This weekend’s games are not nearly as enticing as they were last week when NFL fans were treated to seven games in which neither team had a losing record, but there are still a few interesting matchups worth watching as a prelude to the Pats’ game tomorrow night against the Chiefs. Why so many fewer good games today? This is the last bye week of the year, and three 7-3 teams – the Saints, Steelers and Texans – all have the week off. On top of that a few games that appeared to be exceptionally competitive at the beginning of the season – Bucs at Packers, Chargers at Bears, Eagles at Giants – have lost their luster as those three visiting teams have not lived up to preseason expectations.

 

Early Games

 

5-4 Bills at 2-7 Dolphins
Buffalo +3; under 43
On one hand the Bills are injured and seem to be sliding, while the Dolphins are at home and starting to get it together. On the other hand teams coming off a huge blowout are 59-33 against the spread since 2002. I wouldn’t put any money on it, but I’ll go with the Bills and the points.

 

6-3 Bengals at 6-3 Ravens
Cincinnati +7½; under 41
The Bengals rank fifth in point allowed with an average of 18.2 points per game, while Baltimore is one of the best in the league across the board: sixth against the pass, fourth against the run, and third in total yards allowed – and in the most important stat, they are giving up an average of only 16.9 points per game, which is third-best in the NFL. The Ravens have played well against good teams and poorly against bad teams; I think they’ll be up for this one. Baltimore wins, but the Bengals – 17-7 as underdogs against the spread – cover and keep the game close.

 

3-6 Jaguars at 3-6 Browns
Jacksonville +2; under 34½
No strong feelings in this game. I don’t like going with the concept of the Browns being favored against anybody, and I don’t like the idea of picking Jacksonville to win on the road against anybody either. When in doubt, take the points if you have to make a choice; however I do feel confident about the under, even with a line that low.

 

5-4 Raiders at 2-7 Vikings
Oakland +2; under 46
Oakland has one of the worst run defenses in the league, and has to go on the road to face Adrian Peterson. Minnesota has to come back in a short week after being blown out in a meaningless game in a lost season.

 

2-7 Panthers at 6-3 Lions
Panthers +7; over 47
Carolina has gone through some growing pains but I’ll be the first to admit I was way off with my preseason prediction that Cam Newton would be a disappointment. Matthew Stafford has a fractured finger but the Lions still rank 4th in scoring with 28 points a game, and the Panther defense is still a long ways from being competitive. However, the Lions running game has struggles since Jahvid Best went out with a concussion, and they have yet to show that they can deal with adversity in losing three out of four games. On top of that I don’t think they have what it takes mentally to focus on this game and not look ahead to Thursday’s game against the Packers.

 

4-5 Buccaneers at 9-0 Packers
Green Bay -13½; over 48½
Normally I would say that this is a classic trap game: the Bucs would be emotionally fired up after a loss while the Packers might ease up, read the press clippings, and look ahead to the following game against a division rival. However the Bucs have played poorly in three straight games now, so the idea they would bounce back gets thrown out the window. This is the third time they will face a 3-4 defense this year; they lost by a combined score of 85-12 in the two previous games.

On a side note, Albert Haynesworth was interviewed earlier this week by a Tampa sports talk radio station and he was asked about choosing Washington over Tampa Bay as a free agent a couple years ago. Haynesworth said he chose the Redskins because he is a huge boating enthusiast – he went on to mention he has motored at speeds of over 170 mph – and he didn’t want to go to Tampa because it would be too much of a temptation for him to take time off and hit the water when he should be doing other things. I thought that was an interesting, but sad, honest appraisal of his shortcomings as a player in the NFL.

 

5-4 Cowboys at 3-6 Redskins
Dallas -7; under 42
Dallas is gaining some momentum with two straight wins an put 44 on the scoreboard against Buffalo last week, but they are without WR Miles Austin and both RBs DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones are banged up. Washington’s defense isn’t bad, so go with the under. The Redskins offense has been putrid though: they have scored a grand total of 20 points in their last three games and have not scored more than 20 in a game since week two against Arizona. Normally I would pick a home dog of 7 points or more, but there’s no way I would do that with this Redskin team.

 

Late Games

5-4 Titans at 5-4 Falcons
Atlanta -6½; under 44
I flip-flopped on this one. At first I thought that this would probably be a three or four point game, so I should go with Tennessee. But Atlanta is 14-4 under Mike Smith against the spread after a loss, and Matt Ryan is 17-8 against the spread at home. Chris Johnson did run for 130 yards last week, but most of that was late when the outcome of the game was no longer in doubt. I think the Falcons will do well against the run, forcing the Titans to throw to their no-name receivers, and bounce back with a convincing win.

 

3-6 Cardinals at 8-1 49ers

San Francisco -9½; under 41
Even if the 49ers decide to rest Frank Gore – which would be a wise decision, by the way – I just can’t see them not winning by fewer than ten points at home against Arizona.

 

3-6 Seahawks at 2-7 Rams
Seattle +3; under 40
I’ll go with any team playing the Rams defense, and getting points on top of that.

 

4-5 Chargers at 6-3 Bears
Bears -3½; over 45
Much has been made about Philip Rivers taking a step backwards this year, and now he gets to face the defense ranked second in most interceptions this year. His problems are directly related to his OL, who are missing three starters and have never played in a game together prior to the end of last week’s loss. LG Kris Dielman, LT Marcus McNeil, RG Louis Vasquez, WR Malcolm Floyd, DL Luis Castillo and OLB Shaun Phillips are out, and their replacements were overwhelmed last week; Julius Peppers has got to be licking his chops looking forward to this game.

 

Night Games

3-6 Eagles at 6-3 Giants
New York -5½; under 45
The Eagles are a mess, both physically and mentally. The Giants should be able to win this one easily.

 

4-5 Chiefs at 6-3 Patriots
Kansas City +15; over 46½
On defense for the Pats Devin McCourty is out, and Patrick Chung and Brandon Spikes are not 100%. The first thing the Patriots did this week was to get some film study in of Tyler Palko – from his days in the CFL. Though it sounds funny, that is a testament to the team that they are so well prepared for any upcoming opponent regardless of the circumstances to have that readily available. Unfortunately that has not helped them a great deal in the recent past, as we have seen reserve quarterbacks such as Matt Flynn and Kevin Kolb have decent days in their first starts against the Patriots. On the other hand, the good news is that the Pats won all those games. The Pats could be in for a slight emotional letdown, so although they should win easily I think it will be by 13 or 14, allowing the Chiefs to cover.

 

 

Four Units
Bears -3½ vs Chargers

Three Units
Bengals-Ravens under 41
Panthers-Lions over 47
Jaguars-Browns under 34½

Two Units
Packers -13½ vs Bucs
Bucs-Packers over 48½
Giants -5½ vs Eagles

One Unit
Cowboys-Redskins under 42
Panthers +7 at Lions
Chiefs +15 at Patriots