Friday, December 11, 2009

NFL Pick 5 -- Week 14

Wow what a bad game last night in Cleveland, huh? And you can stick a fork in the Pittsburgh Steelers, they are officially done and out of the playoff picture for the 2009 NFL season. They have got to be shaking their heads out in the Steel City, as this team went from 6-2 and comfortably on track to defending last year's superbowl title to 6-7 and out of the postseason picture in mind-numbing fashion, including several losses that just leave the fans shaking their heads in disbelief. But, Pittsburgh's loss was my gain as I nailed this game right, the first time I will head into the weekend already up 1-0 in my picks in a month.

My friends always say it is more gratifying, somehow better almost in a way, to pick underdogs when playing against Vegas. The thinking is that the big name teams, the teams from the big cities, the heavily-bet teams with a national following, those guys are always easy to bet on. You often even have to pay a little extra to get in on those teams, because these are the teams that people all around the country like to bet on, week in and week out. But people still pay it, and there will always be a large following of people to bet on the favorites out there as long as there is betting on football games. But this week, when I went to line up my five top picks, I noticed an itneresting trend -- they were all underdogs. Every last one of my five favorites. Now, I don't normally like to do that, as it leaves me feeling a bit uncomfortable that perhaps I am being overly influenced by some external force or something to pick all dogs like that. So, I moved on to my #6 and #7 favorites for this week. And guess what? I like the dogs in those games too. My top seven picks for the week are all dogs, that's just the way it is. I don't know if it's the oddsmakers trying to snag a few extra points on many of the games after a tough season so far, or maybe it's just the specific matchups leading to some difference of opinion how these games are expected to go. But I already won my first underdog pick of the week in Cleveland +10.5 vs the Steelers on Thursday night, and now I'm coming at you with four more underdogs for Week 14 of the NFL season:

1. Cleveland Browns +10.5 vs. Pittsburgh Steelers. Winnah! I don't recall the Steelers coming out so dead for a game in a long time, and they simply had nothing on offense from start to finish. Congrats to the Brownies for coming out in the sub-zero temperatures with nothing really to fight for and just laying it on the line to eliminate their hated division rivals from the playoff chase.

2. Cincinnati Bengals +6.5 at Minnesota Vikings. This should be a great game and I just think I have to go with the points here of nearly a touchdown in what is a matchup of two of the top five teams in the NFL this season. Yes the Vikings are a great team, but we saw last week in Arizona that a team that can pass the ball well can have success against the Minnesota defense. And we've seen several times this season that teams that play solid defense have also been able to hang close to or even beat the Vikings. And the Bengals have both. Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco have paced the passing offense while Cedric Benson is having a breakout year running for the Bengals, and all this while Cincy has quietly amassed the league's fourth-best team defense in yards allowed, and the top-ranked defense in the NFL in points allowed. Cincy is playing great on both sides of the ball, controlling games with its rushing attack and passing effectively as needed, while holding their opponents to an NFL-low 187 points scored. And when I look at the Vikes' schedule this year, they have beat down on a lot of crappy teams -- Browns by 14, Lions by 14, Rams by 28, Lions by 17, Seattle by 26, Chicago by 26. But if you look at the good teams the Vikings have played so far this year, it's a 7-point win at home over Green Bay, a 2-point win at home over the Ravens, a 10-point loss at Pittsburgh, a 12-point win at Green Bay, and a 13-point loss at Arizona. Throw in a 3-point win at home over the 49ers if you want to call them "good". Now this weekend here comes the literal best team the Vikings have faced all season, they play well to Minnesota's weaknesses, they'll be able to keep that high-powered Vikings offense off the field, and they're getting nearly a touchdown to boot. I'll take Cincy and the points here.

