’Tis the Season When Handicapping Gets Dicey

Blinding blizzards and single-digit temps. Miracle last-second comebacks. Yet another miracle last-second comeback—ripped from the pages of Cal-Stanford—foiled by a pinky toe. Eli Manning mercilessly booed all afternoon in a 23-point loss in San Diego. Fantasy football playoff chaos, thanks to injuries (Adrian Peterson, Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker) and incompetence (Cam Newton, RG III). Thirty-five college bowl matchups unveiled (UNLV playing on New Year’s Day? A national championship game sans Urban Meyer and Nick Saban?).

Now that was one glorious football weekend—a weekend that even included a “Best Bet” winner for yours truly. No, really, it happened: Michigan State over Ohio State in the Big Ten title game, part of a third straight winning week. I’m in such a solid handicapping groove that my kids are no longer frightened when I predict that Santa will indeed show up this year.

Of course, as is often the case for me, around every positive corner is a brick wall: With the pool of games dramatically depleted (bowl season doesn’t kick off until December 21) and the NFL season winding down (which crappy teams have mentally checked out, and which playoff teams are just trying to avoid injuries?), this is the toughest time of the year to pick winners. But I figure no matter how badly things go, I can’t possibly finish in the top three for “Most Embarrassing Performance of the Month”—not after watching Carrie Underwood act on live TV, Miley Cyrus twerk on St. Nick and the Houston Texans play football.

So here goes: I’m backing three of this week’s nine road favorites (Seahawks, Eagles, Bengals) because each has something to play for, and each is facing a dead-in-the-water opponent (Giants, Vikings and Steelers, respectively); I’m pouncing on two feisty Florida underdogs (Dolphins and Buccaneers) who are catching opponents (Patriots and 49ers) in great spots; I’m laying points with a squad that’s 3-10 (Falcons) and just lost to Matt Flynn, because they host a 3-10 foe that’s a million times more dysfunctional (Redskins); and I’m playing that same game over the total, because you’ll see more defense in the Pro Bowl next month than you will in Redskins-Falcons.

Lucky Seven: Seahawks -7 at Giants (Best Bet); Eagles -4½ at Vikings, Bengals -3 at Steelers; Dolphins +2½ vs. Patriots; Buccaneers +5½ vs. 49ers; Falcons -5 vs. Redskins; Falcons-Redskins OVER 51.

Last Week: 4-3 (1-0 Best Bet). Season: 47-52-1 (26-25 college; 21-27-1 NFL; 2-12 Best Bets).

Says RJ Bell (@RJinVegas) from Pregame.com: Agree with the play on the Eagles. A bettor must be extremely selective with road favorites—clearly, superior teams laying short numbers are almost always tempting. In this case, Philly is a team with stats better than its record, a history of strong road performances and an overall trend pointing upward.

Matt Jacob appears Wednesdays on Pregame.com’s First Preview, which airs 10-11 a.m. weekdays on ESPN Radio 1100-AM. Jacob also appears on Vegas Wise Sports at 9 p.m. Sundays on KDWN 720-AM.