Arizona (+7) over Pittsburgh: They are best known as NFL laughingstocks and they were humiliated by your New England Patriots just before the playoffs began, but the smart money will be on the Arizona Cardinals to cover the seven points against Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLIII. Pay no attention to the notion that the Cardinals are frauds because they lost seven ballgames during the regular season and/or because they allegedly quit while playing the Pats. Any questions about Arizona were answered during the last three games as the Cardinals rolled Atlanta, Carolina, and Philadelphia.
Known for its offense, Arizona has three 1,000-yard receivers and the prolific Kurt Warner chucking the ball. But a closer look at Warner’s stats, particularly in the playoffs, reveals that he’s not just standing in the pocket slinging; he’s become an efficient passer. In the three postseason games, he’s completed 61-of-92 throws for 770 yards (256 per game) and eight touchdowns. Against Philadelphia, Warner threw 29 times, and 22 of those throws were passes that traveled less than 10 yards. The Steelers have great rushing linebackers, led by James Harrison, but if Warner can continue to connect on short, quick throws, Pittsburgh’s rush will be neutralized and it will be in trouble.FULL ENTRY
Philadelphia (-3) over ARIZONA: I’ve resisted backing Philadelphia, but not this week. The Eagles are hot and have essentially won three playoff games in a row if you count the regular-season finale against Dallas, which was a winner-take-all contest. What should sway you toward the Eagles is their pass rush, and their ability to defend the pass in general. They’ve harassed Tony Romo, Tarvaris Jackson, and Eli Manning into submission, and now it is Kurt Warner’s turn. Warner has been solid during two playoff games, with four touchdowns, two interceptions, and 492 passing yards. But last weekend the Cardinals benefited from one of the most spectacular implosions in NFL history, courtesy of five interceptions and a fumble by Carolina’s Jake Delhomme. Though Donovan McNabb (right) can be wild, I don’t envision him turning it over six times against Arizona’s defense, which finished the season 22nd against the pass and 28th in points allowed (26.6). Philadelphia’s offense hasn’t been explosive in the playoffs, but the Eagles have been exceptional on third down and have moved the ball on two good defenses; they have seven field goals, three offensive touchdowns, and one defensive touchdown (and one of those offensive touchdowns, against the Giants, followed an interception returned to the goal line). What this means is that a) Philly’s kicker, David Akers, has been tremendous, and b) Arizona will have to keep McNabb off the field by running the ball, which it has done with surprising success during the first two rounds. That’s unlikely, though — Philly has allowed just 92.1 rushing yards per game. Laying points on the road during the playoffs is risky, but in this case, necessary.
TENNESSEE (-3) over Baltimore: The Titans were hardly inspiring down the stretch, going 3-3 after winning their first 10 games. But one of their late-season wins — during Week 16 — was an impressive 31-14 pounding of Pittsburgh that locked up home field throughout the playoffs. Enter Baltimore, a scary club that worked over Miami last weekend in the wild-card round. Baltimore seemingly has it all: decent special teams, a special defense, and a steady offense led by a punishing ground game. But I must be missing something, because in the fourth quarter against Miami, I felt as though the Dolphins — despite five horrendous turnovers — had a chance to win the game. As unspectacular as Kerry Collins is, I don’t see him throwing four interceptions, as Chad Pennington did, but I can see Collins and the Titans moving the ball with some success against Baltimore as long as they don’t throw directly to Ravens safety Ed Reed. The Titans’ defense is just as formidable as Baltimore’s and is expecting lineman Albert Haynesworth back. Both teams have impressive marks against the number, so lay the points with the home team.
