New Orleans Saints at Cincinnati Bengals (+7): The Bengals were 2-1 (including a victory over the now 8-3 Baltimore Ravens) leading up to October, lost their next two games by three points apiece, and during their bye week left fans thinking, “Just below .500 isn’t the end of the world, we’ll turn things around.” Nope. Six losses later (none of them close) – that’s eight in a row, mind you – this a team which looked in the preseason like a probable contender but is now a bottom feeder. Contrast Cincinnati with the defending Super Bowl champions. The Saints have had some memorable games this season, some deplorable games, and are riding a four-game winning streak in which they’ve scored an average of 29.5 points per game. Despite a lot of uncharacteristic interceptions in the early going, Drew Brees has been looking as sharp as ever and continues to have his offense infused with playmakers who had missed significant time due to injury. The Saints’ defense is no slouch, either. No team has allowed fewer passing touchdowns, for example. Sorry Carson Palmer, but this will not be any sort of bounce back game for you.
Gimme the Saints minus the points.
St. Louis Rams at Arizona Cardinals (+3.5): While both teams are technically in playoff contention by virtue of division standings, one has been a pretender throughout much of the season while one is the real deal. The Cardinals cannot seem to run the ball with success any more, are hurting about as much as any team at the quarterback position, and give up 29 points and nearly 400 yards per game to opponents. The Cardinals’ defense is especially vulnerable against the run, as evidenced by 31st in the NFL in both rushing yards allowed and rushing touchdowns allowed. This of course bodes very well for Steven Jackson. And lest Arizona attempt to crowd the line of scrimmage in an effort to thwart Jackson, rookie Sam Bradford is playing as well (or perhaps better) by now than half the starting quarterbacks in the league.
Gimme the Rams minus the points.
Buffalo Bills at Minnesota Vikings (-5.5): Interim head coach Leslie Frazier notched his first win last week, ending Minnesota’s disappointing losing streak. The game ball was handed to Frazier, who said every player of his on that field deserved the game ball. Lots of warm fuzzies. Adrian Peterson hurt his ankle in the game, though, and figures to play but won’t be anywhere near 100 percent. Meanwhile the Bills are no joke. Week in and week out Buffalo plays until the final gun – beating the spread, in fact, in every game since the Week 6 bye. Every game if you throw out the one against the Chicago Bears in Toronto, any way; the closing line gave the Bills three points, which is exactly how much they lost by. The Vikings defense has been pretty average versus the pass, which portends exciting things for Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Gimme the Bills plus the points.
New York Jets at New England Patriots (-3.5): Two really, really good teams here. Each has as good a shot at making a Super Bowl run as anybody else in the AFC, and each hates the other with a fiery passion. Vinnie tends to stay away from matchups within a division, but finds himself so pumped about how momentous this primetime game is that he is unable to stay away. As good as the Jets’ defense is, this one all comes down to Tom Brady. And don’t be surprised if Patriots’ running backs BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead outduel Jets running backs LaDainian Tomlinson and Shonn Greene. Despite playing host, New England isn’t favored by much – probably on account of losing to the Jets earlier this season. Different outcome this time!
Gimme the Patriots minus the points.