Last week: 8-8. Season totals: 112-107-5, Pct. .511. Best Bets: 20-24-1, Pct. .456.
Home team in capital letters; point spreads (opening line) in parentheses after underdog team; selections with point spreads in bold.
Atlanta 33, DETROIT 17 (+3)
So long as the oddsmakers continue to morbidly overvalue the Lions, feel free to continue to bet against them with the utmost confidence.
San Diego 20 (+2), N.Y. JETS 0
Like father, like son: During a 1990 Wild Card playoff game, Buddy Ryan benched Randall Cunningham in favor of Jim McMahon and was fired the next day (the Eagles lost to the Redskins 20-6). And while I can understand Rex's Ryan's frustration with Mark Sanchez, why not start Tim Tebow here instead of someone who just plain doesn't belong in the NFL? I don't care that the Chargers are 1-7 both ways on artificial turf since 2010—San Diego has become a lock in this spot.
N.Y. Giants 24, BALTIMORE 21 (P)
I'm well aware of the fact that teams getting shut out since 2007 are 9-23 straight up in their next game, but the Ravens are already in the playoffs. They can still win the AFC North as opposed to getting a wild card, while the Giants almost certainly need to win their last two to get in. Therefore, this is a "necessity over luxury" pick.
Washington 31, PHILADELPHIA 16 (+4 1/2)
Is Kirk Cousins the new Matt Flynn? The Redskins could probably defray much of the cost of the RGIII trade by dealing him next spring. One must consider how slim the pickings will be at quarterback in both the draft and free agency. But first things first: Washington needs to win the NFC East, which it will be able to do with wins both here and next week at home over a team it has already beaten on the road this year.
CAROLINA 28, Oakland 17 (+9 1/2)
The Panthers probably have no business being favored by this much, but I'm 3-11 when picking underdogs to cover the spread. Cam Newton is fashioning a career out of directing meaningless scoring drives late in games to cover—and by winning meaningless games late in the season.
New England 30, JACKSONVILLE 10 (+14)
Does anybody out there want a 14-point home underdog? You can have the Jaguars—and lose.
St. Louis 23 (+3), TAMPA BAY 17
Like the Giants and the Chiefs, the Bucs were shut out last week. However, unlike in the case of the Giants, there is no overriding reason to make an exception in their case, especially given that disgraceful scene of the Tampa Bay linebacker physically attacking an assistant coach on the sidelines during the blanking in New Orleans.
MIAMI 24, Buffalo 14 (+4)
The Dolphins have far and away the better Ryan at quarterback. Of the 36 hitters in baseball to have won league-batting titles since 1995, 26 had higher batting averages than Buffalo's straight-up winning percentage on natural grass since that same year (.341).
PITTSBURGH 28, Cincinnati 7 (+4)
This is the week's best bet. The Bengals have dropped their last five to the Steelers both ways, and they have lost nine in a row to Pittsburgh and Baltimore combined, covering in only two. Losses here and next week at home to the Ravens will extend Cincinnati's streak of not having had back-to-back non-strike winning seasons since 1976 and 1977.
GREEN BAY 27, Tennessee 13 (+11 1/2)
This spread is for no particular reason other than my new-found aversion to taking the points unless I believe that the underdog can win the game outright.
Indianapolis 17, KANSAS CITY 16 (+6)
Here there is a valid reason to take the points—two in fact. Vick Ballard, the Colts' leading rusher, is 25th in the NFL with a paltry 667 yards, placing the Colts at an added disadvantage in the cold weather. They don't need any added disadvantages in that they have lost six straight games, and I wouldn't be overly shocked if KC did win outright. However, Andrew Luck—who was blown out by 35 in his lone cold-weather NFL start—will most likely find a way to pull it out in the final minute and propel Indianapolis to an implausible AFC playoff appearance.
DALLAS 34, New Orleans 27 (+3)
Tony Romo can't possibly win four in a row in December, can he? The Saints would actually be better off tanking their last two games and finishing last in the NFC South, which would give them Philadelphia and Detroit on next year's schedule.
HOUSTON 23, Minnesota 10 (+9 1/2)
True, the necessity-over-luxury theory does apply in this game, but here the talent gap is considerably wider than in the Giants game, and if Houston's fifth-ranked run defense can contain Adrian Peterson at least reasonably well, that will force Christian Ponder to put it up 40 times. As Billy Joel sang of the Edsel in We Didn't Start The Fire, that's a no-go.
DENVER 42, Cleveland 14 (+11 1/2)
If Cleveland's defense could allow 38 points to Kirk Cousins at home, then how many will it give up against Peyton Manning on the road? The Browns in their present incarnation have never beaten Denver (0-5 straight up and 1-4 against the spread) and are 4-13 straight up, albeit 8-8-1 against the spread in road games contested in the Mountain and Pacific time zones. If you omit Cleveland's six games at Oakland, those respective records become 1-10 and 4-7.
Chicago 20, ARIZONA 13 (+5))
After having been six-point home underdogs to the Lions, the Cardinals are now five-point home underdogs to the Bears? Don't be misled by the 38 points they scored last week. Arizona managed just 196 yards of total offense, returning two interceptions for TDs outright, running a third back to the 3-yard line leading to another touchdown. It also scored on a five-yard drive following a muffed punt. Only one team in the wild-card era (the 1996 Redskins) has ever neglected to make the playoffs after starting 7-1—a fate that awaits this year's Bears unless they win out and get some help.
SEATTLE 17, San Francisco 14 (+1)
I couldn't decide what I was going to do about this game until the 49ers shocked the Patriots last Sunday night, which put them in the playoffs for the second straight year. All they have to do to win the NFC West is beat Arizona at home next week. Yes, they are battling Green Bay for a first-round bye—but remember, necessity over luxury.
BEST BETS: ATLANTA, PITTSBURGH, DENVER
Odds courtesy of ScoresAndOdds.com.