Money made on
knowing underdogs

Nov 28, 2006 6:26 AM

In the coming weeks, NFL teams will become resigned to their fates and look towards next season, playing younger personnel and creating opportunities for handicappers.

Often there will be blowouts, so it’s up to the handicappers to identify those teams and situations before the linesmaker can make enough of an adjustment to keep sharp players off those sides.

There is a huge difference in playing live versus dead dogs.

In September virtually all underdogs are live. As the losses mount, the level of enthusiasm and intensity declines. Once a team realizes the playoffs are out of reach, a tailspin often occurs.

Indianapolis controls its own fate in the AFC with a 10-1 record. At 9-2 are Baltimore and San Diego, with the Ravens holding the tie breaker edge. New England, at 8-3, leads its division and would currently be seeded fourth.

Chicago has the NFC’s top seed at 9-2, two games better than both Dallas and New Orleans. Seattle could be 7-4 if able to beat Green Bay this past Monday night.

AFC teams are now 32-20 straight up against the NFC and 31-20-1 against the pointspread. The Super Bowl line, which had been as low as AFC -3 (while Chicago was unbeaten) is now back up -4 and, in some locales, -4½. That line is likely to keep rising.

Here’s a look at this week’s slate of games.

THURSDAY

Ravens +3 at Bengals (43½): Both teams are playing their best football. Baltimore won the first meeting 26-20, but Cincy was able to rush for over four yards per carry on the outstanding Ravens defense. The Bengals have since rediscovered their passing game with QB Carson Palmer not as tentative. The receivers are making plays and the defense has forced turnovers. The short week works to the advantage of the host. BENGALS.

SUNDAY

Vikings +9½ at Bears (35½): In the earlier meeting, the Bears came from behind for a 19-16 win at Minnesota. The elements will clearly favor Chicago, who continue to have the league’s top rated overall defense. The Vikings lead the league in defending the run. The Bears are starting to have concerns about QB Rex Grossman following some recent poor efforts. UNDER.

Bucs +8½ at Steelers (41): Neither is likely to return to the playoffs. Tampa Bay ranks 29 in both rushing and passing offense. Pittsburgh has had to contend with both injuries and a significant turnover in personnel from last season’s Super Bowl team. The loss of key defender Troy Polamalu allows the Bucs to have some success keeping this streak alive. OVER.

Cards +6½ at Rams (44): Against the Vikings, Arizona ran just 6 times, compared to 51 pass attempts. The ground game has been virtually invisible, despite the addition of Edgerrin James. Arizona is last in the NFL with 70 yards per game on the ground. St. Louis currently has the league’s worst rushing defense, allowing 155 yards. Each offense is facing a weaker defense this week. OVER.

Colts -7 at Titans (47½): Indianapolis bounced back nicely from its first loss of the season with a convincing win at home over banged up Philadelphia. Tennessee has played well over the past month and a half, winning 4-of-6. Earlier this season they lost at Indianapolis 14-13, throwing a scare into the Colts. However, the Colts had won the previous four meetings by at least 14 points. COLTS.

Jags +2 at Dolphins (36½): The Jags road problems continued last week in Buffalo, failing for the third time to win straight up when favored. Miami has renewed vigor following a four game winning streak that has given them some faint Wild Card hopes. The defense continues to rank in the top 5, while the offense is better than has been perceived. Both teams have tough divisional foes at home next week. It’s best to ride the hot team when playing at home and laying a FG or less. DOLPHINS.

Niners +7 at Saints (45): QB Drew Brees has transformed the Saints from a team expected to finish last in the highly competitive NFC South to a team that has already reached its season win total with five games left. San Francisco is much improved on both sides of the ball with RB Frank Gore on the verge of joining the club of elite running backs. OVER.

Falcons +1½ at Redskins (38½): After starting 5-2 Atlanta has dropped four in a row. However, the Falcons are averaging a league best 198 rushing yards. QB Michael Vick has been a major part of those stats but his passing ability remains a concern. Washington did little on offense to defeat Carolina last week, but the defense played one of its best games. Atlanta has the better overall talent and more favorable matchups. FALCONS.

Chiefs -5 at Browns (37): Cleveland never recovered from blowing that late lead against Pittsburgh and was thus shut out at home last week by Cincinnati. The Browns poor scheduling situation is somewhat offset by that of Kansas City. The Chiefs are off of a pair of home wins over division rivals Oakland and Denver so this might ordinarily be a spot for a letdown. UNDER.

Lions +13 at Patriots (42): The Patriots are outgaining foes by an average of 60 yards per game. Detroit’s defense is being outgained by 31 yards per game. About Detroit’s only edge is the extra few days of rest. The Pats were challenged by Chicago in last week’s 17-13 win but defeated NFC North foes Minnesota 31-7 and Green Bay 35-0. Both the Packers and Vikings are better than the Lions. PATRIOTS.

Chargers -5½ at Bills (43): Although struggled against Oakland, the Chargers have an offense and defense that each rank in the top 10. Shawne Merriman returns this week which should provide a boost against a Buffalo offense that has started to discover the big play. The Bills have won two in a row and 3-of-4. This is a tough scheduling spot for the Chargers, off a pair of AFC West games with another pair on deck. Weather conditions in Buffalo a big factor. BILLS.

Jets (NL) at Packers: The Jets rank 27 on offense and 29 in defense, but they have a knack for staying in games and not getting blown out. Other than a 41-0 loss at Jacksonville, the Jets other four losses have been by 10 or less. Neither team rushes the ball especially well, but Green Bay does have the better rush defense by a significant margin. PACKERS

Dallas -3½ at Giants (43½): There are hardly words to describe what happened to the Giants last week in blowing a 21-0 fourth quarter lead at Tennessee. There is plenty of finger pointing and blame to go around. This game will clearly define the rest of their season. Dallas is playing some of the best football in the entire league. The switch at QB to Tony Romo has been an upgrade and the defense has played very well. If Giants QB Eli Manning can regain his confidence and composure the G-men can tally points. GIANTS.

Texans +3 at Raiders (37): Houston is an improving team that will often take two steps ahead and one back. The defense has been fairly consistent, yielding over 325 yards just once in the last six games. Oakland’s offense has been inept all season, but the defense is ninth in the NFL allowing just 290 per game. Expect both defenses to outplay the offenses. UNDER.

Seahawks +4 at Broncos (39): Seattle is off of Monday night’s home game against Green Bay in which both QB Matt Hasselbeck and RB Shaun Alexander reunited in the backfield following their injuries. Denver is expected to make a QB change with rookie Jay Cutler replacing veteran Jake Plummer. This line is artificially low for a team that has historically had one of the strongest home fields in football. BRONCOS.

MONDAY

Panthers -3 at Eagles (37): Since QB Donovan McNabb was lost to season ending injury, the Birds have been blasted by both Tennessee and Indianapolis. Now there are QB questions as to start Jeff Garcia or A.J. Feeley. Still, Carolina is not trustworthy as a road favorite. Both teams are well coached and the best course may be taking the lesser of two evils (home dog vs. unreliable fave). EAGLES.