Where to point the (middle) finger of blame after my five-week winning streak disappeared faster than the Twinkie? Any number of directions, as I suffered a quartet of brutal beats on the Bengals (who blew a nine-point lead to Dallas with 6½ minutes remaining, losing 20-19); the Colts (who beat the Titans 27-23, but failed to cover as a 5½-point favorite—because a wide receiver dropped a sure spread-covering TD pass prior to Indy’s final field goal); the Lions (who sprinted out to a 14-0 lead at Green Bay but lost 27-20 as a 6½-point underdog); and the Panthers-Falcons “under” 47½ (a not-so-meaningless Atlanta TD with 53 seconds remaining changed the final score from 30-13 to 30-20).
Had any of those games gone my way, my winning streak would still be alive. Then again, the streak also would be alive had I not backed two teams (Saints and Cardinals) that lost by the combined score of 110-27. Yep, to quote the guy who gets divorced and remarries the same woman, I’ve got nobody to blame but myself. And with college football’s 35-game bowl schedule kicking off next week, the pressure is on to get back in the win column, and pronto—which is perfect, seeing as I handle pressure about as well as Gary Bettman handles labor negotiations.
On to this week’s selections (Note: all point spreads are as of Dec. 11) …
$330 on Lions -6 at Cardinals: The Lions are 4-9, having lost five in a row. They’ve given up 23 points or more in 10 of their 13 contests. Of their four wins, only one (31-14 at Jacksonville) was convincing; the other three were by a total of 11 points. And here they are laying nearly a touchdown, on the road, a week after blowing a 14-0 lead at division rival Green Bay? Did I mention we’re talking about the Detroit Lions?!?
And that about sums up the 2012 Cardinals, whose losing skid reached nine games after their 58-0 debacle at Seattle. How awful have the Cardinals been? This awful: The Arizona Diamondbacks have won a game more recently (Oct. 2) than the Arizona Cardinals (Sept. 30, when they beat the Dolphins in overtime to move to 4-0). I’m wholly convinced that if you wagered on the Cardinals—who have covered just twice in their last 10 games—and tried to give the betting slip to charity, it would be rejected.
$330 on Texans -7½ vs. Colts: It’s difficult to justify laying more than a touchdown with a team that just wet the bed in its biggest game of the season (Houston lost 42-14 at New England). It’s even more difficult when that team is facing a divisional rival that’s right on its heels in the standings—a rival that’s 7-1 straight-up and against the spread in its last eight games. So here’s my defense, your honor: The last time the Texans lost a game—42-24 at home to Green Bay—they bounced back with a 43-13 beat-down of Baltimore, one of Houston’s six double-digit victories this year.
More importantly, the Colts might be the most fraudulent 9-4 team in NFL history. I say that because Indy has actually scored 37 fewer points than its opponents. By comparison, the Lions have the reverse record and have been outscored by 22 points. What about the Texans? They’re plus-102 in point differential—and that includes two losses by a combined 46 points.
$110 on Panthers +3 at Chargers: Did the Chargers spring arguably the biggest upset of Week 14, shocking the Steelers 34-24 as a 7½-point underdog—San Diego’s first victory against a team not named the Chiefs since Week 2? Yes. But here’s what else is true about the Bolts: They haven’t won consecutive games since starting 2-0. They’ve lost four of their last five at home (the only exception being Kansas City). They’re 2-7 ATS in their last nine games when ranging from a 3½-point underdog to a 3-point favorite. And Norv Turner is still—remarkably, inexplicably—their head coach (which is why the Panthers will feel right at home in half-empty Qualcomm Stadium).
$110 on Patriots -5½ vs. 49ers: The Patriots are 23-1 in their last 24 regular-season home games after Dec. 1. They’re also 21-0 in regular-season games (home and away) after Nov. 10 the past three seasons (going 14-7 ATS). And now they’re hosting the 49ers, who have already lost to QBs Sam Bradford and Christian Ponder on the road … who got pummeled by the one opponent on their schedule that most mirrors New England (the Giants, who rolled 26-3 in San Francisco) … and who are starting a first-year quarterback—the kind of player Bill Belichick devours (see Andrew Luck, who threw three picks during a 59-24 loss in Foxborough last month).
Best of the Rest: Packers -3 at Bears ($77); Broncos -2½ at Ravens ($66); Steelers -1½ at Cowboys ($66); 49ers-Patriots OVER 46½ ($55); Giants +1½ at Falcons ($55); Bucs +3½ at Saints ($44).