San Diego (+6) over PITTSBURGH: Pittsburgh is just OK passing the ball, and less than OK running the ball. What’s much better than OK is the Steelers’ defense, ranked first or second in every major category. San Diego, a club reliant on its high-scoring offense — 27.4 points per game, good for second in the league — surely realizes what it’s up against, and being up against it on the road in the playoffs is no bargain. But San Diego has been in this position before, and though not successful, it is experienced. The Chargers are walking with a swagger after upsetting the Colts, and I sense another upset — getting points is just a bonus. San Diego back LaDainian Tomlinson has an injured groin and may not play, but the Chargers have proven they can run the ball without him. Quarterback Philip Rivers has two great targets in Antonio Gates and Chris Chambers, and San Diego can move the chains quickly. Pittsburgh will try to establish the run against the Chargers. When that doesn’t work, expect the Steelers to be playing from behind, never to get over the hump.FULL ENTRY
Indianapolis (-1) over SAN DIEGO: San Diego wound up the season with four wins — none against a playoff team — to finish at 8-8 and, because of Denver’s incompetence, capture the AFC West. Congrats! San Diego does its share of scoring but is also prone to giving up big chunks of yards through the air. It allows the second-most passing yards in the NFL (247 yards per game), which sounds like bad news against a team quarterbacked by Peyton Manning. Manning has not had his best year, but he can still sling it. After beginning the season 3-4, the Colts finished with nine straight victories, including a macho win at Pittsburgh. A key for Indianapolis is running back Joseph Addai, a difference-maker if he’s on, who has been babied since he returned from a shoulder injury. The Colts can’t rely on backup runner Dominic Rhodes to carry them through the playoffs. Perhaps San Diego is for real, but I’ve yet to be convinced, and something about a Norv Turner-coached team in the playoffs has me leaning in the opposite direction.
Baltimore (-3) over MIAMI: Both squads deserved trips to the postseason, but this is the end of the line for the Dolphins. Watching them try to score on Baltimore, no matter how much of their offense is run out of the wildcat, is going to be painful. And if it hurts to watch, imagine being Chad Pennington, Ricky Williams, and Ronnie Brown. Hopefully there’s plenty of ice in the tub. Baltimore’s defense is no joke, and I’ll lay the points on the road against an offense that has been efficient and opportunistic, yet underwhelming. Miami barely scrapes out 21 points per game and is a good-not-great 5-3 at home. The Dolphins have taken care of the ball — Pennington threw just seven interceptions — and their plus-17 turnover ratio is impressive (Baltimore’s is plus-13). The difference in this game will be Baltimore’s underrated ground attack, ranked fourth in the NFL at 148 yards per game. Yes, Miami has won five in a row to close the season, but those five wins were by an average of five points. I’m much more impressed by another number — Baltimore’s 12-4 mark against the spread.FULL ENTRY
PITTSBURGH (-10) over Cleveland: If this line were 20, I would lay the 20. Pittsburgh is in the postseason and finally succumbed to its brutal late-season schedule in a loss last week at Tennessee, but this week's "opponent" is the Browns. There are teams that tank, and then there is Cleveland. One of the more disappointing seasons in recent memory is about to wrap up, and the Browns are counting the days. A sure sign they are inept and no longer care: They have one touchdown in the last five weeks. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, has less to play for after getting manhandled by the Titans. No longer a contender for the AFC's top seed, the Steelers are still a lock as the No. 2 seed, so they have a bye and two weeks to rest. Sure, expect Byron Leftwich to be under center for the Steelers either at the beginning of the game or shortly after it starts, but no matter. The Browns are countering with Ken Dorsey and a great deal of motivation to not necessarily win, but just finish.
SAN DIEGO (-8) over Denver: Denver should be ashamed. It had San Diego buried three weeks ago. At that point the Broncos had won two in a row and were 8-5, and the Chargers were 5-8. Now, after Denver losses at Carolina and at home against Buffalo, the Broncos and Chargers -- winners of three straight -- are in a winner-take-all scenario. Both teams can put points on the board in a hurry, and neither squad is adept at stopping opponents from doing the same: Denver is 27th in the league against the pass, and the Chargers are even worse at 31st. The Chargers are the hot team and are playing well, which counts for a lot at this time of the year. Denver is probably a lock to put up at least 24 points against San Diego, but that's not going to be enough against Philip Rivers (above) and Co. Everyone is going to be taking points in this one; make the smart move and lay them.
