-Okay, I will be totally honest. I have been meaning to get this off the ground since Week 8/9 (the halfway point of the season). I thought it would have been a nice, even place to start. After the first half of the season, you should have a good feel for the contenders, pretenders, and who can cover a spread.

Generally speaking, I am going to start keeping a running tally of how I do. Fee free to cheer, jeer, or comment on my picks. I have been quietly gambling on football here and there for about 5-6 years, usually more as someone giving advice to friends and family than using my own money.

Looking ahead, the general climate for the NFL has shifted. In the first half, you could ride the favorites to the bank. Now, as the weather is shifting, injuries are piling up, and dudes are finally realizing their jobs can be on the line, the games are getting closer and closer. Don’t believe me? Ask the Steelers and Bengals who dropped a deuce last Sunday against two of the bottom five teams in the league, and killing millions of parlays/teases along the way.

Green Bay (-11) @ Detroit.

-After my speech about the underdogs rising up, it would be telling for me to take Detroit on Thanksgiving. The issue here? Green Bay is quietly heating up and need this as a statement game for their playoff chances looking forward. Beyond this, I can’t trust a team whose future franchise QB looked like his arm was hanging on by a thread.

Oakland (+14) @ Dallas

-Eww, I know people, Oakland  is inept, but here me out. Most years, there is at least one surprisingly close game on Thanksgiving. Sure, this normally is Detroit and I am also considering the fact Oakland is playing on the road. I should get killed for taking this early gamble, but I secretly love Oakland’s defense. When they get momentum (rarely) they can stop the opposition. Also, Dallas hasn’t score more than 8 points in a few weeks. They could be due, but its awfully hard for me to trust Wade Phillips this late into a season.

NY Giants (-6.5) @ Denver

-I thought this line would be much higher. I think the cat is out of the proverbial bag with Denver. Their D has shown it can be pushed around and fall to a more physical offensive club. If the Giants can get back to their power running game, this could be a blowout. On the other hand, if we see Eli throwing 45+ passes at Mile High, could be a long day.

Tampa Bay @ Atlanta (-12)

-I can’t talk myself into taking Tampa Bay on the road. Beyond their win against the Pack, they have looked terrible this year. Tampa is currently a bottom 4 team in total offense AND bottom 5 in defense. They currently have given up 294 points as a unit, which is second to only Detroit’s 301. Atlanta doesn’t have a great record, and Matt Ryan doesn’t look as good this season, but their offense is too good not to handle Tampa.

Miami (-3) @ Buffalo

-I am confused here. Miami has been the proverbial “good, not great” team this year. They tend to keep games close with their predictable (yet efficient) offense, and don’t have a terrible enough defense to get thrashed that often.  My friend Retz and I joking call them “China House” in reference to the small restaurant where we come from. You always know what you are getting at China House and its normally pretty good at a reasonable price. You don’t have to worry about anything being cold/burnt when you pick it up, but at the same time, its not like you walking into a steakhouse either.

What’s more shocking is how Buffalo is getting respect here. Aside from the 1 bomb that TO actually hangs onto, they were not that great last week. If anything else, you know the Fins can run the ball, (even without only “Smokin” Ricky Williams since Brown is out). The Bills are the 2nd worst run defense in the league.

Cleveland @ Cincy (-14)

-This is one of those games where I avoid like the plague in gambling or giving advice. Too many unpredictable elements. The Bengals handed a terrible Raiders team a gimmie win. The Browns looked really good in a losing effort, but I think the smart play here is the Bengals at home, especially since they got upset  last week. They won’t take this bottom feeder for granted.

Interesting point brought up on ESPN. People are jokingly claiming there is a “Larry Johnson” curse and wherever he goes, the team is doomed to play terribly. 1 week is a bit eager, but if they crap the bed against the hopeless of Browns, maybe we got ourselves something.

Indianapolis (-3) @ Houston

-I am a massive Colts fan, and will admit that, but making this pick is like pulling teeth. I have an abundant history where nearly every time I pick or gamble on the Colts, they lose or someone severely gets hurt. Then again, when one of your “stars” is Bob Sanders, that’s easier than some would think. Since when did they make “Erasers” out of glass?

