This has been a crazy NFL season, and last week was probably my worst week picking against the spread (though I managed to finish 10-6 straight up). This week may prove even harder: I'm looking at a lot of home dogs, and I do hate picking visiting teams that are giving away points.
Just in case you thought that was easy, the quarterback situation is in flux. No one's sure who's starting in the slug fest between two 6-7 teams, Houston at Indy. We know the Texans' passer will be TJ Yates, but the Colts are playing coy about Matt Hasselbeck's ribs, though I think it likely Charlie Whitehurst, aka Clipboard Jesus, is forced to drop the clipboard, lose the baseball cap, and actually earn his salary on the field. I'd probably avoid this. I'm also wary of another matchup of 6-7 teams, Buffalo at Washington. The Bills' D is over-rated because of the Mourinho-like attraction of the press to Rex Ryan, but their O is probably underrated. The Skins are much better at home, and I've gone back and forth on this so many times I ought to buy a commuter ticket.
So looking for something a bit surer I settled on the best team in the league against the spread on the road: the Bengals. But wait, Andy Dalton, the Red Rifle, is out for the season and AJ McCarron is new Bengals' QB. Which means throw past performance out the window. Or does it?
BEST BET: CINCINNATI (-4.5 AT 1.92) AT SAN FRANCISCO: The thing about the Bengals is they ought to be among the NFL teams most likely to absorb the loss of their starting QB. That's not because I'm downgrading Dalton, but because the team is so balanced, both between offense and defense and between the run and pass games offensively. Dalton may or may not be more than a 'game manager', but really that is what the Bengals require him to do: spread the ball around, hit the occasional deep throw to AJ Green (or at least hit him in stride) and not make mistakes. McCarron can do the first two, the big question is whether he can do the third with consistency. If tight end Tyler 'Extra' Eifert remains out it may actually impact the Bengals' offense more. But remember, the Niners QB is Blaine Gabbert, replacing Colin Kaepernick, which may bode better for the Bengals.
VALUE BET: NEW ORLEANS (-3.5 AT 2.00) VS DETROIT: It's hard to figure which Saints will show up for this shootout, but with an over/under of 51.5 you can see that a shootout is expected, and since neither of these teams can play much defense the OVER AT 1.98 may well be tempting, crazy as it seems. But it looks to me like the Saints are still focused, and last week they turned back to their old weapons (ie, Marques Colston) and had some success. It may be that Drew Brees is finally throwing more naturally as well, but I'm looking for a rare home win this week.
OUTSIDE BET: SEATTLE (+14.5 AT 1.92) VS CLEVELAND: Yes, the Browns are coming off a big win at home, but that was against the Niners. Yes, 14.5 is a lot of points. But the Seahawks' D is finally starting to play like the unit that got them to two Super Bowls in a row, and the passing game has picked up, since the loss of TE Jimmy Graham, to the point where losing rookie surprise Thomas Rawls may not hinder them as much as we thought. PITTSBURGH (-7.5 AT 2.00) VS DENVER is another big spread which I think they can cover, although betting on the total number of sacks in this game might be more interesting; I'd go for anything over 7.5.