ATLANTA (-15) over St. Louis: Much is at stake for Atlanta. The Falcons have locked up a playoff berth but can still earn a first-round bye with a win and a Carolina loss. Atlanta has been relatively healthy all season and has little motivation to rest its young squad. Just over two touchdowns is a lot of points to give, but we're talking about St. Louis, which is only 5-10 against the number this season and has little reason to put up much of a fight in the last game of the season, on the road, against a playoff contender. Some clubs that are out of it are dangerous late in the season, but the Rams don't fall into that category. They average a putrid 13.7 points per game and allow 28.9 per game -- both averages good for second-worst in the NFL. Look for big days from Atlanta backs Jerious Norwood and Michael Turner, because St. Louis cannot stop the run.FULL ENTRY
Indianapolis (-6) over JACKSONVILLE: In September, when NFL games that no one remembers were played, the Colts fell to Jacksonville on a last-second field goal. The lead changed hands three times in the final 2:36, and the Jags ran all over Indy: Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor combined for 45 rushes and 228 yards. Peyton Manning was picked off twice, and the Colts limped through the game. These days, the Colts have a pulse, and Jacksonville pretends to have the same. This line would be bigger if the Colts hadn't allowed Detroit to hang around last weekend, and if the Jags hadn't faced a team with less heart than themselves (Green Bay). Colts running back Joseph Addai (above) sat out against Detroit and is expected back against the Jaguars. Addai is a difference maker and will allow Indy to control the ball against a suspect Jaguars defense. Lay the points.
DALLAS (-5) over Baltimore: If the Cowboys make the playoffs as a wild-card entry out of the NFC East, they will have earned it and will be one of the most dangerous teams in the postseason. Pittsburgh, the Giants, Baltimore, and Philadelphia are the Cowboys' last four opponents of the season, and so far Dallas is 1-1 in those games. If not for an implosion in the last six minutes against Pittsburgh, the Cowboys would be sitting pretty for the postseason. Dallas' defense was impressive against the Giants last weekend and is physical enough to make things difficult for Baltimore and its steady rookie QB, Joe Flacco. Taking on Baltimore's defense has been compared to making a trip to the dentist's office, and trying to bring down Marion Barber -- who returned against the Giants and should be at full strength against the Ravens -- is likely the same type of experience. Dallas is hungry. And talented.
TENNESSEE (-1) over Pittsburgh: The Steelers are in the midst of a brutal portion of their schedule and in the last three games have quietly gone 3-0. At New England -- a dominant victory. Home against Dallas -- an exhausting win secured in the final few minutes. At Baltimore -- a bruising victory. Now the Steelers travel to face the Titans, who unexpectedly lost at Houston last weekend in a low-scoring affair. But other than Pittsburgh, no one may be playing better football right now than the Texans. Expect a low-scoring slugfest.FULL ENTRY
Green Bay (-2) over JACKSONVILLE: It's become accepted that the Jaguars have folded, and the numbers help prove this premise: They've lost six of seven and are only 3-10 against the number. Hard to believe this group was a playoff team just one year ago (Jacksonville gave New England a tough postseason game in Foxborough), but things have shifted the wrong way. The Jaguars have lost their last four contests by an average of 13.5 points and are unspectacular on both sides of the ball, ranking 24th in total offense and 20th in total defense. Green Bay, also a playoff team last season, has no chance at the postseason after last Sunday's devastating home loss to Houston. The Packers stand at only 5-8, but I haven't read any reports about their "poor team chemistry," which is all you hear out of Jacksonville. A .500 record is still an attainable goal for Green Bay, and laying two points, even on the road, is the smart play here.
INDIANAPOLIS (-16) over Detroit: The Colts are in the middle of a nifty two-game homestand against league doormats Cincinnati and Detroit. A nice way to right any wrongs and solidify your playoff credentials, don't you think? Indy blasted the Bengals last weekend by 32, and Detroit, on the road, should not entertain any hopes of covering this massive number, never mind getting its first win. In fact, with the Lions 0-13 and games against the Colts, New Orleans, and Green Bay remaining, one has to wonder if that first win is ever going to come. Last Sunday at home against Minnesota was probably Detroit's best chance, but it coughed up a lead and fell by four. The Colts' offense is beginning to resemble what you'd expect from a Peyton Manning-led group, and the Lions have the league's worst defense (32 ppg). A 37-10 final makes sense here.
