A very solid 3-1 week last week as we streak towards the end of the regular season. There are some very intriguing playoff races taking shape, as well as some teams that have nothing left to play for but pride, and jobs for next year. This week also saw the first coaching casualty as Jack Del Rio was relieved of his duties in Jacksonville. There are a few others who don’t seem too far behind. Regardless, let’s build off of last week’s successes as we search for that elusive 4-0 record in lucky week 13.
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A couple of weeks ago I made a solemn vow that I would stay away from the entity that is Tim Tebow. His unconventional quarterbacking as led to the Broncos playing a type of game that hasn’t been seen for the last 40 years at a professional level. Still, I’m being pulled back in, kicking and screaming, as my disdain for Tebow is slowly turning into begrudging acceptance, and my desire to seek value anywhere I can has me firmly planted in Denver’s camp this week. Why? Simple. They are underdogs against Minnesota! Yes, you read that right. One of the hottest teams in the league right now, whose defense is stifling every team that comes along, is an underdog against a 2-9 team that has a rookie quarterback and is playing without Adrian Peterson. Need I say more? As much as people would like to say that Tebow has played a big role in his team’s recent successes, the truth is that the Denver defense is the real story here. They have held opponents to 13 points or fewer the last 3 weeks. This seems especially important considering they have only put up a max of 17 points themselves in those games. Still, Minnesota’s offense is hardly a juggernaut, especially with Peterson out of the mix. As long as they can keep playmaker Percy Harvin at bay, its hard to foresee the Vikings causing Von Miller and company too much trouble. As for Tebow, his best trait is that he is good at taking care of the football. Tebow very rarely causes turnovers through fumbles or interceptions (then again its hard to throw picks when you only have 10 attempts per game, but I digress). The Vikings defense is subpar, so expect Willis McGahee and Tebow both to run all over Minnesota, with the occasional shot downfield with Eric Decker mixed in. This game should follow a similar pattern to the other recent games for Denver: the defense keeps them hanging around all game, and Tebow plays 3 good minutes of football to secure the win. In fact, they likely won’t need any last minute heroics in this one, as the Vikings firmly look towards next season. The Broncos are 4-0 in their 4 ATS overall, as well as when they are the underdog, and on the road. Minnesota on the other hand is 2-9-2 ATS versus teams with winning records, and 2-5 ATS when they are favored by a field goal or less. The Vikings have no business being favored in this game, and Denver will show why with a relatively easy win in Minnesota.
Desperation is a dangerous thing. And no team is more desperate right now than the New York Giants. Still, desperation is not to be confused with talent, and the Giants are as short on the latter as they are filled with the former. Yes, Eli Manning is playing good football right now, and Victor Cruz has emerged as the biggest surprise of the season. But the Giants are still without Ahmad Bradshaw, and potentially without one of Mario Manningham and Hakeem Nicks, if not both. They will also be without Osi Umenyiora on defense. Oh, one other thing. They are facing the best team in the world. The Green Bay Giants are ridiculously good right now, and sit at 11-0. They are also the humblest 11-0 team I’ve come across, as they stay focused on simply achieving their goals and winning games without any players bragging or talking about themselves. A lot of that credit should go to Mike McCarthy, one of the most underrated coaches in the game. Of course, it doesn’t hurt when Aaron Rodgers is your quarterback, who is having one of the greatest seasons in the history of professional football. The motto for Rodgers all season is that his favorite receiver is simply the one that is open, which is why it makes it all but impossible for defenses to thwart the Packers’ offensive attack. It is quite astonishing what they have accomplished, especially considering they are for all intents and purposes a one-dimensional offense, with only a whisper of a running game. Still, it doesn’t seem to matter, as Rodgers picks apart defenses with medical precision. The Giants, meanwhile, didn’t seem capable of stopping anyone last week, as Drew Brees and the Saints had free reign to do as they pleased on Monday night. Now things only get tougher for the Giants, on a short week to boot. Its almost impossible to say who the big receiver is going to be for Green Bay this week, as Greg Jennings, Jordy Nelson, James Jones, Donald Driver and Jermichael Finley have all fit the bill at one point or another this season. Green Bay’s defense has some deficiencies, but they also are among the league leaders at takeaways, and Eli Manning has been known to throw his share of picks. This game should be one of the most fun to watch of this weekend’s slate, as it should be an aerial shootout. In games like that, I side with the better quarterback with the healthier receivers. At this point, the Packers should just about always be double digit favorites, and when they’re not, I’ll be there to take advantage. The Pack are 6-0 ATS against teams with a winning record, and 7-1 ATS in their last 8 in December. The Giants, conversely, are 0-4 ATS against the NFC, and winless ATS in their last 4 at home. Take Green Bay and watch the best in the game go to work.
