Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall
Last week: 6-9. Season totals: 34-26-3, Pct. .563. Best Bets: 5-7, Pct. .417.
Home team in capital letters; point spreads (opening line) in parentheses after underdog team; selections with point spreads in bold.
Arizona 27, ST. LOUIS 13 (+1)—Two years after losing his starting job to Michael Vick due to injury with the Eagles, Kevin Kolb could be in a position to win the starting job in Arizona due to John Skelton's injury if he continues to produce—and have the Cardinals ever been producing against the Rams, whom they have beaten 10 times in the last 11 meetings, also having won seven in a row in the city they once called home.
N.Y. GIANTS 30, Cleveland 17 (+10)—The Giants deserved a better fate than the one that actually befell them Sunday night. Eli Manning threw for 309 yards and their offensive line didn't allow a sack facing one of the league's premier pass rushes. But you may want to be careful here with the Giants returning to the scene of their NFC title game win next week and the Browns being 5-0-1 against the spread on artificial turf this season and last combined.
Atlanta 27, WASHINGTON 16 (+3)—We all knew the Falcons could bring it on offense, but their defense has been a pleasant surprise so far this year. Plus, the home team in this series has lost four straight both ways.
PITTSBURGH 24, Philadelphia 10 (+3 1/2)—But the home team in this one has been on absolute fire, and for a long time—11-2 straight up and 12-1 against the spread dating all the way back to 1967! Plus the Steelers will definitely be getting Rashard Mendenhall back, and probably James Harrison and Troy Polamalu as well coming off the bye, at which Pittsburgh has a current four-game winning streak. Best bet.
CINCINNATI 17, Miami 13 (+5 1/2)—The Dolphins are 6-1 both ways in their last seven in the City of Satan and will be making their 2012 debut on artificial turf, upon which they went 8-3 against the line in 2010-11—and the Bengals have back-to-back AFC North games coming up: at Cleveland, then a huge Sunday night game at home against Pittsburgh. Take it.
INDIANAPOLIS 26 (+7), Green Bay 24—These situations like the one involving Chuck Pagano can go either way as to how they affect a team—but the Packers have gone only one way at Indianapolis, and that's straight down, as in 0-3 lifetime including an outright loss there to an 0-10 Colts team as a 12-point favorite in 1997. Upset special—and it's big balloons again!
Baltimore 34, KANSAS CITY 17 (+6)—Romeo Crennel is broadly hinting that he may soon bench Matt Cassel in favor of Brady Quinn—yet not a peep out of Crennel as to who he might bench on a defense that is allowing the second most points in the league. Ravens have won three straight over KC by a combined 47 points.
CAROLINA 35, Seattle 13 (+2)—Unlike Crennel, Pete Carroll isn't seriously considering benching Russell Wilson and going to Matt Flynn, but he may be real soon (the Seahawks trail the entire league in passing yardage)—especially after the home team here makes it a perfect six for six, having won the first five 127 to 58. Seattle is also 3-14 straight up and 3-12-2 against the line since 2009 as a visitor on the grass.
JACKSONVILLE 17 (+4), Chicago 14—Another series in which the home team has been flawless—at least of late, winning the last three by a combined 52 points. And it could be letdown time for the Bears after the huge Monday night effort.
NEW ENGLAND 42, Denver 27 (+7)—Unfortunately for Denver, Peyton Manning is not a two-way player, so his arrival will have no impact on a defense that got gouged for 86 points in two tries vs. New England last year (one in the regular season and one in the AFC divisional playoffs). The Broncos have also allowed 86 points in their last two at Foxboro (45 in the aforementioned playoff tilt and 41 in 2008) and in case you're curious, Manning was 3-8 outright and 4-5-2 pointwise at New England while with the Colts. Finally, Denver is 4-11 against the line since 2007 as a visitor on the carpet, including a non-cover by Manning in his Broncos bow thereon, at Atlanta.
MINNESOTA 31, Tennessee 17 (+6)—The Titans really miss shutdown corner Cortland Finnegan, who has joined his former head coach, Jeff Fisher, in St. Louis—and they're 1-6 straight up and 2-5 against the line at Minnesota in franchise history. But still not ready to proclaim the Vikings as for real until they both beat a good team they don't historically dominate at home, and do it "the hard way" rather than winning on two kick returns like they did last week.
SAN FRANCISCO 24, Buffalo 7 (+10)—The 49ers continue to win ugly, at least by today's pass-happy standards (they're 30th in the league in passing through four weeks after ranking 29th in 2011), but if they're not looking ahead to next week's revenge game against the Giants they should have few problems here.
San Diego 44 (+3), NEW ORLEANS 28—Of course Drew Brees will break Johnny Unitas' consecutive-games-with-a-TD pass record against the team that gave up on him—but how many TDs will Philip Rivers throw for against the epically-rotten Saints defense? Also, San Diego is 4-0 lifetime at New Orleans by a combined 105-28 (with all four wins by at least two touchdowns) and 22-9-1 against the line in domes dating back to 1992.
Houston 24, N.Y. JETS 0 (+7)—Teams getting shut out are 8-22 straight up (and 12-18 against the spread) in their next game since 2007, and on one occasion got shut out again (Cleveland, in the last two weeks of 2008)—and wouldn't bet against the latter happening here with the Texans rocking the NFL's top-ranked defense and the only real weapon the Jets have on offense, Santonio Holmes, out for the season, and perhaps beyond, with the dreaded Lis Franc foot injury. Unless of course you regard Tim Tebow as such a weapon—and his day could be one step closer after this.
BEST BETS: PITTSBURGH, CAROLINA, SAN DIEGO