NY JETS (-7) over Buffalo: A few weeks ago, the Jets finished a five-game win streak by decking previously unbeaten Tennessee by 21. Then came a home loss to Denver, followed by last Sunday's 10-point defeat at San Francisco. Instead of being in the AFC East's top spot, New York is tied for first with New England and Miami. Buffalo, at 6-7, rests in that division's basement, and its playoff hopes have vanished. The Bills represent a nice matchup for the Jets; New York is weak against the pass, but the Bills' passing game is not NFL caliber. Backup J.P. Losman (above) is at the controls, and he completed just 13 passes last weekend against Miami. Sadly for the Bills, Losman was also their leading rusher. The Jets' stellar run defense can neutralize Buffalo on the ground and force it to make big plays through the air, something that is not going to happen. Assume the Jets have awakened from their two-week slumber when you lay nearly a touchdown in New Jersey.FULL ENTRY
Oakland (+10) over SAN DIEGO: Somehow, San Diego remains in contention for a playoff spot despite its 4-8 record. Such is life in the AFC West, and this divisional matchup is about as interesting as last week's Oakland-Kansas City tilt -- another AFC West gem. The Chargers are soft; they give up a ton of yards (367 per game, fifth worst in the league) and tend to make mistakes when the heat gets turned up. Oakland is no bargain either. The Raiders have a below-average quarterback, JaMarcus Russell, and a strange defense: They have the league's worst pass defense, but a steady (123 yards per game) run defense. The bottom line here is that San Diego has done nothing to prove it should be a 10-point favorite over anyone, even at home against one of the NFL's laughingstocks.
INDIANAPOLIS (-13) over Cincinnati: Anyone who laid five points on the Colts last weekend against the Browns had to walk away wondering why they gamble. Reggie Wayne drops a sure touchdown in the end zone on one drive. On another, the Colts go for it on fourth and goal from the one and Peyton Manning fumbles. It's not like the Colts to leave points on the board, and they're here because it's not likely to occur two weeks in a row. There's not much to say about the Bengals beyond the fact that they are rarely competitive.
BALTIMORE (-6) over Washington: There's reason for excitement in Baltimore, and the future may be now. Who wants to face this team in the playoffs? The Raven defense allows just 15.8 points per game, and rookie quarterback Joe Flacco (above) is being allowed more responsibility as the season chugs along. In his first six games, with Baltimore going 3-3, Flacco averaged 179 yards passing and had two touchdown passes and eight interceptions. In his last six games, with the Ravens going 5-1, Flacco has averaged 200 yards passing and thrown 10 touchdowns and two interceptions. Washington is rugged but banged up; Clinton Portis' workload appears to be catching up with him. The Skins need a win, but aren't likely to get that or a cover. Lay the points.FULL ENTRY
Tennessee (-11) over DETROIT: Detroit's stranglehold on one of the Thanksgiving Day spots should be revoked -- year after year, we are all hostages, forced to watch the Lions with no alternatives! This year's opponent is Tennessee, and the Titans -- fresh off their first loss of the season -- have every reason to come out firing against winless Detroit. The Lions did show signs of life last weekend against Tampa, racing out to a surprising 17-0 lead before being outscored, 38-3, the rest of the way. They did not allow an offensive touchdown in the second half but were burned by a punt return for a touchdown and an interception for a touchdown. And that's the point -- the Lions find a way to lose. Kevin Smith, their stellar rookie back, will have a tough day against the Titans, and Detroit QB Daunte Culpepper doesn't have a chance, either. Lay the points and pass the cranberry sauce.
DALLAS (-12) over Seattle: Another dreadful Thanksgiving matchup. Dallas should be embarrassed not to win, never mind cover the number. The Tony Romo-to-Terrell Owens (above) connection was in midseason form last weekend against San Francisco, and the Cowboys are obviously a different team when Romo is playing and healthy. Seattle has little hope of slowing down a Dallas offense that -- when things are clicking -- is relentless and can pound opponents into submission. Seattle allows a whopping 381 yards per game, 259 of which come through the air, and the battered Seahawks offense won't be able to keep up once it falls behind early.
PHILADELPHIA (-3) over Arizona: Are the Eagles as bad as they've looked in the last three weeks? Probably not. After winning three in a row at the end of October, Philly slipped badly and has gone 0-2-1 in its last three. Donovan McNabb was benched during a blowout loss to Baltimore last weekend, and Brian Westbrook is struggling. McNabb returns against the Cardinals, and he'll get some chances to produce: Arizona is allowing 24-plus points per game. The Cardinals are 4-1 at home, with their only loss last weekend to the Giants, but they are 3-3 on the road -- and those three wins came against bottom-feeders San Francisco, St. Louis, and Seattle. The Eagles will probably miss the playoffs, but they will cover the three and save their season for another week.FULL ENTRY
N.Y. Jets (+6) over TENNESSEE: Despite going into overtime with the Patriots last week, the Jets looked like the better team and controlled most of the game, and I think they can go into Tennessee and win outright. Jacksonville had Tennessee on its heels last weekend, going into the half with a 14-3 lead behind a strong running game and a defense that didn't allow any big strikes. In the second half, Titans quarterback Kerry Collins made big plays when challenged, but I don't see this happening against the Jets. New York can stuff Tennessee's running game and make Collins try to stretch the defense. He may have success because the Jets pass defense is soft, but New York can score enough on Tennessee to make it play catch-up. Take the points.
