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NFL betting

Posted by Ed Ryan December 25, 2008 05:54 AM

PITTSBURGH (-10) over Cleveland: If this line were 20, I would lay the 20. Pittsburgh is in the postseason and finally succumbed to its brutal late-season schedule in a loss last week at Tennessee, but this week's "opponent" is the Browns. There are teams that tank, and then there is Cleveland. One of the more disappointing seasons in recent memory is about to wrap up, and the Browns are counting the days. A sure sign they are inept and no longer care: They have one touchdown in the last five weeks. Pittsburgh, meanwhile, has less to play for after getting manhandled by the Titans. No longer a contender for the AFC's top seed, the Steelers are still a lock as the No. 2 seed, so they have a bye and two weeks to rest. Sure, expect Byron Leftwich to be under center for the Steelers either at the beginning of the game or shortly after it starts, but no matter. The Browns are countering with Ken Dorsey and a great deal of motivation to not necessarily win, but just finish.

SAN DIEGO (-8) over Denver: Denver should be ashamed. It had San Diego buried three weeks ago. At that point the Broncos had won two in a row and were 8-5, and the Chargers were 5-8. Now, after Denver losses at Carolina and at home against Buffalo, the Broncos and Chargers -- winners of three straight -- are in a winner-take-all scenario. Both teams can put points on the board in a hurry, and neither squad is adept at stopping opponents from doing the same: Denver is 27th in the league against the pass, and the Chargers are even worse at 31st. The Chargers are the hot team and are playing well, which counts for a lot at this time of the year. Denver is probably a lock to put up at least 24 points against San Diego, but that's not going to be enough against Philip Rivers (above) and Co. Everyone is going to be taking points in this one; make the smart move and lay them.

ATLANTA (-15) over St. Louis: Much is at stake for Atlanta. The Falcons have locked up a playoff berth but can still earn a first-round bye with a win and a Carolina loss. Atlanta has been relatively healthy all season and has little motivation to rest its young squad. Just over two touchdowns is a lot of points to give, but we're talking about St. Louis, which is only 5-10 against the number this season and has little reason to put up much of a fight in the last game of the season, on the road, against a playoff contender. Some clubs that are out of it are dangerous late in the season, but the Rams don't fall into that category. They average a putrid 13.7 points per game and allow 28.9 per game -- both averages good for second-worst in the NFL. Look for big days from Atlanta backs Jerious Norwood and Michael Turner, because St. Louis cannot stop the run.

SAN FRANCISCO (-3) over Washington: Speaking of teams that are out of it but present problems late in the season, we present the San Francisco 49ers. The Niners began the season 2-7 but have won four of their last six and have apparently responded to the tactics of new coach Mike Singletary. Most impressive is that San Fran has allowed only 16 points per game in those last six games, a stat that leads you to believe it is tailor-made to derail the Redskins, winners of one game in a row. The Skins came to play last weekend against Philadelphia, at least defensively (the Eagles scored just three points). But Washington posted just 10 of its own and has not been a threat to score in some time: It's averaged just eight points in its last four contests. I'll feel better about giving away points on San Francisco's behalf when I know whether Frank Gore is playing, but I'll do so and tell myself to be patient. Expect a tight cover and the score not to exceed the over/under number of 37.

Kansas City (+3) over CINCINNATI: The Chiefs have a dismal 1-6 road record, and their only win came against Oakland. However, against the number in their last four road games, KC is 4-0. The Bengals have shocked the world by winning two straight games, but I'm not impressed that they shut out the Browns, 14-0, or beat a weak offensive team such as Washington. Kansas City can score points and will do so against a Bengals team that will fall behind early and not have the firepower to play catch-up.

NEW ORLEANS (+3) over Carolina: Here's a stat for you: Home teams in the NFC South are 11-0 when playing divisional opponents. The remaining NFC South turf battle is in the Superdome, and the home team is getting points. Take them.

The rest: TAMPA BAY is struggling at the wrong time, and Oakland (+13) has found a bit of karma ... GREEN BAY (-10) will cover against Detroit, even if the Lions are motivated to not finish winless ... Incredibly, Dallas (+1) still controls its own destiny and will advance to the playoffs with a win over PHILADELPHIA ... BALTIMORE (-13) needs a win to earn a playoff bid and will pull away at the end from Jacksonville ... INDIANAPOLIS (+3) will stay sharp against a Tennessee team that is guaranteed the AFC's top seed ... Miami (+2) has been the more consistent team all season and will advance to the playoffs with a win over the JETS ... New England's number is inflated after its big win over Arizona; the Pats will be engaged in a much tighter contest at BUFFALO (+6) ... ARIZONA (-6) is dreadful on the East Coast but will take care of business at home against Seattle ... MINNESOTA (-6) needs a win to make the postseason and will get it comfortably against a Giants squad that has clinched the NFC's top seed and will likely be playing backups ... Chicago remains in the mix but won't advance after running into an improved HOUSTON (-3) squad.

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