This is another game that screams value to me. The Cowboys are one of the hottest teams in the league right now, and showed strong resolve in their comeback win against Miami on Thanksgiving. Playing on Turkey Day also gave them a mini-bye, as they have had 10 days to prepare for this one. There was talk that Miles Austin would return for this game, but it is looking like he is going to be out for another week. The amazing thing is that this is not any cause for worry, as Laurent Robinson has been dynamite in his stead, going for another two touchdowns against the Dolphins. DeMarco Murray has been a revelation since he replaced an injured Felix Jones, and now even with Jones healthy, he is merely an afterthought with Murray shouldering the load. Let’s not forget Tony Romo in all of this, as despite earning the (somewhat deserved) reputation as a guy who chokes in the deciding moments of a game, Romo is actually putting together quite an impressive season. One can’t imagine the Cardinals defense giving him too much of a hard time, and Romo’s seemingly endless amount of weapons in the aforementioned Robinson, along with Dez Bryant and Jason Witten make it tough for any defense to be totally successful against them. The look at Arizona’s talent won’t take quite so long, as it consists of two players: Larry Fitzgerald and Beanie Wells. Fitzgerald has proved that he doesn’t need a real NFL quarterback to be successful, and one almost shudders to think how good he would be if he had a guy like Romo throwing to him rather than either John Skelton or Kevin Kolb, who are sadly pretty comparable at this point. Kolb would be a step up, but not as much of one as Cardinals fans were hoping at the start of the year. Wells has impressed this year, although it seems like he gets injured to some degree every game. Still, he had about a billion yards last week, but will be in tough against a good Cowboys run defense. Dallas are trying to not only win their division, but prove that they deserve to be among the NFC elite. Big wins over average opponents help to prove that, and that should be exactly what happens here. Jerry’s boys are 18-7-1 after giving up more than 250 passing yards in the previous game, and are 3-1-1 ATS in their past 5 week 13 games. Arizona are 1-4 as an underdog of 3.5-10 points, and are an awful 1-7 ATS when they allow under 90 rushing yards the week before. Tony Romo should lead the Cowboys to an easy victory as Dallas inches closer to the division title.
It makes me slightly nauseous to have to depend on any team coached by Norv Turner to win a game, as he seems to make one or two in game decisions every week that makes me wonder how on earth he still has a head coaching job in the NFL. Still, I bravely soldier on, and take what the spread gives me. In this case, it is a game where the worst offense in the league that lost their head coach less than a week ago goes up against a team that is trying to salvage whatever they can of their season. The Chargers are the best ‘bad team’ in the league, as they have tremendous talent at their skill positions, and yet continuously find ways to lose. Philip Rivers is definitely experiencing a down year, but is still putting up decent numbers, and has a talented receiving corps to throw to in Vincent Jackson, Vincent Brown, Antonio Gates and Malcolm Floyd (when healthy). The Chargers also boast a great rushing duo, in Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert, the former a dynamic, quick back with great speed, and the other a bowling ball who is extremely tough to take down. The Jags’ offense begins and ends with Maurice Jones-Drew, who might be the greatest player in the league considering how successful he remains with the least talented supporting crew in the business. Blaine Gabbert continues to make the Jaguars’ front office look like complete dopes for trading up in order to draft him, especially considering the great work that fellow quarterbacks like Andy Dalton are showing, who was drafted well after Gabbert. Its possible that Gabbert one day develops into a decent NFL QB, but the early returns are awful. Gabbert is a large reason why Jack Del Rio was canned, as he made the decision to cut veteran David Garrard and go with Gabbert and Luke McCown, who have proved themselves the worst quarterbacking tandem in the league by quite a margin. It is possible that Mel Tucker taking over for Jacksonville gives them a bit of a boost, especially at home on Monday night (and you can bet that they won’t get a sniff of prime time next year), but when a team averages 12 points a game, you simply can’t like their chances any day of the week. San Diego has the talent to put points on the board, and although the Jags have an underrated defense, they are without starters Rashean Mathis and Derek Cox, so they may be a little more vulnerable than usual. If the Chargers can avoid beating themselves, they shouldn’t have a problem in what should be a get-well game for them. They have at least played well in December, going 12-5 ATS in their last 17 during this month. The Jags on the other hand are 2-8-1 in their 11 as an underdog. In what should be a pretty miserable Monday night game, San Diego wins in unspectacular but efficient fashion.