CLEVELAND (-3) over Houston: Clinging to the slightest of hopes that its season is not lost, Cleveland has a tough matchup with Houston. The Texans give up more points (28.7 points per game) than they score (23.6 ppg) and have lost three straight after going 3-1 in October. The Browns, expected to be able to score at will this season, floundered offensively for two months but may finally be realizing their offensive potential under Brady Quinn. Quinn led Cleveland to a big win over Buffalo on Monday night and seems to be jelling with standout wide receiver Braylon Edwards. Cleveland needs to keep winning and is talented enough to make it happen, particularly against the weak Texans defense.
New England (+2) over MIAMI: In August, who would have imagined the Patriots getting points against Miami under any circumstances? Well, when your supermodel quarterback is lost for the season on one side and Bill Parcells starts calling the shots on the other, those are your circumstances. But are the Dolphins going to sweep the season series with the Patriots? Is Ronnie Brown going to look like a Hall of Famer against New England again? It says here, no. Both teams sit at 6-4 and have a lot to prove, but the Patriots will follow their 2001 script: make just enough plays and control the clock.FULL ENTRY
INDIANAPOLIS (-8) over Houston: The Colts made an impressive statement last week in beating the Steelers on the road. They're not dead yet. Indy put up 24 points on the league's best defense, including a game-winning touchdown pass from Peyton Manning with three minutes remaining. Houston allows a whopping 28 points per game, and the Colts' offense is starting to kick into another gear. Joseph Addai is a big part of that offense, but since his return from injury against New England two weeks ago, he has not produced. Expect that to change against a weak Houston run defense. The Colts should cover this number in their quest to remain a playoff contender.
JACKSONVILLE (+3) over Tennessee: When you have a defense that allows just 13 points per game, you can afford to be nothing special offensively. Meet the Titans, who do have a solid running game behind Chris Johnson and LenDale White, but high-level quarterback play is another story. Kerry Collins (above) has thrown for more than 200 yards and two touchdowns only once this season, and that was last weekend against the Bears. With just three interceptions, Collins has played within himself and seems to have a decent matchup against a so-so Jaguars defense. But I don't see the Titans emerging from a two-game road trip against Chicago and Jacksonville unbeaten. The Jags are proud enough and physical enough to hand Tennessee its first loss.
Philadelphia (-9) over CINCINNATI: Nine is a lot of points to lay on the road, but the risk is minimized when the Bengals are involved. Cincy is poor offensively (13.9 points per game, second-worst in the league at rushing and throwing the ball) and defensively (the Bengals allow over 26 points per game) and faces an Eagles group that will be hungry for a win to keep pace in the brutal NFC East. Philly back Brian Westbrook was held in check last weekend in a loss to the Giants, but Westbrook should be able to maneuver in this contest. The Bengals are riding a one-game winning streak after their win over the Jaguars two weeks ago (Cincy is coming off a bye), but Philly will control the ball and wear down the Bengals' defense.FULL ENTRY
MINNESOTA (-2) over Green Bay: Green Bay allows 146 rushing yards per game, which is terrific news for the run-happy Vikings and their star back, Adrian Peterson (above). The Vikings are also adept at stopping the run and allow just 70 yards per game on the ground, good for second in the league. But while the Packers' offense is a threat to overcome a solid defense (witness the Pack nearly taking down Tennessee on the road last weekend), the home team and Peterson have the edge on the Metrodome turf, where they are 3-1. If Gus Frerotte can limit his interceptions and keep the Vikings' offense on the field, this may be one of those career days for Peterson.
