A decent but not spectacular 2-2 record last week, but this week has some much better games in terms of finding value. This week I’m going with three small favorites and one big underdog, as these seem to be the games that haven’t shifted over to one side or the other as much as I believe they should have. That’s the crux of the issue for me: my picks are all about finding value, no matter where they are found. I’m very confident I can ring up another undefeated week, and here are 4 reasons why:
In a season with its share of surprises, there aren’t too many bigger than San Francisco’s rapid ascendance to the upper echelons of the NFL. The 49ers have already secured a playoff spot, and are well on their way to locking up the number 2 seed and a bye through the first round. All of this with a rookie head coach and Alex Smith at quarterback. This week, the Cardinals, fresh off their overtime shocker over the Cowboys, face off against San Fran. While one has to give Arizona some respect for beating Dallas, the fact is they are ill equipped to match up successfully with the 49ers. Although Patrick Willis, the star of their lauded defense is likely going to be out, San Francisco still boasts one of the most fearsome defenses in the league. An already banged up Beanie Wells is in for a long and painful day, as San Francisco has amazingly still not allowed a rushing touchdown all year. This statistic is nothing short of incredible heading into week 14. The Cardinals also got Kevin Kolb back at quarterback last week, but he is far from a savior. Kolb still only has one real quality target at wide receiver in Larry Fitzgerald, and the 49ers should be able to contain if not totally neutralize Fitzgerald. On the other side of the ball, the 49ers have counted on their rushing game and defense to get them through the majority of their games this year, and there is no reason that should change this week. Frank Gore has been a battering ram for much of the year, and although he is a little banged up, he is still a workhorse that should be able to consistently plow through the Cardinals’ average run defense. Alex Smith doesn’t do a lot ever, but he is an excellent game manager, and doesn’t make too many negative plays. Vernon Davis remains one of the better receiving tight ends in the game, and Michael Crabtree is slowly looking like a worthwhile first round pick for San Francisco. Despite a cautious and unflashy offensive, San Francisco have proved they can put up points, and have proved even more strongly that they can keep teams to a bare minimum of offense. Just ask the Rams, who were shut out by the 49ers last week. While Arizona will likely put up a few points, it wouldn’t be shocking to see them fall under double digits. The San Fran offense is good enough to post at least a number in the high teens, which should be plenty to cover the spread. The 49ers are 7-0 ATS as a favorite between 3 and 10 points, and 10-1 ATS as a favorite overall. Meanwhile, Arizona is 2-7 ATS in their last 9 divisional games, and 1-4 ATS in weeks after they have given up under 15 points. San Francisco rolls to an easy win, and continues their push for a first round playoff bye.
It pains me do this, but I must bet against the Green Bay Packers. While this guarantees a painful Sunday as Aaron Rodgers carves up a subpar Raiders secondary (although even if they were a top unit, would it matter?), the dirty little secret about Green Bay is that their defense has gaping holes in it, particularly in the secondary. Carson Palmer may not be Aaron Rodgers, but he has proven that he has something left in the tank since being traded to the Raiders, and he is not afraid to uncork passes a long way down the field. While the Raiders are likely to be without a couple of their better receivers, Oakland never has had a true number one receiver, but rather are just a relatively useful collection of guys rather than boasting any pro bowlers. Palmer made due last week with Darrius Heyward-Bay and T.J. Houshmanzadeh, so he should be just fine as far as that goes. The Raiders are still going to be missing Darren McFadden, but Michael Bush has looked terrific in his stead. While you can’t replace McFadden’s speed, Bush is a bruising runner that is tough to take down, and you can bet he will be an active component of this game both in the running and passing games. While there is nothing negative to say about Aaron Rodgers and his offense, the defense gives up a whole whack of points, and were basically defenseless as Eli Manning came within a hair of leading the Giants to a huge win last week. If their clock management had been a little better and had left Rodgers with less time on the clock (which was easily done, just don’t run a play before the 2 minute warning, and try a run play or two instead of two incomplete passes before their touchdown, but that’s another story). The moral of the story is Green Bay are the best team in the league, but are vulnerable, and the Giants proved that last week. The Raiders are just as capable of putting up points, and Palmer should be able to keep pace with Rodgers to an extent, certainly enough to cover a double digit spread. For those of you who like high scoring shootouts, this is one of the better games on tap this week, and will be even better for you if you take the Raiders with 11.5 points to play with. The Raiders are 7-1 ATS after a straight up loss, and are 6-1 ATS on the road against teams with a winning record. The one stat the Packers have working against them is the fact that they are 8-17-2 ATS when they are a favorite by 10.5 points or higher. The Raiders are desperately trying to take down Denver for the AFC West crown, and desperate teams are dangerous. While I don’t know if they have quite enough to get a win, they should be able to keep it close against NFL’s reigning champs.