Anyway, I didn’t want to “jinx” Indy,, but this new trend of giving them tame odds every week is too enticing and unbelievable. Vegas is essentially wagering every week that “this is the week the unbeaten falls” and it just has not happened. No way a 10-0 team be an underdog to a club floating around 500.  Peyton and Co had a TERRIBLE day (especially you Santi) and they still covered the spread.

This week, they play on the road against Houston. A team most are picking to be the upstarts who knock Indy off. Is it possible? With that young D and quick offense, certainly. However, if this game is around 2-3 points and Peyton has the ball in the last 4 minutes, you can’t tell me he won’t go for the jugular and finish them off. The Texans find ways to lose and Indy keeps finding ways to win.

Carolina (+3) @ NY Jets

-Wow, the Braylon Edwards trade has been a rollercoaster hasn’t it? At first, people were thinking this could have been one of those lopsided trades where the diva WR flourishes, but right now the only big numbers getting put up by Gang Green are turnovers. Speaking of shotty QB play, Jake Delhomme has been upgraded from “JaMarcus Russel” territory to more like Sage Rosenfels. People tend to forget how powerful this Panther’s offense could be, especially their running game. (Even you John Fox) Despite Delhomme’s efforts, Carolina is still in the top half in offense.

So its a matter of taking the points and the team built to play in the cold (power running game) vs. the team starting a turnover prone QB from the sunshine and climate of Cali.

Washington (+9) @ Philadelphia

-Washington’s D looked inspired last week, I will give them that much. However, their offense is still sputtering. They currently are 3rd worst in the NFC in takeaways/giveaways with -5. The tricky part is that Washington has a top 10 defense, lead by a passing D that is only giving up a league BEST of about 161 yrds/game. Their weakness has clearly getting gashed in the rushing game and turnovers.

Now, look at Philadelphia. They aren’t lighting up the score like they were in the beginning of the season, and more and more they are relying on McNabb and those 1-2 HUGE passing plays a game. It’s like a Dane Cook comedy special. Several series of misses and miscues and then you get maybe that one or two joke that makes the performance memorable. Sadly, I don’t see DeSean Jackson saving Philly here. I can’t give up this many points until the Eagles can prove they can run the ball effectively.

Seattle @ St. Louis (+3)

-How low could the ratings get this week? Sadly with the NFL so lopsided with bad teams/good teams we are destined for at least 1-2 of these clunkers a week the rest of the way. The silver lining? Cleveland/Detroit was a really exciting game.

The Rams are building some momentum and improving. Its hard to see with so many “Ls” piling up, but trust me. They have played two big time favorites VERY close back to back weeks (Zona and N.O.) Steven Jackson has went from pariah and someone most have given up on to back to being consistently good. He easily could have mailed it in this season, especially with teams more or less putting 10 people in the box knowing Bulger is toast.

This isn’t the same Seahawks from Week 1. Their running game is terrible and Hasslebeck is fairly brittle. This game has all the makings of being one of those where a kicker shanks (or hits) the game winner in a 1 pt game. Gotta take the points and home team here.

Kansas City @ SD (-14)

-Strange line, I thought KC would get more respect after the Steelers win, but alas, people are jumping onto the Chargers bandwagon. Personally, I love it. Is there a limit to the money to be made on both Wade Phillips and Norv Turner being FAVORITES in this year’s playoffs?! I can only hope they both crush their Round 1 opponents and get a very close line against a Minnesota or New England. (Bet the house)

Despite that, the Chargers are too good and explosive on offense. The can put up big numbers and then run the ball to kill clock. Probably going to be something like 24-7.

Jacksonville (+3) @ San Fransisco

-Another game I wouldn’t normally touch. The Niners are falling apart, especially on offense. I have to wonder if maybe opposing teams caught on their Madden Strategy of “Send the TE on a streak down the field every play”. Seriously, for 3-4 weeks in a row Vernon Davis was just running down the seam and making a catch between a LB or safety for a TD.

