Another above .500 performance for me last week hopefully gave you a little extra Christmas shopping money. With Christmas going down this weekend, most of the games are a day earlier, which is as good a gift as I could ask for. Let’s see who can help you spread some yuletide cheer with four wins against the spread.
Drew Brees has crept into the MVP talk with his fantastic play as of late, and this game promises to be another showcase of his impressive skills. These division rivals always play a fun game, and its nice to finally get a Monday night game that should be both high scoring and exciting. The Saints have clinched a spot in the playoffs, and the Falcons are very close to being there, up two games on a couple of teams with two games to be played. Still, the jostling for playoff seeding is going strong, so expect both teams to come out hard. Brees’ has had some help of course. Jimmy Graham is a surefire pro bowl tight end, Marques Colston has had another big year, and then you still have guys like Robert Meachem, Lance Moore and Devery Henderson getting it done. The other facet to the Saints’ game is the run game, with Darren Sproles leading the league in total yards from scrimmage, and Pierre Thomas and Chris Ivory shouldering the running load with Mark Ingram hurt. The Saints have won five straight since their anomaly in St. Louis, and have looked great doing so. Atlanta, meanwhile, have had a mini-bye after playing Jacksonville last Thursday, and have won their last two games. The main thing to keep in mind is that Matt Ryan, more than most quarterbacks, is very different home and away. And playing in a primetime game in a hostile environment like New Orleans is no easy task. The Falcons are the kind of team that has no problem against bad teams, but struggle to beat good ones, and the Saints are a very, very good one. Expect the Saints to come out flying in this one as they feed off the home crowd, and have a very real opportunity to snag that all-important first round bye away from San Francisco. Atlanta will still make the playoffs, but it won’t be because of anything they do here. New Orleans is simply too tough to beat at home, where they are 6-0 ATS. They are also 5-0 ATS as a favorite, and there are about 15 more trends that heavily suggest the Saints are in the drivers seat here. The Falcons, meanwhile, are 1-4 ATS versus teams with a winning record, and don’t perform too well on Mondays, going 1-4 ATS in their last five.
The battle of New York has major playoff implications, as both teams are in big trouble if they lose the game, and are looking pretty good if they can pull off a win. The Jets are tied with the Bengals right now but have the tiebreaker advantage over Cincy, while the Giants are a game back of Dallas, but play the Cowboys next week and would advance over them via tiebreak if they ended up tied. With the stakes so great, this should be an extremely exciting game, filled with tension, as the teams also have the pride of a city to play for. The Giants got embarrassed last week against Washington, but you can bet they will be ready to bounce back from that this week. Yes, the Jets’ defense is very good, but it is no longer elite, as the Eagles proved last week. Also, even if Hakeem Nicks has to visit Revis Island, the Giants still have a great 1a option in Victor Cruz, a nice complementary receiver in Mario Manningham, and two solid running backs in Ahmad Bradshaw and Brandon Jacobs. Of course, they also have Eli Manning, whose amazing season is being forgotten about after a subpar performance last week. The Jets simply do not have as dynamic an offensive game, as Mark Sanchez is far too inconsistent to be relied upon. They have some nice receiving targets, and the Giants defense has been exposed repeatedly this year, but they have a pro bowl rookie in Jason Pierre-Paul, and as they get healthier they will improve. This game can be looked at in the following way: it is extremely close, as both teams are talented and have everything to play for. Would you rather ride Eli Manning or Mark Sanchez into battle? Give me Eli every time, and on top of that an extra 3 points to work with? Yes please. Also keep in mind that the Giants are 9-2-1 in their last 12 as a road underdog of 3 or less, and that this time the ‘road’ designation is a misnomer because they are playing in their home stadium. They have also only lost twice against the spread in their last 10 games following a double digit home loss. The Jets, meanwhile, are 1-5 ATS following a straight up loss. Go with the Giants in what should be a close and physical battle.
