Tuesday, December 7, 2010

UPDATE: With Matt Cassel 50/50 to play this week the KC/SD game has been taken off the board.  While Croyle isn't a massive downgrade at QB, it does add a different flavor to this game.  I already thought that KC was undervalued at +7 so we'll see what happens to the line when more is known on Friday.

Early picks for week 14.  Check here for the latest odds. 

Atlanta Falcons vs Carolina Panthers: ATL -7
Last week ATL almost hit the skids when they were trailing their division rivals late in the 4th quarter.  However, Matt Ryan has been Tom Brady-esque this season if he gets the ball with over 2 minutes remaining on the clock.  I hear a lot of people debate who the best team in the NFC is right now, but it's hard to argue with ATL especially if they win home field advantage throughout the playoffs.  The mark of a great team is consistently and there are a lot of things this team does well week in and week out. 

ATL rank near the top in so many important statistical categories it isn't even funny.  Points from long drives, third down/red zone offense, average completed plays per game, running the ball, sacks given up, and penalties taken are among them.  When you do these things every game there is no mystery to their success.  It has also translated into an 8-4 record against the spread this year. 

Meanwhile, on the other side of the ball we have one of the worst teams in professional football.  This is why ATL is favored by a full touchdown on the road against a division rival.  Usually this formula would be enough to take CAR, but it doesn't seem to matter what the spread is or who their opponent is, CAR have not been covering in 2010.  They are a league worst 3-9 against the spread and it's not hard to figure out the reasons.  They have the least amount of points from sustained drives, a dazed and confused rookie QB, bad turnover differential, and horrific red zone/third down offense production.  Even a 14 point lead in Seattle wasn't enough for them to cover in week 13.  Either this team has quit or they are really this bad.  I happen to think it's the latter.  Their play has improved a bit over recent weeks, but it hasn't been enough to make a difference on the scoreboard.  I will continue to fade CAR and ride ATL until I have reason to do otherwise.  Prediction: Bank ATL -7.  

New York Giants vs Minnesota Vikings: NYG -2.5
When a game gets put on the board at -2.5 and it doesn't move to -3 within the first few hours it usually tells you what the sharps think of it. Having said that, I'm never worried what they do when I'm making my picks.  I'm jumping on this line as I believe this is a great matchup for NY.  Let's break it down and take a closer look.

First of all, we have the QB and coaching situation for the Vikings.  Frankly, I'm not really concerned if MIN are playing inspired football or not.  If I was a MIN fan, I'd be more concerned about how to they are going to sustain drives and put up points.  NY match up pretty well against the run so I'm not expecting Peterson to have a lights out day.  What I'll be looking for on Sunday is how badly NY beat up on whoever starts under center.  It's not going to matter much who is at QB for MIN because their offensive line isn't doing a good enough job in protection and NY have a significant advantage defending the pass.  Favre is going to get beat up and battered if he decides to keep his streak alive and Jackson could become a turnover machine if he gets the start.  Fans might be excited about his performance against BUF, but let's get real.  Jackson is not the QB of the future in this city.  The coaching change has resulted in less penalties in the last couple weeks, but this isn't a ship that is going to get completely turned around in the middle of the season.  They are still too inconsistent as a team to pull out a win this Sunday.   NY are much better in the key categories of points from long drives and completed plays per game.  They do a great job protecting Eli and rank in the upper half of the league in turnover differential.  In fact, there isn't really any one area that NY is deficient in.  I'm going with the road team in this one.  Prediction: Bank NYG -2.5.

Kansas City Chiefs vs San Diego Chargers: KC +7
This is perhaps one of the most interesting matchups of the week.  I have been a big believer in SD all year despite their early problems on special teams, but that came to a crashing halt last week against OAK.  I still can't explain why they got completely dominated because they owned so many advantages across the board. The only logical explanation was that they were feeling a little too good about themselves after dismantling IND in prime time.  Yet, this doesn't excuse a flat performance when the division title is still up for grabs.  This week motivation should not be a problem for SD as this will be their last chance to stay in the hunt as the division leaders come to town.  They should be able to drive down the field with the passing game and put up points in this one and they are at home.  

So why would do I like KC to cover?  The easy answer is that KC's record this year is not a mirage.  I began to ride them early in the year and it's paid off in a big way.  They have a winning record against the spread and they have covered a countless number of teasers for me this season.  They are the league's leading rushing team and do a great job once they get inside the end zone (last week notwithstanding).  KC usually dominate time of possession as a result and don't make too many mistakes.  They have been winning the turnover the battle in most games and have a good overall coaching staff.  I say overall because sometimes they make maddening decisions at key points in the game, but they play well enough to overcome this most of the time.  Home field advantage is usually worth more in December, but I don't expect KC to be phased by that because they are a division foe. Don't expect Dwayne Bowe to be shutout again this week and the return of Dexter McCluster is an underrated boost to this team.  KC lead the AFC West because they deserve to and I wouldn't be surprised if they win this one outright.  However, I'm happy to take the points in what should be a hard-fought battle.  Prediction: Bank KC +7.