This is the week the big boys start to square off against each other, and it's presented some real chances to find out whether the surprise teams (or dark horses, if you picked Carolina and Kansas City as yours before the season started) are for real, or at least real-ish.
The undefeated Chiefs go into Denver with the league's stingiest defense against the league's flashiest offense. When Peyton Manning has faltered historically is when teams hold his high-powered attacks down below something like average. The problem for the Chiefs is that their offense struggles to be anything more than average, and on the road at Mile High I suspect they will run out of gas first.
The Broncos should win, but the question is by how much. Most of the season I've steered clear of the big spreads vs Denver, to my chagrin, and I look at Manning's potential to worsen his injured ankles, so I wonder about 9.5.
Meanwhile the Niners, reeling from a loss to the Panthers, have to travel to New Orleans where the Saints are coming off a trip to Dallas that offered them fewer challenges than those that face tourists at the Dealey Plaza Museum in Big D.
The Niners' pass-game is static, with Colin Kaepernick zeroing in on only two receivers. Their D is solid, and could force the Saints into the air, but New Orleans ought to be able to score enough to stay one step ahead.
And the Patriots, coming off a bye week, find themselves dogs to the Panthers, who copped that big win in San Francisco and have the league's second stingiest defense. Of course their schedule has been weak, but so has New England's.
You just wonder what Bill Belichick will do with that bye week—the Pats are notoriously efficient after that—even if he'd probably have preferred to play Sunday and not have to follow the bye with a short week. The 46.5 under looks pretty good here.
Sure Things: Eagles-Redskins over 53.0
Neither of these teams could stop a sneeze, and they both have weapons. You might prefer under in Denver-Kansas City at 49.0, as the Chiefs have a fine defense, a coordinator who knows from experience how to confuse Peyton Manning, and an offense that doesn't score quickly. But looking at Philadelphia and Washington, it's easy to see Nick Foles and Robert Griffin combining for 6-7 TD passes, Alfred Morris and Shady McCoy running for another 2-3, and someone else picking up the slack.
Outside Bet: Packers match bet over Giants at 2.90
This is a game that would have been seen as a playoff preview before the season started. Now the Pack are injury-riddled and on the road, with Scott Tolzien, effectively a rookie, and lightly-regarded at that. I've picked the Giants to win, but given their penchant for turnovers, and their erratic defensive, this is a game the Pack could win, and those odds are tempting. The Texans, giving 7.5 to Oakland at 2.05 is another tempting outside bet.
Value Bet: New England (+1) over Carolina at 2.15
Yes they're on the road, but see the above for the coaching factor, and remember the Panthers' offense can be shut down too. It may come down to whether the Pats can force a turnover or two defensively, but with Gronk back at tight end, and with that extra rest presumably helping him back to 100%, the Pats could get a few quick scores against an excellent defense whose weak point has been the secondary. I love this match-up, but I've picked the Pats straight-up, and a point is just a bonus.
One To Avoid: Atlanta(-1) at Tampa
There is no match bet on the board as I write this, and that's for a reason. These are two troubled teams, and they don't really show signs of being able to turn the troubles around. The Falcons, however, can attribute most of this to injury, and age, and a combination of the two, while the Bucs appear not so much rudderless as being coached by the guy who beat the drum for the slaves rowing the galley in Ben Hur. They were not Buccaneers.
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