3. Denver Broncos +7 at Indianapolis Colts. Here's another game where I could see the favorite winning but I don't think by more than a touchdown. Denver has really bounced back with two strong wins following its 4-game mid-season slide, and now they travel to Indy to face the 12-0 Colts and Peyton Manning. By now if you read here you certainly know that the Colts have not been playing this season like your typical 12-0 team. Undefeated teams of the past blew their opponents out with regularity, with double-digit wins almost the norm instead of the aberration in most cases. They came out strong, scored on their first two possesions, and by that point they were already so in your head that the game was over before halftime, period. But not these Colts. Before last week's 10-point home win against the Titans, the Colts had won four straight games after trailing at some point in the fourth quarter. Two weeks ago they went down 17-0 at the Texans before ralling for a huge second half and eking out a 35-27 victory. In their last six games -- four of them at home, and including only one opponent likely to make the playoffs this year in the Cheatriots -- the Colts have won by 10, 8, 2, 1, 3 and 4 points, respectively. They're clearly a great team, and like the AFC rival Bengals they are strong on both offense and defense, but giving up a touchdown in this game is just more than I think is warranted here, especially given how few truly good defenses the Colts have even faced so far this season. Denver has a very strong defense, and they have probably the best cornerback tandem in football in Champ Bailey and Andre Goodman. The Broncos also have the NFL's leading sack-man in Elvis Dumervil who has 15 sacks in 12 games. And they have the all-powerful strong running game which is so crucial when playing these Peyton Manning-led passing offenses. I could see Denver winning this game outright, but in any event I do expect the Broncos to keep it close, so I'll take them plus a td on Sunday afternoon.

4. Oakland Raiders +1 vs. the Washington Redskins. Maybe this is just a spite-pick after the Skins failed to knock the Saints from the ranks of the unbeaten last week by finding a truly ridiculous way to lose that game, but try as I might I just can't pass up what I believe to be a superior team, playing its best football of the season, at home, against the Redskins, and getting a point to boot. Remember, my pick of the Skins against the Saints last week was more a bet against the Saints, that they would have the exact kind of let-down game that they did in fact have -- than me thinking the Skins are suddenly the second coming. No, the Redskins still stink, and now runningback Clinton Portis is out for the season, they just had that crushing loss at home against New Orleans last weekend, and I'm predicting a very bad outing for the Skins as they fly across the country to face the Raiders this weekend. And what's more, nobody is really talking much about this yet, but with Bruce Gradkowski in there at quarterback instead of the utterly worthless team-killer known as JaMarcus Russell, the Raiders just aren't that bad of a team. I mean, since Gradkowski took over as the starter three games ago, just look at what he's done: 2-1, with wins over the Bengals and at the Steelers, two of the toughest teams in the league. And in both of those wins, Gradkowski even led his team downfield for a late-game touchdown to win when his team needed it, including leading three touchdown-scoring drives in the fourth quarter at Pittsburgh last weekend. I think Oakland is the better team here, they're playing at home and are clearly coming off their best 3-game stretch of the season, and they welcome in one of the NFL's worst teams after a cross-country trip, having lost the only real star on offense on their team for the season and coming off a demoralizing inexplicable loss against the 12-0 Saints last week. Oh, and Oakland is getting a point here, so you push even if the Skins manage a 1-point victory. I'll take the Raiders and the point.

5. My last underdog pick this week is the Philadelphia Eagles +1 at the New York Giants. If you've followed here this year then you know I haven't been some kind of crazy homer betting on the Eagles every week to cover. Far from it. But in this case, even going on the road against the team's greatest division rivals, I think the Eagles are a good bet to win this game outright. Simply put, the Giants have really been awful this year. They started off 5-0 against the Redskins, Cowboys, Bucanneers, Chiefs and Raiders, but since they've started playing real teams the Giants have gone just 2-5 and are now on the outside of the playoff race, looking in at the Eagles, Cowboys and Packers each one game ahead of them for likely the final two spots in the 2009 NFC post-season. Although the Giants have played noticeably better at home than they have on the road this year, I just can't get out of my head how badly the Giants matched up with the Eagles the last time these two teams met in a 40-17 shellacking by the Eagles in Philly that wasn't even close to that close, and in the end the Giants have shown me nothing to lead me to believe that they have closed the gap since then. Even in the only two wins the Giants have recorded since Week 5 this year, they pretty much got outplayed in both of them. Against the Falcons in Week 11 the Giants had a lead but gave it all away as they absolutely could not stop Atlanta from driving up and down the field at will, and even in last week's win vs. the Cowboys, the Giants still managed to win but they got statistically crushed, with Dallas making 27 first downs to the Giants' 15, Dallas out-passing the Giants 379-237, and the Cowboys possessing the ball for 39 minutes to the Giants' 21. So the Giants still have yet to get their groove back since falling apart in Week 6, they haven't held any team under 21 points in their last four home games, and the Eagles come in hot hot hot, 4-2 on the road this season and ridiing a season-long three-game winning streak. Plus the Eagles get a point in this matchup so again they push if the Giants pull one out 28-27 or something like that.

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