CLEVELAND (-3) over Denver: Who knows if Brady Quinn will make the difference for Cleveland? The Browns are 3-5 and about to slip out of the AFC playoff discussion if they cannot take down a Denver squad that leads the AFC West with a .500 record. But Quinn, who is replacing Derek Anderson as the Browns- starting quarterback, will get his chance at home against a Denver defense that is 28th in points allowed and 27th in passing yards allowed. Better to let the new guy play against that group than against last week's opponent, Baltimore. The Ravens aren't exactly kind to quarterbacks, running backs, or opposing offenses in general.
DETROIT (+6) over Jacksonville: This line may move up because Lions quarterback Dan Orlovsky, who has been playing well of late, has a sprained thumb and may miss the game. Still, take the points. Winless Detroit lost a heartbreaker to a solid Chicago squad and will be able to hang in with Jacksonville, which has a margin of victory of just 4 points per game. Per its reputation, Jacksonville struggles to score, but its defense - long a strength - is nothing special. Taking Detroit is a risk; it has the NFL's worst defense and a pitiful offense. But the Jags, who looked terrible against previously winless Cincinnati, seem to be heading in the wrong direction and could even provide a second straight franchise its first win of the season.FULL ENTRY
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.FULL ENTRY
MIAMI (+1½) over Buffalo: Miami is an attractive home underdog in this battle of division rivals. Take away a poor interception last weekend by Chad Pennington against Baltimore, which was returned for a touchdown, and the Dolphins could have stolen a win. Meanwhile, the Bills hung on against the Chargers as Philip Rivers imploded and threw an interception in the end zone late in the fourth quarter. Sure, those plays are part of the game, but this matchup favors Miami. Unlike in their contest with the Ravens, the Dolphins will be able to run the ball. They are also capable of forcing Trent Edwards (above) to throw downfield if he has to play from behind, which is not Edwards’ strong suit. Buffalo is off to a great start and may prove to be the class of the AFC East, but it’s time for things to even out. Miami will win at home.
PHILADELPHIA (–9) over Atlanta: This is a lot of points to lay on an upstart Atlanta squad, but I think Philly can pressure the Falcons enough on both sides of the ball and end up with the cover. Eagles back Brian Westbrook has been out with broken ribs but is expected to return. I feel the same way about this game as I have about a few of Atlanta’s contests: if the Eagles are able to contain Falcons running back Michael Turner — and I think they can — it’s going to be a tough day for rookie quarterback Matt Ryan. Nine points will look a lot bigger at the beginning of the game than it will at the end.
CAROLINA (–4½) over Arizona: A classic matchup: the league’s top scoring offense (Arizona) against a Carolina defense that allows just 14.9 points per game. I’ll go with Carolina because its offense, though not nearly as proficient as Arizona’s, is still capable of scoring points, particularly against the Cardinals’ mediocre defensive unit. Carolina is 3-0-1 against the spread as a favorite and has a balanced rushing attack behind Jonathan Stewart and DeAngelo Williams. Those two will help keep the ball away from Kurt Warner and allow Jake Delhomme, Steve Smith and Muhsin Muhammad to make the big plays.FULL ENTRY
Tennessee (-8) over KANSAS CITY: I'm intrigued by Kansas City, particularly at home, but here's one stat I cannot overlook: The Titans are 5-0 against the spread. Fueled by the NFL's top defense (allowing just 11.2 points per game), Tennessee has a favorable matchup with the Chiefs, who struggle to put points on the board. KC will have Brodie Croyle -- who was injured in the season opener against New England -- back in the lineup at quarterback. Will his return even matter? The Chiefs stunned the Broncos at home in Week 4 by controlling the game on the ground behind Larry Johnson (28 carries, 198 yards), but it's unlikely Johnson can break out like that against the rugged Titans.
Cleveland (+10) over WASHINGTON: The Browns, full of hope at the season's outset because of last year's 10-6 record, began 0-3 but have rebounded to win two straight, including Monday night's impressive blowout of the Giants. An offense that struggled in early-season losses looked potent against New York, and wide receiver Braylon Edwards finally broke out. Washington had no business losing to St. Louis last weekend, and it's possible the 'Skins experienced a letdown after big road wins against Dallas and Philadelphia. Cleveland, after pounding the Giants, needs to avoid a similar letdown because it suddenly has a new lease on its season.
