This is a tough week for games. And a tough week for picking those games. From Thursday through Monday, the prime-time lineup is littered with teams already buried for the season. It starts with the winless Buccaneers, who have become a sure thing to bet against. On Sunday night, the Vikings will take up precious, expensive air time for the second week in a row. And it all wraps up on Monday with the hapless Rams and Kellen Clemens, the Bernie Kosar special.
In between, there are a handful of tough calls. The Jets and Bengals, for instance, is a nightmare for prognosticators, spread or no spread. I'm going with a surprising Jets team to cover a seven-point margin. As for the rest of this week's games, my picks against the spread are below. Feel free to tell me how off base they are.
For the record, I picked eight games correctly last week, and I got seven games wrong.
Panthers (-7) vs. Buccaneers
Thanks to Jon Bois, we learned exactly what a team made up exclusively of Schiano Men would look like. My only question is whether or not a team made up of 44 Schianos could beat a team actually coached by Greg Schiano, the one the Glazers are paying him to coach (at least they're saving money!).
Players on the real team coached by Schiano are too broken to respond to whatever adversity the video game would throw at them. Plus, Bill Sheridan would have Darrelle Revis in zone coverage and just as confused by pixelated off-balanced run plays.
Fans in Tampa Bay, or their radio stations at any rate, have taken to billboard campaigns to plead for Schiano's firing. And if you want a prop bet for this game, that's a good one. If the Buccaneers lose, this would be a great time to dump the coach, leaving the team with a long week to prepare under the interim. Let's go ahead and set the odds for that at 5/1.
The pick: Panthers
Interceptions, questionable coaching moves, 40-yard passes, penalties ... Dallas and Detroit have a lot in common. It should make for the ugliest, but most exciting, game of the week. Both teams are 4-3. Dallas also happens to be 2-1 against the spread on the road. Detroit matches that with a 2-1 record against the spread at home.
Your best bet here might be the over-under, which is currently set at 50.5 points. Take the over. It's the only thing that's reasonably predictable about this one.
The pick: Lions
Home-team double-digit underdogs actually have a pretty good record. Since 2009, 18 of 20 home teams with a 10-point spread or better have covered. But this game is in London. It's "home" only for the NFL, in the process of moving into its own luxury condo there. The Jaguars are technically the home team, part of a three-year deal with the league to take one home game away from passionate fans in Jacksonville.
Your prop bet here: How long before Jaguars fans get tired of shipping the team overseas for one week every year?
The pick: 49ers
Finally, finally, the Browns have decided to be the next team to give Jason Campbell a chance, keeping his backup career afloat. Campbell got one start last year, for the Bears. He does complete a ton of passes as a checkdown guy, and he is an improvement over Brandon Weeden. However, this Chiefs defense is capable of mauling much better lines and quarterbacks than Cleveland's.
Side action: Will Campbell be the next Browns quarterback shuttled off to IR?
The pick: Chiefs
Miami has a new offensive tackle, Bryant McKinnie. If he can resolve himself not to be caught off guard by New England defenders talking up South Beach strip joints, it should be an improvement in pass protection for Ryan Tannehill.
The Patriots are 2-1 against the spread at home this season. But the way things are going with this team, a full touchdown feels generous, especially with a group of receivers liable to drop at least two TD passes every week. That should actually be a standing prop bet for the 2013 Patriots, the number of dropped touchdown throws.
I think Miami will cover this one.
The pick: Dolphins
Buffalo won its first road game of the season last week against the Dolphins. I like what the Bills are doing this season. It's the most fun team Buffalo's had since the K-Gun days, and the future looks really bright.
Only one team has scored more than 30 points against the Bills, the Brian Hoyer-led Browns. Defensive coordinator Mike Pettine keeps doing what he did with the Jets -- making smart game plans and using his players to the best of their abilities. But here's the thing: if this comes down to a shootout, the Bills will need Thad Lewis to keep pace with Drew Brees. That's probably not going to happen.
The pick: Saints
This game has the second-highest over/under of any this week at 52 points. Needless to say, most of the action is going on the under because the proposition of the Giants scoring 25 points is just too risky. The Eagles could account for that deficit, and Michael Vick should be at quarterback this week. Either way, you should probably avoid this one all together.
The pick: Eagles
Jets vs. Bengals (-7)
This really could be the best game of the week. It's the Jets and the Bengals. More surprising than that, both of these teams have winning records. OK, so it's not so surprising that the Bengals are 5-2. The defense has played pretty well all season. Only the Packers have scored more than 25 points against them. That'll be the key this week, taking a page out of the Steelers' playbook and making life difficult for Geno Smith.
New York's defense could have its hands full with Andy Dalton (not a typo). The Ginger Avenger has thrown for at least 300 yards, two touchdowns and a 100-plus QB rating in his last two games. But I still like Rex Ryan's group to cover the touchdown margin.
The pick: Jets
Steelers (-3) vs. Raiders
The Steelers are favored by three on the road against the Raiders. I can't decide if that's a sign of just how far off track Mike Tomlin's team is, or how much better the Raiders are than we thought (and we didn't think much). The Carson Palmer-led Raiders actually beat the Steelers last year, in Oakland. Terrelle Pryor hasn't lost at home this season.
The pick: Raiders
The Falcons have been tough on gamblers this year, too. Atlanta's 2-4 record against the spread matches its actual record. On the road, the Falcons are 0-2 in both categories. But they do have Steven Jackson back this week. He's averaging 5.5 yards per carry this season ... on just 14 rushing attempts. Jackson does know the Cardinals well from his NFC West days. In 15 games against Arizona, he's got 1,150 rushing yards, an average of four yards per carry and three touchdowns.
The pick: Falcons
Mike Shanahan's actually 3-1 against his old team. And the good news is that it's been long enough since the Orange one wore orange that we shouldn't have to sit through endless reminders that he won two Super Bowls with the Broncos and John Elway. The narrative has shifted to the quarterbacks, and a Broncos team looking for a rebound after its first loss of the season.
Denver should get it, too. Peyton Manning and his receivers against Washington's secondary looks like a nice tune-up game for them. RGIII has rounded back into form, and the oddsmakers see a shootout here. The over/under is set at 58 points, the highest one this week. You wouldn't normally bet the over on the highest O/U of the week, but this game looks like an exception to the rule in every way, especially since the Broncos won't have Champ Bailey in the secondary.
The pick: Broncos
Packers vs. Vikings (-10)
The Vikings have come full circle, bringing Christian Ponder off the bench to start this week after the Josh Freeman experiment resulted in a 37 percent completion rate and a new record for overthrown passes. Oh, he also suffered a concussion, so the Vikings' lack of preparation isn't totally at fault here.
So anyway, it's Ponder against a Packers defense that's quietly become one of the league's most effective units. Green Bay managed to hold opponents to fewer than 20 points in its last three games.
The pick: Packers
Seahawks (-11) vs. Rams
And our week wraps up with a third lopsided, awful-looking prime-time game. The Rams must know this. They also have to know that the city's interest in the team's sagging fortunes is ebbing further, and potentially competing against a World Series game less than a mile away. No wonder they called Brett Favre; what front office wants to be on national television with an empty house?
The Seahawks have nine sacks in their last two games. Only one opponent has scored more than 25 points against this defense, and it's unlikely the Rams will be the second one to do that, not with Kellen Clemens at quarterback.