their last 7 ATS as a home underdog of a field goal or less, and 2-8-1 ATS versus teams with a winning record. I like the Raiders to take this one and potentially go up two games over San Diego and Kansas City as they meet with tough Bears and Patriots teams respectively, and stay a game ahead of the impossible to predict Broncos.
New York Giants -4.5 (-110) Over Philadelphia
I am hopeful that the line has not moved significantly by the time you read this, but as it stands now the Giants seem like a slam dunk at -4.5. The Eagles have been the league’s biggest disappointment this year, and that’s when they were playing with a full deck. On Sunday, it is extremely likely that Michael Vick will sit out with broken ribs, giving Vince Young the start. Anyone that has watched Young’s body of work from the past two seasons knows that he is something of a liability, and for an Eagles team that needs to essentially win out if they are to have any hope of sniffing the postseason, Young isn’t exactly a beacon of hope. Even if Vick does somehow play, you have to figure he’s going to be considerably limited with broken ribs, so he may not be able to move around on his feet as much as he’d like to. Vick at his healthiest has been nowhere near the threat he was last year, and an injured version of him is nothing special. On top of that, Jeremy Maclin, the team’s top receiver, also appears to be on the bench this game with multiple injuries. This means that Desean Jackson, who was benched last week for oversleeping, will have to shoulder the load, but one has to wonder where his head is exactly. All of these factors are working against the Eagles, but even without any of these issues they would still be hardpressed to keep pace with the Giants. Eli Manning is playing some of the best football of his career, and the Eagle have not missed Ahmad Bradshaw nearly as much as one would think they would. Brandon Jacobs has filled in acceptably, but really the Giants have become much more of an aerial assault team. Armed with one of the best trios of receivers in the game in Hakeem Nicks, Victor Cruz and Mario Manningham, the Giants are a tough offense to match up against. The Eagles are invested heavily in their defense, but they haven’t been especially impressive this season, and the advantage for New York is that even if you can shut down Nicks, there are still the other two, along with emerging tight end Jake Ballard, to fill the void. The pundits continued to make excuses and apologies for the Eagles as they lost to some good teams, but once you start losing to Arizona, you are officially out of the circle of trust. To make matters worse, the Eagles are 1-4 on the road this year, and 1-6 ATS following both an ATS and straight up loss. New York should continue to impress while the Eagles’ season continues to spiral downwards.
St. Louis -3 (-105) Over Seattle
This is a rematch of that “classic” week 17 encounter last year, where the winner won the NFC West. For those that haven’t blocked the game out of their memory, the Seahawks won in a pretty ugly affair, and then went on to win one of the biggest upsets in the history of the NFL playoffs against the Saints, before bowing out in the next round. This time round, the story is a little different. Neither team is going anywhere this season, with a combined 5-13 record, and playing in the same division as the 8-1 San Francisco 49ers. Still, there is value to be found even in games like these. The Rams have actually won two of their last three, including an amazing win over the Saints three weeks ago (what is it with the Saints losing to bad teams from the NFC West?) Sam Bradford is finally back and close to healthy, and he now has a true number one receiver in Brandon Lloyd. Seattle is coming off an impressive victory of their own, as they took down the enigma that is the Baltimore Ravens. Still, I’m not buying into it. The Seahawks are like Jekyll & Hyde at home and away, and they are in St. Louis for this one. Steven Jackson is playing like a top 5 running back at the moment, as his last 3 games have seen him rush for 159, 130 and 128 yards. While the Seahawks run defense is actually fairly stiff, Jackson thrives on volume, and you have to figure that he will be given at least 25 carries in this one in what will likely be a relatively closely contested affair. The Seahawks’ Marshawn Lynch has been similarly impressive of late, running for over 100 yards in his last two games, both of which were against very good defenses. Still, Lynch can disappear just as quick, and Seattle’s passing game is subpar to put it mildly. The Rams have home field advantage, and more weapons on both sides of the ball. I believe they were victims of one of the toughest first half schedules in history, and thus their record is worse than they actually are. They should finish the season with 5 or 6 wins, and that includes this NFC West matchup. The Rams perform well as favorites, going 5-2 ATS in their last 7 games. They also have been a good November club in recent years, going 7-3 ATS during this month. Seattle meanwhile is winless ATS in their last 4 as a road underdog of a field goal or less, and are 1-6 ATS on Week 11. This one almost certainly won’t be pretty, but at the end of the day the Rams should get the job done.