We have officially hit the halfway mark of the season, and my record stands above .500. Not much more one can ask for when picking against the spread, but I’d still like to improve upon my mark, and think that I can. Football picking is all about getting to know the tendencies of the teams in certain situations, and the more information we have, the better. Although nothing is static in the NFL, the more evidence we can lean on, the better. So, with that said, let’s start the 2nd half off with a bang and go 4-0 this week, shall we? Here’s the games that will get us there:
Okay, I am finally ready to concede that the 49ers are the real deal. They are now 6-1, and could have their division clinched by Thanksgiving. Yes, they are competing in the NFC West, but take a look at some of the teams they have beaten: Detroit, Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, Cincinnati. These are some of the better teams in the league, and in fact have only faced on NFC West divisional foe thus far. That means the 49ers have gotten to 6-1 without going against St. Louis or Arizona yet. Pretty impressive. The Redskins, meanwhile, continuing their steady drop towards obscurity, with their latest embarrassment being shut out against the Bills in Toronto. While Buffalo are proving to be a great team, their defense is still their weak spot, but they had no problem completely shutting down a John Beck led offense. Buffalo sacked Beck 10 times on Sunday, which becomes an even more ridiculous when you discover that prior to that game, the Bills had all of 4 sacks on the entire season. The 49ers defense is one of the very best in the league, with 21 sacks, and are giving up a league leading 15.3 points per game. If the Redskins couldn’t get anything going against a generous Buffalo defense, I don’t hold out much hope against Patrick Willis and company. The 49ers are also first in the league in rushing yards against, giving up just 73 yards per game on the ground. Ryan Torain and Roy Helu might as well call in sick. Washington, meanwhile, is giving up a more generous 120 yards rushing, which is good news for Frank Gore. Gore has been a beast of late, rushing for over 100 yards in his past 4 games, and scoring a touchdown in each of them. While Alex Smith is little more than a game manager at this point, expect Gore to continue his hot running this week, and for the San Fran defense to take care of the rest. San Francisco are 6-0 ATS as a favorite, and 7-0-1 ATS overall this season. On the other hand, the Redskins are 7-16-2 ATS in their last 25 home games, and haven’t won ATS in their last 6 after getting less than 250 total yards in their previous game. Don’t be shocked to see Washington get shut out for the second straight week.
The Chiefs are one of the more amazing stories in the NFL this year. After being written off as the worst team in the league after opening up with three straight losses and losing their two best players in Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry, Kansas City have since won four straight, and with Miami and Denver on deck, have a great shot at being 6-3. Todd Haley needs to be credited with rejuvenating his team and turning them into a legitimate playoff threat. Matt Cassel is still a little uneven, but has certainly stepped up his game of late. The Chiefs also seem to have found a new receiving weapon in Jonathan Baldwin, who in his second career game, had 5 catches for 82 yards and a touchdown. Baldwin seems to have good chemistry with Cassel, and add him to a receiving corps already boasting Dwayne Bowe and Steve Breaston, and suddenly the Chiefs look dangerous through the air. Jackie Battle has also done a good job for Kansas on the ground, with games of 116, 76 and 70 yards rushing since becoming the featured back. Considering Battle had been getting only a touch or two a game previous to that, it is hard to ask for much more, and he should only improve as he gets more comfortable with the playbook. Miami, meanwhile, had their best game of the season last week, but couldn’t hold on to a big lead against the Giants, and fell to 0-7. To their credit, they have kept most of their games competitive, but have been unable to close the deal. Quarterback Matt Moore has only thrown for 1 touchdown since taking over the job from injured Chad Henne, and they Dolphins have not gotten consistently strong games from Reggie Bush and Daniel Thomas in the backfield, as they have shown glimpses but then faded away. I don’t think the Dolphins are destined to go winless this season, in fact I like their chances next week against Washington, but the fact is they are a bad team, and if the Chiefs are to be considered a threat to win their division, they should be able to beat up on bad teams. While the Chiefs don’t have the offensive firepower to run away with any games, beating one of the worst teams by a shade more than a field goal isn’t asking for too much especially at home. The Chiefs are also 5-0 ATS in their last 5, and 8-1 ATS when they have given up over 250 yards in the air the week before. Meanwhile, Miami are 0-7-1 in their last 8 against the AFC, and 0-5 ATS following an ATS win. The numbers don’t lie: take the Chiefs to win comfortably.