Indianapolis (-1) over GREEN BAY: Shame on me for writing off Peyton Manning last week in the fantasy football section. Manning looked terrific against Baltimore, which has one of the NFL's top defenses. He was hitting receivers in stride and throwing lasers. The Colts are not adept at stopping the run, ranking 29th in the league in that category, but Green Bay and its top back, Ryan Grant, have not established a consistent running game. The Colts kept themselves afloat early in the season while they worked through injuries. Are they ready to take off?FULL ENTRY
Chicago (–2) over ATLANTA: Not a good matchup for the Falcons, who are coming off a huge win at Green Bay and are a surprising 3-2 this season. But when Atlanta has lost, it has lost convincingly, to teams suited to stop the run (Tampa, Carolina). The Bears fit that mold, allowing just 74 yards per game on the ground. Chicago is capable of exploiting weak defenses — it amassed 425 total yards against Detroit last weekend — and Atlanta’s is just that, ranking near the bottom in total yards allowed. Atlanta can grind it out behind Michael Turner (above), but the feeling here is that Chicago will neutralize Turner (a combined 98 yards on 32 carries against Carolina and Tampa) and force young Matt Ryan to make big plays.
SEATTLE (–2) over Green Bay: Both teams are coming off disappointing losses — Seattle was pummeled by the Giants on the road, and Green Bay lost at home to Atlanta. Seattle can run the ball but, at this point, has not shown the ability to do anything else. Green Bay was the victim of a bad matchup against Atlanta: the Falcons have a tremendous rushing attack, and Green Bay cannot stop the run. Which is why we like Seattle to bounce back against a Packers defense that allows 161 yards per game on the ground. Julius Jones will have a big day for the Seahawks.
Atlanta (+10) over GREEN BAY
I'm not a big fan of this Falcons team, but Green Bay -- with or without Aaron Rodgers -- has trouble against the run and gives up a ton of yards overall. This will be yet another test for Falcons rookie quarterback Matt Ryan (above) as he steps onto Lambeau Field for the first time. If Michael Turner can grind out some yards and keep the defense honest, Ryan may have the time to make some plays. Playing mistake-free will be key if the Falcons want to pull the upset, and Ryan has thrown only two picks this season.
SAN FRANCISCO (+3.5) over New England
We're still in the getting-to-know-you phase with this Pats squad, but they haven't done much to make me think they can travel cross-country and beat what seems to be a mediocre Niners team. Yes, the Pats are coming off a bye, and yes, they are likely not as bad as they looked against the Dolphins two weeks ago. But 49ers running back Frank Gore should scare Patriots fans. Gore already has 525 total yards, and with that in mind, you can't ignore what Ronnie Brown -- and Ricky Williams -- did to New England in that Miami game. The hope for New England is that the 49ers remain susceptible to giving up points. New Orleans cranked out 21 against them in the second quarter alone last Sunday.
DENVER (-3) over Tampa Bay
In the battle of an elite offense at home vs. a good defense on the road, I'll go with the elite offense at home. Denver's loss in Kansas City was surprising, but we're talking about divisional rivals, and KC was desperate for its first win. Tampa Bay has won three straight after losing to New Orleans in Week 1, but going into Denver and coming out with a win is too much to ask from a Brian Griese-led offense.
Houston (+7) over JACKSONVILLE
After two games, Houston has scored 29 and allowed 69. But on Sunday against Tennessee, things could have gone differently. QB Matt Schaub was picked off three times, and we don't think he's that bad -- yet. Jacksonville is typically tough and coming off a big win over the Colts, but isn't exactly a scoring machine. I'll take my chances with the points.
DALLAS (-11) over Washington
Dallas is as good as it gets in the NFL. While its defense isn't elite (zero interceptions), it's closer to being the group that allowed Green Bay to score just 16 points than it is to the group that allowed 37 to Philly. While the 'Skins have been resilient and balanced, Dallas' offense will force them to play from behind.
Minnesota (+3) over TENNESSEE
In Gus We Trust? After a pair of tough losses to quality opponents (Green Bay, Indianapolis), Minnesota jumped into the win column last Sunday by wearing down and turning over rugged Carolina. The Vikings go into Tennessee as three-point underdogs, but the Titans are winning ugly. Gus Frerotte is slipping nicely into a game manager role, and the Vikings also have some guy named Adrian Peterson.
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