I don't think there's a game with more fascinating sidebars this week than the Bills visiting the Eagles. Philly is coming off a big win in New England, albeit one fuelled by great special teams play and slippery handed Patriots' receivers. Coach Chip Kelly traded his star running back, LeSean 'Shady' McCoy to Buffalo in the off-season, and McCoy wasn't happy about that. Then he signed, as if by accident, both Ryan Matthews and Cowboys' star DeMarco Murray to replace McCoy, and Murray has been a disappointment, and has not gone to the owners complaining about the way he is used, or not used, by Kelly. It's like a bad soap opera and the only strange thing is that Bills' coach Rex Ryan hasn't weighed in (so to speak) and fanned the flames.
I've gone back and forth on this: the Eagles are all of a sudden in with a shout in the lacklustre NFC East, while the Bills could take a step toward a wild card (biggest opponents, the Steelers, facing a tough game in Cincy, and the divisional rival Jets) with a win. The Big Linc can sometimes seem more like a gladiators’' den than a home field advantage for the Eagles; watch what happens if they fall behind early and their special teams don't deliver.
The best game of the week is the Steelers (7-5 but seemingly moving in the right direction) at the Bengals (10-2) and currently top seed in the AFC. The Bengals are balanced, not just between offense and defense but between run and pass on offense; the Steelers, who've been struck by suspensions and injuries all season, are more of a boom and bust team. The Bengals can be vulnerable to these, especially if they fall behind early. But their real surse comes in prime time and this one is comfortably in the afternoon. I've been back and forth on this, but I've hunched it for the Steelers straight-up.
BEST BET: CHICAGO (-3.5 AT 2.00) VS WASHINGTON: The Bears threw away a win at home last week against the Niners, but the Skins have not been great on the road, and if Adam Gase can just keep Jay Cutler on his feet, the Bears may have enough to put this one away. Their receiving corps is decimated, and they've been shifting through running backs, but John Fox's defense could prove the difference here.
VALUE BET: BUFFALO (+1.5 AT 1.83) AT PHILADELPHIA: I picked the Bills' straight up, so I ought to like them getting points in Philly. They are a better team, and Tyrod Taylor is a better QB, and Sammy Watkins is a better weapon than any receiver the Eagles have. If McCoy decides to have a big game to prove Chip wrong, the only thing that might stop the Bills is if Murray decides to have a big game to prove Chip wrong. I like the OVER (47.5 AT 1.98) in this one too.
OUTSIDE BET: SAN FRANCISCO (+1.5 AT 1.92) AT CLEVELAND: Face it, the Browns are terrible, but the wild card is Johnny Manziel, who's back in the starter's position, and could make a big play or two. My feeling is the Niner D makes a play or two off him, and Blaine Gabbert continues to avoid turnovers of his own. In fact Gabbert's running last week looked like vintage Manziel. If that worries you, maybe the UNDER (40.5 AT 1.98) if you figure the Browns won't score more than 10 or the GREEN BAY V DALLAS OVER (42.5 AT 1.92) if you figure Aaron Rodgers has to come alive and the Cowboys have to score 14 or more even with Matt Cassel at quarterback.