11 games down, five still to be played in the 2010 NFL regular season. Typing that makes me a bit sad, as it seems like just a few weeks ago that the start of football was upon us.
But I digress.
This is the most exciting time of year in the NFL. December: the month when the contenders separate themselves from the pretenders.
Will the Pittsburgh Steelers hang tough this next five weeks and return to the playoffs after missing out on the postseason party a season ago? Pittsburgh's remaining five games contain both winnable and challenging games. None will be more difficult than next Sunday night's tilt against the hated Baltimore Ravens. Both squads sport identical 8-3 records. Not only are they both 8-3, but both are 6-2 in conference and 2-1 in AFC North games. Translation = the race for the AFC North crown this year couldn't be tighter.
Baltimore, of course, currently has the leg up thanks to their Week 4 win over the Steelers. There are a number tiebreaker scenarios still in play, so let's hold off on dissecting all of them for another week or so.
This much is clear though: the winner of next Sunday night's game is in great shape to win the North, and at worst, earn a Wild Card berth.
The Steelers-Ravens matchup isn't the only intriguing, high-stakes game in Week 13. Let's take a look at the lines for the other interesting, pivotal Week 13 showdowns to be played in the coming days. (Lines complements of Odds Shark)
Steelers (+2.5) at Ravens (-115)
Jets (+3) at Patriots (-120)
Raiders (+12.5) at Chargers
Atlanta Falcons (-2.5) at Tampa Bay (-105)
Jacksonville at Tennessee (No line posted as of Monday night)
- Frankly, I'm a bit surprised by the Steelers-Ravens line. Home teams typically are 'spotted' 3 points by Vegas for being at home. So in other words, the Steelers, despite all their injury issues, are thought of as the 'better' team ... if you want to look at it that way, at least. I do think the Steelers can pull the road upset, but I expect that line to drop down to three points come Sunday night. So, if you're inclined to take a position on the Steelers, I highly recommend you hold off and wait to see if the line moves down to three first. Then again, if you think the Steelers will win, take them on the Money Line right now. But if you want to just bet the spread, wait.
- Just one man's opinion, but I really like the Patriots by more than three against the Jets. Sure, the (-120) is a bit of a turnoff. (For those who don't know, -120 means you have to bet $120 to win $100; -110 is the standard number, meaning you make 8% or so less on your payouts when it's -120 compared to -110). Still, the Patriots are rocking and rolling on offense, and I simply see no way that the Jets will be able to score enough to keep pace.
- What about the Raiders-Chargers line? Well, I think the Chargers will win out and finish at 11-5. But 12.5 points is an awful lot, even for a team playing as well as San Diego. The Chargers are 5-1 in their past six against Oakland (the lone loss coming earlier this season), but only once did they beat the Raiders by more than ten points (Week 14 in 2008). Of course, in recent years, Oakland hasn't been as complete a team as they are this year. This is probably a 'stay-away' game, in my opinion, but if I were to do anything, it might be to put the Chargers in a seven-point teaser.
- Heading to the NFC, the Falcons and Buccaneers will square off in a huge Week 13 divisional matchup. The Falcons are squarely in the driver's seat at 9-2, two games clear of the Buccaneers (7-4). Tampa Bay can hold onto a faint hope of winning the division if it beats Atlanta, but even if the Falcons retain their lead in the NFC South, the Buccaneers would still be in great shape for a Wild Card if they could somehow beat the Falcons. The early money looks to be coming in on Atlanta, who's favored by 2.5 points despite being on the road. When the teams last met in Week 9, Atlanta held on for a 27-21 home victory. The game wasn't decided until the final minutes however. Again, I hate to say it, but this is a 'stay-away' game if you ask me. The Falcons are far less formidable away from the Georgia Dome, but it's just hard to feel confident in a Buccaneers squad that's so dang young. Can they stay in the moment and play well when so much is on the line now that December is here? We'll see.
- Jacksonville-Tennessee has no line yet, and I'm assuming that's because of the uncertainty surrounding the Titans' quarterback situation. Both teams are hard to figure out, though it could be argued that Tennessee has shown its true colors as a 'pretender' this year. Still, these teams seem to always play each other tough, regardless of the circumstances. Probably not a great gambling play, but it's definitely an important Week 13 divisional game in the AFC South.
Other Bets To Consider:
Dallas at Indianapolis - Over 48. I don't know. Seems like a low line for these two defenses. Peyton Manning will surely be eager to redeem his four-interception performance from a week ago. The Cowboys meanwhile, despite their flaws on both sides of the ball, have more than enough fire-power to hang 21+ on Indianpolis.
- New Orleans (-6.5) at Cincinnati. Books have different lines on this one, but if you can take New Orleans at fewer than seven points, I'd say go for it. If you can't find the line for fewer than seven, forget I said anything, as the Bengals have on more than one occasion covered late in the fourth quarter in garbage time when the game's outcome was not really in question.
- Detroit over Chicago. Forget the spread here. Consider taking the Lions outright at home over a Bears team that might be feeling a bit too good about itself after last week's undeniably impressive win over the Packers. Also worth noting is Detroit having an extra three days to rest and prepare as a result of playing on Thanksgiving in Week 12.