The marketing guys were calling last week 'Showdown Sunday', but this week is really more like it. The NFC East and AFC North divisions are both still three-team sweepstakes, and one game matches the two divisions, as the Giants and Ravens square off in Baltimore. The NFC West stages its own showdown on Sunday night when the 49ers travel to Seattle, and at the other end of the spectrum there is a Futility Bowl between the Chargers and Jets, taking place at Giants Stadium in New Jersey.
Sure thing: Miami (-4.5) vs Buffalo at 1.87
The spread has widened a little over the week, but I still like the Dolphins to be able to shut down Buffalo's offense, which depends on Mark Fitzpatrick throwing accurately. Miami have to be able to keep the game under control, and have the ability to do just that, with Reggie Bush able - one of these weeks - to do for them what CJ Spiller is always a threat to do for the Bills. If this one bothers you, you might consider the Bengals getting 3.5 against the Steelers. They match up pretty well, but have to overcome being on the road and a Steelers' team with their backs to the wall.
Outside bet: Under 50.5 points in Detroit v Atlanta at 1.97
On paper, this is a shoot-out of sorts; the Lions pass the ball as much as anyone and have Megatron Calvin Johnson to haul them in, while the Falcons are fresh off laying 38 on the Giants, and have the best two wideout-one tight end troika in the league in Roddy White, Julio Jones, and Tony Gonzalez. But look below the surface and you see a Detroit team that has trouble getting into the end zone when they're close to it and a Falcons' team that plays good, containing defence and likes to control the ball as much as possible. The Falcons are the button-down conservative bankers of the NFL, while the Lions are the Gucci and Armani cigar-bar arbitragers flailing in the middle of the 2008 financial meltdown. I think the scoreboard is in for a little quantitative easing.
Value bet: Over 39 points in Seattle v San Francisco at 1.87
The two teams who have allowed the fewest points in the league this season (about 37 per game combined) aren't likely to best that total against each other, are they? Two things to remember: both teams have shown big play capability, not only passing but with mobile quarterbacks who can scramble or run read-option plays, but on special teams; and for the Seahawks, Leon Washington remains dangerous whenever he fields a kick. Plus both teams have defences that force turnovers and can convert them into good field position and points. Sometimes, when strength is matched against strength, the weaker sides of the equation prevail, and I have a feeling this is what could happen in this game. It only takes an imbalance in one phase of the game to make a 24-21 scoreline possible. If you are looking for value and like the Seahawks to win this one, you might want to get better value taking Seattle at 9.00 to win the NFC, or if you like either the Steelers or Bengals in that game, a better value bet might be them at 5.50 (Pitts) or 5.00 (Cinn) to win their division.
One to avoid: NY Jets v San Diego (+1)
I've gone for an upset pick straight up with the Chargers, so on the face of it you'd think this represents a great value bet. But with Greg McElroy starting at quarterback in place of Mark Sanchez for the Jets, and the Chargers reeling after an embarrassing performance against the Panthers in San Diego last week, I don't think it will prove so predictable. If this were a Warner Bros cartoon, it would be like putting the Tasmanian Devil and Yosemite Sam together in a crate from Acme, and having it delivered to Wiley Coyote just as the roadrunner takes him off the edge of the cliff. The over-under on coaches left on either or both teams' coaching staffs might be a good bet (take the under), as may a punt on which of their current QBs will still be on the Jets' roster next season (take anything under 2).