Not-so Dream Team: From favorite, to small underdog, to double-digit underdog.
NFL favorites ruled the last two weeks, winning the weekly "crown" by covering the spread in the majority of games on both occasions.
Four teams in Week 11 were favored by a touchdown or more, and three were favored by the same in Week 12.
This week, there are five underdogs of a touchdown or more including the Philadelphia Eagles, which looked spaced out (literally) on defense in their loss to Carolina on Monday Night Football. Others, like the Tennessee Titans, make for an unsuspecting underdog against road teams that better be on high alert for an upset.
With 58 articles in the books (all predictions) and a record of 37-17 and four ties, I'll roll the dice with a pair of possible surprise underdogs and look for a better chance of laying wood on both rather than whiffing completely in lieu of a boring 1-1 split.
Both games involve teams from the Lone Star State, so let's go on the road with the Houston Texans to start things off (all point spreads courtesy of dannysheridan.com).
Tennessee (+6.5) vs. Houston
"In my 50 years of owning an NFL franchise, I am at a loss to recall a regular season home game that was such a disappointment for myself, and fans of the Titans.''
The players got the memo.
A week later, Tennessee, a six-point underdog at Miami, became the top play in my article A Florida Double Dipper. Not only did the Titans cover the spread, they played inspired enough to tally a 37-3 win.
Now, after Tennessee's close loss at Jacksonville and close win at Detroit, Houston comes in for the back end of a two-game road trip after escaping by inches on Thanksgiving Day when Jason Hanson's potential winning field goal bounced off the upright in overtime.
The question is: Can the Texans go 2-0 in their second back-to-back road trip of the season after being successful earlier in the year at Jacksonville and Denver?
History says: Probably not.
After a decade of losing as a newer expansion team, the Texans finally made the playoffs in 2011. Not only are they off to a 10-1 start in 2012, they have been up to task in their travels, having won all five road games.
But this is the second straight road game for the Texans, which have played almost a whole half of a game extra after having their last two games go deep into overtime.
And of the more than 240 times in the last 10 years that teams went on the road for back-to-back road games twice in one season, less than 10 percent have won all four of those games!
What will be the outcome of this game?
But that might be the least of the worries for the Texans.
This will be Tennessee's first home game since its embarrassment against Chicago, where the Titans turned the ball over five times, including four times in a sloppy first half.
They are serious about winning. After the 24-19 loss at Jacksonville, offensive coordinator Chris Palmer was fired.
The Texans seem trendy with a record of 10-1 and may end up being the weekend's most popular pick, but when it comes to wagering in the NFL, sometimes being unpopular is cool.
For the Titans, 89-year-old Bud Adams might end up being the most stylish guy in the building at the end of the day.
Take Tennessee to cover 6.5 points
Philadelphia (+10.5) at Dallas
Panthers wide receiver Brandon LaFell was so wide open on his 43-yard touchdown reception, you could have driven a tractor trailer behind him without a casualty.
The only real casualty for any of the defensive players came the next day.
The Eagles released veteran defensive end Jason Babin, opening the door for some new players to step up.
But with the release of a player comes reality.
The existing players better step up too, or they could be next.
The Eagles, losers of six games in a row both straight up and against the spread (ATS), are just 1-9-1 ATS through the first 11 games and are being given their biggest number of the season by oddsmakers.
After the Eagles were favored in six of their first seven games and then being anywhere from a one-point to a three-point underdog in the last four games, oddsmakers dramatically raised the bar. Heading into Dallas, the Eagles are a 10-point underdog.
It's not unheard of in the NFL for a team to start the season with just one win ATS in its first 11 games, but it's rare.
However, no team in the last 10 years has done it through the first 12 games.
The only recent example through the first 11 games is the Baltimore Ravens.
A year after going 13-3, they were awful in 2007 but had a Monday Night game against the eventually undefeated Patriots, who were 11-0 and crushing everyone.
Baltimore, which was 1-10 ATS, seemed to have barely a chance and was listed as an 18-point underdog at home.
The Ravens lost the game by just three points but would have won—if not for Brian Billick's timeout just before the snap on fourth down on the Patriots' final drive when Tom Brady and the offense failed to convert.
Instead, the play was replayed and the Patriots got a first down, and the win a few plays later.
The Eagles are in a similar spot.
Oddsmakers and their computers are constantly drawn to equality. When a team is very good ATS, like the 2007 Patriots, oddsmakers will make adjustments to get them down to earth, like inflating the spread in the last few games of the season.
And when a team is very bad ATS, like the Eagles, oddsmakers will adjust the spread accordingly, making it easier for the bad team to achieve a spread cover—hence this double-digit number in a divisional rivalry.
The Cowboys have been hardly dominant this season, and their only double-digit win came at Philadelphia. Dallas was out-gained by 75 yards in that game but benefited from an interception return for a touchdown and a punt return for a touchdown.
A 17-17 tie quickly turned into a 31-17 lead in the fourth quarter, and the Cowboys added another fumble recovery for a touchdown later in the game.
What will be the outcome of this game?
Tony Romo and the Cowboys will be eager to get back on the winning track after a home loss to Washington, but this is a team that also struggled with Cleveland and Brandon Weeden, marking the first of two rookie quarterbacks they faced over their current three-game home stand.
Their game at Seattle, against rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, didn't go so well either.
Nick Foles will be the third rookie in as many weeks to visit Cowboys Stadium, but Dallas is also favored by the most points of the three games, despite failing to win each of its last eight home games by double digits.
Look for Cowboys to win a close game but fail at a blowout once more, as the Eagles are way overdue to bring home the bacon.
That is, as long as they can stick to their defensive assignments without allowing a freight train up the middle using Cowboys Stadium as a stop on Route 66.
Take Philadelphia to cover 10.5 points
Follow Mark all season at www.TheFallMiracle.com