NFL Betting: The San Francisco 49ers are this weekend's sure thing

On paper this should usually be the easiest week to pick, as the two teams with the best records in each conference join the survivors from last week. Playing with home field advantage and an extra week to rest and prepare means that the home teams usually win more than 2/3 of these matchups.


And on paper, it's hard not to favour those home teams this week, although as you'll see, Carolina and San Francisco are pick 'em, which means the oddsmakers think the Niners are the slightly better team, but the advantage of playing at home (and not having to travel from California to North Carolina and play with the body clock off by three hours) helps the Panthers.


It's even in other ways as well, as both teams are very solid defensively especially in the front seven Both also have efficient run-blocking offensive lines, both have good run game, and both have quarterbacks who can win games with their running, as Colin Kaepernick did for the Niners last week against Green Bay.


In case you weren't watching last week, you missed the Chargers dominating the second half to upset the Bengals, which was our value bet, and the Saints beating the Eagles in Philly on a last-second field goal, which was our outside bet.


Elsewhere, the Colts came back from 38-10 down in the third-quarter to beat the Chiefs 45-44 in one of the great play-off games of all time, and the greatest comeback since Frank Reich led the Bills back over Houston in 1993.


That was our sure thing (though I can't honestly claim it was never in doubt), and if you did look at the weather and take the under in the Niners last-second 23-20 win in Green Bay, you didn't have a bad weekend following this column. On to this week.


SURE THING: San Francisco (pick em at 1.91) at Carolina


I do think the Niners are the slightly better team, though the Panthers have the advantages I detailed above, and I have picked them straight-up elsewhere, so I might as well stick with that decision here.


Carolina won 10-9 in San Francsico, but with Michael Crabtree back the Niners are a better team offensively, and with Aldon Smith back on D they ought to be able to generate some rush against Cam Newton, the question then being can they control him within the pocket and not offer him the kind of runs they'll hope to get from Colin Kapernick.


By adding two rookie defensive tackles, Star Lotuleilei and Kawaan Short, the Panthers made themselves much stronger in the middle, allowing middle linebacker Luke Kuchley to lead the league in tackles, because blockers find it hard to get past the tackles to him, and helping Greg Hardy lead in sacks. It doesn't have the glamour, or the potential for a high-points shootout, of some of the other games, but I love this match-up.


Seattle beat New Orleans 34-7 at home a few weeks ago, and ought to beat them again.


New Orleans are getting eight points, which seems a lot, but the Seahawk defense is probably the best suited of any team's to stop the Saints. The worry is that the Seahawks' offense probably needs turnover help to run up a big score. Again it's 1.91 but the Seahawks ought to cover.


OUTSIDE BET: Indianapolis at New England, under 51 at 1.95


I see a lot of potential for offenses to misfire in this game, and the Pats have had a tendency to keep games close and relatively low-scoring all season, despite a no-name defense. The Colts signed former Pats' receiver Deion Branch, who hasn't played all season, last week, and so if Tom Brady throws a ball into the Colts sideline you will know why.


Ex-Pat Darius Butler will be expected to shut down Julian Edleman, and the Pats have no deep receiving threat, while ex-Pat kicker Adam Vinatieri could prove the difference-maker if the game is close, and how much would that hurt Patriots' fans?


San Diego (+9) at Denver (at 1.91) might be worth a flutter too. The Chargers can run the ball and stop the run, which sometimes puts the Broncos off, and they've already won 27-20 at Mile High this season.


VALUE BET: Indianapolis at New England, match bet at 3.45


Again, I've picked the Pats straight up, and you might like the Colts +7 at 1.91 better than the match bet, but either way you're getting some value in the case of an upset, and with only four games on tap, and the visitors getting decent spreads in three of them, your options get limited at this point.


ONE TO AVOID: San Diego at Denver over/under 54 points at 1.91 for either


The over is very tempting here, seeing as the teams scored 47 last time and the Broncos have Wes Welker back, but the Chargers will try to slow the game down with running to keep Peyton Manning off the field, and that dictates a lower scoring game.


But they could fail at this, most likely if the Broncos hit a couple of big plays early, because you can't slow the game down when you're playing catch-up, and that makes this one riskier than it ought to be.