Last week: 10-6. Season totals: 122-113-5, Pct. .519. Best Bets: 22-25-1, Pct. .469.
Home team in capital letters; point spreads (opening line) in parentheses after underdog team; selections with point spreads in bold.
N.Y. GIANTS 31, Philadelphia 17 (+9 1/2) —My first thought was to take the Eagles because Nick Foles broke his hand last week, which "forces" Michael Vick back into the starting lineup. But in their last six games, the Giants are 2-0 at home, outscoring their opposition 90-37, and 0-4 on the road while having been outscored 115-43!
N.Y. Jets 20 (+3), BUFFALO 14—This could be Rex Ryan's last game as Jets head coach. With Mark Sanchez back in the saddle due to Greg McElroy's concussion (which he attempted to conceal from the team), it should be their seventh straight win over the Bills. Those who bet the Patriots-Jets exacta in the AFC East have special interest in this game, because a Jets win coupled with a Dolphins loss in New England later in the day gives the Jets second place in the division on the grounds of a better division record (their resulting sweep of Buffalo, whom Miami split with, making the difference).
PITTSBURGH 17, Cleveland 0 (+7)—Only one outlet, the Las Vegas Hotel (formerly the Hilton), has had the chops to open a line on this game, and on the Tampa Bay at Atlanta and Oakland at San Diego games as well. Brandon Weeden, Trent Richardson and even Colt McCoy aren't likely to go here for the Browns, so it sets up nicely for their ninth consecutive road loss (and with only two covers) to a Steeler team that the present Cleveland franchise has never swept (having beaten Pittsburgh at home in Week 12).
ATLANTA 27, Tampa Bay 17 (+3)—Mike Smith is playing it close to the vest about how many, if any, of his starters will rest with home field throughout the NFC playoffs already assured. But if Josh Freeman doesn't give the interceptions a rest (he's thrown four picks in each of his last two games), it may not even matter.
Baltimore 16 (+3 1/2), CINCINNATI 13—This is one of two games this week matching up playoff-bound teams in which the team with the worse record has no incentive but the team with the better record does. (The Ravens could gain the No. 3 seed in the AFC with a win, if the Patriots lose their late game.) So this is strictly a "need" pick, plus the line is a conceptually underdog-favoring three-and-a-half.
Chicago 27, DETROIT 20 (+3 1/2)—Maybe both teams will come away happy—the Bears because they keep their playoff hopes alive (hopes that will be realized if they win here and the Vikings lose their late game to Green Bay), the Lions because Calvin Johnson gets the 108 receiving yards he needs to become the first 2,000-yard receiver in NFL history.
INDIANAPOLIS 24 (+4), Houston 23—Do you think for one minute that the Colts are going to lose in Chuck Pagano's triumphant return, much less to the Texans, to whom they have never lost at home? Remember also that Houston is 1-6-1 against the line in 2011-12 as a visitor on the carpet.
TENNESSEE 27, Jacksonville 14 (+4)—The line on this game should be at least a touchdown. The Tim Tebow Era can't begin soon enough in Jacksonville.
NEW ORLEANS 31, Carolina 20 (+4)—Cam Newton cooled off noticeably last week, and over the last five years the Panthers are 6-14 against the spread on artificial turf and 5-10-1 against the spread in domed stadiums.
NEW ENGLAND 37, Miami 17 (+11)—The Dolphins are getting hosed by the time change, as it will make the kickoff-time temperature that much colder, and Miami is 14-33 straight up and 20-26-1 against the line since 1995 as a visitor in cold weather. New England has scored 86 more points than the second highest-scoring team (Denver).
Green Bay 23, MINNESOTA 14 (+3)—The Packers, who own the NFL's longest-active winning streak in division games at 12 (and are 8-3-1 against the spread) are slowly getting healthier on defense. If they jump out to an early lead, there is little chance that the Vikings, who have the league's worst passing offense, can come from behind and beat them.
DENVER 38, Kansas City 7 (+16)—And when the Texans neglect to break their Indiana jinx, this will give the Broncos the top playoff seed in the AFC, and will give the Chiefs the top pick in the 2013 draft. Which will almost certainly be spent on West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith, unless Smith decides to join a monastery or something.
SAN DIEGO 28, Oakland 10 (+4 1/2)—Four-and-a-half is an absolute bargain with Carson Palmer out and Dennis Allen—who deserves to be fired as much as Norv Turner does, but unlike Turner, will probably survive—agonizing over whether to start Matt Leinart or Terrelle Pryor.
SAN FRANCISCO 30, Arizona 0 (+15)—In the dying rage of his tenure as head coach, Ken Whisenhunt has turned to career bench jockey Brian Hoyer at quarterback, at a venue at which the Cardinals have been outscored 85-23 in their last three visits, all three resulting in losses both ways.
SEATTLE 31, St. Louis 6 (+10 1/2)—A seemingly bloated number, until it is pointed out that the Rams have lost seven straight at Seattle by a combined 199-76. Jeff Fisher still made the most of his team's co-league-leading drop in strength of schedule, with a five-and-a-half-game improvement over last year.
WASHINGTON 34, Dallas 13 (+3 1/2)—And for the second year in a row, the biggest lock of the entire season might have been saved for the very last game—and also involves a pick against the Cowboys in a cold-weather night game. In addition to their well-chronicled travails in the cold, Dallas is 2-10 straight up and 2-9-1 against the spread in regular-season finales in this millennium. They've been outscored 281-160 therein, with one of the two victories being a one-point win in 2010 over a team (the Eagles) whose playoff seeding had already been determined and who emptied their bench.
BEST BETS: DENVER, SAN FRANCISCO, WASHINGTON
Odds courtesy of ScoresAndOdds.com