This is a week in which only one game - Monday night's between the Texans and Patriots (which, by the way, I'll be presenting, along with Mark Chapman, on the BBC Red Button) - matches up teams with winning records. Even so it's not a straightforward week to pick, though as you might expect there are only three home dogs.
It's also the week of calm before the storm, as in the next three weeks a number of games will pit divisional foes against each other, the NFC East and AFC North being three-way horse races right now, and the NFC North and NFC West both having the potential to get interesting. Note too that New England, Denver, and Atlanta have all clinched their divisions, and Houston have clinched a play-off spot and would clinch their division with another win; we don't usually start factoring issues of resting players in until week 17, but if you are, say, the Pats, with an injured Rob Gronkowski wanting to come back right away, you will be tempted to give him more time to recuperate before the play-offs. The same might apply to issues like the Seahawks', whose starting corners are facing four-game suspensions for using performance-enchancing drugs. They're in a race for the play-offs, but with four games left, might it better for those guys to sit now and come back for the post-season?
Sure thing: Jaguars (+2.5) v Jets at 1.95
Unless you believe that Rex Ryan's benching of Mark Sanchez last week was the energiser that will convert the Jest (not a typo) into an offensive powerhouse, it ought to be within Chad Henne and the Jags' abilities to keep the game close, even though their own running attack is falling apart. I'm looking at a close, low-scoring game, which I think the Jags can win, although the prospect of a half-empty stadium whose fans are wearing paper bags over their heads might make the Jest feel right at home. Though the verbal abuse is nowhere near as intense in Jacksonville.
Value bet: Under 53 points in Giants v Saints at 1.90
This is the first time I've suggested an over/under bet, but it's a hunch that might be worth playing, especially if the weather isn't particularly good at Giants Stadium. Watch the forecast in Buffalo too, where bad weather might make an under on 42 points interesting, and a Rams (+3) win more likely.
Underdog: Steelers v Chargers (+9.5) at 1.75
It isn't that I think the Chargers are going to win; they've never won in Pittsburgh and with the current situation (stories out of San Diego say both coach Norv Turner and GM A.J. Smith will be fired when the season ends) they don't seem more likely to make that happen. But the Steelers, even with Ben Roethlisberger back, are not likely to run up a big score, and it's not impossible that the Chargers might contrive to make it interesting up until the final quarter.
One to avoid: Cincinnati v Dallas (+3)
The Cowboys put it together in the second half against the Eagles, but remember that was the Eagles, with a rookie QB and without Shady McCoy. If Bryce Brown can shed the Cowboys, BenJarvus Green-Ellis ought to be able to gain significant yardage (he doesn't bounce things outside the way Brown did, but he doesn't fumble much either) and AJ Green gives the Bengals a big play threat that the Eagles seem to lack. Even better, the Bengals' D is playing very well behind former Cowboys coordinator Mike Zimmer, and Geno Atkins, who right now may be the best defensive tackle in the league, faces an O line that has just lost another starting guard. You might think the longish odds (2.40) on the Cowboys straight-up look tempting for a small wager, but...