Bounced back with a solid week led by a bull’s-eye on our Upset of the Week call with Redskins over Giants (“Aawwk!”), another outright upset hit with Chiefs over Panthers, and a trio of ’dogs-with-points in Seahawks, Rams and Eagles. Also missed an exact score by one point in Browns’ win. The three ties against the spread were a push by Packers and two games that were off the board when I picked ’em. Still fighting hard to catch .500 ATS, a daunting climb with only four weeks left. [Thursday pick was Broncos (-10 1/2) over Raiders, 34-16].
DOLPHINS (5-7) at 49ERS (8-3-1)
NFL Week 14 finds the Dolphins making this trip for the first time since 2004. I have a feeling the result will make them wish they could have put it off another eight years. The Niners are home, angry after a loss and presenting to Miami the stingiest defense in the league — and a mighty sack attack at that. I’m no genius, but this does not appear to be the recipe for Ryan Tannehill and a struggling offense to whip up a lot of points. Sacks leader Aldon Smith vs. the void left by Jake Long’s injury could visit some chaos upon the rookie Tannehill. Playoff-bound 49ers can clinch a postseason ticket by winning, but only if five other results this week all fall right. Dolphins need to run the table with four consecutive wins plus luck, or a miracle. The best hope for an upset is that young QB Colin “Tats” Kaepernick makes Jim Harbaugh wish he’d never rolled the dice by quitting on safe-and-sound Alex Smith.
TEXANS (11-1) at PATRIOTS (9-3)
Game of the Week? No competition. The GOTW committee took the week off and went to Vegas. This feels more like the Game of the Year, a very likely AFC Championship Game preview. The Texans and Pats, in fact, are co-Super Bowl favorites at 9-2 odds heading in, meaning the winner here will be the clear fave moving forward. Both already have clinched a playoff spot but each guns for the No.1 seed or at least a first-round bye. A Houston upset would not surprise more than a little bit, but I simply do not pick against New England at home in December. I also do not pick against the Pats on the Monday night stage, where they are on a 10-1 run with an average victory margin of 20 points. Two great teams, one great game. Let’s go!
BEARS (8-4) at VIKINGS (6-6)
“AAAWWWK!” intones the Upset Bird, merrily. “Adrian Petersaaawwwk!” Bears have won six in a row in this division rivalry including 28-10 just a couple of minutes ago, on Nov. 25. Hey, that’s why they call it an upset! Vikes have become a pretty solid home team (5-1), and a very hot Adrian Peterson is facing a Chitown run D that hasn’t been special lately. And now missing Brian Urlacher. Minny will miss injured Percy Harvin, but not as much as Bears miss Urlacher vs. A.P.
CHIEFS (2-10) at BROWNS (4-8)
The Dog of the Week panel might have spared the Chiefs because of the team tragedy involving Jovan Belcher’s murder-suicide last week; alas, the panelists are not a sentimental lot. They looked instead, coldly, at a matchup with six combined wins and showing zero on the playoff-contention meter. K.C. has been bad on the road, and the earthtones have the run defense to limit Jamaal Charles and thus make it tough on Brady Quinn in his unballyhooed return to Cleveland. First time Brownies have been favored all season after three consecutive wins.
Welcome to the far, far periphery of ostensible playoff contention, where pretend dreams live. Here’s a venue pick all the way. Rams are both a soft road team and a dome squad facing a wintry Buffalo, with temps in the 40s and maybe rain. St. Lou sackers will test a damaged Bison O-line, but C.J. Spiller and company will get it done in Bufftown.
This week, Carolina DE Greg Hardy said his team is better than Atlanta. Get that man a Breathalyzer! Falcs have won five in a row in series, although Dirty Birds did need a last-second field goal for a 30-28 escape in late September. Atlanta has clinched playoffs but has first-round bye in mind. Panthers secondary a bad match for Matt Ryan and all those weapons.
Here is a vital game in the playoff chase, with both teams just outside their conference’s top six but each well in the hunt. Both teams are hot, especially Cincy with four consecutive Ws, but I like ’Boys in a road upset on a pure hunch, taking the leap they won’t self-destruct with turnovers. Tony Romo has been really good lately, and having RB DeMarco Murray back from injury is big.
Indy is 5-1 at home, has won 15 of past 19 in this series including 19-13 in October, and has more to play for here in terms of jockeying for the postseason. I might also mention that Tennessee is awful on defense, allowing 30 points per game, and allowing a 101.7 passer rating to opposing quarterbacks. Legend of Andrew Luck? Please continue, governor.
Our Dog of the Week runner-up finds Mark Sanchez with another shot for the Planes — and probably better off on the road, given the vitriol shouted at him at home last week. Especially on the road in J’ville, where the Jags are 1-5 and no home-field advantage is discernable. Maurice Jones-Drew is doubtful. So is Jax’s chance of winning.
I’m not a slave to stats or trends, but dig this: San Diego is 0-14 all-time at Pittsburgh! (Does anybody even say “dig this” any more?) Game stayed off bet boards because of QB Ben Roethlisberger’s status but it was looking more and more like he’d play. The stinking, sinking Chargers have not beaten a team with a winning record all season. Why start now?
Tampa is alive in playoff chase but needs a run. Philly has lost eight in a row and the only drama left is whether coach Andy Reid will survive this mess of a season and if Nick Foles-over-Mike Vick is permanent. Josh Freeman will stay hot at home vs. a Birds pass D allowing a horrific 142 passer rating over the past six games. Like Phils to keep it close, though.
A rare meeting between neighbor clubs situated only about 35 miles apart. Skins have climbed back onto outer edge of playoff hunt with three wins in a row. Ravens can cinch playoff spot this week with a win if Steelers or Bengals lose. Robert Griffin III has been uber-hot but I like the road ’dog here, especially if Terrell Suggs plays as I think he will. Upset!
Betting line shrunk during the week perhaps as investigating prospectors discovered that Drew Brees is 4-0 all-time vs. NYG with 11 TDs vs. zero picks. I like the desperate, sliding Biggies at home to stabilize their eroding playoff condition. But I also like Brees to keep it inside the bet number in a wildly entertaining Game of the Week runner-up.
John Skelton replaces Ryan Lindley at QB for Cacti, which helps a little I guess, but Seattle defense still should dominate. Cardbirds have lost eight in a row but I still see the betting line as fat. ’Zona has won past two over Hawks including 20-16 on Sept. 9, and visitors’ defense is good enough to keep this close, too, in what should be a low-scoring game.
Like I said, I’m not a Trendhead, but here’s another one I cannot ignore: Detroit has lost 20 games in a row at Lambeau Field. Seriously. Twenty in a row! Despite that Sunday’s prime-timer should be a good one, just like the first meeting in which Pack scored late to win 24-20. Matthew Stafford will get his yards (most of them to silly-hot Calvin Johnson). But Aaron Rodgers — with a 100-plus rating in all seven meetings vs. Motown — will get his yards plus the win.