You can’t help but feel bad for Chicago. They were starting to roll, and looked primed for a wildcard spot, and would have been one of the more dangerous teams on the NFC side of the playoffs. Now, a couple of weeks later, they are without their quarterback and top running back. While this would be bad for any team, it is especially painful for Chicago, as Matt Forte was basically the entire offense, as the Bears’ receiving corps is among the most mediocre in the entire league. Caleb Hanie has proven that he is not a suitable understudy for Jay Cutler, so much so that there rumors swirling about Donovan McNabb or even Brett Favre coming in for the Bears. While this isn’t going to happen, it doesn’t solve the problem that Hanie’s Bears put up 3 points against Kansas City last week, and now face a very good Denver defense, that should be getting back Von Miller as well. One can’t talk about Denver without talking about Tim Tebow. Love him or hate him, the fact is the Broncos have only lost once since Tebow has taken over the starting quarterback gig. He also proved last week that he can, on occasion, throw a decent football pass, as he carved up an admittedly terrible Vikings secondary. The Bears are a much better defensive unit, but one has to figure that they will eventually tire considering they will likely spend the majority of the game on the field. Tebow has proven to be a very clutch performer, but in this case it is likely that his team is the one with the lead going into the 4th quarter, rather than Tebow scrambling to make a comeback. It is an unusual position for Denver, as they are finally the favorites in this game, but they should be able to rise to the occasion. They are aware that Oakland is likely to lose against Green Bay, so this week gives them a great opportunity to get some separation in a tightly grouped AFC West. Willis McGahee didn’t practice earlier in the week, but he is likely to play, giving Denver a very strong running game. Tebow does have some useful receivers when he does decide to throw it, as Eric Decker and Demariyus Thomas have both had success with Tebow behind center. The Broncos are 5-0 ATS in their last 5 games, and 4-0 ATS in their last 4 played on grass. Chicago, conversely, is 1-4 ATS as an underdog in their last 5, and 1-4 ATS in games following an ATS loss. Denver’s wild season continues as they march towards an unexpected playoff spot with a win over the injured Bears.
Yes, the Saints aren’t the same team on the road as they are at home, but the Saints, at the end of the day, are still the Saints. And perhaps as importantly, the Titans are still the Titans. Although Tennessee has managed to string together some wins and have an outside shot at catching Houston for the AFC South crown, the fact is they are still just an average team. Chris Johnson has shown signs that he has finally broken out of a season long slump, but a couple of good games is not enough to prove to me that he is all the way back to how he was before his holdout. Matt Hasselbeck has had something of a rejuvenation in the music city, but he doesn’t hold a candle to Drew Brees. Brees is on pace to break the passing yards record this season, and there is nothing to suggest that the Titans defense can slow him down. Brees has one of the best weapons in the game right now in Jimmy Graham, who in his own right is going to break all sorts of tight ends records. Graham’s road to the NFL is equal parts tragic and triumphant, and one can’t help but genuinely wish for Graham to succeed, and he is certainly off to a good start. Of course, the Saints also have quite an impressive receiver contingent, including Marques Colston, Lance Moore, Devery Henderson, and the incredibly versatile and dangerous Darren Sproles out of the backfield. While Mark Ingram is questionable with a turf toe injury, Sproles and Pierre Thomas should be there to fill the void without any step backward. The Titans simply lack as many playmakers and as much talent as New Orleans, and for that reason I feel this spread is quite generous towards them. Yes, they are at home, but I would be comfortable taking the Saints in this game for anything up to a touchdown. They know they can’t let up as they try to not only clinch their division, but try and catch San Francisco for that ever important playoff bye. Brees has simply looked unstoppable the past few weeks, and its not a question of if, but rather a question of who, as in, who will be Brees’ favorite target this week. While this can be maddening in fantasy football, its fantastic in the normal game, as even if you shut down Colston, there’s still Graham, Moore and the rest of the Saints to pick up the slack. New Orleans is also 4-0 ATS in their last 4 games, and 4-1 as the favorite. Tennessee, on the other hand, is 1-6 ATS when they get under 150 passing yards in the previous game, and are 1-5 ATS at home versus teams with winning road records. The Saints may not be quite as comfortable playing out of a suitcase, but their superior talent should prevail as they pick up a big road win against the Titans.