Although against most teams, a line like this featuring a team that has just lost a heartbreaker on national tv the week before would scream trap game, I believe the Green Bay Packers are above any sort of traps. Of course, I refer to the fact that the Chargers had the game in the bag last week, all they needed to do was line up the ball for the winning field goal, but instead Philip Rivers fumbled the snap, the Chiefs took over, and won it in overtime. I don’t foresee any retribution for Rivers this week though, as a date with the undefeated defending champions is not the place to get your head right. The Packers are simply head and shoulders above everybody else at the moment. Aaron Rodgers is having an MVP worthy season, and the Packers’ receiving corps has to be one of the most feared in the league. I shudder to think how good they could be if they got their ground game going, but they have proved that they don’t really need much from James Starks and Ryan Grant to win. The Chargers have a decent defense, but are overmatched by a powerful Packers offense. Green Bay’s defense is also improving, and with Rivers’ mind clearly not in its right place of late, they should be able to capitalize with all sorts of turnovers. Also, don’t forget that the Chargers are coming off a short week since they played on Monday, while the Packers had the week off. San Diego will also likely be without leading rusher Ryan Mathews, and key receiver Malcolm Floyd, both of whom have not practiced this week. Green Bay are 9-2 ATS following a straight up win, and 4-0 ATS against teams with winning records. They are also 5-0 ATS after an ATS loss. San Diego, on the other hand, are winless in their last 4 ATS following a straight up loss, and 2-6-1 ATS in their last 9 games overall. This game should be a lot of fun to watch, as all Green Bay games are, and the Super Bowl champs should continue their march towards a perfect season with a solid win against a good but wildly frustrating Chargers squad. Green Bay takes this one by a touchdown.
This pick would be a slam dunk if Ahmad Bradshaw and Hakeem Nicks were starting, but even if they are potentially out (unknown as of this writing), I still like the Giants to have no problems covering the spread. The public has great respect (possibly too great) for Bill Belichick, so whenever his team loses, it is expected that he can magically get his players to turn things around the following week. While there is no doubt he is one of the best coaches in the league, I’m not buying the fact that the Pats can go from getting beaten up by Pittsburgh (the game was not as close as the score suggests) to beating a good Giants team by double digits. While admittedly the Giants did only scrape by the Dolphins last week, a win is a win, and the Giants have been doing a lot of winning lately, who are 5-1 since an opening day loss. There is also the fact that the Giants are facing a team that ranks dead last in several defensive categories, including passing yards allowed. Eli Manning has been playing great football this year, with a QB rating of 102.1, 13 touchdowns, and 2127 passing yards. I like my chances when those kind of numbers face up against a team giving up 323 passing yards per game. That is about 35 yards worse than the 2nd worst team. Even if Nicks is out, Mario Manningham and Victor Cruz have both been revelations this year. And if Bradshaw needs to sit out, than Brandon Jacobs is a more than capable fill in. Yes, Tom Brady is still great, but he showed himself to be vulnerable last week against a good defense, and the Giants are another good defense. I don’t know if the Giants can come into New England and leave with an outright victory, but they are certainly good enough to keep things close, especially against a Patriots defense that can’t stop anybody. The Giants travel well, going 29-13 ATS on the road, and are 13-6 ATS as a road underdog. Meanwhile, week 9 seems to be bad luck for New England, as they are 1-5 ATS in their last 6 week 9 games. This should be the best game of the day from an offensive standpoint, as all signs point to a shootout. And in a shootout, I back any team that has a 9 point cushion. Go with the Giants.