Jacksonville is one of the more unpredictable teams in the league. Regardless, I think they are one of those crappy 1st Half teams making a last minute push to save their coach and finish 9-7 and get talked up as a team who got “robbed” of a Playoff spot.

Chicago @ Minnesota (-11)

-Scary game. For starters, this game opened at -9 and immdiately jumped to -11, which means EVERYONE is taking the Vikings and laying the points. Gambling on football can be like high school fashion. By the time you jump and join the pack on a hot trend, more times than not, it fails miserably. For instance, in middle school, I was one of the last to rock the backwards Kangol hat. Sure enough, a few days after I got mine, the trend was dead and I got mocked for looking dumb.

My point here is that, generally speaking, unless you are talking unstoppable fan favorite or dominant force (See: Pacquiao, Manny) then be at least a little worried when a line jumps too far too soon. An old gambling addage I heard from a mentor or sorts I met at the Horse Track one day: “Never take heed on the early and anxious bets on the horses, that’s the average joes. Consider the horses who barely change at the last second, that’s the people in the know.”

Arizona @ Tennessee (-3)

-This line could be skewed. It opened at this, and as of now, most major places either have the line here or “off” meaning it hasn’t been decided just yet. I think this is because Vegas is still shaky on Warner being hurt.

Regardless, I am taking the Titans here. Chris Johnson probably is this generations Barry Sanders. I am not saying he is as good or will be, but he definitely is going to be that running back kids in this generation growing up “oooh and aaaahing” as he dazzles with insane spins, jukes, and crazy speed. He doesn’t have the moves Barry did, but at this point, Johnson is the most dangerous player in the open field. The Titans  are playing solid defense and really controlling the clock and being creative with the offensive weapons they have.  Beyond the VY hype, you also have to love the locker room morale. These guys are playing loose and doing that “Nobody believes in us” mantra that can legitimately carry a team into a run. (Ironically last years Cards for instance).

-Cardinals scare me. If Warner does play and seems fairly healthy, then they could easily get out to a quick lead and force Vince Young to beat him with his arm and not his feet. This line, if Warner does play, should improve though and maybe even have the Titans getting points. I am going to ride this run of theirs until it burns me. Sometimes you gotta find those few teams that are getting hot/rallying and try to make the most money off them possible.

Pittsburgh @ Baltimore (-2)

-Another game with very limited action or odds. Most places off this “off” because of Big Ben. Regardless, I still like the Ravens no matter if Ben plays or not. The Steelers aren’t as good as people assume they are. Their defense has shown they can give up the big play. They are a few breaks and fluke plays from easily being a 4-6 team. Here’s a fun stat, the Steelers have two, count ’em, TWO wins on the road this year, that’s it. Hell, one of those was at Detroit, so it can barely count. Between Ben’s health and Baltimore rallying at home, this should be within a field goal.

New England (+3) @ New Orleans

-I can’t state enough how underrated and impressive the defense for the Saints have been. I really wanted to take the Saints here, but how could a fairly hot Patriots team not have this line down to at least less than 2 or even?

If the Patriots had any semblance of a running game, I would bet this house on this one and make it my lock of the week. Most teams have shown you can run on Saints, but its pretty hard to do that when Brees and Co are scoring nearly every drive.

The only thing that gives me confidence about this pick is I am taking Belichick in a big game. Sure, they have struggled against my Colts, but if there is a coach out there with a blueprint or scheme to slow down and hamper a high octane offense that some dare call “soft” it would be the Patriots. I have yet to see a defense be able to pressure and give Brees problems. That was what the plan was for the Giants when they got crushed, but a banged up secondary couldn’t hold coverage long enough.

One thing is for certain, this game will tell us quite a bit of information about both teams. Can Belichick step up with his schemes? Does the Pats D have enough in them to slow down a potent offense? How do the Saints respond to a team willing to blitz from crazy angles and has the offensive firepower to match them? Hell, for all we know this could be a Super Bowl match up (but I doubt it.)

Thanks for reading and feel free to leave comments or drop me an email- Mojo598@hotmail.com