At the start of the season, many believed the Bengals would be competing with other teams in the Andrew Luck sweepstakes, figuring they would be deep in the AFC North cellar. Instead, the improbably great play of rookie Andy Dalton and a vastly improved defense has put Cincy in a great position to make the playoffs. They are currently tied with the Jets and would lose in a tiebreak, but have an easier final two games than New York. If the Bengals can win the rest of the way, they have an excellent shot at making it to the postseason. The push begins in against the Cardinals, who have vastly improved over the last few weeks. John Skelton will get the nod over Kevin Kolb for the Cards, and even though he played well last week, he has still thrown 10 interceptions in his last 5 games, and only 7 touchdowns. The Cincy defense, as I’ve mentioned, is one of the most improved units from last year to this one, and they should have very strong outing against Skelton, who remains very much a work in progress. On the other side of the ball, Andy Dalton continues to turn heads, and A.J. Green is making a strong case for rookie of the year. It is frightening to the AFC how much better Dalton and Green may become. The Bengals can also rely on Cedric Benson to move the chains. He is not a flashy runner by any means, but he is consistent and a workhorse. Cincy knows that this week is their best hope of making a move in the playoff hunt, as the Jets are in tough against the Giants. The Bengals are also aware how infrequent these opportunities have been for them in recent years, and they will definitely not throw it away. Arizona are improved, but they are still a mediocre team, and they are generally much stronger at home. Following a straight up win, the Bengals are 7-2 ATS, and are 4-1 ATS when they give up fewer than 15 points in their previous game. Conversely, Arizona are 2-8 ATS when they are on the road and an underdog of between 3.5 and 10 points. They also don’t play great on turf, going 2-6 ATS on the surface in their last 8 games. The Bengals should take this one comfortably as they inch closer towards that postseason berth.
No, you’re not seeing things. I am willingly chosing to put my money on the Cleveland Browns. But when you look at things a little closer, it isn’t as crazy as it may seem. Here are a few reasons why its the smart bet: Firstly, Peyton Hillis is back to playing how he did last year. He rushed for 99 yards last week, and looked great doing so. Yes, the Ravens defense is good, but its not impenetrable. Secondly, although the Browns will be playing Seneca Wallace, he is not such a major drop-off from Colt McCoy, and the Browns generally play a conservative offense anyway, so it isn’t too overwhelming for back up to come into it. In addition, Baltimore have all season but infuriating in that they always play up to good teams and down to bad teams. Consider their loss to Jacksonville earlier in the year, their big loss to Seattle when the Seahawks were 2-6, or their drubbing at the hands of an inconsistent San Diego last week. In short, the Ravens simply can’t be trusted to show up every week. Joe Flacco is partially to blame, as he has regressed a good deal this year, not looking good for long stretches at a time. The Ravens will also be without their number one receiver in Anquan Boldin, who is out for the rest of the regular season with a knee injury. This gives Flacco even fewer options, as the Ravens don’t have too much depth at receiver, with only really Torrey Smith and tight end Ed Dickson to rely on. Ray Rice is obviously one of the best backs in the league, but there have been times when he has not been given as big a workload as he merits, and still, it will take more than Rice to win by more than 13 points. The Browns, as bad as they have been this year, have played tough, losing in overtime last week to Arizona, and keeping Pittsburgh within striking distance the week before. Yes, Baltimore will almost certainly win this game, but I simply don’t trust the Ravens to beat anyone by double digits considering their offensive shortcomings and tendency to play down to bad teams. The public is likely to be backing Baltimore heavily in this one, so take advantage of it. Cleveland are actually 4-1 ATS in their last 5, and 5-2 ATS when they are an underdog of double digits. The flip side of that is that Baltimore are 0-4 ATS when they are a home favorite of double digits. They are also 1-5 ATS against teams with losing records, which proves my point about them playing down to bad teams. I wouldn’t recommend you actually watching this game if you want to see good football, but I’m happy to bet on it and laugh all the way to the bank.