How bad is unlucky week 13 in the NFL? We have two games (Cleveland at Oakland and Pittsburg at Baltimore) with no line at all, and six home dogs as well. Given all the other difficulties the parity of the NFL presents, you'd expect devotion to splitting hairs on all rule issues, but the review or not doesn't seem to make much difference, as we saw in the Ravens-Chargers last week: Ray Rice's apparent conversion of a 4th and 29 situation in the game's last minute and a half was upheld on review, even though the review showed clearly that he could not have made it!
Throw in the almost de rigeur antics of Lions' coach Jim Schwartz and his leading miscreant, Ndamakong Suh, who did to Matt Schaub's lunchbox what Eric Cantona tried to do to a fan, as well as the permanent sideshow that is the New York Jets (aka Jest), and you sometimes feel like you'd be better off wagering on whether or not Fireman Ed dares show up for a Jets home game again, and whether he survives if he does. This week most of my bets appear to be against teams, rather than for them, and I feel about as comfortable with that as I would if I were the guy who hoisted Fireman Ed on his shoulders. Now that Ed's retired, I guess that guy has to leave showbiz too.
Sure thing: Chicago v Seattle (+3.5) at 1.85
Calling anything a sure thing this week is tough, but I like Seattle at Chicago, figuring the Seahawks ought to be able to hold it close against the Bears on the road, especially if rookie QB Russell Wilson can continue to avoid turnovers, and rookie pass-rusher Bruce Irvin doesn't drown in his own saliva looking at the mess that is the Bears' O line. The difference between the Bears with Jay Cutler and without was enough for me to pick them straight up, but I think it will be a close-run thing in a cold and windy Soldier Field. I also like Buffalo (-6) against Jacksonville, but every time I type the words 'like' and 'Buffalo' next to each other my computer's alarm goes off.
Underdog: Denver v Tampa (+8) at 1.77
The only reason I look to a small wager here is that teams have a habit of running out of gas in the fourth quarter at Mile High Stadium, whose name takes on new meaning now that Coloradans voted to legalise pot. At sea level - or below it, as it sometimes seems in Tampa - I'd like this one to be a one TD game. You might try Kansas City (+3) vs Carolina; the Chiefs are home dogs for a reason, but they allowed Denver only 17 points last week, and the Panther defense may be hard-pressed to hold them to 9. What is it about ex-Patriot assistants transplanted out of Foxborough?
Value bet: Green Bay v Minnesota (+9.5) at 1.77
This is a case of the Packers having any number of weaknesses, mostly due to injury, which the Vikes might be able to exploit, whether deliberately or not. The Giants last week offered the Vikings a template for how to keep the Packers' offense under wraps, and although the Vikes don't have a lot of big play potential in their passing game, they do have Adrian Peterson, who can likely run the ball efficiently against Green Bay, and keep the game close. At least within 10.