Giants QB Eli Manning
Last week: 7-9. Season totals: 123-111-5, Pct. .525. Best Bets: 28-19-1, Pct. .594.
Home team in capital letters; point spreads (opening line) in parentheses after underdog team; selections with point spreads in bold.
N.Y. Jets 20 (+1), MIAMI 14 - The Jets have no right to be anything less than a 10-win team with the talent they allegedly have. They need a win and some righteous help (including a loss by the Bengals in all variations) to get in the playoffs, but they have covered in seven of their last eight at The Pigeon-Toed Orange Bowl.
NEW ENGLAND 38, Buffalo 17 (+13) - Narrow wins over last-place teams—and they've had three of those in the last four weeks—won't cut it for the Patriots in the playoffs, in which they can get to stay at home (until the Super Bowl) if they beat the Bills at home for what would be the 11th consecutive time—and Tom Brady's pursuit of the single-season passing-yards record should help them notch their would-be eighth spread cover in those 11 games.
PHILADELPHIA 29, Washington 26 (+10) - Ten points is simply an outrageous spread when only two games separate these teams in the standings, and the Eagles are pursuing nothing more than a second-place finish in the NFC East (theirs if they win, unless Sunday night's Giants-Dallas game somehow ends in a tie). The home team is 1-8 against the spread herein since 2007, of which Washington having covered four out of four at The Linc. Take it.
JACKSONVILLE 17, Indianapolis 14 (+5) - Not only have the Colts won two in a row, but they have covered four straight. If there is any valid reason to lay this number, I for one cannot find it.
GREEN BAY 21 (+3 1/2), Detroit 17 - Yes, it is a "Siesta Bowl" for the Packers, and Aaron Rodgers may sit it out altogether—but remember that Matt Flynn almost won at New England last year. And not only have the Lions lost a staggering 17 consecutive cold-weather games (five short of the all-time NFL record of 22 set by Atlanta from 1983 through 1996), but Detroit has also dropped a mind-boggling 20 in a row on the road to Green Bay—a streak so long it actually includes three games at Milwaukee, where the Packers played two home games per year prior to 1995.
MINNESOTA 3 (+1), Chicago 0 - Both teams are literally down to third- and even fourth-stringers at many key positions on offense, leaving Minnesota running back Toby Gerhart—who will actually start deep into 2012 due to the catastrophic knee injury Adrian Peterson sustained last week—as the most talented offensive back fielder by default in this game. Following a Bears turnover deep in their own territory in overtime, the Vikings go three and out before kicking the game-winning field goal.
San Francisco 31, ST. LOUIS 0 (+10 1/2) - At least the loss I took on Atlanta with the points on Monday night bought me a sure win in this game. San Fran says "hello" to a good bye.
NEW ORLEANS 45, Carolina 34 (+9 1/2) - The Panthers have covered in nine of their last 10 at the Saints, but New Orleans is averaging almost 41 points per game at home this year (while going perfect both ways) and Drew Brees has no intention of holding the passing yardage record for only five and a half days. Thus, the reluctant lean toward the favorite.
Tennessee 20, HOUSTON 13 (+1) - You don't go against a team that is fighting for its playoff lives if it is a "Siesta Bowl" for the other team unless there is an overriding reason for doing so—and, unlike in the Green Bay game, no such reason exists here.
ATLANTA 34, Tampa Bay 16 (+13 1/2) - This is a chain-reaction game of sorts, for if the Lions do continue their losing ways in cold weather and at Lambeau, the Falcons can evade a repeat of Monday night's massacre in New Orleans with a win here. And the team bus that will mercifully take the Bucs home for the spring will be warming up in the parking lot.
Pittsburgh 17, CLEVELAND 13 (+7) - Like the Colts, the Browns have been rewarding their backers, if not necessarily their fans, quite generously in the closing days, covering in five of their last six. Big Ben likely isn't going to play, and Colt McCoy definitely won't—while Seneca Wallace has far and away the weakest arm of any current NFL quarterback, it has been strong enough to cover in both of his starts since McCoy's controversial concussion in the first Cleveland-Pittsburgh game three weeks ago.
CINCINNATI 19 (+3), Baltimore 14 - Since 2005, Cincinnati is 5-1 both ways at home against Baltimore, and 10-3 against the spread all told. Color the Bengals playoff bound—just like I told you they would be before the season started.
DENVER 20, Kansas City 17 (+3 1/2) - Either the Broncos will win by a field goal or lose outright. So, the Chiefs cover no matter what.
ARIZONA 27, Seattle 10 (+3) - Seattle is 3-11-1 against the spread on grass over the past three years, and 5-12-1 against the line indoors (the roof at University of Phoenix Stadium generally closes this time of year) since losing Super Bowl XL to Pittsburgh (at Ford Field in Detroit). And with the Seahawks having won the NFC West a year ago while the Cardinals finished last, who figures to want second place more?
OAKLAND 34, San Diego 20 (+3) - Didn't Philip Rivers also lose twice in December (which includes January in the NFL's virtual world) last year?
N.Y. GIANTS 35, Dallas 7 (+1) - They may have saved the biggest lock of the entire season for its very last game: Dating back to 1995, Dallas is 13-28 straight up as a visitor in cold weather, and making this a night game only serves as an added kick in the teeth. Plus Tony Romo and all his running backs are banged up in some degree—and to add insult to injury, the loser doesn't even get second in the NFC East if the Eagles do win during the day. It will be long since over by halftime.
BEST BETS: SAN FRANCISCO, ARIZONA, N.Y. GIANTS