Atlanta (-3) over OAKLAND: Oakland has its hands full in this game, which is a testament to the Atlanta brass for bringing the franchise along so quickly. The Falcons lost by 13 to Philadelphia last weekend, but don't be fooled; Atlanta was in that game late, and Philly is a contender. Against Oakland, the Falcons should be able to run the ball: Oakland's run defense is 26th in the league, and Atlanta's ground game, behind Michael Turner, is fourth best. The only thing Oakland does with a relative amount of success is run the ball, but, inexplicably, it rushed only 19 times against Baltimore last weekend. Calling upon JaMarcus Russell to beat the Ravens defense - or any defense - with his arm is not exactly stellar planning. He may have a better chance against Atlanta, but it won't be enough.
MINNESOTA (-4) over Houston: Two weeks ago, in a 48-41 loss to the Bears, Vikings quarterback Gus Frerotte was asked to make too many plays as Minnesota played from behind throughout the game. Circumstances caught up to Frerotte, who was intercepted four times. He won't be under as much pressure against Houston, which allows 26.4 points per game and is not impressive at stopping the run or pass. Houston is rolling, and the Matt Schaub-Andre Johnson connection is the league's most lethal at the moment. But the Vikings are at home, coming off a bye week, and a good bet to prevent Houston from winning its fourth in a row.
BUFFALO (-5) over NY Jets: The Jets are 0-2 against the spread as an underdog, and I'm expecting this trend to continue. The bad news for the Bills is that they tend to implode. Here are the results of Buffalo's fourth-quarter possessions against Miami last weekend: interception, lost fumble, safety, lost fumble, lost fumble after a muffed punt. That's terrible, and hard to duplicate. I'm not going to bet on Buffalo melting down so badly two weekends in a row, particularly in such an important division game. I'm thinking a close contest will turn in the fourth quarter on an interception or two from Brett Favre.
Philadelphia (-7) over SEATTLE: Philadelphia is 5-2 against the spread and a solid 4-2 as a favorite. With Brian Westbrook (right) back producing like an All-Pro, the positive karma Seattle likely generated when it destroyed the reeling 49ers is going to be short-lived. The Seahawks can't stop Westbrook, and they can't hope to contain him, either. The Eagles are balanced; They have a strong offense (27.7 points per game) and a stingy defense. Injuries and a two-week skid against Chicago and Washington got them off track, but two wins in a row have put Philadelphia back into the mix in the brutal NFC East. This is the type of game the Eagles must win, considering how difficult the sledding is in that division.
Miami (+3) over DENVER: Denver's bye week came at the right time. New England humiliated the Broncos on "Monday Night Football," and they needed the extra time to nurse several injuries. Quarterback Jay Cutler is back at practice this week, and the Broncos need a win to maintain control over San Diego in the AFC West. That is easier said than done. The Dolphins are a joke no more, and Chad Pennington is playing terrific football. Interestingly, Denver is just 1-5-1 against the spread, 1-4-1 when favored, and 0-3-1 against the spread at home. What happened to the Mile High advantage?
INDIANAPOLIS (-5) over New England: It's a nice story that the Patriots have regrouped to post a 5-2 record, but how good are they? Good enough to hang in and compete, certainly. Good enough to compete for a championship? I think it's too much to expect from this group. The Colts, though, are good enough to compete for a championship and are about to start putting things together. Somehow, it was not a big storyline in New England when Steven Jackson was forced to miss last weekend's game for St. Louis due to an injury. Would everyone feel as good about the Patriots if he had played?
The rest: KANSAS CITY (+8) isn't good enough to win close games, but it can hang in at home against an offensively challenged Tampa Bay squad ... CINCINNATI comes gift-wrapped for a Jacksonville (-7) squad that needs a win to keep pace in its crowded division ... Baltimore is tough, but even its powerhouse defense is prone to slip-ups. CLEVELAND (- 1) will take advantage ... Arizona (-3) will ultimately put away ST. LOUIS because the Cardinals are too talented and relentless offensively ... If Detroit has a pulse, we're not likely to see it on the road against CHICAGO (-12) ... Green Bay (+5) catches TENNESSEE on a short week and coming off an emotional Monday night game ... Dallas has given us no reason to think that they are in the same class as the GIANTS (-8) ... Pittsburgh (+2) can do what many teams cannot: shut down Clinton Portis. WASHINGTON will turn to Jason Campbell to make plays, and the results won't be pretty.
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This week's OT cover
OT beat writersMaureen Mullen brings you Red Sox information and insights.
Tom Wilcox covers the Patriots.
Scott Souza is all over the Celtics.
Danny Picard is on the ice with the Bruins.
Mike McDonald takes a look at the humorous side of Boston sports